A Valuable Apprenticeship: Noted playwright helps fledgling author find his voice

by Neil Ellis Orts

Some people seem to have the creative urge hardwired into their system. Daryl Banner may have only recently published his first novel, Psychology of Want, but it is definitely not his first creative endeavor.

Banner grew up in Katy playing around on keyboards. He began typing on a computer at the age of five, and soon after he taught himself to play piano. Not content to only play other people’s compositions, he immediately began composing. “I’ve never been formally trained in music,” he says. “I just learned to play by ear, and I’ve been writing music ever since.”

Then there is the other keyboard, the one with the letters on it. As a teenager, he became involved in theater classes, and it wasn’t long before he began writing for the stage.

“I wrote my first play in high school,” Banner says. “It was one of the HYPE [Houston Young Playwrights Exchange] winners at the Alley Theatre. That play went on to win the TETA [Texas Educational Theatre Association] award and got presented in Dallas. The success of that play provided the positive reinforcement of my writing skill that inspired me to continue in that direction.” As a senior he wrote his second play, which he was allowed to direct.

Although he was writing plays, he still considered himself primarily an actor. He enrolled at the University of Houston as a theater major and promptly began getting cast in shows. The writing bug, however, had bit, and in his third year, he applied for Edward Albee’s playwriting workshop. As luck would have it, that year Albee was taking some time off from teaching, and his friend Lanford Wilson stepped in to take over the workshop. After two years of Wilson choosing Banner’s plays for workshop productions, Wilson became a friend and mentor to Banner, which would prove helpful as Banner started working in prose.

After graduation from college, Banner began looking at some short pieces he’d written throughout his college career—originally just random pieces about college life. “Basically, I was dramatizing episodes of my experiences. All these fantasies and frustrations, I realized, came from the same point of view and the same voice. There was a common theme that threaded all of them, which was craving and hunger and want,” Banner says. He began to shape these short pieces into a longer narrative. “I’d only written three chapters and started to second-guess myself, wondering if I should even finish. So I sent the three chapters to Lanford Wilson.”

Through his college experience with Wilson, Banner knew that he would get honest feedback. “Lanford doesn’t mince words,” Banner says, laughing. So when Wilson responded with encouragement to finish the novel, Banner knew he was on to something. “He said my main character was unique in a way like no other he’d read before, and that he found the story to be riveting.”

The next six months found the writer and his mentor exchanging pages and critiques. With a little editing and setting the title up on Amazon.com’s CreateSpace, Psychology of Want was released into
the world.

Banner has been gratified to have had reactions to the book from gay men and women in their 20s to at least one straight man in his 60s. “I was worried when I first finished this book that the audience would be small, that only gay people would ‘get it,’ or only people struggling with issues like addiction or isolation—and I guess the biggest shock is that I’ve had a wide range of people who are embracing this book.”

Now that the book is out, much energy goes into getting the word out about it. Book signings at Houston Pride Festival and PFLAG are only the start. As any small-press author testifies, it takes a lot of work to get a book into a reader’s hands.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Banner is only marketing the book. Other creative endeavors demand attention. He continues to write music for websites and short-film projects. He’s written music and performed sound editing duties for the Vamplets.com website (vampire baby dolls) and regularly contributes stock music for Audio Jungle. This fall, The Strand in Galveston is presenting a Hurricane Ike commemorative theater event—a series of short plays about Ike—and Banner is contributing a script and music. And of course, there’s the inevitable second novel, already in progress.

As any artist at the beginning of his career (and many artists late in their careers), Banner maintains a day job to pay the bills, but he has no illusions about sudden fame and fortune. “Of course, someday it would be a total dream to have my real passion also be the bill payer, but I’m definitely not anticipating that,” he says. “I’m simply doing the writing for the love of it.”

Meet Daryl Banner on Saturday, August 14, from 1–4 p.m., at Half Price Books, 1011 Westheimer, near Montrose, when he’ll be signing copies of Psychology of Want.

Neil Ellis Orts is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Neil Ellis Orts

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer living in Houston. His creative writing has appeared in several small press journals and anthologies and his novella, Cary and John is available wherever you order books. He is a frequent contributor to OutSmart.

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