The Care and Feeding of an Undead Pirate: Behind the Scenes of Pirate’s Alley

lily-2Happy Tuesday! Sadly, I’m back at Ye Olde Day Jobbe today, but it was great to get an extra day off to spend on my current work-in-progress. Yes, I’m back in New Orleans (at least in my head) with DJ and Alex and, of course, Captain Lafitte! I thought I’d share a little of my process today, which you might find totally boring but…I do have a very special giveaway goodie to make it worth your time!

First, thought, I do have some winners from last week, which I didn’t want to announce until I was sure this newfangled blog thing was going to work.

I also have a favor to ask of you who are reading Lovely, Dark, and Deep (a new episode today!); when you feel you’ve read enough of the book to form an opinion, a review on Amazon would be greatly appreciated! (Yes, even if you think it sucks monkey toes.) The link on the book title will take you to the Amazon page. Oh, and for those of you who are waiting for the print edition, I believe the release date will be May 13. Which might be my birthday and I will be in New Orleans…I think celebrations might occur!

Weekly winners! The process is the same: if you see your name, please email me at suzannej3523 at gmail dot com with your mailing info and, if applicable, your preference of digital or print.

AURIAN won the Reader’s Choice contest last week, and elected to give Vitro to SULLIVAN MCPIG. (Aw, that’s sweet!)

STEPH F won a copy of Ann Gimpel’s Dragon Maid. This is a digital copy for Kindle, so I’ll need your preferred email.

Note that the Paula Millhouse and Cindy Spencer Pape giveaways are part of the author tours, so if you won one of their prizes you’ll get a separate email from the tour organizer.

So, I thought it might be interesting to show you some of my writing process. It has changed a lot in the last year as I used Allegiance (Penton 4) as my testing ground to figure out how to write using the Scrivener software. It felt awkward after so long writing with tons of MS Word folders scattered all over my hard drive, but I got through it. Then I wrote Lovely, Dark, and Deep and really began to appreciate how well it allowed me to organize materials–especially photographs and research documents. I still did my actual plotting in an MS Word document, thought.

With Pirates Alley (Sentinels 4), I have worked entirely in Scrivener, and have decided I really love it because it lets me be as OCD as I want to in organizing materials. For example, here’s a screen shot where I began organizing my world building. The Sentinels world and the Beyond and all that entails…it’s enormous. I have the key power players, though, some of whom haven’t made it into any books yet, so this shows that Faery exists as a place, for example, and the Realm of Vampyre. We’ve met a few vamps in Elysian Fields but haven’t been to their stomping grounds. Yet. *cue evil laugh*


The way I plot my novels is by building on the different relationships and then weaving all of them together. (LOL. That’s a one sentence summary of an online workshop it takes me a month to teach.) Here, on the left, you can see where I’ve broken down my character list. And–sneak preview!–you might see a couple of new names in there.


Hmm…who are those people?

Next, I make sure each character is fleshed out with a profile sheet. These carry over from book to book, and get added to as I write in new bits of backstory or major events. Here’s an example of part of DJ’s sheet–hers is, of course, the longest.

DJ Character Page

Finally, I take each one of those characters and write down their relationship with every other character on the list, where the relationship stands at the beginning of the book, where I want it to be at the end of the book, and how it might go from one to the other. You can see those folders over to the left. Then I weave together all those strands of plot and–voila–it’s done! Well, except for that whole writing a hundred-thousand words part.

Relationship Arcs

There are also folders set up for major settings and photos–so I have pictures, for example, of what the real Eudora Welty Suite at the Hotel Monteleone, home of Jean Lafitte, looks like. One of the major set pieces of Pirate’s Alley will be the Celebration of the Oaks event held at New Orleans’ City Park every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so there are lots of photos of that in my settings folder.

And there you have it! Leave a comment or question about the Sentinels series or the writing process to be entered to win a 24×30 print of “Bayou Lafayette” by New Orleans artist Lily Parish. There’s a closeup of part of it at the top of the post, and the whole thing below. I used to work in the same building with Lily when I was in New Orleans, and she’s one of the wonderful artists that paint each weekend in Jackson Square. This is matted and signed, but isn’t framed, and I’ll sign it on back as well. It’s gorgeous! Extra entries for tweeting and following me on Facebook (or if you already follow, just let me know).


