Monday, March 7, 2011

Author Interview: Victor J. Banis (author of Lola Dances)

Sitting down with us this morning is the talented, prolific, and surprisingly modest Victor J. Banis. When asked to neatly summarize his long and checkered career, he tends to keep it simple: Victor J. Banis is a writer. As a fan, however, I would like to elaborate . . .

Publisher's Weekly has credited him with "the master's touch in storytelling." He has been called "one of the Grand Old Men of Gay Fiction" and credited as one of the writers "who pioneered what we now call gay and lesbian literature" - all of this despite the fact that he never set out to be a gay writer. In fact, if not for obscentity charges and government harassment stemming from a few tame lesbian scenes in his debut novel, The Affairs of Gloria, what started as a lark would never have become a career. His first gay novel, The Why Not, was followed a few years later by the deliriously adventurous spy-spoof, The Man From C. A. M. P. (a very tattered paperback of which was my first exposure to his works). Overall, he has written nearly 150 books under various pen name, some very gay, but (surprisingly) most not at all.

What brings Victor by for a visit today does happen to be one of thos 'gay' titles, however, a little bit of transgender fiction called Lola Dances:

From the bestselling author of 'Longhorns'. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and often bawdy, Lola Dances ranges from the 1850 slums of the Bowery to the mining camps of California and Montana, to the Barbary Coast of San Francisco. Little Terry Murphy, pretty and effeminate, dreams of becoming a dancer. Raped by a drunken profligate and threatened with prison, Terry flees the Bowery and finds himself in the rugged settlement of Alder Gulch, where he stands out like a sore thumb among the camp's macho inhabitants--until the day he puts on a dress and dances for the unsuspecting miners as beautiful Lola Valdez--and wins fame, fortune and, ultimately, love.

I'll be giving Lola Dances a long overdue read in the coming weeks, with a review soon to come. In the meantime, let's learn a little bit about the man behind the magic.

♥ For those who may be new to your writing, please tell us a little about yourself.

I've been at it for nearly half a century (2013 will be my fiftieth anniversary) which is to say I started very, very young, and have produced a gazillion works, some of them good, some very good, and some cruddy. These days, mostly the first two, I like to think. I don't win awards or prizes, but I have always had a loyal coterie of fans, from around the world. I still hear from people who first wrote me decades ago. I played a part in the opening up of gay literature in the 60s, and I take pride in that fact. I suppose there are few in the field of m/m or gay fiction who don't know my name, although I'm sure not all of them say it with pleasure.

♥ I vote for pleasure! The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one (and, all modesty aside, you clearly qualify as accomplished). Looking back on your career, when did you first begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?

Oh, dear – I don’t think I’m accomplished so much as past my pull-by-date. I started "writing" - telling tales, really - when I was a little boy. My first written story, I was 9 or so, was about two plants in the pasture, a buttercup and a weed. A cow comes along and eats them both, and the buttercup eventually ends up in a little boy’s glass of milk, and the weed in a cow patty. The girls in class groaned but the boys loved it, thus steering me firmly in a direction I’ve followed ever since. In my early teens, I began a series of Nancy Drew-ish mysteries, and I wrote them all through high school. But I was in my twenties when I first saw something in print. It was a great thrill and even today, after scores of them, I am still thrilled to hold one of my books in my hand. I am always surprised to read the book and see that somehow I managed to get some of it right, though invariably there are parts I’d like to do over.

♥ I know you're somewhat unique in that circumstances kind of chose your original genre for you, but is there something specific that draws you the other genres in which your write . . . something you feel they offer that other forms of literature do not?

No, I don't particularly choose a genre. Story ideas come to me and they mostly dictate. But some genres interest me as a reader more than others. I’m not real big on fantasy, for instance, and I almost never write it.  I have always loved a good mystery but until recently I avoided writing them because I'm not that kind of writer. Really good mysteries - Agatha Christie, e.g., or P.D. James - require an elaborate plot structure, and that's not my strong suit, I'm more about character. I do write mysteries these days, but I always kind of feel like I'm winging it. In the past, I wrote mostly novels, but today I'm enjoying short stories.

