Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dakota Banks Visits During Blog Tour! Yahoo! She's Bearing A Prize for One Lucky Individual Who Joins Discussion!

The giveaway is a Mortal Path Swag Bag, consisting of a tote bag, 3 signed books, pens, bookmarks, magnets, and a calculator. I mail internationally. As a bonus, there is a $25 Amazon gift certificate that goes with the swag.  The Lucky Winner will be someone who "participates" in the discussion via comments section! Maliha will choose that winner - although she's not saying how and I hope it doesn't involve a knife... Please include a contact email address...! Thanks so much to Dakota for providing this coooooooollllll Giveaway! (BRH)

I’m pleased to visit the wonderful Book Reader’s Heaven! Thanks, Glenda, for this opportunity.

The first thing that readers encounter in any book is the opening lead. The lead has a heavy task—it must pull readers into the story and make them want to continue reading. Authors spend much effort, pulling out whatever hairs they have left, making sure the lead reflects the authors style and sets the stage for events to come.

It isn’t easy.

The lead can go through multiple revisions, more than twenty in my case, until I find one I’m satisfied with. Scratch that. I’m never satisfied with the lead, even by the time it appears in print. I always think that if I’d just revised it one more time, it would take on the magical quality that’s actually in my mind. I never get there; I just approach as closely as I can to some literary ideal that skitters away beneath my fingers on the keyboard.

I’d like to share some of that revision process today. I’m going to show the final lead, the one in print for Deliverance, the third book of the Mortal Path, first. But before that, I’m going to (eek!) show you what was never intended to be read by eyes other than mine: two previous versions of the lead, and what was wrong with them. It’s tough showing your unpolished work because the natural inclination is to bury it. Let’s get on with it before I change my mind!

Early Lead #1

Maliha ran at the brick wall, used her momentum to climb it in two big steps, and grasped the top with her fingertips. Pulling up, she cat-balanced on all fours across the narrow top, searching for her next quick move. With her short sword strapped securely to her back and wearing a t-shirt, loose shorts, and athletic shoes, she was chasing an expert at parkour(freerunning) across the slums and roofs of New York, and she’d fallen behind. It was a moonlit night, but she didn’t need light to follow him—she was tracking him by the throbbing, hateful red glow of his aura.

The man was Xietai, the grown son of her close friend Yanmeng. As a teenager, Xietai betrayed his parents to the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. Maliha rescued Yanmeng and his wife from the prison just before they were to be executed. Now, Xietai had surfaced as a man of nearly sixty, running a Chinese gang that specialized in human trafficking. This was the second time Xietai eluded her grasp when she broke up his operations. Maliha wasn’t sure if he was Ageless, but he moved like a man less than half his age and he’d had more practice with this form of urban rapid mobility than she had.

            She spotted him a couple of roofs ahead of her, and he wasn’t moving.

It’s some sort of trap, or he’s decided to stand his ground and fight.

Maliha approached cautiously. The fight began and raged across the rooftops. Xietai was not Ageless, but he was a martial arts master, using moves Maliha hadn’t encountered before. Even when she tried a burst of near-Ageless speed on him, he seemed to sense where she was. Soon her bare legs and arms ran with blood. He fought with a sword in one hand and a knife in the other.

Finally Maliha jabbed upwards from a kneeling position for a fatal blow. Simultaneously, Xietai brought his knife down, aiming to slip it between the vertebrae of her neck. If his knife hit its target, her spinal cord would be severed and she would die along with him. She felt the knife painfully ripping across the back of her neck and shoulder.

This lead is barely a sketch of the final action scene. It contains no sensory description, and although New York is mentioned, there is no clear sense of place. There is too much background information, and worst of all, the scene smacks of telling, not showing. A prime example is “The fight began and raged across the rooftops.” The fight is clearly going to be a centerpiece of the action here, but much action is expressed in a single sentence, spoon-feeding an entire portion of the scene to the reader until “Finally Maliha ...” Good thing this lead was thrown out!

Early Lead #2

            Maliha Crayne cat-crawled long the crest of a clay-tiled roof, sending crumbled shards down into the street four stories below. It was a moonless night, but she wasn’t tracking her target in the visible spectrum anyway. Relying on aura vision, she was following the footprints of a man who’d eluded her once before. His name was Xietai.

            Xietai’s aura reflected a lifetime of doing evil. His deep black aura would have made him difficult to follow at street level if it wasn’t for the wisps of angry red. He didn’t like being put through his paces to avoid being caught. Tendrils of red rose wherever his bare feet contacted a surface: roof or wall, staircase or pavement. In other circumstances, with a different meaning, she would appreciate the beauty of the scene playing out on the rooftops and streets. All she noticed now was that the tendrils were fading and she was losing ground on her opponent. 

            At the end of the crest of the roof, she swung lightly, hung briefly by one hand, and dropped down to an adjacent flat roof. Landing with a forward roll to break the momentum of the fall, she put out a hand to avoid sliding too near a large utility box.


            She’d scraped the side of her hand raw. The man ahead of her was a highly skilled practitioner of parkour, a method of crossing obstacles in the most efficient way and the shortest time.

