LA Banks is the New York Times Bestselling author the very popular Vampire Huntress series. She was awarded the Essence inaugural Storyteller of the Year award in 2007. Banks started writing urban fantasy featuring a kick ass female long before it was the popular sub genre du jour. She’s now only a few books away from completing the Damali Richards’ series and this month is launching a new werewolf series called Crimson Moon novels. I didn’t get to be part of the Vampire Huntress series because I was late to the game, but I will be picking up a copy of Bad Blood soon.
My start in the world of publishing was more akin to the Robin Williams movie, Jumanji than the simple “road less traveled.” If I turn back the clock to the early 90′s, my daughter, who was six months old at the time, had just suffered a severe burn at the hands of a careless daycare center worker. After 17 surgeries, the loss of three of her precious little fingers, and no settlement case to be had (of course this person has no business insurance-sigh), and a pending divorce, I found myself wading through a stack household bills becoming desperate… did I mention the job laid me off then too for too much hospital time. Ah, yes, the good old nineties, well before the crush of political correctness.
But I digress, as authors often do. Anyway, I’m sitting home alone with only my sleeping child and a short story contest comes in the door in a popular women’s magazine (Essence Magazine.) For 10 pages of story, if I won, twenty-five hundred dollars could be mine. Images of the Lottery danced in my head and I immediately got to work. Was I a writer? No. Had I done this before? No. But I was a mom on a mission. Baby, literally, needed a new pair of shoes.
So I followed the contest instructions to the letter, setting up my word processing margins exactly as specified. Little did I realize at the time I was being instructed on how to render a manuscript page. Long story short, I sat down and began to write. Something weird happened-this is the Jumanji part-I got lost in another world, the world I was creating. (South American jungles) It was thrilling, fun, crazy, torturous. The next thing I knew, I had been trapped in a time warp and when I came out of it, three days had passed and I owned seventy-five pages of sheer madness.
Freaked out, I gave this stack of ramblings to a close girlfriend to help me edit down to the contest-specified ten pages. However, she in turn gave it to a couple of ex-coworkers, who wanted to read more. Very, very long story short, I wound up abandoning the idea of submitting my work to a magazine. I just bumped off a chapter a day to share with girlfriends for the laugh. Six hundred and eighty pages later in six weeks, I typed the end. To my way of thinking, it was cheap psychotherapy. My medical and dental had lapsed, so go figure.
But these virulent friends (LOL), well they saw a book. I threw the pages in the closet; they began a mailing campaign to publishers. Then one particularly aggressive girlfriend dragged me to a Romance Writer’s of American conference in New York – a mere hour and a half train ride from home. (My child was recovering well and months and months had passed, so I agreed.) There we met a renegade faction of authors who had set up a private publisher’s meeting to discuss their concerns with the industry… of course we’d find the renegades (big smile!)
At a small luncheon, to my surprise, I got a chance to pitch to the brand new editor of Kensington/Arabesque. She had a vague memory of the book and asked me to resend it to her, which I did. Then I got that Cinderella call out of the blue-a two book deal offer for the crazy title I’d penned plus a next book.
It was one of those surreal moments where you realize dreams can come true. Years later, BET purchased that imprint, and the next thing I knew I was writing for an even larger house. Thirty-five books later, who knew? So this is my advice to all new writers and budding authors:
- Never listen to any negative feedback from people telling you it can’t be done-it can.
- Just because your family thinks you’re crazy, doesn’t mean you are.
- Write the story that bursting inside you first, get it out. That’s the one that you’ll write with passion. Do that first before you simply try to write to “the market” trends.
- Go to conferences, mix with people, and continue to hone your craft.
Good luck to you and may the Muse sprinkle a little fairy dust in your shoes.
–L.A. Banks, NYT Best-selling author and winner of the 2008 Essence Magazine Storyteller of the Year Award www.LeslieEsdaileBanks.com