Where do I begin? The vacation was amazing. We rented a house built in 1850 that was a block off Bourbon Street. I swear the place was haunted. Pictures can't do it justice, but it had twenty-foot ceilings and period antiques. Here's a glimpse of the living room:
Just walking through the place, touching the mardi gras masks and beads, looking at the family portraits on the walls, sparked ideas for story settings.
Our tour of the French Quarter led us past famed restaurants and bars, past street bands and through a cemetery where we glimpsed the tomb of famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
Walking along Bourbon Street, I took in the loud, rowdy bars, the tipsy women wobbling in too-high stilettos and the drunk men weaving through the crowds. It was all great for setting, but where were my characters?
On the third day we wandered along a side street in search of a store that had been recommended to us called Esoterica, a place that was supposedly full of authentic witchcraft supplies. The hours posted on the door said the shop should have been open for another hour, yet it was locked.
Another group stopped and tried the handle. One of the women tipped her chin at the Harley parked out front. "Mimi's still inside. That's her bike," she said.
Another lady shook her head. "She makes her own hours. You don't screw with the voodoo queen of New Orleans." With that, the group walked on.
My curiosity was piqued, and I was bound and determined to meet this new Harley-riding voodoo queen who inspired such fear. So we returned the following day. And I found my character.
The shop was like nothing I'd ever seen.
But Lady Mimi was the most interesting thing in there. With hair as black as a raven and violet eyes that put me in mind of Elizabeth Taylor, she was stunning, but frightening at the same time. Standing about five-feet-two, she had a powerful voice that could raise the hair on the back of my neck. She spoke so fast that I had to really pay attention and tune out everything else lest I miss something, because I had the feeling that anything she said could be a pearl of magical wisdom.
She practically floated through the store, moving at breakneck speed, showing us this and that. When my husband asked for a tarot reading, she asked my friend and me to, "watch the store and make sure no one carried the place off."
More than a little surprised, we agreed to mind the store while she did the reading, which ended up taking about an hour. After she was finished, she gave us all advice on how to start every day with positive energy using what she called the Star Exercise. And it actually works. When I've had stressful moments since the trip (and there have been many), I resort to that exercise and I get instant relief.
Before we left the shop, Mimi asked where we were staying. Turned out there was going to be a parade that night that went right past our house, and Mimi was going to be on one of the floats as a dignitary.
Sure enough, it did go right down our street. Mimi threw all sorts of beads and candy out for us.
But that was the least of what she gave me. Mimi will turn up in a future book, or perhaps even a series of books. Yeah, there's that much to her. She definitely cast her spell on this writer.