            Maliha wasn’t. She also wasn’t fully prepared for this type of pursuit, but when Xietai crossed her path, she had to try it.

            Maliha jumped a gap to a building a dozen feet away and headed for the fire escape.

            Is he Ageless?

            Her bare feet landed on the fire escape’s stairs, and at each landing, she launched herself over the railing to the next run of stairs. She dropped the last ten feet to the ground. Thin red wisps spiraled eerily up from a puddle he’d passed through. She cleared the puddle in a small hop, then continued moving on the balls of her feet to save the time of heel strikes. It gave her an odd gait, like tiptoe running, but no one was grading her performance. Ahead a wall loomed. He’d taken her down a dead-end alley. Using the momentum of her run, she climbed up the wall to a balcony, jumped higher from the railing, and was able to pull herself up on the roof.

            No good. Blind corner…

            Anticipating a trap, Maliha threw one of her knives, then ducked and rolled. She lashed out with her second knife and was rewarded with a grunt.
            Xietai took off into the night. She considered leaving her thrown knife where it had landed, but decided that the advantage of being able to fight with both hands was worth the time lost from the chase. She was gratified to see a blood trail in the pale cone of light from a street lamp.

            He couldn’t be Ageless. He wouldn’t still be bleeding from my knife scratch.

A small group of men gathered near the street lamp, and she checked them to make sure her target hadn’t blended in with them. No, they were college kids doing risky things in a risky neighborhood. In other circumstances, she would have stopped and scared them off, back to their dorms and their big screen TVs. She reached into her belly bag and whirled a throwing star toward them, embedding it in the metal of the lamppost. The metallic clang! followed her out of the light. It was the most she could do for them in terms of a warning. She caught a glimpse of them scattering, but at the cost of one of her throwing stars.

Then she spotted Xietai on the roof of a run-down theater, standing next to the marquee with its hundreds of broken bulbs.

            He’s waiting for me. This is it.

Suddenly Maliha felt a touch on her shoulder, like someone had brushed her lightly with a feather duster. It was Xia Yanmeng, a remote viewer, contacting her to let her know he was present.

There was something personal about this chase to Yanmeng, too. Xietai was his son. Maliha had rescued Yanmeng and his wife Eliu from prison during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was the lying testimony of their teenage son Xietai that had put them there, awaiting death.

She didn’t think it would be a good idea to have Yanmeng viewing when she caught up with his son. One of them was going to die, and since Xietai wasn’t Ageless, Maliha had a good chance against him.

This is an improvement in that there is more detail and less spoon-feeding. There are still problems here, though. Still no sensory description and no sense of place. The backstory about Yanmeng and his son, Cultural Revolution, etc. is awkwardly placed. Maliha said, “This is it,” implying action about to occur, and then the lead strayed off into backstory about Yanmeng. The mini-story about the college men gathered in the street is nothing but a distraction to the main action, since nothing comes of it. I’m starting to get the hang of writing the quick action of parkour, but haven’t gotten it down yet. The language to describe it should be a spare as the movements.

Current Lead

I cleaned up the language a bit. The idea here is to introduce the main character, Maliha, in action, with minimal background information, just enough to intrigue. Description that appeals to all senses draws the reader into the scene. The parkour language is more authentic. More use is made of Maliha’s thoughts, since there is no conversation in this scene. Backstory has been pared to a minimum and placed where it doesn’t stop the action.

Maliha Crayne placed her feet carefully on the old clay-tiled roof. Freezing rain made the passage treacherous. Xietai, the man she was chasing, seemed as sure-footed as a gazelle. She had already sent a tile sliding to the street three stories below.

It was three in the morning, and although New York never sleeps, the residents of this neighborhood did. Most of them, anyway. As another tile clattered to the sidewalk, a window was flung open and a woman’s head appeared, her neck twisted to look up at the roof.

“What’s goin’ on up there? Think yer Santa Claus or somethin’? Get off my roof!”

            With flat roofs all around, he has to choose one with tiles. Should have gone around and picked up his trail on the other side. Maliha 0, Xietai 1.

Xietai had been in her sights twice before, and he’d eluded her. He ran a human trafficking ring, bringing Asian girls to America, and then sending American girls to Asia. Round-trip profits. Complicating matters was that Xietai was the son of one of Maliha’s dearest friends, Xia Yanmeng. Maliha planned to bring Xietai to justice but with his record of confrontation, it was possible she’d have to kill him.

Kill Yanmeng’s son. Not sure how he’d feel about that, even though the two of them are estranged. If my daughter Constanta had survived her birth and grown up evil, would I be hunting her?

Maliha came to the end of the tiled roof and paused briefly. Xietai’s footprints led her on into the moonless night. Using her ability to view auras, she could see the outline of his footsteps and the tendrils of red and black twining together, rising from them. Normally she used her aura vision for a few seconds at a time, a quick check to see if someone was lying or to make sure she faced a truly evil person before plunging her sword into him. Constant viewing, as she was doing now to track Xietai, was draining. His aura footprints were clear, but her surroundings were a little out of focus. As long as Xietai kept out of her normal sight, he had an advantage.

