Please join us in welcoming author Dakota Banks here today to Dark Faerie Tales. The third book in her Mortal Path urban fantasy series, Deliverance, was recently released on March 27, 2012. You can read an excerpt here.
One lucky commenter will have a chance to win a a Mortal Path Swag Bag, consisting of a tote bag, 3 signed books, pens, bookmarks, magnets, and a calculator.
Dakota Banks is the author of the Mortal Path series of urban fantasies/supernatural thrillers. Prior to that, she wrote the PJ Gray series of suspense novels under her real name, Shirley Kennett. She lives on the western fringe of St. Louis with her husband. Her two sons, one adopted from Peru and the other from Ethiopia, are in college. She speaks and teaches where writers gather, and considers “paying it forward”—passing on knowledge and encouragement—an important part of her writing career. Dakota is a former board member of International Thriller Writers, a member of the Horror Writers Association, the Romance Writers of America, and Mystery Writers of America.
Want to read more from Dakota Banks?
I’d like to thank Dark Faerie Tales for the wonderful chance to visit this blog, and to talk to you, the readers.
DFT: Could you start things off by telling us a little about the Mortal Path Series?
Dakota: The Mortal Path is based on Sumerian mythology. The Sumerians lived roughly 5,000-8,000 years ago and had an intricate system of gods, goddesses, and demons to explain many of the things of the natural world. For example, if a woman died in childbirth, it was likely the result of a demon’s actions, or more rarely, that the woman had lost the favor of a goddess. To make the stories relevant to the current time, I used a departure point (not part of the mythology) that some nasty demons were left behind on Earth when all of the other gods and goddesses left to return to their home planet. Yes, the Sumerians believed that their gods came from another planet, and returned to it after hundreds of thousands of years on Earth, and that they would return one day to see how humans had progressed.
The demons are the source of much death and destruction on Earth, and they recruit humans to become Ageless assassins to carry out that terrible influence. The lead character of the series, Maliha Crayne, was once an Ageless assassin, but she went rogue, breaking her contract with her demon. Now she works to redeem the soul she sold to him by saving as many lives as she’s taken. She’s also collecting artifacts, shards of a diamond lens, scattered around the world, and when she assembles all seven of them, she will be able to eliminate the demons from the Earth.
DFT: Deliverance is the third book in your Mortal Path series. For readers new to the series, can you give us a quick overview of Dark Time and Sacrifice?
Dakota: In Dark Time, Maliha, then known as Susannah Layhem, is a wife and healer in the 1690s, living in an American colony. She is called out as a witch by a woman who wants her out of the way so the woman can have Susannah’s husband. False charges pile on, and she’s burned at the stake. Susannah cries out for help, and a Sumerian demon answers her call. He offers her a choice of immortal life as his servant and assassin, or a return to her flaming death. She opts for life, and after years of training in martial arts, is turned loose in the world as an unstoppable killer. Her conscience resurfaces after many deaths to her credit, and she decides she can’t go on as an assassin. She goes rogue, with a ticking clock to redeem her soul. Now Maliha Crayne, she needs to learn to open up to friendship and love again. She assembles a team of friends, but love? The wall around her heart is tall and thick. The Drug Enforcement Administration agent named Jake whom she meets on a blind date begins to tear down that wall. Maliha tries to solve the deaths of two hackers and is drawn into a battle with someone who can sell the security of the U.S. to the highest bidder.
In Sacrifice, Maliha’s friendship with her team deepens. One of them, Hound, has a girlfriend who delivers medical supplies to refugee camps in Africa. She disappears, and Maliha goes after her. The adventure leads to the discovery of a new weapon being tested on defenseless African villages. Maliha grows much closer to Jake, but discovers that he has a mysterious past. She has some success on her quest to collect the diamond shards, but to her dismay finds that another Ageless, Lucius, has been ordered by his demon to steal any shards she recovers, preventing her from assembling the complete lens.
DFT: Can the books function as a stand-alone or do we need to read the series from the beginning?
Dakota: They could be standalones, but I think that to experience the growth of Maliha’s character, the books should be read from the beginning. There’s also the factor that the Sumerian backstory is fairly complex, and it isn’t possible to repeat it all in each book—series readers would be bored. So come along for the entire ride! I have a new motto for the series:
Follow the Mortal Path with Maliha.
It’s the adventure of several lifetimes.
DFT: Can you tell us a little about the main characters in Deliverance?
