Interview With Jerry Banks
Three-time author of the Barry O’Shea series is my guest author this week. I am honored to have interviewed author Jerry Banks.
Jerry practiced law for over 41 years and using his many years of legal experience and his knowledge of how the system works. He has written three outstanding mystery/legal thrillers for everyone to enjoy. I would like to thank author Jerry Banks for agreeing to do this interview with me. Jerry is the author of three outstanding novels that I have read and reviewed.
Each day I will post several questions that I posed to Jerry along with his responses. Please feel free to comment, leave questions for the author and read the interview to get to know him better. I am reposting all three of his reviews to whet your appetites and entice all readers to buy the entire Barry O’Shea series written by this five-star author.
Fran: How did you develop your character of Barry O’Shea?
Jerry: I have to admit, that Barry O’Shea was modeled after me. Of course, O’Shea can be a bit of a rule-breaker and I’m not. But, for the most part, his reactions to events are very similar to how I would handle things.
Jerry: Yes, of course. Even though this is fiction, like all good fiction, there is a foothold in reality. Readers are willing to suspend disbelief the moment they pick up a novel, so you have to make it as real as possible for them. To do so, I visited the site where I put the Lukarilla retreat camp and did research to develop the NYC & Illinois characters. I am personally familiar with the NYC scenes like the Dorset Hotel which I stayed at many times. I relied on my personal experience and knowledge for most of the locations and character types. The saying goes, “Write what you know.”
Fran: As a lawyer how much of what you write about have you experienced in your career?
Jerry: Most of it. All of the courtroom scenes are based upon direct experience. I have tons of expertise to draw from when it comes to direct examination and cross-examination. My first novel, Secret Agenda, is about a case against a cult—it just so happens I tried a case in Oregon that involved a cult. Of course, names, locations, and circumstances within the novel are different…that’s the fiction part. I played the game of “what-if” and that added quite a bit of drama to the plot. My second novel, Second District is about a contested election, the “fixing” of the ballots and the recount. Just so happens I was involved in such a case. However, in the novel I was able to explore how such a thing happened, whereas, in “real” life, the facts were too difficult to prove. It’s great writing fiction because I get to alter, change, or complete rewrite events.
Fran: In Second District: The character of Arch Sinclair is really interesting- what made you decide on a movie star as the character in your book to go after a congressman? How did you develop the idea for this book?
Jerry: I like that question because entails a little bit of family history. The character’s name is the actual my wife’s grandfather’s name, which to me sound so Hollywood and I suppose I was influenced by movie stars running for Congress. I’m not sure why, but that always intrigued me. I always hope that they are more than just a pretty face! I was developing a scenario for the novel that would end with a contest of a recount while doing so I moved the location and was forced to come up with an election event that was much different from the one I was personally involved in. I also had a case in the Steens Mountains, and I fell in love with the area.
It is distinctly different from an area place in Oregon. I knew of some movie stars getting into ranching, and the Steens Mountain area seemed to me like a great area in which to invest. There was only one big ranch in the area at the time I was there, but in the book, I had my “movie star” buy a fictional farm near the real one. I did investigate the existing ranch’s structure, and I patterned the fictional ranch in the same way. I figured that if I made the owner of the neighboring ranch the congressman for that part of the state, I could create a story where the movie star was shooting a movie in the area, fall in love with the scenery, as did I, and by an abandoned ranch. The problems between the neighbors developed, which can be all to true, and I put them at further odds when the movie star runs against his neighbor in the election. Again, I manipulated reality and played the game of “what-if”.
Fran: In Second District the character of Jason Yarbrough is not that different from politicians today- when you describe some of the underhanded things he wanted to do in order to win the election and ruin Arch’s reputation: Did base it on real-life events or as these entirely fictional?
Jerry: I had handled a case for sheriff of a small county where the opponent did exactly what Yarbrough and his men did. However, much has been fictionalized. It is always a compliment to me when some asked me: “Did that really happen?” That means they bought into my story and that, at least to some degree, I successfully blended fiction and real life.
Fran: Pam Hall is a unique and different character: Are there people that do that type of work and keep their identities hidden and are contacted by other people?
Jerry: Pam Hall is based upon an investigator that I knew for many years.
Fran: Sarah is really amazing in that she is able to deal with Barry’s schedule, all of the people that he comes in contact with and never fails to support him in all he does: Do you think there will come a time when she will not understand how dedicated he is to his career and his job as a lawyer? Do you see him ever becoming Attorney General of Governor?
Jerry: No, I don’t see that time coming. That is not my contemplation of the role she plays. And, no I don’t foresee Barry ever becoming an Attorney General, Governor or a judge. But one never knows. Sometimes the characters have taken on a life that I never expected them to live. They surprise me from time to time and I created them!