Maliha felt a touch on her shoulder, as soft as if she’d been brushed by a bird’s wing. Yanmeng was a remote viewer, and he was signaling her that he was viewing her now. He’d been trying to increase his remote presence to the point that he could move objects. He’d made some progress but it was erratic. She could extend her arm and make an L-shape with her fingers, the sign they’d agreed upon for him to withdraw, and he would immediately stop remote viewing her. At least, she trusted that he would.

She didn’t make the withdrawal sign.

It’s his son. Yanmeng’s not going to like this, but it’s not right to hide it from him.

She swung over the edge of the roof, hung briefly by one hand, and dropped down to an adjacent flat roof. Landing with a forward roll to break the momentum of the fall, she put out a hand to avoid sliding on the patchy ice. She scraped the side of her hand raw on the rough roofing material. She wasn’t an accomplished traceuse—tracer—so her hands weren’t calloused. The man ahead of her was a highly skilled practitioner of parkour, a method of crossing obstacles in the most efficient way and the shortest time.

She ran barefoot, with loose black shorts, a black t-shirt, a belly bag with a few throwing stars secured inside so they couldn’t shift and hurt her, knives strapped to her thighs, with her thick black hair flowing behind her. It was late November, and an icy rain pelted her face and other exposed skin. Maliha wasn’t prepared for this pursuit, but when Xietai crossed her path, she had to try it.

Maliha jumped to a building a dozen feet away. She rolled, then ran and dropped to the fire escape.

Could he be Ageless?

Her bare feet landed lightly on the fire escape’s icy stairs, and at each landing, she vaulted the railing to the next run of stairs. She dropped the last ten feet to the ground. Thin red wisps spiraled eerily up from slushy puddle he’d passed through. She cleared the puddle in a small hop. Ahead a wall loomed. He’d taken her down a dead-end alley. Using the momentum of her run, she stepped up the brick wall to a balcony, used a spring from the rail to power another couple of steps, and then muscled up to the roof.

No good. Blind corner...

Anticipating a trap, Maliha threw one of her knives, then ducked and rolled as a sword swung powerfully where her neck should have been. She lashed out with her second knife, scored a deep gash in Xietai’s calf, and felt the splash of hot blood on her hand.

That should slow him down a little.

Xietai took off into the night, running away before she’d come fully out of her roll. She retrieved her thrown knife from where it had landed. Her opponent took them down to street level. She was gratified to see a blood trail in the pale cone of light from a street lamp.

He bleeds too much to be Ageless.

Then she spotted Xietai on the roof of a run-down theater, standing next to the marquee with its hundreds of broken bulbs. His aura was blacker than the night sky washed by city lights, and the spidery electric red web of his anger had intensified since she’d wounded him.

The scene continues into the physical confrontation that is obviously building in a real-time, “showing” manner between Maliha and Xietai. Considering that this book is urban fantasy, it’s a good way to begin.

Leads are supposed to encourage you to continue on into the book. Have you ever encountered one that turned you off and affected your feelings about a book right from the start?

 Dakota, I'm always happy to welcome you here (anytime!) and to start the discussion, I want to first answer your own question for myself...

When I read for pleasure, it is almost always action, adventure, mystery or suspense...and frankly if the opening didn't hook me, I hesitated to read further if I don't already know the author. But then as I began to review and was reading many different genres as well as nonfiction, I realized that I had to adjust my personal preferences. It is still difficult for me to read more than one of two pages, if nothing pulls me into the story. But I do it now and have found that it has allowed me to broaden my reading interests...

On the other hand, I still expect it for action...so, in answer to your question...if Maliha doesn't hook me immediately, I'm disappointed!

I enjoyed this article and find that I have questions:

1. Your 3 leads shared - did YOU do the analysis of each or did you get feedback from others, such as your editor?

The two early leads were subject to my own analysis. No one saw them, until now, except me. The final lead had gone through the editorial process but I don’t think anything was changed in it. The way my editor, Emily Krump, works is that when I am satisfied with the manuscript, I send it to her, and the real fun begins! She reads it first for the story value and then carefully with an editor’s eyes, and sends me extensive notes, several pages’ worth, with her comments. These range from broad concepts to line edits about missing words. An example of a broad observation from her letter on Deliverance: “Maliha's thoughts throughout tend to be a little wordy and use too many pronouns.  Her inner monologue needs to be as believable as the dialogue between characters.” Another: “The interaction with Jill isn't working, yet, because she doesn't move the story forward.” Emily doesn’t tell me how to correct these things—that’s my job as the writer—but she has a great eye for spotting weaknesses in my supposedly “finished” manuscript. This is when it pays to have a great working relationship with your editor, because Emily makes me a better writer.

2.  Is your first lead more of a draft, to get your thoughts out, or do you write for "final" even though you may later revise?

