Meet Sara Raasch

Dec 3, 2014 by

Today on the blog I have author Sara Raasch. She is the genius behind the YA fantasy novel SNOW LIKE ASHES and I have a feeling we will be hearing lots from her in years to come. I’m taking a cue from all the readers already demanding the sequel to SLA, her debut novel. You can read my short review of her novel on Amazon or Goodreads.

To tell you a bit about Sara you should know that if she ever tries to sell you lemonade, you should be prepared to also buy cute picture books of her creation (I doubt she’s changed her ways since, at five years old, she tried to do just that at her friends’ lemonade stand.) She names her pets after fictional characters, is obsessed with the TV show Lost Girl and would love for Ksenia Solo to play the role of SLA’s protagonist, Meira. Currently, she’s working on book#2 and book#3 of the Snow Like Ashes trilogy, so don’t despair. It is coming!

Ingrid: Hi, Sara! *waves across the inter-space*

Sara: *waves back*

So glad to have you on my blog. I’m curious about a few things, so here it goes:


As an author, I’m always curious to learn the way other writers go about their craft. Tell us, how does a day of writing look for you? And what makes a writing day IDEAL?

I’m usually a morning writer. I get up, check social media, then spend the hours until lunch writing/drafting/editing/whatever I need to be doing. The afternoon is spent either doing more writing things (if I’m on a roll) or doing marketing stuff. This is an example of an ideal day—of course, not every day is so productive. Sadness.

Sounds like tons of fun. I love SLA’s Sir, can you tell us how you go about crafting such a strong fictional character?

Writing Sir was a continually surprising process. He’s very, shall we say, layered, even to me, so to find out what makes him tick, I had to really dig into his backstory. Why did he and Alysson get married? How did they meet? What was his relationship with Queen Hannah? How does he feel about Winter’s fall (beyond the expected anger/sorrow)? And, most importantly, why does he keep Meira so distant? The answers to all these questions were surprising and heartbreaking, and I’m so excited to get to share them with everyone in books 2 and 3!

Most of writing, for me at least, is just asking questions!

I love to hear that. Can’t wait to read! Winter always gets a bad rep, are you trying to change that? ;)

I am! One of my reasons for wanting to write this story at all was to cast winter in a good light. So often it is evil and spring is good, and I wanted to flip that. Down with spring! Bugs and dampness and allergies—ew.

Yes! I hate allergies! We heard very little from the Summer kingdom. Will we learn more about it in the next two books?

Oh yes! The Kingdom of Summer is actually a HUGE part of Book 2. Their princess, Ceridwen, becomes integral to the story and Meira’s life. She’s one of my favorite characters—think Meira’s snark, but meaner. Ceridwen tells it like it is.

Oh, my! Meira is a pepper, so I can’t even imagine Ceridwen. Do you have any other series planned for the future?

I have a few things in the works, but nothing set yet. The SNOW LIKE ASHES trilogy is the center of my little world right now!

Rapid Fire Questions

Plotter or Pantser?
Plotter! Pantsing in the fantasy genre is nigh impossible.

Favorite thing about being an author?
Readers! Meeting them, interacting with them. They are the BEST!

Coolest compliment from a reader?
At one of my tour stops, a reader showed up dressed in green and gold—the colors of Cordell. SO cool to see that!!

Would you consider writing in other genres? If so, which ones?
I would like to! I have an idea for a sci-fi novel, so hopefully someday!

Snow Like Ashes is an amazing read! Seriously, every self-respecting YA reader out there should check it out!

Sara Raasch has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Not much has changed since then — her friends still cock concerned eyebrows when she attempts to draw things and her enthusiasm for the written word still drives her to extreme measures. Her debut YA fantasy, SNOW LIKE ASHES, the first in a trilogy, comes out October 14, 2014 from Balzer + Bray. It does not feature her hand-drawn pictures.

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Meet Jack Heckel

Nov 2, 2014 by

Jack Heckel

Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to the duo that together comprise the author of Once Upon a Rhyme (Volume I of the Charming Tales), Jack Heckel, they are John Peck and Harry Heckel.