Fran: How did you decide to use the theme of a cult in Secret Agenda? Did you do any research? Is this story based on real-life events or just fictional?
Jerry: The plot line of a cult with a “secret agenda” is terrifying to most people. It also makes for good suspense and a ton of thrills. It has a foot in truth and another in fiction.
Fran: When you described how an election process works and how disputed elections are handled, what research did you do? I found the entire process of recounting ballots and understanding how that works interesting? I have never used a paper ballot in an election; we have the old machines here. How does that work?
Can the boxes be stuffed with extra ballots? How do the people counting know that they have a bad or invalid ballot that needs to be analyzed? The process of setting the ballot aside and the rest that you described in Second District: Is that the procedure followed?
Jerry: Yes, I did research in my real-life case. The scenario is based on the law in Oregon. Since that law has been rewritten and is completely changed. We had written ballots at that time. In each race or issue, you had to place a mark beside the candidate or issue you were voting for and those ballots were counted by hand. When I researched the law to find a remedy I finally found an old Minnesota case (pre-1900) that was factually similar and had the result I wanted. The procedure I describe in the book is the actual procedure in accordance with an old Oregon statute. The ballot boxes could contain unused ballots. If such ballots were left in the boxes when stored after the original count this would be against the procedure specified in the statute. If such ballots were found by someone before the recount and that someone used them, there would be no way to detect them in the recount. In the story the ballots set-aside by the recounting board had actually been defaced with by adding an additional vote to the ballot or by scratching out the voter’s vote. Those ballots could be analyzed.
Fran: In Secret Agenda: the way these people were able to infiltrate an entire state was frightening to say the least: How did you come up with the chain of events that allowed them to complete most of their goals?
Jerry: I researched the statutes that were in place at the time and found that a new county could be formed if a sufficient number of residents petitioned for it; enough area involved and the population of the area was large enough. So I had the cult set about populating the towns in the area. They did this quietly as not to drawn any attention to themselves. Essentially their goal was to take over the towns before anyone could stop them.
Fran: Without giving away anything could you please give our readers a short summary of Secret Agenda and Second District?
Jerry: Secret Agenda is a story about a middle-eastern cult that settles on an abandoned ranch in a remote area of Oregon. Through a series of moves, then allowed by an Oregon statute, they quietly set in motion a plan to take over two existing counties and set up their own country with a separate government and separate regulations and laws. In the process, they contrived grounds to bring suit against a local newspaper and editor for a libel action. The suit takes place in Portland in an effort to keep it from the community the cult was taking over. Portland lawyer, Barry O’Shea, defends the paper and its editor while he was also representing the Governor in his effort to defeat the cult’s take-over activities. The libel case is brought to trial is filled with suspense and drama. The outcome is rather unexpected.
Second District is a political story about the clash of two neighboring ranchers in the southeastern Oregon Steens Mountain. One neighbor is the Second District Congressman; the other is a famous movie star. Barry O’Shea is hired to get the actor out of his bitter entanglement with the Congressman but is initially unsuccessful, so the actor runs against the Congressman in the next election. The election is one dirty trick after another by the Congressman and his cohorts. The actor narrowly wins the race and the Congressman calls a recount and he wins by a slim margin. The actor then files a contest of the recount result. Then the whole thing ends up in court and a stream of intriguing events finishes up the batter. Like all Barry O’Shea’s court cases, the ending is not what is expected.
Fran: Why did you pick Oregon as the setting for Secret Agenda? Having never been there are the areas described in your book really counties in Oregon?
Jerry: I am familiar with all the locales in my novels. Most settings are in Oregon. The counties are actual counties and I’m not aware of any earlier efforts to divide them. Actually, I don’t know of any prior uses of the unusual statutory scheme to create new counties out of existing counties. That was one of the reasons I tried it in this book.
Fran: What made you include the information about Tantric Buddhism, which really added to the cult’s mystic?
Jerry: When I decided to write a novel I knew I wanted to have my cult leader from a country that the reader would readily accept an upbringing that could develop from mysticism for spiritual growth to cult-like control of others. I decided on Pakistan and India and then did my research. During my research, I learned that the practices of ancient Bhutan still are practiced by someone. So I had my character visit and become involved in Bhutan.
Jerry: The same as the one delivered by the jury.
Fran: In this book, you included every deposition, every document and all of the evidence used in a trial. Why did you decide to include so much information? Were you trying to instruct the reader to understand the legal process of what it takes to prepare for any trial?
Jerry: Fiction is about the character and his storyline. I believe including depositions, etc it added to creating a real the character. I must admit, though, I hope the reader picks up a few pointers.
Fran: When Amanda warned Susan not to appear at the trial, why did she? What were her true motives for asking for Amanda’s help?
