Please welcome indie author Riley Banks

Author Bio:

Writing has always been my forte. In school, I consistently got high grades in English, and entertained my friends and family by ‘casting’ them into my creative writing assignments. I never had to really try when it came to spelling and grammar, and was often called ‘teacher’s pet’ by my fellow classmates, a title I wore with pride.

Given that, it was no surprise that I ended up working as a journalist and corporate communications specialist, even though I ended up in the career quite by accident.

When I left school, I worked for many years as a secretary, then in between having children, a market research consultant.

It was my best friend’s husband who kind of kick started my professional writing career (and ironically enough, he’s still a part of my writing, as he has designed all of my book covers). As a graphic artist, he was working on a major project for Hewlett Packard and needed someone to help out with the communications side. The conversation basically went ‘So you’re good with English, aren’t you?’

Next thing I knew, I was working on documentary scripts, advertising copy, and a number of different corporate communications projects for some very major clients.


Then in 2001, my husband was offered a job in Papua New Guinea. Just as I fell into the communications side of my career, PNG was where I fell into journalism.

At the time, I had just started working as a personal assistant to the Australian ambassador. In passing one day, I happened to mention to the ambassador that I enjoyed writing, and told him some of the stuff I’d worked on for my friend.

He then introduced me to the Editor-in-Chief of the largest newspaper in the country, who asked me to submit an article to him.

I had no idea how to be a journalist, but I can’t have done too bad a job, because after he published a few more of my articles, and had me interview a couple of international sporting personalities, he gave me my own weekly column.

It was around that time that I finally realised I could make a career out of writing. I enrolled in a journalism degree and, in the meantime, kept pumping out articles, specialising mostly in travel journalism. I was still working at the embassy but I was also being asked to go on press trips, and stay in lovely resorts all over PNG – and then all over the world. We travelled to Thailand, and stayed in some remarkable 5 star properties, and even attended the Elephant Polo, all thanks to my writing.

I cannot even describe how intoxicating it all was.

It was on a press trip to Dubai that we made the decision to leave the tropics behind and head to the Middle East.

Our goal was to land a job in Dubai, or Qatar, or somewhere else modern and glitzy.

Instead, my husband got offered a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!

Thanks to the Saudi government’s mountain of red tape, the kids and I did get our Dubai lifestyle – for six months at least! During that time, my writing career really started to take off.

I was offered the role of Sub-Editor for a magazine I’d written a couple of articles for. I was also regularly contributing to a number of other magazines.

But when I was offered the Editor’s role for a glossy women’s magazine, I thought all my Christmases had come at once.

Unfortunately, to take that role, I would have had to agree to live in a separate country to my husband, and as much as I loved Dubai and my new working career, I loved him more.

So at the end of 2006, the kids and I packed up and joined him in Riyadh.

Stepping into Saudi was like entering another world. Within an hour of landing in the country, I’d run afoul of the religious police (for not wearing a head scarf in public). Yet despite a shaky start, we ended up staying there for almost five years and had some amazing experiences.

It was while in Saudi that I took up fiction writing, in part because I was a little worried about the complexities of pursuing journalism in a country that had arrested more than its fair share of journalists.

Blessed with a full time maid and plenty of time on my hands (women don’t tend to work in Saudi unless they are teachers or nurses), I put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and began plotting and creating new worlds. I wrote four novels in five years.

But while I had plenty of time to write, there weren’t a lot of resources available to writers. No writing classes to attend, or critique groups. There weren’t even any libraries as such (except for a dusty old book shelf at the compound recreation centre).

I did send off a couple of my stories to agents and publishers, but most took one look at my Saudi Arabian address and all but told me it was too hard.

When I put together the first draft for Vampire Origins, an agent told me that she really loved the concept, but it was too soon after Twilight, and nobody in the publishing industry would touch a vampire novel with a ten-foot barge pole.

That was when I decided to go it alone. My husband (who works in IT) had been telling me I should publish my book with Apple, and I’d been shrugging off his suggestion, but in 2010, I finally decided to grab the publishing bull by its horns and do it myself.

To say it’s been a steep learning curve since then is the understatement of the century. I had no idea just how much work actually went into publishing a book. It wasn’t enough just to send in your files and artwork and hope for the best.

I made so many mistakes in the beginning. For starters, I published Vampire Origins way too soon, and did all the things wrong that I now beg writers not to do. I didn’t allow the book time to mature, I didn’t engage a professional editor, and I had absolutely no marketing plan, or even an idea of how to market it.

Yet despite all those faults, the original version of Vampire Origins did okay online. Without any advertising or promotion at all, and only available in a handful of online stores (didn’t put it with Amazon back then) it sold several hundred copies, and got positive feedback from those who had read it. I didn’t make much money, but I made enough to feel like I might be an author after all.

