I'm thrilled to have my good friend Suzanne Johnson return and spend a day on my blog. I'm also excited about her guest post--relating the benefits of a recent return to her love of drawing and painting. When I saw her art journal she shared at the end of last year, I was completely impressed at not only the artwork, but the free flow of emotions in those works. Years ago, I started my own creative path with art, and it still calls to me. This year, inspired through the peace I noticed it bring Suzanne, I set a goal for myself to explore a similar release and am finding time to explore soft pastels, a new medium for me. Thank you, Suzanne, for the inspiration!
Be sure to check out Suzanne's new release, Pirate's Alley, as well as her terrific giveaway contest at the end of this post.
Art Therapy for the Writing Life
by Suzanne Johnson
I wish I could say I returned to my first love, art, out of intuition or wisdom. Actually, it was driven by a really bad case of writer’s paralysis and an unknowing gift from a reader.
Here’s how I got there: I flat-out overcommitted myself in late 2013 and 2014, with five full-length novels due in 12 months, plus a full-time job, family caregiver responsibilities, and online workshops I’d agreed to teach. The day job became mired in dirty political shenanigans I couldn’t avoid and caregiving responsibilities at home grew more complicated, but those workshop and writing deadlines kept hitting. Somewhere in the middle of book four, as the day job hit an all-time low and began requiring a lot of overtime, I hit a wall. A really hard wall, complete with stress hives and insomnia. I was hitting my writing deadlines, mostly, but I was running on creative fumes and the joy was being sucked out of it.
Several months earlier, one of my awesome readers, Roger Simmons, sent me some of the beautiful Zentangles he’d been doing. I loved them so much I did some investigating and learned that it was a type of meditative drawing—good for the spirit as well as producing beautiful art—so I thought I’d give it a try. I’d never been able to stick to a meditation program, but maybe this would be different.
I sucked at it. I mean really sucked! One, it takes patience, something of which I have very little. And two, it takes a steady hand, which I no longer have most days. I have suffered from a nerve disorder called essential tremors for several years. I still have more good days than bad days, but steady mark-making and brain surgery are now off my list of skill-sets. (Well, okay, brain surgery never was.)
But something did come of that short-lived Zentangle experiment—I remembered that once upon a time, before writing stole my heart, I had been in love with drawing and had even entertained thoughts of a career in commercial art. Where other teenage girls kept diaries, I kept sketchbooks. My aunt did beautiful work in oils, while my mom enjoyed folkart painting. I drew in graphite.
Maybe my hand wasn’t steady enough to do Zentangle, but maybe it could do something else. I could still draw.
I had no idea where to start, so like any good geek, I bought a book and a few art supplies, stumbled across mixed-media art journaling, and fell in love. To my surprise, and in fairly short order, my creative paralysis broke and I found myself able to write again with enjoyment.
Now, almost every day, I show up to the day job with paint on my hands. And though it seems counter-intuitive, carving out an hour a day to putter around in my art journals has proven to be a great aid in writing novels.
Sometimes I use them to vent.
Sometimes I use my art journal to plot in the background and then paint over it, or to brainstorm an idea.
I almost always rough-sketch floor plans and city grids.
Most often, though, I use art to escape. To meditate in my own way.
I don’t make great art—couldn’t do it if I tried. There’s a reason I ended up as a writer rather than an artist. But that’s not the point. I’m not trying to earn a living at it, but to exercise different creative muscles than those I use for writing. It’s letting one side of the brain play and experiment and dabble while the other side—the writing, plotting side—does some subconscious ruminating.
I have grand writing plans for 2015 and 2016. Yeah, I still have a ton of deadlines. Yeah, the day job is still stressful, although less so than a year ago. The family obligations are still there. But with my new “secret weapon,” I’ve found a way to deal with it all.
Sentinels of New Orleans
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Date of Publication: April 21, 2015
Number of pages: 352
Word Count: 96,000
From award-winning author Suzanne Johnson comes the fourth book in the smart and sexy Sentinels of New Orleans series.
Wizard sentinel DJ Jaco thought she had gotten used to the chaos of her life in post-Katrina New Orleans, but a new threat is looming, one that will test every relationship she holds dear.
Caught in the middle of a rising struggle between the major powers in the supernatural world—the Wizards, Elves, Vampires and the Fae—DJ finds her loyalties torn and her mettle tested in matters both professional and personal. Her relationship with enforcer Alex Warin is shaky, her non-husband Quince Randolph is growing more powerful, and her best friend Eugenie has a bombshell that could blow everything to Elfheim and back.
And that's before the French pirate Jean Lafitte, newly revived from his latest "death," returns to New Orleans with vengeance on his mind. DJ's assignment? Keep the sexy leader of the historical undead out of trouble. Good luck with that.