Jerry: She did not want Susan around during the trial for fear that if the defense saw her they would call her as an adverse witness and that would have put the press on trial. However, Amanda wanted Susan’s help in trial preparations because Susan had a large network behind her and could accomplish lots of things that were beyond Amanda’s reach.
Fran: What type of law did you practice? Did you ever try any cases similar to the ones in your three books?
Jerry: Yes, I did. I wanted to try trial law right-out-of law school. I was very fortunate to be hired by the premier defense firm in Portland at the time. The thing that made the timing so good was that there were a lot of automobile cases. There were no no-fault laws at that time so the courthouse were full of cases involving personal injuries, or purported ones, from automobile accidents. This was a great training ground. During the ’60s I tried nearly l00 cases, all very similar so they were easy to prepare, but the courtroom experience was exceptional. Nowadays, there aren’t as many uncomplicated cases around to teach lawyers how to act in court, thus there are fewer lawyers who actually have this background. I did a trial, a few criminal cases for low-income persons in my earlier years because there were no public defenders and judges appointed you lawyer to defend these people. And yes, I did try cases similar to those in my books.
Fran: In your first novel you really help the reader understand the process of filing depositions, how they are taken and what each witness has to handle while on the stand. Why did you include all of this in your novel? I found it very interesting and it helped me to understand how the process works and more about he law? Why did you include these documents?
Jerry: I did that do add to the character—to give the story a “real-life” sense. If I taught the reader a few things, then great. It’s an added bonus for me—author and teacher.
Fran: Why did Susan get so involved in the trial? Why didn’t see adhere to Amanda’s wishes when she told her to stay away from the courtroom?
Jerry: It’s part of her personality. She always has to be where the action is and no one can keep her away.
Fran: Where do you see Barry and his team of lawyers next?
Jerry: I have completed two more Barry O’Shea novels. Vital to the Defense is being published SterlingHouse Publisher for release in April 2011. It’s a story about a horrendous fire at a plywood mill in south-central Oregon. Barry and his team become to represent the manufacture of a forklift truck that the plaintiff claims caused the fire. The trial is held in Federal Court in Medford, Oregon. The next one is in the editing stage and involves a tragic head-on collision between a passenger van and a pickup truck pulling a cattle trailer on a mountain road heading through the Oregon Coast Range Mountains. The driver of the van was killed as was one of his son passengers. His wife was rendered a paraplegic. They are represented by a well-known attorney from Carson, Nevada who files suit against the designer and manufacturer of the van and the manufacture of the pickup. Barry and his team represent the truck manufacturer. Is a great story that involves a series of investigations, relationships, and pretrial proceedings. I enjoyed writing and researching the setting: Astoria Oregon. After the editing is complete, I’m on to the next one.
Fran: Why is Sarah so understanding of Barry working with Becky, Pam and so many other women and she is often left at home?
Jerry: Sarah is Barry’s secretary as well as his wife. She loves the law and Barry’s part in it. Pam is her confidant and the other women are a part of the legal proceedings, so she understands Barry working with them.
Fran: Does Pam ever get frustrated by Barry’s drive? Do you think she will ever take more of an active part than she does in his work?
Jerry: Pam is very satisfied with the work she does and the way she does it. She’s a supporting character who may get a larger role from time to time, but really she is, for the moment, happy where she’s at.
Fran: Second District was really interesting with the area that you delve into: Do you think that voter tampering could take place by having the ballot boxes taken without anyone’s knowledge? The way you did it in this book was quite ingenious.
Jerry: Yes, I do. I created a believable scenario in my book. Problem is in real life it can be harder to prove.
Fran: What was the hardest or most difficult part about writing your first book?
Jerry: Going from lawyer writing to fiction writing. Let’s put it this way: You can knit a pair of gloves and you can knit a pair of socks—both involve the craft of knitting. BUT, you would look awful stupid wearing socks on your hands and gloves on your feet. Oh, you could do it, but again you’d look silly. Writing legalese and writing fiction—both involved the craft of writing. But they are different—it took years and constant input from my teachers, editors, and publisher to get to the point that I am as a novelist. And, I’m still learning! The only difference is: I can accept criticism gracefully and learn from it. (It still hurts, though!).
Fran: How did you decide to write about each area? In each book, you chose a topic that is current and vital: You chose sexual abuse, you chose voter tampering and finally cults and wanting to take over an entire county and more. How did you decide in these areas and what is next?
Jerry: As a fiction writer the safest, most effective thing to write about is about what you know. Take what you know, add in a lot of imagination and a huge helping of “crafting” and you’re on your way. As far as what is next: The Barry O’Shea side of me never lets a good story pass him by.
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. I am looking forward to having you on my show in June as a guest author and as a featured author in September. It is has been my pleasure to do this online interview with you.