Marlene: Suzanne can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Suzanne: I’m a seventh-generation Alabamian but consider New Orleans and Houston more my “hometowns” because I lived and worked in both of those cities for a long time, especially New Orleans. At the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I’d been living in New Orleans for twelve years, working as a magazine editor at Tulane University. I stayed and helped with rebuilding for a few years after the hurricane but then moved back to Alabama for family reasons. My Katrina experiences are what drove me to start writing fiction after a career in journalism and longform feature writing. Royal Street, the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, came directly from my own Katrina experiences. By the time I finished that book, I was hooked on fiction! Now I can’t imagine not writing it.
Marlene: Do you also write as Susannah Sandlin? What do you see as the difference between your two “identities”?
Suzanne: Yes, that’s me! The books written under the Susannah Sandlin name are darker paranormal romance. They’re written in multiple points of view, each book in my dystopian vampire series features a different hero and heroine, and they have a strong thriller element—a lot of action. The urban fantasy books are more playful, they follow a single heroine and her cast of followers, and while there are romantic elements, the characters’ romantic journeys are not the main reason for the book. I love writing both genres. They have a lot in common from a reader perspective, but they’re very different to write.
Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing. Are you a planner or pantser?
Suzanne: I have a full-time job in addition to writing from three to four novels a year, so I have to stay organized…which means I’m definitely a planner. I spend a good bit of time working on the story before I ever begin writing. I don’t plot it down to the nanosecond, because I want to be able to let my characters take over the story and surprise me, but I need that structure to keep the story moving ahead. A typical day? Man, this sounds boring. On weekdays, I work my day job, then come home and write three or four hours after dinner. On Saturdays and Sundays, I usually put in from eight to twelve hours of writing per day. That’s when I get the most done.
Marlene: You’ve made New Orleans as much of a character in the Sentinels series as any of the humans or preternaturals. How much of real life in New Orleans is in the story?
Suzanne: The New Orleans in the Sentinels books is VERY real. I’ve been gratified by the number of New Orleanians who’ve emailed to tell me how right I got not only the post-Katrina city but life in the city in general. It’s a beautiful, frustrating, fascinating place to live, and I wanted this series to pay homage to that because I love the city so much. Living in New Orleans is SO different than what visitors experience when they come and only see the French Quarter. Bourbon Street really is not New Orleans; it’s like a New Orleans-on-steroid theme park for visitors. So in the books is life as a resident. Most of the places the characters go are real places, and the settings and situations are real…well, except for the preternatural part!
Marlene: Do you see the Sentinels of New Orleans series as Drusilla’s journey?
Suzanne: Definitely. When I had the idea for Royal Street, I had been thinking a lot about the lessons Katrina taught me and a lot of my friends. That your whole life can be ripped apart in a matter of seconds. That a lot of the things you value in life are just so much stuff and when it’s taken away, you survive. That you have to let people help you, hard as that is. And that people respond to stress in different ways, and you have to respect that. Some people cry. Some make jokes. Some lead. Some fall apart.
So I created DJ as a young woman who’s just beginning to find her place in the world when the hurricane hits. Her journey is that of a woman (okay, a wizard) who has to learn who she is and what she can do without being able to rely on the things—parents, mentors, social networks—that most of us rely on to help us define ourselves. Wow, that’s too deep. It really is a fun series, with a lot of humor!
Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?
Suzanne: The third book in the series, Elysian Fields, will be out on August 13 and readers will really start to see the brewing conflict as the different preternatural groups—especially the elves and wizards—begin to figure out who are allies and who are enemies.
Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?
Suzanne: Well, despite my nerdy answer above, first and foremost, they really are a fun read, especially as they begin to move away from the Katrina tragedy. Two, they differ from a lot of urban fantasy in that they really make use of the South Louisiana setting (my merfolk in River Road, for example, are aquatic Cajun shapeshifters). Three, they have wizards and undead French pirates and sneaky elves—seriously, how can you resist that?
Marlene: What made you choose to start writing urban fantasy? Or what genre do you think that the Sentinels series falls into?
Suzanne: Urban fantasy has been one of my favorite genres for a long time—back to when Anita Blake was about the only urban fantasy game in town. I’d definitely classify the Sentinels series as urban fantasy. There are romantic elements in the books, but they aren’t the dominant storyline. That story is what happens in New Orleans and in the preternatural world when Hurricane Katrina tears down the borders between our world and the world beyond. And DJ’s journey of growing up and growing into her skills, and part of her journey is learning to love and accept love in return.
Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?
Suzanne: I love the creative rush—that point where the characters kind of take over and spin the story in a way you hadn’t expected. It’s mysterious and cool, and I have no idea how it happens…but it does.
Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.
Suzanne: Where I get a lot of my character names—LOL. Drusilla was a great-grandmother. Another great-grandmother had the surname Jaco. Eugenie’s mysterious boyfriend, Rand, is named after my great-grandfather Rand Sandlin….and yes, Susannah Sandlin was my great-great grandmother. So I steal family names shamelessly.
Marlene: What’s a book you’ve faked reading?
Suzanne: Probably the most shamelessly, Moby Dick. And I made an A on the exam because it was essay questions and I’m good at b-s. I still haven’t read it.
Marlene: What’s a book you’ve bought for the cover?
Suzanne: I really can’t think of one. I tend to buy online and that kind of cover-browsing that’s possible in a physical bookstore doesn’t work online. I’ll buy for the blurb, or because I read the first few pages and liked the voice. Or because I know the author’s other work.
Marlene: What book would you most want to read again for the first time?
Suzanne: The Harry Potter series. What fun! It’s good on the re-read, but the discovery was amazing.
Marlene: Morning person or night owl?
Suzanne: Despite having to do most of my writing at night, I am definitely a morning person. I zone out about 3 p.m. and don’t re-energize until about 8.
Thanks for having me here!