Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Step into the Literary Cafe with L.A. Banks

The Forbidden by L.A. Banks

Internationally recognized author of over 20 novels and novellas, L.A. Banks, releases – THE FORBIDDEN -- her fifth book in The Vampire Huntress Legends Series, published by St. Martin’s Press, NYC.

Banks, a unique renaissance woman who built her stellar career out of the ashes of a personal tragedy, has won the hearts and minds of fans in the US, as well as readers in Canada, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, London, Scotland, and Russia—where the first book in the series, Minion, just sold for translation into that foreign language.

Her works, which have been consistently rooted in positive messages read by thousands, have expanded to include another first in African American fiction--namely, a Vampire Huntress Legend. From her socially relevant themes in women's fiction, Ms. Banks went even further to develop an urban legend aimed at youth, with heavy social messages within her female empowered Vampire Huntress Legend series (see more details enclosed.) Using the insidious nature of the music industry, gansta rap, and the lore of drug/street life as a backdrop for demonic activity, Ms. Banks created a successful, nine book urban legend whereby a multicultural family fights against the odds of evil and wins! Woven throughout the tale are historical facts, economics, global politics, and science.

>>So it was right after work - left a little early in anticipation - and I was at home, logged on and no L.A Banks. I had sent a friendly email reminder. She responsed, just as friendly. Looked at my buddy list. No L.A. So I called and she was right there, bubbly and waiting on me! It boiled down to technical difficulitles that were quickly straightened out. I settled back in the couch with my laptop propped on my knees, took a sip of my diet Sunkist orange pop and started typing. I invited L.A. into the literary cafe ...... <<

"L.A Banks" [11:15 A.M.]: Hey, lady!

"NikkiWoods" [11:15 A.M.]: OK! We have contact!

"L.A Banks" [11:16 A.M.]: YO!

"NikkiWoods" [11:16 A.M.]: LOL! You are too funny.

"L.A Banks"
[11:16 A.M.]: LOL

"NikkiWoods" [11:16 A.M.]: So--just so you know--we are now going on the record!

"L.A Banks" [11:16 A.M.]: COOL!

"NikkiWoods" [11:16 A.M.]: So why don't we start by you telling me how you first got
started with your writing.

"L.A Banks" [11:18 A.M.]: Oh, my goodness... that's a LONG story--but suffice to say that, Divine Intervention got me started. My daughter, who was six months old at the time, pulled an iron down on herself at a day care lady's home. My day job had been a sales exec for a major Fortune 100 high tech firm, and I was traveling 60% of the time. When this happened, I was laid off, came home to help her recover through 17 surgeries for the burns, whereby she lost 3 fingers... it was a nightmare. Then, I was also going through a divorce. Everything was coming down on me at once--no money, no job, hurt child, and a short story contest for Essence Mag came in the door. Ten pages for $2,500. I was on it!
... 3 days later I had 75 pages. I gave it to girlfriends to help me edit it down so I could submit it. They said, "No, chile! We HAVE to find out what's gonna happen to Victor and Liza!" LOL! I gave up the contest idea and kept writing, because it was keeping me sane, whew! No medical and dental meant forget therapy... this was cheap therapy, ha ha ha. When I was done, they said I had a book, I was like, "Yeah right, I need a job with flex hours." They believed in me when I didn't believe in myself and started mailing out the manuscript to all of creation--and I started getting rejection letters in from everywhere... but one editor bit--BIG SMILE. She called with a two book deal from Arabesque, and the rest is history!

"NikkiWoods" [11:23 A.M.]: Now here we are 20 books later.

"L.A Banks" [11:23 A.M.]: Yes... hard to believe, but true--which is why I have Divine Intervention in every book I do :)

"NikkiWoods" [11:24 A.M.]: You write under three different pseudonyms. Is it hard to keep the personas straight?

"L.A Banks" [11:25 A.M.]: YES! LOL! But it was necessary because folks who like romance don't necessarily want to read about more gritty stuff, and folks who read crime thrillers aren't always into fantasy, and the folks who read fantasy want what they want--so it's a necessary thing.

