Friday, April 29, 2011

Author Interview - Dakota Banks!

Dark Time: Mortal Path Book 1Dark Time: Mortal Path Book 1Dark Time: Mortal Path Book 1

I've been delighted to have Dakota Banks visiting here at Book Reader's Heaven this month! Thank you Dakota for allowing us to learn more about you and your wonderful books. I think I've said this before, have a new fan here!

Glenda, I appreciate the opportunity to be with you and, especially, for your reviews! I certainly am happy to have you as a fan and will enjoy a continued sharing with you in the future...

Dakota, you are writing under a different name for your Mortal Path series—what made you decide to do that and how did you come up with your “new” name?

I wrote my suspense novels under my real name, Shirley Kennett. When I decided to switch genres, I wanted a new name to associate with the new genre. At the time, I planned to keep writing suspense novels as Shirley as well as the new series as Dakota. There wasn’t any attempt to keep my real name secret—I just wanted to have two identities, two websites, two different personas to use at conferences. As it turned out, I haven’t kept up the suspense novels because the research-intensive Mortal Path series has taken a lot of time and energy to get rolling. I do plan to return to suspense, though, and publish again as Shirley Kennett as soon as I get the chance.

The pen name Dakota Banks belonged to the protagonist in the first of a series of books I was trying to place in the Harlequin Bombshell imprint, with strong, adventurous female leads. I revised the book several times according to their editor’s suggestions, but didn’t manage to get it right for them. I suspect it’s because I have a tendency to let the adventure overtake the romance, and for Harlequin, that wasn’t the right mix. I loved the protagonist’s name, and when it came time to choose a pen name, I took her name as my own.

Well, I have to say that there are many women such as myself that enjoy adventure with a dash of romance, so in my opinion, that was Harlequin's loss! I too love Dakota as the name and I'm glad she'll be around more than in just one book. You had published a number of books earlier, why did you go into a series and did you think you would have a successful series?

Most of my earlier books belonged to a series, with the continuing character PJ Gray. She was a civilian employee of a police department who ran an experimental virtual reality homicide simulation program. Detectives could immerse themselves in the simulations to try out different theories about how the homicide was committed, and even use the computer’s artificial intelligence to pick up things they might not otherwise have noticed. The concept was advanced for its time in the mid 1990s, right on the edge of science fiction, and I absolutely loved it. I come from a computer science background, and the series was a chance to explore new, but possible, directions for computer use in law enforcement.

There was just the tiniest touch of the paranormal in the PJ Gray books, so tiny that if you were reading quickly you might miss it, concerning a detective’s “hunches.” I was intrigued by this and it opened up a new area of freedom in my writing. When I began considering the Mortal Path series, which is based on Sumerian myths brought forward and functioning in 21st century society, I knew I had something that would fascinate me—and readers, I hoped. The series already is a success to me because of the personal satisfaction I have in writing the books. I have a strong readership (just got a contract bonus for number of books sold) and I hope to make this a best-selling series.

Congratulations for the success of your newest series! But I must confess that with my being an all-things futuristic Trekkie from way back, and having worked with computers during my professional years, I totally enjoy the PJ Gray series. I've only read one book so far, but have 2 or 3 on my tbr stack! I'm certainly glad to hear that PJ will be back!

Fantasy is a newer interest, but I must say the premise for your Dakota Banks series is fascinating. I've especially enjoyed learning about the Sumerian myths and have found a number of videos with a lot of background information and pictures as I've viewed your own activities. Ive seen your books referred to as urban fantasy. I admit I had to do a Wikipedia review...what exactly do you mean when you add the “urban”? I definitely see the fantasy...but your books seem more like the thriller genre in many respects...

The term “urban fantasy” refers to fantasies that are set in current, recognizable locations that a reader would be able to enter and have everything be familiar—except the defined elements of fantasy that the author has added. For example, my protagonist Maliha Crayne lives in Chicago. It’s the real Chicago you could travel to today and recognize neighborhoods and landmarks. It isn’t a drastically changed Chicago of the future or past. The fantasy element I’ve added is the transference of Sumerian mythology to the current day. The vast majority of the people in my Chicago are unaware of this—only the players know about it. The exciting premise of urban fantasy is that people with fantastical lives are blending in with the local population, and you and I might pass them on the street and never know it. They live among us, yet their lives are so different from ours. You can see the appeal to those of us whose real lives definitely aren’t escapist material: “Even though I’m sitting in my office cubicle right now, I have a whole other life as a powerful witch.”

