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Broken Bayou: Debut Thriller

Broken Bayou the debut thriller by Jennifer Moorhead

Author Interview + Book & Author Info + Author Pet Corner!

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Broken Bayou

Broken Bayou

In this debut thriller, a troubled child psychologist returns to a small Louisiana town to protect her secrets but winds up having to protect her life.

Dr. Willa Watters is a prominent child psychologist at the height of her career. But when a viral video of a disastrous television interview puts her reputation on the line, Willa retreats to Broken Bayou, the town where she spent most of her childhood summers. There she visits her aunts’ old house and discovers some of her unstable mother’s belongings still languishing in the attic—dusty mementos harboring secrets of her harrowing past.

Willa’s hopes for a respite are quickly crushed, not only by what she finds in that attic but also by what’s been found in the bayou.

With waters dropping due to drought, mysterious barrels containing human remains have surfaced, alongside something else from Willa’s past, something she never thought she’d see again. Divers, police, and media flood the area, including a news reporter gunning for Willa and Travis Arceneaux—a local deputy and old flame.

Willa’s fate seems eerily tied to the murders. And with no one to trust, she must use her wits to stay above water and make it out alive.

To purchase your copy of Broken Bayou, click either of the following links: Amazon and Interabang Books


Interview with the author of Broken Bayou, Jennifer Moorhead

Broken Bayou focuses on Dr. Willa Watters, a child psychologist who is struggling with her own history. Where did that character come from? Inspiration? Pure imagination?

Dr. Willa first came to me when she was a teenager. I got to know her when she was seventeen. Willa appeared to me after a flash fiction contest I entered years ago. The agent holding the contest said my entry would make a good opening to a novel. And boom.

I saw her and her mother and younger sister on a road trip to Broken Bayou, Louisiana. I knew it would be this family’s last trip there, but I didn’t know why. I think meeting Willa at that age helped me see her history and from there I could see how she was shaped by it.

Many of my backstory scenes did not make the final cut but they were instrumental in getting to know her and her troubled family dynamics. I tried to stay in the background as much as possible and let her show me what life was like for her.

 

Broken Bayou is a small town in Louisiana. Tell us about that community and how you developed it for your first novel?

Broken Bayous is a fictitious town. It’s a mash-up of so many small towns I’ve visited in Louisiana and I’ve always loved the small town vibe. I knew it would be in south Louisiana but I wasn’t sure exactly where. So I pulled up a map and started looking.

I’ve spent time in St. Francisville so I liked the idea that Broken Bayou would be close to that area of the state. Only Broken Bayou would not have the tourism St. Francisville does so therefore not as much money either. I wanted it broken.

Once I had the location, I started fleshing out the town: street names, cafes, antique stores, etc. I drew a map of it and listed what would be there. It was an easy town for me to picture because where I live, I’m surrounded by small towns. 

Broken Bayou

Now that we know the inspiration for Dr. Willa Watters, tell us about the inspiration for the story and how you researched it. 

The story started with a simple newspaper article I read several years ago in The Times-Picayune. It was about a missing schoolteacher whose car was discovered in a bayou near New Orleans. But, for me, the really interesting part revolved around what else the divers found. Turns out bayous make good hiding places. That felt like the real story to me and, more importantly, it felt like Dr. Willa’s story.

It got me thinking, what if a missing teacher was only the tip of the iceberg?

My research spanned many fields. I toured the North Louisiana Crime Lab for starters and interviewed a forensic pathologist there who explained the nuances of body identification, especially when found in water. I also interviewed an assistant District Attorney about crime in southern Louisiana, specifically serial killers. They both provided me with stories that fall into the “truth is stranger than fiction” category.

The most fun I had, though, was interviewing a friend who is also a clinical child psychologist. Her knowledge and her stories helped me understand my protagonist so much better. Human behavior fascinates me, especially when it pertains to our pasts. She helped me navigate some tricky terrain about family trauma, mental health, Autism, and the impact our childhoods have on us.

