This Sunday our blog is all about urban fantasy, particularly the type of engrossing novels author Suzanne Johnson writes. We host River Road Blog Tour today and we celebrate this title with an excerpt, our interview with the author, and a tour wide giveaway.
River Road (Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 2) by Suzanne Johnson
Urban Fantasy*Number of pages: 336*Tor Books*
ISBN: 978-0765327802*ASIN: B00842H5VI
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.
The minute hand of the ornate grandfather clock crept like a gator stuck in swamp mud. I’d been watching it for half an hour, nursing a fizzy cocktail from my perch inside the Hotel Monteleone. The plaque on the enormous clock claimed it had been hand- carved of mahogany in 1909, about 130 years after the birth of the undead pirate waiting for me upstairs.
They were both quite handsome, but the clock was a lot safer.
The infamous Jean Lafitte had expected me at seven. He’d summoned me to his French Quarter hotel suite by courier like I was one of his early nineteenth-century wenches, and I hated to destroy his pirate-king delusions, but the historical undead don’t summon wizards. We summon them.
I’d have blown him off if my boss on the Congress of Elders hadn’t ordered me to comply and my co-sentinel, Alex, hadn’t claimed a prior engagement.
At seven thirty, I abandoned my drink, took a deep breath, and marched through the lobby toward the bank of elevators.
On the long dead-man-walking stroll down the carpeted hallway, I imagined all the horrible requests Jean might make. He’d saved my life a few years ago, after Hurricane Katrina sent the city into freefall, and I hadn’t seen him since. I’d been desperate at the time. I might have promised him unfettered access to modern New Orleans in exchange for his assistance. I might have promised him a place to live. I might have promised him things I don’t even remember. In other words, I might be totally screwed.
I reached the door of the Eudora Welty Suite and knocked, reflecting that Jean Lafitte probably had no idea who Eudora Welty was, and wouldn’t like her if he did. Ms. Welty had been a modern sort of woman who wouldn’t hop to attention when summoned by a scoundrel.
He didn’t answer immediately. I’d made him wait, after all, and Jean lived in a tit- for- tat world. I paused a few breaths and knocked harder. Finally, he flung open the door, waving me inside to a suite plush with tapestries of peach and royal blue, thick carpet that swallowed the narrow heels of my pumps, and a plasma TV he couldn’t possibly know how to operate. What a waste.
“You have many assets, Drusilla, but apparently a respect for time is not among them.” Deep, disapproving voice, French accent, broad shoulders encased in a red linen shirt, long dark hair pulled back into a tail, eyes such a cobalt blue they bordered on navy. And technically speaking, dead.
He was as sexy as ever.
“Sorry.” I slipped my hand in my skirt pocket, fingering the small pouch of magic-infused herbs I carried at all times. My mojo bag wouldn’t help with my own perverse attraction to the man, but it would keep my empathic abilities in check. If he still had a perverse attraction to me, I didn’t want to feel it.
He eased his six-foot-two frame into a sturdy blue chair and slung one long leg over the arm as he gave me a thorough eyeraking, a ghost of a smile on his face.
I perched on the edge of the adjacent sofa, easing back against a pair of plump throw pillows, and looked at him expectantly. I hoped what ever he wanted wouldn’t jeopardize my life, my job, or my meager bank account.
“You are as lovely as ever, Jolie,” Jean said, trotting out his pet name for me that sounded deceptively intimate and brought back a lot of memories, most of them bad. “I will forgive your tardiness— perhaps you were late because you were selecting clothing that I would like.” His gaze lingered on my legs. “You chose beautifully.”
I’d picked a conservative black skirt and simple white blouse with the aim of looking professional for a business meeting, part of my ongoing attempt to prove to the Elders I was a mature wizard worthy of a pay raise. But this was Jean Lafitte, so I should have worn coveralls. I’d forgotten what a letch he could be.
“I have a date after our meeting,” I lied. He didn’t need to know said date involved a round carton with the words Blue Bell Ice Cream printed on front. “Why did you want to see me?”
There, that hadn’t been so difficult—just a simple request. No drama. No threats. No double- entendre. Straight to business.
“Does a man need a reason to see a beautiful woman? Especially one who is indebted to him, and who has made him many promises?” A slow smile spread across his face, drawing my eyes to his full lips and the ragged scar that trailed his jawline.
I might be the empath in the room, but he knew very well that, in some undead kind of way, I thought he was hot.
I felt my face warming to the shade of a trailer- trash bridesmaid’s dress, one whose color had a name like raging rouge. I’d had a similar reaction when I first met Jean in 2005, two days before a mean hurricane with a sissy name turned her malevolent eye toward the Gulf Coast. I blamed my whole predicament on Katrina, the bitch.
Her winds had driven the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the canals that crisscrossed the city, collapsing levees and filling the low, concave metro area like a gigantic soup bowl.
But NBC Nightly News and Anderson Cooper had missed the biggest story of all: how, after the storm, a mob of old gods, historical undead, and other preternatural victims of the scientific age flooded New Orleans. As a wizard, I’d had a ringside seat. Now, three years later, the wizards had finally reached accords with the major preternatural ruling bodies, and the borders were down, as of two days ago. Jean hadn’t wasted any time.
Thanks for having me here!
How and when was the Sentinels of New Orleans born? How important was New Orleans for your setting?
