Suzanne Johnson is the author of Royal Street, the first installment of her new Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. She stopped by the virtual offices to talk about her book and let us get to know her better.
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Suzanne Johnson] Obsessive-compulsive workaholic with a dark sense of humor and a soft spot for animals, wacky creative people, and eclectic music.
[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Royal Street?
[Suzanne Johnson] Set in New Orleans, Royal Street plays off the idea of “what if”—what if Hurricane Katrina had shattered not just the levees surrounding the city but the barriers between our world and that which lies Beyond? All the preternatural creatures start flooding into the ravaged city after the storm, and a young apprentice wizard gatekeeper has to try and keep herself afloat while looking for her missing mentor, fending off the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, and coping with her unwanted new Enforcer partner. Oh, and solving the mystery of a serial killer who’s tied to all of them in some way.
[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Suzanne Johnson] I was a longtime resident of New Orleans and was living in the city at the time of Hurricane Katrina, so Royal Street began as a way for me to get rid of some post-storm stress. I ended up with my main character being a female wizard after reading an essay by fantasy author Terry Pratchett called “Why Gandalf Never Married” and realized what a glass ceiling there was in fantasy fiction with wizards. Women could be witches, but wizards were almost always male—and wizards are always more powerful. I could think of only one or two exceptions to this, so that’s how my lead character DJ Jaco—a young female wizard—was conceived. That makes me sound like a flaming feminist, but it was really just a little jab at a traditional fantasy trope!
[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?
[Suzanne Johnson] Making the story—and especially DJ—have some fun humor, but also being very, very respectful of what happened during Hurricane Katrina. I felt as if I had a chance to get it right because I was there and know the city so well, so I wanted the book to be both an interesting, fun urban fantasy read but also be my own love letter to New Orleans. All of us who went through that storm had our hearts broken, yet New Orleanians have this fatalistic, stoic sense of humor that I wanted to reflect in my book. I hope I was able to do that!
[Manga Maniac Café] What are three things Drusilla would never have in her pockets?
[Suzanne Johnson] Ha—DJ is a very down-to-earth girl and is known to stuff her pockets with vials of potions and charms. She’d never have a mirror or makeup, or anything to write with.
[Manga Maniac Café] Why did you decide to use New Orleans for the setting of your book?
[Suzanne Johnson] I lived there for fifteen years, up until a couple of years ago, and consider it my hometown and my favorite place in the world. With its rich history and culture, I can’t think of a better place to set a book!
[Manga Maniac Café] What do you enjoy most about urban fantasy?
[Suzanne Johnson] Urban fantasy represents the crossroads of reality and fantasy—and when reality and fantasy collide, interesting things happen. It’s the ultimate “what-if”—what if the guy eyeing you across the café is a vampire, or an elf?
[Manga Maniac Café] What prompted you to try writing your own?
[Suzanne Johnson] Urban fantasy is what I read most, and is my favorite genre. I wanted to write about the Katrina experience, and there had already been a bazillion books about the storm, both fiction and nonfiction. So I wanted to approach it from a different direction, and urban fantasy was a natural fit for me.
[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Suzanne Johnson] If I had to name an author, it would be Stephen King. I grew up reading King obsessively, as well as these big gothic family sagas by British author Susan Howatch, so there was probably no way I’d end up writing anything but paranormal fiction with a touch of romance.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Suzanne Johnson] 1) Music. I don’t always listen to it while I’m drafting but I do when I revise and just to keep me in the mood. I listen to a lot of Zachary Richard and BeauSoleil and Neville Brothers while writing books in this series.
2) Diet Coke. Always. Gotta have it. The kind with caffeine.
3) An outline. I’m not a “pantser”—a by-the-seat-of-the-pants writer. Before I start a novel, I spend at least a couple of weeks doing nothing but figuring out where I want it to go and how I want it to get there. It always changes as I write, but the outline keeps me from straying too far off-course. (Goes back to that obsessive-compulsive thing, I think. My critique partner calls me “Rain Man.”)
[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Suzanne Johnson] The first book I remember going nuts over, and reading again and again and again, was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I probably first read it when I was seven or eight. I also grew up in a very small town (population of about 2,000), so there wasn’t that much to do. I lived in the library.
[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Suzanne Johnson] I have a full-time job as associate editor of the quarterly magazine published by the alumni association at Auburn University, so when I’m not at the day job, I am working on my fiction writing or my blogging—I do nine-ten blogs per month for tor.com as well as my own daily book blog. I used to make art quilts, but don’t have time for it anymore. I’m trying to learn how to make jewelry, but so far I don’t seem to be very good at it!
[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?
[Suzanne Johnson] I’m on the following websites:
[Manga Maniac Café] Thanks!
Royal Street will be in stores April 10. You can pre-order a copy from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.