My first lead was intended to be the final version when I wrote it, because I don’t create a quick first draft of the entire book first as many writers do. Instead, at the beginning of each writing session, I go back over what was written the day before, editing as I go along. This works very well for me, so that by the time I type “The End,” I have very little left to do before sending the manuscript to my editor. There are only two exceptions to this. The lead will get revised a number of times, at least ten. The other exception happens when something comes up during the book that I have to go back and set up a little bit at an earlier time in the story.

3. I notice you seem to refer to some set of rules against which you measure your work. Do you have one or more reference books for writers that you routinely use?

I used to have a whole shelf of reference books that I dipped into when I was having trouble with pacing, characterization, plotting, all the elements of writing a book. I finally found that books often had conflicting or vague advice, and the clearest guidance for me was studying both books I enjoyed and books I hated, and figuring out why. What made me feel bonded with this character and not with another? Why did this book keep me turning the pages and I fell asleep (literally) while reading what was supposed to be a suspenseful scene in another? Note that it wouldn’t be sufficient to read only books I liked—there has to be an analytical comparison. Do this enough and you begin to internalize the rules so that you don’t need a reference book. I still treasure my well-worn copy of Stephen King’s On Writing because so much of it deals with writing as a personal experience.  

4. Regarding the reference to the gang... In deleting it, you indicate that it doesn't lead anywhere. Would you say that this is a good sample of the writing phrase, "Delete anything that doesn't more your story further"?

Exactly. I thought it made a nice visual when I wrote it and helped to characterize the neighborhood. But it didn’t go anywhere. Maliha didn’t even have time to stop and break up the gathering—she was chasing someone. While the throwing star clanging into the metal light post sounded nice, it had no purpose unless there was time to develop it further and have some ramifications. This goes along with William Faulkner’s quote: “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” That means you can’t be so attached to a scene, a character, a description, a turn of phrase, that you’re unwilling to axe it from your manuscript if its only function is to please your writer’s ego.

5. I like your statement, "I’m starting to get the hang of writing the quick action of parkour, but haven’t gotten it down yet. The language to describe it should be a spare as the movements." If I understand it correctly, I totally agree... But, just to be sure, could you share a little more, defining parkour and talk about how you create that "spareness..."?

Parkour is a style of movement that focuses on the most efficient way to move through an environment, getting over or around obstacles, developed by a Frenchman, David Bell. It’s also called free running or urban running, because it is usually done in an urban environment where there are more obstacles to cross than in an open field. It is elegant and exciting to watch and requires great physical ability from its practitioners. The runners use vaults, rolls, jumps, rolls, and climbs to make their way around. The moves are defined and have charming French names like passement (to vault over using one hand), but it is up to the traceur, the runner, to select and combine moves to match the environment—and do it quickly, because everything happens at a full run. For many Americans, their first exposure to parkour was the brilliant sample near the opening of the movie Casino Royale, where Daniel Craig as James Bond is chasing a bomb maker through a jungle and a construction site. It took my breath away. There are no wasted movements, and the challenge to getting such a scene down on paper is immense. You have to picture the chase vividly in your mind and then find almost breathless language that conveys speed, grace, and economy of motion. A good example of that in the final lead is this: Using the momentum of her run, she stepped up the brick wall to a balcony, used a spring from the rail to power another couple of steps, and then muscled up to the roof. (The terminology is correct.) There are four moves here done in rapid succession, during which Maliha covered a lot of ground—from the street to the top of a building. Leaving out any of the words in this sentence breaks the continuity, and the beauty, of the motion.

6. I recently refused to read a book that, within 20 pages, was written in what I will call, hillbilly language...using a lot of bad language, as well as poor grammar...things like crick for creek... when I wrote to the publisher I explained that I was not willing to support such writing and that my understanding was that colloquial languages were generally only in dialogue, while the narrative should be proper English... Do you think I was right or wrong in refusing to read more than 20 pages and would you ever extend your writing so that much more of Maliha's story was based upon that in the various countries where she travels?

I wouldn’t have lasted 20 pages. My opinion is that good writing carries the reader along with minimal effort, so the reader can concentrate on the story and not on the way it’s written. Good writing disappears into the background of the reader’s mind, and writing that is colloquial for extended periods can’t do that. The reader is jarred from the events of the story to focus on the way it’s written and to deal with the unfamiliar words. In dialogue, colloquial writing might add to the personality definition of the speaker. Even then, I’d use it sparingly. There are other ways to do characterization, ways that make more of an impact on the reader. Characters can speak in different styles—abrupt, understanding, emotional, stressed—that can convey more meaning than just the fact of using local vocabulary. Even though Maliha is a word traveler and foreign locations are often used in the books, I don’t try for colloquial language even in dialogue. “Zee plane! Zee plane! Zee plane has arreev-ed, Mees Cray!” Nope. What does this add? That said, there is an instance in Deliverance where children are greeting Maliha and they come up with different versions of her name. I think that’s fun. It’s also brief, thank goodness.

Please join in via the comments!


