Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rusurrecting Yorick: The Bones of the Book

"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio." Shakespeare's Yorick, a fellow of infinite jest and merriment has been reduced to the grim visage of a hollow-eyed skull. 'Tis the season of the macabre, and my thoughts turn to bones.

The bones of my book that is: the skeletal framework on which the muscular content will hang. An outline. The analogy that has presented itself is a grim hunt of sorts, a hunt for bones that can subsequently be pieced together to form a full-fledged skeleton. I am assisted in this endeavor by a residual archaeological propensity for an appreciation of moldering bones, but also by the literal process of attempting to fit a scarcity of remains together in some coherent fashion, in a way that suggests a logical overall picture of things.  My olfactory apparatus is in overdrive sniffing out the dramatic potential of the various historical personages and incidents that I come across during the course of the research.

I am currently examining personal memoirs left by the earliest settlers of San Fransisco, and specific individuals or their archetypes leap off the page, imbued with a brilliant halo of dramatic possibility; and of course there is the quotidian dust of the time (of the gold variety to a novelist) which provides the almost passed over details such as the cost of beef, the scarcity of vegetables, the wild cattle that would, at times, race, eyes-rolling and panicked, through the streets of the township. The prefabricated iron houses that were shipped from New York to address escalating rental costs; they were assumed to better withstand the raging fires that periodically consumed the town, but in fact were not only suffocatingly hot and piercingly cold as the weather dictated, but had an overriding tendency to collapse under flames burying its tenants in sheets of scalding iron. These are all little phalanges (I need 206 after all!) that will comprise a hand or two...although archaeological training suggests (a furtive whisper in one ear to which I most reluctantly pay heed) that I may indeed have more than one skeleton on my hands (and thusly more than one novel) and some bones may need to be left in the mud for a subsequent story.

I have recovered only a few bones, a tibia here, a vertebra or two almost completely obscured in the surrounding narrative; the little nuggets of gold that were literally swept from the mud-caked streets of San Francisco in 1849. So at present my outline resembles a rather poor partial skeleton with major features still absent; I am still seeking primary components, the pelvis, the skull, the more robust bones. But beyond the bony scaffold, beyond the gaping deficiencies there is the suggestion of the lively Yorik, a hint of the potential of a full-fleshed narrative in all its vibrancy. Closing my eyes I cannot quite see the jovial jester who hath born Hamlet on his back a thousand times, but if I strain sufficiently I would swear I could make out the childish laughter of the young Prince as they gambol and play.

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