Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: This Glittering World

A few months back, I popped into Kmart for some random stuff, and, as always, my route detoured through the small aisle dedicated to books {because sometimes you find a gem somewhere other than the big book chains}. That particular day, planted in the young adult section, was this beautiful, peaceful, snowy cover that drew my attention for two reasons. One, I missed snow {and this was the only way I was going to get any}. Two, it had a really pretty bird on it {Yes. I'm that easy to please}. So I picked it up.

"Please let this sound half as interesting as the cover is pretty," I muttered as I flipped to the inside cover copy.

And you know what? It did. Just the first little intro, "T. Greenwood, acclaimed author of Two Rivers and The Hungry Season, crafts a moving, lyrical story of loss, atonement, and promises kept," had me hooked. {To be fair, I'm sort of a sucker for books that hold any promise of making me cry}.

I didn't get to it right away {had another couple books ahead of it in the queue} but I kept passing it on my bookshelf, fingering it's spine and promising it, "you next." Eventually, I made good on my promise. And I finished it in a total of maybe five hours.

About this book I can now say two things:
It was in the wrong section.  -and-  Covers can be deceiving.

This Glittering World, by T. Greenwood, gripped my heart in a stranglehold and left me reeling.

You know those giant, hand-inked bibles with parchment-thick pages you find in ancient monasteries? Well, that was the weight of this 10 oz. book on my chest when I closed its covers. {Yes, I actually weighed it}. It was heavy.

The story follows Ben, a part-time History professor, as he struggles through the aftermath of finding Ricky, a Navajo teen beaten to death and frozen under a blanket of freshly fallen snow in his front yard. Because of a past filled with loss, which he's buried deep in the corners of his heart, Ben can't seem to let this incident go. Then he meets Shadi, Ricky's older sister, and their shared experience of loss opens a channel to Ben's buried past and gives him a reason not to let it go. The authorities chalk up Ricky's death as alcohol-related, despite the obvious foul-play. So Ben, in hopes of filling the cracks his past has left in his heart, begins searching for the truth about Ricky's death - searching for justice. At the same time, Ben begins to look inward - to question everything about his life, including his fiancé, Sara.

Now, I have to tell you, Ben didn't get much of my sympathy. In fact, most of the time, I pretty much just wanted to smack him. Or hit him with my car...
He's so deadset on dealing justice for Ricky's death, and fulfilling his own desires, that he lets himself overlook the injustices he's inflicting upon Sara {and later, upon Shadi and himself as well}.
He's a selfish man and an unlikeable character. He does nothing to change himself or the situation {that he caused}. He admits to himself that Sara deserves better, but he won't better himself, nor will he man up and leave her so that she might find someone better. Hardly any of his other choices {or lack therof} are any better. And the ones that are come too late.  
He is, without a doubt, a tragic hero. He makes one bad decision after another, and never learns from his mistakes.

Which is part of why I very quickly found myself empathizing with Sara. At first, I felt as though it was some individual quirk of mine that I identified better with her. She is often sullen, guarded, angry, and suspicious, after all. But Ben's own explanations for her attitude and behavior, despite his best efforts to convince me otherwise, justifies her. Sure, the girl has flaws. She loves Ben {or maybe the idea of him} to a fault. And she's constantly jumping to the negative in every situation, unable to find a way to make herself happy. But I get it. Her reactions may not be the best, but they aren't invalid.

Then there's Shadi. As someone with "card-carrying" Native American relatives, and just enough Native blood to be considered one myself, I liked Shadi right away. In fact, by the end of the book, despite her role as "the other woman," I respected her the most of any of the main characters. She was wise, strong, and reacted the way I would hope any woman who caught my husband's affection would when she found out Ben was {engaged to be} married: She backed the hell off and called him out for being a "selfish asshole" {her words}. She was, at times, the only voice of reason in this book.

But even Shadi's words of wisdom weren't enough to save Ben from himself. Especially because he didn't listen to them. And so, at the end of this book, I was left uttering one {vast and heart-breaking} question: "...at what cost?"

