Dakota Banks is the author of the Mortal Path book series. She lives in the St. Louis area and is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and Mystery Writers of America. Dark Time, Book One in her Mortal Path series, was released in the summer of 2009, and the second book Sacrifice will be released in August 2010.
I'm so excited that Dakota allowed me to ask her a few questions, even though she was getting ready to go out of town. I truly appreciate her graciousness.
Dakota, I loved Dark Time, and really appreciated the flashback scenes to give the reader background on Maliha's friends. I can't imagine the research you must have had to do for the book. Is there a reason you chose those time periods and locations?
I had the entire globe and the roughly 300 years of Maliha's life so far to choose locations and time periods. It's an awesome amount of raw material, so I was free to choose some places and times that weren't too familiar to urban fantasy readers. There's also Maliha's home base in current day Chicago that lets the reader feel grounded while Maliha hops around the world and through the centuries. I tried to select times when something interesting was happening, locations that had a drama or challenge of their own, and if possible, weave in real (or thinly-disguised) historical characters and events. For the flashbacks in particular, I research each of these events thoroughly, and I find it great fun! I think I must be a closet historian.
Since each book has an embedded thriller story, there may be scientific research involved--and weapons and martial arts moves.... I have a set of throwing stars I've practiced with, making a tree in my backyard very anxious every time I come near. They're heavier than I thought they'd be, and very sharp. You can't just put a few in your pocket and set off. They'd tear right through light fabric, slide out, and scratch your leg. (Don't ask me how I came upon this knowledge.) A leather pack is needed, and it takes a lot more skill than I have to stick your hand in there and come out without a bloody reminder that you're not a ninja. Maliha, of course, can do this easily. To answer the question that is probably next in your mind: No, I didn't practice with a whipsword. I'm not a total nut, just a partial one. I did watch videos of whipswords being used by two men who must have had death wishes. The research is time-consuming, meaning I can't race through writing Mortal Path books, but I hope all the authenticity makes for a better reading experience.
The friendships in the book really stood out to me. They are each very different, yet there is a love and loyalty between Maliha and her friends, that is deep and constant. What made you give her these type of friendships rather than typical "buddy" type relationships?
In her youth, Maliha had a close friend who was like a sister to her. Once Maliha became a demon's assassin, her feelings were locked away in her heart. She had no interest in friendship or love; for all she knew, anyone she befriended could become an assassination target. She had casual relationships with men, but fled if a relationship with expectations began to develop. She was wealthy and independent, and lived, traveled, and worked alone. When she denounced that life, it took years for her to open up to the possibility of close friendship. Instead of thinking about targets, she could think about the real human lives she was saving. When she risked her life to save a life, in a small number of cases a special bond developed. She ended up with a small group of people who knew her secrets, knew her goals, knew her background as a stone-cold killer, and loved her anyway for what she is now. She cares about them whether she's working on a case or not, and their private lives have become mingled, as happens with all deep friendships. Maliha can express a full range of emotions with these friends because they basically mirror parts of herself. After friendship, then comes romantic love...
Buddy relationships are shallow, I think, and are built quickly for the purpose of solving a problem within a story. Generally speaking, there is no extensive background given on the buddies--the reader just pops into their lives at a certain point, has no real satisfaction from their relationship, and pops out at the end of the book. For a writer, this is a hollow experience, and for the reader, I think it smacks of superficiality. It would be hard to sustain a series with buddy characters. What is it that would hold them together from story to story? In a book, they spend a few hours a day for a week or two dealing with some problem. Outside work, they don't exist. This approach is okay in a straight comedy approach, because the reader doesn't care about character development and just wants to laugh. Maybe you noticed I don't think much of buddy relationships, unless written for fun!!
I just turned 50 this month, and when I visited your website I noticed that you appear closer to my age than many of the young writers I've interviewed. Do you feel your writing has gotten better as you've gotten older? I've noticed that fans of paranormal, horror and urban fantasy tend to be of all ages. Have you found that too when you've met fans?
Aagh! You sneaked a peek at the candles on my birthday cake! Seriously, I think the depth of emotion my characters feel and the range of emotions in the book (sadness, anger, poignancy, humor, etc.) are far better than my earlier writing. I also think my pacing and suspense have improved. It just seems like my experience soaks its way into every scene. In my case, I think there are scenes in the Mortal Path books that I couldn't have written, or at least written well, as a younger author. That's the way it is for me, anyway--it took some time for my skills and life experiences to grow and mesh. I guess I'm ripe now. That's not meant to disparage younger authors. We all ripen at our own speed! And thank goodness for that, because it would be boring to have the perspective in books all come from writers the same age.
As far as readers are concerned, I've definitely noticed that urban fantasy, horror, and other paranormal books appeal to a wide range of ages. When I meet fans in person at conferences, they tend to be in the 25-40 year old age bracket. A key factor there is having enough money and time available to travel to conferences.
Younger people don't seem to come to conferences as often, and aside from the money issue, I'm not sure why that is. I do know I have plenty of younger fans though, because I receive many emails from them. In fact, some of them I consider too young to be reading Mortal Path books, which aren't exactly written for the 12-year-old reading audience. I keep saying this mantra: "Kids vary in maturity level. Kids vary ..." Older people come to library festivals in droves and they're some of the most intense fans of this genre I've met. Readers--I love 'em all, except maybe for the guy whose underwear I signed in an elevator.
Don't miss out on Dark Time, which you can pick up now, and the second book in the series, Sacrifice, when it's available August 31, 2010. Both are available on Amazon.
You can learn more about Dakota and her books on her website here and at the new Supernatural Underground blog, which is a combined effort of some of my favorite authors. Visit Supernatural Underground here.