To share a bit about this talented team, I can tell you that they live in opposite sides of the USA, John in the west coast where he works as a lawyer, and Harry in the east coast where—as a IT QA team lead— basks in his ability to break computers and make programmers miserable. They were roommates in college and were each other’s best man at their weddings.

Their novel ONCE UPON A RHYME was published by Harper Voyager Impulse and released in August. After reading it, I can tell you that these guys have an incredible sense of humor and can make you laugh out loud. You can read my short review of his novel on Amazon or Goodreads.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about John and Harry:


You are the first co-authors I’ve ever interviewed and I find myself very curious about the process. How does a typical day go for John and Harry as they twirl to become Jack Heckel? Or do you guys go in a telephone booth?

H: Unfortunately, we can’t give away our secret identities, but we have been writing together for five years. A typical day would be one of us writing a chapter while the other one edits a previous chapter, plans out the next chapter or does an article or social media work.

As far as the process of creating a novel, we always start with an outline. Once we discuss the outline at length, we agree on what chapters or story arcs each of us wants to initially write. After each chapter is completed, we send it to the other person for a rewrite. After the rewrite, it goes back to the original writer to review. This way the book sounds like it’s written by Jack Heckel, rather than Harry or John.

J: It is a fascinating process, because at the end of the day we often can’t identify who wrote what. Early on we would share our material with a writing group and they would try to guess who wrote what. I’m not sure they ever got it right. We always took that as a good sign that we’d gotten Jack’s voice right. And the uncertainty extends to us as well. Several times I’ve complemented Harry for some turn of phrase only for him to tell me he thought that I’d written that.

Sounds very cool! Living in opposite sides of the USA, how do you breach the distance and work together?

H: We do a lot of texting and emailing. However, that doesn’t make up for talking on the phone. We talk a lot when we are working together, often after midnight on the East Coast. When we really need to get through a milestone, we meet in person and have a writing retreat.

J: Harry is definitely the one impacted the most when we are under the gun, because he has to wait till I am free to talk, and that is often very late his time. But, for the most part the time change actually works well for us. Often times Harry can finish his work or edits on a chapter just in time for me to get started for the evening.

What advice would you give others considering co-authoring a book?

H: The most important rule is to have mutual respect. You need to be able to give and receive honest feedback and take 100% ownership of the work. Don’t worry about who wrote what or how many words. Be willing to compromise. Also, be willing to ask your co-author for help. I’ve had times when I was stuck and John bailed me out, either by writing part of my chapter, giving me an idea or just acting as a sounding board.

J: And on that last point, I can remember entire sections of the book where I would stare at a blinking cursor for a day or two and then call Harry and beg him to take over. Often all it takes is a few words for inspiration and that gets you going. In many ways I find it MUCH MUCH harder to write on my own. I think another key, beside respect, which I think goes without saying (though I’m glad Harry said it), is that you actually have to enjoy writing with your co-author. If there is any jealousy or bad feelings they are going to come out in the process of writing and the project will likely fall apart.

Do you see each other writing other series together? Any plans for solo projects?

J & H: Absolutely. In fact, we already are writing other series. We have a proposal for a set of novels in a similar vein to the Charming Tales but focused on epic fantasy. The first book is tentatively called (ominous music) . . . The Dark Lord. The main character, Avery, not only has to face down everything that can go wrong in a fantasy world, but also find a way to complete his thesis before he’s kicked out of school. And did we mention that he’s (ominous music) . . . The Dark Lord?

Additionally, we’ve been working on a set of YA novels about what happens when Rigel, the daughter of Orion, one of the world’s greatest superheroes decides to start her heroic career. She’s invited to join Freedom Squad, a team assembled to pay homage to the Victory Squad of World War II. Once she arrives at their headquarters, she finds herself surrounded by an earth elemental who can’t talk, a malfunctioning alien robot and a guy who claims not to have any powers at all. Oh, and then the mayor of the city appoints her team leader . . .

