by Susannah Sandlin
I’m a big fan of what I call “setting-as-character.” To really get lost in a novel, the setting has to be so richly drawn that you can feel the salt tang in the air and get itchy when the mosquitoes swarm at dusk.
Worldbuilding is, for me, just as important in a romantic suspense novel as a paranormal story set in a made-up world. So when I decided to set my new Wilds of the Bayou series in the heart of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, I knew I had some worldbuilding to do for the first book, WILD MAN’S CURSE.
I will go out on a limb and say that South Louisiana folks live in one of the most grueling, harsh environments in the United States, and nowhere is that more true than in Cajun country, the south-central part of the state. From the thick cypress swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin to the flat, fragile grasses of marsh slowing falling into the Gulf of Mexico off the southern tip of Terrebonne and LaFourche parishes, it’s hot, humid, sticky, full of dangerous wildlife, and prone to frequent, devastating floods.
Get the picture? Now, add the most culturally mixed dialect in the country—mix Cajun French with Creole, Southern, and Native American, and stir—with a heavy dose of stubborn and eccentric. Make those stubborn, eccentric people big-hearted and generous…except when they aren’t…and you have the people of South Louisiana. I love them, and I hope it shows in my books whether they’re set in my environs of New Orleans or farther southwest in Terrebonne.
The Wilds of the Bayou series follows a team of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement agents as they solve cases and find love deep in the heart of the most inhospitable environment of them all, Terrebonne Parish. The state’s second-largest parish (or county), Terrebonne is more than fifty percent water, with only three or four north-south roads stretching down toward the Gulf until they each run out of solid land about halfway down. After that, if you go south—or east or west—you go by boat.
Did I mention there are more alligators than people?
The hero of WILD MAN’S CURSE, Gentry Broussard, is a Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement agent, which means he’s had paramilitary-style training and can handle the harsh conditions under which he often has to work. He’s also a native of the parish, having been born in Dulac. Enforcement agents are law enforcement officers, not the wildlife handlers. They have the same powers of arrest as a police officer or a state trooper—plus having to know a few hundred environmental and wildlife regulations.
So picture a slow-moving, muddy bayou in the early hours of a September morning, just after sunrise. The air is thick, and the mosquitoes are already biting. It’s already eighty degrees from beneath the overhang of trees where Gentry is hidden in his mud boat, waiting for a poacher to show up, nab an illegal gator, and get himself arrested.
Off to his left a few hundred yards, sits a weathered wooden cabin whose front half and wraparound porch sits on piers over the still water. A boat—aluminum, dented, and empty—is tied up to the edge of one of the support piers. Gentry is curious because he knows the elderly woman who lives in the cabin lives a solitary life by choice. Old Eva Savoie is said to be a voodoo practitioner, but Gentry figures he needs to check in on her anyway since he’s never before seen a boat there.
Preoccupied by the arrival of the poacher—a sullen interloper from one of the northern parishes—Gentry doesn’t get the chance to check on old Eva until the criminal is dispatched with two other agents. When he turns around, through the thickening swarms of bugs and splashes of gators and fish as the swamp heats up, he sees a face that makes his heart stop and stutter. It’s the face of his older brother, Lang.
Only problem is, Lang died in a drug raid three years earlier. Gentry knows, because he was the one to pull the trigger.
Well, I’ll leave you hanging there. Let’s just say things keep getting hotter and stickier in the bayou as WILD MAN’S CURSE progresses, hopefully with enough detail to immerse you in its setting.
Oh, and the title? Swamp, bayou, and marsh are all different types of water and terrain, and all three can be found in Terrebonne.