Monday, April 11, 2016

Living Large: Stories from the Wilds of Louisiana - Wild Man’s Curse by Susannah Sandlin

You gotta admit it—Louisiana makes a great fictional setting. Even if you take away New Orleans and its storied history, supernatural influences, and rich culture, the rest of the state—at least the Southern half of the state can hold its own. It’s why I keep returning to Louisiana whether I’m writing about paranormal critters or sexy human game wardens, as in my new release WILD MAN’S CURSE. (Even my Penton vampires paid a visit to my favorite state.)

Admittedly, I’m biased, having lived in New Orleans for many years, but I also have lived in various spots in Alabama, Illinois, California, and Texas. I’m plotting a possible move to Florida. But still, it’s Louisiana I turn to when I start thinking up story ideas.

Every state has its own version of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, so why did I want to set mine in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana? Here are my five major reasons:

1) I’m a fan.  Louisiana’s Wildlife and Fisheries department has a number of divisions. Some of the agents are biologists and ecologists, working to save the state’s fragile and crumbling wetlands and its rich aquaculture. But I have been fascinated with the enforcement division—the law enforcement officers of the department—ever since they were virtually first on the scene in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, bringing in boats from all over the state, plucking people out of the floodwaters while the politicians were still arguing. Idiots shot at them, but still they kept at it in hundred-degree temperatures in filthy water. I became a fan.

2) They’re badass. How can someone irreverently called a “possum cop” be badass? Believe me, these are great romantic hero material. The enforcement division’s training is said to be second only to U.S. Special Forces. Think about it: they have to work carrying heavy equipment and body armor in hot bayous full of snakes and gators and where almost every human they encounter has a gun of some kind. And maybe has been drinking. A bad combination. 

3) Terrebonne Parish has the harshest of the harsh in terms of terrain. Located dead center at the bottom of the state and jutting into the Gulf of Mexico, Terrebonne is Louisiana’s second-largest parish (what we call counties) and is more than half water. The half that isn’t water is often fragile marsh and wetlands and a thousand tiny islands reachable only by water. In a parish that is as broad as it is long, only three narrow north-south roads stretch through the watery lands south of Houma, and only one makes it past the halfway point. While a drug deal falls under the jurisdiction of the parish sheriff, the officers most likely to stumble across a drug deal gone bad, while roaming the parish waterways, are the wildlife agents. And yes, they can arrest you just as well as a sheriff’s deputy. This seems to surprise some criminals 

4) Terrebonne has a diverse, rich culture. Celestine Savoie, the heroine of WILD MAN’S CURSE is part Cajun (descended from the French Acadians driven out of Canada by the English in the 1700s), part Creole (descended from the French-speaking free people of color who settled in the region about the same time); and part of the Chitimacha band of Native Americans, who are indigenous to this land. Her great-aunt is a voodoo practitioner, and Celestine has a few moves of her own. Here and in the Atchafalaya basin north of the parish, one will still occasionally find old-timers who speak only a local version of French. People live close to the land here, and you won’t find a more big-hearted and beautifully eccentric population anywhere.

5) Danger! It never hurts to set a suspense or thriller novel in a dangerous place, right? It might not be the type of danger one normally thinks of—crime rates or terrorism potential—but this land at the bottom of the country has alligators. A LOT of alligators. Snakes. A LOT of snakes. Nutria—big orange-toothed swamp rats. Did I mention hurricanes and frequent flash floods? 

So those are the reasons I picked wildlife agents—and a place full of wildlife—in which to set the Wilds of the Bayou series, of which WILD MAN’S CURSE is the first. I hope  you’ll check out my agent, Gentry Broussard, and fall in love too.

Wild Man’s Curse
Wilds of the Bayou Series
Book One
Susannah Sandlin

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Date of Publication: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1503934740

Number of pages: 284
Word Count: approx. 86,000

Cover Artist: Michael Rehder

Book Description:

The bones said death was comin’, and the bones never lied.