It’s true that my books seem like they sprouted from the thriller genre, because they did. I have been and always will be a thriller writer at heart. Adding fantasy is just a way to enlarge the world my characters are living in. I think of the Mortal Path books as supernatural thrillers.

Thanks for the definition of Urban'll have to add it to Wikipedia, because what you've said is much clearer than what is there...

On your web site, giving us info on how you started thinking about the Mortal Path series, you say, “These losses were heartbreaking to me because of my interest in archaeology and specifically in Sumer (roughly 5,400 BCE to 1,800 BCE), during which so many inventions arose: written communication, a number system, timekeeping with hours and seconds, the first wheeled vehicles, the calendar, metallurgy, and the kiln, to mention some.” Could you tell us a little more about this statement. Is your interest in archaeology professional? And how did you become familiar with Sumer and learn about their inventions; i.e., enough to start thinking about them in relation to your writing...

My interest in archaeology is a strong hobby. Although I thought of pursuing it as a career, I was desperately in love with computers and went into that area instead. My enjoyment of archaeology primarily comes from trade journals and books. I was looking into the history of written communication, a natural interest for a writer, and found that it originated in Sumer. Focusing my attention there, it seemed like there was a cornucopia of inventions and advancements pouring out of that civilization. Why then? Why there? Some say alien intervention, which added a bit of spice to my research. Add these to the list above, all developed by Sumerians: brick houses, sewers and flush toilets, Hammurabi’s Code of Law, the potter’s wheel, a system of canals for agriculture, mail delivery, the measurement units of feet and inches, the world’s first boats, naming the constellations, including the Zodiac, great art, literature, and musical instruments. Plus, who can resist a matriarchal system, where women were held in high esteem? 

Whoa, was I supposed to be answering a question somewhere in there? The real triggers for my writing were the rich array of Sumerian gods and demons, plus reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, a grand story about the adventures of a Sumerian king thought at the time to be two-thirds god and one-third human. Within the last few years, archaeologists believe they have discovered the tomb of Gilgamesh, grounding the story in reality. All of that, plus the destruction/theft of so many artifacts in the Iraq war, all came together in my head and I knew I had to write something associated with it all. I didn’t seem to have a choice in the matter, only in what form the story would take.

One thing I love about reading fiction such as yours is that you are learning while you are enjoying the read--no dry history books! How do you see your interest in archaeology being highlighted—I’m not sure I’m seeing that connection clearly right now...

There is a character in the Mortal Path books named Master Liu. He’s Maliha’s martial arts trainer. He is also an original, surviving Sumerian, a priest of the god of the heavens, Anu. Anu is the one who judges Maliha Crayne’s acts and awards or punishes her on her quest to balance the lives she’s taken with lives saved. Master Liu believes that Anu will return to Earth, and wants to stay alive until that time to welcome his god home. I use Master Liu as a kind of portal to give me a chance to connect with Sumer. In addition, the demons in the story are a direct connection to Sumer and are part of the mythology, although I’ve had a lot of fun in visualizing them that is definitely not straight from the myths.

Ok...I enjoyed your character Master Liu and look forward to learning more in your future books. The Mythology of the Sumerians beliefs are complex and you plan to go beyond the use of Anu and your own personal demon...LOL (or the demons who owns your created characters)

You’re right, Sumerian mythology can be so complex you need a genealogy chart just for starters. I’ve kept things simple so far for readers because I want them to concentrate on keeping the humans and Ageless straight. But I plan to use more gods as the series progresses, because none of those gods apparently did anything in a vacuum. It was more like a squabbling family, full of strong opinions and different ways of doing things.

In Dark Time, you chose to move quickly from her death scene and through her hundreds of years as an assassin. I can see that the horror of that period would soon have been difficult to write about, but the time of her training was more meaningful to her. The way you flashback into those early years with both reference to the power and excitement, as well as her awareness that her friends would be horrified...This is a fine line—do you think her friends could ever really accept her as she was? Do you plan to give them the opportunity?

It was a tough decision whether to fully develop the years of Maliha’s life as an Ageless assassin or not. I ended up using only isolated incidents of that life to show her gradual change from cold-blooded assassin to a person with an awakening conscience who then defies her demon. If I dwelled on the hundreds of years of intervening life, with her killing people as the Black Ghost, plotting to set up wars, living a decadent life, and using men as disposable sex objects instead of struggling with what it means to be in love, it would be much harder for readers to cheer for her when she changed her life. It would also make it less believable that her friends in the book could come to love and support her so much, which is an important aspect of the series. At the same time, I wanted to have a character with a truly dark past, so I could explore the possibility of redemption from such as evil state.

