Thirty three years ago this month, I went on a business trip to New Orleans with my husband. He was busy all day working the booth for the Associated Press at the American Newspaper Publishers Association while I ran the streets. To this day, it was the most fun I’ve had. What a great town to be free to do whatever I wanted. I spent eight days in the French Quarter, poking into shops, wandering down private alleys, and looking in windows of wonderful old homes.
Toward the end of the trip, I finally came across something that wasn’t so wonderful. The horses that pulled the tourist carriages around the Quarter did something to my heart. They didn’t look that happy to me. On the last afternoon I’d have the privilege of visiting, I sat alone at Café Du Monde drinking coffee and people watching, trying not to focus on the horses. The concern didn’t go away, however, and the idea to write a story about their plight settled in my head. For all the beauty of the Quarter, there was something dark and sad about the horses.
Returning home, I began researching; this was before I knew how to use a computer, so it was at the library, microfiche, old travelogues, and encyclopedias. I couldn’t find anything sensational about the horses in New Orleans, which appeared to be well-taken care of in spite of my concerns.
A story began to grow about a child, a little girl, who could communicate with the horses of the Quarter. Alas, when I finished, it reminded me too much of the old Mr. Ed television series and I scraped it. The feeling persisted, dark and unsavory, and soon I began working on The Savant of Chelsea. In this story, a young woman from the French Quarter who is on the autism spectrum goes to medical school, and on to do a residency in neurosurgery in Manhattan.
Publisher’s Weekly reviewed The Savant of Chelsea a few years ago and one of the lines from the review has become its tagline – A New York brain surgeon returns to New Orleans to face the secrets and tragedies of her youth. To read the review go here.
Some debate about the story centers on too many unlikely events. Possibly. If I had to, I could substantiate even the most bizarre occurrences with news articles, such as those surrounding the trials of Robert Durst. His biography is so unbelievable; at age seven, he witnessed his mother committing suicide by jumping off the roof of the family mansion. It was from documentation of the psychiatric examination during his murder trial that my idea for the origin of Alexandra’s mental illness arose. She definitely has psychopathic or sociopathic traits.
All because of a horse drawn carriage.