I'm thrilled to host debut author Suzanne Johnson. As readers and followers of this blog know, I'm fascinated with New Orleans. Johnson brings her firsthand experience of living through Hurricane Katrina into this engaging and entertaining Urban Fantasy. I'll let Suzanne tease the rest. Later this year, we'll both be at Authors After Dark in New Orleans, and I can't wait to meet her in person.
As I was writing Royal Street, my debut novel that comes out today, I was like any other author, asking myself: What can I do to make this story different? How can I be true to my crowded genre—in this case, urban fantasy—without the book getting lost in the pack?
Here are five things I hope will make Royal Street different.
1) The setting. Well, okay, it’s set in New Orleans, which in itself isn’t so unusual. But what is different is that it’s set in New Orleans during and immediately after the winds of Hurricane Katrina sent 80 percent of the Big Easy under toxic floodwater, many places for more than a month or two. It was a risky choice, because Katrina is still fresh in a lot of people’s minds. Katrina was painful. But after going through Katrina myself and writing about the hurricane and recovery for years afterward in my day job at Tulane University, I thought I was in a unique position to tackle it with sensitivity, accuracy, and respect.
2) The Historical Undead. New Orleans has a rich history, and I wanted to be able to use characters like the “gentleman pirate” Jean Lafitte, voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and jazz great Louis Armstrong. So in Royal Street, famous former humans are given immortality by the magic of human memory. When the hurricane tears down the “metaphysical levees” between modern New Orleans and the preternatural world Beyond, these figures are suddenly able to re-enter the city at will. Much mayhem ensues.
3) Wait…Is That Wizard Wearing a Skirt? Before I started writing Royal Street, I’d read a speech transcript from fantasy author Terry Pratchett called “Why Gandalf Never Married.” It was an eye-opener for me. Fantasy literature, Pratchett points out, has a glass ceiling where women and magic are concerned. In fantasy literature where both witches and wizards are present, wizards are always more powerful, and are predominantly male. This pissed me off. Why can’t a woman be a wizard? Why can’t she be more powerful than a witch? This idea colored how my non-gender-biased magical world was constructed. Women and men can be wizards although, as in the real world, there’s a powerful ruling body of stick-in-the-mud middle-aged white males who are making the (often asinine) decisions. While the men argue, the woman wizard goes out and gets things done.
4) Hey…Where’s the Sex? There’s a hint of sexual awareness in Royal Street, but I made a conscious decision to have it play a very backstage role. Mostly because of the book’s Katrina setting. My heroine (the wizard, thank you very much) has watched the city she loved be destroyed. She’s trying to find her mentor, who’s gone missing. She has serious abandonment issues anyway, and has led a pretty sheltered life as far as guys are concerned. She’s running from a revenge-seeking undead pirate. Within this setting, I thought it would be inappropriate, not to mention unrealistic, to have her drop everything for a quickie, much less fall madly in love. I was there for the Katrina aftermath. Believe me, romance was the last thing on my mind. Want romance? Wait for books two and three, which move the story a couple of years after the storm.
5) Is That (Gulp) an Ending? Why, yes it is. I hate cliffhangers. They tick me off, especially when I’m going to have to wait six months or a year for the next book. There are some issues left unfinished in Royal Street, it is true—there are ongoing storylines, like a possible romance, that simmer beneath the surface of the series as it progresses from book to book. But as far as the main conflict goes? It’s wrapped up. Not everyone will like it, but it was the punctuation I needed at the end of my sentence.
Did my five “difference markers” work in Royal Street? In the end, only the readers can decide!
ABOUT ROYAL STREET, by Suzanne Johnson
Released April 10 by Tor Books
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 the soldiers sent to help the city recover. To make it worse, Gerry 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 for the serial 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.
Visit Suzanne Online:
Suzanne’s blog: http://suzanne-johnson.blogspot.com
On Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Suzanne_Johnson
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Suzanne.Johnson.author