Please help me welcome Suzanne Johnson to the blog for an interview!
Tell me about yourself, and your writing.
I’m a magazine writer and editor by training, but I caught the fiction-writing bug in 2008 when I was trying to deal with the lingering aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—I’d been living in New Orleans for more than a decade when the levees broke and almost destroyed my city. Even three years after the storm, I was struggling to move past it, as were many of us. I’d always been a fan of paranormal fantasy so when I began to write my Katrina story, it came out in the form of an urban fantasy that takes place in New Orleans just as the hurricane’s about to hit. My first novel Royal Street started as a love letter to New Orleans and ended up opening a whole new chapter in my life. No one was more surprised than me!
How long have you been writing? How many published books do you have, and what genres?
I’ve been writing forever, but it’s been nonfiction and longform feature articles. So I’m a newbie in the fiction world, having completed my first book in 2009. My third urban fantasy novel, Elysian Fields, will be published in August (following Royal Street and River Road). I also write paranormal romance, and in July will publish my fourth book in that genre. Man, no wonder I feel as if I write all the time!
Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, do you ever consider straying outside your genre?
Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are “kissing cousins,” although I think they’re more different for the writer than for the reader. I have all these crazy Southern family members and friends and stories, so at some point I will have to do a Southern gothic novel. It might be historical or humorous or even horror. But there’s a book in there somewhere.
Are you a plotter or do you write from the seat of your pants?
I have a full-time day job in addition to a brutal writing schedule, so I can’t afford to be a pantser. Over the course of writing seven novels so far, I’ve developed a plotting system that works for me, and keeps me on track without stifling the creative aspect of writing. I’m very rigid with my work schedule, though.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
If it’s a weekday, I’m at my day job from 7:30 a.m. until after 5 p.m. I usually take a couple of hours to unwind, and then by 7:30 or 8 p.m., I’m at my computer and work until 11 or 11:30. I make up ground on weekends, and usually work about eight hours on Saturday and twelve hours on Sunday. Did I mention my life is pretty dull!?
Who do you love to read? Favorite authors, favorite books?
I love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series and Kim Harrison’s Hollows series—those are my favorites in urban fantasy. They both have what for me is the perfect blend of humor and wackiness and deep emotion. I’m also a fan of Patricia Briggs’ two related series, Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega.
Tell us a little about your latest release.
River Road is the second book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, but it works well as a standalone. The sentinels are wizards whose job it is to keep order between the “Beyond,” which is the preternatural world, and modern New Orleans, where the humans don’t know things like werewolves and mermen exist. A couple of Cajun merfolk clans are feuding, someone’s killing off wizards, and the sentinel heroine, DJ, has to try and sort it all out as the stakes keep getting higher. It has a lot of humor and drama and, yeah, a touch of romance as well. Magic and werewolves and a 200-year-old French pirate add up to adventure!
What is something that you absolutely can't live without? (Other than family members)
My pets, although I guess they’re family members, technically. I have two aging rescue dogs that are my babies. I can’t imagine being without a dog, so it’s ironic that my heroine in the Sentinels series has a cat. Although DJ suspects that Sebastian might really be a spawn of satan.
Could you ever co author a book with someone? If so, who would you choose, and what would you write?
I think it would be great fun to co-author a book. One of my favorite writers is Rick Bragg, who writes these funny, amazing Southern memoirs and essays. I’d like to take his ability to spin a real story and blend it with my fiction and plotting, and see what we’d come up with. Probably a big mess, but it would be fun.
If you could spend a day with anyone from history, dead or alive, who would it be, and what would you do? What would you ask them?
This would probably change from day to day, but I’ve just finished copyedits on the new Sentinels book coming in August, so I’m in the mood to chat with the pirate Jean Lafitte. In my series, he’s come back in undead form as one of my ongoing characters, so I’ve done a lot of research on him. He was the last great Caribbean pirate, sailing the Gulf and Caribbean in the early 1800s and basing an empire of a thousand pirates and ruffians in Barataria, south of New Orleans. He was fascinating—fluent in several languages, brutal and brilliant, charming and cunning. It has been fun to recreate him and put him in a modern setting, so meeting the real Lafitte would be amazing. And probably scary.
What are some of your other hobbies outside of writing?
I used to enjoy paper-pieced quilting, a technique that allows you to create these really intricate, artistic quilted wallhangings with hundreds or even thousands of tiny pieces of fabric sewn together. I just don’t have time for it with my current writing schedule, though.
What is a talent you wish you had, but don't?
I wish I could sing, and write songs. I love music—if my dogs don’t count as the thing I couldn’t live without, the other would be music. But I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, as my Southern relations would say.
Favorite place to read?
In my living room chair, with my feet propped up.
Right now, I’m eating low carb, so anything filled with sugar and white flour sounds good. Cake! A nice caramel or lemon doberge cake, which is a specialty in New Orleans. Seven layers, cream filled, iced…utterly evil.
Favorite non-alcoholic drink.
If you could travel anywhere and do anything, no limits or money holding you back, where would you go?
Ever since “Lord of the Rings” (the movie trilogy) came out, I’ve wanted to visit New Zealand. What a gorgeous place!
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
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
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.
About the Author:
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