Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Friday, April 8, 2016

the bones never lied - Wild Man's Curse (Wilds of the Bayou #1) by Susannah Sandlin

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? 

Published: April 5th, 2016
Cover Artist: Michael Rehder

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?

Romantic Suspense: Do and Don’t Times Five 

I got my start in urban fantasy and then paranormal romance, so romantic suspense was a bit of a new animal when I began writing it a few years ago. The world-building wasn’t easier, since I have a penchant for setting even my paranormal books in real places and want them to be as accurate and rich as I can. The characters weren’t easier, but harder in some ways. Humans are limited by, well, their humanity. The action level and tension stayed about the same, since I tended to call my non-human books “paranormal suspense” or “paranormal thrillers.” 

There were, however, some of my own do’s and don’t’s that I discovered in the process of reading in my new genre. They aren’t rules…except for me. I feel pretty strongly about them, however. 

Here are my top five. 

Don’t make the heroine weak. I like smart, strong heroines, regardless of genre. I can forgive a heroine for doing something dumb that gets her in trouble as long as she admits her mistake and doesn’t repeat it. I’ll forgive her taking chances if she’s following her heart and acknowledges that she’s taking a calculated risk. 

But it’s too easy to have the poor hapless woman stranded on the side of the road or even be stalked by the Big Bad Killer and then let her be a passive victim until the hero can swoop in and save her. While often victims, heroines in romantic suspense also need to be smart, motivated women who contribute to their own rescues—or maybe even rescue the heroes. Often, the hero and heroine end up in peril together, all the better for making a bond and meshing their smarts. At the same time, as in any romance, both the hero and heroine need an emotional vulnerability that can be exploited and overcome in order to complete their journey. 

Don’t let the romance overtake the plot. It’s a delicate balance to write romantic suspense, something that the professional romance authors’ association, Romance Writers of America, has struggled with for years in trying to set the romantic suspense parameters for its RITA awards, the crème de la crème of romance writing awards. If a book is too heavy on the romance, it becomes a contemporary romance with a little extra tension thrown in. The suspense plot has to work, the suspense needs to be sustained, and the romance needs to develop naturally around it. That often doesn’t fit with the traditional sense of what makes a romance—thus the professional tension. But if I’m going to read (or write) a romantic suspense, it better be suspenseful. 

Every character needs a goal. Even a sick serial killer needs a goal, even if makes sense to no one except himself (or herself). The hero’s goal needs to be more than to save the heroine; the heroine’s goal needs to be more than surviving—or saving the hero. As I mentioned earlier, each needs an internal goal or vulnerability. In WILD MAN’S CURSE, Celestine has to learn where in the world she belongs, and whether the decisions she’s made in her life were made for herself or to please her father. The hero, Gentry, has to grapple with a heavy weight of guilt he’s carried inside for years and learn how to forgive himself for who and what he is…or realize there was never anything to forgive. As for the killer, who kicks off the novel by murdering an 80-year-old voodoo practitioner, a frail old woman, well, he’s a nasty piece of work, but he does have his own reasons—at least in his own mind—for doing what he’s doing. 

Learn the art of the slow burn. In thrillers, human or paranormal, the action moves at lightning speed. You, as the reader, barely catch your breath before the next development occurs. It’s the fast roller-coaster ride, where the suspense novel is one slow, tense climb to the top of the highest peak of the world’s shakiest roller coaster. The plot builds tension like a stack of firewood, log by log, until one piece too many goes on top and sends the whole pile sliding into the river—or, in the case of WILD MAN’S CURSE, into the bayou. 

Respect the foxhole romance. Most romantic suspense novels take place in a very limited period of time. WILD MAN’S CURSE unfolds over a period of less than three weeks. This is another case where romantic suspense provides the author with a delicate balance. There must be a romance, of course, or it would be straight suspense. But how far can a true romance progress in three weeks without a bad case of instalove? 

