Today I’d like to welcome Susannah Sandlin. She’s in the process of writing a paranormal serial, so I was excited to chat with her about the process. Note – there’s a giveaway at the end of the post. Comment on this post to go into the draw. Over to Susannah!
1. Who is Susannah Sandlin?
Well, the “original” Susannah Sandlin was my gggg-grandmother, who traveled by wagon from South Carolina to the Alabama wilderness in the early 1800s. So I like to think I’m a bit like her, because I figure she was a tough cookie. I’m a focused workaholic who spends my days editing a university magazine and my nights writing fantasy. I’d like to say I’m a world-traveling, jet-setting glamour-puss, but actually I’m a smartass, geeky homebody. Sigh. But after almost fifteen years in New Orleans, I do have a wacky side…and a preoccupation with alligators.
2. Your book Storm Force is available in serial format with a later release date for the full novel. What made you decide to serialize Storm Force, and what differences did you find during the writing of your story?
It’s more different than I imagined when I took it on. I originally proposed Storm Force as a novel, but my publisher had started experimenting with some serial novels in the romantic suspense genre and thought I’d be a good candidate to try a paranormal serial. To write a serial novel, an author has to write fast, hit tight deadlines, and write fairly clean copy that doesn’t need much revision.
The biggest difference from a writing standpoint is in the plotting. I normally plot out a book beginning with chapter one and continuing through to the end. With the serial, I had to plot out nine “episodes” of from 8,000-10,000 words each, with each episode ending at a point of high tension. Kind of like a TV series that has an ongoing story and ends each week with a bit of a cliffhanger.
3. Did you experience any particular challenges while writing your serial installments? Any tricks or tips to pass on to other writers?
Set a daily word count and do your best to stick to it, because there’s no time to make up those lost words and the schedule is brutal. I don’t think a pantser could write a serial without going crazy because there’s no going back to fix anything. The book goes straight from me to copyediting to publishing in only a week or two. Episode Three released this week, and I just turned in Episode Five, so the first part of the book is in readers’ hands while I’m still writing the middle and end.
On the one hand, it’s really cool to read people’s comments on the discussion boards or on review sites because I’m able to see which characters they’re resonating with. So if a lot of people were reacting negatively to a character, for example, I could decide to kill him off, or take him in a different direction. It’s like a “living novel” in that sense, and probably as close as the reader’s ever going to get to being inside a writer’s head and influencing where a book goes.
4. You write dark paranormal stories. Do you do anything special to get in a dark mood?
LOL. No, my mind just seems to go there—I think I take out my day-job frustrations on my characters! I spend a lot of time THINKING about the story before I ever start writing—part of that plotting process. And even with an outline, before I begin writing each new scene I go through what I have planned and think: How can I make it darker? How can I raise the stakes? I play out different scenarios in my head to figure out how I want to craft each chapter.
5. What do you think makes a dark paranormal story? i.e. what are the ingredients of a good dark paranormal?
I think the stakes have to be very, very high in a dark paranormal—either in setting or character, or (preferably) both. In Storm Force, a terrorist bombing in Houston has killed a lot of people, the Texas governor is either dead or missing, and there’s a credible threat of a repeat in New Orleans in two weeks. (Oh yeah, and there’s a hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico.) So our combined human-shapeshifter team has to work fast and, of course, they get in WAY over their heads by falling into the middle of a big paranormal power play. On a personal level, the hero, Kell, is a human Army Ranger coming off a back injury who needs to prove he’s still got the chops for active duty, and the heroine, Mori, is being forced by her family to marry a man twice her age that she hates—and she’s being framed for the bombing. So there’s a lot at stake, and the consequences of failure are dire.
6. What does your writing space look like, and is there any particular thing you must have or do before you begin a writing session?
I have an office at home where I do most of my writing. It’s on the second floor of the house, so I’m away from everyone and everything. I work on a 17-inch laptop and use a big square oak game table as my desk. The room has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along one entire wall next to my desk, so I keep reference books within easy reach. I write to music except on first draft. Right now, I’m listening to a song by French-Canadian singer-songwriter David Jalbert called “Notre Histoire.”
7. Do you have a question for visitors to help them interact with you?
I love to chat with readers! This is, as far as I know, the first paranormal romance to be published as a serial (and as a regular novel on July 9)—so I’m curious as to what people think of the idea of being able to influence the story and read it very soon after it’s created? Or would you wait until all nine episodes were available to start reading?
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment, and a winner will be chosen on April 12 to win either a copy of Storm Force or their choice of one of the Penton Legacy novels (print, digital or audio). International entries welcome.
Omega Force #1
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date of Publication: March 19, 2013, in serial form for Kindle; July 9, 2013, in print, digital, and audio.
