Guest Interview with Suzanne Johnson, Author of the Sentinels of New Orleans Series
Posted by What The Cat Read
Today we are pleased to have the wonderful Suzanne Johnson joining us today. Suzanne is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans series. Purrs and tail waves to you Suzanne. =^.^=
Thanks for the welcome! I’m used to my character DJ’s cat, Sebastian. He hates everyone. Well, everyone except the shapeshifter. Go figure.
Please share three fun facts about yourself.
S.J. – I have lived in five states (Alabama, California, Illinois, Texas, and Louisiana), so I have a hodgepodge Southern accent. I have two rescue dogs named after professional wrestlers (don’t ask). And I have a weakness for reality TV shows. (Okay, now I feel the need to apologize for myself!)
Describe your writing style for us. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
S.J. – I’m definitely a plotter. With a full-time day job, a daily blog, and writing, I have to manage my time and plotting keeps me moving forward and organized.
When you develop your characters, do you model them off of people in your life or do they sort of create themselves?
S.J. – They usually start off as a type, and then I dig for their stories and motivations. I knew for River Road that I wanted mermen, but when I began plotting the book, I didn’t realize my mermen were Cajun twins who mainstreamed in the Louisiana fishing industry! They revealed themselves as I wrote.
How would you describe the Sentinels of New Orleans series to someone who has never read it before?
S.J. – The series developed out of a simple “what-if” question: When Hurricane Katrina sent the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the city of New Orleans, what if it wasn’t only the physical levees that broke but also the metaphysical levees? What if the hurricane tore down the borders between our world and the world Beyond? The first book, Royal Street, talks about how that happens, and the immediate consequences. The second book moves beyond the hurricane crisis and looks at the longer-term aftermath. Which all sounds really serious, but it’s a fun story with some very colorful characters!
What inspired you to write the Sentinels of New Orleans series?
S.J. – I am a longtime New Orleans resident, and was living in the city at the time of Hurricane Katrina. I started Royal Street as a way of coping with my own lingering stress over what happened, and filtered a lot of my own experiences into what DJ went through. In the process, I created a world that felt deep and rich enough to support a series—and one I wanted to spend more time in.
Did you know prior to finishing your first book, Royal Street, that there would be more adventures for DJ and Alex?
S.J. – Not while I was writing it. I’d worked as a journalist for a long time but had never written a novel, so with Royal Street, I had a huge learning curve. By the time I finished it, though, I knew there was a much bigger story arc than one book could tell, and DJ and Alex and Jake had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of issues to explore. Plus, New Orleans is such a wonderful setting.
What would you say was the most challenging part of writing River Road?
S.J. – Probably the timeline. River Road is set three years after Royal Street, for several reasons. I knew from personal experience that the city’s recovery from the post-Katrina flooding was very slow and I’d been careful in writing the first book to accurately portray what life in New Orleans was like after the flood. It took months before some areas had the water drained from them. Even in my neighborhood, which had only moderate damage, we went months without trash pickup or mail delivery. I wanted my characters to be able to move past survival mode and not have the series be only about the hurricane. So I had to make that time gap make sense and yet still be able to continue the character development I’d begun in the first book. It was tricky, but I think it works—at least I hope so!
What research did you do prior to writing your books?
S.J. – I do a lot of research. I lived a lot of Royal Street, of course, but I also re-read the daily newspaper for the entire post-Katrina period, as well as biographies of historical characters like Louis Armstrong and Huey Long. For River Road, I studied a lot of maps of the wetlands in the southern end of Plaquemines Parish, and a friend sent her husband out in a boat with a camera to take shots for me. I studied mermaid/merman lore to see what characteristics I wanted to keep and which ones I wanted to twist to fit my setting. I’ve read at least six biographies on the pirate Jean Lafitte. I even learned how to skin an alligator! I like urban fantasy to have as much reality in it as possible, so I really try to research the books well.
What made you decide to include the historical pirate Jean Lafitte as a character in the series?
S.J. – Ah, Jean….The book names are not only the names of prominent New Orleans streets but also have some word-play. “Royal Street” also refers to the New Orleans royalty that comes into the first book by way of the Historical Undead—famous humans given immortality by the magic of human memory. I brought back Louis Armstrong, voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and the French pirate Jean Lafitte—probably the most famous New Orleanian of all. I intended to bring Jean in for one scene, and had so much fun with him that I put him in a second scene, then a third. I read a couple of biographies to learn more about him and I fell in love. He’s fascinating, enigmatic, and totally fun to write!
Who is your favorite character and which character has surprised you throughout the series so far?
S.J. – I always love DJ, of course, for her heart and her wit, but in Royal Street, I fell in love with Jake Warin because he’s so complex. In River Road, I had fun with the merman Rene Delachaise. I’m doing revisions on the third book now and have gotten fascinated with DJ’s new neighbor Quince Randolph. The biggest surprise has been Alex. He’s been a hard read because he’s so rigid and controlled, but gradually those iron-clad layers are getting stripped away from him.
What can fans expect next from you?
S.J. – The third book in the series, Elysian Fields, comes out next August, but there will be a couple of shorts out before then, including one from the point of view of Jean Lafitte that’s a lot of fun.
If you could have written any famous novel, which would you choose and why?
S.J. – Well, I might as well shoot big and say Lord of the Rings. I mean, look at the passion and impact and power that story has after all these years. Talk about amazing world-building!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
S.J. – I’d like to mention that I’ve pledged a percentage of my royalties from River Road to the Greater New Orleans Foundation for their Oil Spill Relief Fund. Much of the book is set in Plaquemines Parish, just southeast of New Orleans, and Plaquemines took a very hard hit from Katrina, then from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and, just recently, from Hurricane Isaac. The people of South Louisiana are amazing, resilient, big-hearted people, and they’ve had a rough past eight years or so.
Thank you again Suzanne for joining us!
S.J. – Thank you!
1–Choice of Kindle Paperwhite or Nook Simple Touch (or $100 gift card for Amazon, B&N, or Book Depository)
5–$10 gift cards for Amazon, B&N or Book Depository
Want to know how to enter the giveaway for a chance at one of the prizes above? It’s simple, just visit Bewitching Book Tours, HERE, and fill out the rafflecopter form! And while you are there, please visit the other blogs participating in the tour. There are lots more enjoyable posts ranging from guest blogs, author interviews, reviews, and more! You definitely won’t want to miss out. =^.^=
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.