  1. Hey Everybody! I know you stopped by...do hope you'll comment and add to discussion with Dakota

  2. hi!
    i had a question, and you probably been asked repeatedly before, why did you pick sumerian? why not ancient greek, or the vikings, or other ancient culture?

    by the way.. i need a suggestion. it seems like i'm in a mood when i can't enjoy every book that i picked up and started. what should i do? i already tried switching the genre, but didn't seem like helping much.

    thanks :)

    sienny (smile_1773@yahoo.com)

    1. I picked Sumerian for two main reasons. I'm an amateur archaeologist, and the Sumerian civilization holds great interest for me because so many advances were made during that time, such as in writing, math, astronomy, the development of wheeled wagons, on and on ... and of course the toilet, right up there with the greatest of inventions. So I already had Sumeria in the back of my mind. Secondly, during the invasion of Baghdad by coalition troops in 2003, the Iraqi National Museum was briefly left unguarded. It was a chaotic time, and the museum was looted and vandalized before order was restored there. Irreplaceable artifacts from the Sumer period (ancient Sumer = modern Iraq) were destroyed or stolen. There was a global outcry, and many of the stolen pieces have been found. Those that were smashed underfoot, after surviving 7,000 years, were gone in one day. I was very sad about this, and it started me thinking from a writer's standpoint: What else could have survived from ancient Sumer, something evil, something that couldn't be eliminated by crushing it into dust? So my brain has been "baking" the idea of the Mortal Path series since that time.

  3. Hi Sienny! I'm going to let Dakota answer your sumerian question...

    But regarding your "mood..." Go with it! What do I mean by that? Stop and consider how you are feeling at that particular moment... Lonely? Try romance... Nervous or edgy? Try action/suspense/thriller... you'll be surprised how getting involved with action will help you "work off" your feelings (better yet, going for a movie is sometimes better. Worried? Try a mystery and working to solve a whodunit or a treasure hunt thriller...putting your mind to work may just help get you thinking about solving your own problems... spiritually disconnected? Try Christian fiction--it won't overwhelm you, but will have little gems of wisdom for you to ponder and guide you and normally a happy ending based upon faith...

    But, more than that, what I try to do is consider why an author has written a particular book. If it is slower than you prefer, that it may be a literary gem that will force you to slow your own preferred reading pace down...Once you succeed in doing that, give the book at least 50 pages to see if, by YOU altering your own thinking, you begin to follow and perhaps enjoy the book. I had to do/force myself to do this since I've already like action, fast-paced books. When I started to review, I realized that I was still judging books based upon my own preferences... When you consider, first, what the writer is trying to share with you, it puts you into an inquisitive frame of mind and allows you to explore books that you wouldn't normally choose...It worked for me so I hope this helps...

    1. Glenda's comment is excellent about not being able to enjoy books. One thing to keep in mind is that you're not going to enjoy every book in a genre, even ones that other readers are raving about. That's okay. I have some authors I don't read who are very popular (and they'll remain unnamed), but for the life of me I can't get what all the fuss is about. I find the stories boring and the writing mediocre. I've long ago given myself permission to have my own likes and dislikes and not automatically go with the crowd. If you've been choosing your books from roughly the same set of authors, step out with ones who are completely new to you - regardless of the mood you're in!

    2. Thanks for the suggestion ladies. i'll try it :)

  4. Dakota, have you taken writing classes to improve/learn how to write or is this something that you learned on your own from trial and error and feedback from others?

    books4me67 at ymail dot com

    1. I have only taken one writing class (outside college), and that was a one day workshop with Lawrence Block, a famous mystery writer. It was more inspirational (you can do it!) than technical about the craft. During college I took the usual English 101 course and my instructor urged me to switch from Engineering to Liberal Arts and become an English major. But my head was fogged with love of computers and I stayed in Engineering. As far as feedback from others, I have made a small number of attempts to find critique groups that I fit into, but never found a happy home in any of them. I'm just a solo writer, learning by studying the way other books are written, by trial and error, and a healthy dose of honesty about my writing.

    2. Does anyone proof read your books before you send them off to your editor?

  5. Congrats on the release. I have been wanting to read this series, they sound great. When you started the series, did you have a clear idea of where/when it would end? Or do you let each book set the flow and go along with it? Do you have a set number of books that you think the series will be? Is there any other genre that you would like to try writing in?

    Oh, and I am one of those readers who has to switch around in different types of books. They all tend to be romance or at least have romance in them, but sometimes I am in the mood for a historical, sometimes a PNR vampire or shifter or demon, etc, sometimes contemporary, sometimes something sweet, sometimes hot, etc.... I never really have a set reading schedule. When I finish a book, I just kind of look at my shelves/kindle and pick something to read next.

    Congrats again!

    1. When I started the Mortal Path series, I had only a general idea of how the series would end, and that idea has changed a couple of times! Unlike the way I plan each book by writing a synopsis first, there is no written story arc for the series. I know now that Maliha is headed for a HEA (didn't even know that until this third book) but there are a lot of forms that can take, given her overall goal of trying to rid the Earth of the Sumerian demons. I think that this series will not be episodic, as in long-term like a TV series, because I want Maliha to make progress of some sort toward her goals in each book. Maybe four more books might do it, rounding the series out at seven books for seven demons. :-) My publisher has a lot to say about the length of the series, too!

