Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Victor J. Banis is a Writer - Author Interview by A.J. Llewellyn

Photo: Victor J. Banis with author Lori L. Lake at their recent book signing

1. Where do you stand on this growing dissent from some gay authors about women writing gay erotic fiction? If it was okay for men to write as women, is it okay for women to write as men? And can you tell the difference personally in the well-written stories?

Oh, that's such a complex subject, I know there's a lot of argument back and forth. Personally, I don't give a hoot about the gender of the author, I'm interested in the quality of the writing. Brokeback Mountain gets mentioned a lot, the short story, and it was written by a woman, and, frankly, there are damn few men who could write anything that real and true to the gay experience. I knew those guys, in my own life.
When I read it, I was totally shattered, all I could do was sit with my mouth hanging open. Okay, we can't always write at that exalted level, I know I can't, but the truth is, there are lots of very good women writers in the field today and, yes, some lousy ones, and the same with the men. So, for me, again, it's how well you do the job. But, to answer the other part of the story, yes, I can generally tell the difference, as to whether something was written by a man or a woman, but not always. But, if the writing is right, I never even think of that.

2. You are such a prolific, multi-awarded author in so many genres with over 150 books published, is it fair to ask you which genre you prefer?

The best answer to that is I love whatever I'm working on at the moment. I truly loved writing those romantic suspense novels in the 70s, but, honestly, I never wanted to be limited to any one genre. Mostly, an idea for a story or a book comes to me, and the genre is set, and I just go ahead and write it. And I'm never altogether comfortable with the labels, either. My short story, If Love Were All (it's in MLR's Hard Working Men anthology) is an example.
To me, it's about two damaged people trying to make a connection, and that's kind of universal, isn't it? But, the two happen to be guys, so it is considered a gay story—meaning, there are lots of folks who won't read it, who might enjoy it and get something out of it, and I think that's unfortunate. And, sometimes something comes along that I haven't done before, and then I ask myself, why not, and I sit down and write it.
I'm still trying to stretch myself as a writer.
When the idea for Lola Dances (MLR again) I thought, well, gee, that's a great idea, but I'm not the one to write it. I mean, it's about a cross dresser, and except for one amusing story (you'll have to read my memoirs to find it) I've never been in a dress – although, really, I had great legs. But, the idea wouldn't go away, and finally I said, Oh, Victor, don’t' be a wuss, it's just a novel, and I wrote it, and I think it's very good, and lots of folks have said so as well. And, I ended up loving my little Lola, as I love all my characters, all of whom come to live with me for a while, and end up staying forever.
Now, here is something interesting, I'll leave it up to you to think what it means: in all those years and with all that writing, I have never been given a single award. I was nominated for a Silver Spur once, which I kind of thought might have had something to do with some fantasies I wrote about Roy Rogers, and just this last year, I was actually short-listed for a Goldie; otherwise, not even close.
The NYC pink Mafia has always preferred to pretend that I don't exist, I guess because of the colorful paperback background. But, readers still like me, I get fan mail all the time, from around the world, in fact – just recently New Zealand, where it seems I'm a big hit. And those are the people I write for, so as long as I make them happy, I'm happy.

3. Wait, you didn’t win any awards? Are you sure? I think I am in shock. But um…new Zealanders love you? Aussies do too! I’m Australian! And your work makes ME happy! So let me ask you. If you could pick ONE book that wins an award, which one would it be and why?

Holey Moley, one book? I loved Longhorns, and I loved Lola Dances, and wait till you read Angel Land…no, I can't do it. They're like my children. It's the characters in the books I love. I mean, did you read Longhorns, I was totally in love with Buck, and Les too, and Red – oh, hell's belles, all those cowboys. Same with little Terry in Lola, he was so vulnerable and sweet; and, Harvey and Aram, that's Angel Land. Oh, and Mar, in Kenny's Back, and… well, you see my problem.
I could go on forever. Plus, not to mention Jackie, and if I get him sore at me, think of what trouble I'd be in. No, I'm going to take a pass on this question.

