Understanding Our Relationship With Our Roots with A.J. Larrieu and Win a Book

Today, please join me in welcoming author A.J. Larrieu to Preternatura.  A.J. is stopping by today to help celebrate the release of her latest book, Twisted Miracles.  Twisted Miracles was released on April 7 and is published by Carina Press.

A.J. Larrieu grew up in small-town Louisiana, where she spent her summers working in her family’s bakery, exploring the swamps around her home and reading science fiction and fantasy novels under the covers. She attended Louisiana State University, where she majored in biochemistry and wrote bad poetry on the side. Despite pursuing a Ph.D. in biology, she couldn’t kick the writing habit, and she wrote her first novel in graduate school. It wasn’t very good, but she kept at it, and by the time she graduated, she had an addiction to writing sexy urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Her recently released debut novel, Twisted Miracles, kicks off her dark, romantic urban fantasy series, The Shadowminds, which follows a group of humans with psychic powers through New Orleans’ supernatural underworld. A.J. is currently a working biophysicist in San Francisco, where she lives with her family and too many books.  You can learn more about A.J. by visiting her website, on facebook or by following her on twitter.

TwistedMiracles_AJLarrieuABOUT TWISTED MIRACLES:  Cass Weatherfield’s powers come with a deadly price. Cass knows it was her telekinetic gift that killed a college classmate five years back, even if no one else believes her. She’s lived in hiding from her fellow shadowminds ever since, plagued by guilt and suppressing her abilities with sedatives. Until the night her past walks back into her life in the form of sexy Shane Tanner, the ex-boyfriend who trained her…and the one she left without saying goodbye. When Shane tells her that his twin sister, Mina—Cass’s childhood friend—is missing, Cass vows to help, which means returning to New Orleans to use her dangerous skills in the search. But finding Mina only leads to darker questions. As Cass and Shane race to learn who is targeting shadowminds, they find themselves drawn to each other, body and soul. Just as their powerful intimacy reignites, events take a terrifying turn, and Cass realizes that to save the people she loves, she must embrace the powers that ruined her life.

And now, let’s hear from A.J….

Writing Stories from the South: Understanding My Relationship with a Complicated Place

by AJ Larrieu

It seems that stories set in the South are an essential sub-genre of all forms of fiction. Particularly in the paranormal canon, there are series set everywhere from New Orleans to Atlanta and every small town in between. Maybe it’s trendy, but for me (and, I think, for many authors of Southern fiction), writing these stories is only natural. I was raised in a small town in Louisiana, a place with only one public high school, a single Winn Dixie on the edge of town, and three snowball stands in the summer. We got a McDonald’s when I was sixteen, but most folks still went to the locally-owned barbecue joint three blocks down. I spent most of my childhood getting muddy and lost in the woods. The place had its problems—some of them big ones—but for better or worse, it was home.

It wasn’t until I grew up and moved to a different part of the country that I found out how other people see the South. New acquaintances were blown away by the fact that the lake behind my parents’ place had been home to an alligator, something that had never been all that interesting to us. The swamps, the Spanish moss, the gumbo I made for weekend football-watching parties—all of these things were exotic, objects of fascination. Then there was the other side of the coin. The people who, in the aftermath of Katrina—a storm that destroyed the homes of some of my family members—told me we should’ve let New Orleans drown. The people who said Louisiana sounded like a good place to be from, a place that I, of course, must be relieved to have escaped.

I can understand some of these negative impressions—I know plenty ofAJLarrieu_headshot escapees. And, like many places, the South’s personality is complex. There is no single story that can capture it. The region is held together by a strong culture of family and community loyalty, connections with a unique landscape, and one-of-a-kind cuisine. (If you don’t think food can form the fabric of a community, I’d like to invite you to one of my family’s holiday dinners.) These characteristics form part of the South’s charm. But the region is also marked with serious lasting wounds: manmade and natural disasters, economic hardship, persistent prejudice. These things certainly aren’t all uniquely Southern, but they are uniquely woven into the cultural identity of the South.

I think subtly exploring these tensions is part of what makes for compelling Southern fiction. Authenticity isn’t just about adding drawl and Spanish moss—it’s also about understanding a character’s intimate relationship with a gorgeous, embattled, problematic place. For me, the exploration of that relationship is deeply personal. I feel about the South the way I feel about my grandmother. She was a steel magnolia if there ever was one—talented, tough, caring, difficult. She was generous and gracious, but also distressingly prejudiced and close-minded. She died of complications from lupus a few years ago, and I miss her terribly. I loved her deeply, and I’m grateful for what she taught me about generosity and hospitality. I also wished many things about her could’ve been different. When I think about her, I always have this complicated set of emotions I can’t quite wrap my head around, a combination of respect and disappointment mixed with the love. It’s how we often love our families, I think—completely and yet complexly. I love the South in the same way. I hold its many identities in my head and try to understand the tug of war among them.

I’ve lived on the West Coast for over a decade now, but Louisiana is still home to me. I still love my small hometown more than any other place on Earth, and I still get homesick for the rain and the rhythm of life there. I still wish many things about it could be different. My home state is as much a part of me as the talents and flaws that have brought me to this point in my life, for better or worse. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to telling its stories. Every time I write a novel set in the South, I’m doing my best to understand my own relationship with a beautiful, contradictory and imperfect place. And, I’m going home, even if it’s only for a couple hundred pages.

