Losing my sense of smell has been the worst part of this plague, for which I am very grateful. I got over the debilitating symptoms quickly–and I’m sure being vaxxed had a lot to do with that–but now I feel like the world is somehow flatter.
Luckily, there’s a lot of info about how to recover the sense of smell after COVID-19. (This bit from npr is a good listen, and here’s a read from BBCnews.) Most medical experts suggest sniffing four distinct strong scents daily, several times, to retrain the nose-to-brain relationships–a citrus, a floral, a spice and a menthol.
So I’ve been at that this week, with what I can rustle up from my garden and kitchen cupboards, and also adding three iconic fragrances with very different profiles–an aldehydic (Chanel No. 5), a vanilla gourmand (Hypnotic Poison), and a synthetic aromatic (Cool Water).
This morning I definitely got some of the cool camphor from the mint. Now whether it’s my diligent sniff therapy, or the massive dose of decongestant I swallowed this morning–who knows? But I’ll take it.
(Scentbird asked me to write an article for them! The original post is over here.)
What Fragrance would that Fictional Character Wear?
Authors are always looking for inspiration—from real life, from TV shows, from other books. Many of us make chapter playlists or cast their book as a movie while writing. As a romance author, I often look to perfume or cologne for a deeper sense of my characters’ personality.
Scentbird’s samples are the perfect amount to write a few chapters in a new point-of-view. Here are some of my favorite romance archetypes—matched up to a scent that tells us more about them—from the Scentbird subscription catalogue:
Our Heroine, intelligent and curious, armed with lowered lashes and snappy comebacks. She keeps a Swiss Army knife in her fox-shaped purse, and laughs at the weather. She’s a Veronica Mars or Lucy from The Hating Game kind of girl. TRULYjoyfulby Kate Spade suits her perfectly, with orange zest and sweet peppercorns and candied ginger, warm and breezy and bright.
The Brooding Hero with a pedigree and money he tries to hide behind hard work, tough callouses yet soft underneath, hard spine and melting heart. He’s the Mr. Darcy type, or T’Challa from Black Panther.
He’d wear John Varvatos, leather polished with amber, sweetened with vanilla and balsam fir needles in the spring.
No good story is complete without a gorgeous World-wise Woman With Impeccable Style—à la Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome from Magic Mike XXL—who offers our hero stinging advice and smirks when he blushes.
Bright Crystal by Versace has that kind of elegance, peonies and pearls and a high slit skirt, tea served in a lotus garden.
The Quirky Underestimated Sidekick who cleans up nice out of the lab coat and saves the day with science—Sherlock’s Molly Hooper, or James Bond’s Q.
I am Trash by Etat Libre d’Orange is that clever, taking the peels left behind and turning them into an elixir of apples—pink blossoms, ripe fruit and woody stems.
The Sympathetic Bartender, the one who listens too close—breath brushing your skin—but you don’t move away. They could be the villain, but we won’t know until the end. Starring David Bowie, or Ruby Rose. Juliette has a gun’s Moscow Mule is their signature cocktail: a double twist of lime over ginger ale and crushed ice, slid across a hardwood bar with a wink.
The Little Sister who causes trouble everywhere she goes—sometimes even on purpose—wears vintage silk skirts and glitter dust on her cheeks. She’s a grown up Luna Lovegood, a bohemian Alice Cullen from Twilight.
Get A Room by Confessions of a Rebel, with its lemon cream candy pillow-talk vibe, matches her flirtatious nature.
Our hero has a brief rival, the Unassuming Nice Guy, who steps in with a joke and a sweet crooked smile. (In our screenplay, we write the part with John Cho in mind.) His eyes whisper promises, but he doesn’t voice them.
He wears Versace’s Eros, cool spearmint and bright ambroxan, sweetened with tonka and spiked with vetiver, but he leaves lonely, until the third story in the series.
What perfume or cologne would your favorite characters wear?
And if only we could scent the pages!
I was determined to visit Byredo while seeing my family in Sweden this year.
Niche perfumery from Stockholm with an Indian influence and a simple streamlined aesthetic? Ja, tack–yes, please!
