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  One book led to another, though not enough money to quit her various day jobs, which included, at different points, teaching entrepreneurship to small-business people as well as those recovering from crack addictions, and directing a program that granted small loans to women and minority-owned businesses.

Then a friend put her in touch with literary agent Manie Barron. Barron was not a fan of romance fiction, but Banks had done some work that touched on the paranormal. “I told her I thought the world was ready for horror for African-American audiences,” he says.

He showed one of her manuscripts to St. Martin’s Press senior editor Monique Patterson, who couldn’t find support in house for that particular book, but was interested in seeing more of Banks’ work. Over lunch Barron started spinning an irresistible premise: “How about a vampire slayer who’s kind of like a black Buffy?” (referring to the heroine of the popular TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

When can I see it? Patterson asked.

Banks came back the next day with 25 pages that would become the opening fight scene in Minion, the first book of the Vampire Huntress Legend series.

“It was so wildly imaginative, so vividly real and fantastic,” recalls Patterson. “It was what I was looking for. And it went on from there.”

“She is a force of nature,” Barron says. “Sometimes I wonder if she is a force of the supernatural.” He adds, “You would never think that someone who wrote these kinds of things was as vivacious and has such a joie de vivre as Leslie does. She is an amazing woman who puts as much energy into trying to sell her books as she does writing them.”

It helps that vampire fiction continues to be a hot seller (though you’ll find plenty of debate about whether the market is oversaturated). The bookshelves brim with hemophobic vampires, blood-sucking NASCAR drivers, boarding-school biters, and history-travelers. Charlaine Harris’s “Southern Vampire” novels have recently been adapted for television in HBO’s True Blood series.

According to Patricia Altner, a vampire buff and librarian from Columbia, Maryland (http://patricias-vampire-notes.blogspot.com/), the genre has definitely grown since she published her bibliography of vampire works, Vampire Readings, in 1998. Because of the proliferation of vampire series and e-books, “It’s just impossible to keep up with what is out there now,” Altner says. Since 2000 she’s compiled about 500 additional works in an “Online Vampire Bibliograpy,” but she knows it is not all-inclusive.

She recently read Banks’ The Darkness. “I think she’s a marvelous writer,” Altner says. “She’s very popular, though I don’t know if she’s as popular as she should be.”

From her reading of other books in the genre, Altner notes that today’s vampires are less figures of terror and more often the subject of romance, erotica, and humor. (Mary Janice Davidson’s Undead and Unwed, for example, portrays the life of a shallow, single, clothing-obsessed vampire.)

Banks also is trying to do something different with the multicultural approach she takes to her stories, Altner notes. “She brings in people from all backgrounds and all religions for this Armageddon that is approaching.”

Banks thinks the vampire sub-genre has particular appeal “at times when people are feeling powerless and like there’s a conspiracy against them in government or business, and by doing the right thing, the good guys didn’t win. It’s a sexy fantasy that you could become mist and blow through the window and have eternal life,” she says. “And those who really piss you off, you could just rip their hearts out.” (Not that the real Leslie Esdaile Banks would do that. Her blog postings are full of smiles, bless you’s, and descriptions of having “mad-crazy fun” with her friends and fans.)

Dr. Nina Auerbach, Penn’s John Welsh Centennial Professor of English, is not familiar with Banks’ work, though she steeped herself in the literature of Dracula’s predecessors and successors while researching her 1995 cultural critique, Our Vampires, Ourselves. “Vampires always seem to reflect the time they’re in and I think that’s why they survive,” she says. “They take the shape of their decade.”

Adding to their appeal is the notion that “they’re really on the cusp between death and undeath,” Auerbach says. “The original title of Dracula was The Dead Undead, and that’s really an interesting thing to be.”

Auerbach confesses that she’s gotten “vampired out” after all the research she did for her own book, though “we’re still friends, vampires and me.” When she looked up summaries of Banks’ work on Amazon.com, she was struck by their “biblical” nature. “That’s a whole new twist as far as I know. The vampires I knew used to be very secular.”

FEATURE:
Marketing the Macabre By Susan Frith
Photography by Candace diCarlo

 

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