Please join us in welcoming author Suzanne Johnson here today to Dark Faerie Tales. The first book in her Sentinels of New Orleans, Royal Street, was released in April. The second book, River Road, will be released on November 13th. You can read an excerpt from the book here. Want to know our thoughts on the book? You can read Sheila’s review here. Royal Street is also being featured in our UF/PNR Reading Challenge 2012.
Following the post enter for your chance to win a “swag bag” of goodies which includes an ARC of River Road. Big thanks to Suzanne for this giveaway.
Suzanne Johnson is the author of a new urban fantasy series beginning with ROYAL STREET and RIVER ROAD, both coming in 2012 from Tor Books, and ELYSIAN FIELDS, coming in 2013, also from Tor. A longtime New Orleans resident now living in Auburn, Alabama, Suzanne is a veteran journalist with more than fifty national awards in writing and editing nonfiction. She is a graduate of the University of Alabama, and a native of Winfield, Alabama.
During her daytime job, Suzanne is associate editor of Auburn Magazine, the quarterly magazine of the Auburn University Alumni Association. She has also worked at Tulane University in New Orleans, the University of San Diego, Rice University in Houston, and at the University of Illinois. Awards include: the Robert S. Sibley Award for the best university magazine in the U.S. and Canada, for the Rice University Sallyport; feature writing awards in 2009 and 2010 from Writer’s Digest magazine; and more than 50 awards in writing and editing from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.
Suzanne is an active member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and is a member of the Georgia, Southern Magic, and Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapters of RWA.
Want to read more from Suzanne Johnson?
DFT: Could you start things off by telling us a little about Royal Street?
Suzanne: Royal Street is an urban fantasy featuring wizards, undead pirates, voodoo priestesses, and other “pretes” (preternaturals), set to a backdrop of New Orleans immediately before and after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city—and tore down the barriers between our world and the preternatural Beyond. My heroine, a young wizard names DJ, has to cope with the destruction to her beloved city in addition to finding her missing mentor, dodging the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, and solving a string of murders. It is my love letter to New Orleans, where I lived for many years (including during Katrina), and looks at what a person relies on when everything she’s built her world around is snatched away from her. Which sounds kind of gloomy, but it has a lot of humor!
DFT: Could you tell us about your main characters in Royal Street?
Suzanne: The story’s told from the viewpoint of a young apprentice Green Congress wizard named Drusilla Jaco, or DJ. Green Congress wizards are good in ritual magic but not so much in physical or mental magic. But DJ has always had a few skills she couldn’t explain, and during the course of the book we find out where those come from. Now she just has to learn to use them! DJ is headstrong, creative, and loyal to a fault, and that combination gets her into trouble—but her heart is always in the right place.
The other major characters for this book, who are also major characters for the Sentinels of New Orleans series, are Alex Warin, DJ’s partner and a combination investigator/assassin for the wizard Elders; Jake Warin, Alex’s cousin, a Marine veteran who owns a bar in the French Quarter; and the pirate Jean Lafitte, a member of the “historical undead”—famous humans who are given an immortal afterlife by the magic of human memory.
DFT: Who is your favorite character in this book and why?
Suzanne: Oh, it has to be the pirate Jean Lafitte! He is such fun to write because he’s so morally ambiguous. He’s sexy, smart, charming, devious, violent, and yet surprisingly loyal—especially when there’s something in it for him. It was fun to research the historical Jean Lafitte, who lived from about 1780-1825 and is probably New Orleans’ most famous former resident, and imagine the things he might do to make his way in modern New Orleans. So on the one hand, he can get around well enough to steal a gun and a boat, but on the other he’s fascinated by things like showers and telephones—and DJ.
DFT: Do you have a favorite scene or line in Royal Street?
Suzanne: My favorite scene in this book is probably the one where DJ has been fighting Jean Lafitte, and Alex Warin shows up for the first time. It’s DJ’s first scene with Alex, and it still makes me laugh.
My favorite lines aren’t funny—they sum up my own experience with Hurricane Katrina. In the book DJ says them, but it might as well be me: “I wished Katrina had never happened, that the city I love so much hadn’t been so broken, its spirit so damaged, its naïve joy replaced by sorrow and cynicism and anger. Yet I know a lot of things I’ve come to love since the storm would never have been in my life without the pain.”
DFT: How much research went into creating this series?
Suzanne: A lot, because I draw so heavily on my “historical undead” characters and I wanted them to be as realistic as possible within my fantasy setting. So I had to do a lot of research on Jean Lafitte and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and jazz great Louis Armstrong, as well as learning about Haitian Vodou and the magical properties associated with gemstones and plants. I also re-read all the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina because I didn’t want to write this book unless I could be as honest and accurate as possible about what we all lived through and what happened when, even though I knew it was going to slow down the pace of the book. I can’t tell you how many New Orleanians have told me it’s the most honest depiction they’ve read of what the city was like after Katrina.