Meanwhile, we made the momentous decision to move back to Australia after eleven years away.

What a rude shock that was. We’d gone from pampered, well-paid expatriates (on tax free salaries to boot) with very little monetary concerns to average Joe Aussies with a mountain of expenses to pay. I had to return to full time work just to make ends meet, and go back to freelancing on the side to add some extra money to the coffers.

Looking back now, it was probably the best thing that happened to my writing.

Being back ‘in the industry’ meant I was back to working to deadline, and writing to brief. The best paying journalism gigs were with corporate and heavy industry magazines, which meant I had to learn how to write interesting content about the most boring subjects known to mankind. I was writing articles on stainless steel, and forklifts, and health and safety regulations.

Riveting stuff, I know!

But it brought me back to the basics.

I read back through Vampire Origins and was so horrified that I’d ever thought it was publishable material that I immediately took it offline.

In between working, and housework, and all the other shocks of being ‘home’, I set about rewriting, putting my book through a gruelling series of edits, brutal cuts and then more edits. And then I did what I should have done right from the start. I put it to sleep for a while. I saved the document, left it to mature in my story cellar, and pulled out another dusty draft that had been sitting in the cellar for a couple of years.

I brushed off the cobwebs and set about updating and editing that. Within a couple of months, I had the final version of The William S Club.

Thanks to the racy nature of the book (and given that I was now working in the marketing department of a conservative girls’ school), I decided not to publish The William S Club under my real name, and created my alter ego, Riley Banks.

Not wanting to make the same mistakes I’d made the last time, I didn’t want to trust my own opinion on whether the book was ready or not, nor did I was to entrust the opinions of only friends and family. So I engaged a couple of beta readers.  

I took their thoughts and responses, and made any necessary changes to the manuscript. And then I forked out $450 and got a professional editor to pull it to pieces some more.

Having spent several months trawling online writer’s groups, and reading everything I could get my hands on, I had a much better idea of what it meant to be an author. I’d also picked up some ideas on marketing through my day job.

Judging by the reviews I’ve had on The William S Club, I think I’ve done something right. Even those who have hated the content, and been put off by the sexual nature of the story have praised the actual writing.

Having learned the process, I was now comfortable putting the new, and improved Vampire Origins back on the market.

Looking back over the last fifteen years of my ‘writing’ career, I know now that I wouldn’t be the author I am without having done the hard yards as a journalist. Nor would I be the journalist I am without knowing how to craft a ‘good story’. The two sides of my working life have formed a symbiotic partnership – the one drawing strength from the other, and vice versa.

I still have a couple of stories in the cellar, so expect to see plenty more over the next few years.


Book title:

Vampire Origins: Project Ichorous.


Brief Synopsis:

He slaughtered thirty thousand in one night in Jerusalem and impaled one hundred thousand more in Romania in the 1400s. Now Vladamir Strigoi has discovered a way to enslave humans and rule the world.

Only one thing can stop him; one born of his Strigoi descendants; his human bloodline.

Vlad will stop at nothing to eradicate every last Strigoi before they discover the truth.

Seventeen year old, Scarlett Fraser has no idea she’s the very thing Vlad is hunting. To save the world, she must remain human, but as she’s about to discover, staying human is easier said than done.

The Vampire Origins series weaves historical fact with fiction to trace the origins of five very different vampire tribes: Strigoi, Cambion, Bretonnian, Strix and Nosferatu.


Personal

What do you do to relax when you are not writing?

Relax? What is that? I get up in the morning and do some marketing before I head off to work. I rush home in the afternoon and take my son to football training (four nights a week). By the time I get home again, it’s around 8pm. Thankfully my husband often gets dinner ready while I’m gone. We eat dinner, watch a little bit of television, and then crawl into bed. On the weekends, I spend most of my time writing, marketing or watching my son play football.

However, on those rare times that I do have spare time, I love travelling (there is a reason I spent so long as an expat and travel journalist), scuba diving, horse riding and reading. I love hanging out with my husband and kids, and walking on the beach with my dogs. I enjoy cooking when I don’t have to cook (if that makes sense). Oh, and I love football – Aussie Rules Football – which is a good thing since I spend so much time watching it being played!


What, or who, inspired you to become a writer?

I may have fallen into writing, but it was always kind of inevitable. As a kid, I was always getting into trouble for staying up late to finish a book. My parents would come in and catch me with a torch under my blanket, and even when they’d confiscate the torch, I’d open up the curtains and read by the streetlights outside.

