Let Me Introduce You To…Dakota Banks

As many of the authors I feature, I first ran across Dakota Banks haunting the cyber-realm of Facebook. Upon seeing her current book cover used as her profile picture, I became immediately intrigued (I don’t care what people tell you…we do judge books by their covers). I mean look at it! ———>
How cool is that cover, right? Not to mention easy on the eyes! So, I decided I’d look more into her Mortal Path series…and I have to tell you, there’s a whole lot more than just a snazzy cover. Of course, you all know me…you know that I’ll let you know if I haven’t actually read a book I feature on here and I still haven’t read these (YET!). But they are at the top of my “To Be Read” list, I can tell you that.
Why? Well, as many of you know, I’m a sucker for a good urban fantasy/contemporary paranormal. It’s no secret that it’s my favorite genre. So the Mortal Path series definitely has the whole urban fantasy thing in its favor. Plus, Dakota’s publisher, HarperCollins, has been gracious enough to provide a generous portion of the book for review here: 
(http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061687327). So I took a little peek and definitely enjoyed what I read!
So how do I set this series up? How do I let you know what it’s all about? Well, I guess the best way is to share the back cover copy of the first book of the series entitled “Dark Time“:
In the 17th century, a woman is ripped from her husband’s arms, thrown in jail, and then set afire as a witch. Saved from the flames by an ancient Sumerian demon, she becomes the Black Ghost, his Ageless assassin gifted with otherworldly skills and superbly trained in martial arts.
Centuries pass before Maliha Crayne finds a way out of the life she hates.

If she achieves a balance between lives taken and lives saved, she’ll break the demon’s hold on her.

If she fails, she will suffer the demon’s torment … forever.

So basically, this 17th century hottie with major kick-butt skills has figured out a way to get her soul back. How? By balancing the evil she’s done in the past with the good she does today. It’s classic hero stuff. And have a feeling it’s going to be a fantastic read. But wait, [as the infomercials say] there’s more! Dakota has also recently released the second book in the series entitled: Sacrifice.

Here’s the back cover copy:

A Sumerian demon’s enslaved executioner–a ravager of lives and souls–Maliha Crayne has been reborn, willing to sacrifice her immortality for a chance at freedom … and salvation.

Now she has an opportunity to prevent the death of thousands to help balance the countless lives she has obliterated over the centuries. To do so, she must locate and destroy an evil cabal of madmen in possession of a weapon of unspeakable power–and survive the immortal assassins who are now after her blood.

But it means reverting to the old ways and surrendering once more to the darkness. And if Maliha dies before the mission is accomplished, the hell she once knew will seem like a picnic compared to the eternal torments awaiting her.

Now, I don’t know about you…but this book sounds even sweeter than the first! No, needless to say, this series is definitely on my “must read” list.

But wait…there’s even more. Because a heck of lot of people (including favorite authors of mine) have given glowing reviews of Dakota and her Mortal Path series. Here are just a few:

Chilling, thrilling, and a page turner!” – Heather Graham [about Sacrifice]

Sacrifice is a whirlwind of action, emotion, passion and intrigue. Surprise and shock lurk on every other page.” – Blogcritics, Catherine Tuckwell

Sometimes you just need a kick-ass former demon’s slave to tackle life’s problems. Especially one wielding a whip sword. Dakota Banks’ DARK TIME is a novel to be savored for both its edge of suspense and the pure joy of its storytelling. Part immortal, all human, Maliha is a heroine who will leave readers breathless and craving more. Not to be missed!” – JAMES ROLLINS [One-Of-My-Favorite-Authors alert!]

So anyway, recently, I had the great fortune of being to talk with Dakota about Mortal Path, writing, and life in general. Here’s what she had to say:

1) Your Mortal Path series sounds amazing with a great premise. In your own words, can you kind of tell us what it’s about and your heroine? What gave you the inspiration for it?

The Mortal Path refers to the journey the main character, Maliha Crayne, makes after she rebels against Rabishu, the ancient Sumerian demon who owns her soul. Born in colonial America, she was falsely accused as a witch and sentenced to die by burning at the stake. Rabishu yanked her from the flames and offered a deal: die in the flames, or become an Ageless assassin working for him. At the time, “die in the flames” didn’t sound like an attractive choice, so she went for immortality instead. She became a superb martial artist gifted with superhuman speed and healing, and the ability to see auras. The years flew by as Maliha lived a decadent life, killing on demand, staying young and beautiful, and collecting wealth.

After centuries, Rabishu gave her an assignment she couldn’t bear to carry out. She couldn’t just tear up her contract with a demon, so she took the only way out: the Mortal Path. She would have to redeem her soul by saving as many lives as she’d taken by Rabishu’s command. No rogue Ageless had ever succeeded in reaching the end of the Path, but she vowed to be the first to do it. If she failed, her soul was beyond redemption and belonged to Rabishu forever, and he had nasty plans for her. Needless to say, he doesn’t like his human slaves rebelling.