And that is why, despite a five-day struggle to get my words in order, I chose to review this book. It was not only beautifully written, but here I am, so worked up by these characters actions that I've taken days picking through all the things I had to say about them in order to write this. Days, I might add, which I refused to pick up another book {I have a very large to-read pile screaming my name} until I could write out my feelings about this one. If you want characters who jump off the page, whether you like them or hate them, This Glittering World has them.

Am I saying this is an easy, happy read? Hell no. {Sure, it was a quick read... But only because I couldn't bare to put it down without knowing what happened to these people.}

What I'm saying is this book meets my criteria {previously mentioned in What I Read vs What I Write: Alexis's Take} for a good read. I was invested. Completely. It gripped me, it kept me thinking on it days after I'd finished, and it had at least one character I wanted to do physical harm to.

A note of caution: If you have been through any tough or life-changing situation that you're still emotionally dealing with {which may or may not appear in the pages} this story may make you spiral into a place you don't want to be - that you might have worked hard to get out of. BUT it may be extremely cathartic, pulling you out of the last of whatever it is you're going through. {Okay. Now I can at least say, "Don't say I didn't warn you."}

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Pea Short of a Pod: Part Three -- the finale

A weekend at Oak Alley with J and M... the last hoorah! Yeah, I'm a lot later than I promised on getting this posted. Hopefully it'll be worth the wait -- and if not. Don't tell me. I'm fragile. *grin*

Day Three:

The iron fence post in the cemetery.
I love trees -- the bigger and older the better. There’s something ethereal about really old large trees. Something tugs at the center of my chest and steals my breath away when I stand under their vast branches. I’ve heard people talk about this same feeling when they’ve walked into a centuries old cathedral or experienced some sort of spiritual awakening or baptism. That’s what trees do for me. Trees are the cathedrals that God makes. And in that moment I take pause to think of all they’ve seen, my own eyes widen with wonder. It’s like a tiny baptism for me. And we just chop them down to pave roads and erect strip malls in their place.

I think that’s why Oak Alley is so amazing. The caretakers of this property know the value of trees. The mansion is impressive, the history is undeniably valuable, but it’s the trees that people spend the most time with and will travel thousands of miles to see.

So I wasn’t surprised when we sat at breakfast that morning and a caravan of buses and RVs rolled into the parking lot. By all accounts, it should’ve been a slow Monday morning. But I understand the need to see the trees. And I’m glad of it. Because as long as the people come, their long lives are protected -- at least from us.

The external-path canopies of tree branches were breathtaking.
Monday was our designated workday. We’d done the tour, taken a million and half photos and (let’s be honest), with nine tour buses and more campers that we cared to count, our cottage was looking mighty appealing. Neither Jeannie nor I are big on crowds.

Leaving the café we had the best conversation that two writers reclaiming their Mojo could have with the hostess. She asked if we’d enjoyed our visit and if we’d seen the mansion. We said we had and we were planning on a quiet day of writing in our cottage. Her eyes brightened and she said, “You’re writers! That’s so exciting. I love books! What do you write?” We each beamed. Then Jeannie and I each rattled off out interests and projects in Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and YA. The hostess’s smile dimmed and she replied, “Oh.” Then, she frowned. “I don’t ever read fiction.”

Awkward. Here’s that slice of humble pie you didn’t ask for (but probably needed). Please and thanks.

So, we ducked into the gift shop, licking our wounds. Jeannie might have bought another voodoo doll. I can’t be sure.

Meta-photography. Jeannie framed in oaks and portico.
We spent the afternoon holed up in the cottage with our laptops, bird sandwiches, broccoli soup, and lots of coffee and tea. I think the best thing about being with another writer on a retreat like this is there’s never awkward silence. There were clicking waves of feverish typing from time to time… but then there was always a measure of silence. And even when all that ever happens is silence, and we find ourselves staring at a blank screen, we understand the need to be inside of our own heads. Especially right then. And there’s no judgment. No expectations. Most of all, there’s no request to look for the shoes that have vanished but magically reappeared the moment your butt leaves your office chair and, incidentally, are right where you told your husband you’d seen them last. The magic of being with a fellow Pea is she knows where her shoes are and even if she doesn’t, she wouldn’t expect you stop writing to look for them. Peas find their own shoes.