      I am the same way as you in choosing books, except mine don't all have to have romance. I read from several genres and from non-fiction, too, so my choices are wide when I finish a book and go to pick up the next. I just received a book I won in a Goodreads giveaway, Calico Joe by John Grisham. It isn't a legal thriller that you'd expect from him, but a story about the relationships of fathers and sons set in the world of baseball. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm not even a sports fan.

  6. What's next? I have yet to read the Mortal Path series, but they are definitely on my TBR list. I am always looking for something new and different to read (love paranormal, but it's starting to become redundant).
    As far as what to read next, I have to agree with June..if the cover calls me and the premise is good that's what I read next. I don't have a set genre, but I can't get into the historical romance or over the top erotica.
    See ya on your next stop Dakota!!!

    1. Hi Traci! *Waves* When I began thinking about writing paranormal, I looked around at what was available in the paranormal genre and it didn't seem like I had much that was fresh to say in the area of vampires, werewolves, and so on. What could I do that wasn't already out there, as far as world-building was concerned? That plus the fact that my interest in Sumerian mythology was pounding me over the head drove me to write the Mortal Path books. I have to admit (probably something a writer should never admit) that I had doubts whether the series would sell to a publisher at all, given that it was so different from what was on the market. Harper took a chance on me and I'm hoping to confirm their confidence by making MP a bestseller.

  7. I don't really have a set genre, but most of the books I read are Paranormal Romances/Urban Fantasy, so I guess that counts for something. There are many books that I've read that had a slow start, or just something about the writing or character that turns me off so bad that I quit reading around 20 pages in.

    I've heard so much about Deliverance and the series in general that I'm really intrigued, and I'd love to read it! Thanks!


    1. Cyp,

      I don't have a set genre for my reading, either. I do have high standards that I've developed, though. For a literary book, where character development is king and plot takes a back seat, a slow start doesn't phase me. I need time to absorb the atmosphere of the book and learn about the characters for memoirs or "slice of life" fiction. In urban fantasies, thrillers, and mysteries, I'm looking to be drawn into the book from the first page--no slow starts! Gimmee action, conflict, or at least some intrigue! Characterization in these types of books is a gradual thing, and so is learning backstory (what happened up to this point).

      I suspect that the books you're reading that you fizzle out early on devote too much time to backstory in the opening chapter. A writer doesn't have to explain everything right away. :-)

  8. Great interview. I havent had the chance to read these yet but they are on my wishlist. I find that if in the first 4 or 5 chapters that if I dont connect to the story or characters Its hard to keep reading. Id love to ask Dakota where did the concept of the books come from? Also who is her favorite author and character?

    1. Hi, Nat. There is a concept in writing called the "50 page fizzle," and it means that if the writer hasn't completely captivated the reader by roughly 50 pages into a book, the reader won't be there for a second chance on page 51. There are those readers, and I'm not one of them, who will force their way through a book on the premise that it has to get better. It's just a waste of time. You don't need to analyze why. If you feel that you want to stop, just do. There are so many books out there that you shouldn't have to work at reading one!

      I have too many authors to pick a favorite, but if pressed to the wall, I'd say J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is my all-time favorite book, and within it, the character of Frodo Baggins.

      The series concept came from my love of mythology, especially the mythology of the Sumerian period (5,000-8,000 years ago, ancient Sumer=modern Iraq). I had a long-standing fascination with it that was brought to the forefront by the Iraq war. Secondly, I wanted to work with a character who'd been good in her early life, then really evil, and see if or how she could redeem herself.

  9. Oh, I agree Leads are so important - I rarely buy a book unless I've read the first few pages especially if it's by an author that's new to me. I have to know if I can get into their style of writing cos the it doesn't matter how fabulous the story, if I can't relax into the writing then I won't enjoy the book. It's not a fool proof method and I have been tricked before but works most of the time. The second thing I look at on the lead - is usually the atmosphere - whether this is through the description, characters, action doesn't matter. The atmposphere usually lets me know what type of book it will be. I have to be honest I liked all three of the leads but it was the Ageless ponder that had me hooked! :-)

    And my random question - what type of book would Maliha read for fun? :-)

    Mel S

    1. Hi Mel. Nice to see you here. I'm glad you agree that leads are important and that business about relaxing into the writing really is essential.

      In the Mortal Path, Maliha has a day job, partly to explain her wealth. She's a writer of pulp fiction, the kind that existed sixty or more years ago, paperbacks with garish covers and pages that were yellowish because of the poor paper quality. She writes the Dick Stallion series, quasi-erotic stories about the adventures of the intrepid Dick. She thought the books were just a cover job, but became wildly popular, and now she has trouble keeping up with the demands of her agent and editor for more books. The book she's writing in Deliverance is Hot and Bothered. (No, I don't go into too much detail.) It is exactly the type of book I can see Maliha reading for fun, when she's not learning.

  10. Another great interview Dakota, thank for sharing so much of your work. I do find the first few sentences in a book very important, they can haul the reader straight into the story, but also repel me. And of course I prefer the first. I love it when I am dropped straight into the action, and you lose me when there is sex in the first chapter for instance.

