Voice actor and screenwriter James Bannon makes his authorial debut with one of our favorite Indie books of the year, I2, a riveting, unforgettable exploration of memory and reincarnation. Compact prose, tight pacing and a heady premise combine with masterful characterization and brutally honest depictions of love and violence to produce what Kirkus called "a science-fiction thriller of the highest order" in a starred review.
We recently caught up with the author between takes on the set of the crime drama Golden Boy to chat about reincarnation, voice acting and what's ahead.
Tell us briefly about I2.
The reason I wrote this book was to explore the concept of reincarnation. Through reincarnation, one only has vague memories of what you once were. I always wondered, 'Why vague? Why would you remember the parquet floor at the palace in Constantinople but not remember substantive stuff....Why would not knowing who you were be an advantage?'
Then I started thinking that memory can be a burden and that through reincarnation, you're unburdening yourself in your new life. This started as a 20-page short story and grew from there.
I'm exploring the inheritance of memory and comparing it with the way we compile knowledge. It used to be verbal, through word of mouth, song and rhyme, and finally writing was invented and other methods of recording. But we all start all over again....There are things you don't know that if you knew, you wouldn't go through because they're hard and painful. But our ignorance allows us to experience them. It's almost like [George Orwell's] Nineteen Eighty-Four slogan, “Ignorance is strength." It's an ironic phrase, but I thought there might be some truth to it.
You're a Hollywood insider: a voice actor and screenwriter. What prompted you to try your hand at a novel?
I'd been working in Hollywood and selling scripts as a writer and not getting them produced—or getting them almost produced. It was heartbreaking and very frustrating. I got married, had a child and started looking more at making a living. I speak a bunch of languages and just by circumstance got hired to do this Japanese accent for some TV show. It was a fluke, and it was great to get out of the house. I was working once a month, then twice a month, until I started getting calls maybe 10 times a month. I couldn't say no to the money, and I ended up getting away from writing and really missed it.
What TV shows might we have heard your work on?
A lot of the work I do is uncredited. I do about 180 episodes of dramatic television a year, but it's all uncredited. You hear me, though. I'll do many different characters in one particular episode, I'm the one narrating or the voice on the phone. I cover a lot of areas. I can be speaking Spanish, German, with a Mexican accent, like a New Yorker or a Chicago guy—all within one given episode.
I'm currently recording for the…show Golden Boy. I've worked on NYPD Blue, CSI: NY, Criminal Minds, Sons of Anarchy, Grimm. So many others, I can't even think of them.
And you've used your Hollywood chops to put together a stunning book trailer.
Maybe it was a misguided attempt [at selling actual books], but it did get eyeballs on the book and proved that it was a viable story. It may not have been the best use of money, but I had fun doing it, fun directing, working with actors and getting it all done on a two-day shoot. The odd thing about doing a trailer for a book is that the whole scenes aren't there to cull from. I had to figure out what those moments were. I did it ass backwards!
How does writing for the screen differ from writing a novel?
There's a lot more freedom in being able to write prose. You can digress, you can cut away from what you're talking about to illustrate it with a historical point. You can't do that normally with regular filmmaking. Image and timing is powerful in scriptwriting, but in prose, it doesn't have to be so distilled. It's like a good design. With screenwriting, it has to be a clear blueprint. But it's just a blueprint. When you finish a book, it's finished. It's a great feeling. It's yours, it's done, and it can't exist in any greater form than it is now. It's all on you; if people don't like it, you can just blame yourself.
What's next for you?
I don't know that I want to tip my hand on the story, but I'm working on a screenplay. When you've been laboring over a book for two and a half years, you kind of want to put another record on.