None other than L.A. Banks rolled through the Chicago area a couple of weeks ago toward the end of July. More importantly she rolled through Bolingbrook IL. I couldn’t believe that she’d agreed to be my guest on my local cable show, The Art of Writing, and waited until the last moment to make the announcement that she would be there.
Having met Leslie a couple of times in the past it amazed me then and now how humble Leslie (L.A. Banks) is. If you ever want to meet a writer who has done as much as she has, and still remains real, without the swelled head, allow me to introduce you to Leslie Esdaile Banks.
Leslie Esdaile Banks
Ms. Banks is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania Wharton undergraduate program, and alumnae of Temple University's Master of Fine Arts in filmmaking program. Ms. Banks began her career in corporate marketing for several Fortune 100 firms and worked as an executive for over a decade at Xerox, Hewlett Packard, and Digital Equipment Corporation. She then subsequently evolved her veteran marketing experience into a solid entrepreneurial career as a marketing consultant within the economic development and community-based organization environment.
In 1992, Banks added another facet to her career, entering the publishing industry. She writes under the pseudonyms; L.A. Banks, Leslie Esdaile, Leslie E. Banks, Leslie Banks, and Leslie Esdaile Banks. She has won several literary awards and has penned over 22 novels and has contributed to over 10 anthologies in genres as diverse as romance, women's fiction, crime suspense, and dark fantasy/horror. She has contributed to magazines, newspaper columns, and has written commercial fiction for five major publishers simultaneously: St. Martin's Press (NYC), Simon and Schuster (NYC), Kensington Publishing (NYC), BET/Arabesque (NYC), and Genesis Press (MS.)
Leslie's writing career took a new twist in 2000 when she won the coveted contract with Paramount/Showtime in collaboration with Simon & Schuster/Pocketbooks to write a book series for the popular cablenetwork television series, Soul Food,. From there, Banks transitioned into another hot genre-the world of vampire fiction, where she is currently penning a nine book series for St. Martin's Press: "Minion," (June 2003), "The Awakening," (January2004), "The Hunted," (June 2004), and "The Bitten," (January 2005), "The Forbidden" (July 2005), "The Damned," to be released January 2006, with three additional titles to be added in 2006 thru 2007. In addition, Banks was recently signed to a St. Martin's Press inspired paranormal romance anthology, entitled, "Stroke of Midnight," contributing with Sherrilyn Kenyon, Amanda Ashley, and Lori Handeland, which hit the New York Times Bestseller extended list in 2004. She has also worked with other horror anthology collections, Dark Dreams I and Dark Dreams II for Kensington Publishing.
Banks' other works include a crime thriller with Kensington/Dafina, which was released November 2004 "Betrayal of The Trust", the sequel is entitled, "Blind Trust", as well as numerous romances and women's fiction works with BET/Arabesque, Kensington Publishing, and Genesis Press. Banks also contributed her inspirational personal story of triumph over tragedy to the upcoming anthology, "Chicken Soup for the African American Soul."
Ms. Banks is a native West Philadelphian and entrepreneur, who remains fervently committed to her community. She writes and lives in University City, Philadelphia, with her husband and children.
Dyanne: Even though I’ve meet and talked to Leslie I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to interview her because I am a huge fan of hers. Suffice it to say I dropped my battery pack, had to get up and stretch and literally had a ball with Leslie.
Dyanne: Leslie, what made you take he leap from romance into the paranormal?
Leslie: To be honest with you, my agent first approached me with the idea. I didn’t think I wanted to, and said I couldn’t write about vampires. He said, “Just give it a shot. I did and the rest is history.
Dyanne: I’ve been reading and hearing that the paranormal market especially vampires is dying out. Do you agree?
Leslie: Definitely not. This particular market has been under tapped by African Authors. I think it’s just beginning to take off as far as the AA readers are concerned. My books are not the traditional vampire tale. Schools, universities, et al, are even using it to teach all sorts of positive messages. Prison literacy programs have also introduced it; this saga is quietly buzzing on the urban underground.
I write under various pen names in concurrent, multiple genres: vampire, crime, romance, woman's fiction, and non-fiction simultaneously for multiple major houses--but St. Martin's is proud to claim that the most successful of my projects is the Vampire Huntress Legends Series!
Dyanne: Since I’m a huge fan of yours I’m surprised that there are still people who don’t get that you’re delivering a heavy message that’s filled with biblical knowledge. It seemed that you did a lot of research. Am I correct?
Leslie: I did more research for this series than I’ve ever had to do. One of the main factor was because in so many books anything coming from Africa has been portrayed as being bad. If you’re looking for a deep history lesson on the good things from Africa all you have to do is to pick up one of my vampire huntress series. There is also some heavy religious teaching. I take the reader to school and I do it in the language of the street, so they can understand it. This is what happened. I live in Philadelphia. I was looking around my neighbor listening to the news and there was nothing but violence. You name it it was happening. I go to wondering where is the justice. What happens that allows this to happen? What is the karmic payback if you will?
