Sunday, October 7, 2012

Drawing Upon Parallel Personal Memories

According to author/editor C. S. Lakin, your first paragraph needs three things to hook your readers into the story:

  1. Your protagonist (Isaac Carter),
  2. A catalyst or incident (the binding out of the four orphaned Carter children at the County Courthouse), and
  3. A hint of the protagonist's core need  (to keep his siblings together, to watch over and protect them).
I have researched how they might have journeyed from North Harlowe to New Bern...the route they may have taken to get to the Courthouse once arriving to the city...what the Courthouse may have looked like...

...and now, I need to recreate the emotional responses the protagonist and subordinate characters in this first scene may have had to the incident.
For this I rely on personal memories of a similar event. 

Going to the Courthouse
Hampshire County Courthouse, Northampton, MA
On November 28, 1990, nearly one month after our youngest child's death in a vehicle/pedestrian accident, my husband and I, the driver of the vehicle, our lawyers and a clerk magistrate sat down together at a closed session in Northampton District Court for a show-cause hearing.

The clerk magistrate announced that she had just come back from vacation and had not yet read the background of the case...and it looks like no one was injured. Almost in unison, everyone in the room cried out, Someone died!

We met for thirty half hour...reviewed the circumstances, and resolved it among ourselves. Looking back, it seemed like more time than that had elapsed; and if I hadn't read it for myself in the newspaper I wouldn't have believed it.
It was an accident in the truest sense of the word, [the driver] said of Nichelle's death. It was a tragedy, he added, one that happened in three seconds, the time it took my truck to move eight feet. (Charges Ruled Out In Stroller Death, Union-News (Springfield, MA), Thursday, November 29, 1990, by Richard Bourie: Staff: Union-News.)
As we emerged from the small room upon a long, dark, narrow hall, a reporter approached us from the stairwell ahead. The questions he asked seemed trivial and intrusive. I recall a sense of annoyance that he would invade our privacy, not taking into account that we were in a public place. I answered tersely, then walked past him and descended the stairs.

Our two surviving children were not with us. I don't remember where they were...perhaps with their grandparents. That day's events preceding and following the hearing are as lost to traumatic forgetfulness as the memory of the hearing is forever etched in my mind. Even the memory of approaching the reporter is as walking through a haze, buffered by a valley of no recall.

Roughing out the courtroom scene...
And how must young Isaac Carter have felt...a fourteen-year-old young man, huddling his younger siblings about him, as they entered the courthouse. Master Temple instructed them to go with the Negro matron to the upper gallery and wait until their case was called.

The bell tolled in the cupola above, bidding the townspeople to come to court. It was a big day when the Quarter Session began. The Sheriff had rounded up a jury from among the planters and prominent men of the county, and onlookers and curiosity seekers pushed their way through the doors, hoping to get a seat in one of the plain, straight-backed benches of the gallery. . . .

I imagine Isaac felt an unnatural calm, like time was moving past him in a blur. The chatter of innumerable groups of people rose to a roar, yet muffled by a buffer of distortion. He saw people shoving, pushing, scurrying, but he felt detached from it.

And then the Sheriff entered:
Oyez, Oyez, Oyez. All manner of persons who have any thing to do before the Honorable the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court, and Court of Quarter Sessions, here holden this day, let them come forward and they shall be heard. (A Book of Forms for Practice in the Courts and for Conveyancing, Volume 2, p. 2102.)

Everyone stood as the Justice of the Peace entered and stepped up to the dias and took his seat on the tall bench, and then the people sat down.

A rail divided the general courtroom from the spectator's gallery, and beyond that sat two oval tables where the attorneys sat. Below the judge's bench were benches for the Sheriff and his deputies, and a smaller table where the clerk of court recorded the proceedings.

The gavel cracked three times, and the murmur of the crowd died down to complete silence. The Sheriff called the first case on the docket and people came forward and sat with the attorney at an oval table.

It seemed that case after case was called of one sort or another....

Turning a 2-D scene into 3-D
As I wrote the sketch for the opening of the courtroom scene, I noticed that while I could imagine the disjointed feeling of grief mixed with responsibility and living in the present, I was struggling with getting into the head of a fourteen-year-old boy.

I can see that after we move and get settled in, I'll be spending some time in my new office, surrounded with photos, the apprenticeship documents (which are currently packed away in boxes labeled, "Debra's Gen. Binders/Bedroom #2") and spending some quiet time imagining.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Amazing post! Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal with us. I can't wait until you are able to be settled in your new office and have a chance to think more about the perspective of a 14 year old boy. Moves can be hard sometimes so good luck with the whole process. Hope everything is smooth sailing.