H: On the solo front, I’ve written a few small press books as Harry Heckel, including In the Service of the King (A Crimson Hawks Adventure), which is a swash and buckle story of a mercenary company who accepts an offer that’s too good to be true, and a black powder and sorcery series called the Krueger Chronicles. I’ve got several other novels waiting to find a publication home, including an epic fantasy and “A Greek hoplite goes to mythological Egypt” tale. Additionally, I write pen and paper role-playing games, notably in the past for White Wolf Game Studio and currently for Black Onyx.

J: I am definitely the junior member of Team Jack when it comes to writing. At present I don’t have any completed projects, but I do have several in the works that I will be publishing (or trying to publish) under a still to be determined pen name, including an urban fantasy that I hope will reestablish demons as the bad-ass villains they should be, and a YA dream trilogy that was inspired by a single line of prose that I could not get out of my head: “When I was ten and he was twelve we went to war, my friend and I.”

J and H: However, no matter what might happen in our solo careers, we plan for Jack Heckel to be here to stay. There may be side projects, but we are both committed to keeping the band together long term. We are having a blast.

It sounds like you guys will be busy. All these projects sounds wonderful! ONCE UPON A RHYME is absolutely hilarious. Humor—especially in the written form—isn’t easy to accomplish, what is the trick?

H: I really think that John and I are funniest when we start playing off each other. Life has a certain inherent ridiculousness to it, plus, we have plentiful source material in fairy tales. I’m not really sure what the real trick is, but I’m just glad that whatever we are doing works.

J: The phone calls are key. When we were in college we used to sit in the dark at night and stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling (yes we are so old that glow-in-the-dark stars were still a novelty) and tell each other stories. There is really no difference in our process today. That many of our stories turn out to be funny is something alchemic. It can’t be explained. I’ve told the story before, but my initial vision for The Charming Tales was a dark brooding exploration of the prince’s descent into madness. I’m so glad Harry pulled us back from that, because these novels have been so much fun to write.

How many more volumes are planned for the Charming Tales? What else can you tell us about upcoming books to whet our appetite?

H: We are currently planning for three more, if you include Happily Never After, which releases on November 25th. I could easily see that number climbing as long as we have material and enjoy visiting the characters. Happily Never After is really the second part of the story that began in Once Upon a Rhyme and we find out the results of Gwendolyn’s schemes as well as finding out if Charming will ever achieve couplet again. There’s a bit more romance as well.

As far as books after that, I don’t want to say too much, but Book 3 is tentatively called Pitchfork of Destiny and it starts with the Great Dragon of the North coming to Royaume and discovering that his love, the Great Wyrm of the South is dead.

J: And Book 3 ends with the teaser for Book 4, which I won’t speak of at all, but for which we already have a basic storyline sketched out. As for inspiration for more beyond that, I think fairytale is limitless in its potential. Between the Grimm Brothers, Perrault and Andrew Lang you have nearly a thousand stories to “borrow” from.

Rapid Fire Questions

Who is funnier John or Harry?
J: Jack.
H: Charming.
J: Can I change my answer? I like Harry’s better.

Did you outline ONCE UPON A RHYME or did you pants it?
J and H: We outlined first and then pants’d our way through the outline.

Favorite ONCE UPON A RHYME scene?
H: I love the whole book, but if I have to pick one scene, it’s what happens to Will while Charming is battling Gnarsh the Troll.
J: No doubt, for me it is the confrontation between Will and the Scarlet Scoundrel. Aha!

Thanks so much for visiting, Harry and John!

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Meet Tim Lees

Oct 6, 2014 by

Tim Lees

Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to Tim Lees. He is a fellow author published by Harper Voyager Impulse and Tartarus Press. I decided to interview him and review one of his novel of my own accord and my opinion here is unbiased and honest.

To share a bit about Tim, I can tell you that he was born in England but now lives in Chicago with his wife and two dogs he loves, even if they are horrible from time to time. When not writing he’s tried his hand at being a teacher, a conference organizer a film extra and more. His short fiction has appeared in Postscripts, Black Static and Interzone. He was nominated for a British Fantasy Award for his collection The Life to Come.