"NikkiWoods" [11:25 A.M.]: Which one do you prefer--if that is even a fair question? ......

"L.A Banks" [11:27 A.M.]: Oh, it's a very fair question. I LOVE the Vampire Huntress Legend series the best (shush, don't tell my publishers, LOL)... only because I can do ALL genres in one. Romance, action-adventure, crime stuff, plus I can create universes within universes within that tale, and bring in all the old prayer warrior basics that I was raised with, cultural identifiers, etc. It's the whole thing in one genre!

"NikkiWoods" [11:27 A.M.]: Have you been interested in Vampires all your life? Your books are VERY detailed .... I can only imagine the time the research took.

"L.A Banks" [11:29 A.M.]: NO, LOL! Sure, as a kid, I'd watch "Creature Double Feature" or "Dark Shadows" (mess like that), but as an "interest" no. Actually, the idea came from watching the nightly news... people were and are preying on each other--literally sucking the life blood out of communities--which is what made me go, "AH HA!" The detail and research is just my crazy way that I had to really get in-depth, and I did it for all my books really, because I want the characters and situations to literally walk off the page. If it's a love scene, I want you to smell it, taste it, feel it, hear it, LOL.. if I'm trying to scare you, I want you to jump when your phone rings. Research is the foundation.

"NikkiWoods" [11:31 A.M.]: I know when I first picked up your book, I immediately put it down because I tend to stray away from the darker side of things, but in The Vampire Huntress Legends Series you really base everything on very positive messages. So, I certainly commend you for that.

"L.A Banks"
[11:32 A.M.]: Thanks, Nikki... that's the general preconception when folks pick up the books--but my goal is to show how The Light conquers the darkness.

"NikkiWoods" [11:32 A.M.]: You have just released the fifth book in the series ... tell us a little bit about "The Forbidden".

"L.A Banks" [11:33 A.M.]: Yes... “The Forbidden”, but let me say that, it is really an epic love story about a family with trials and tribulations, a HOT romance between the hero and heroine, and the love that all of them have for their community--the world community. In The Forbidden, we see the characters go up against a very old demon, Lilith. But to really understand what's going on, readers should start with "Minion," book 1 in the series and they can see snippets of all the books as the saga progresses at My characters are working on the side of The Light.

"NikkiWoods" [11:35 A.M.]: I am back reading. Meaning, I started at the fifth book and working my way back.

"L.A Banks" [11:35 A.M.]: LOL!

"NikkiWoods" [11:35 A.M.]: I am now a fan and will be looking for more of your other works, but I do want to finish with this series first. I think my favorite theme is "knowing." Can you talk a little bit about that and what message you would like your readers to walk away with?

"L.A Banks" [11:36 A.M.]: That's the crazy part; I am concurrently working in three genres. I write at least 2 romances annually, a crime thriller, plus two of the vamp legend books. Ah... “knowing”... This entire Vampire Huntress Legends series is about "knowing" -- how knowledge is power, and how what you don't know can and will hurt you, affect you, have bearing on your life whether you are ignorant of what's going on, or not. Each character has to come into "knowing," and once they know, they can never go back. Throughout the series, they experience exponential growth... learning themselves, others, the supernatural realms, and knowing their role in the world--each person, each soul being vitally important to the struggle between good versus evil. Yeah... it's ALL about knowing, and I infuse a LOT of history, science, economics and politics into this legend. Global economics, and all that through metaphor.

"NikkiWoods" [11:40 A.M.]: Which is what makes it so brilliant. I apologize for jumping around a bit, but there is so much depth to you that I want to try and touch on a little of everything.

"L.A Banks" [11:40 A.M.]: That's quite all right :)

"NikkiWoods" [11:40 A.M.]: You mentioned that you are concurrently writing in three different genres. How do you structure your writing schedule?

