I’m so excited to have the awesome Dakota Banks back on the blog today! Dakota is the author of the Mortal Path urban fantasy series, and not only was she kind enough to answer a few of my questions, but she’s also offering an amazing giveaway (seriously, it’s pretty awesome, and INTERNATIONAL), so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Please welcome Dakota to the blog!
Dakota, you’re the author of the Mortal Path series, and book 3, Deliverance, is out tomorrow!
Thanks for letting me visit your blog and chat with your blog followers. I’m so excited about the release of Deliverance that I doubt I’ll get much sleep tonight.
You’ve created a complex heroine with Maliha and she’s been through no shortage of challenges in each book. Do you find it’s been easier to write books 2 and 3 than the first book, or more of a challenge?
The Mortal Path series went through a long planning period as I researched the Sumerian mythology, developed Maliha’s character, built a world where she could comfortably walk the streets, and came up with the overall story arc of the series. There were several variations of Maliha, including one in which she was a teenage girl, one where she was 5,000 years old instead of 300, and one in which her assassinations were done as out-of-body experiences. The “real” Maliha and the plot of book 1, Dark Time, gelled at about the same time. Once I started writing the book, I had most parts of it in my head and the pages went by fast. But if you count the (literally) years of developmental work that went into Dark Time, it’s by far the slowest, most challenging book I’ve ever written. For books 2 and 3, Sacrifice and Deliverance, all that groundwork was done. I had to figure out new plots that allowed Maliha room to grow and change, along with her team of friends, and accommodated her unsettled love life. That’s a lot of fun brainstorming, a lot of “what if” sessions and notes on napkins. I always have to keep in mind the series arc, too: Maliha is collecting shards of a diamond lens that will allow her to destroy the Sumerian demons remaining on Earth, and free humans from a giant anchor that’s been keeping us from reaching our true potential. That’s a tall order!
There is a lot of mythology incorporated into your writing. What kind of research have you done to help with your world-building (which is, frankly, awesome)?
Thanks for the awesome comment ! I think so much of fantasy involves creating a world that the reader can sink into, putting aside the reality of what’s outside the window and becoming immersed in the world in the book. I know I absolutely love that experience as a reader, and I try very hard to create it as a writer. Since the Mortal Path books are urban fantasies, I have a basis from which to start. In an urban fantasy, the world is one that should be familiar to the reader as his or her own world—but with a few tweaks. So when Maliha walks the streets of Chicago, she’s really in our Chicago. All of the other locations in the book are real, too, and she travels a lot. I may do things like invent a hotel in a particular destination to suit my purpose (especially if something bad is going to happen there!), but the surroundings of that imaginary hotel are going to look, smell, and feel like the real location, down to the weather. Since I haven’t been to all of Maliha’s locations, there’s basic research involved to make the physical settings authentic, and that may include finding chatty residents.
Sumeria (think 6,000 years ago, Cradle of Civilization, ancient Sumer = modern day Iraq) is something I’ve been interested in for years, because I’m an amateur archaeologist. The Sumerians had a rich pantheon of gods, goddesses, and offspring demons. Their stories are full of betrayals, love, pettiness, and rivalries. They did do some useful things, such as create humans by mixing the “essence” of their bodies (widely interpreted as DNA) with clay. The Sumerians thought their gods were extraterrestrial; that they came to Earth and stayed here for a long time enjoying the planet’s bounty until they got tired of doing all the work themselves, such as planting and harvesting fields. Then they created humans as slaves to do that work, but eventually freed humankind and went back to their home planet, Nibiru. (Google Nibiru for some interesting stories!) All of the information about the gods in the Mortal Path books is authentic, meaning a true reflection of what the Sumerians believed, up to the time I needed to create a jumping-off point as the basis for my books. So I imagined that some demons had been left behind on Earth when the other gods departed, causing wars, disease, and other kinds of bad news. The demons were locked in the Underworld, so they needed the help of humans to serve as assassins and mischief-spreaders on the surface of Earth. Maliha was one of those, an Ageless gifted with immortality, until she rebelled and became a rogue. So the mythology frames the story, but I needed a way to get the demons into modern times. Solution? Bridge the gap with a leap of imagination.