It’s the authors job to develop the relationship gradually and believably. In some cases, of course, the hero and heroine might have a previous relationship that ended on a misunderstanding, and then the happily-ever-after can work. But Celestine and Gentry have known each other only for three weeks by the end of WILD MAN’S CURSE? They have what I call foxhole instalove—their shared experience “in the foxhole” (or the bayou) ramps their relationship faster than it would under normal circumstances—but neither can be sure how much was the danger and how much is real. But they can have a very believable happily-for-now with a clear path toward a happily-ever-after. 

So those have been my lessons and conclusions after making the jump over to romantic suspense. It’s a genre I’ve come to enjoy both reading and writing. In fact, I like to joke that the only difference between my paranormal books and my romantic suspense novels are the percentage of humans involved!

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. 


Roger Simmons said...

One word to summarize my feelings for “Wild Man’s Curse”, WONDERFUL !!!!!

New and exciting introduction to the “Wilds of the Bayou” series,
Excellent / Enjoyable,
Remarkable / Recommend it,
Fantastic / Fast / Fabulous / Funny,
Lovely / Loved it !!!!!

Now go buy the book guys, you will have a wonderful time in the bayou.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks, Roger!

miki said...

i don't like weak wimphy heroine either.... women are stronger than even themselves think so it's time everyone see it^^

This book is oen that i recommend without any doubt! it's a fantastic story with gripping tenseion, mystical elemant, slow building romance and setting that will make you wary of your surrounding
a story you won't want to put aside until you finished reading teh last line

Esther Gerdzen said...

Sounds like a great read .
Thanks for the opportunity .

James Robert said...

Thank you for both the great excerpt and giveaway. I appreciate them both

Liz S. said...

I enjoyed your outlook on developing a romantic suspense story. I love the term "foxhole insta-love". The danger does make the attraction stronger and quicker. I think Genstry and Ceelie will make it for the long haul.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! @Liz, yes I think Gentry and Ceelie have a good shot at an HEA...it just takes them a bit longer than three weeks! (Which is probably a wise thing.)

Richard Brandt said...

I love the bayou setting.

The Book Blitzer said...

I love this cover! Thank you for the chance at the giveaway! :)

Beppe DM said...

Thank you so much for the giveaway!!! ;)

Danielle Merkle said...

Thank you for the amazing giveaway!

Rita said...

The story sounds very intriguing.

gemiinii said...

Sounds like an amazing read!

Betul E.

Sharon E said...

Just what I like a good mystery. Will be reading. Thanks.

Jo-Anne B. said...

Wild Man's Curse sounds like quite a mystery. I'd love to read it to find out what Gentry does about the murders and how he protects Celestine.

Melissa Parkin said...

Definitely on my to-read list! :)

Jan Lee said...

Wow, what an excerpt. It definitely makes me want to read this book. I have to find out what happens! :)

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for all the comments, guys! I hope you have a chance to check out the book! Gentry and Celestine have quite a wild ride ahead of them!

Caitlin said...

Thank you for the guest post. It was really interesting.

Roxanne said...

I honestly don't think I've ever read a book with a bayou setting before.

Kathy Davis said...

I love the opening line. "The bones said death was comin’, and the bones never lied."

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks to everyone for the comments. I hope you have a chance to check out the book!

dangerpatel said...

i love mystery books.this is my next read. :)

Suzanne Johnson said...

Hope you enjoy it!

katieoscarlet said...

I love mysteries, looking forward to reading this novel.

Judy Thomas said...

I love stories set in the bayou!

Misty said...

This is a must read on my summer TBR list. (jozywails@gmail.com)

Wayne Lecoy said...

It would be great to win a $50 Amazon gift card.
This book Wild Man's Curse
(Wilds of the Bayou #1) by Susannah Sandlin
sounds like a book i would enjoy reading.
I like the book cover it grabs your attention because
the woman on it looks so mysterious.
Thank you for having this giveaway.

Tammy D said...

This sounds like a great read, thanks for the chance

Anonymous said...

Mystery novels are the best! Cant wait to read this one! Thanks for the giveaway!:)

Dan Denman said...

I like the cover and excerpt of the book! It sounds like a good murder n=mystery!