Tell us about your road to publication:

Oh boy. In a word … long!

My story is very typical in a lot of ways. Broken Bayou is the fourth book I’ve written. The other three are locked away in a drawer! I was fortunate enough to get an agent with my third book, but that book did not sell to publishers. Lots of lessons learned in that process. That agent and I ended up amicably parting ways. I thought I’d indie publish my next book but after it was edited my writing group said maybe I should at least try to traditionally publish. So, like a crazy person, I went back into the query trenches!

I started off querying Broken Bayou as women’s fiction and got lots of full requests and no offers so I hit pause. I hired a freelance editor, and the first thing she said is—this is crime fiction. OH!

So I did another edit and pressed play again, this time as a crime fiction novel. And bingo, I found my agent. We went out on sub to publishers and on our second (or third) round found an editor I am eternally grateful for! I honestly didn’t believe I had a book deal until I signed the papers and they signed the papers. I thought for weeks someone was going to say, “Oh wait, we made a mistake.” Thankfully, that was just my insecure writer voice talking!

 

In addition to writing mysteries, you are also a filmmaker. Tell us about your film projects and how they impact your storytelling:

While my third book was out on sub (and getting rejected!) to publishers, I got an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Distractions are key when a writer is querying or out on sub.

A friend’s daughter wanted to direct an indie short film for Louisiana Film Prize, and she needed a writer. I jumped at the chance then Googled “how to write a short film”. Ha! She guided me through the crazy process and helped me write what would become the first of three indie shorts we produced together. We even made one in May of 2020 on my iPhone with only 4 people on set.

Side note: my husband and father opened a sound stage in 2005 in my hometown so I had the opportunity to visit a lot of TV and movie sets, and it is fascinating to watch behind the scenes. So when it came time to make my indie shorts I understood a little bit of the process but, wow, did I learn so much more. Watching a scene on a monitor is fascinating as a writer. It’s like how I picture a scene in my book when I’m writing it.

During filming, I watched through the monitor and studied what it showed, what it didn’t, how the actors moved in the space, mannerisms and language and everything in between. I think it gave me a wonderful perspective on scene building and character development. Second side note: my sister is the lead actress in all of my films.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a companion book to Broken Bayou. I’ve taken a character from Broken Bayou and I’m writing their story. It’s in the first draft stage so I’m not exactly sure where it’s going (warning – pantser alert) but I loved this character, so I want to follow that story and see where it takes me. But I don’t want to say which character it is yet!

 

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:

Find your tribe. My writing group is the glue that held me together during this process. They supported me, brainstormed with me, edited with me, and talked me off the ledge when I’d call and say, “What in the world am I doing tyring to be a writer.” Finding your people is instrumental in being a good writer, and it also gives you lots of comedy relief!

 

Author Pet Corner!

Bandit! Dolly! and Bibiana!

Bandit – 12-year-old black and white Goldendoodle who loves golf cart rides and chasing squirrels. He does not love thunderstorms.

 

Dolly – 1 ½ year old Goldendoodle who loves to paddleboard with me and is slightly obsessed with her older brother.

 

Bibiana – An animal shelter rescue kitty whose age is unknown and who rules the house with an iron paw! My girls named her after a contestant on The Bachelor TV show!


Jennifer Moorhead — Author of Broken Bayou

Broken Bayou

Jennifer graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Geaux Tigers!

She has written and produced three indie short films that each made top 20 at the Louisiana Film Prize and were awarded at festivals around the world.

She lives in Louisiana with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, one cat, and plenty of horses, mini ponies, and mini donkeys in a place where swamps and winding trails are the norm.

When she’s not writing, she’s on a tennis court laughing and providing job security for her coach.

Find out more about Jennifer by clicking either link: InstagramFacebook

 


Elena Hartwell/Elena Taylor

Header image from Pixabay

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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