I am so excited to present to you the wonderful Dakota Banks who was kind enough to answer a few questions and give two lucky winners the chance to win a signed copy of Dark Times, the first book in her Mortal Path series. I had the privilege of reviewing the book back in September. You can find my review here. Needless to say I love it.
She is a brilliant author with an interesting background and childhood. Which included growing up in a converted funeral home. With her passion for archaeology and the paranormal she is able to blend them together to create a wonderfully fleshed out world.
So with no further ado I present to you Dakota Banks in her own words along with an excerpt from the next book in the series, Sacrifice. Giveaway details will be at the end.
First of all I just want to thank you for you time and the opportunity to speak with you. I would like to start off with a basic question. When and how did you decide that you wanted to write a book?
I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school. I wrote science fiction short stories in high school and got hand-written rejection letters, the key word here being rejection. Then the haze of life drifted in, or maybe the Mists of Avalon, and when I awoke again to the idea of writing, I had gotten to the point where my husband had stopped using individual candles on my birthday cake and instead bought those big, dramatic candles shaped like numbers. If I was going to be a writer, I'd have to stop using the excuse that I didn't have time to write. So one day I typed "Chapter One," and kept on going. I'd like to say that I started writing just then for the joy of it, but what actually motivated me to start at that particular time was a contest deadline and prize money. I love writing and can't imagine doing anything else, but it took a deadline and dollars to get me to start my first book. Oh, the shame of it. Plus I didn't win.
That first book, a futuristic thriller, was good enough to get me an agent. Although publishers liked the writing, they weren't too taken with the main character, since there wasn't a clear main character. After numerous rejections, I finally got the hint. I needed to write something that I loved and that was salable too. I developed a series based on virtual reality recreations of homicides. Full immersion VR, where you step into the life-sized scene. There are five of those books published under a different name. I eventually went back and rewrote my first book, using what I'd learned over the years, and it's published now too. So I can legitimately say I published the first book I ever wrote.
After six books I wanted to try something different, a series that would allow me to switch to paranormal. Dark Time is the first book in the urban fantasy/paranormal thriller genre for me. It is so exciting to be writing in this area, but scary because it is almost like starting all over. Okay, it is like starting all over. There's not a great deal of cross-over from techno-thriller readers to paranormal. But I strongly feel that if a writer isn't doing something she loves, it's apparent to the readers. So even in the bottom-line-oriented publishing world, a writer has to follow her heart, and that could mean writing in different genres at different times in a writing career.
Where did the idea for Dark Time come from?
Dark Time was a long time in the making, since the idea was born during the early days of the Iraq war, when the Iraq National Museum was looted in 2003. Iraq includes the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and has treasures from ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, among them Sumeria. The theft and senseless destruction of so many artifacts in the museum hit me hard, as it did many others around the world who have been working to restore the museum's collection.
I've been an amateur archaeologist for years, with a particular interest in the Sumerian civilization. Some of those artifacts have been around 3,000-5,000 years. That got me thinking first about what if there were ancient artifacts that were much more resilient and couldn't be destroyed by mere humans? And if there were artifacts, why not stretch it more and have ancient gods still here? Why not a human or two from that time period, although they wouldn't be fully human anymore? As a writer, these ideas excited me because there was a lot of wiggle room in them--paranormal elements with ancient legends coming to life in the present, a quest for artifacts, personal stories that could play out on both a very big stage and a small one, drama, romance, action. The ideas were so big and powerful that it took a long time to create characters and a story structure from them.
Why Sumerian/Babylonian mythology as an inspiration as opposed to Native American, Celtic or some other myth system?