While on an early morning patrol in the swamps of Whiskey Bayou, Louisiana wildlife agent Gentry Broussard spots a man leaving the home of voodoo priestess Eva Savoie—a man who bears a startling resemblance to his brother, whom Gentry thought he had killed during a drug raid three years earlier. Shaken, the agent enters Eva’s cabin and makes a bloody discovery: the old woman has been brutally murdered.

With no jurisdiction over the case, he’s forced to leave the investigation to the local sheriff, until Eva’s beautiful heir, Celestine, receives a series of gruesome threats. As Gentry’s involvement deepens and more victims turn up, can he untangle the secrets behind Eva’s murder and protect Celestine from the same fate?

Or will an old family curse finally have its way?

The bones said death was comin’, and the bones never lied.
Eva Savoie leaned back in the rocking chair and pushed it into motion on the uneven wide-plank floor of the one-room cabin. Her grandpere Julien had built the place more than a century ago, pulling heavy cypress logs from the bayou and sawing them, one by one, into the thick planks she still walked across every day.
She had never known Julien Savoie, but she knew of him. The curse that had stalked her family for three generations had started with her grandfather and what he’d done all those years ago.
What he’d brought with him to Whiskey Bayou with blood on his hands.
What had driven her daddy to shoot her mama, and then himself, before either turned forty-five.
What had led Eva’s brother Antoine to drown in the bayou only a half-mile from this cabin, leaving a wife and infant son behind.
What stalked Eva now.
The bones said death was coming and, once Eva was gone, the curse should go with her. No one else knew the secrets of Julien Savoie and this cabin and that box full of sin he’d dug out of the bayou mud back in Isle de Jean Charles.
Might take a while, but sin catches up with you. Always had. Always would. And the curse had driven Eva to sin. Oh yes, she had sinned.
She’d known her reckoning would catch up with her, although it had taken a good long time. She’d turned seventy-eight yesterday, or was it eighty? She couldn’t remember for sure, and the bones said it didn’t matter now.
On the scarred wooden table before Eva sat three burning candles that filled the room with the soft, soothing glow of melting tallow. She’d made them herself, infusing them with the oil of the fragrant lilies that every spring spread a bright green carpet over the lazy, brown water of the bayou. The tools of her ritual sat on an ancient square of tanned hide passed down through generations of holy ones, of those blessed by the gods with the ability to throw the bones.
A small mound of delicate chicken bones, yellowed and fragile from age, lay inside the circle of light cast by the candles. Daylight would come in an hour or so, but Eva didn’t expect to last that long. Death was even now making his way toward her.
She leaned forward, wincing at the stab of pain in her lower back. Since the first throw of the bones had whispered her fate two days ago, she’d been cleaning. Scrubbed the floor, worn smooth by decades of bare feet. Washed the linens, folding them in neat piles in a drawer at the bottom of the old pie safe. Discarded most of the food in the little refrigerator that sat in the corner. Dragged the bag of trash down the long, overgrown drive past LeRoy’s old 1970 Chevy pickup that she still drove up to Houma for groceries and such once a month. Left the white bag at the side of the parish road for the weekly trash collection.
She’d spit on LeRoy’s truck as she passed it because she couldn’t spit on the man who bought it. He was long gone.
Now the cleaning had been finished. Whoever discovered her raggedy old body wouldn’t find a mess, not in Eva Savoie’s house.
A few minutes ago, with the old cabin as clean as she was capable of making it, she’d thrown the bones one last time. Part of her hoped they’d read different, hoped she’d be granted a few more days of grace.
But the bones still whispered death. Eva accepted it, and she sat, and she waited. At least the girl, Celestine, would inherit a cleaned-up house. The girl, Antoine’s granddaughter, knew nothing of the secrets, nothing of the curse. Eva had made sure of that….
Eva waited for her heart to fail—that seemed to be her most likely way to go. As she rocked she noted each steady beat, biding her time for the instant when the thump-thump-thump would falter and her breath would catch, then stop. She reckoned it would hurt a little, but what if it did? The curse had doled out worse ends to those who came before her.
She’d doled out worse herself.
The buzz of a boat’s motor sounded from outside the cabin, faint but growing louder. Wardens on patrol already, most likely.
The boat’s engine grew louder, finally coming to an abrupt stop so near, it had to be right outside her door. Silence filled the room once again, until through her bones she felt the thud of someone jumping onto the porch that wrapped around the cabin. The porch formed the platform on which the house sat, linking it to the spit of land behind it when the water was normal. When storms blew through, it provided an island on which the cabin could sit or, if need be, float.
As heavy footfalls crossed the porch, Eva struggled to her feet. Every pop and crackle of her joints knifed streaks of pain through her limbs as they protested the cleaning they’d done, followed by the sitting.
Prob’ly a game warden, checkin’ on her. Too bad he hadn’t stopped a little later, after she was gone. She didn’t like to think of her body having to bake in the hot cabin for days before anyone found her.
But the curse was what it was, and the bones said what they said.
The knock, when it came, was soft, and Eva reached the door with the help of a sturdy cane she’d carved herself. Opening the door, she squinted into the glare of a flashlight that seemed almost blinding after the soft light of the candles. She peered up at a young man with eyes that gleamed from beneath the hood of a jacket. He was not a game warden, and it was too hot for a jacket.
“Who are you?” Her voice cracked. She knew who he was. He was Death.
“The devil come to pay you a visit, Eva.” The man’s voice was smooth as silk, smooth as a lie, smooth as death itself. “And you know what the devil wants.”
She knew what he wanted, and she knew the only way to end the curse was to deny him.
She’d been granted no easy passing by the Savoie curse after all, but she would die today.
The bones never lied.