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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

27 thoughts on “The Care and Feeding of an Undead Pirate: Behind the Scenes of Pirate’s Alley

  1. I’ve often wondered how different authors write. I’m sure some aren’t as organized as you are; those are sometimes the ones that have all kinds of consistency errors πŸ™‚

  2. Very pretty print. And I stalk you everywhere I can find you πŸ˜‰

    Also: Yay! *hugs to you and Aurian*

  3. Susan,do you ever have problems keeping track of things from previous books? I’ve seen authors on Facebook asking readers for information about something from a previous book in a series.

    I already follow you on Facebook.

    • Hi Sandy–yes, I’m notorious for putting ALBATROSS in my manuscript as I write. That’s my code word for something I need to look up–a name or a detail from a previous book. When I finish writing I go back through doing a search for “albatross” and fill in the blanks. So if anyone finds that word in one of my books, that means it slipped past both me and the copyeditor!

    • It’s a really cool program, Dawn! My only complaint with it (besides the fact that it does a lot of things I haven’t uncovered yet) is that I never found a way to switch files between the PC and Mac platforms. It was only when I switched to Mac at home (I already used it at work) that I really began playing with Scrivener.

  4. Wow, Scrivener seems pretty awesome for keeping everything organized! I’ve heard of a few authors who really like using it.

    +1 facebook follow
    +1 RT (lenamoster)

    • It’s great for someone like me, who needs to check research facts and who writes from an outline. I used to have to stop and find a particular file to fact-check, which meant I’d get distracted by the Internet and, thirty minutes later, would forget what I was looking for to begin with πŸ™‚ This way, everything’s in easy reach.

  5. Wonderful picture, made me think of one of your stories, where some bad stuff happened in the swamp. Waiting for the next episode of Lovely, Dark, and Deep. Enjoying the serial novel a lot. Think I’ve read enough to give it 5 stars.

  6. Thanks for the peek behind the curtain. Am very curious about how an author creates a story. You seem extremely organized!

    • In some ways I’m really organized; in other ways, not so much. I’ll quote my first-grade teacher, who on my report card in the section grading “neatness,” wrote: “Work, yes. Desk, no.” Yeah, and that’s still the case!

  7. Great series! I’m excited for the fourth book. And I’m already following you on Facebook. (But I don’t twitter-sorry)

  8. So totally cool to see how you do your work in progress! The picture is beautiful too! Thanks for the giveaway!

  9. Lol I loved the book The care and feeding of Pirates by Jennifer Ashley, so I appreciate your twist on the title.
    Of course I follow you on Facebook and Twitter already.
    And Sullivan, congrats πŸ™‚ Another belated birthday present.

  10. Gorgeous painting! and it’s quite inspiring.
    i’m always surprised to see how organised you are for writing i guess i’m still too old school with a big stack of paper instead of the computer and all the programs^^

    • Funny you mention old-school, Miki. Despite all the computers, when I get stuck on a plot point on a novel, I turn everything off and get out a notebook and a pen and start brainstorming the old-fashioned way. I think it forces my brain to slow down so my handwriting can keep up, and helps me think.

  11. That’s a gorgeous painting! I just know where I’d put it and it would certainly remind me of a certain SEXY undead pirate.

    It’s very interesting to read how my fav authors develop their stories and characters. Thank you for sharing Suzanne. :-)))

    • Thank you! Yes, you could just imagine him there. This is sort of how I imagined the setting of the first scene of Royal Street, our first experience with the big sexy pirate πŸ™‚

  12. What a fascinating post! It is always interesting to learn how an author creates a story. Even though it is complex, Scrivener seems like a very useful organizational tool. Thanks for sharing your writing process.

  13. I love your “Sentinel’s Of New Orleans” series and I am looking forward to reading “The Penton Legacy” series. I enjoy your style of writing. Looking forward to #4. πŸ™‚