Word Count: approx. 90,000
As leader of the elite counter-terrorism team Omega Force, former army ranger Jack “Kell” Kellison is always focused on getting the job done. So when a Houston high-rise is bombed and the governor killed or missing, Kell’s mission is clear: infiltrate the group suspected of the bombing and neutralize the threat by any means necessary. But once Kell meets beautiful chief suspect Mori Chastaine, he realizes there’s more to this case than meets the eye. And more to Mori than any man—any human man—could imagine.
Mori Chastaine is running out of options. Suspected for a crime she didn’t commit, forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, she sees no escape—until Kell walks through her door. A lifetime hiding her true nature warns her Kell might not be who he seems. But he could be the only one able to help save more innocent humans from becoming pawns in an ancient paranormal power play. If Mori reveals her secret, will Kell join her fight? Or will she become his next target?
Kell spotted the bird as soon as its wingtips cleared the edge of the cypress stand at the eastern rim of Bayou Cote Blanche. For a moment, he indulged a hope it might be a hawk in search of fish, or a pelican, or a cormorant, or a fucking giant mutant hummingbird.
Anything but an eagle.
“It’s her.” At the sound of his voice, Gator raised his spotted head and focused sharp, mismatched eyes on the horizon, barking furiously in his Catahoula big-dog voice, usually reserved for alligators and swamp rats.
Kell had been sitting on the porch of his cabin at Cote Blanche since Nik’s phone call from New Orleans two hours ago, waiting to see who’d arrive first—the man or the bird.
Should’ve known it would be the freakazoid eagle with the deceptively sweet name of Robin. He’d come to think of her as Razorblade Robin. Nik would have to rent a boat in Jeanerette and navigate the serpentine waterways of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Swamp to get here. Razorblade Robin could just sprout feathers and soar.
The midday sun glinted off the glossy reddish-brown wings of the golden eagle as it swooped over the smooth, murky water of the bayou and landed with a harsh caw at the end of his dock. Gator rose to his feet and looked up at Kell, asking permission to chase.
“Sorry, buddy. You don’t want to mess with that one. She can take you.” Hell, she could take both of them.
Kell took a final look at the pile of papers he’d been reading—notes about his team’s new assignment. Mostly, he’d been studying the photo on top of the stack. The woman, Emory Chastaine, an environmental activist well known in tree-hugger circles, had been photographed from a distance with a telephoto lens that gave the image a grainy feel, made worse by his generator-powered printer. But he could tell she was tall, athletic-looking in a t-shirt and jeans, shoulder-length blond hair, pretty in an all-American kind of way.
Not his image of a terrorist. Which made her even more dangerous.
Gator sprang off the porch as the eagle strutted down the dock toward them. He approached the bird in a crouch, his growls echoing off the still water. Damn dog never did listen worth a flip. Kell leaned back in his chair to watch the show. With a screech and a blur of feathers seconds before Gator reached her, the eagle morphed into a petite, waifish brunette.
Make that a naked, waifish brunette with a snark-tastic attitude who arched an eyebrow when Kell’s vicious watchdog turn into a slobbering, tail-wagging fool, jumping up and down so vigorously his black and white spots seemed to blur. You’d think the hound saw birds turn into people every day.
If Gator went the crotch-sniffing route, Kell might have to die of pure humiliation.
Not like the naked bird-woman came as any big surprise. He reached for the t-shirt he’d thrown across the other porch chair and tossed it to her as she approached, Gator dancing around her legs. “Put this on.”
Robin Ashton, five-foot-nothing of shapeshifter and the tracker for Kell’s new Omega Force team, caught the shirt and used it to wipe the sweat off her face. “It’s like a sauna out here. Pretty, though, if you’re into the primordial.”
She turned to study the bayou, a minor niche in the massive Atchafalaya basin, and Kell made it a point to keep his eyes away from her ass. It wasn’t that he wanted to look at it, exactly, but he was a guy, and it was right in front of him.
About the Author:
Susannah Sandlin is the author of paranormal romance set in the Deep South, where there are always things that go bump in the night. A journalist by day, Susannah grew up in Alabama reading the gothic novels of Susan Howatch and the horror fantasy of Stephen King. (Um…it is fantasy, right?) The combination of Howatch and King probably explains a lot. Currently a resident of Auburn, Alabama, Susannah has also lived in Illinois, Texas, California, and Louisiana.
Indie Bound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781612183541
New Episode Release Schedule for Storm Force
March 19–episode 1
March 26–episode 2
April 2–episode 3
April 9–episode 4
April 16–episode 5
April 23–episode 6
April 30–episode 7
May 7–episode 8
May 14–episode 9
The release date for the complete book is July 9.