Today I am really happy to have Suzanne Johnson back on the blog. The second book in her Sentinels of New Orleans series, River Road was published at the end of November and I personally can't wait to read it.
Twisting Myths: Loup-Garou, Weregators, and Merpeople,Oh My
I remember hearing the term loup-garou not long after moving to Louisiana. It’s French for “werewolf,” of course, and South Louisiana once belonged to France. So the legends of the loup-garou (also called “rougarou” or “roux-ga-roux”) date back to the land’s settlement.
Much of my fiction is heavily tied to South Louisiana culture, so I’ve had fun playing around with the loup-garou legends, as well as the general were-creature and shapeshifter lore. In Louisiana, sometimes the loup-garou only partially shifts, and has the body of a man but the head of a wolf or dog. While the loup-garou is used to threaten kids to behave, his nature isn’t clear—in some versions of the legend he’s evil; in others, he might show up as a warning or a benign creature.
For my Sentinels of New Orleans series, I decided to twist the loup-garou legend to tie it even more firmly to Louisiana culture. I didn’t want my garou to be an ordinary, garden-variety werewolf. How dull is that?
So I had my loup-garou coming to Louisiana with the Acadians when they were driven out of Canada by the English in the 1700s, settling in the remote French colony of Louisiane. He (or she) carries a virus that is a demon’s curse and can be easily passed to a human through an open wound. My loup-garou is, like a werewolf, affected by the moon cycles, but shifts more easily. He has less control over his wolf, is a rogue that avoids packs and social structures, is always an alpha, and is bigger than your average wolf. He has a deep red coat and golden eyes.
How evil is my version of the loup-garou? He’s not innately bad, but he’s very other. Which means anyone who comes across his path at the wrong time, or angers him, or makes him lose control…well, that person might be in trouble. (Um…did I mention that one of my major series characters is a loup-garou, and a newly turned one at that? He’s not handling it well and it’s something he and my other characters are going to have to deal with for quite a while, which means lots of interesting twists and turns ahead.)
In my world, a shapeshifter differs from a werecreature. For one thing, shifters are not affected by silver or by moon cycles. They can shift at will via magical force. They’re born, not made, although the shifter gene can skip generations and then suddenly show up almost at random. The animal they shift into is also an inherited trait.
One of the things I most love about writing paranormal fiction is the ability to take a common mythology and twist it to create a fresh look at an old convention. In River Road, I introduced a couple of new species of weres and shifters. Weregators are, as you might guess (in a horrified kind of way), people who live in the Louisiana swamps who can shift into alligators. They’re only mentioned in River Road (although there’s a free short story on my blog, “Chenoire,” that features weregators).
Merpeople, on the other hand, are aquatic shapeshifters in my world. They can shift at will, are born and not made, and can shift partially into the classic merman and mermaid form—or shift fully into
really huge fish. They’re also heavily mainstreamed into the South Louisiana fishing industry which, when you think about it, is kind of…cannibalistic.
What’s the most unusual shifter or were-critter you’ve come across in your reading?
River Road was published by Headline in the UK on the 22nd of November.
To find out more about Suzanne Johnson: