Monday, November 8, 2010
BWB: When the idea for your Mortal Path's series came to you, what pushed you towards the idea of a woman as broken as Susannah/Maliha?
DB: I wanted a challenge, and I certainly got one with Maliha. I felt that the theme of this series is the transformation of a person mired in evil, once she has made a choice to turn her back on that evil. Maliha starts out good and innocent as the colonial wife and soon-to-be mother Susannah, until her village is caught up in the Puritanical witch hysteria of the 1690s. Susannah is accused of witchcraft by a woman who wants her out of the picture so the woman can then marry Susannah's grieving husband. It's an evil plot, especially considering Susannah is pregnant, and her unborn child will die with her. Witches were usually hanged in America, but extra charges were trumped up that called for the more severe punishment of burning at the stake. It's a nasty setup, nasty enough to make Susannah reach out for revenge when an ancient Sumerian demon offers her the chance.
When the immediate desire for revenge is satisfied, Susannah continues to kill at the demon's request to keep her youth, beauty, and immortality -- in other words, motives that are no longer even vaguely justified. So now I have my black-hearted heroine, broken as you say, and I want to see what happens to her when she starts to realize she's living a decadent, immoral life. Is it possible to overcome her evil past? To me, this makes a more interesting story than if a sweet young girl or kick-ass woman (SYG/KAW) is awakened to some paranormal power or task she has to do.
I think the SYG/KAW story is appealing to readers because we all like to think, "Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and be a shapeshifter." I know I think that! :):) When there's a character like Maliha, not many readers are going to think, "Gee, I hope tomorrow I'll wake up and be a demon's assassin." This makes me work a lot harder with the Mortal Path books, and it doesn't help that Maliha makes mistakes where I wish I could just shake her and say, "Woman, why can't you get this right!!". Then I realize she's had hundreds of years of doing the wrong thing, and this transformation stuff is a struggle for her.
BWB: Can you tell us a little bit about your series, in your own words?
DB:I came from a background of writing thrillers (see http://shirleykennett.com - that's me!), and when I thought about adding some paranormal elements to my books, I didn't see any reason to leave the thriller part out. So each Mortal Path book contains a thriller plot. Action! Adventure! Exotic locations! Martial arts! Woo hoo! I have a great deal of fun writing with all this, though it does have a price in the amount of research I have to do. When Maliha sets foot in a foreign country or whips out a new weapon, I may or may not be writing from personal experience, but it's my job to make the reading experience authentic. Book 3 of the series, with a working title of Despair, is different in that the thriller plot is tightly centered around Maliha and her friends, not on some external threat to America or the world. I'm writing it now and it's quite a challenge. Just what I expect from this series--taking me new places with my writing all the time.
BWB: Would you consider your series in the Urban Fantasy genre?
DB: Yes, I would. Urban fantasy stories have recognizable settings (worlds) that we can fit ourselves into, given our acceptance of the paranormal elements. It's our world, with tweaks. That describes the Mortal Path books perfectly. You could pass Maliha on the street and not know what her capabilities are, because she blends in. In addition to the thriller material included, there's also romance. During her assassin days, Maliha was a creature of brief relationships, love excluded. That's a hard pattern to change, but she's working on it. Some readers pick up these books as thrillers and are happy reading them from that angle.
BWB: The first Chapter of Dark Time is one of the most intense starts to a book that I've ever read, it was quite emotionally draining for me. Is writing these hard-hitting scenes emotional for you also?
DB: Emotional barely begins to describe it. I'm caught up in these scenes, as though I'm living them along with Maliha because I have such a strong bond with her. It's a good thing there's a box of tissues on my desk, or I'd flood my keyboard! I feel drained and usually take a nap after an intense scene. Something strange about it that I doubt other writers do is that I'm drawn back to those scenes in the manuscript. I'll go back and reread them, maybe five or ten times while writing the book. I guess it's an attempt to be closer to Maliha, and that helps me write scenes that are not so emotionally charged.
BWB: Is Maliha based off of someone you know, or purely fictional?
DB: Maliha is purely fictional. She and I share a desire to see justice done, but that's about it. While I wouldn't want her evil past, I would like to be able to save lives. Oh, I do have some minor experience seeing auras, but I was in the hospital being dosed with cocaine prior to sinus surgery, so I guess that doesn't count. I do wish I had her figure and physical abilities. Sigh.
BWB: Where did you come up with your ideas? What type of research did you have to do to write this series?
DB: The Mortal Path series is based in Sumerian mythology, something that has attracted me for years. I'm an amateur archaeologist with a special interest in the Middle East ("Cradle of Civilization", let's all open our history books to Mesopotamia and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers). The Sumerian civilization thrived five thousand years ago, give or take a millennium, in what is now Iraq. The Iraqi National Museum was looted in 2003 because US troops were slow in securing the museum after Iraqi security left. There were a few wild days of looting and vandalism. Many Sumerian artifacts were broken or disappeared into the black market. (Some were later recovered.) It was in the news a lot and every time I saw it, I was sad that these priceless artifacts from one of our first great civilizations were lost. Many artifacts show scenes of Sumerians interacting with their gods, and it started me thinking about basing a series on the possibility that some of their demons had survived until the current time. They were still around, causing plagues, death, destruction, and chaos. It took years of part-time work to put the Mortal Path series together, to get just the right combination of characters and do the world-building. I spent a lot of time learning in depth about Sumeria and its mythology, and the more I read, the more excited I got about basing a series there. I can legitimately say the series was "Years in the Making!".
BWB: What books or authors inspired you to write?
DB: When I began writing, I was heavily into science fiction (and still am). The writers who influenced me were from that genre: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Harlan Ellison, for example. They excelled at world-building, characterization, and plotting, and I studied their works by reading for pleasure and then reading for technique.
BWB: What can we expect next from you? Are there more books in the Mortal Path series expected?
DB: I'm writing book 3, and I hope to have at least 3 books after that. There is a story arc about Maliha collecting shards of a crystal lens that will enable her to wipe out the demons. Without the demons holding humankind back like a ball and chain around our collective ankles, humanity will be ready for the next leap into ... what? Of course, my publisher has something to say about how many books there will be in the series!
BWB: Any signings, or tours, or just events you would like us to know about?
DB: I'm running a contest on my website (http://dakota-banks.com) that ends December 1st. You can win the opportunity to name a character in the third Mortal Path book after yourself or a friend. Of course, Maliha being the way she is, you just might get killed off! In addition to the character naming, you can win your choice of 1) a subscription to the Mortal Path series, meaning a signed copy of every book on or before its release date; or 2) a complete manuscript critique done by me. Enter by filling out the simple form on the website. Go on! You know you want to be a character in the next book, and you'll be mentioned in the acknowledgments, too.
BWB: What would motivate you to sell your soul?
DB: I'm not certain that my soul is something I could sell, but the idea plays well in fiction! If I could, it would be to save my husband and children from certain death. At least, I hope I would be steadfast and loving enough to do that. It's easy to say that sitting here in my office with the only threat being my deadline for book 3. No one really knows how they'll react until the moment is upon them.
Intrigued?? You can win the two books of The Mortal Pat series by clicking on the link above this post.
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