Rusty Cage and Cinnamon Toast

Posted March 25th, 2012 by Candice

The absolute best part of writing fiction is creating levels of meaning and adding layers of texture.  If you’d asked me about this when I was beginning my career, I would have said, “Huh?”  It was enough to juggle characters and plot and dialog and have it make sense. 

I began by layering my historical picture books with different elements, particularly in When the Whippoorwill Calls and One Christmas Dawn, both set in the mountains of Virginia.  I remember spreading out my handwritten notes on folkways, food, crafts, speech, and legends from the region, picking and choosing elements to enhance my story.

I also added superstitions.  When I was ten, I read about “good lucks” and “bad lucks” in Superstitious?  Here’s Why!, a 1954 book I checked out of the library a hundred times.  The summer I was 15, I read all twelve volumes of The Golden Bough in the library’s reference room.  My first nonfiction work, “Never Buy a Broom in August,” a book of calendar-themed superstitions, went deservedly unpublished, but I learned to use that lore to brush texture into my fiction.

Now I’m learning Photoshop Elements and it’s all about levels and layers and textures.  While I try to remember to sharpen my bicubics and make sure my anti-alias is checked, I think about how I want to process my photos.  What effect am I after?  What do I want the photo to say?  It’s just like writing, only with sliders to adjust.

I use the same process in RadLab, a popular photo-editing plug-in.  I pause my mouse over “stylets” with wonderful names like Granny’s Tap Shoes, Cinnamon Toast, Rusty Cage, and Grainstorm.  I pile on effect after effect, mesmerized by the enhanced texture of handmade bricks, the garish light in the sky, the desaturated grass that isn’t winter-dead or spring-green, but something new and different.

When I write, I’m conscious of adding a touch of Granny’s Tap Shoes or Rusty Cage, but most of the magic occurs during the revision process.   I boost scenes, dialog, and description with snippets of regional speech, dollops of little-known legends, scraps of folklore, tidbits of superstitions, and discover new and different aspects of my characters.

Writing the first draft is like shooting a photograph of an abandoned house.  Adjusting images with bits and bobs in subsequent drafts is like sneaking inside the house for a closer peek–a little risky.   What initially seems dull is actually quite beautiful with judicious tweaking. 





7 Responses to “Rusty Cage and Cinnamon Toast”

  1. Melodye says:

    A lovely metaphor, which makes me which (again) that I were more adept at using Photoshop myself!

    And OH!! I remember reading that book, or one very similar. A quick peek at the interior pages & I’d know. I, too, was fascinated by superstitions when I was younger, probably because my Nana wove them into her storytelling & aphorisms, which I latched onto like nobody’s business. 🙂

  2. Candice says:

    Listen, I am bumbling through Elements, armed with two books, and videos from my online class and I still cuss and lose pictures.

    The art in Superstitious? Here’s Why! is by my FAVORITE illustrator, Eric Blegvad. Black and white line drawings that always have a black cat in them–it was his signature, sort of. And my mother’s family was terribly superstitious. To this day, I won’t put a hat on the bed.

  3. Melodye says:

    The black cat!!! Oh yeah…!!!! 🙂

    I’m not superstitious about most things (now), but don’t put me in a chair with my back to the door.

  4. Melodye says:

    P.S. A quick Google search helped me realize that the book cover’s been altered over time, which is why I didn’t recognize the one you posted. *forehead smack* Goes to show how tightly our memories are tied to visual triggers.

    • Candice says:

      Mel, my copy doesn’t look anything like the one I posted. And *it* doesn’t look like the 1954 library copy I read to tatters. But the minute you see the drawings, you’ll know.

  5. Beautiful pictures, beautiful words, beautiful message.

    I like to think of you at fifteen working your way through The Golden Bough. I still have a paperback from when I was 18, but was contented with those bits.

  6. Candice says:

    I have the paperback version of The Golden Bough, too. I don’t know if I could find a whole set of The Golden Bough in a library any more.

    Thanks for the compliments on my photos! I wish I could take a nice flower picture but I seem drawn to the abandoned and not-so-pretty.

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