I loved fantasy stories – the world building kind. My favourite authors were C.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton, but I would pretty much read anything I could get my hands on.

My mother had a pretty tragic childhood. Her mother died when she was only four, and she spent much of her childhood in and out of convents and boarding schools. Perhaps it was her own experiences as a child that helped shape the way she raised me, but she taught me to read long before I went to school, and used to spend hours playing Scrabble and memory games with me.

She might have given me my love of words, but it was definitely my older sister who honed my creativity.

We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and my sister used to make us play the ‘what if’ game. And yes, I do mean make us. If we didn’t play along, she’d get super annoyed at us. I was the youngest child, and found it easier just to play along. In fact, I discovered I had quite a talent for imagining all sorts of things.

Those two skills are still working for me now, many years later.


Current work

What or who inspired you to write your current novel?

My daughter actually inspired Vampire Origins. We were spending Christmas in France one year. Her birthday is right before Christmas. We asked her what she wanted and she said she wanted to watch the new Twilight movie. Only problem, we couldn’t find anywhere in France where we could see it in English, and our French wasn’t good enough to watch a movie without subtitles!

In the end, I found a cinema in Stuttgart, Germany that was screening Twilight in English. But Stuttgart was four hours away.

We did the trip, preserved through the movie, and even bought her the books to go along with it.

I read ten times faster than her, so picked the book up whenever she wasn’t reading it, and had soon finished the entire trilogy.

Strange that something I hated so much could actually inspire me to write a vampire book, but that’s exactly what happened.

After struggling through the three books, I sat down with my daughter and we started joking around about how the series could have been better. You know, ‘what things would you change about Twilight if you could’.

The conversation sparked my creative juices (possibly taking me back to those earlier, brainstorming sessions with my big sister) and I started jotting down some of the thoughts on paper. That night, I couldn’t sleep. While my husband slept peacefully beside me, I tossed and turned. My brain refused to switch off. I grabbed my pen and paper and started writing, and by six o’clock in the morning, I had the bare bones of a storyline set out. It was nothing like Twilight! Not even remotely close.

I took an article I’d read about Dracula’s castle being up for sale, and decided to use the castle as the setting.  

Over the next few weeks in France, my husband and kids spent hours discussing story ideas with me. We came up with the concept of five different tribes of vampires and one human family that is thrust into the middle of an ancient prophecy.

And thus Vampire Origins was born.


Tell us three interesting facts about your book, which are not covered in the synopsis.

1) While the synopsis only speaks about two people, there are a lot of characters in the book – vampires, humans, werewolves, celebrities, and all sorts of creatures in between.

2) Scarlett’s little sister, Ruby befriends Angeline, a 300-year-old vampire with no human emotion. Trapped in a child’s body, Angeline’s idea of BFFs is probably a little more eternal than Ruby had in mind.

3) Plenty of historical figures are given a new lease on life, including Anastasia and Alexei Romanov, who did not die in Russia during the Bolshevik revolution but are alive and well (or is that undead and well) and living in Romania. There are a couple of dead celebrities who also make an appearance.


What research did you need to do for this book?

Loads. For every page published, I have got dozens more pages of research material. You cannot write about historical events without making sure you’ve done your research. As mentioned above, I’ve given an alternate ending to the Romanov mystery, which meant I had to study everything I could find on the Russian revolution. In the opening chapters, there is a vast amount of historical fact interwoven into the fiction including the speech Yakov Yurovsky made as he executed the tsar of Russia.

Plenty of other historical facts have been given a vampire twist including Vlad the Impaler, the Crusades, real life dictators, scientific discoveries, artistic movements, celebrity deaths, medical procedures and much more. Even the locations have been rigorously researched. Romania, Castle Bran, Paris, New York…

The trick with research is using it to flavour the story without overpowering it.  


Are any elements/characters of your book based on real life experiences or people you’ve met/known?

Apart from the historical facts and real life incidences, the book also has some personal elements thrown in. Like my own children, the Frasers have lived in a lot of different countries and experienced more things than most kids their ages.

As a confirmed Francophile, there is always some French element to my books, and Vampire Origins is no different, which is kind of fitting since it began life in France!

I do own a cat named Bear, who may or may not be a shape shifter.

As far as I know, I have not met any real life vampires… yet.  


Tell us a little about your current work-in-progress.

In addition to working on Book 2 of Vampire Origins, I am also putting the finishing touches to Dirty Little Secrets, which was inspired by the death of a very close friend while we were living in Riyadh.

Dirty Little Secrets tells the story of six friends trying to come to terms with the sudden and unexpected death of their best friend – the woman who was the glue that held their little group together. But it is their friend’s final wish that turns their lives upside down.