Duty clashes with love, loyalty with deception, and friendship with responsibility as DJ navigates passion and politics in the murky waters of a New Orleans caught in the grips of a brutal winter that might have nothing to do with Mother Nature.
War could be brewing, and DJ will be forced to take a stand. But choosing sides won't be that easy.
DJ, are you awake?
Freaking elf. “Go home, Rand.”
I am home. Where are you?
I frowned and burrowed my face into the soft down pillow. Which wasn’t my pillow.
Holy crap. What had happened?
I sat up and took in several observations at once, none of which made sense and all of which sent my heart rate jack-rabbiting hard enough to send my blood pressure into the ozone.
First, I was lying beneath a heavy bedspread woven in a rich blue-and-cream print. The bed was an elaborate confection made to look like an antique half-tester, and a brass chandelier hung overhead.
I recognized the Hotel Monteleone. I recognized Jean Lafitte’s bedroom in the posh Eudora Welty Suite in the Monteleone. I didn’t have a clue as to how I got here.
Second, I wore only underwear. My clothes were thrown across a chair in the corner. I had no recollection of removing them.
Third, the pillow next to mine still held the clear indentation of a head, and there was water running behind the closed bathroom door.
What in God’s name had I done?
Rand! Where are you? So help me, if that elf was behind this, I’d splay him open like a catfish and watch his guts fall on the floor. Then I’d batter and deep-fry him.
God, Dru. Stop shrieking like an elven shrew. I think you got too cold and went into a survival state.
Survival state? Then I remembered, and shame joined panic. I had gone into hibernation like a bear, right out on Royal Street in front of God and everyone. Quince Randolph, you sonofabitch! Why didn’t you warn me that would happen?
Stop yelling. How did I know you’d be stupid enough to go traipsing through the snow to the point of unconsciousness? I can tell you’re in the Quarter, but where are you?
Catch you later.
I slammed shut every mental door I could imagine and then troweled imaginary caulk in any imaginary cracks around said doors. I was vaguely aware that, off in the distance of my mental stronghold, Rand was yelling at me.
Had Jean hauled me back to the hotel like a sack of pommes de terres? How had he explained a hibernating blonde to the hotel management? At least my dark blue underwear matched. Had he taken advantage of me? No, it wasn’t his style. Which meant I’d consented.
Alex was going to kill me if I didn’t kill myself first. I wasn’t sure hibernation-brain was an adequate defense.
The bathroom doorknob rattled and I dove under the covers, even though I realized it was like closing the barn door after the half-naked cows had escaped.
From my hiding spot, I heard the door open and footsteps cross from tile to carpet before stopping with a rustle of fabric. “Hey, babe. You finally back from the dead? Whatcha doin’ under there?”
“Rene?” I poked my head out and frowned at my buddy the merman, fully dressed in jeans and a Saints sweatshirt. His feet were bare, and he walked around the bed and climbed in as if either one of us belonged here, much less at the same time.
“What are you doing here? What am I doing here? Who undressed me? Where’s Jean?” And, as an afterthought, “Why are we in bed?”
Now that I realize I hadn’t acted like my licentious great-aunt Dru and slept with the pirate, I transferred my anger to the proper place and it wasn’t to myself. I’d kill that sneaky Frenchman if he weren’t immortal.
Rene was not immortal, however, and he was within reach. “You better start talking, fish boy.”
“Aiyeeee.” Rene cackled like the Cajun he was, and fluffed the pillow behind his head. “I told Jean you’d be spittin’ mad. Nothing happened, babe. Your clothes were wet and I was just trying to keep you warm. I’m a shifter, you know. We run hot.”
“Oh, do you now.”
That made him laugh harder.
I threw off the covers and stomped over to my clothes. He’d seen whatever I had and I knew he didn’t want it, so there was no point in hiding. I picked up three soggy layers of T-shirts and sweaters, and cords so wet they weighed about ten pounds.
My breath hitched. The staff; I’d lost the staff. I whirled to Rene, who sat propped against the lush draped fabric that covered the headboard, watching me with a grin. “Where’s my bag?”
“In the living room. Everything’s there, babe, even your magic stick. Jean, he took care of you.”
Yeah, I just bet he did. It was hard to argue effectively in underwear I’d intended only Alex Warin to see, so I went into the living room, dug my room key out of my messenger bag, and stuck my head out the door, looking up and down the hallway.
“I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere,” I yelled at Rene, and made a run for it, jamming the keycard into my door lock and slipping inside before I was spotted. If hotel cameras caught my mad dash on security footage, well, I’m sure they’d seen stranger things. This was New Orleans, after all.
Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal fiction from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick.
Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she also is the author of the best-selling Penton Legacy paranormal romance series and The Collectors romantic thriller series. Elysian Fields, book three in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, won the 2014 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence while her Sandlin-penned novel, Allegiance, is nominated for a 2015 Reviewer’s Choice Award from RT Book Reviews magazine.
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