I received an email recently from a reader named Rachel about my blog post titled, “I Met A Lady One Night Last Week,” originally published on May 22nd, 2014. First, let me say that I love hearing from readers. You may always write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will write back. Secondly, let me say how much fun it was to respond to Rachel. I discovered there was an interesting story behind the story that many of you might enjoy hearing. But first, you should read the original blog post “I Met a Lady One Night Last Week”
This was the email from Rachel:
Just wanted to say thank you for your VOICE in our world! Read your recent blog entry…with the lady who said, “Who do you want me to be?” Did this really occur? It seemed very real and plausible…and made me think…we do, at times, allow this to happen—we imagine people being who we want them to be, rather than who they are.
Have a blessed day!
And here is my response to her:
Thank you so much for reading my blog post and for your kind words. I wrote the story after I’d been to New Orleans for The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival a few weeks ago where I attended an amazing conference, met wonderful authors, and won the Emerging Writer Award for my book Caught in the Crossfire. The whole week was an adventure that brought many new emotions to the surface, and when I returned I wanted to somehow capture it all in a blog post. But I realized I could never fully put into words my experiences over that week. Certainly not without dwelling in mundane details that would somehow make it all less than it had been. So I decided to personify New Orleans, Louisiana (also known as The Big Easy and NOLA). Now, that was a story I was interested in telling.
It was raining the first night I arrived in The French Quarter. Me, without an umbrella. So typical. But I wanted to explore the city and so I took a walk down Royal Street, bopping from under one store canopy to the next to stay dry. It was as if the whole city was offering me shelter from the rain.
The Quarter, I discovered in the week that followed, is a fascinating place with a mixture of neon lights, Mardi Gras beads, and liquor that flows faster than the Mississippi Delta. But somehow all those touristy trappings felt to me like they only covered the true beauty of the Quarter. So I looked closer and took delight in the centuries of history and Spanish-French culture that show on the slate streets that shift beneath my feet, the buildings that smell faintly of age, the grand homes with their stunning wrought iron balconies and pillars that had once indicated prestige and status. I found myself yearning to see more of the true beauty of the city, but New Orleans is elusive. Just as I thought I had the place figured, it showed me something new. Bourbon Street at night (not a sight I’ll soon forget!), the jewelry and antique stores that line Royal Street, the irony of streets names that all begin with “Rue” or “Saint.” I found myself musing about the intersection of regret and piety.
And so I wrote my story about an old woman with a kind heart who hides her true beauty beneath thick layers of make-up. She is both willing to be whatever I want her to be and yet she resists revealing her truth to me. You ask whether or not I actually met this woman, and my answer is both yes and no. It depends on whether you believe the truth of a place can exist within a fictional story about a person. I like to think it can.
It was nice to hear from you. I enjoyed articulating my thoughts in this response and may well write another blog post for others who are wondering about the aging beauty that is NOLA.
I want to thank Rachel for writing me. Not only was it a delight to correspond with a reader, but her questions got me thinking about my writing from greater distance, allowing me to discover a story within a story. Thank you, Rachel, for the gift of your email! Keep in touch!