Not only did she know she was dying, she now wants them to put their lives on hold, to leave their husbands and children behind, and deliver her ashes back to her family.

Without her calming influence, these very different women may just end up killing each other before they even get to the airport.


Writing/publication process

What were the three biggest challenges you faced when writing your book?

1) Trying to keep it fresh. I was writing a vampire book but the very last thing I wanted it to be was a repeat of every other vampire book on the market. I didn’t want to go with the whole ‘human teen falls in love with misunderstood vampire’ and together they help each other become better people. I actually wanted to take the genre back to its gothic roots, which is why I chose to set it in Romania. While a couple of the vampires might not be completely bad, none of them are particularly good. They are true, blood sucking monsters that have no qualms about killing a few humans.

2) Time! The first draft was a breeze, because I was still living in Saudi and could write for eight hours straight before the family came home from work and school. I didn’t even have to worry about the housework, which meant I managed to pump out the first draft of the book in less than three months, and had a completed version of the book in eight months.

But when I decided to do the rewrite, I was working full time, and juggling all the other commitments of a busy mother and wife including having to do all my own housework. There were plenty of days when I would get up at 4.30am to fit in a couple of hours of writing before work, and plenty more days when I wondered where I could get my hands on Hermione’s time turner (that will make sense to any Harry Potter fans).

3) Convincing my husband to keep pumping money into my writing, promising him that one day the investment will pay off!


What single piece of advice would you give to any aspiring writer?

Don’t cut corners! It doesn’t matter how well you did in high school English, or even if you’ve got a Masters of English Grammar, nobody can edit their own work successfully. As writers, we are too close to our own work. We need someone removed from our creative process to make sure that a; we’ve dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s, and b; that our story actually makes sense. Don’t entrust it to your mum, or your friend. Get a professional to do the job for you. It will cost you money, but it is an investment that is worth making. As someone who also reviews books, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to read poorly edited books!


Genre

What genre does your book fall into?

Young Adult paranormal


You as a reader

What was your favourite book as a child?

The Narnia tales, definitely. I think I have read them more than 100 times, and still pull them out every now and again to reread again.


What is the best book you’ve read in the last 12 months?

Love with a chance of drowning. It’s a personal memoir of a woman who had to choose between her fear of the ocean or losing the love of her life. She chose love and sailed across the Pacific with her boyfriend, despite a crippling fear of the sea. It ticked all the boxes for me. It was a travel memoir (and I love travel), it was superbly narrated with humour, wit, and above all, honesty, and it’s one of those self-publishing success stories we’ve all heard about but never seen in action. Within a couple of weeks of publishing the book online, the author was offered both a movie and publishing contract, and having read the book, I can see exactly why. Deserved far more than the 10/10 I gave it.


Kindle (or other e-reader) or paperback, and why?

I will always love the feel of a real book in my hands, but necessity pushes me more and more towards my iPad mini. It’s just easier and lighter to cart around several hundreds books on!


Hollywood is calling

You’ve had the call from Hollywood and they want your opinion on who should play the leading roles in the film based upon your book. Who would you choose, and why?

I’ve actually already fantasy cast all the characters in my book. To give you the majors, I’d choose Michael Fassbender to play Vladamir Strigoi, Molly C Quinn to play Scarlett Fraser, Chase Crawford to play Alexei Romanov, Jaime King to play Anastasia, and Alex Pettyfer to play Lachlan.

To see the rest of the cast, you can check out the blog post on it http://www.vampireorigins.net/2/post/2013/01/next-big-thing-blog-hop-tour.html


The film of your book is now going to need a soundtrack. Which musician(s) would you want to write and play it?

I love the song Heroes by a little known Indie band called Diablo Swing Orchestra. In fact, I loved it so much that I used it in the book trailer. It really sets the scene and shows this is no teenage angst book. You can view the trailer on the front page of my website - http://www.vampireorigins.net/index.html  


Favourites

Drink – water for quenching thirst, champagne (real champagne) for getting in a festive mood.

Meal – I’m a sucker for a simple French meal of crusty baguette, soft cheese and foie gras – washed down with a good French red wine!

Holiday destination – There are so many more places I want to see (Russia and Romania are high on that list) but as I said before, I’m a self-confessed Francophile. If I had to choose one place to go back to again and again, it would definitely be France.

TV programme – Supernatural. Love me some Winchester boys.

Film – Gone with the Wind.

Method of travel – plane because it means I’m indulging in my favourite passion – travelling.

Sport – to watch, Australian Rules Football. To participate in, horse riding.


How can people connect with you?

Website/Blog

Twitter

Facebook


Where can readers find your book?

Smashwords

Goodreads   


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