I’m not sure her friends could accept her with the level of devotion that they have if they were aware of one simple fact—that Maliha thrived as the Black Ghost early in her service to the demon, with a life filled with power, excitement, immortality, and riches. Only another Ageless would truly grasp this. On occasion when I have had Maliha resort to Black-Ghost-like techniques in the stories, her friends have been worried about her slipping away from them completely. I doubt if she will ever try to fully explain that portion of her life to her friends.

Frankly, although there may be others who would like to have seen more of the assassin part of her life, I was happy to see that you didn't cover much. I agree totally that there would not have been the "connection" potential with someone who murdered so many and never came to regret it. The enjoyment for me to watch movies and/or read books is in seeing that good ultimately does triumph. I believe your balance of her past and present is working! 

I’ve seen mixed thoughts about all the James Bond gadgets that Maliha uses...Actually, I loved them and found they added much to what a woman must do to gain her status of an efficient assassin. Where did those ideas come from?!

I love the gadgets too. The ideas come from thinking about what kind of gadget would help Maliha get out of the situation she’s gotten into, and then researching the closest real thing to it. As far as I remember, all of the gadgets in the books have a real basis. Some readers think that a few of the items are made up completely, the most common target being the whip sword. That one is absolutely real, but Maliha’s proficiency with it is enhanced by her hundreds of years of practice. I have so much fun with this aspect of the writing!

The whip sword is real? Wow! I did enjoy that weapon especially, so I've added a link because it was the first time I'd heard of it...and enjoyed learning more! certainly helps understand what kind of and the amount of research you are doing in order to write this series!

For myself, I’ve always loved a strong female heroine, but for those who might have expected someone different based upon how your book began, what brought about your main character as she is in your books?

It’s true that some readers loved the character as she was at the beginning of the book, a compassionate young expectant mother who was an expert with herbal healing. They wanted her to continue that way, and couldn’t bear it when bad things happen to good people. What I was looking for was a character who was initially good, whose life was scarred by evil, who then tried to bring herself out of that state by force of will and strong action. I never intended to have her stuck at any of these stages. To me there is nothing exciting about a good character suddenly discovering she is princess of some kingdom, because she didn’t have to work for it.

Excellent response and I totally agree! I noticed that in Sacrifice, when forced to deal with a major issue, that Maliha chose to handle everything herself—that she was ashamed of allowing her friends to see her as the assassin she was. And yet, she was exhilarated with the power she was using. Was Maliha difficult to create? Did you know where she would be going after being an assassin for many years? Do you seeing her continuing to evolve?

Maliha was an extremely difficult character to create. I had the entire idea of the Sumerian mythology first, and then had to craft a character that embodied its conflicts. I went through quite a few versions of Maliha, everything from complete anti-hero to someone with no memory of her past. Maliha is such a complex ball of emotions that she can bounce from chapter to chapter from hard-edged killer to a woman suffering heartache to a social counselor advising a club friend about breaking up with a man. She can be funny, sarcastic, relaxed, or perilous. What I always knew about her was that she would be on two quests, one of personal redemption and one of ridding the Earth of demons that have caused death, disease, and chaos for mankind for millennia. Big plans, in other words.

Evolution is a major theme of the third book in the series, with a working title of Despair or Payment in Blood. The final title will have to be agreed upon with my editor, so I don’t know right now which will win out—or it could be something else entirely. The release date of the third book has been delayed to April 2012, because for months I have been involved with the declining health of my sister and unable to focus on my writing. My sister passed away the first week of April. I’m grateful to my editor for working with me on this, and I hope that fans of the series will hang in there.

In book three, one of Maliha’s friends is in mortal danger, kidnapped to persuade Maliha to perform assassinations she doesn’t want to do. She and the rest of the team have to mount a rescue effort while Maliha is dealing with the difficult issue of to kill or not to kill. It is an intensely personal book, digging way into Maliha’s mind and her relationships with her friends and lovers (past and present). Part of the story makes her realize she’s not an independent force anymore and has to open the door further for her friends’ participation in her life. (I've included an excerpt below)

My condolence to you on your recent loss. I have no doubt your fans/readers will welcome your book--whenever it comes!
Does your story/subject change direction after you have begun writing it?