Dakota: I’ve already mentioned Maliha Crayne, the main character who is a rogue Ageless, working now to redeem her soul instead of following her demon’s orders. Her close team of friends are:
Hound – a private investigator with government ties whom she rescued during the Vietnam war. Her sounding board, and doesn’t take any flak from Maliha.
Amaro – a world-class hacker. Maliha saved Amaro and his sister Rosie from the slums of Rio de Janeiro when they were teenagers.
Yanmeng – a remote viewer. He and his wife were in jail in China when they were spirited out of the country by Maliha. He’s also Maliha’s martial arts sparring partner.
Other people important in her life are:
Jake Stackman – her lover and hope for a semblance of a normal life.
Master Liu – An Ageless martial arts master who taught Maliha her skills and is now her mentor.
Randy Baxter – a woman in her late twenties who hangs out with Maliha, goes to clubs, etc. Does not know Maliha’s background.
Various Villains – you will hate them!
DFT: Tell us something about your research process and the choices you make when creating the story.
Dakota: The Mortal Path books are research-intensive. Besides the Sumerian background, I use real characters from history (or sometimes categories, such as a Roman Centaur, in which I have brought to life a composite individual), since I have the 8,000 years since the Sumerian civilization began to play with. Since the demons have been recruiting their Ageless assassins from that long ago, I have rich sources to draw upon. For example, Master Liu is 5,000 years old, an original Sumerian priest. Maliha travels the world in her adventures, and unfortunately, I haven’t visited every place Maliha goes to. To make those settings come across as authentic takes a lot of research, including trying to contact locals. I once changed the course of a story because I couldn’t get first-hand information on a setting. Finally, there are the weapons and martial arts techniques Maliha uses. I have a martial arts expert who keeps me from going off track (any mistakes are mine, not his!), but I’m on my own in learning about guns. Know anybody who’d like to be my gun resource?
DFT: Do you have a long-term plan or goal for this story universe? What happens after book 3, Deliverance?
Dakota: After Deliverance, Maliha needs to continue both of her quests, the personal one for her soul and the one to rid humanity of the demons. I don’t see the series having a large number of books; once Maliha achieves or fails these goals, her story will be complete. I’m thinking maybe 3-5 more books in the series. Of course, my editor has more than a little to say about that.
DFT: Who is your favorite character in this book and why?
Dakota: Maliha is my favorite character. She is complex, definitely not perfect, struggles with her relationships after hundreds of years of not needing any, caring, a justice-seeker, and works her way through moral dilemmas in her own unique way. She’s capable of being both tough and vulnerable. Despite her dark background as an assassin, I would love to have Maliha as a friend.
DFT: Do you have a favorite scene or line from Deliverance?
Dakota: Maliha and her martial arts instructor Master Liu have had a long, volatile relationship. When she first came to him, he nearly refused to teach her because she was such an inept student. Their attitudes have changed over the years into ones of mutual respect. Here is a short scene showing Maliha returning to Master Liu for some brush-up training. I love their relationship.
After pausing to set aside her warm clothing, she started up a nearby mountainside wearing thin white pants and a matching shirt, barefoot. She followed a trail that few could perceive. It was snowing by the time she neared the top.
Maliha saw a figure standing up ahead, obscured by the snowfall. The mark on her left arm, the Chinese character shou, meaning long life, began to heat up and glow, just as it had on the day it was branded into her skin. It was the mark of her martial arts school, and it had never healed like other wounds to her Ageless body. She stopped a few feet from Master Liu. She could see him clearly now, a young bare-chested man wearing white pants as she did, in prime condition. He had a bucket in one hand. He’d been picking berries from bushes where only a few remained this late into winter.
Maliha dropped to her knees and bowed her head.
“Grandfather,” she said.
When she looked up, Master Liu was clothed in heavy robes. His face was wrinkled and wisps of white hair stood up from his head. His white, rheumy eyes fixed her with a blind stare. One of Master Liu’s abilities as an Ageless was to change his appearance. She believed she was looking at the true version now.
“Master, I seek your wisdom,” she said.
“Come in out of the wind,” he said. “It’s good to see you.” He held out his arm to her and she took him by the elbow as if she were supporting a frail old man.
She flashed back to Hound’s description of Master Liu: He’s some ascetic hermit who counts snowflakes on a mountain in China and dips his balls in ice water for the hell of it. She almost giggled. Almost.
