Today I’m excited to have urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson on the blog. She’s here to tell us a little about one of her more infamous characters from her marvelous Sentinels of New Orleans Series. Keep reading to learn more about the real Jean Lafitte and enter to win some AWESOME prizes below. Please help me welcome Suzanne to That’s What I’m Talking About.
Ahoy, Matey (A Jean Lafitte Pop Quiz)
Most of the time, urban fantasy authors work with fantastical characters they construct of whole cloth. We can make them as evil or as heroic as we want, throwing in a few random flaws for realism.
But when I created the preternatural species of the Historical Undead for my Sentinels of New Orleans series, I had a chance to work with real figures and reimagine them in the modern world. Historic New Orleanians like Louis Armstrong or voodoo queen Marie Laveau get to pop in occasionally, since famous people are given immortality by the magic of human memory. Sometimes, they’re even bad guys; an early 20th-century, never-identified serial killer known as the Axeman of New Orleans adds some major chops (get it? Chops? Axe?) in Elysian Fields.
Which brings us to the early 19th-century pirate Jean Lafitte. I knew very little about Jean (for after three novels and a number of short stories and a novelette, I truly feel we’re on a first-name basis) when I began writing the series—only that I needed a colorful guy to appear in a couple of scenes.
Which led to research. A lot of research. And, in the process, yeah, I kinda fell in love with a dead pirate. It can happen to the best of us.
Jean has his own bookshelf in my office now, filled with biographies and “diaries” of varying degrees of believability. And, to my delight, he’s proven popular with readers. How much of “my” Jean Lafitte is true? Here’s a quick quiz to test your knowledge of the real Jean Lafitte and see how he stacks up against the sexy scoundrel who walks the streets of Old Orleans in the Sentinels series.
True or False?
1. The real Jean Lafitte was born in the Bordeaux region of France.
2. Jean spelled his last name Laffite (not Lafitte).
3. Two of Jean’s brothers—both older—worked in his, um, “procurement” business.
4. Jean Lafitte was extraordinarily tall for his time, at six-foot-two.
5. Thanks to his education and manners, the real Lafitte was able to hobhob with New Orleans high society.
6. Jean Lafitte is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 in New Orleans.
7. Jean ruled his kingdom of Barataria with an iron fist. His punishment for rape or abuse of a woman was castration.
8. Lafitte was considered a Robin Hood figure by the people of New Orleans.
9. Jean was a close friend of Gen. Andrew Jackson, alongside whom he fought during the Battle of New Orleans.
10. Lafitte died at age 45 in a battle at sea.
How’s your knowledge of Le Capitaine, as he was called by the thousand men who pledged fealty to him in his “Kingdom of Barataria” south of New Orleans?
1. Probably true. Jean was good at telling people what best suited him in any given situation, so some scholars believe the claims that he was born in the French colony of San Domingue, the son of a wealthy tradesman. But he most often claimed to have been born in France, in the Bordeaux area, where a number of Lafittes have been shown to live, although his family might have emigrated to San Domingue when he was a boy.
2. True. Jean and his brother Pierre both consistently spelled their name “Laffite.” It is history that has Americanized it to Lafitte. My editor and I talked about how we should spell his name in the Sentinels books and decided the spelling “Lafitte” is so widespread, everyone would think “Laffite” was a typo.
3. Probably true. We know Jean had an older brother named Pierre, with whom he had several business ventures. It is believed that Jean’s most-trusted colleague, Dominique You (or Youx), was in fact Jean and Pierre’s oldest half-brother, whose given name was Alexandre. “Captain Dominique,” as he was called locally, was an expert artilleryman and played a major role in helping win the Battle of New Orleans.
4. True. Historians are unanimous on this one. At a time when the average man was five-seven, Captain Lafitte stood six-two and is described as “fair-skinned,” with dark hair, and a “well-formed” build. (Rawr.) There is some disagreement on eye color, however. They might have been dark blue, hazel, or black. One history even said purple. I picked dark blue.
5. False. Oh, Jean was quite welcome at the gambling houses and the gentlemen’s clubs with his fine clothes and fine manners, but he was never included in the goings-on of the New Orleans elite. And it rankled. There’s a well-documented incident in which he was included in a rare society event after the victory in the Battle of New Orleans. Always quick to anger, he was enraged by a catty comment by one of the attendees about “pirates,” and left the event early in a black mood.
