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Transcendental Fiction: Thurman P. Banks, Jr. on 'Beyond John Dann' (Q&A)

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Thurman P. Banks, Jr.

Banks is the debut novelist of Beyond John Dann (Lulu, $19.99). He lives with his wife, two sons, and the beloved family beasts (Max and Rusafee) in coastal Connecticut. His second book, The Light of a Bright Sun, is due out later this year.

Beyond John Dann was published in 2012 and is currently available in hardcover, paperback, and digital editions. In their review of the book, The Resident noted, “A story of survival, the novel is coupled with compassion, forgiveness, and humor. Thought-provoking, inspirational, often heart-wrenching, and written with pristine clarity, ‘Beyond John Dann’ will stay with you long after you’ve read it.”

From the publisher:

A tale of humor and heartbreak, coming of age, inspiration, and family.

Now, Thurman P. Banks, Jr. reveals the truths that inspired his fictional debut …

1) What first inspired you to write BEYOND JOHN DANN – and what is the significance of the title?

My own life lessons, my sister's death, those were the foundation for Beyond John Dann. I actually never planned on publishing the story. It was my sisters who told me that I needed to, and the rest just adds to the history. The title was two parts. The Beyond, for me, represents looking past the things life has, or is, constantly throwing at us, and seeing the greater picture and bonds that connect humanity. John Dann was a play on the fact that my father had originally wanted to name me John Dan Banks, yet, was vetoed by my sisters, who insisted on Thurman Jr. As you can tell, my sisters’ opinions hold their fair share of weight, and they always have.

2) At its heart, the book is a coming of age story whose protagonist is an everyman of sorts. How do you hope that readers might relate to John Dann – and what did you find to be the key to taking a familiar concept and making it your own creatively?

Almost everyone has faced something that John Dann or one of his family members has faced, whether it be lost love, poor decisions, or abuse of one form or another. I truly believe that what readers see in John Dann, is going to tell them as much about themselves as anything they will see in John. To take the concept and translate it into words took the simple act of will. Once I started, once I allowed myself to feel the story, I couldn't have stopped if I tried.

3) There are philosophical gems sprinkled generously throughout the narrative. Did these evolve naturally given the nature of the story or was it a conscious choice to include them? Also, did you find it challenging to impart wisdom without being preachy?

I just wrote. Whatever came, however it presented itself, I went with it. One of the philosophical messages of the book is about breaking the ties that bind. That is exactly how I wrote the book. What others thought, I really wasn't concerned about. I liked it. I knew my sisters would enjoy it, and that was the only audience I really worried about. If they thought I was too "preachy," I would have just told them to deal with it and keep reading. I can get away with that with them. I wouldn't recommend it for others, however.

4) Your characters are very “real” in the sense that they’re flawed but (most) have redeeming qualities. How do you achieve that balance (or likability factor) – and how does the collective family unit serve to help in defining each character individually?

Life is often like a mirror, what we see in others is often no more than a reflection of ourselves. I want my characters--in every book I write--to show us a piece of ourselves. We all have flaws of some sort, yet, even with them, we still have good, redeeming values within us as well. My goal is just to amplify whichever part of a character suits the situation I have put them in. The collective family unit is the best place, or at least, it was in my case, to see those emotions. My family, my sisters and I especially, are very "real" with each other. We aren't afraid to show the beauty and kindness as well as the flaws and imperfections. I'm extremely grateful for that.

5) As a debut novelist, what lessons did you take from writing this book – and how do you hope that your future endeavors will benefit from the experience?

Too many lessons to list them all here. If one stands out it's never let the fear of failure keep you from putting yourself out there. I will be nervous, anxious, drive my wife crazy--sorry about that, honey--but I won't let it stop me. That determination, along with all the incredible people I have met since writing BJD, will hopefully keep me going.

6) Leave us with a little teaser: what comes next?

Up next is The Light of a Bright Sun, the first in a three book series following another family of flawed but lovable characters from Hayward, CT., through the ups and downs of life and death--I think I watched too many soap operas as a kid. We can thank my sister's for that, as well!

***

With thanks to Thurman P. Banks, Jr. for his generosity of time and thought.

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