We looked the address up online, and I was excited to discover the store was on Mäster Samuelsgatan street, across from Happy Socks–though my dad made faces when I mentioned the funky footwear shop. My brother and I had trouble getting there–he led me all over streets at odd angles with amazing names–but just when we were about to give up, we found the flagship perfume shop.
The store was a little crystal cave. I’m not sure what I was expecting–something bigger, perhaps, or that the founder Ben Gorham, actually would be there, and I could ask him the odd questions that people side-eye until you tell them you’re a writer–but the saleswomen were supermodel gorgeous, and my dress was faded and my shoes scuffed, and I was too intimidated to ask anything of them.
I sniffed Flowerhead, a fresh floral; the new sweet autumn Eleventh Hour; and bought the fig grenade Pulp–my birthday treat to myself–and they gave me a sample of Bal d’Afrique, too.
Each of the Byredo frags have only a few simple notes–a designer trademark–but they come together to create oddly complicated and evocative scents. A lot of fun for an amateur frag-head like me.
We left in a hurry to meet Dad for dinner, no time to shop anywhere else. They gave me Happy Socks for my birthday.
I hadn’t originally planned on going to the Romance Writers of America 2018 annual conference, but I’m so glad I did.
From the hotel window
Denver was beautiful and a western urban bohemian paradise, and HIGH. (No, I didn’t partake, as I wanted to actually remember my weekend, though I admit being curious about the “Pot Rocks” candy.)
By Friday I was getting the altitude wobbles and on Saturday I woke up dizzy–I’ve never been that far above sea-level outside an airplane.
The food was lovely everywhere. Yes, avocado toast is a thing, and it’s great. So is strawberry-rhubarb jelly/pastry/cheesecake sauce.
Like last year, the best part of the conference were the conversations with writers in all stages on a variety of career paths:
(Even briefly took the wrong train to the airport because I was gushing with a romantic suspense writer who’d been asked for a full manuscript for the first time, rather than paying attention to the station map.)
Brenda Jackson told us about how her fans have helped her choose cover models. (How fun would that be!?)
To the two women at our table who were offended by Suzanne Brockmann’s incredible speech, I’m okay with the door hitting your homophobic ass on the way out.
Love is love is love, and yes, I’m done with being nice.
Dancing bronzes in the hotel courtyard
I went to a bunch of workshops:
The mystery whodunnit dessert party was both silly and cool–comedy and lots of explanations of forensic terms.
The session that really rocked my brain was “The Psychology of Fiction,” by YA author Dr. Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
She talked about what elements of bestsellers are the universals that readers want. I can’t wait for her book on this to come out.
Self-pubbed covers are getting GOOD, y’all, but I only saw three women of color at the indie book signing. We have to do better.
If last summer was eyeglass porn, RWA 2018 was the year of beautiful business card cases and gorgeous plus-size fashion–sooo many bold prints and sassy skirts and all-body-love dresses.
And, I found out that Beverly Jenkins listens to Robert Plant, which makes me happy.
I’ve been researching scent and perfume again–I scribble about it over here, if you like reading about stinky stuff.
Had a busy year! I took a big step and converted my sewing studio into a writing room. Words seem more where my energy is flowing lately, rather than fabric.
Been doing a bunch of beta-reading and contest judging. Feels good to give back a little.
I went to RWA 2017 in Orlando, and it was overwhelming but wonderful.
I spent a lot of time with my agent, grilling her about how the whole publishing industry works, and I got to meet a bunch of awesome people I’ve known online for almost a decade.
Carina Press treated me like a rock star.
Authors and romance books and panels and classes and So. Many. Desserts.
(there *might* be an outline of a pâtisserie romance on my desk right now…)
Safety pins are not meant to be passive—a furtive steel prick of conscience—hidden on a lapel like a secret handshake. They are tools of healing, kinetic kindness given to strangers, a means to spring into action.
They are to be freely offered in the name of Girl-Code:
To secure a hijab slipping from grace, and pull up restaurant restroom zippers on skinny jeans stressed to self-destruction, to raise the brim higher on an Easter Sunday crown, and bridge that third button gap in every blouse designed by man.
