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It helps that Banks has assembled a core group of avid readers from Detroit to Atlanta who are quick to promote—and defend—her. Her “Street Team,” as she refers to them, includes folks like LaShonda Bates, a 37-year-old medical support assistant from Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Bates describes her favorite VHL character, a Guardian named Big Mike: “He’s like 6'5", bald head, chocolate skin—and Oh Lord Jesus he’s like the strong and quiet, deep country Down South brother, the brother who likes to eat corn bread and gravy and biscuits. And he’s got a big heart. If he was real, he would give my husband a run for his money.”

“The way she writes about her characters, you get so lost in the books, you think they’re real,” Bates adds. She recalls one Street Team member calling her up in a state of panic when she learned that Damali was in danger of betraying Carlos with Cain (yes, that ne’er do-well). Bates, who had finished the book, wouldn’t give away the ending. Then her phone rang again. It was the same friend.

“She was saying, ‘Please tell me she’s not gonna get with that brother.’”

Bates was firm: “You’ve got to read the book.’”

Now president of Banks’ fan club, Bates discovered her books while living with her husband in Germany, where he was stationed in the military. When they returned to the United States, she looked up her new favorite author at a sci-fi conference in Atlanta. “I had a groupie moment,” she says. “It’s like when you meet somebody famous and you go, ‘Oh my God, it’s you, I can’t believe it! I have all your stuff …’” Banks gave her a big hug. “She was so down to earth ... She’s like one of your girlfriends. There’s never a snub moment.”

The Street Team members make a point of attending Banks’ promotional events, fete-ing and feeding her as she travels around the country on book tours (see her July 21 blogposting for an exuberant description of various on-the-road “foodgasms”, prodding bookstores to shelve Banks’ work in multiple places—not just in the African-American section—and talking up her books in online forums. (Bates takes credit for turning a Scottish reader onto Banks’ works—a reader who is now a Street Team member herself.)

When Essence magazine announced the slate of nominees for its Storyteller of the Year Award and excluded Banks, Bates and others from the Street Team threatened to cancel their subscriptions. She was added to the ballot and the team successfully rallied readers to vote for her online. “If you’re a die-hard fan, you’re going to go the extra mile to make sure they get the kudos they deserve,” Bates explains.

Hallowed-earth sandbags got piled in strategic rings well beyond the castle gates, wired with remote, cell phone-activated C-4. Trenches with wooden stake pikes got dug and covered with a camouflage of weathered grass. Catapults were raised at the four corners inside the gates, bearing five-gallon jugs of holy water bombs. Garden hoses became the purveyor of liquid fire connected to blessed water tanks.

…. Then near sundown, it was time to pray.

To the east Muslims knelt on small prayer mats and made their peace with Allah. Buddhists sat in quiet repose, murmuring mantras. Jews knelt beside Christians, each communing with the Almighty in their own way. Shamans walked off into the trees and left talismans. Orisha altars were covered with fruit. Candles were lit in small votives. Incense filtered up from the cardinal points. Each and every combination of devotion was observed, linked all warriors in the single request: Let us win without sustaining heavy casualties. Let everyone go home to their family whole.  (The Wicked)

When your characters start preparing for Armageddon, it’s probably a good time to wrap things up. Banks didn’t want to run her vampire series into the ground.

Her publisher had one question: Can you do werewolves?

Banks agreed and has written three books in a six-book series called Crimson Moon. The first installment, Bad Blood, came out in April. “So now I’m going to the dogs,” she jokes.

It’s been a time of transitions for Banks, whose daughter graduated from high school in May. She’ll be attending University of the Sciences in the fall.

Banks’ ex-husband, with whom she is still friends, also was present for their daughter’s Commencement. “At one point we just stood together, saying, ‘Did you think we’d be here?’ Because this is a kid that almost died. I feel blessed, blessed, blessed that she has done so well.”

With college tuition to pay for, readers can count on Banks’ prolific publishing habits to continue. She admits to a certain amount of “empty-nest syndrome” after finishing the vampire series, but werewolves offer “a chance to world-build all over again,” she says. “When you’re doing a supernatural story, you have to create all of the rules and the caste system and superpowers. That’s the fun creative aspect that’s such a joy.”

Knowing Banks, she’s likely to make that joy in whatever plotline she finds herself immersed.

Susan Frith, a freelance writer and former Gazette staffer, last wrote for the magazine on the Trustees Council of Penn Women in the July|August issue.

Marketing the Macabre By Susan Frith
Photography by Candace diCarlo

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Last modified 11/04/08