We did take a couple of breaks. And we did talk. It wasn’t all silence. There was some mumbling to voodoo dolls in the kitchen. I hoped it was J. I couldn’t ever prove it wasn’t. I also took some time to fill out a bunch of postcards and send them away. It’s sort of my thing. Postcards. Most everyone I know has received a postcard from me at least once. Or will, eventually. (I need to work on my segues.)

But the best part of our laid back afternoon at the cottage was Cam II. Last year, at the cabin in the woods, Alexis was bed mates with a lizard. Literally. (That isn’t some crazy metaphor or secret code.) There was a lizard hibernating atop a calendar, which was hung on a bunk-bed post. I guess he wanted to make sure he didn’t oversleep. At any rate, he stayed with us the entire Pea-treat. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw Cam II sitting tucked between the blinds behind a sheer curtain. It was like an omen, a blessing, a symbol of our returning inspiration embodied in the length of a garden lizard. Cam the Chameleon had reincarnated and appeared to us. Come to us in the form of a tiny reptile, our Mojo had returned. The clouds opened, the wordsmith angels sung. We would live to write another day.

We gaped. We awed. We relished in the chameleon. And then, I said, “Damn that lizard looks skinny.”

J replied, “Yup, that’s a skinny lizard.”

“Do you think he needs to eat?” I asked.

“How would I know whether he needs to eat, M?”

“I dunno.” I shrugged and peered closer at our emaciated symbol of hope. “It’s warm again. Maybe I’ll put him outside.”

“Whatever,” J sighed.

I looked at J with wide eyes. “I mean, what if he dies in here? We can’t let a chameleon die in here. What would Cam say?”

“You realize,” J said, raising an eyebrow at me. “It’s not a chameleon. And neither was Cam. They are called anoles.”

“Whatever,” I scoffed.

Peeling away the sheer curtain, I reached between the slats of blinds to recover our little chameleon-anole friend. He’d woken from a dead sleep, his green blinking eyes flashed with fear. And then, he leaped at my face like a rabid spider monkey. I shrieked like a banshee and flicked him off onto the couch before realizing my folly. I heard J’s voice, distant and unimpressed, as she said, “I don’t think he likes that.” But I ignored her, thinking only of what would happen to us if our emaciated hope died! Oh, the insanity! So, I dove into the couch cushions after him. He shimmied to the floor, and I knocked over the coffee table as I scampered on hands and knees across the hardwood to recover him. Finally, squishing his lizard face against the edge of the carpet, I panted and bellowed, “Gotcha!” (*Note: this scene has been dramatized for your entertainment.)

With Cam II clutched between my hands, I brought him outside. I walked into the nearby field. The sun beamed down and I opened my hands. His little reptile face brightened as his skin warmed. He blinked as if to say, “Thank you.”  I released him into the cool green grass.

J appeared behind me and said, “Do you feel better?”
“Yes,” I replied as we turned and walked back to the cottage. “He can eat and grow strong.”
“Or get eaten by a raven,” J said. “There was a lot of them at the edge of the field today.”
I gasped and I ran in the direction of Cam II screaming, “Oh, gods! I’m so sorry!”

I spent the next ten minutes chasing after the tiny lizard in the grass until I re-caught him. Panting, with grass-stained knees and my heart beating wildly against my ribcage, I put him in a bush right next to the cottage where there were plenty of bugs.  I had to do right by Cam II. The guilt would have ruined me.

Tree love.
After an uneventful dinner, J and I decided to do the one thing we were most excited about. We grabbed our flashlights and headed out onto the grounds after dark. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip. Why? It was all about the trees.

We hiked across the large field between the cottages and the estate. It was warmer than it had been the previous two nights, and we were the only guests on the property. We had the whole place to ourselves and we relished in it.

After skirting around the mansion and trying to peek into the windows in hopes of having a paranormal encounter (not that either of us really thought a ghost would press its face against the window to stare back at us -- but we could hope), we strolled down the path.

Flashlights off, feeling the immensity of the branches that hung overhead in the crushing darkness, we sat on a bench. Looking at the stars through those earthly skylights of leaf and branch, we imagined. We imagined the characters and stories we could tell. We imagined the histories we could create. We did what we as writers love more than the air we breathe (it is the air we breathe) -- we gave the reigns of our mind over to our imaginations. And we flourished.