4. I know you’ve said that gay stories are not the only ones you’ve written but that in the last few years, you’ve made a return to your roots. With some of your early titles being re-released, how will the gay novels of the current period differ from the earlier ones?

Not much, I think. I like to think I've gotten better at it, with all that practice. But, if you read my Longhorns, which I wrote in 2007, and then read Kenny's Back, which I wrote in the 60s and which I thought was one of the best things I did then, I think you'd find them pretty akin.
Well, I venture into different realms: Lola, as I said, was about a cross dresser, and Longhorns the macho gay-male fantasy cowboys, and the upcoming Deadly Nightshade is a cop/partners story, which I hadn't done before, and a departure for me because I'm really not a detective story kind of writer; which is to say, when those things are done well, it's a lot about the complicated plot structure, and that's not my strong suit; I'm more about character and style. Really, I'm a storyteller more than a novelist.

The main difference in what I do today is, I think, that most of it I do now on automatic pilot. When I sit down to write, the inner writer, the muse, my subconscious, whatever you want to call it, takes over, and my job is just keeping me out of the way. I do very little thinking about the mechanics. But that's the privilege you get for hanging around so long (I suspect some think, too long).

5. You’re fond of saying “Victor J. Banis is a writer.” So can you tell me something about your writing routine? Since your characters come up and tell you their stories, I am assuming they don’t keep office hours. Do they arrive at inopportune times, say like in the middle of a hot date?

Hot date? Gosh, I had to think about that. Yes, now I remember those. You take hold of this big hard thing, and you throw it…oh, wait, that's bowling. I get things confused.
Because in my early career, I treated writing as a job, I trained myself from the beginning to writing discipline. I write every morning, after coffee and the crossword puzzle. In the old days, it was all day. Now, I'm a little easier on myself, but it's still seven days a week, including Christmas and New Years. A day when I don't write is like a day when you forget to brush your teeth, you just don't feel right the whole day.

6. Do you read as much as you appear to? Which authors do you like the most?

Honey, I don't do anything as much as I used to. I read a lot, some of it for pleasure and some for work. I'm working with my friend Nowell Briscoe right now on a zany kind of would be crime novel and I am re-reading a lot of Carl Hiaasen's novels, dissecting them, really, to see how he makes it work, the machinery of it, if you will. But, that kind of reading is work rather than pleasure. I like some of our glbt writers today – I'm going to get in trouble mentioning some and forgetting others (my memory never was what it used to be), but Dorien Grey and Rick Reed and Lori Lake pop into my mind immediately, and Neil Plakcy, and Ruth Sims.
William Maltese is a friend who goes nearly all the way back with me, and he's terrific, and I read a manuscript recently by Alan Chin, whose first novel, Island Song, has just been published, and I'm really looking forward to reading that, he is so marvelously talented. And I know I've neglected to mention some deserving names.
There are so many very talented writers around these days, and it breaks my heart that they have such a rough row to hoe. So, I try to do what I can to encourage them, which isn't much, and I so very much wish it were more. I've said often, anyone could name a hundred or so writers who write better than I; but only a few who worked harder or longer to master their craft; a mere handful who are more supportive of other writers; and none, I am firmly convinced, more committed to gay and lesbian fiction.
And, you know, it's a funny thing, and I don't mean this to sound patronizing, but I have this sense that they are all in a way my protégés. It ain't a bad feeling. I'm well along in years, and it is gratifying to be able to look back and know that you made a difference, even a small one. Trust me, you don't want to get to this stage and look over your shoulder and see nothing behind you but a trail of wasted moments. Make some of them count, at least. You'll be in much better shape when you finally face that Heavenly tribunal (and, Lord knows, I'm going to have a hard enough time of it; I need all the help I can get. There's that incident with the dress, and the time at Camp Pendleton, and that business with the priest and the snail and…oh well, never mind, I may use that one in a book)

7. What ever happened to Aday and Ortega?

That question has come up before, and I'm embarrassed to confess I don't really know. I'll have to figure how to find out. I believe they did go to prison, but I doubt that they served the 25 years.
Wait, wait, wait, you didn't ask the one thing everybody always asks me, which is what advice I have to offer young writers.