New Orleans was the whole reason for the series, in a way. I’d been living there for twelve years when Hurricane Katrina hit, and the next few years of rebuilding were incredibly difficult not only for me personally but for my friends and my neighbors and my city. Late in 2008, I found myself wanting some outlet for my leftover hurricane angst and after a career in journalism decided to try my hand at writing fiction in my favorite genre, urban fantasy. The Sentinels of New Orleans series was the result, and by the time I finished the first book, Royal Street, the fiction bug had bit! Now, I can’t imagine not writing. So the series is deeply rooted in New Orleans and South Louisiana, and I don’t think this particular story and these characters could exist anywhere else.
Meremen, were-gators, wizards, can you tell us about your worldbuilding?
LOL. I love the worldbuilding process! I think a lot of urban fantasies don’t really take advantage of their setting, and I wanted to infuse these books with Louisiana culture. So much of South Louisiana is bound up with water—from the river, the swamps, the wetlands—that having water species like merpeople and nymphs be prominent made sense to me. And why not make the merpeople be Cajuns working in the fishing industry? It’s deliciously perverse to me. Weregators seemed like a natural enemy for merpeople. While weregators are only referenced in River Road, you can meet some by reading a free story, Chenoire, that’s on my blog. In that story, you also meet Rene Delachaise, one of the major characters of River Road.
As for the wizards…I originally had planned to make DJ a shapeshifter, but about the time I began writing the first book I read a speech transcript from fantasy author Terry Pratchett talking about the glass ceiling for wizards—that wizards in fantasy were almost always male, and were uniformly more powerful than witches, who were predominantly female. And that annoyed me, so I decided to create a structure of wizards where a young woman, DJ, is a junior-level wizard trying to work her way up in a male-dominated world of sentinels. There are a lot of female wizards in my world, but very few have been seen as powerful enough in their magic to be made sentinels—kind of the border guards between the modern world and the Beyond.
What qualities are important for your leading female and male characters?
For a hero and heroine, I think there has to be a purity of heart and intention, even when they fail or make mistakes or do boneheaded things or make bad decisions. DJ is a chaos magnet, and sometimes she’s prickly—because wizards are that way in this world. Alex and Jake can be difficult and possessive and stubborn, and both make some very bad decisions as the series progresses, but their hearts are always in the right place. But the undead pirate Jean Lafitte? He is so much fun to write because he’s morally ambiguous. He often does the right thing…but it’s usually for his own reasons and only when it’s convenient.
Are you a pantser or plotter?
I’m definitely a plotter. I have a brutal schedule that includes a full-time day job in addition to my writing, so I have to make the best-possible use of my limited time. Plotting cuts writing and revision time down considerably.
Four books published in 2012. That's incredible Can you give us a peek of a day in the life of Suzanne Johnson, writer?
LOL. It’s seriously dull. I keep a rigid schedule. I have to be at my day job by 7:30 a.m. During the noon hour I catch up with blogs and emails. I get home from work about 5:30, have dinner with the family and relax until about 7:30 or 8, then lock myself in my office and write until about 11 p.m., then read until midnight. That’s Monday through Friday. On Saturday, I write my blogs for the next week in the afternoon and usually take the morning and evening off. Sunday’s a major writing day, usually for ten to twelve hours. Then Monday rolls around and it all starts over again. Fun, huh?
When you began writing the first two books to the publication date of each, did anything during the writing process really turn around or totally change from when your first imaginings? If anything did, how did you feel about it?
There was a two-plus-year gap between when I sold Royal Street to Tor Books and when it was released. Since Royal Street was my first novel, literally, I had learned a lot more craft by the time River Road got into the revision process, so I think the pacing is better and the story is tighter and sharper. So, sure, I’d like to get my hands on Royal Street again in some ways, but at its heart it remains an honest book about what life was like in New Orleans during and after Katrina. It is true to the city and I think it serves as a good introduction to the series.
What I didn’t want was for the whole series to be focused on hurricane recovery, though, which is why there is a time gap of three years between the story in Royal Street and when River Road begins. That won’t happen again. Book three, Elysian Fields, picks up three weeks after the last scene of River Road.
Such a vast array of supernatural and mythological creatures. Do you have any favorites?
I’m so fickle. I tend to fall in love with whatever species I’m writing. So through much of River Road, I was enamored of my Cajun mermen—I still love them! Now that I’m finishing up the third book, I’m all about the Elves. But I guess in the end my favorite has to be what I’ve called the “historical undead”—famous humans given immortality in the Beyond by the magic of human memory. Which is how the early 19th-century pirate Jean Lafitte has become a major series character, and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and jazz great Louis Armstrong made appearances in Royal Street. New Orleans has a very rich history, so you never know who will pop up as a character!
With the publishing world undergoing such drastic changes and the advent of self publishing and small presses, how was your journey from creating to being published by a traditional publisher? Any highlights? Anything unexpected?
It is changing so fast! I was very blessed to have found a great agent and she was able to sell my books to a great publishing house like Tor. They’ve been terrific to work with, start to finish. The sale itself was a quick process (although it didn’t seem quick at the time). I finished the book in May, found my agent in July, and got the contract offer in November. Then it was more than two years to publication. That was my biggest surprise—how long it took that first book to come out. While I sat around waiting, I wrote an unrelated novel in a different genre (paranormal romance) and ended up selling that series under a pen name…which is how I ended up unintentionally having four books come out this year. I certainly didn’t plan it that way!
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.
Tour Wide Giveaway
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
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