Mansion in evening light. The new oaks view.
In the end, it wasn’t the cottage, a ghost, or a skinny lizard that rescued us. It was the possibility held within the branches of those oaks, the quiet darkness, and each other. And that, in the end, is what a Pea-treat is all about.

Tomorrow, Alexis attempts to wrap her brain around a book she's read and shares it with The World. *cue ominous music*

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One Pea Short of a Pod: Part Two

A Weekend at Oak Alley with J and M… continued

Day Two:

The mansion and oaks -- stunning.
There’s a certain kind of quiet one will experience whilst sleeping in an old quarter-house situated alongside the pastoral landscape of the Mississippi River Road. And at its heart, Oak Alley A.K.A. Bon Séjour -- even in all her glorious grandeur -- is merely a not-so-small country home. I’d forgotten how eerily quiet a country home could be.

I woke with a start in the middle of the night to a mysterious creak coming from the next room. The living eyes of the child’s portrait -- dusted in the sick yellow glow of a nearby security light -- hung over my bed and glared down on me. I shivered. The fractured images of the dozens of people that must’ve died on the grounds over the estate’s long life flickered through my mind. I heard another creak. My palms sweated. My heart raced against an inexplicable mounting fear.

The child's photo over my bed.
Then, with a hiss of breath whispering from the next room, I remembered the mysterious voodoo dolls J had acquired the day before. I felt my body grow cold, rigid.

Not really.

The truth? J’s bed was incredibly squeaky and it caused me to giggle like a child at a sleepover every time she adjusted herself under the covers. And… it was crazy cold! I think our first night in Cottage 6 might’ve been the coldest January night in Valcherie, LA (sound familiar). As you may recall, we did have central heat and air, but M wasn’t getting out of bed to crank up the thermostat at 3am. Brr.

A few hours later, as daylight broke, I heard another creak, a frantic rustle of fabric, and a low groan. I peered around the door to spy J, shuffling off to the kitchen with a sheet over her head and mumbling something that sounded a bit like, “Goffeeeee...”

That was my only undead sighting of the Pea-treat.
J wakes early for a voodoo-doll-wielding-vampire.

We followed through with our plans to tour the mansion. Off to breakfast we ambled -- knowing more coffee (ie: liquid life) awaited us at the cafe. We were seated near a few tables of excited travelers, snowbirds from the north, and J and I did what we do best. We eavesdropped while noshing on our eggs and crispy bacon

Old typewriting in Cottage 6 -- fitting

After breakfast, we toured the house. With the clang of the bell, the doors opened and a period dressed lady met us. We went room by room, learning the history of the former residents since 1839 – the Romans, the Stewarts, and what little is known of those that came in between. Afterward, standing on the portico of the mansion, we sipped our icy lemonades as the winter wind whipped around us. We said to one another, “I don’t know about reclaiming our Mojo but this iced drink thing was a pretty ridiculous plan.” So we bundled our frostbite phalanges into the pockets of our coats and headed to the cottage for hot tea, lunch, and an afternoon of writing.

Having consumed a lovely broccoli cheese soup and sandwiches, which we cobbled together in our cottage kitchen, J set up her voodoo dolls and laptop at the bar. I settled onto the couch where I promptly emailed J -- formally requesting her participation in an interview for Court Street Literary Collective. (grin) “Really?” she said to me, unamused.

By late afternoon we’d consumed liters of tea and coffee, and were in need of an outing. Out the door we went -- but this time I had my fancy camera in tow. We wandering the grounds until after the tours closed for the night, snapping dozens of photos. Only the two of us and one other passive-aggressive photographer -- who we couldn’t decide whether he followed us because he wanted us to leave or he was frightened to be alone but too shy to say as much. Either way, the miraculous method in which he juggled his large camera whilst talking on his mobile will forever be remembered and may, or may not, be recorded for all time as a character trait in some future story.