    My question: do you think you could write a book with a male lead character?

    1. I think I could. In my pre-Maliha writing days, I wrote a series of suspense thrillers with a female lead. However, she had a male partner who was right up there with her and has his own point of view chapters in the book. He was a co-lead rather than a sidekick. Men felt I had this character, Leo, right on.

  11. Every where I look I see such amazing things being written and discussed about this series. I can not wait to read The Mortal Path series.

    Such wonderful insightful responses to followers questions Dakota, and an excellent interview Glenda - thank you.

    I have a question for Dakota please.
    I'm a closet writer, but shhh don't tell anyone! When you have finished your first draft what next step do you take, particularly thinking of year early days when you were unpublished? How many drafts did you work on before you allowed anyone else to read? Did you use a beta reader? I just wanted some ideas of real processes that proved successful to you.
    Many thanks.

    1. Woohoo, Bex, you really made my heart go pitty-pat. Hold that thought about reading the MP series!

      No need to write in the closet. It's dark and stuffy in there. Tell your family and friends, and that will affirm in your own mind that you are a writer.

      When I finish a first draft, in my case it is very nearly my last draft because I edit as I go along. Let me emphasize that most writers do not do this. They prefer to finish a first draft quickly and improve it from there with several full drafts to follow. My method works for me, and every writer has to find an approach that works. When my first draft is done, I wait a week or so to look at it again, so that I'm seeing it with fresher eyes. I go through the whole book, looking for places that could be cut out, and places where the description, dialogue, or action is weak. I don't make a lot of changes on this pass, because I've already done the major amount of editing as I was writing. I let my husband read the result. Sometimes he has useful comments, sometimes not. I don't and never have used an outside beta reader or a found an effective critique group. For me, writing is a solo activity until I'm ready to submit it for publication.

  12. Thanks for sharing your revision and feedback process. I think it's important to have a good lead, but it seems very difficult to write.


    1. You summed it up perfectly. I can tell right away when I pick up a book if the lead was crafted with care or just dashed together to get on to a more interesting part of the story in the writer's mind. Readers can too, even if they don't pinpoint why. They just know something's off with the story.

  13. I've been enjoying what everybody is saying, and love the series...but I'd like to add a suggestion to all of you that talked about reading and what books you read... If I have a passion beyond reading, it has become helping new authors who've self-published... If you read and a lot, and better yet, I ask that you consider choosing the book of a new author who has self-published...many of the book I review are in the category, so if you haven't already, please connect to Book Reader's Heaven and check for books that you think might interest you based upon my reviews. Then make an effort, say, once a month or every 3 months to choose new authors...Support your peers; you may be helping yourself in that process. Either way, these new writers need your help...


  14. Hi! Sometimes I think authors have great points from later on in the book that they're eager to write, and shortchange the lead. Big mistake, because while the author may know wonderful things are coming, the reader picking up the book doesn't, and may not stick around long enough to get to those great scenes. It's crucial to immerse readers in the story right away instead of trying to promise them "things will get better!"

  15. Hi Dakota, whenever you go on a vacation, does your writing still pop up? In others words, do you still get thoughts that you have to write down, so not to fogret?


  16. Hi Dina,
    Vacation? What's that? :-) Seriously, a writer's mind is always working, or at least mine is. Vacations give me new landscape, hotel, and restaurant imagery to use. I'm always observing people, looking for body language and mannerisms I can use in stories. Sometimes ideas do strike in the middle of the night, and are especially liable to do so when I'm not at home. New experiences trigger new ideas. You can't stay cooped up in front of a computer all the time and expect to be able to develop characters and portray relationships, even when writing fantasy. You have to collect real experiences, namely get out there and live, too.

    I rarely make notes at the time I see something interesting, but at night I record them in my laptop before bedtime.

  17. I loved the excerpt. Thanks for the giveaway.. How many books will be in this series and will you be doing a series with any of the characters introduced in this series?

    1. Hi Kimberley,
      I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. It's one of my favorites. There is a little more to the story of poor Gil, too.

      I'm not sure yet how many books there will be in the Mortal Path series, other than I know it will be a small fixed number (seven books is the first thing that pops into my mind), not an open-ended series. Maliha is making progress toward her two goals, and I don't want to drag that on for, say, 20 books. I say let Maliha succeed or fail, and don't let her overstay her welcome! A spin-off series...gee, what a great idea.

  18. Great post and interview. Really looking forward to Deliverance.

    And I agree I would not have lasted 20 pages. I know everyone has their own style and likes and dislikes, but even then there are limits.

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

    1. Hi Donna,
      I'm glad you're looking forward to Deliverance. In a way, I'm enjoying looking backward at Deliverance! :-)

      As far as writing in dialect, if the writer would sit down and read the passage aloud, preferably with a friend for doing the dialogue, the writer would find out how awkward a lengthy passage of dialect really is.

  19. Great giveaway and an amazing interview!
    I really want to know why do you write urban fantasy?I love this genre because everytime I'm reading an urban fantasy book it's like travelling!

