Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Suzanne Johnson

Guest Post, Excerpt, and Giveaway by Suzanne Johnson

Armchair Traveling—with Magic
Suzanne Johnson

One of the reasons I love the urban fantasy genre is the ability to take a real world setting, with its rich history and culture, and blend it so deeply with paranormal elements that the new fictional world itself seems real.

So when I set my Sentinels of New Orleans series in my adopted hometown, I wanted a reader to finish each book having felt as if he or she had been there, as if the reader could visit the real New Orleans and expect to see one of my wizards or mermen or other characters pass on the street or be chowing on a po-boy at the next table. I wanted the setting to be a character, a destination.

The way I went about it, and something that I think sets the Sentinels series apart, is that I put each aspect of my worldbuilding to a rigorous “New Orleans” test. How could each element be twisted in such a way that made it unique to the South Louisiana culture?

The overall world of magic, of course, is not confined to the greater New Orleans area, but to make the magical world “local,” I devised an architecture that works sort of like an Oreo. The bottom cookie is the modern world of humans. The top cookie is the vast preternatural world, the Beyond. The cream filling is a borderland where preternaturals of all stripes can meet, where it is always night except for an hour at dusk and dawn, where the moon is always full.

The borderlands closest to the modern city of New Orleans is called Old Orleans, and there you can find vestiges of the city’s past coexisting in an often-uncomfortable clash of styles and cultures. (To spread this world on a broader scale, between the city of Detroit and the Beyond, for example, one would find Old Detroit.)

I also thought it was important to make sure my paranormal beings had a local feel. The heroine, DJ, is a wizard sentinel (think “border guard”) who grew up in the New Orleans Lakeview area. Her former partner Alex Warin is from Picayune, Mississippi, an hour north of New Orleans, so he is more Southern than New Orleanian (the native NOLA accent is more Bronx than Birmingham).

There are not only werewolves, but loup-garou (also locally called “rougarou”), a legendary swamp monster in South Louisiana—misbehaving children were warned that the rougarou would get them if they didn’t clean up their acts. (Warped, right?) In my world, the garou are rogue werewolves who reject the pack structure, have poor self-control, and are exceptionally strong and violent.

Louisiana has more than 20,000 square miles of bayou and swampland, most located in the southern half of the state, so it seemed impossible to imagine that in a paranormal world, water species such as merfolk and nymphs would be abundant. To further localize my water species, my merfolk are aquatic shapeshifters and mostly of Acadian (aka “Cajun”) descent. They mainstream easily with humans when unshifted, and many of them work in the region’s seafood industry. (Yeah, a tad cannibalistic). The nymphs have recently unionized into the Greater Mississippi River Nymphs and are busily setting up “massage parlors” around the French Quarter—something my heroine, DJ, will have to get under control soon.

Vampires aren’t exclusive to New Orleans, of course, but the master vampire of the city, called a Regent, was as a human a French-born owner of one of the plantations that in the 1700s stretched along the Mississippi River parishes. Etienne is a modern sort of vampire with old-world roots in the local region.

Finally, there is New Orleans herself, and I decided to pay homage to the rich history and culture of the city by creating a class of paranormal beings called the Historical Undead—famous humans given immortality in the preternatural Beyond by the magic of human memory. The more people remember them, talk about them, and name streets or towns or buildings after them, the more strength they have to re-enter the modern world. So that guy you saw in the French Quarter club that was a dead ringer (no pun intended) for Louis Armstrong? Could well be the real, historical undead version of Satchmo.

One of New Orleans’ most famous citizens was the early 19th-century pirate/privateer Jean Lafitte, for whom national parks, streets, schools, and entire towns have been named. In his human life, Lafitte was viewed by New Orleanians as more Robin Hood than pirate because he sold his goods plundered from Spanish ships at better rates than local merchants.

Lafitte, as he will be quick to tell you, is quite unforgettable. So if you are wandering through the French Quarter past the Hotel Monteleone and see a tall, handsome Frenchman striding out, looking vaguely piratical, make way for Le Capitaine, the leader of the historical undead and a major character in the Sentinels of New Orleans series.

Because as you’re armchair-traveling to my version of paranormal New Orleans, you’ll definitely want to meet the pirate, oui?

Excerpt from Elysian Fields

By midafternoon, I was out of ideas and full of nervous energy that finally sent me out of doors, catching up on yard work I’d neglected all season, raking the small, crunchy leaves from the live oaks into piles a kid would love to play in.

“Need help?”