His novel THE GOD HUNTER was released this summer and after reading it, I can tell you that his writing is direct and his characters true to life. You can read my short review of his novel on Amazon or Goodreads.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about Tim and his novel:

How does a day in Tim’s writing life look?
Shambolic. I would like to say I keep office hours and write almost non-stop, relying on skill, technique and hard work rather than inspiration. And there are days I do do that. Other days I mess around and put in a lot of time at the computer or scribble in notebooks, but nothing much seems to get done. Only a percentage of it is ever any good. Mostly I feel like I’m stalking the good stuff, trying to sneak up on it. Often I will only know days or even weeks later whether it was any good. So I keep working anyway, and hope for the best.

I do certain things better in the morning – usually revision, editing. By afternoon I try to con myself by going out to a café or some other venue and working there for an hour. This might mean running through a print-out or writing a first draft. The change of venue is often helpful at recreating that fresh, just-woken-up mentality. There are other tricks, and even miseries such as jetlag or insomnia can be co-opted into the fight; non-normal mental states may help you see a different aspect of the story, or solve a problem in a new way. Alcohol works up to a point, but pretty soon you discover that you’re not drinking to help you write, you’re writing to provide an excuse for drinking. So that’s not really recommended.

I really like your idea of using non-normal states of mind to help see a different angle to the story. Very interesting! So tell me, where did the idea for THE GOD HUNTER come from?
I often have an idea in my head for a long time before I get to use it. The seeds of The God Hunter were planted in my first published story, way back. Then I noticed a book called Ghost Hunters on my wife’s bookshelf, and somehow the story just appeared in my head. I combined it with the first idea and, eventually, it became a novel.

Sometimes ideas never get used. Even in short stories, usually two or three different elements have to come together before I feel the piece will work. Sometimes I’ll write half a story and leave it, perhaps for years, then rediscover it and find the second part is ready to be written.

Amazing how the mind works. Do you ever base your characters on people you’ve met? (I loved your characters. They felt so very real!)
I base them on characteristics of people I’ve met, which is not quite the same thing. When I was younger I wrote a number of romans á clef, all unpublished, and discovered that a character only really came to life when I departed from the template and added a bit of imagination to the mix. The same is true of scenes; the stuff I just made up seemed far more real than things that actually happened and which I wrote down pretty much verbatim. I suppose that’s why they call it “fiction”, isn’t it?

The dialogue in THE GOD HUNTER was excellent. Any advice for authors on writing good dialogue?
I think it’s a combination of two seemingly opposed things. As I mentioned above, I used to write a lot about events I’d actually experienced, trying to get the dialogue as close as I could remember to the real thing. So there’s that aspect: how do people actually talk? And that kind of dialogue may well be suitable for certain books. The God Hunter is an adventure story, though, it’s meant to be entertaining, and genuinely realistic dialogue is seldom that. People are never as concise (or as funny) as they think they are. So I filtered that through the kind of verbal sparring you get in, say, Raymond Chandler’s books. Lots of one liners, and the hero actually gets to say those witty ripostes that most of us only come up with afterwards.

The other thing I would suggest is—remember where your characters are coming from, as people. They’re not there simply to put across whatever information you want them to convey. They’re probably thinking about something else entirely. Sometimes it can be good to ask yourself what’s going on for them, aside from the action of the book.

Rapid Fire Questions

You’ve had some interesting jobs, what was the worst ever?
I worked in academia, rising to the lowly position of Research Assistant. I co-authored papers, edited books, ran conferences, met various esteemed personages, etc, and the whole thing sounds wonderful—the work, indeed, could be fascinating—but it was a nightmare; an organisation that ran almost entirely on bullying and nepotism. Nor was I the worst treated. It was a great relief to escape into the world of mental healthcare in which, despite some genuine dangers, there was real teamwork, objective goals, and (regardless of the shortcomings of the system itself) a chance to actually provide some benefit to people.

What is your favorite book?
Just one? I don’t think I can answer that! But I always loved Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin; I love the way he takes a horrendous period in history (the rise of the Nazis) and focuses on a few individuals caught up in the mess – small, often comic stories that somehow never trivialize the greater horrors going on around. In fantasy, I think Brian Aldiss did a similar thing with The Malacia Tapestry, a book I also much admire. But a favourite? Depends what mood I’m in.