Not in a major way. I write from a 20-30 page synopsis that covers the high points of the story and gives me something to discuss with my editor before I start writing. Since those 30 pages turn into about 400 manuscript pages, there is plenty of room left for creative development. If I think of better or more interesting ways of telling the story than I came up with for the synopsis, then I use them. At the end, though, the book would be at least recognizable from the synopsis written in advance. See reblog of article by Dakota on Writing a Synopsis.

What kind of environment do you prefer when you’re writing?

A dark, quiet one. I write at night, generally from about midnight to 6am, when the house is quiet and the only light in my office is from my bear lamp (see photo). Sometimes I listen to classic music, no opera, because anything with lyrics distracts me. I have a nickname of Night Writer.

Certainly glad to see one of your cats if there to help, Night Writer! What are you working on now? What projects do you have for the future?

I’m finishing up the third book in the Mortal Path series and generally having a rough time dealing with Maliha’s trust issues. I have plans after this to make the entire PJ Gray series available as ebooks, plus my standalone book Burning Rose. I’m looking forward to this. I expect to have a lot of fun with it and I get to design new covers myself. Beyond that, I plan to continue the Mortal Path series (assuming my editor agrees—hehe!), possibly start a new paranormal series with zombies, and I have in mind a mainstream book about a man transforming his life through lucid dreaming (dreaming in which you are aware you are dreaming) that can change his past.

Wow! Quite a fertile imagination there. Burning Rose is an outstanding novel and all of your books should do well as ebooks! Best wishes for that project! Zombies don't turn me on much, but the dream concept would be, I imagine, both fun to write and read!

Can we find you anywhere online? Where?

You can find me online here:
Twitter:    !/dakotabanks
Publisher:           *HarperCollins - - 50 page samples of my books!!

Small excerpt from the manuscript of Mortal Path book three. This is not the opening of the book.

Maliha picked up a croissant and began to eat it in her favorite fashion: by pulling off one tip and then gently unraveling it. No butter or jam. Watson’s Bakery made their croissants from scratch rather than using frozen ones, and the only thing wrong with these was that they were already an hour or two out of the oven.
“Yanmeng,” she said between mouthfuls, “do you believe in unconditional love?”
Yanmeng’s method of eating croissants was to bite them straight through, one end to the other, no mercy. He had a few flakes of pastry caught in his white moustache. The corners of Maliha’s lips turned up until she remembered that this was a solemn conversation.


There was an awkward silence. She’d hoped for more from him. “You told me once that you loved me,” Maliha said. She’d been riding a camel at the time and had nearly fallen off, until Yanmeng made it clear he wasn’t talking about romantic love. “What did you mean by that?”

“I meant that you have earned my love, my respect, and my loyalty. I have given myself over to your cause. I would die for you.”

Maliha lowered her head. She couldn’t take the intensity of the look that Yanmeng was giving her, a look like an x-ray reading her inner truth. “Wouldn’t you consider that unconditional love, then?”

“No, because if you did one grave thing, I would be betrayed. You would have forcibly cut off my love.”

“That one thing is?”

“Return to the service of the demon Rabishu and assassinate at his will.”

“You have my word I will never do that,” Maliha said.

“You are a worthy person, regardless of your past.”

A few minutes passed during which Maliha unraveled another croissant. All of sudden it struck her that this was Yanmeng she was sitting with, Yanmeng who could already walk different planes of existence, Yanmeng who was on his way to joining the god Anu in the highest plane. She viewed his aura and was stunned at the beautiful white and gold light radiating from him. He’d progressed far since the last time she’d looked.

With a gasp, she bowed her head. “You honor me.”

He waved his hand. “We’re just two friends talking. And cut out that aura viewing. My wife Eliu says I already have a big head.”

Whew! I already want more of the next book

And, may I say, Dakota, you have honored Book Reader's Heaven by sharing yourself and your book and publishing information this month! I welcome your return visit with anything at any time! 

Sacrifice (Mortal Path, Book 2)Sacrifice (Mortal Path, Book 2)Sacrifice (Mortal Path, Book 2)
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  1. Fabulous interview and enticing excerpt. I can't wait to read this series.
    Thank you for sharing!
    Paranormal Author E.J. Stevens
    From the Shadows

  2. E.J.,

    Thanks so much for your feedback! Given your genre interest, I'd add that I'd agree that for you they are must-reads (as well as for many others, of course, LOL)