Can you give us a bit of a teaser as to what’s in store for Maliha in Deliverance?
Maliha, formerly immortal and now slowly becoming human again, has gathered around her a team of friends to help her redeem her soul (sold and still owned by one of the demons). In Deliverance, the story is highly personal, as one of those dear friends is kidnapped. Someone’s found out about Maliha’s extraordinary abilities, and wants to use her as an on-demand assassin. The hostage ensures that Maliha will comply. Or does it? Will she kill innocents again to keep her friend from a savage death? That is her moral dilemma, and Deliverance takes you straight into Maliha’s heart as she struggles with it. Here’s a scene showing Maliha on an assignment given to her by the kidnapper.
A little research was all it took to locate a single man in his thirties living in an efficiency on the eighth floor. At midnight, Maliha went into the lobby and stepped in front of the video cam. She was wearing a blond wig, heavy makeup, and a top and skirt that barely covered her body’s erogenous zones. A skimpy jacket, not warm enough for the weather, hung around her shoulders. She pressed the buzzer.
A sleepy voice came on. “Yeah?”
“Mr. Hernandez, I’m here for you.”
“Uh … What?”
“You will have the best night of your life, Mr. Hernandez. Ring me up.”
“Just a minute.” She pictured him shuffling to the door to get a look at the video screen. She smiled into the camera and waved, making sure that plenty of cleavage showed.
“I … I’m not Mr. Hernandez,” he stammered.
“You are not?” She pouted and read him the address from a slip of paper. “Room 821?”
“No, you’re at least ten miles away.”
“I’m new in town. I guess Mr. Hernandez will be disappointed tonight.” Her face brightened. “Who are you?”
“I’m Gil Ceja.”
“Hi Gil, I’m … Trixy. I’m here already. Would you like some company, Gil? I’ll give you a special deal. I promise you’ll have fun.”
There was a brief hesitation, and then the iron-barred doorway blocking access to the elevators clicked open.
“Oh, Gil,” she said. “Get naked and wait for me by the door. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
Maliha headed for room 408, where the journalist lived. Using a torque and pick set, she opened the standard lock on the door. Easing into the room, she slipped off her heels and left them by the entrance. After letting her eyes adjust to the dark, she could see that there was a desk with a computer on it in the combination kitchen-living room. Checking it out, she could see that the computer was on, with a bouncing ball screen saver.
She moved on to the bedroom, drawing a knife from a sheath that rested on her back, attached to the skirt’s low-rise waistband. Maliha moved like the Black Ghost she once was. Soundless, a shadow, something glimpsed from the corner of the eye followed by a rush of darkness and death.
She turned the doorknob and cracked open the bedroom door. In this room there was a night light, a yellow starfish shape with a smile. Camila was asleep, her blanket slipped to one side and one leg exposed from the knee down. Maliha had an urge to cover the woman’s leg. The heat was turned down for the night, and it was cold in the apartment.
She pushed the door open a little wider, revealing a dresser and mirror, a brush, makeup kit, and a tottering stack of books—the ordinary things of this woman’s life that were about to become mute witnesses to her death. Camila was snoring softly. The double bed she slept in was shared with no lover, just a cat. The cat’s eyes opened and looked at Maliha through narrow slits. Satisfied, it adjusted its position and went back to sleep.
Maliha could go in, slash Camila’s throat, and be out in a few seconds without causing any noise.
Then what? Another body part, another target? I’m trapped. Give up on my friend’s life or go against what I believe in and deal with the fallout afterward?
Maliha pushed the door open further and stepped into the room.