Sunset reflections in a sugar kettle at Oak Alley
By dark, we were hungry and we headed back to the cottage where I offered to cook and promptly tried to burn the building to the ground. (Perhaps, a mild exaggeration?) Well, see… what had happened was… I left the Panko crusted fish under the broiler for a tad bit longer than intended. As I tried to rectify my folly, J entered the kitchen and said, “Um… Chel. It’s kinda smoky in here.” Not bothering to look at her, because I was fiercely scraping the burned bits off the top of the fish, I replied, “Yeah, I know. I know. The fish was a tad over broiled-” Silence. Then J said with a sternness that I’d not ever experienced before, “No! You don’t understand. It’s smoky in here…look!” So I did. As I looked above me, into the fifteen-foot ceilings of our quarter-house, I saw thick black smoke blotting out the ceiling light like an eclipse. Then, I watched it roil under the door casings into the adjacent dining and living areas like an evil Louisiana swamp fog. We looked at one another and promptly darted in opposite direction to open all the windows and doors before the fire alarm went off.

It was a crisis averted, until I sat down with my fish and inhaled its Panko crust into my lungs. The sting of fresh burnt Japanese breadcrumbs raked against my organ walls with each breath I took and I realized it was time to lick my wounds, curl under the covers, and call it a night. The fish was determined to get me one-way or another. I was convinced. Before the lights switched off, J said to me, “Maybe we need to go back to the gift shop and buy you one of those health warding voodoo dolls...”

One of the newer oaks by twilight.

Tomorrow, one final installment of One Pea short of a Pod and my love affair with old trees exposed. I promise... it's almost over. I've fallen into a mire of gluttonous overwriting. It can't possibly last much longer. Better here than my manuscript. (grin)

Then, on our next featured Tuesday, Alexis will be a Pea in the Pages with some suggested reading and perhaps a review or two. She's been mad reading these days and I can't wait to see what books she's had her nose tucked into.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Book Recommendations

What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with a good book? Okay, yes, there are actual better ways to spend it... especially if you have a certain someone to spend it with... but the topic of love is going to be floating around everywhere today, so we Peas decided to contribute by giving you recommendations for our favorite books of love! Now, love comes in many forms, so these won't be Romance novel exclusive {though I have a feeling there will be some in there}. These are simply our favorite love stories... in any genre! Enjoy!

Since I'm the Pink Pea, and the closest Pea, in personality, to a Disney Princess, it's fitting that I start this off.
My first recommendation, of course {because I own 9 copies; one in French and one in Italian, thanks to my sister} is:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 
A classic. I love the innocence of this romance. I also love that they spend the entire book getting in their own way. The characters are so real in their faults, and the dialogue is, believe it or not, really witty! And of course {as there must be for me to fall in love with a book} there's at least one character I want to do some kind of physical harm to.

The Symphony of Ages Series by Elizabeth Haydon
High Fantasy. Epic Romance. You know those movies where you get more info than the main characters, and so you scream at the TV in frustrated suspense as they miss clues or walk right into obvious {to you} danger? A story that crosses the planes of time, this series has that same effect in its romance. You know well before the main characters do what's going on and you can't read fast enough for them to put it together... before it's too late. It's your classic "boy goes back in time, meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy gets sucked back to future without girl, girl unwittingly finds her way to the future years later, but neither recognize each other" story. I have never wanted a character to figure out something so badly in my life. Except for maybe this next book...

The Way of Shadows {Trilogy} by Brent Weeks
This is decidedly not a love story... on the outset. It's more like... ninja assassins with magic powers. But the love story that blooms inside these three books was, to use the word again, Epic. I nearly cried when I finished the last book because I didn't want the story to end. {Though it ended fantastically}. I am ever grateful to Michelle for suggesting these.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
One of the few true romances I own, this story was beautifully told. And the plot was cleverly set up. Though I cringe at stories of love blooming from adulterous situations, factor in the time period and setting, add a scarily abusive husband/antagonist, and I can let it slide. Definitely one worth turning into a movie.

J's Black-Hearted Almost Love Stories

A thinks her list is the shortest. Nope! That would be mine. Unlike the Pink Princess and Dr. Buttons over there with her "touchy-feely" addiction, I don't read a lot of romance. If a love story pops up as the natural progression of a death and despair story, I'll read it and often enjoy it...as long as it's believable. So here are a few of my favorite "almost" love stories.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
I love the natural progression of the "romance" between Katniss and Peeta. It fits the story, the time, the place, and the characters...and it's not over-the-top-sappy.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
R is Dead. Julie is Living. Their world is changing. This is not your typical boy-meets-girl story and it has a great twist on the zombie myth. Plus, it's the first novel for the author.