Favorite book YOU have written?
Whichever makes the most money… (says the dedicated artist)

Thing you miss most from Manchester?
The past. Although I missed that when I lived there, too.

Thanks so much for visiting, Tim!

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Meet Katherine Harbour

Sep 21, 2014 by

Katherine Harbour

Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to Katherine Harbour. She is a fellow author published by Harper Voyager Impulse. I decided to interview her and review her debut novel of my own accord and my opinion here is unbiased and honest.

To share a bit about Katherine, I can tell you that she was born in Albany, NY but now lives in beautiful Sarasota, FL. Jealous? I know I am :) She works in a bookstore and, once, her creative brain led her to want to be a painter, but in the end she wised up, dusted an old manuscript she’d written when she was seventeen, revised it and got a book deal with a major publisher. She was always meant to be a writer, I’d dare say! That old manuscript is, by the way, her debut novel THORN JACK.

After reading her work, I can also tell you that she can paint a picture in your mind like no one’s business. Her writing is evocative and full of imagery. You can read my short review on his novel on Amazon or Goodreads.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about Katherine and her novel:

How does a day in Katherine’s writing life look?
On my days off from work, I wake up at nine–okay, ten (I’m a night owl) in the morning, check my emails, and mess around on my social media sites. Then I shut off the computer, around twelve, and work on extras for my books (blog posts, interview questions, short stories), revisions, and outlines. About three o’clock, I take a break (during which I do life stuff, or go out into the world to socialize with actual human beings). I return to my desk around six and write creatively until one in the morning. This is what I call a good writing day, and it’s rare.

Sounds like heaver, Katherine! Who is your favorite character in THORN JACK and why? (I really liked Caliban. Yeah, I like villains :) )
My favorite character is Finn Sullivan, my protagonist, because, after awhile, she developed her own personality without much effort on my part and surprised me a few times. She started out as someone almost sleepwalking through life, then gradually developed into a fierce hero. It’s great when characters take on a life of their own.

Those sneaky characters :) So, I know you’ve been working on THORN JACK’s sequel, how hard is it to work on a series? Any advice?
I had planned the Thorn Jack series out earlier, with detailed outlines. I followed the traditional story arc with all three books. I guess my advice for writing a series would be keep one outline ahead of each book, just so you know where you’re going. Trilogies are traditionally one story told over three books, while an ongoing series is episodic with a recurring main character.

I’m a pantser and have such trouble with outlines, but I need to get better at them. Tell us, What plans do you have once the THORN JACK series is done? Any more fresh ideas?
After the Thorn Jack trilogy, I’ve outline a YA/New Adult steampunk trilogy about an impoverished young aristocrat, a soldier with no memory, and a mysterious young woman who solve occult mysteries in a massive island city. And then there’s the haunted house book I’d like to write, about a family of perfume makers and a sinister toymaker.

Ooooh, both sound super intriguing! Now for some fun, random questions…

Rapid Fire Questions

Winter in NY or Summer in Florida?
I remember winter, with vivid detail. But at least you could occasionally crack a window. Summer in Florida…you’re hermetically sealed into your home for at least four months. And you get air conditioner colds.

Salvador Dali or Van Gogh?
Salvador Dali, because I’ve seen his paintings at the museum nearby and I just saw a crazy movie where Robert Pattinson plays him.

Favorite YA book?
My favorite young adult book would have to be a triple-tie between Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Holly Black’s Tithe, and Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. (With Francesca Lia Block’s Witch Baby and Tiffany Trent’s In the Serpent’s Coils as runner-ups) Is that cheating?

Favorite book to movie adaptation?
My favorite book to movie would have to be another tie, between the Harry Potter movies and The Lord of the Rings.

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Meet Bishop O’Connoll

Sep 6, 2014 by

Donna Hosie

Today on the blog, I’d like to introduce you to Bishop O’Connell. He is a fellow author published by Harper Voyager Impulse. I decided to interview him and review his debut novel of my own accord and my opinion here is unbiased and honest.

