Interview with Essence Magazine’s Storyteller of the Year, Leslie Banks


New York Times bestselling author, L.A. Banks has penned over 35 novels and 12 novellas in a wide range of genres and is the recipient of the 2008 Essence Magazine Storyteller of the Year Award, as well as the 2008 Best 50 Women in Business Award for the State of Pennsylvania.

A native of Philadelphia, 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 business as well as literary awards, and writes in genres as diverse as romance, women’s fiction, crime suspense, and paranormal.  She has contributed to magazines, newspaper columns, and has written commercial fiction for a variety of major publishers:  St. Martin’s Press (NYC), Simon and Schuster (NYC), Kensington Publishing (NYC), BET/Arabesque (NYC), Genesis Press (MS), Parker Publishing, Harper, and Tor.  Her non-fiction work includes the riveting and motivational story of Bank’s life journey in her contribution to the Chicken Soup for the African American Soul anthology.

Banks has written the book series for the popular cable network television series, Soul Food and the novelization of the movie, Scarface. In addition, Banks penned a four-book crime thriller for Kensington/Dafina, beginning with Betrayal of the Trust, under her alternate pseudonym, Leslie Esdaile Banks.  From there, Banks transitioned into another hot genre—the world of paranormal fiction, in the form of the 12-book Vampire Huntress legend series under the pen name, L.A. Banks, as well as a hot new werewolf series, Crimson Moon.

Currently, Banks writes full-time, always working on multiple projects and anthologies simultaneously, and she resides in Philadelphia with her teenage daughter and her black labrador retriever.

  • 2008 has been good to you. You won the 2008 Essence Magazine Storyteller of the Year Award, as well as the 2008 Best 50 Women in Business Award for the State of Pennsylvania. Were you surprised to receive such prestigious awards?
    I was absolutely stunned to receive those awards, LOL–seriously… the Essence one came out of the blue–my Street Team nominated me, fought for me, but given who else was up for that award, I assumed that they would get it.  But that just goes to show you the power of passion… my Street Team and readers are passionate about the series… so, yeah, it was very surprising and humbling to say the least.  I was honored.
     
  • How have your fans and readers reacted to your success?
    They are the cause of it, they participated in it, and have been fabulously supportive.  If I didn’t have them, then what?  I really enjoy the notes of encouragement they send and all the love–I’m blessed to have them.
     
  • You have written across a number of genres. Is it your diverse interests, a call to write different stories, or an agent selling you an idea? Are any of these genres near and dear to you than the others?
    I think, more than anything, what I write about is a function of who I am and what interests me.  I am a total romantic–so I write romance, I believe in “Obama-esque” couples, you know… when I see Michelle & Barack, I’m like–Yeah!  I believe in justice and the underdog, so I write crime thrillers where the good guy or gal triumphs in the end.  I believe that good will conquer evil, hence The Vampire Huntress Legends series… albeit a very graphic depiction of the spiritual battle (smile), but I flow my beliefs into a genre that’s fun for me to write.  I don’t think one can really separate it out… and when writer’s just write what their agents pitch, readers can tell.  The writing lacks the passion.
     
  • How about a character? Do you have a favorite, or one that you want to spend more time with?
    LOL… oh, yeah… Carlos Rivera is my quintessential bad boy that I had so much fun writing.  Now that the series is over at book #12, The Thirteenth, I’m gonna miss him dearly :)  But that only means I have to create another one!
     
  • As “Storyteller of the Year,” you have to share some secrets.  What gets you started on a story?  Do you have to get into a certain mood for the story or a certain scene that you are writing? What provides your inspiration?
    Oh, yeah, I definitely have to be in the mood to write whatever scene I’m working on.  First, I have to let the story roll around in my head for about a week… I have to really cogitate on the characters, their motivations, their voices, even their names and backgrounds.  Then comes the time to write them.  If it’s a battle scene, I put on Luda, old DMX, Pit Bull Miami, LOL… if it’s a love scene, I’ve gotta get mellow, have a glass of Merlot, turn the lights down, put on soft jazz, light some candles, and get my head into that zone.  Most assuredly, one has to mentally be there to create what translates onto the page.
     
  • Does writing for horror/paranormal present any challenges to you? It would seem that building to that moment of suspense can be more difficult than writing a romance story.
    It does have the additional challenge of significant research and the action/adventure quality of plot design is formidable in a long-running series.  The romances I write are what I call “my palate cleaners” in between the gore and paranormal adventures :)  However, attention to character detail is key in anything you write if you’re going to present believable characters–and that takes work no matter what genre.
     
  • Going back to your fans and readers, vampire lore seems to have piqued everyone’s interest lately with the upcoming movie release of Twilight and the new HBO series True Blood. Your 12-book series, The Vampire Huntress, is drawing to a close with the soon-to-be-released, The Thirteenth. How have your fans reacted? Are you sure this is the end?
    BIG SMILE… With vampires, you are never sure it’s “the end” — but I am going to be coming out with a graphic novel version of the series in 2009, plus manga and a version of the tale young adults.  So, in that regard, I guess the danged thing morphed on me, LOL!  But the response from readers has been HUGE!
     
  • And we know that we haven’t seen the last of your pseudonym, L.A. Banks, with the release of the Crimson Moon series.  How have your fans reacted to the start of this series?  Any surprises that you would like to share?
    People have been overwhelmingly supportive… so much so that, the big surprise is this is no longer a trilogy.  We’ve inked another 3 book deal taking it up to at least 6 books so far contracted for this series. The response to my werewolves and shadow wolves has been very cool.
     
  • Do you have some favorite stories or authors to share?  For example, if I was to peek at your book shelves, what would I find?
    Wow, yeah, you’d find an eclectic mix… Tananarive Due (Blood Colony and The Living Blood series), Brandon Massey (Thunderland), Sherrilyn Kenyon (Archeron), Jonathan Maberry (Cryptopedia and Patient Zero–I got an arc, smile!)… then there’s biographies, Obama (The Audacity of Hope), Patti LaBelle, Phyllis Hyman… self help stuff from TD Jakes, Deepak Chopra… I mean, my bookshelf is like my sock drawer–a hot mess :)
     
  • It looks like you have taken advantage of the Internet to promote your novels — Amazon, MySpace, your websites.  Do you get a lot of feedback? Do you look forward to the book readings and the booksignings?
    I get so much feedback sometimes that it’s scary, because I try diligently to answer all my email myself–which becomes daunting while crafting a novel… Hey, I don’t even answer my family, then, LOL!  But I do love people and look forward to going out and meeting folks.  I look at booksignings and readings as mini-focus groups, because people give you instant feedback–good or bad, it’s all good, because then you can know how to work better in the future.
     
  • Do you have any tips for your fellow writers? Anything that has worked for you in writing, finding a publisher & agent, in promoting your book?
    Really hone your craft and your manuscript before submitting it by going to the conferences and taking the classes there.  I go to about 4-5 conferences annually, and I sit and listen in the workshops taking notes… We’re all still learning and polishing our craft, so that is the biggest thing I would say to do.  A really tight manuscript is hard to reject–and it’s a joy for agents to sell.  Once you have a deal, start marketing.  Set up that website, get your booksignings organized, and hit the street.  Great numbers mean a repeat in contracts with higher advances.  It’s really simple, just a LOT of hard elbow grease.
     
  • With 2008 being such a banner year, any plans for 2009?
    In 2009 I’ll be writing like a fiend, LOL… graphic novels, manga, YA, follow-on books for the Crimson Moon, whew!  It’ll be the kind of year where I’ll look up and it’ll be 2010, LOL!  So pray for a sistah, would ya?  BIG HUG!

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