The Rachel Morgan series by Kim Harrison
I love this series. Love the characters and the various love stories are real, affectionate, heart-breaking, and seamlessly blend with the action.

 My list might be the most expected (and unexpected -- in some ways). My romance reading chops started young with a very large box of some fifty Harlequin romances handed over to me by a family friend at age thirteen. Though I believe every story has a romance at it heart -- these are a few "hardcore" romances that still hold special places on my bookshelves and in my heart.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
It's no secret that Jane Eyre is my favorite romance and book, ever. I own twenty-one copies and my collection grows each year. Classic, Gothic, full of tension and missteps -- Rochester is the ultimate almost bad boy and Jane is the heroine that you want to see overcome it all in the name of love.

Jane by April Linder
A great companion read to the classic is the retelling by April Linder, Jane. I love this book as much as the original. It's a fresh up-to-date retelling of a romantic tale that shows how this story stands the test of time. I might even love Nico Rathburn a little more than Rochester -- because who doesn't love the idea of falling for a musician.

If you like a nice light romantic read I have two favorites that I dust off and reread once in a while.

Jemima J  by Jane Green
This is a fantastically fun Chic-Lit novel about an ugly duckling journalist that learns love isn't always about looking like a swan. It's a fun, fast, and light read with a lot of heart and humor.

Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys by Kate Brian 
This is a YA favorite of mine. Thrust into a household with seven boys, what's a single and only child like Megan to do? If you want to reclaim that boy crazy and young love feeling you remember at thirteen -- this is the book for you.

Both Megan and Jemima are heroines you can champion because they learn that love isn't always what you expect and sometimes we find love (and love finds us) in unexpected ways.

Lastly, Fire and Ice by Catherine Hart
If you want something a little (a lot) steamier and enjoy a fun Historical Romance, this is a classic of the genre. Pirates, a feisty Irish heroine with a couple tricks up her sleeve for rogue Captain Reed Taylor, and a lush old southern Savannah landscape -- couldn't ask for more.

Have a {sweet/romantic/sexy/steamy/fun/chocolatey/delightful/wonderful} (circle one... or more) Valentine's Day!! See you next week for part two of all the fun I missed! -A

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

One Pea Short of a Pod: Part One

A Weekend at Oak Alley Plantation with J & M

Jan. 29th, 2012 -- 9pm

The trees did not disappoint.
This isn’t the first pseudo writing and inspirational retreat the Ninja Peas have undertaken. It is, however, the first one with central heating and wifi. Last year, I had the hair-brained idea to gather the Peas for a night in an Escatawpa River fishing cabin on what might’ve been the coldest February night in South Mississippi. We managed to keep warm by the fire, played word games, plotted, schemed, and laughed until we cried. But the best bit? We truly reinforced our friendship through a shared passion of writing (and a heartfelt desire to survive the night as armies of woodland mice took up arms against us). It was an unforgettable thirty-six hours and we vowed to do it again.

A bug's eye view of the mansion.
Sadly, this particular weekend at Oak Alley, we are one pea short of a pod. This Pea-treat was truly meant as a retreat. Both J and I were desperate to reclaim our mojo after a hectic holiday season and some productivity stumbling blocks. Plus, with one husband home sick and another just home all the time, it was time to remember why we’d taken our marriage vows many years ago. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder -- and a Pea-treat is the first defense against too much “quality time” with one’s significant other. So, J and I planned a spontaneous (in the span of four text messages) trip to reclaim our sanity. We were booked and ready to go to the haunted plantation of our dreams before either of us thought twice about whether it was actually a good idea (or really cleared it with our husbands…oops). Thus was the origination of a Pea-treat at Oak Alley.

Since our third pea is not so flexible with impulse trips, she will be missed and will be here with us in spirit. But worry not! We have a three-pea adventure brewing for the spring (and we promise to share the madness with you).