There was a crib against the wall that had been blocked from her view by the door. Maliha was drawn to it. She walked over, her knife still at the ready. In the crib was a baby boy, about six months old, wearing pajamas with feet. As she watched in the pale yellow light of the starfish, a bubble formed between his lips and gently popped. She put her hand on the baby’s chest, feeling the rise and fall of his small rib cage as he breathed.
When you started the series, did you have an idea of how many books you’d like to write, or did you just decide to see where Maliha would take you?
Since I had a good idea of the overall arc of the series, I had a good idea of what I needed to accomplish before I could send Maliha off into the sunset with her well-deserved HEA. Book 3 is coming out now, and I would need at a minimum two more books for the story arc, preferably a more comfortable three or four more. I didn’t intend this as an open-ended series to go on indefinitely, into the double digits on number of books. But I love the characters and the world, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to add a few books. What I don’t want to do is have the plots get stale and the Mortal Path become one of those series that should have stopped a couple of books ago.
What’s one of your most unusual writing habits?
I find it almost impossible to write during the daytime. My days have turned upside-down, so that I don’t really get started writing until about 10pm, and then I write until dawn. I love to have the house totally quiet, but it isn’t just that. There are times during the day when that condition is met, yet I can’t seem to write. I fiddle with my email, do social media stuff, and dream up promotion plans—take care of business. My husband and I go out to eat nearly every day at about 1pm (lunch for him, breakfast for me) and talk for a couple of hours to make sure we’re communicating. He’s a good brainstorming partner, too!
If the Mortal Path series were ever made into movies, who could you picture in the role of Maliha?
I have someone all picked out for that happy event—Milla Jovovich, the “perfect woman” from The Fifth Element, later the Resident Evil movies and Ultraviolet. I think she’d be a great Maliha. Anybody know her agent?? Any other suggestions for casting this juicy action role?
What do you love best about writing urban fantasy?
What I love best is that I made up the rules. Once I built the world, it’s very important to remain consistent on what can happen and what can’t. I can’t, for example, spring it on readers in book 4 that suddenly Maliha can fly. Uh, what? Otherwise, I have a free hand. This is especially true because the Mortal Path books don’t contain vampires, werewolves, witches, or any of the set of more common paranormal characters. The reader comes into the books without too many expectations from other series. I like to take people into the unfamiliar.
What are some of your favorite authors or novels?
I enjoy Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series, Kim Harrison’s The Hollows books, Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series, and anything Jim Butcher writes—plus many more. Since I come from a background of writing thrillers (as Shirley Kennett, my real name), I have favorite thriller writers, too, such as Andrew Peterson, Tess Gerritsen, James Rollins, F. Paul Wilson, Kathy Reichs, and Jeffery Deaver.
What are you reading now?
Right now I’m almost done with Angels’ Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh, and am not far into Bitten (Women of the Otherworld #1) by Kelley Armstrong. I’m enjoying them both, but of the two, I think Bitten will get 5 stars from me!
When you’re not busy at work on your next title, how do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy time with my family, including my cats Snickers and Marble. I love nature photography, and getting out into nature, especially at this time of year. And I read.
Is there any other news of upcoming events or projects that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve written the first of a series of Middle Grade books that my agent loves. The series doesn’t have continuing characters, but a common concept of looking at a boy and girl in different cultures and time periods around the world. It’s back to world-building, but this time bringing a world from history vividly to life for a young reader, who can share the experiences of the boy and girl going through some dramatic event. Wherever possible, mythology enters in as an enriching experience to help learn about civilizations. The first one is set in the 1700s among Native Americans. These are the type of books you’d find in a middle school library, and hopefully the students would want to read them rather than groan. I find that these books complement my writing for adults, and I hope the Living Then series sells.
1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries!)
2. Giveaway is for all 3 Mortal Path books (signed), tote bag, pens, bookmarks, and calculator
3. Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry
5. You must enter on or before 4/3/12
6. Giveaway books and swag generously provide by Dakota Banks.
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.