I'd have to blame the Epic of Gilgamesh I read years ago for that. Many who read one of its various translations--the original is written in cuneiform on twelve tablets--are briefly caught up in the imaginative story of the legendary god-king and the Sumerian gods who are sprinkled in it, then slip back to other things they can relate to more easily. In my case, I got stuck in it, like an insect in amber, and it generated an interest in civilizations in the Mesopotamian region. Gilgamesh is an epic poem from roughly 4,200 years ago that tells the story of the Sumerian King Gilgamesh, who may or may not have been a real-life character from about 4,700 years ago. Recent discoveries support the existence of Gilgamesh, which makes me wonder what he did as a real man that inspired such legends. Of all the tales told about him, the most human to believe is that he started his kingship with the unsavory habit of deflowering virgin brides on their wedding days, leaving the grooms to twiddle their, er, thumbs and causing plenty of marriages to start with humiliation and anger. A perfect setup for a murder mystery, and exactly the type of behavior Maliha Crayne (Dark Time's protagonist) would bring to a halt.
There's another reason I couldn't resist using Sumerian myths. The Sumerians believed that their gods didn't originate on Earth. According to their myths, the gods (or Annukai) came from another planet, Niburu, supposedly a part of our solar system but with a wildly eccentric orbit. Niburu approaches Earth every 3,600 years. All of this is speculation and myth; not proven fact. About 450,000 years ago, the Annukai transferred from Niburu to Earth to search for gold. The Sumerian creation myth revolves around these aliens and their actions here. To get in on the 2012 frenzy already beginning to build, the story is that Niburu will return to Earth's vicinity in 2012 and one of two things will happen. It will collide with Earth, or the Annukai will come back to Earth and be pleased--or not--with the humans they created and refined long ago. I don't believe all this, but I do eat it up, and it's definitely timely!
I've always wanted to ask an author why the abundance of protagonists in the genre are women. Is it that most authors in the genre are women? Are most of the readers women? Or is it another reason I've never even thought of?
The contemporary urban fantasy genre is currently heavily shaded toward vampire, werewolf, faerie, and shape shifter stories. I'm going to stick my neck out (hah!) and probably get blasted, but I think there is a strong undercurrent of sexuality running through these stories that are fantasies women have about exotic, powerful creatures. Women readers relate better to women protagonists when it comes to sex or emotional issues, and there are a lot of women authors writing material that caters to these fantasies. A woman reader loses herself in the female protagonist's world and has two dark, dangerous vampires fighting to possess her, or two alpha werewolves, while discovering that only she can stop the war that will throw the world into chaos for centuries. Beats doing the laundry any day--I can vouch for that! The best of these books also contain deep character development, especially on an emotional basis, that creates a bond to the character and helps the woman reader put herself into the scene.
I think this is the "mainstream" of urban fantasy right now, but there is also traditional urban fantasy that predated the sexy vampire craze and continues alongside it, and a lot of that is written by male authors. A good example is one of my favorite authors, Charles de Lint, and his series of books set in the imaginary city of Newford. Also consider these vampire stories: They Thirst by Robert R. McCammon; I Am Legend by Richard Matheson; and Salem's Lot by Stephen King. (My thanks to the Goodreads October Newsletter for refreshing my mind about these three.) Not much in the way of pervasive sex there.
I think there's room within urban fantasy for stories that have strong female protagonists who create an emotional bond, but are coupled with a lot of action: a thriller-fantasy. I had a great time researching and writing Dark Time and book two, Sacrifice, due out in August 2010. They're the type of books I love to read because I can get the fantasy (paranormal) punch while exploring some new territory as a reader.
As I said in my review I loved the cliffhanger ending. Can you give us a hint at what is in store for the next book?
The title, Sacrifice, is meaningful and refers to events that made me cry when I wrote them. I can also offer a short excerpt from Sacrifice below. It's not the beginning of the book, and it's still unedited, so it may change in minor ways. This is the setup to an action scene as Maliha visits the lab of her friends, scientists Ty and Claire Rainier, who are analyzing a specimen from Africa that she sent to them.
All right boys and girls just for reading this far in I'm going to give you the details of the Giveaway now. Two lucky winners will each receive a signed copy of Dark Times. Dakota has graciously offered to ship them anywhere in the world so this contest is open to everyone.To enter the giveaway please leave a comment stating your favorite mythological character. It could be a god, goddess, hero, or creature. Please include your email address with your comments. No email, no entry. The giveaway will be open until 11:59 PM CST on Friday Nov. 6th.