"L.A Banks" [11:43 A.M.]: LAWDY.... ha ha ha! Okay, here's how it goes daily. Get the kids and husband out of the house to work and school, grab a cup of coffee, and get to work at 8 am without fail, clear out e-mails from fans, etc., and then by 9-9:30 am, I begin on a book, or a chapter. I stay with that same book to get my rhythm in the story and follow it through until folks start coming home. I break, fix dinner, and after dinner, address e-mails... the next morning, I clean my palate, and work on another book. Whichever story I'm feeling, is what I write that day, but I stay there for the day with the goal to do 20-25 pages, or a whole chapter per book, each day.

"NikkiWoods" [11:44 A.M.]: So it is like a 9 to 5 for you. I think there tends to be the mis-conception with non-writers that you just kinda write when you feel like it.

"L.A Banks" [11:45 A.M.]: Pulleaaaase, LOL. No. It's a JOB, a profession, as well as a craft, and you have to work just like you were going to meet the man. 9-5, M-F, 8 to 10 hours a day. Yep, that's what's real.

"NikkiWoods" [11:45 A.M.]: So do you ever face writer's block? And if so, how do you overcome it?

"L.A Banks" [11:46 A.M.]: No, LOL! Girl, I ain't got time to bleed, ha ha ha! I have 2-3 different editors at any given time who ain't trying to hear about my Muse being fickle. If I can't think of a good passage, I get down and research, but I work every day :) Each time you research, it lifts any block, because your mind absorbs new information, new concepts, new ways of looking at a problem--and ANYTHING can be research... a news story, a commercial for a location, a book, an internet site, whatever.

"NikkiWoods" [11:48 A.M.]: Fascinating. Who do you read? When you are not working, that is! :)

"L.A Banks" [11:50 A.M.]: Hmmm... good question--because nowadays, I have so little time, and reading while writing is impossible for me. But during down time: Tanarive Due, Diane McKinney Whetstone, Tina McElroy Ansa (LOVED "The Hand I Fan With!), uhmmm... plus a lot of biographies and non-fiction--Yvonne Latty's, "We Were There" on Blacks in the military, a must for your shelves. Colin Channer, the brother can WRITE a sensual scene, LOL.

"NikkiWoods" [11:51 A.M.]: I love Colin Channer!

"L.A Banks" [11:51 A.M.]: YEP, he's DA Bomb!

"NikkiWoods" [11:52 A.M.]: What is your take on the direction that African American literature is going in?

"L.A Banks" [11:53 A.M.]: I, sigh. I am very glad that more authors are writing in different genres, glad that more of us are in print during this boom period, but I am sooo sad that a lot of it is the rehashed ghetto struggle tale. I wish we'd branch out more into areas that we haven't touched, or barely skimmed... Here's an example: When I began in romance, early 90's, there were MAYBE 10 African American authors in that genre... in an industry segment that was over 50% of ALL paperbacks sold in the US, and where the readers were one-third African American and Latina. We just weren't given access, and as black women, we'd put the big non-African American romance writers in their limos and Rolls Royces--aka, Daniel Steele. Now, we have like 85+ African American female romance writers... but in the area of crime, there's only a few. In horror, less than ten, and I'm one of them. In sci-fi, we have the grand diva, Octavia Butler, and about 5-7 more, but that's it. Do you see what I mean? We have non-fiction on lock, as the kids say. But where are we in other areas? We have maybe 50 general fiction writers, but in the various niches, we are severely under represented... and this whole Street fiction boom concerns me. We live very different lives than that (only), and have more tales to tell beyond that--only... It makes me weary, truthfully.

"NikkiWoods" [11:59 A.M.]: Well, I am going to leave the sci-fi to you! LOL ....

"L.A Banks" [11:59 A.M.]: LOL!

"NikkiWoods" [11:59 A.M.]: I think with anything, if it looks like it could potentially be prosperous then people jump on it. The stars in every genre will always shine through. I am sure you are always asked what advice you would give writers trying to get that coveted publishing deal ....

"L.A Banks" [12:01 P.M.]: Smile... yes, the stars do shine through, and in that way, what is happening in African American literature, is like what's going on in the music industry--which is why I HAD to take a pot shot at it in the legend, smile! But, as to advice... I say, write what you know as an axiom, but expand your mind so you can KNOW more and therefore write outside the box. People have gone through their "phase" when urban lit was red hot, now they are getting bored. So, if you want to get published, bring something new to the game, a different twist a fresh perspective. You don't have to abandon the hip hop sound, but give it a lil' somthin' somthin' different.