8. I never ask that question precisely because everybody asks you that question. I’m trying to make you remember me. To add to your list of exciting new authors! So, I wasn’t going to ask you The Question, but anything that keeps me near you a moment longer, Victor J, it’s groovy with me. Go on, I’m keen to hear it. I bet it’s brief and involves bowling balls, right?

Okay, are you sitting down? Want to get a cup of coffee. Here it is, big fanfare: Have fun!
That's it. Have fun. I know it doesn't sound like much, but, hey, if it's just going to be work for you, you might as well be selling shoes at Macy's. For me, it's the most fun of anything I can think of, the ultimate high. I have said repeatedly, I am constantly drunk on the magic. If that ever wears off…but it hasn't yet. It's all still just as fresh and as wonderful to me as it was at the beginning. There is still no thrill as great as opening that package from a publisher and holding a real live copy of my book in my hands.
I hope every writer shares that kind of thrill. It makes all the rest, and there's a lot of "rest," worthwhile.
Thanks for having me. I'm still not sure about that bowling thing.

10. I liked the bowling thing, Victor J. I feel like I brought out the sexy beast in you….grrr. Which leads me to my final question: You play a lot of personal details very close to the chest such as where you live etc. even on your official site, but I did notice on your MySpace page that you are single. Oh, yes, AJ did the happy dance when he read that! So, the question is, Victor J. Banis, will you marry me?

Wait, shouldn't there be champagne flowing, and soft music? You're proposing to me on top of a bowling ball? This is Aussie romance? You're just lucky I'm a crotchety old bachelor, what if I got reckless and took you up on that? Next I suppose you'll want your towel back. I'm not going to launder it, I swear it.

On Behalf of the Dark Divas, I’d like to thank Victor J. Banis for stopping by today…no Victor J. About the towel? It’s embarrassing. Please...let’s keep it our little secret.

To learn more about Victor J. Banis, please check out this link:


Jon Michaelsen said...

It has been a please to get to "know" Victor J Banis, the writer, the person - the human, more. Thank you A.J for bringing this iconic author to the forefront and getting him to speak; quit easily it seems. What's more wonderful is that the, uhm, younger readers get to discover MR. Banis all over again! This interview proves that authors some of us have read for years are still as humble and meamorable as ever... great job!

Jambrea said...

What a great interview. It was nice getting to know Victor J. Banis. AJ...your interveiw style is a lot like your blogs. It is very refreshing and I love it. You two played off of each other well.

Thank you!

AJ Llewellyn said...

Thanks Jon and Jambrea,
Isn't Victor J. awesome??

thanks for stopping by!


Katrina Strauss said...

Great interview, AJ! Mr. Banis certainly paved the way for those who've come after him. Interviews like this are great for lending us a bit o' perspective on a literary heritage we might otherwise take for granted. Kudos to Mr. Banis for making his passion his life's work. We should all be so lucky!

Wendi said...

This was an absolutely fabulous interview, AJ. And I'm thoroughly impressed with Victor J. Banis.

So now I have a question. If I come to the wedding and bring a mop... Ahhh, nevermind. I'll see you both at the bowling alley. :)

Wendi Darlin

Eliza Knight said...

What a fabulous man! He's so genuine and real, and you can tell he really enjoys what he does!

Thanks for sharing!

Sarah said...

Victor, a big MWAH! and kiss from your no.1 New Zealand fan. This was such a fantastic interview A.J.

Desirée Lee said...

I'll echo the others' sentiments.

Thanks to Mr. Banis for sharing so much of his experience for the DDR readers.

Thanks to AJ for bringing it all to us!

Carpe Noctem,

Desirée Lee
Putting the Romance Back in Necromancy