Meet Suzanne Johnson

Jul 27, 2014 by

Donna Hosie

Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to Suzanne Johnson. She is a fellow member of my local RWA chapter, Southern Magic. I know her personally and think she’s absolutely inspiring. I decided to do this interview and review of one of her works of my own accord and my opinion here is unbiased and honest.

To share a bit about Suzanne Johnson, I can tell you that she is a veteran of journalism with more than fifty national awards in writing and editing nonfiction for higher education. She writes urban fantasy and paranormal romantic thrillers. She teaches writer workshops, she paints, she edits a college magazine, she even has time to watch reality TV and do amazing things at several organizations to which she belongs such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the Georgia, Southern Magic, and Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapters of RWA. Pheeew! She’s a machine! :)

After reading her novel, ROYAL STREET, I can also tell you that she writes about what she knows and does it from the heart. You can read my short review on her novel on Amazon or Goodreads. Today, though, we’re here to learn a bit more about this inspiring lady.

Suzanne, I know you’re super busy, so I’ll only ask a few questions:

It seems DJ (Royal Street’s protagonist) shares a few commonalities with you. For instance, you both grew up in Alabama and lived in New Orleans. Are there any other similarities? Compared to DJ, how much of post-Katrina did you, yourself, experience?

DJ’s experience with Hurricane Katrina is very tied up with my own. In fact, had the hurricane not happened, I never would have written any novel, much less this one. But a few years after Katrina, when things were still so unsettled in New Orleans and I felt as if I’d been living in a construction site for more than two years (which I had), I had a job offer in Alabama, so I decided to take it. After almost 15 years in New Orleans, I found myself in a small Alabama town where I didn’t know anyone. I was homesick for New Orleans and a little bored and still suffering from some post-traumatic stress. (I worked at Tulane and we got tested for PTSD every few months after Katrina.)

Anyway, I’d recently rediscovered the urban fantasy genre—this was late in 2008, early in 2009—and decided I wanted to write my Katrina experience in urban fantasy form. I hadn’t even envisioned a series or thought about it being published because the only piece of fiction I’d ever written was a really bad short story in eighth grade. (Obviously, I’ve since gotten the writing bug big-time!)

Like DJ, I evacuated New Orleans at the last minute. The small town she evacuates to, Winfield, Alabama, is the town I grew up in. I didn’t evacuate there, but many of DJ’s experiences were mine. I remember watching TV coverage on Monday morning, August 29, and thinking New Orleans had been spared the worst of it. While I was watching, the reporter looked down and water was rising around his shoes. Then the news started filtering in that levee were giving way all over the city. That was how DJ found out as well. DJ’s mentor Gerry lives in the house on Bellaire Drive a block from the biggest levee failure on the 17th Street Canal—and that was the house I lived in when I first moved to New Orleans. I experienced all the mold, the trash, the “coffin flies” coming out of the drains, had a tree on my roof like DJ, the eerie silence of what is normally a noisy city. The visuals I use when she first return to the city after the hurricane are my memories. So I did a lot of emotional dumping in Royal Street; it was cathartic.

I was so new to fiction writing that there are things now—technical things like pacing—I would do differently about Royal Street. It was very much a first book. But I wouldn’t change the emotions because it’s very much the book of my heart.

Is Pirate’s Alley the last in the Sentinels of New Orleans Series? What other projects do you have planned in the urban fantasy genre?

No, I’m already contracted to do one more after Pirate’s Alley, tentatively titled Belle Chasse, and have the series plotted through seven books. I’ve been sitting on a couple of urban fantasy proposals that I can’t put out there yet because of the way my contracts are structured, which sort of segues into the next question!

You write under two names (Suzanne Johnson and Susannah Sandlin), why is that? And what advice do you have for authors with the same situation?

When I sold the Sentinels series to Tor, there was a long gap between contract and when Royal Street actually came out—about 18 months. I’d already written River Road (Sentinels #2) and wanted to stay busy, but the urban fantasy genre is closed to me until the Sentinels series is completed, whenever that might happen. So I turned to urban fantasy’s “first cousin,” paranormal romance.

Since the Sentinels series is in first person and has more of a “New Adult” feel to it in terms of sex and language, I wanted to experiment with an adult, deep third, multiple-POV book. It eventually became Redemption, first in a paranormal romance series called Penton Legacy. Just to keep things “clean” between “Suzanne’s” urban fantasy and “Susannah’s” sexier romances, my agent suggested taking the second pen name. Susannah Sandlin is the name of one of my gggg-grandmothers (who’s probably rolling in her grave).

My advice to someone in this situation is to not try to keep your “personae” separate, which I did at first. I ended up with two email accounts, Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, websites, blogs. Oy! It’s way too time-consuming. So I’ve spent the last year slowly consolidating my various online accounts into one comprehensive hub for all of my books under both names. Marketing is so time-consuming that unless you have help or don’t ever need to sleep, it’s wise to keep it all under one umbrella.


Rapid fire questions

(Some of these questions might not be fair :) )

Crawfish or Barbecue?
Ahhhhh. Ouch. Barbecue, hands down. I am a native Alabama girl, after all. If you’d said oysters or shrimp, then I’m not sure.

Mardi Gras or Halloween?
Mardi Gras! It’s best two-week-long party on earth. Most people think Mardi Gras is all the debauchery they see on TV and are shocked to learn that, in New Orleans, it’s very much a family event. Locals NEVER go to the French Quarter during Mardi Gras—all that craziness comes from tourists. We would gather on the neutral grounds before parades with grills and coolers, kids would play football in the streets before the parades rolled, and it’s a lot of fun.

Latest Favorite Book (Must choose only one)
Ahhhhhh…my reading has taken a nosedive this past year because I’ve had so many hard deadlines. I haven’t read anything since last summer that wasn’t nonfiction/research. But the best research book I’ve read is Robert MacKinnon’s Treasure Hunter: Diving for Gold on North America’s Death Coast. I picked it up when I was researching shipwreck diving off the eastern coast of Canada for Lovely, Dark, and Deep (which came out in June under the Susannah Sandlin name) and it’s fascinating!

Who would Suzanne pick, Alex, Lafitte , or Jake (the 3 handsome men in Royal Street?
Ha! I would seriously crush on Jean Lafitte but, in the end, I’d go the safer route with Alex. Although he has some bad habits we need to work on.

Thanks for having me here, Ingrid!

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