A pin in stasis rusts closed.
Reattach a ruffle of a neighbor’s quinceañera gown, tend to a yarmulke where the satin has slid from the seam, extend the strap on the stiletto of a size fourteen queen.
Wear them with responsibility, with a woman’s vigilance, a first-aid-kit used long before the shine is noticed on a collar. Safety pins are not a dormant decoration to define your clandestine tolerance—they are a conscious means to a mend.
When I was little my father took me everywhere with him. I was a reasonably well behaved kid, and could be tucked in a corner with a book while he conducted a rehearsal or gave a voice lesson. Once, as we went to a meeting with someone about a concert his orchestra was playing, he gave me the usual spiel: please and thank you, sit still, don’t say fuck or shit, and if I was offered sweets, accept if I wanted it or not and say I’d save it for after dinner.
Fundraising is tricky. It is important to say yes, to welcome all gifts, no matter how small.
The man was thin and taller than my dad, with bushy gray hair and pale skin and an accent like a vampire movie. I thought he looked like a ghost, but the room was full of books, wall to wall to ceiling, and ghosts didn’t read.
When their meeting was over, the man offered me a doll.
I panicked–dolls had always scared me, with their dead eyes and lax limbs–and I misbehaved. “Daddy, I don’t want it!”
My father was embarrassed, and told him I had always been a little afraid of dolls, and the man smiled and said, “That is a good fear for a child to have.”
I never saw him again, or even thought about him, until high school and my English teacher passed out NIGHT, and there was his photo on the back cover, looking exactly the same. It was only after I read the book that I understood how lucky I was, that my kid fears were only of ghosts and dolls.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” -Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)
I saw The Name of the Rose when I was sixteen, in the theater, and so began my love of Umberto Eco and Christian Slater. The movie led to the book, which was-unlike the movie-about books, and their meaning and the written communication that can shape a culture.
The semiotics at the core of the book brought me to the terrifying and delightful realization that books have the power of time travel and telepathy. An author from centuries ago still marks the mind of those reading their words today.
Decades later I read Foucault’s Pendulum, during my Forgotten Year-so I shall have to read it again-but I do remember being struck by the notion that people want to believe conspiracy theories. We want our stories to connect, to have a purpose and great import, a life of their own.
A few years ago, I read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, ironically enough about a man who loses his memory and searches through the literary mementos-books, magazines and comic books-that shaped him growing up, to discover what he has forgotten.
Umberto Eco’s books always give me a deeper understanding of the power of language, of words, the transference of thought through time. I am sad that there will be no more them, but I love the idea that his books, because they have shaped me, will have, somewhere, a mark on my own.
This time a year ago, I started scribbling a goofy little story just for fun. I titled it “The Artist and the Architect,” because I’m literal like that. Six weeks from now, THE DIRTY SECRETwill be released from Carina Press, an imprint of of Harlequin.
One of the promo bits I was asked to participate in was a Tuesday Tip for So You Think You Can Write, Harlequin’s new voices in romance project.
But who am I to give advice? I’m still a novice at this.
In the past six years, I’ve published nearly half a million words across various platforms, and every single process was different. My only constants:
I hand write my first drafts.
Climbing out of my research-holes requires Elvish rope, every time.
My love for the Shatner comma is epic.
But here are a few things I’ve learned in this crazy journey of words that might be useful to beginning writers:
Get involved with other writers.
Write in a fandom and get some feedback. Play on a forum outside your comfort zone, where you can learn something new. Go to a crit group at your library. Don’t do this alone.
Let your first draft be rough.
This is your gesture drawing, your first exploratory jog in a new park. Let it be messy. Spending a lot of energy in making it technically perfect can cut into the creativity, or worse, keep you from finishing. Get it down, and clean it up later.
Make it a sensory experience.
How do your words appeal to your readers physically? Are you describing what your characters feel? How are their thoughts and actions affected by a perfume, a texture on the skin?
Read your final drafts aloud.
Where your tongue stumbles-where you hesitate in the sentence, wondering which word needs emphasis-your reader will too. Rework these places so that your language doesn’t detract from the story.