Meet Saundra Mitchell!

As promised, in honor of the new year, I'm starting a series of interviews and Q&As with awesome book people who you should know and love. I'm very very happy to launch the series with the fantastic Saundra Mitchell, author of the soon-to-be-released Shadowed Summer, available in stores February 10th.

Nothing ever happened in Ondine, Louisiana, not even the summer Elijah Landry disappeared.

His mother knew he ascended to heaven, the police believed he ran away, and his girlfriend thought he was murdered.

Decades later, certain she saw his ghost in the town cemetery, fourteen-year-old Iris Rhame is determined to find out the truth behind "The Incident With the Landry Boy."

Enlisting the help of her best friend Collette, and forced to endure the company of Collette's latest crush, Ben, Iris spends a summer digging into the past and stirring old ghosts, in search of a boy she never knew.

What she doesn't realize is that in a town as small as Ondine, every secret is a family secret.

I read Shadowed Summer in one sitting...it is a fantastic story and sets a standard for modern ghost stories that will be hard to match. I adored Iris...her relationships with her friends and family are perfectly executed, her emotional turmoil is thoroughly compelling, and I just wished she'd never end. Saundra Mitchell succeeded in taking this romance novel-obsessed reader and making me care deeply for a ghost story.

Saundra is a fellow 2009 Debutante, and I've been lucky enough to spend some quality time with her there, sucking her brilliant brain dry of information on everything from the movie business (Saundra is a screenwriter by day), to graphic design (she's a whiz with photoshop), to ghosts (which she knows WAY TOO much about).

So, needless to say, I was really excited to get Saundra to share some of her knowledge and experience here with you all... She's answered questions below...and she'll be lurking in comments this week to answer any questions or respond to any comments that you have in comments! So...ask away!

Meet Saundra Mitchell:
There are so many memorable things about Shadowed Summer, Iris, the setting of Rural Louisiana, ghosts, family secrets...did these all come to you at the same time? Or were you struck by one specific anchor?

I think the first line I ever heard in Iris' voice was, "Well that's about dumb, Collette." So Iris showed up first. With her cadence and her accent, and her best friend's name, I knew it was Louisiana.

Everything else came out of planning or happy accident, when I sat down and poked Iris and made her participate in her own story. I had no idea where we were going, or what we would find when we started, so always, the anchor for Shadowed Summer was Iris, her time and place and her friendship with Collette.

You're a screenwriter by day...which is obviously why Shadowed Summer reads so vividly. Do you find that your experience with screenwriting makes writing novels easier, harder, or a different thing entirely?

Some of both. Screenwriting says if I've spent more than 5 minutes in a particular scene, I'm boring people. It's easy for me to get in and get out, which I think is hard for some novelists. I feel confident when it comes to pacing the natural rise and fall of each scene- and natch, I kinda think my dialogue is okay. ;)

But conversely, in screenwriting, I'm not supposed to tell the actors what to do or how to feel. So sometimes, I have a hard time figuring out what my characters should be doing while they talk. (Initially, they nod and look and bob their heads a lot- I change that in revisions.) And my first drafts are mysterious- nobody feels anything in the first draft; that gets added in revisions as well.

SS is set in hot, sticky, rural Louisiana--a place that has inspired many. What do you think it is about Louisiana that makes for such meat fictional food?

Louisiana contains one of the oldest ports in the United States. Everyone knows about the French influence, but even before the French, the Spanish had settled the coastal regions there, mingling with Native Americans, with Caribbean freemen, and then later, African and Caribbean slaves.

There was already a wealth of culture and mythology layered throughout Louisiana by the time the French arrived from France, and the Acadian French arrived from Canada. New Orleans was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world- it was literally the gateway through which the south passed- out to the Indies, to Mexico, to Europe, and in to the Mississippi which was *the* major highway of the time period. Through locks, canals and tributaries, you can start at the Mississippi in New Orleans and make your way all the way to Erie, Pennsylvania.

So stir together six or seven disparate families of folklore with heat- which we all know makes us crazy. Blend that with the highly ritualized power of the Roman Catholic church burning incense and holding Mass in Latin. Blend with a constant flow of strangers, in and out. And sit it all on top of unusual geography- earth so saturated with water that it won't even contain the dead; bayous filled with almost mythical creatures and unfathomable lights- and I don't see how an author can avoid writing about Louisiana, at least once in her lifetime!

You've written a heckuva ghost story, and your blog is a haven for ghost lovers. Have you always known that paranormal was the genre you could make sing?

I like weird stuff and I cannot lie/I dig the freaky and I can't deny... Uh, sorry. I had a Mix-A-Lot moment. Won't happen again.

I've always loved ghost stories. I've always loved the supernatural, and horror, and dark fantasy. I dig gentle horror- which is what I would call Twilight, for example. It has all the horror elements without necessarily being scary.

And I love screaming horror, which is what you get when you foolishly read Stephen King's Pet Semetary on your very first babysitting job ever. (I don't recommend it.) I met my husband on an online group for vampire fans!

But the thing is, what appeals to me about horror, the paranormal, the supernatural- is how they inform the natural, and the ordinary, and the human. I'm not real big into splatterpunk or gorecore because the wounding doesn't interest me- I want to know about people.

I want to know how they face the unknown, how they grapple with themselves and the monstrous parts of themselves. I want to explore the ways we are open, and the ways we are closed, and what it means to have a mind that might not go on after our bodies. Or what it means if we do...

And I think it's boring to just set out to explore those explicitly. Straightforwardly. So for me, it's always going to be the paranormal, the supernatural, the horror- sometimes I think who we are when we're afraid is who we're truly meant to be.

What's next for you?

Well, right now, I'm fixing to go finish baking some monkey bread that started life as elephant ears, but wouldn't fry proper. You want some?

Uhm...yeah. I want some.

And, finally, Saundra Mitchell on...

The Masters of Horror:
Stephen King or Edgar Allen Poe?

Poe!

Ghosts:
Casper or Jacob Marley?

Marley!

Louisiana Musicians:
The Neville Brothers or Harry Connick, Jr.?

The Neville Brothers! (My best friend is going to kill me.)

Carbonated Beverages:
RC Cola or Coca Cola?

Cocola!

Bayou Food:
Crawfish Etouffe or Powdered Sugar Beignets?

Beignets!

Sleepover Ghost Games:
"Bloody Mary in the Bathroom Mirror" or "Light as a feather, stiff as a board"?
Light as a feather, stiff as a board.

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Thanks so much for coming over to play, Saundra! Congrats on the debut!
For everyone else...find Saundra at her website, on Goodreads, on Twitter, and on Facebook. I also think she'd appreciate you pre-ordering Shadowed Summer on Amazon. That last part is just a hunch, though.