"L.A Banks" [12:04 P.M.]: But nothing beats the basics--like good craftsmanship, quality research, decent grammar, a well structured story, characters with depth and development. As the market becomes more sophisticated, you've gotta bring your best game. A lot of folks "rode in" on the wave, and yeah, they got phat-paid. But like all trends, that will not last, good, solid writing does.

"NikkiWoods" [12:05 P.M.]: I want you to be my writing Mommy! I just love you .....

"L.A Banks" [12:05 P.M.]: LOL--consider it done :)

"NikkiWoods" [12:05 P.M.]: And I can only hope that every one of your fans get to meet you in person

"L.A Banks" [12:05 P.M.]: Bless you!

[12:05 P.M.]: You really have a spirit about you that is warm and engaging and you are honestly just a whole lot of fun .... .

"L.A Banks" [12:06 P.M.]: I LOVE meeting fans, talking with them, hearing what they think of the stories and characters... that is FUN, the best part of it all!

"NikkiWoods" [12:06 P.M.]: and for the record I am a witness to you going above and beyond the call of duty to make things happen for your readers .....

"L.A Banks" [12:06 P.M.]: Aw... lady, thank you!

"NikkiWoods" [12:06 P.M.]: I know your time is valuable and I so appreciate you taking the time to talk ......

"L.A Banks" [12:06 P.M.]: Any time, hon... any time, for real!

>>After finishing the interviewing and sending some more internet hugs, I had some follow up questions that were not touched on in the interview.<<

"NikkiWoods": I also wanted you to mention your film options. How has that been for you? What stage of the process are you in? What role will you play? Who do you see acting in the roles of your characters?

"L.A Banks": Oh, wow... the whole film option thing is a TRIP! Here's how it works, they first just option your film--which is an agreement which takes it off the market for any other production company, and gives the production company 18 months to develop a script (from which a budget can be developed--as the studios have to know how many actors to be paid, scenes set where, things blowing up, special FX, etc.) Once they have a script and a budget, a "package that can be shopped," they then go solicit the studios--and only once a deal is "greenlighted" do you move forward to the "it's definitely gonna be a movie stage." That's where I am now, waiting for the final budget and shop action to occur, biting my nails and praying that it gets sufficient budget to be done right.

As far as involvement, on this maiden voyage into Hollywood, I was told to "stand down." As the writer, I don't have a single thing to do with casting, cannot be in it (LOL), or any of that. But next venture, I'll want consulting rights to be able to weigh in on the script, at least (wink!)

"NikkiWoods": And finally how do you deal with differences with editors? You said you can have up to three at a time.

"L.A Banks": But each editor is like having different bosses, each with their own personality and style. Crazy at times, but I've been blessed with good ones--praise God, so there isn't any struggle. I just have to be honest when we go to contract and establish what I already have on my docket so they know when I can realistically deliver their project to them.

I hope this helps! BIG HUG and thanks again soooo much!

Now you see why I am one of her biggest fans ……


  1. Ah... Nothing like a friendly conversation with a writer. :P

    Well, seeing that this interview did start up a bit of wonderment (if that's a word :P) about Bank's books, I think I'll give them a look at the next time I head over to Borders.

  2. Nikki, what a great interview, so informative. I really listened (read) well. Especially when she talked about the present book market and what she thinks has been done to death. Ultimately, she said, good writing will prevail. Also, the film options discussion was very enlightening--she talked about 18 months just to get started and you have to wait this process through. I wrote 2 short vampire stories and could relate to how she structured her characters--their people! Their problems are universal! I'll be at the book signing tomorrow and am dying to talk with her. Thank you for a great job in picking the brain of a successful writer.

  3. Nice site/blog... I enjoy the conversation. I'm such a scurryKat but I'm intrigued by YOU, ooops I meant your interview, so I'm going to bury myself into your novel this weekend and travel on the darker side of our imagination!