  20. Hi Maria,

    I come from a background of writing thrillers about a computer specialist who works with the police to solve crimes using virtual reality techniques. Very gritty, urban police procedural stuff. Even then, I managed to include a bit of the paranormal--there was a detective who experienced crime-solving as the formation of a golden thread extending between himself and the killer, with a sudden intuitive leap (or snapping out of the thread) that completed the connection after he was able to put together just enough evidence.

    I started to become fascinated with the paranormal aspect of the story, but my police procedural series wasn't the place to develop it. It was peripheral there. That was one of my key motivations for moving into urban fantasy--to be able to develop UF stories that were just as gritty and dealt with serious themes, yet allowed me to have a mythological framework. The Mortal Path series will take you traveling, that's for certain!

  21. Hey Dakota, I don't really have any questions...other than WHY HAVEN'T I WON!?!?! (joke)
    I'm looking foward to reading this series and not having to wait for book 2 or 3 to be out since they are out :)
    Thanks for the giveaway also

    1. Umm...You are unlucky? Your horoscope is unfavorable?

  22. i haven't read this series yet but it sounds awesome! So Mrs.Dakota did you have fun writing this series? And i hope i win this would make for a great start for me! thanks for the chance to win

    1. Hi Mandy,

      I have a lot of fun writing this series. I get to research tech gadgets, weapons old and new, exotic locations, and historical villains. I have my very own throwing star given to me by my martial arts consultant, which I have successfully planted in a tree. They are heavier than you might think and have sharp tippy-points. The star, not the tree.

  23. I so agree that the beginning of a story has to hook you in. There have been many a "good" book that I have put aside to read later after starting and it just did not call to me to keep going. I have tried to make it a rule to give it a fair shake, but my whole purpose of reading is for pleasure and escape into worlds that are not my own so I do not want to have to force myself to continue on. Often when my mood changes I will go back and enjoy the book I have put aside, but I do want to read a book that gets me in the beginning and takes me through the entire journey. I have read book one and really enjoyed it and am looking forward to continuing the journey with Maliha. I also agree about the language/slang. Unless it serves a purpose in say meeting a specific character and it being part of the main character's interaction and often a comedic moment, I find it off putting. I want to understand what I am reading and just be able to enjoy it :) Thank you for taking the time and effort to share with us and for this lovely giveaway opportunity.

    1. Denise,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. If a reader has to work to get into the book, I don't think the author has done her job. The beginning of a book should be like a water slide--you take one step on it and you're committed! Although I have read some books that keep me going based on the beauty of the language of descriptive skill until an intriguing situation has time to develop based on depth of characterization. Those are generally main stream literary books, where the demand for a "grabber" isn't as strong as with genre books. I've never gone back to a book that failed to intrigue me the first time. I'm sure the disappointment would still be there. I'm glad you enjoyed Dark Time! I appreciate your taking time to respond on my favorite subject: reading!

  24. Hi again Dakota!

    I haven't read this series yet but after reading the excerpts I am so looking forward to!I loved your take on the whole writing process.I totally agree with you that the beginning of a book sets the tone and mood for the rest of the book.

    justjanhvi at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Janhvi,

      I love having the opportunity to talk to readers and writers about writing, something I do at conferences. I like to be able to reach beyond the conference audience, because there are many enthusiastic readers who, for a variety of reasons, never make it to conferences. I hope you'll be able to read the Mortal Path! Thanks for commenting.

  25. I agree that the book has to gain my interest by the first couple of chapters. I have read books in the past that had a slow start but got better so I was glad that I stuck with it. I too don't like books that use foul language. I want a book that has interesting characters. I have started to enjoy reading paranormal books recently.

    1. You bring up an interesting point about bad language. It isn't my personal favorite to read books full of gratuitous cursing, because I don't talk that way under normal circumstances. (But if I hit my thumb with a hammer, you'd probably hear more than "Oh, fudge!")A character's manner of speech is part of character development, and I don't think you can leave bad language out altogether (assuming you're writing for an adult audience). I have one character, Hound, who sometimes uses bad language when he's expressing a strong emotion. That's just the way Hound is. What bothers me is when an author doesn't bother to differentiate among characters and just has everyone speak in the same foul way. That way the language loses its ability to serve as a tool for character development.

  26. Dakota -
    Great interview! I liked your description of Parkour - I'm currently editing a book with that type of action in it. Very timely. I have 2 books in this series, though haven't read them yet (I like to wait until I have several books in the series or until the author is done with the series; plus, I have a big TBR list - lol.)

    Thanks for the contest/giveaway!

    Lea Ellen {night owl in IL}

    1. Hi Lea Ellen! Good to see you here.

      Parkour is so fascinating and elegant to watch that I was afraid I'd never be able to capture it on the page. I refined my descriptions over and over so that I think I came close, but it's like trying to describe a flower blooming with words--the visual medium is so much better. Have fun with your editing!

  27. Giveaway contest is officially CLOSED as of today! Give me time to talk to Dakota and winner will be announced!

    Thanks so much for all the visits...really enjoyed watching the interaction!

    Best to all of you!