Day One:

We left Saturday morning with excitement roiling through our veins. Nothing could stop us! J and I had always dreamed of visiting Oak Alley (rumored to be haunted and film home of Louis from Interview with a Vampire). J was thrilled by the promise of a plantation estate filled with southern gothic flare and dark storytelling inspiration. Me? It was big, big trees and a chance to walk on the same ground as Brad Pitt’s stunt horse. Of course I was excited! Alas, this feverish anticipation was quickly subdued when we’d driven all of four minutes and I said, “Sh*t! I forgot my camera.”

Around we turned then tried again.

I'm so glad we didn't leave my camera behind.
Finally on our way, we rolled west on Interstate 10 toward the Mississippi River. It quickly became clear that the GPS my husband insisted we take (note: I just wanted to bring a map) was confused and bewildered by our decision to retrieve the camera. As I drove eighty miles an hour down the interstate, screaming at the tiny box suction-cupped to my windshield, I tried to reprogram the (cocky) taunting box. Meanwhile, J sat in the passenger seat, giggling, because my interaction with the box went a little something like this: “Yes! That destination. No, wait, that’s wrong. Yes! No. Yes? No! Wait... Yes! No. Yes!” and so on. What I learned from this experience? GPS… no. Map… yes.

After the argument with the tiny (cocky) box was settled, we had a relatively uneventful two and a half hour morning drive with great weather and light traffic. We had plenty of time to chat about what we both needed to accomplish on our pending projects, our hopes for new projects, and how we intended to divvy our time between work and play until our Tuesday morning departure. Ten miles from our exit traffic came to a standstill (as is typical of any drive on a several-mile long bridge over Louisiana swampland). After imagining and talking through several really, really horrible scenarios, we determined vampire alligators would be too sleepy this time of year to scale the bridge. So we were safe… for now. We did learn (if you can call wild speculation “learning”) our near one-hour delay was merely a little old lady and her purse puppy peeing on the side of the road (we can’t be sure who was doing the peeing).

Bridge over the mighty Mississippi.
Finally, we exited and headed toward our destination. We squeed with more excitement than any mere mortal should experience. So much so, I maniacally squeed and snapped photos whilst driving over the Mississippi River Bridge. J took a moment to cover her eyes and pray -- the river’s awesomeness just too much to bear. In retrospect, J’s reaction probably had more to do with my hands not being on the steering wheel and her water phobia than the greatness of the Mighty Mississippi. But, either way, it was pretty awesome.

We drove for the longest seven miles EVER… then we squeed! Again.

Our first impression of the plantation was one of elation (and copious amounts of squeeing). We jumped out of the car at the bottom of the levee and stood, gazing down the alley of oaks from the roadside. Mouths gaping, we stood in the middle of the road, tour buses driving around us, and J said to me, “Oh, yeah. We are so coming back here with Alexis next year.”

I agreed, diving out of the way of a fast-moving vehicle and into the gravel.

Cottage 6 was perfect.
We had lunch at the plantation’s restaurant then moved into our cottage -- but not before J did what she touted was the first and most important thing of the trip. She bought a small collection of voodoo dolls from the gift shop. (Should I be frightened?) After entering the cottage with the B&B attendant (as a murder of crows crept up from the sugar cane fields and flanked the cottage… seriously…) we were each handed a flashlight and told, quite seriously, “You must have these with you if you walk the grounds after dark.”

J’s response: (maniacal laugh) “S-weet!”

M’s response: (eyes J suspiciously, eyes voodoo dolls, eyes flashlight helplessly, and scans room for anything that could be used as a wooden stake)

Perusing the cottage, we found creepy dolls and an even creepier old portrait. But, all in all, the space was wonderful and had plenty of outlets. As J said to me after dinner (stroking the heads of her voodoo dolls and shuffling to her bedroom), “This is gonna be perfect!”

Sunset over the road our first night.
Our first night at Oak Alley ended with a sunset walk around the grounds, a quiet dinner in our lovely cottage, and inspiration teeming all around us. Mojo? I think we’ve stirred it with a single mouse dropping found in the back of the cabinet by the saucepan. It wouldn’t be a Pea-treat without at least one. After all, we’re staying in an old quarter house in the middle of a sugar cane field.

Next time? The conclusion to One Pea Short of A Pod: Weekend in Oak Alley with J and M. I know, I know. The anticipation might just be too much.