He took her inside the school, where a student maintained a small fire. It didn’t do much to warm the large room. Master Liu taught tolerance to the elements and humility in the face of nature, which is why Maliha had worn only thin clothing.
“Student, bring a warm robe for my guest. She is a disciple of this school.”
Maliha raised her eyebrows in surprise.
Master Liu shrugged. “I’m mellowing in my old age,” he said.
The student, a boy of about sixteen, returned with a heavy robe and slippers for Maliha. She wondered who his demon was since Master Liu only taught the Ageless.
He was the oldest Ageless Maliha knew, at least five thousand years old. He had been a priest of Anu’s in Sumerian times. He didn’t want to turn against his demon, even though he hated the evil works he participated in by training assassins, because he wanted to remain immortal. He was convinced that the Sumerian gods would return to Earth someday, and wanted to be alive at that glorious moment so he would once again be a priest. Although he wouldn’t turn rogue, he supported Maliha by taking no action against her. They both knew that if his demon ever ordered him to kill her, he would do it.
“I’ve come here because I …”
“You’ve come because you are soft,” he interrupted. “I felt it in the way you moved when you walked next to me. Did you think I needed your arm to steady me? Your first task will be to join the advanced students.”
I have missed a few workouts.
“When you are no longer soft, we’ll talk.”
DFT: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell us about?
Dakota: I’m working on a middle grades historical adventure series—think school library books. The first book is written and my agent is submitting it. I hope it sells—it makes a great companion to the Mortal Path series on a substantially younger level and without the demons and sex. Just mythology from different cultures and different time periods.
Dakota: I don’t have bad writing days. Seriously, because I accomplish something writing-related every time I sit down for a writing session. Research counts. Promotion counts. Increasing my word count on my WIP counts. Editing counts. Brainstorming counts. With that attitude, the only bad writing day would be one in which I was too sick to be at my computer. Since I only have to go about twenty feet from bed to desk, I can usually drag myself that far!
DFT: Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?
Dakota: Glad you asked! When I began writing (I had a series of thrillers before the Mortal Path, under my real name of Shirley Kennett), my approach was to sit down and write without any planning. I figured the story would unravel in my head, the characters would lead the way, and I would merely be the scribe. Hah! It didn’t work that way for me, although I’m sure it does for some writers. I needed a more thorough grasp of where I was going in a book, or I’d get lost along the way, resulting in the “unfinished novel in a drawer” syndrome. I use the tool of the synopsis, written before starting the book, not grudgingly afterward because my agent wants one. In 5-10 pages, I lay out the structure of the book, the highest level points of the plots, and the ending. I see how my series characters fit the plot right away, and if they don’t, I can change the plot until I’m satisfied with it. The synopsis is my road map, not something set in concrete. If I see a better way while writing, I take it. My books do come out recognizable, though, from the synopsis I wrote. I love it because I set off confidently on a journey of about 400 manuscript pages. Since the synopsis only covers the high points, there’s plenty of creative work left in the book, so I never feel constrained. What matters is that it works for me, and every writer needs to find their own approach, usually by trial and error.
As far as writing rituals, a bowl of jellybeans on my desk is mandatory. So is the presence of my cat Marbles, who corrects my writing occasionally by walking across the keyboard. My other cat Snickers just bites my toes periodically to stimulate my thought processes. I can’t work with music that has lyrics, because I begin paying too much attention to the lyrics and not enough to my writing. I listen to classical music while I write.
This giveaway is provided by Dakota Banks
One winner will receive a a chance to win a Mortal Path Swag Bag, consisting of a tote bag, 3 signed books, pens, bookmarks, magnets, and a calculator
Available on March 27, 2012 from Harper Voyager
About the Book:
A demon’s assassin for centuries, Maliha Crayne has gone rogue, determined to save a life for every one she’s destroyed in order to free herself from an eternity of enslavement, damnation, and excruciating torment. But as the powers that sustained her in the past fade, she is wary of trusting those closest to her-especially her lover, Jake. Should Maliha listen to her heart or the alarms going off in her head? Then her closest friends begin to disappear, one by one. Amid her anger, suspicion, and sorrow, she feels her life spiraling out of control.
Worse still, a beautiful, Renaissance murderess is recruiting Maliha as her new assassin. Maliha is turning into a lethal puppet with an evil Immortal pulling the strings, forced to kill innocents or see her missing friends die horribly. Suddenly trapped in a moral no-man’s land, Maliha is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t…and time is rapidly running out.
Click HERE to read an excerpt
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