Take my lead vampire for example. One Mr. Carlos Rivera. Carlos became a vampire because he went out gangta style to avenge his homies. Brother man ran into something mightier than a Magnus. The lesson: You live by the sword you die by the Sword. Carlos life plan had been that he would be a being of the light, a life mate for Damali the huntress. As much as Damali loved Carlos when his path went down the dark side she was strong enough to know hat was not her destiny. The series also has some very specific social themes aimed at young people in particular, namely using the metaphor of vampirism to depict how the seemingly glamorous and seductive drug dealing scene and violence of street life is actually preying on communities and families, thus effectively undermining those crucial infrastructures.
Needless to say, the bad guys are vampires, but the anti-hero is a young Latino male who inadvertently (because of trying to get out of poverty) goes down this twisted path--and like many young minority males, gets "sucked" into "the system" before truly understanding the horror of it, with "his boyz" all falling victim to it, too. The young heroine (an African American female slayer) holds the line and loves him--as so many young women do--while the entire saga backdrop is set up in a scenario where the good guys (a multicultural family of Guardians and prayer warriors) are fighting to redeem this young man to get him out of the negative system.
I chose these images and structured the series this way because, as a mother, I philosophically believe that there is hope, and that young folks walking this dark path can be redeemed if they have viable options that are made real to them. We cannot just throw an entire generation of young men behind bars! So, a legend begins...
The back drop is hip-hop, urban, and the language is as gritty as any rap song uncut. Each book builds upon the next in almost a soap opera format, whereby one must start at the beginning or it could be difficult to understand what's going on. The series has gone into 6 printings with a HUGE fan base of all races and ages. "Street Teams" have been out vigilantly pushing this series, a fan club has erupted, and the website tells the story--where an organic thread of bulletin board posts have evolved into VHL Anonymous-- folks addicted to The Vampire Huntress Legends (VHL) who cannot wait for the next installment.
Dyanne: I don’t want to give away too much about what’s in your books because I know once the readers read the first one they will be unable to stop but I will say this: your readers come from all spectrum of society. You represent all races and all religions in your books. Was that deliberate?
Leslie: It was. Changes for good can only happen when we all work toward it. That’s a part of my message. Speaking of the different ethnicities of the characters, I was offered the opportunity to write the prequel to Scar face a few years ago because of the way I had portrayed Carlos who just happens to be Puerto Rican. And you’re correct about my readership being diverse. At the Oak Park signing last night I had a reader who’d just come from Iraqi. The crowd was an indication of my across the board readership.
Dyanne: I heard that you had a book optioned to be made into a movie. Is that true.
Leslie: it is. In fact two of my huntress series, Minion and Awakening have been optioned. I’m pretty excited about that. We don’t have an opening date nailed down yet but I’m very excited about the project.
Dyanne: I just have to ask you this because I’ve been asking it of a lot of writers lately. When you’ve been in bookstores doing book signing have customer ever mistaken you for an employee?
Leslie: Have they ever. Wal-Mart is one of my favorite stores and whenever I’m there for a signing someone will always want to return something to me (not my books) ask me where the detergent is, deodorant, things like that. It’s gotten so now that I just say, “Welcome to Wal-Mart.”
On that note I think we’ll stop. If L.A. Banks goes through it, then hey. I wish there was a way for you to have heard the laughter that accompanied the questions and answers but I can’t figure out a way to put that in there so you’ll just have to trust me.
Dyanne: Leslie, is there any last word?”
L.A. Banks: I’d like to give a shot out to my Midwest street team. Candace Links, and Alicia Thomas, they really took care of me. And the folks in Chicago, they really know how to party. And to my sister writer, Barbara Keaton (speed racer) Thanks for getting us to the Oak Park signing on two wheels and still alive. LOL.
For those who are not yet fans of L. A. Banks Vampire Huntress series you can check out her website. It goes without saying that interviewing Leslie was a pleasure. Any more and I’ll start gushing. LOL.
Author's Websites: Vampire Huntress Legends Series -- www.vampirehuntress.com
Her VHL books are listed below in the order of their publication
The order of the series books are:
Book 1 = Minion (currently available in Mass Market & Trade Paperback)
Book 2 = The Awakening (currently available in Mass Market & Trade Paperback)
Book 3 = The Hunted (currently available in Mass Market & Trade Paperback)
Book 4 = The Bitten (currently available in Trade Paperback)
Book 5 = The Forbidden (currently available in Trade Paperback)
Book 6 = The Damned (currently available in Trade Paperback)
Book 7 = The Forsaken July 2006)
Book 8 = The Wicked Jan. 2007)
Book 9 = The Cursed July 2007)