Monday, 20 May 2013
Author Interview: Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities. She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis' birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.
Publisher Page: http://us.macmillan.com/author/suzannejohnson
Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?
I’m a plotter, now. When I started Royal Street, which was my first book, I didn’t realize how badly I needed an outline. The story wandered all over the place, and a lot of scenes ended up in the virtual trash can. Whole scenes and characters—and species!—had to go. Now, I avoid a lot of that drastic rewriting by spending some time thinking and making notes before I ever start writing.
Do your characters ever want to take over the story?
Oh boy, do they! The undead pirate Jean Lafitte is a perfect example. Jean is a member of the “historical undead”—famous humans who are granted immortality by the magic of human memory. Jean was originally supposed to be in one scene of Royal Street—the very first one. Then he came back for a second scene. Then a third. Then a fourth…and now he’s a major series character. He was such fun to write that I couldn’t let him go (and he would’ve refused anyway—French pirates are stubborn!).
What is your favourite food?
Lately, I have been on a grilled scallop craze. I absolutely love them and have finally learned how to cook them so they’re not rubbery enough to bounce on the floor. They’re insanely expensive, though, so I limit myself to eating them once a week or so.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m such a morning person—always have been. Even as a teenager, I couldn’t understand how people slept past 8 a.m. I might have done that once in my whole life. Of course I also fade out by midnight—which tells you how exciting MY life is (not).
Where do you dream of travelling to and why?
There are several places on my “bucket list.” One is Alaska—I’m fascinated by the remoteness and the beauty of it. Of course it also probably means I’ve watched a few too many episodes of “Ice Road Truckers” and “Mountain Men” and other reality shows. (Sad admission.)
Do distant places feature in your books?
Not yet. But one of the great things about writing this series set in Louisiana is that the South Louisiana culture is so unique—there’s no other place like it, with its blend of French, Acadian, Spanish and African cultures; its distinctive music; its geography of wetlands and water and dense swampland; the food. It’s exotic without the long travel time. Of course, having lived there for so long, I’m biased.
Do you listen to music while writing?
Except for first draft, when I’m too easily distracted. I have a long playlist for the Sentinels series with a lot of music by BeauSoleil, Zachary Richard, Charmaine Neville—artists and music grounded in Louisiana. Zachary Richard’s music has had a particularly strong influence on the series. In Elysian Fields (book three, coming August 13), the name of the vampire bar, L’Amour Sauvage, is taken from one of his songs, and the whole storyline of one character was influenced by his song “La Ballade de Jean Batailleur.”
Could you tell us a bit about your latest release?
River Road is the second book in the series, but since it takes place three years after the events of Royal Street (so that it didn’t become a series about recovery from Hurricane Katrina), it stands alone very well. The hurricane weakened the borders between modern New Orleans and the paranormal world known as the Beyond—the wizard sentinels have always been the border guards. In River Road, there has been an agreement reached between the preternaturals of the Beyond and the wizards, and the borders have come down permanently. But something has poisoned the lower end of the Mississippi River, a bunch of wizards are turning up dead, there are some mermen having a turf war, and the pirate Jean Lafitte has rented the Eudora Welty Suite at the posh Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. So our sentinels DJ and Alex have their hands full trying to sort it all out—all while the major preternatural populations (elves, vampire, fae, etc.) begin jockeying for power.
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?
On the good side, how much I really love it. The whole culture of writing and publishing is stressful but exciting. On the bad side, the biggest surprise to me was how long things took, especially with traditional publishing. It takes from one to two years to get a book from manuscript to bookstore. (Digital publishing, of course, is much speedier.)
Is there anything you would do differently?
No, it’s been a great thing. I realize how incredibly blessed I was to have sold the first book I ever wrote. Plus, I’m not one to look back. Regrets don’t accomplish anything; you keep looking forward.
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing?
Well, I’ll give another nod to Zachary Richard. He writes beautiful, haunting music about South Louisiana, and it inspires me in mood as well as lyric. And his lyrics are pure poetry.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft?
I guess it would be to take time and weigh all of your options. Authors have a LOT of options right now, from traditional publishing to small-press publishing to self-publishing. I think you need to step back and form a business plan, and see where you want to be in five years, both artistically and financially—and try to figure out what route will get you there.
What are three words that describe you?
Focused; stubborn; reserved (but I’m a nice person…really!)
What's your favourite book or who is your favourite writer?
That, too, changes on an almost daily basis. But I’ll say Stephen King. His book The Stand is the first one I remember reading that sent me out in search of everything else he’d written. And I still read everything he puts out. He’s just a good, good storyteller.
Blurb of your latest release or coming soon book
River Road is coming out in paperback on June 25. The third book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, Elysian Fields, will be released on August 13:
Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson is the fun, fast-paced third book in the Sentinels of New Orleans, a series of urban fantasy novels filled with wizards, mermen, and pirates. In the tradition of the Sookie Stackhouse books, these novels are perfect for readers of paranormal fiction and “fans of Charlaine Harris and Cat Adams.” (Booklist)
The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi.
New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren’t random—an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.
Fighting an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn’t easy. Jake Warin’s loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world’s most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ’s to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.
Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte’s pirate wench could be DJ’s best option.
List of previous books if any:
As Suzanne Johnson: Royal Street; River Road.
As Susannah Sandlin: The Penton Legacy series—Redemption (which is on sale for 2 Pounds at Amazon.uk this month); Absolution; Omega. And Storm Force, currently a standalone.
Thanks so much for having me here today! I’d like to offer a commenter a signed copy of one of my books of choice (US or UK version). International entries welcome!
Sentinels of New Orleans Book One
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Number of pages: 337
Word Count: approx. 94,000
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
Purchase links: amazon | b&n | book depository
As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco's job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ's boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.
Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans' fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters. While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering soldiers sent to help the city recover.
To make it worse, Gerald St. Simon has gone missing, the wizards' Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ's new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and the killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter roux.
Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Number of pages: 336
Word Count: approx. 92,000
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
Purchase Links: amazon | b&n | book depository | indiebound
Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.
Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.
It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues.
at May 20, 2013