6. False. After the Battle of New Orleans, Jean and all his men were given presidential pardons for their piracy crimes. Dominique You thrived on life as an upstanding citizen and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, where you can still visit his grave. Pierre was in poor health, however, and Jean got bored and disenchanted with the American legal system. He moved his operations eventually to Galveston, Texas.
7. False. No, he set the culprit adrift in a small boat far out at sea, with no food or water. There are no accounts of survivors.
8. True. At the time Jean appeared on the scene about 1803-1806, New Orleanians had been suffering under a shipping embargo for years. What goods were available, were expensive. Thanks to the brothers Lafitte, suddenly tobacco and spices and fine clothing were again available, and at lower costs than they could be bought by the local merchants since the Lafittes had “procured” them from Spanish ships they took over or sank. The merchants, naturally, did NOT consider Jean to be Robin Hood and wanted him hanged—as long as someone else did the dirty work.
9. False. By all accounts, Andrew Jackson was appalled that he had to rely on such “hellish banditti” as the pirate Lafitte in order to have anywhere near enough arms and powder to fight off the British in the War of 1812’s final battle. As for Jean, he thought Jackson rude and uncouth, but nonetheless offered his services.
10. Um…maybe. He certainly disappeared from written records at that time. There are three schools of thought: he died in a battle at sea and his body likely thrown overboard; he died of yellow fever in the Yucatan and is buried on the peninsula; he changed his name, married, and settled in the St. Louis area, where he lived well into his seventies. The sea battle or the malaria theories are the most likely. Even in death, our pirate was a man of mystery!
And there you have the real pirate Lafitte. He also had a playfully wicked sense of humor, a quick temper, and enough charisma to float a fleet of Spanish galleons. And on any given night in New Orleans, he might slip over from the Beyond for a business deal, a game of cards, or a visit with a certain blonde wizard named DJ!
About the Books:
(Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 1)
As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. Her boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond. Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters. While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the other world crumbled. Now, the Undead and the Restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering soldiers sent to help the city recover. Gerald St. Simon has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and an undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and the killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love serves up one bitter gumbo. Out now!
(Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 2)
The post-Katrina treaties between the wizard gatekeepers and all the preternatural critters are complete, and DJ and partner Alex Warin find themselves drowning in water creatures as a feud erupts between two clans of Cajun merpeople fighting over the right to hunt in Plaquemines Parish.
Wizards are dying all over town, and DJ has to figure out whether it’s the feuding mermen or the naughty nymph who’s behind it–or some critter altogether different. After all, there are weregators in the area, and DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.
(Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 3)
The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi. …New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren’t random—an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ….Combating an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn’t easy. Jake Warin’s loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world’s most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ’s to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power….Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte’s pirate wench could be DJ’s best option.
About the Author:
On Aug. 28, 2005, Suzanne Johnson loaded two dogs, a cat, a friend, and her mom into a car and fled New Orleans in the hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Four years later, she began weaving her experiences and love for her city into the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, beginning with Royal Street (2012), continuing with River Road (2012), and now with Elysian Fields (August 2013).
She grew up in rural Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace, and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years—which means she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.
As Susannah Sandlin, she writes the best-selling Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series and the recent standalone, Storm Force.
As part of the blog tour, Suzanne is giving away some great prizes. To enter to win, please fill out the Rafflecopter form, below. The giveaway is open during the time specified on the Rafflecopter form. Winner(s) chosen at random from all eligible entries. This contest is open internationally, with some US mailing restrictions as noted on the Rafflecopter form and where not prohibited by law. Open to participants, 18 years or older, who are legally allowed to participate in such a contest as allowed by their local laws. All federal, state, local, and municipal laws and regulations apply. Void where prohibited. No purchase necessary. By participating in the contest, participants agree to be bound by the decisions of the contest sponsor. Prize will be delivered by the author. I am not responsible for items lost in the mail. By entering this giveaway, participants agree to abide by these terms.
If you have problems with the Rafflecopter form, please email me at twimom227 (at) gmail (dot) com.