Victor J. Banis (born 1937) is an American author, often associated with the first wave of west coast gay writing. For his contributions he has been called "the godfather of modern popular gay fiction." He is openly gay.
Born in 1937 in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, Victor J. Banis was the tenth of eleven children born to William and Anna Banis. As a small child, Banis moved with his family to Eaton, Ohio, where he lived on a farm and finished high school in 1955. While still in grade school, he began writing Nancy Drew-inspired mysteries featuring his classmate Carol Peters, now the writer Carol Cail. In his memoirs he writes about growing up in severe poverty.
On his own, he lived for a brief time in Birmingham, Alabama, before moving to Dayton, Ohio, where he worked in sales and floral design. In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for 20 years and had his first literary success. He rapidly turned out a number of important novels, and he and his partner, Sam Dodson, collaborated on a number of nonfictional gay works as well as a few, generally insignificant novels. They also published magazines and edited for DSI, a Minneapolis publisher. Banis served as a tutor for various aspiring writers and acted as their de facto agent. He championed the early writing of mystery writer Joseph Hansen, among others. In 1980, he moved to Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains, and then in 1985 to San Francisco, where he worked as a property manager. In 2004 he retired and took up residence in Martinsburg, West Virginia. There he returned to writing full time.
Banis's first published work was a short story, "Broken Record," that appeared in the Swiss gay publication Der Kreis in 1963. His first long work of fiction was The Affairs of Gloria, a heterosexual romance with a few lesbian scenes inspired by the recentpopularity of novels with lesbian themes; it was published in 1964 by Brandon House, a Los Angeles paperback publisher. The novel was indicted by a federal grand jury in Sioux City, Iowa, for conspiracy to distribute obscene materials in a government scheme to crack down on materials deemed pornographic. Although some of his co-defendants were found guilty, Banis himself was acquitted.
He continued to write both straight and bisexual novels for Brandon House, but incensed by government censorship, he was increasingly drawn to depicting the struggling gay scene that was yet barely chronicled in American literature. His first significant work of fiction was the innovative novel The Why Not, 1966. A series of intertwining sketches of habitués of a Los Angeles gay bar, it was the first gay work published by a San Diego firm, Greenleaf Classics.
Finding the novel sold well, editor-in-chief Earl Kemp asked Banis to submit other gay novels. Thus was born The Man from C.A.M.P., 1966. The success of the original novel was so great that Banis went on to write eight sequels, 1966-1968. The series is historically important for several reasons. It was the first gay mystery series, already five in number before George Baxt could follow up on his success with A Queer Kind of Death, also 1966. And the C.A.M.P. novels depicted what is probably the first openly out and joyfully unrestrained gay hero in American letters, the indomitable undercover agent Jackie Holmes.
Banis wrote under a number of pseudonyms for Greenleaf, Brandon House, and Sherbourne Press. They include Victor Jay, J. X. Williams, Jay Vickery, and others for his gay male pulp fiction works. However, upon the success of The Gay Haunt, 1970, published by Maurice Girodias in his Traveller’s Companion series, Banis moved away from the gay genre. He began writing heterosexual gothic romances, again under a variety of pseudonyms. Jan Alexander and Lynn Benedict were two of the most popular. In 1977 he moved into more mainstream publishing with a historical novel, This Splendid Earth, written under the byline V. J. Banis and published by St. Martin’s Press. Its success led to a sequel and opened doors at Warner Books and Arbor House. But by 1980 he was feeling burned out and ceased publishing.
In the early years of the new millennium, Banis found himself approached by various scholars seeking information about the history of gay publishing during those crucial years in the 1960s. Their number included Hubert C. Kennedy, Michael Bronski, Susan Stryker, Fabio Cleto, and Drewey Wayne Gunn. In 2004 Professor Cleto, of the university in Bergamo, Italy, contacted Haworth Books about republishing three of the early C.A.M.P. novels and convinced his own university to publish Banis’s memoirs, Spine Intact, Some Creases. In 2006 Bill Warner of GLB Press brought out a second trilogy of C.A.M.P. novels, and Michael Burgess of Wildside Press began republishing others of Banis’s long out-of-print novels.
Banis began writing fiction once again. He appeared in a number of anthologies. Come This Way, a collection of new and some old stories along with excerpts from earlier novels, was published by Regal Crest in 2007 with an homage from Drewey Wayne Gunn. The same year, Wildside Press published Avalon, a heterosexual romance set in the 1940s through the 1970s, and Carroll and Graf published the gay western romance Longhorns, with an informative essay by Michael Bronski, his first new novels in more than thirty years.