>Serenity J. Banks
Hello folks, today for your reading pleasure I’m proud to present an interview with Serenity J. Banks, author, editor and muscle car fanatic.
GNOH – Hi Serenity, how are things with you?
Exhilarating… terrifying… awesome beyond belief! I’ve never been so excited about a venture as I am about Dark Continents Publishing. Looking back over my professional career and various fiction-related pursuits throughout the years, I feel like I’m arriving exactly where I was always headed—I just didn’t know this was where I was going! The whole DCP team has been rocking and rolling since August 2010 to lay the groundwork for our forthcoming publishing, distribution, and marketing platforms, and we’ve already seen amazing results in our partnership and promotional outreach efforts. Moving quickly into the final countdown to our official launch at the World Horror Convention in Austin, TX, April 28 through May 1, I feel like we’re perfectly positioned to announce ourselves with a bang—and have a hell of a lot of fun while we’re at it!
GNOH – Could you tell us about yourself?
Well, I’m a bit of a Jill of all trades, having carried on an upwardly mobile career in the media and communications fields while dabbling in an eclectic mix of night jobs and side gigs. Over the course of the last eight years, I’ve worked as the editor of a Lakota newspaper chain, the editor of a regional events industry magazine, and the editor in chief and communications liaison of a Chicago-based media, marketing, and event design firm. Last year, I set up shop as the chief media strategist of my own small business, Redheaded Stepchild Author Liaisons, just prior to coming on board as the editor in chief of Dark Continents Publishing. Meanwhile, I’ve been a National Guard soldier, a janitor, a partner in a trucking company, a grill and fry cook, a line worker in a plastic factory, and, most recently, a bartender. All along the way, I’ve also worked as a freelance editor and graphic designer for a number of private clients. To say I’m a workaholic, most of my friends and colleagues will tell you, would be an understatement.
At the core, of course, I’ve always been a fiction writer, although I did take a couple of recent years off to focus on professional development and continuing education opportunities. Aside from that brief foray into other interests, I’ve been writing stories since my mom taught me how to use a typewriter when I was four, and looking back, even that very first one-paragraph literary conception contained a decidedly dark and existential bent. I can directly attribute those genre-based proclivities to my mother’s nurturing, since she turned me into a horror nut at the age of three by introducing me to Nightmare on Elm Street when most kids were just getting into Sesame Street. By the time I read Stephen King’s It when I was eleven, I was already lost to the dark side. My local librarian tried valiantly to turn me on to Goosebumps and The Babysitter’s Club, but by the time I was twelve, she’d resigned herself to sad sighs and regretful glances every time she saw me coming with yet another armload of gruesome adult content.
Outside of my books and notepads, I grew up a small-town tomboy, and I’ve never had any particular desire to leave the farm country. I’ve been fortunate enough to hold multiple positions and assignments that allowed me to travel the world and presented me with numerous opportunities to relocate, but I’ve always come back home to the Midwest, where everybody knows everybody and the story fodder never stops.
GNOH – I see you like muscle cars. What’s your favourite model? We don’t have the same car mentality over here in the UK, but I’ve always dreamed of driving a ’67 Camaro.
Oh, yeah… I did mention I was a tomboy, didn’t I? Among my various obsessions in my younger years, I always had a hard-on for badass cars, and though I’ve grown older and more practical by necessity, I do still hold a soft spot in my heart for the classics. Above and beyond all the rest, I’m a diehard Mustang girl. And when you’re a diehard Mustang girl like me, nothing tops the GT500. Mmm… Though I’ve never owned that particular heart’s desire, I did drive an ’86 Musty hatchback for a while in high school, but sadly, it experienced a bit of misfortune not too dissimilar from that described by the character Rene in my novel The Left Hand. Back in the day, if it wasn’t muscle cars, it was lean, mean pickup trucks, and there I’ve indulged myself a bit in my adulthood. In South Dakota, after all, four-wheel drive is just about a year-round necessity, and these days, I rock a tough old ’92 stepside Ford F-150 called Big Red. What can I say? She eats Chevrolets for breakfast.