Maliha has a rough road ahead and is just now, fifty years after becoming a rogue, opening herself up to friendship and love. She develops a group of loyal friends who are dedicated to helping her. In addition to her personal quest for redemption, Maliha has discovered a way to kill Rabishu and the other six demons remaining from Sumerian times. She has to assemble a crystal lens that will allow her to read a tablet that dooms the demons. The lens has been shattered into seven pieces and scattered across the world.

Inspiration for this story came from two places. I’m an amateur archaeologist, fascinated with Sumeria, a civilization located 5,000 years ago in what is now Iraq. During the invasion of Baghdad in 2003, the Iraqi National Museum was looted as Iraqi security forces fled before American troops established order. Numerous Sumerian artifacts were destroyed or vanished into the black market. There was a lot of media coverage of this story at the time, and it made a great impression on me. In terms of fiction, it sparked the idea that other things besides those artifacts might have survived from Sumerian times. There is a rich mythology to work with, so the basis of the Mortal Path books came from Sumerian mythology.

The second thing that inspired me was that I wanted to write a quest story dealing with a person with a seriously flawed past (I’d say demon’s assassin qualifies) and seeing what happened if the person had a chance to change. This is the “Hero’s Journey” plotline, with Maliha’s dual quests so hard it’s doubtful she can accomplish them.

2) Your books are classified as urban fantasy (one of my personal favorite genres)…what do you think makes urban fantasy so appealing to people? What do you think makes urban fantasy more appealing than regular fantasy? Or other genres?

I think what makes urban fantasy so appealing can be summed up in four words: They walk among us. It’s exciting to think that a shapeshifter may have just passed you on the sidewalk, or a vampire might be riding the subway with you. Both urban fantasy and fantasy use world-building, but in urban fantasy the world has to be recognizable as our own world, with a few paranormal tweaks. In fantasy, there are no restrictions on the world as long as it is wholly enveloping, and the reader may or may not be able to imagine himself as a human presence in that world. Urban fantasy lets us keep our humanity if we choose, or inhabit a supernatural being for a while—what fun!

As far as comparing urban fantasy to other genres such as mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, or romantic suspense, I think there are good points to all of them, and they all have their dedicated readers. I come from a background of writing thrillers (techno-suspense), and I read widely across genres, mainstream, and non-fiction. Why have the same kind of tea every morning if there are other satisfying choices? I do feel that after writing six thrillers I felt the need to add something to my stories. I felt cramped in the real world and needed a heavy dose of paranormal!

3) Who are some of your biggest author influences? If you had to choose one author that your own work is similar to, who would it be?

When I was young, I read a lot of science fiction, so my early influences were Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison. I can see their influence in my writing now, although I doubt most people would pick it up. Later when I began writing thrillers, I had an abundance of influences, some of whom are Lee Child, Tom Clancy, Jeffery Deaver, John Gilstrap, and James Rollins. In urban fantasy, my influences were Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, and early Laurell K. Hamilton. I studied (as well as enjoyed) all of these authors’ works to see how they were constructed, and I learned a great deal. If I had to pick just one (sigh) author whose work mine was most similar to, it would be James Rollins. I know that’s kind of a stretch, since his books are classified as thrillers and mine are urban fantasy. But he writes quest stories with great adventures (sometimes with some paranormal thrown in), and at its heart, I think Mortal Path is an adventurous quest story.

4) When dealing with protagonists in paranormal situations, what do you find more interesting…a heroine with lots of power or more of an everywoman thrown into something much bigger than herself? Why?

You’ve got me there. I think both can be interesting stories if we’re allowed to see the human side of each character. A super-powered woman can still have frailties. I guess I’d go for the everywoman tackling a challenge outside her usual realm. Being an everywoman myself, she should be easier for me to identify with—but again, that depends on the skill of the writer. In the Mortal Path books, I start with everywoman, turn her into a super-powered woman, and then back again into a semblance of everywoman who makes a lot of mistakes, can’t manage romance, and when she gets wounded (physically or emotionally), it really hurts. This gives me plenty of territory to cover on both sides of the super/everywoman coin.

5) Besides writing, what are your interests and hobbies? What do you typically do to unwind and relax?

When I’m not writing or dealing with the business of writing, I’m usually reading for pleasure. I also squeeze in time for nature photography. I love fall, with cool days and cooler nights, and beautiful trees for eye candy. Since I do most of my writing late at night, really late, like 11pm-5am, it leaves me some time during the afternoon to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

Me, relaxed: sitting next to my husband, watching a DVD movie, hot chocolate with marshmallows in hand, purring cat on my lap.

6) If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Believe in yourself. You have to have confidence in your writing, and project that confident image (I didn’t say arrogant) so people in the publishing trade will pay attention to you as a professional.
Thanks Dakota for the great interview and I truly wish you the very best of success! And friends, if you want to find out more about Dakota Banks and the Mortal Path series, here are a few places to start!
Website: http://dakota-banks.com/
Blog:  http://dakota-banks.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Dakota.Banks

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