In today’s issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, fashion columnist Elizabeth Wellington offers up a moving tribute to her friend, author Leslie Esdaile Banks W’80, who died yesterday morning.
Banks wrote more than 40 books that spanned a multitude of genres: romance, horror, crime, paranormal. She was “one of the first authors to have a viral following,” Wellington writes. “She built an online community numbering in the thousands through her 12-book Vampire Huntress series…She was writing about vampires before the Twilight movies and the HBO series True Blood.”
In 2008, the Gazette ran an in-depth feature on Banks. The following excerpt traces her entree into the world of published fiction:
Eighteen years ago, Banks was scarcely thinking about the cost of tuition or the cravings of the undead. She got a phone call at work that no parent wants to receive. Her six-month-old baby, Helena, had been badly burned at a company-approved home daycare when she pulled a clothes iron onto herself. “The lady [who ran the daycare] didn’t realize she could crawl. She left the iron up and ran to the bathroom.”
Her daughter lost three fingers and required 17 surgeries. Banks, who had been working for a digital-equipment corporation, was laid off because she was busy caring for her daughter in the hospital. She was also going through a divorce at the time. And there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
“It was total freefall—like somebody dropped you out of an airplane with no parachute,” Banks recalls. She managed to get some bills reduced and was able to tap into her 401K plan to pay for others. But to avoid bankruptcy, she had to get entrepreneurial.
She became a grant-writer and created a gift-basket business on the side.
To calm herself at night, Banks took to reading romance novels. Her Wharton background had trained her to look at trends and patterns, and as she turned the pages, two thoughts occurred to her: I could write this myself. And what this genre needs are some multicultural characters.
When Banks came across a magazine short-story contest with a $2,500 prize, she took off writing. She never did enter the contest, but her storytelling caught the attention of friends and then, through her own moxie at a romance-writers’ conference, an agent and editor.
“My first book was an African-American female and a Latino male, two markets that were vastly underserved at the time. The editor who actually bought the book (Slow Burn) said, ‘That’s a combination we haven’t seen yet. That combo is hot right now.’”
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.