GNOH – Yeah but John Cussack didn’t drive a Mustang in Better Off Dead. You’re called the Dragon at Dark Continents Publishing. Does that mean you have a bit of a temper?
Ah, yes… you had to ask, didn’t you? Yeah, that’s a fond little nickname I picked up years and years ago, and it’s managed to stick with me from one editorial department into the next. For whatever reason, there’s just something about the archetype of the fire-breathing editor that seems to manifest for many of the writers I work with—but I’m sure it’s all them and not me. Honest.
GNOH – So how did you become involved with DCP?
You know, I’ve long been a Facebook pusher for my media and marketing contacts, and today more than ever, I can say Facebook has paid off leaps and bounds ahead of any other Web-based vehicle for self-promotion and professional outreach. It is, after all, where Dark Continents Publishing was born.
A year ago or so, literally within days of developing a dedicated profile for my fiction-focused activities, I hooked up with Dave Youngquist and John Prescott, now president and treasurer of Dark Continents Publishing, respectively. Soon thereafter, I connected with the rest of the authors who would ultimately join us in becoming DCP founding members: Tracie McBride, Sylvia Shults, and Adrian Chamberlin. Before much longer, it seemed Facebook was getting me back in touch with every other horror author and enthusiast I’d ever traded words with in the past, and pretty soon, I found myself right back in the middle of the old writing gang, as if I’d never left.
In a nut shell, a handful of us new acquaintances began chatting and getting to know one another via social media—just a group of like-minded wordslingers, intensively talking books, writing, and publishing today. In the course of discussing the current state of the industry, we began to identify what seemed, to us, like starkly apparent opportunities for a non-traditional publishing platform that could take advantage of today’s widely available technologies to deliver unprecedented flexibility to authors.
So, back in the summer of 2010, Dave took the bull by the horns in proposing to the rest of we six founding members that we boldly gear up and do this thing—together. From there, we started asking each other the kinds of what if? questions we spec-fic authors are so particularly adept at posing. What if there were an author’s cooperative that emphasized mutual support, promotion, and gain? What if that cooperative venture utilized the full gamut of current, Web-based technologies and services to minimize costs and maximize results? What if a group of spec-fic authors like us were to band together and start such an author’s cooperative, geared toward the genres we all know and adore best? Next thing you know… Dark Continents Publishing was born.
GNOH – Other than selling books, what would you say are the main goals of DCP?
One of the main, defining goals of Dark Continents Publishing is to model and promote the concept of cooperative, author-driven publishing. For far too long, authors have lived in silos, dependent upon the care and feeding they’ve received from traditional publishing companies. Although today’s technologies and communications capabilities allow authors to take their destinies into their own hands through various, user-friendly self-publishing avenues, self-published authors quickly and inevitably discover it’s still a long, hard road to making it on your own in the book market.
When we put our heads together, the founding members of Dark Continents Publishing envisioned the best of both worlds—a publishing company that provides broad-based promotion and distribution support for all its titles while allowing authors to maintain creative control and oversight over their own work. Unique to our author’s cooperative concept is the basic backbone of Dark Continents Publishing: mutual effort for mutual gain. Alone, we are one against the world; together, we are a force to be reckoned with. By working together to collectively market one another’s titles, we reach a much wider readership than any of us can reach on our own, and we enjoy a measure of mutual support and cross-promotion that no other publishing company that we know of can boast among its authors.
GNOH – Does being Editor in Chief of DCP help you with your own writing?
Of course! Now I have half a dozen pairs of eyes looking to tear the editor’s work to shreds.
Kidding aside, I place a great deal of value on the opinions and commentary of my colleagues when it comes to the finalization of my work. For one thing, I’m privileged to work alongside talented, high-calibre authors who are also studied readers of spec-fic and its associated subgenres, and a good critique is always worth its weight in gold when developing a piece of fiction. That’s something we editors keep in mind as well. As many of us will tell you, few of us dare edit our own work.