♥ How does your past influence your writing? Are you always conscious of relating the story to your own experiences?

To my inner experiences, yes. To the details of my life, not so much. But an early novel, The Why  Not, was taken almost entirely from real episodes in my life and the lives of others whom I knew.

♥ At this point in your career, do you have a schedule or a routine to your writing? Is there a time and place that you must write, or do you let the words flow as they demand?

Generally speaking, I'm a morning person and a morning writer - but an idea for a bit of dialogue or a description might pop into my head at any time, and when it does, I try to get it down right away. Sometimes ideas come to me during the night. I gave up turning on the light and writing them down because the next morning I could never decipher my chicken-scratches, so instead I lie awake and run them over and over through my mind until I have them memorized, and then in the morning I type them out. This is a good way to cut down on your sleep.

♥ Do you have a soundtrack to your writing? Is there a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you focused and in the mood?

I never do anything else when writing - i.e., I never listen to music and I prefer as little background noise as possible. I don’t think I’m a very gifted writer, so I really have to stay focused. There are other situations, however, when I find music to be helpful. In case you lose your rhythm, say. Simpler than asking your partner to count cadence.

♥ I would say you're being far too modest, but I understand the need for silence. Now, for some authors, it's coming up with a title, and for others it's writing that first paragraph, but what do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing?

Convincing editors that I am a genius. Mostly writing seems easy to me, except when I’ve finished, I feel wrung out. It’s emotionally, mentally taxing. And sometimes I hit a wall. I know where I want to go with a work, but I can't get it to budge. I generally put it aside then and come back at it fresh at another time. But most of my writing is intuitive, so once I start, it just moves itself along.

♥ I know it's unfair to ask you to pick just one, but is there a favourite quote or scene from your work that you feel particularly fond of? Something that reminds you of why writing is important to you?

There's a scene in Lola Dances, when my character discovers his alter ego for the first time. I love that scene. And practically all of Princess of the Andes. But, really, there's almost always some scene or a line or two that makes me smile. Also some that make me groan.

♥ When you're not writing (or reading), what are some of the hobbies and passions that keep you happy?

I like to cook (and eat) - I like to travel, but don't get to do too much of that anymore. Men have gotten scarce since I passed the 70 mark, but I remember them fondly. Maybe I’ll stop here and eat something.

♥ Is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired you? How so?

I've been influenced a great deal by W. Somerset Maugham who was such a good storyteller. And, oddly I suppose, a writer from the 50s of romantic suspense, Mary Stewart, who gave such a wonderful sense of place.

♥ When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

Well, I do consider the reader, but I pretty much write for my own satisfaction. Or, more accurately for the satisfaction of my characters. I try to get myself out of the way as much as possible. Thinking consciously about what you’re writing interferes with the process.

♥ What is your favourite aspect of the author-reader relationship? Do you actively seek out any formal interaction with your readers?

I love getting feedback from my readers. I don't actively seek it, but I have always gotten quite a bit of fan mail and that's nice. Sometimes they say nasty things, though. Sometimes it’s the suggestion that I do certain anatomically impossible things to myself. But mostly they are friendly. Once in a while they hint at romance. No one’s offered to buy me a Rolls, however. Now that would be romantic.

♥ What is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've ever encountered?

In reviewing one of my suspense novels, the reviewer said that I showed a remarkable understanding of the problems of mental patients. She may have been trying to say politely that I'm nuts. There’s a considerable body of opinion that supports that idea but I prefer to think of myself as nervous and boy crazy.

♥ I suspect all authors are a little bit nuts . . . after all, what is writing other than dictating the voices in your head! When you're looking to escape into a really good book (the kind that makes you miss appointments, forget about dinner, and stay up way too late), which authors do you generally reach for, and why?