DFT: What is your favorite part about writing this series?
Suzanne: Being able to stay immersed in the culture and history of New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana. There’s really no other place like it. I also like writing an unfolding story—what will ultimately happen when the preternaturals come into New Orleans for good—with a combination of humor and violence and, yes, a touch of romance, although I don’t ever foresee this become an outright paranormal romance.
DFT: Is it difficult to come up with a believable magical system?
Suzanne: I don’t think the “believable” part is so hard, because once the reader accepts that magic exists in the world you’ve built, they do believe it. I think the difficult part is making the magical system complex enough and rich enough to sustain a series without overwhelming the reader. It has to be unfolded carefully. For example in the world of Royal Street and the sequels, the wizard hierarchy has four different classes of wizards, plus a couple of tangent groups, but only the Green Congress, Enforcers, and Elders are really shown in the first book. The rest will unfold as the series progresses.
DFT: Do you have a long term plan or goal for this story universe?
Suzanne: I do have a master story arc that spans several books, because I want to introduce each major species slowly and establish how the balance of power is going to be settled in this new post-Katrina world. The series is contracted through book three, and whether the rest will be written depends on the readers and how well they like DJ and her world!
DFT: What was the inspiration for setting your world in New Orleans?
Suzanne: I lived in New Orleans for about fifteen years—only left four years ago for family reasons. A lot of books are set in New Orleans without really “getting” the city the way a resident does, so I wanted to write a story that not only paid homage to the city’s colorful past, but also the way life in NOLA is today.
DFT: Do you have a particular writing process or ritual?
Suzanne: I have a full-time day job plus family responsibilities, so I have to be very rigid with my writing schedule in order to write from two to three books per year and maintain my daily blog. Basically, I work from 8 p.m. to midnight every night, with longer hours on weekends. In other words, my house is a wreck, my dogs barely remember me, and I’m extremely dull!
DFT: What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) do you draw from while writing?
Suzanne: My biggest literary influence is Stephen King—I grew up reading his work, and still think he is a master at crafting a story. But for this series specifically, I draw on the history and music of Louisiana, especially that of Zachary Richard and Michael Doucet and BeauSoleil. I keep up with the New Orleans media and go back several times a year to keep my head in that culture. And, well, okay, I also like to watch some of those crazy Louisiana reality shows like “Billy the Exterminator” and “Swamp People.”
DFT: Which genre do you prefer to read? Do you have any favorite authors or series?
Suzanne: I read mostly speculative fiction—dystopian sci-fi, paranormal romance, and (of course) urban fantasy. Favorite series include JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.
DFT: What can you tell us about River Road and any other projects you are working on?
Suzanne: River Road moves the setting to three years after Katrina, to the time when the wizards’ Elders and the heads of the other prete groups have agreed to a treaty and the borders between New Orleans and the Beyond have finally dropped. As soon as the borders come down, the first one into town is the pirate Jean Lafitte, who ensconces himself in a fancy hotel suite and is ready to collect on the debts DJ owed him at the end of Royal Street. There is a merman feud, some dead wizards, and a mysterious substance poisoning the waters of the Mississippi River. River Road is faster-paced than Royal Street since I (and my characters) don’t have to tiptoe around Hurricane Katrina. As for other projects, book three—Elysian Fields—is in production for a spring 2013 release, and I’m working on a collection of short stories and a novelette set in the Royal Street world but focusing on secondary characters.
DFT: What is your favorite magical power or spell?
Suzanne: If I could have a magical power it would be teleportation, so I wouldn’t have to deal with airports, security, or traffic jams. How cool would that be!? Among DJ’s powers, I like playing with her empathic abilities because they can be both blessing and curse, and she has to work to control how much of someone else’s emotions she lets in or face the moral dilemma of how much she’s going to poke her nose into someone else’s emotional pool.
DFT: What creature are you afraid of the most? Why?
Suzanne: Probably zombies, because they’re just…gross. And mindless. And they eat people. The whole idea of “zombie romance” just gives me the heebie-jeebies! I gave this fear to DJ, which of course guarantees that at some point she is going to meet up with a zombie or two.
DFT: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
Suzanne: Thank you—it’s great to be here!
This giveaway is provided by Suzanne Johnson
One winner will receive:
* A signed ARC of River Road, book two in the series (and man, are these rare!)
* An “I (heart) Jean Lafitte” T-shirt
* Royal Street and River Road magnets
* A “Swamp Wizards: River Road, Coming Nov. 13” poster
* A “magical” gemstone bracelet.
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