For another thing, at Dark Continents Publishing, I know for a fact these folks are personally invested in the quality of my work—because we’re all invested in the company’s overall performance. That means more honest criticism, which is invaluable to me as an author. In many cases, one’s average beta reader might hesitate to provide feedback he or she feels is too harsh or too inconvenient, and that’s often a grievous loss to the revision process. Among this particular group of pros, though, I can rest assured knowing no one will pull any punches, since my individual success as an author contributes to our greater success as a group.
GNOH – You mentioned you’re also the owner of Redheaded Stepchild Author Liaisons. Can you tell us what R.S.A.L. does?
The introduction of Redheaded Stepchild Author Liaisons last year signifies my recent, independent move into the realm of end-to-end production and promotion services for self-published authors. When entering the self-publishing arena, few authors come in possessing the technical skills, design software, or marketing know-how to effectively create and sell a book to its full potential. Furthermore, many self-published authors already struggle to fit in writing time around full-time day jobs and family obligations, and the costs of hiring freelance professionals to handle individual pieces of the publishing process can be pretty daunting. In response, from editing to artwork to public relations, R.S.A.L. works on behalf of self-published authors to provide affordable creative support and communications outreach, “so writers can just write.”
GNOH – There is a huge misconception that horror is a playground for boys. What drew you to the genre?
Well, I used to beat up the boys on the playground, so… Frankly, I’ve never had any use for gender boundaries, in fiction or in reality. Yes, I am one of the women in horror; I am one of the few and the proud. I wear high-heeled shoes, I look awesome in a string bikini, and I enjoy guns, trucks, and F-bombs, much to my dad’s dismay.
Why horror? I think all of us who write dark fiction struggle to answer that question satisfactorily. Sure, we could get all philosophical and talk about how violence and fear have formed pivotal foundations for our survival as a species, but… you know, I tend to call bullshit when individuals try to point to any one factor and say, “I am the way I am because of (fill in the blank).”
I’ll say this much: I’ve always been a psychology nut. I’m dreadfully fascinated by the manipulative interplay of human emotions, desires, motives, and obsessions. Horror fiction is, for me, more an exploration of human nature than a fetish for gore or make-believe monsters. The greatest horrors of humanity are those perpetrated by humanity, and the basic plot elements of horror fiction serve to set the stage for our behavioral extremes. In very real ways, our every waking moment is marked by relentless good-vs.-evil conflict, and spec-fic allows us to examine those conflicts under a microscope. In horror fiction, we draw correlation from exaggerated stimuli and worst-case scenarios. When confronted by monsters, what monsters we can become. That’s why I write horror. That’s what draws me to the genre.
GNOH – Your debut novel The Left Hand is published through DCP. Can you tell us about it?
In a nut shell, The Left Hand is about an alcoholic addict named Eddie Kane who has found himself inexplicably entangled with a gun-toting stranger named Calif Cryste, who is leading him against his will on a two-man crusade against a vampire infestation sweeping the tribal lands of the Midwest. Along the way, not only must Eddie wrap his head around the horrors of their bloody campaign of—you guessed it—good vs. evil, but he must also come to terms with the apparent existence of God, as evidenced by the presence of Satan’s minions on Earth. Throw in the encroaching realities of media attention and FBI investigation at their heels, and the unlikely duo is engaged in a race against time as they stay one step ahead of legal prosecution while closing in on a battle of biblical proportions.
Oftentimes, authors struggle to explain where a story idea came from. In the case of The Left Hand, I remember the exact moment inspiration struck, back in the winter of 2004. I was browsing movie titles at a rental place in Rapid City, South Dakota, and I spotted a DVD called The Right Hand. I immediately associated that title with the concept of the Right Hand of God, and I mused to myself, Well, if God has a Right Hand, He ought to have a Left Hand as well, eh? In the course of reading the descriptive blurb on the back of that DVD, I asked myself what the Left Hand of God might do nowadays if he were to walk the earth in the flesh, as did Jesus Christ once upon a time. By my standards, it seemed quickly logical that a contemporary Savior counterpart ought surely be a vampire hunter, sent to deliver humanity from the soul-sucking scourge of Satan. Boom: Calif was born. I went home that night and wrote the line, Six months ago, I walked down a dark alley and met a warrior of God. Bang: Eddie began his saga.