Readers, do you have this kind of complicated relationship with the place where you grew up? Have you found stories that capture that tension between the good and the bad?

Thanks, A.J.  Those are great questions.  Leave a comment with your answers if you would like to be entered for a chance to win a copy of Twisted Miracles.

25 thoughts on “Understanding Our Relationship With Our Roots with A.J. Larrieu and Win a Book

  1. Great post! I think most of us have complex feelings about our home town. I grew up in Chicago and I’m not sure I would do well in a small town because of that. Looking forward to reading your new book!

    • Thanks, Liz! I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
      I’ve never visited Chicago, but it has always seemed to me that it is a city with a distinct personality. I love cities like that–the kind that have their own, unmistakeable feel. I grew up in a small town, and I didn’t think I’d like city life until I moved to one and saw how much fun they can be. At heart, though, I think I’ll always prefer small towns. Funny how our roots affect us, right?

  2. Suzanne got me interested in the south, especially New Orleans with her Sentinels series. Have not yet had the pleasure of a visit. Always looking for debut urban fantasy books with New Orleans as the backdrop. I downloaded Twisted Miracles and Anchored Tuesday.
    Enjoyed the post, thanks.

    • Hi Roger! Suzanne’s books are a great way to visit the South–she does the setting so beautifully. New Orleans is a wonderful city. It has fascinating “tourist spots,” of course, but exploring the lesser-travelled neighborhoods is just as rewarding.

      Thanks so much for buying my books and taking a chance on a new author! I hope you enjoy the stories.

  3. Such a good post AJ! I agree, very much. I grew up in Washington and when we moved to Montana during my teens I was devastated. For all the trouble there was in my hometown—which is now home to a UF series, no less—it was also a deeply rooted part of who I was… and who I am now. I visit family back home every few years and the place I knew has changed to the point it is losing the feel of home it once had. Where there used to be orchards are strip malls and what once felt like a small city is now thick with traffic and newly built housing. It’s weird how something loses it’s charm when it grows.

    • I know exactly how you feel. It’s so hard to watch things change in that way, and I think there’s something about the loss of green space that’s especially painful.

      Washington to Montana must have been quite a big change! I harbor some romantic notions about Montana that I bet you’d find rather silly–all that snow and open space–it seems starkly romantic to me. I’m sure the reality is much more complicated. 🙂

  4. LOvely post, AJ. I’m very much looking forward to reading Twisted Mysteries. I’ve lived most of my life in Seattle, and most of my stories have been set here. There’s a freshness, a combination of openness and reserve that’s unique. Of course, I recently spend a week in New Orleans, and while I can’t imagine really living there, I certainly want to visit again! All the best with your new release!

    • Thanks, Liv! New Orleans is a city with many faces. I think it can take quite a while to discover them all. 🙂

      I’ve never visited Seattle, but it strikes me as a city with a distinct character, I think. I know a lot of people who grew up there, and it sounds like a great place to live. Thanks for stopping by today!

  5. Congrats AJ on the new release!!! It looks and sounds fantastic!!! I grew up and still live in NE. People are astonished when they find out that I grew up in an actual city and none of us farm on the eastern end of NE. But I do admit to the romantic views of the South, especially Louisiana 🙂

    • Thanks, Erin! It’s funny how strong people’s expectations can be, right? The thing I think of when I think of the midwest is definitely gorgeous expanses of farmland. And tornadoes! (~hides under desk~) They scare me a lot more than hurricanes.

  6. Thanks for the guestpost AJ! I grew up in the old village part of a baby boomer town, and then I moved to the “big city” next door when I left my parents house. I like my city, even though it is very small compared to American city’s. It does not have an industrial history like the bigger cities in my country, it is more laid back and beautiful in my prejudiced eyes.
    I do want to visit the South one day, and yes, Suzanne makes me crave it more with each book I read.

    • Hi Aurian! Yes, Suzanne’s books are a great way to visit the South. 🙂 Your city sounds charming. I love how the history of a place can contribute to its personality.

  7. I don’t have a home town. We moved around a lot when I was growing up. Even now, home is wherever my Mother happens to be. Home is the people, not the place for me.

    • People are definitely the biggest part of home. I’m sure I wouldn’t feel nearly the same way about my home town if there weren’t still many people I love living there.

  8. I have never been done South. The closes is Richmond, VA. It’s a quiet city, much more quieter than Los Angeles, CA.

  9. Hi A.J.! I, like Liz S the first commenter, grew up in the Chicago area too. I have long since moved away, but I still love to go back and visit. I love the food and am an avid Cubs fan, that being said, I really don’t think that I could ever move back. I live in the Kansas City area now and it’s big, but not too big and I love it. Congrats on your new release and thanks for the giveaway!

    • Hi Barb! Another Chicagoan. Chicagoite? (Sorry!) My husband is a huge sports fan, and I’m always impressed with how that transcends geography. If he finds another Saints fan to talk to, they are instant friends no matter where they are. Thanks for coming by!

  10. Thanks for being here today, AJ! I was stuck in a “staff retreat” all day at the day job, which wasn’t much retreating since we only went to the first floor of our building–LOL.

  11. I left my home town and my home state behind many years ago, and although there are some things I miss, I would never want to go back there to live. I don’t really have family there either, so there’s no reason to go back.