I ignored the voice and counted to ten, hoping it would go away. Instead, Quince Randolph knelt next to a tall pyramid of leaves I’d erected and took the lid off the big green trash can he’d brought with him. He began scooping up armfuls and piling them in the can. “You should compost this down. It would make a good mulch for flowerbeds. Plus you need more color in your landscaping.”

“Whatever.” I didn’t know what mulch was, didn’t care enough to ask, and had such a brown thumb that flowers never survived my gardening efforts.

Rand wore a chocolate-brown sweater almost the same color as mine, with jeans in a similar wash. With our comparable shades of long blond hair, we resembled grown-up Bobbsey Twins, except he was prettier. Freddie and Flossie do New Orleans.

“Are you here for any particular reason?”

He squinted up at me against the soft afternoon sunlight. “I just want to get to know you better.”

Uh- huh. “Tell me what you are, and then we’ll know each other better. I’m betting elf or faery.” I was kind of betting elf— it might explain his interest in me although, thankfully, he’d never shown any inclination to plunder my brain.

He grinned. “Go to dinner with me and I might tell you.”

I noted the return of his peridot earrings. Big liar. Super-big cheater. “Where’s Eugenie? You know, your girlfriend?”

A flash of irritation spoiled his perfect features a half second before he answered. “Working. Can we—”

What ever he planned to ask, my answer would be no, but he didn’t get a chance because a clomping noise reached us from the direction of Prytania Street. Rand and I both were stricken speechless at the sight of Jean Lafitte sitting like royalty in the back of a gold and white French Quarter tourist carriage. It was being pulled by a light- gray mule wearing a hat festooned with

fake flowers and driven by a smiling guy who had no idea how many daggers his undead pirate passenger had hidden on him.

The ornate carriage rolled to a stop, and the mule flicked an ear at the passing traffic. Those animals pulled tourists around the French Quarter all day, and it would take more than an impatient Toyota driver to rattle one of them. The carriages were also ridiculously expensive if one commissioned a ride outside the Quarter.

Then again, Jean Lafitte was loaded. The driver probably had a reason to smile.

Jean exited the carriage with extraordinary grace for such a large man. He was tall, powerfully built, black-haired, cobalt-eyed, a shameless flirt, and talked with a raspy French accent that made me swoon even though he was technically dead. In other words, I had a bit of a problem with Jean Lafitte and my own common sense being present at the same time.

Jean said a few words to the carriage driver, then turned to prop his hands on his hips in a broad pirate-like stance, giving Rand a disapproving visual once-over. The mule backed up a

few awkward steps before pulling the carriage into my driveway.

God help me, I hoped Alex didn’t get home in time to see this. I’d never hear the end of it.

“Do you wish me to rid you of this intruder, Jolie?”

Elysian Fields
Sentinels of New Orleans Series
Book Three
Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Tor Books
Date of Publication: August 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0765333193

Number of pages: 352
Word Count: approx. 102,000

Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/2NskZi9B0gU

Amazon Barnes and Noble Book Depository

Book Description:

The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi. New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans.

Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren't random--an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard.

Namely, DJ. Fighting off an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn't easy. Jake Warin's loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world's most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex 
Warin just turned up on DJ's to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power. 

Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte's pirate wench? It could be DJ's best option.

River Road

Sentinels of New Orleans 
Book Two
Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN: 978-0765327802
ASIN: B00842H5VI

Number of pages: 336
Word Count: approx. 92,000

Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen

Amazon Barnes & Noble

Book Depository Indiebound

Book Description:

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.

Royal Street
Sentinels of New Orleans
Book One

Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765327796
ASIN: B006OM459U

Number of pages: 337
Word Count: approx. 94,000

Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen

Amazon Barnes and Noble

Book Depository

Book Description:

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.

About the Author

On Aug. 28, 2005, Suzanne Johnson loaded two dogs, a cat, a friend, and her mom into a car and fled New Orleans in the hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Four years later, she began weaving her experiences and love for her city into the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, beginning with Royal Street (2012), continuing with River Road (2012), and now with Elysian Fields (August 2013).

She grew up in rural Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace, and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years—which means she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.

As Susannah Sandlin, she writes the best-selling Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series and the recent standalone, Storm Force.

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  1. Big fan of Suzanne's books. Recommend this series all the time. Waiting for Pirate's Alley next [April 2015]. Time to read the first three so your all caught up with DJ.

  2. The books sound great and I would love to read the series.

    Anyone else read the series?

  3. Thanks, Roger--and thanks for having me here today, Cloey!