One thing I’ve always enjoyed (sometimes to my writing’s detriment) is setting. I want to be able to read a story, close my eyes, and feel, hear, touch, see the place where my characters live. To this day, Eden and Ingrid’s opening sequence at the McKay party is one of my favorite settings I’ve ever written. Perhaps I am a little sentimental about it, but reading it again always makes me smile.
The McKays gave a party every year at the beginning and end of summer, along with other lesser festivities book-ended between. At the beginning and ending parties the Who’s Who of society appeared, making the nobility of Stillbank look like unbecoming peons. A week of preparations went into both parties, but there was a fervor about the season opener that could not be paralleled. Trucks came in a steady stream to the plantation house that stood in the bayous, trucks that bore decorations of the latest sort, pounds of food and gallons of drink: punch, juices, and most important of all, enough booze to float the United States Navy. Caterers from New Orleans and Baton Rouge flooded the McKay kitchen with demo plates of all the new recipes, mostly from Cajun, Italian, or French origin. There was a band every year, and the list of those who played previous bashes was like looking at a synopsis of jazz history. Stillbank boys, who were looking to pad their wallets with enough money to keep their honeys in chocolate for the summer, clambered to the mansion gates to help with set up.
As a flurry of activity descended upon the plantation house the Saturday before, villagers began pools to bet on who would descend from the train this year. Garbo had made an appearance in the past, but word on the street was that McKay had insulted her by saying she would never amount to much of an actress, and so she would not be attending this year. The fact was, no one ever knew who would make it on John McKay’s list of acquaintances, and for those villagers who were not profitable enough to be attending the party themselves, hope of catching a glimpse of one of their heroes at the train station was a savory promise.
The McKay season opener made it sufficiently possible for Stillbank to turn itself on end for a whole weekend.
The plantation lived beneath a tangible cloud of activity for a week, but at five o’clock that ended, and the last few preparations were shipped out to the yards. Then at exactly nine o’clock all of the lights turned on, and as the day was dying, the McKay mansion looked like a gargantuan bride speckled with lights and lit from head to train. Guests arrived by the 8:15, rolling in from New Orleans, and from then on, a steady stream of cars, specifically borrowed for the night, shuttled the rich and famous and the just plain frivolous to the beaming front doorstep. Here they disappeared into the golden glow of a promising night.