My reading is very eclectic. I like Laurence Shames, and P.D. James, and Alan Chin. Carl Hiassen, but he seems to have gone off the boil of late. I like Anne Brooke. Mykola Dementiuk is hard for me to read because he's so gritty and I’m a bit of a prissy, but I do think he's a genius, or something akin thereto. He is definitely one of a kind.

♥ You're right, Mick can be a difficult read, but absolutely fascinating. Forgetting about all-time favourites for a moment, what's the last book you read, and would you recommend it?

I read an advance copy (so I could write a blurb) of a novel, "A Hundred Little Lies," by Jon Wilson, due out this spring from Cheyenne Press, and yes, I will recommend it heartily when it’s available.

♥ Just for fun, who would you single out as your number one celebrity crush, and what would you like most to do with/to them?

The cute young man who lives up the street. Can’t tell you all the things I’d do, but when I got done with him, he would definitely feel like a star!

♥ Okay, that surely qualifies as the best answer to that question yet! Speaking of stars, if one of your books were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?

I am so out of touch with the movie world today, I don't even know the names of the actors making films with the exception of some of the old timers. I'll watch anything with Helen Mirren in it, or Maggie Smith. See, they’re old. I like Johnny Depp, he’s younger. He could play one of the guys in Lola Dances, but I don’t see him as Lola. Or, I don’t know – he does have pretty legs, doesn’t he? Did he wear heels in Ed Wood? I don’t remember.

♥ As a huge Johnny Depp fan, I can gleefully confirm the heels . . . and the fuzzy angora sweaters! Looking back on your work, is there a particular character who you feel best reflects yourself, or do you consciously avoid putting yourself into the story?

I don't suppose any writer can avoid putting himself into his stories. All of my characters reflect some part of myself or my life, something that I question, or that I feel I have gotten an answer to. Of course, Spine Intact, Some Creases is all about me. It’s wonderful, too.

♥ See, there's that modesty again. Seriously, though, if you could live the life any character in fiction, whose story would you choose to live, and why?

My own life has been like a novel. Or maybe more like a roller coaster. It's all I can do to keep a handle on that.

♥ Is there a particular theme or message you're expecting readers to take away from your work?

I like to think that much of my writing illuminates something about the human condition. Most of it deals with love in one sense or another - pursuing it, losing it, coming to understand it...

♥ Are there any upcoming appearances or signings that you can share with us?

The only thing I have scheduled at the moment is the Authors After Dark convention in Philadelphia in August. And in conjunction with that, several writers will be doing signings at Giovanni's Room on the Saturday night, as I understand it. They said I was to meet them in the alley behind the store, and come alone. I guess they’ve got some big surprise planned. One or two mentioned pitchforks. Maybe it’s a hayride.

♥ I`m sure the pitchforks are just to keep the fans away. What can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

I'm just waiting for the muse to tell me what she wants next. My muse is Snotto. She gets left out of the tonier books. What a bitch! But sometimes she comes across for me. More often than my last boyfriend did, at least.


A huge "thank you" to Victor J. Banis for stopping by. You can check him out on the web at Please check back soon for my review of Lola Dances.


  1. Sally, thanks for a fun interview - Victor

  2. Your interview was great, as always. But I wonder if there was one work that you'd leave behind which would one it be, Lola Dances, or Angel Land, or some other?

  3. Great interview, Victor! May I suggest, however, not meeting those writers behind the store. After all, pitchforks would keep your fans away and I'm sure you'd like to meet some of them. (and hay rides are overrated-heh)

  4. Reading about you, Victor, even after reading about you for all of the years we've been around, is ALWAYS such a pleasure.

  5. Sally and Victor, thank you for a good-read interview. Victor always tells truth... good, bad, ugly, beautiful.

  6. Great interview - always fascinating to find out more about Victor! (And thank you also for the mention, Victor ...).

    I do so relate to the need for silence when writing - glad it's not just me, as everyone else I know writes to music!


    Anne B

  7. No wonder I like you, Victor. Maugham and Mary Stewart are two of my favorites, too.

    Thanks for this interview!