In the spring of 2005, the rest of The Left Hand emerged over a four-month period of voluntary unemployment between jobs, during which I drank copious amounts of coffee, smoked hundreds of cigarettes, and poured out all the frustrations of my misbegotten youth into a single seething manuscript of malcontent. Over the ensuing years, The Left Hand made round after round of publishers and agents, all of whom expressed glowing enthusiasm tempered by mainstream restrictions. Me being a lifelong believer in the everything-happens-for-a-reason mantra, I feel today that it was all for the better, since this novel matured with me over the last six years and has gradually soaked up the essence of hindsight with every subsequent revision. If The Left Hand had been picked up by one of those early prospectors who conveyed initial interest, it would not be nearly as satisfying a book as it is today, many years and several additions after its birth.
Oh, and if you ever happen to come across that random-ass film I picked up from the movie place in Rapid City all those years ago, you need not bother renting it. It pretty much sucked; all I took away from it was a first name for the hero of my tale.
GNOH – I’ve had the pleasure of reading The Left Hand, and a damn fine read it is, too. One thing that I took from the book was that the vampires themselves took a back seat in the story. The story to me, anyway, was more about the journey of one man’s faith. Did I pick that up right?
You hit the nail on the head. This is Eddie’s story from beginning to end… Eddie’s search for understanding, Eddie’s struggles with his past, Eddie’s reconciliation of doubt and fear and salvation. Like Keene’s zombies, my vampires are just window dressing. They present the evil necessary to underscore the good.
GNOH – Is faith important to you?
There is a fair amount of irony to the fact that, as a young woman, I wrote a novel about a young man who ultimately finds his faith, several years before I came to terms with my own. There’s a saying I like to quote these days: “Religion is for those who are afraid they’re going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve been there.” Suffice to say there’s a whole lot of me in this book.
When I wrote the original version of The Left Hand, I was still asking myself the same questions Eddie asks himself all the way through this story… why me, what am I doing here, is anybody out there? The underlying themes of abuse and addiction—the soul-sucking sense of isolation from the rest of the world—also externalized fictitiously in Eddie’s life several years before I put two and two together for myself. It was easier for Eddie to find evidence of God, though; he had the benefit of Calif to lead him to utter abandon, to an irrevocable confrontation with his faith. Me, on the other hand… I’ve been searching for spirituality all my life, and I didn’t find it until I found sobriety. One need not read too far between the lines to identify where my vampires lie.
GNOH – Pick one album that you would use as a soundtrack to The Left Hand.
Metallica’s Black Album. Google some of the hit lyrics. Pretty self-explanatory, I think.
GNOH – Will there be any follow ups to The Left Hand?
You know, that’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years… and I’ve already got early readers clamoring for a follow-up. Thing is, I always intended The Left Hand to be a standalone, to leave that question open indefinitely. At the same time, because the ending is so ambiguous, the potential for a sequel is certainly there, should the right inspiration warrant.
To be sure, I’ve toyed with the idea. Where are Eddie and Calif today? Have they drawn more apostles to their cause yet? But because this novel personifies such a singularly transformational period of my own life, I’ve been hesitant to think too far ahead in terms of a possible continuation of the story. If it happens, it has to be done right. I don’t know what that means yet, as far as proper plot elements go. I can’t foresee whether a sequel will ever feel “right.”
That said, Calif just may have made an appearance in a short story I wrote last year for the M is for Monster anthology… a Calif before Eddie, one might say. So, yeah, the influence is there. It might carry over elsewhere in the future. Time will tell.
GNOH – What can we expect from you in the future?
Well, we’re going to dive headfirst into Eddie’s hometown of Harkins, South Dakota with my next novel, a work in progress entitled Tempers. Without giving too much away, we’ll just say a freak heat occurrence has made the residents of Harkins a little cranky… and homicidal. In small-town South Dakota, where everybody knows everybody, murder and mayhem ensue when neighbor turns upon neighbor—and when secrets and survival collide.
GNOH – Thank you Serenity, I really enjoyed this. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions