Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Fave Kind of Serial With Guest Blogger: Suzanne Johnson

The Book Boost is proud to guest host author Suzanne Johnson! She has two amazing new books on the horizon and I cannot wait to read them! Read more about them below as well as your chance to win YOUR choice of 2 great prizes!

Suzanne is here to discuss my fave kind of mean serial!
I love series novels and here's what she had to say...

Serial Killers: Weaving the Threads of a Series

Let’s face it, a novel is a complex life form, whether it’s set in the “real” world, a fantasy world or in my case, as an author of urban fantasy/paranormal romance, a blend of the two. Once you get that first book under your belt, doing a sequel or creating a series should be a piece of cake, right? Your characters are already created, some of their relationships are established, your world is already built. Easy peasy.

Yeah, right.

When I sat down to plot River Road, the second book in my series set in post-Katrina New Orleans, I spent days looking at my characters and wondering where to start. I had eight characters, four of whom I’d consider major players, coming over from the first book in ongoing subplots.

I can’t say which eight, or I’d have to kill you. And, blatant plug time: the first in the series, Royal Street, will be coming soon from Tor Books!

I also had eight fairly significant new characters and a half-dozen bit players forming new subplots or contributing to existing ones. And, in addition to the ongoing subplots, of course, there was a major plot to carry the book.

Oh, and did I mention that of these twenty or so old and new characters, only three are human and the rest represent nine other preternatural species, each with its own quirks and appearances and culture? Most of that backstory doesn’t get into the actual book, but I have to know it in order to characterize them well.


My hobby is making paper-pieced quilts or it used to be before I started writing novels and no longer had time for hobbies and the pattern of an intricate quilt formed from thousands of tiny snippets of fabric can be amazing. Just as amazing is how the entire pattern can be thrown off by one piece that is left out or gets put in the wrong spot or goes in upside down.

Writing a series, I’ve learned, is a lot like making a quilt. There are tons of loose ends to tie up, hundreds of details to follow for consistency, plots and subplots and sons of subplots that must be dealt with in a manner that, somehow, in the end, all feels organic and natural and simple to the reader.

Yeah, right.

If you’re a pantser and not a plotter, by the way, this is the part where your eyes will start to bug out and glaze over, and you’ll find yourself nose-down in the keyboard.

In a nutshell, I take each character and write his or her story arc for the entire book in sentences, color-code the arcs by character, then disassemble the sentences arranged by character and rearrange them in the order I want them to appear in the book. I can look at the color distribution and see where a character disappears for too long and needs to make an appearance, or where another character might be hogging all the story time. In the end, ta-da: series outline.

Okay, you pantsers can wake up now. Have a nice nap?

As I complete the process for the third book in the series and begin contemplating even a fourth (because I’m optimistic like that), I realize how important this organizational process is even though it seems to fly in the face of “creativity.” Sometimes, in order to free ourselves to be creative, we have to tie up all our loose threads. The other option is to become Charlaine Harris or Laurell K Hamilton and get big enough to hire someone who keeps up with dangling threads for you.

Yeah, right.

A Note From the Book Boost: I never knew you were so organized, Suzanne! And color coded too? Geez. I'm one of those pantser types and proud of it. Of course, my eyes do glaze over from time to time. So, color me...impressed! Okay then...tell us all more about your first book (soon to be released from Tor books)!


People in New Orleans say Hurricane Katrina changed everything, but they don’t know the half of it.

Just ask wizard DJ Jaco, who finds her post-Katrina Big Easy not only beset by wind and water, but a horde of invaders storming the breaches between modern New Orleans and the supernatural world Beyond.

DJ’s boss is missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-totin’ assassin as her new partner, a vengeance-minded undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants her to walk his plank, and one very human bar owner with killer dimples keeps distracting her.

What’s a wizard to do?


[Friday, August 26, 2005, as a tiny tropical storm named Katrina is churning in the Gulf of Mexico…]

A secluded Louisiana bayou. A sexy pirate. Seduction and deceit. My Friday afternoon had all the makings of a great romantic adventure, at least in theory.

In practice, angry mosquitoes were using me for target practice, humidity had ruined any prayer of a good hair day, and the pirate in question--the infamous Jean Lafitte--was two-hundred years old, armed, and carrying a six-pack of Paradise condoms in assorted fruit flavors.

I wasn’t sure what unnerved me more—the fact that the historical undead had discovered erotic accessories, or that Lafitte felt the need to practice safe sex.

Nothing about the pirate looked safe. Tall and broad-shouldered, he had dark blue eyes and a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth as he watched me set two glasses and a bottle of dark rum on a rickety wooden table. A tanned, muscular chest peeked from his open-collared shirt, and shaggy dark hair framed a clean-shaven face. A jagged scar across his jaw reminded me the so-called gentleman pirate also had his ruthless side.

He’d arrived by way of a stolen boat at this isolated cabin near Delacroix, a half-hour outside New Orleans, to pursue two of the world’s most timeless pleasures: sex and money. I’d met him here to play the role of a gullible young wizard falling under the spell of the legendary pirate, at least for a while. Then I’d do my duty as deputy sentinel and send his swashbuckling hide back to the Beyond, where he could rub shoulders with other undead legends and preternatural creatures unfit for polite human company.

My hand shook as I poured, sloshing a few drops of amber liquid over the side of the glass. I’d finally been given a serious assignment, and I needed it to go without a hitch.

Lafitte’s fingers brushed mine as he took the glass. “Merci, Mademoiselle Jaco—or may I call you Drusilla?”

Actually, I’d prefer he didn’t call me, period. Despite his obvious hopes for the evening, this wasn’t a date. “Most people call me DJ.”

“Bah,” he said, taking a sip of rum. “Those are alphabet letters, not a name.”

From beneath the red sash that accented his narrow waist, Lafitte pulled a modern semiautomatic handgun and set it on the table next to the rum bottle. I knew how he’d gotten it—he’d rolled the Tulane student that summoned him, taken the kid’s wallet and iPod, rode the streetcar to Canal Street, and made a trade for the gun. Enterprising guy, Lafitte.

I’d like to say if he touched me again, I’d demand a raise from the wizards’ Congress of Elders, or at least a hazard bonus. Double if it involved lips. But who was I kidding? My boss Gerry only sent me on this run because he had something else to do and knew Lafitte might respond to my questionable seduction skills.

It must have worked, because the pirate was giving me that head-to-toe appraisal guys do on instinct, like they’re assessing a juicy slab of beef and deciding whether they want it rare, medium, or well-done.

“You really are lovely, Drusilla.” The timbre of Lafitte’s voice sent vibrations down my spine as I fought the urge to touch him. Holy crap. I wasn’t supposed to be absorbing his lust. Empaths shouldn’t soak up feelings from the undead, should they?

Want more Suzanne?

Visit her website here:

Or her daily blog, Preternatura, here:

Contest Time:

Suzanne is offering one lucky commenter YOUR choice of the following:

A new copy of what she called “the best book on what New Orleanians experienced during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina” journalist Chris Rose’s One Dead In Attic. The book, named after a message spray-painted on the side of a flooded house by a first responder, contains a collection of columns Rose wrote for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Suzanne, a resident of New Orleans during and after Katrina, says, “Chris’ columns chronicled the tragedy and horror and absurdity and heartbreak we all went through as the city struggled back to its feet. If there’s one must-read book about New Orleans and Katrina and what it was like to live through it, this is the one.”

OR...A one chapter critique of your manuscript or work in progress!

Winner will be announced next week here at the blog in the Recent Winners box on the right hand side of the blog. Check back to see if you've won!


April Ash said...

I love how you compare paper-piece quilting (I'd never heard of it) with writing. Definite similarities in "weaving" both together, and if one "piece" is not done right, it throws off the whole story/quilt.
Great blog!

Anonymous said...

I loved your excerpt, Suzanne! And I'm fascinated by paper-piece quilting. As a quilter myself, I've never ventured into this form of the craft. Far too complex for me. So it probably comes as no surprise that my character arcs are not color-coded (and are mostly in my head).

Can't wait to read your novels!


P.A.Brown said...

1 In the Attic sounds like a heck of a book. The post-Katrina world is a tragic and fascinating one, full of both all the good and bad in human nature.

Suzanne said...

April and Kat--I'd never realized till I started writing this blog how much my passion for paper-pieced quilting and my, ahem, OCD plotting style were related! Lots of little pieces tediously put together into what (I hope) makes a cohesive whole!

Suzanne said...

P.A.--"One Dead in Attic" is amazing. I lived about a half-mile from the author, so his experiences paralleled mine. It was a surreal time. Thanks for stopping by!

Lynnette Labelle said...

I'd love to see those color codes in action.

Great excerpt. Can't wait to read more!

Lynnette Labelle

Dawn Chartier said...

More! More! More! Such as tease, Suzanne...

I can't wait to read your books!


Anonymous said...

"Pantser" Kari here. And Suzanne, you had me thinking I wanna be like you when I grow up! LOL! WOW--great organization! Ive been debating writing a Series for ages now and had almost convinced myself to try. HA. Im not ready!!

Cant wait to read your books!!

hugs, Kari Thomas,

Frufrock said...

Love it! And the vision of Lafitte wandering around N.O. trying to swap out an iPod for a gun is going to stay with for a long time! I know it's already been mentioned but the comparison between building a story and building a quilt pattern is really intriguing. I'm impressed by your organization and can easily see how the details you work into all your writing DO build onto each other (and fit together) in the same way a quilt pattern grows. Each piece both adds to and depends on the other pieces it touches in order for the story to be complete. Very nice. Thanks for sharing!

Suzanne said...

Thanks, everyone! And Kari--go ahead and stick your feet in the series waters. They're pretty murky but fun :-)

Martha Lawson said...

Hi Suzanne! You are a new to me author, but I loved the excerpt!! I will definitely be on the lookout for your books. I love anything written about New Orleans.
Please enter me in the contest.

I follow on gfc

mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

PatriotPaul said...

I totally concur with Suzanne. "One Dead in Attic" has been my fav read thus far regarding Katrina and the levee failures, even more enjoyable than reading my own Katrina memoir. At the Amer. Library Assoc. mtg. in NOLA I purchased 7 copies from Chris Rose.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

catslady said...

I really enjoyed the excerpt and would love to read more.


C.J. Ellisson said...

So sorry I'm lat echiming in! Excellent post! I loved the comparison (as did everyone here!) and am mucho impressed with the color coding idea!

Your excerpt blew me away, Suzanne! You'll be quickly flying off the charts with such amazing prose. And I want an copy!! I can't wait to read it. I promise to buy one, but would LOVE to have one pre-release if they let you.

Don't forget your buds when you get uber famous. That story rocks!