To share a bit about Bishop, I can tell you that he is a consultant, writer, poet, blogger, computer geek, and member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project. He was born in Italy, but raised in San Diego, California. A perfect day for him involves a good pint, fish tacos and conversation with friends. He collects swords and kilts and has been known to wear only the latter in public—though I have a feeling he’d like to also wield the sword, if his debut novel, THE STOLEN, is any indication.

After reading his work, I can also tell you that he can write kick-butt action scenes, as well as lovable, less-than-perfect heroes that feel extremely real. You can read my short review on his novel on Amazon or Goodreads.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about Bishop and his novel:
How does a day in Bishop’s writing life look?
Well, it involves music, which is a must. I have playlists for all my projects that help get me into the right mental or emotional state, to really fall into the story. My writing days are usually long. It can take me a while to get into groove, sometimes an hour or so, but when I get there, I don’t want to stop. I’ve had days where I crank out 10,000 words. It’s just me, my music, some homebrewed iced tea (or if I need a jolt, some Mountain Dew), my computer glasses, and usually my lounge around the house kilt. Yes, I have a “lounge around the house” kilt, every man should.

How did you come up with the idea for The Stolen?
It started with W.B. Yeats poem “The Stolen Child” (which was originally the title of The Stolen). The poem makes the luring away of a human child by faeries seem magical and wonderful. However, I wondered about the parents of that child. It wouldn’t be magical to them. Then I considered the faeries, and what kind of creature would lure a child away from her parents. From there, I considered how it would be if that happened in our world, where faeries, to most people, were just characters in Disney movies. It wasn’t until I’d began promoting the book, and had time to really think about it, that I realized it was really a story about heroes, as you described them “lovable, less-than-perfect” but heroes all the same.

Is The Stolen your first novel? How long did it take you to write it?
It’s my first published novel. I wrote a high fantasy first, it’s actually part of a trilogy and I intend to rewrite it to fit into the American Faerie Tale universe at some point. That first book took me the better part of ten years to finish. In contrast, The Stolen went from short story to full novel in about three months. I was working part time and decided to make the most of my time off. Then I spent three years editing it and shaping it into what it is today.

I’ve read other books about the Fae, mostly YA, but I never encountered Fianna in them. Brendan, one of your protagonists, is a Fian and—although I have a good idea of what he is, I’d like to get the scoop from you? Do Fianna belong to any court? Are they another classification, like pixies? Or did you come up with Fianna? I should probably know this, but alas!
The Fianna are, for the most part, mortals. They’re sort of the Batman of the faerie world; they train to be as strong and fast as mortals can be, and protect mortals from faeries. They do know magic, which extends their life spans, but Brendan is the exception. His parents did something —though no one but them is certain exactly what— to make him stronger, faster, and very long lived. It was all with the best of intentions of course, but, well, the first chapter of The Stolen tells you all you need to know about the downside of what they did. In terms of the Fianna’s place, they are members of the Cruinnigh (Irish for “council”) which is, not to give away too much, a council of various supernatural creatures. The Fianna were granted a place on it because of their interaction with the far and other beings. As a teaser of what’s to come in future books, some other members are: The Aboriginal (Native American and Aboriginal Australian spirits), The Elemental Lords (yes, exactly what you think), The Celestial (use your imagination), and The Dracos (yep, dragons). And though the last three haven’t been heard from in a long time…

Rapid Fire Questions

Kilt or Pants?
Sorry, is there a real question here? Kilt, of course!

Favorite beer?
That’s tough. Guinness, of course, is right up there. However, when I was living in England I fell in love with cask ales, or Real Ale, Theakston being my favorite.

Video games or board games? (I’ve read you’re a gamer)
I like board games, but the computer geek in me loves computer games. I never got into first-person shooters though.

Why “A Quiet Pint”? (This is name of Bishop’s website)
In Ireland there is something called the craic. It’s hard to define, but it’s basically socializing, talking, gossiping, storytelling, and just enjoying others’ company. I’ve never liked loud bars or clubs. I prefer a nice quiet pint with some friends, old or new. Nothing goes better with a pint than the craic.

Thanks for this, it was a lot of fun!

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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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