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Sometime in 2003 I spotted one of those “150 years ago” tidbits in the local newspaper and read:  In 1853 the worst yellow fever ever to hit New Orleans killed thousands of people, making it impossible for grave diggers to keep up with the burials of the deceased.
 
Wow, I thought. That would make a great base for a story.  I clipped the article and taped it to my desk, where it sat. And sat. And sat. For five years it sat there until my advisor at VC said, “This isn’t going to work for your final thesis. (the work I intended to use) Don’t you have anything else you’re working on?”
 
“Well, sorta. I have this story I’ve started about a girl who lives in New Orleans in the 19th century and her mother dies of Yellow Fever.”
 
“Send me three chapters,” she said.
 
And that was when Michèle was born.  Those three chapters were the easiest chapters I ever wrote. Michèle had been festering in my imagination for so long I worked beyond the three chapters and ultimately completed my thesis requirements and graduated from VC in July 2009.
 
And then Michèle sat, and sat, and sat, for another two and a half years.
 
I won a critique with an agent at the Faulkner Words and Music Festival in 2012. What could I give her except part of Michèle?  So, thirty pages of Michèle went off to the agent, and we met.
 
She loved the story, encouraged me, and gave me some tips. Fired up and ready to go, I packed up my manuscript and computer and took off for a week alone to work on Michèle. My computer keys burned. My fingers ached. I wrote, and rewrote, and edited, and cut, and added… and thought. The freedom to think! What a powerful gift.
 
But then, I packed up my manuscript and computer and went home. And Michèle sat some more.
 
Recently I went to a  party in a museum dedicated to the history of New Orleans’ free people of color.  Strolling through the museum, I learned enough to realize Michèle needs revision. Some of my story is cliché. Some is downright inaccurate.
 
I’m returning to the museum to do further research, and I’ve scheduled a meeting with a professor at Tulane who is an expert on free people of color of New Orleans.  Michèle is still sitting, but I am thinking.  
 
It’s been ten years since I clipped the article. If it takes ten more years to finish the story,
I’ll be 77 years old.  
 
Harriet Doerr published her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, when she was 73 years old.
 
There’s still hope for Michèle!  And me.
 
 

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