About the Author:

Susannah Sandlin is the author of the award-winning Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series, including the 2013 Holt Medallion Award-winning Absolution and Omega and Allegiance, which were nominated for the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Award in 2014 and 2015, respectively. She also writers The Collectors romantic suspense series, including Lovely, Dark, and Deep, 2015 Holt Medallion winner and 2015 Booksellers Best Award winner. Her new series Wilds of the Bayou starts in 2016 with the April 5 release of Wild Man’s Curse. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, Susannah is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. A displaced New Orleanian, she currently lives in Auburn, Alabama. Susannah loves SEC football, fried gator on a stick, all things Cajun, and redneck reality TV.

Twitter: @SusannahSandlin

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Roger Simmons said...

I had the pleasure of reading an ARK of Wild Man's Curse and really enjoyed the story. A great introduction to Susannah's new Wild's of the Bayou series. Very exciting, fast paced, did not want to put it down. Go get the book guys, you will have a wonderful time on the bayou.

Liz S. said...

After reading Wild Man's Curse, I realized I definitely could not be wildlife agent-I hate snakes! Gentry and Ceelie are a great couple who overcome their own insecurities to start something new together. This book will keep you up until you turn the last page. I highly recommend it-enjoy the bayou without the snakes, mosquitos and gators!

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks, Roger and Liz! Not sure you can have the bayous without the critters, but at least they gave to stay on the page!

miki said...

Oh i so want to visit the Bayou after reading this, the settings are so vivid that either you want to see it or you don't want to switch off the light^^
It's really a must read for all lover of romance suspense and more i spend a wonderful time reading this and i can't recommend it enough it has all you can wish for: great characters ( strong minded^^), slow building romance, tension having you on edge, humor and such great setting...

really grab it when you can ( even cheaper today) you won't regret it!!

April K said...

Not sure if I could handle the Bayou but it's fun to read about lol

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! And yes, April, I love visiting the bayou and reading about the bayou but I don't want to live there, I'm afraid. I'm too big a wuss!

Barbara E. said...

I've picked up my copy of Wild Man's Curse already and I can't wait to read it. :D

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks, Barbara--hope you enjoy it!