What Does Happy Smell Like? by Adria J. Cimino
For many authors, creating strong imagery is a primary task of the writer. But when author Adria J. Cimino started her new novel about a perfumer, she needed to figure out how to convey the sense of smell.
For me, writing had always been about the sense of sight. Describing the beauty or grime of my protagonist’s world, lacing together words to depict my characters, creating images that the reader could see in his or her mind.
Then, all of a sudden, something changed. I was starting to write A Perfumer’s Secret, a novel about a perfumer. “The quest for a stolen perfume formula awakens passion, rivalry and family secrets in the fragrant flower fields of the South of France,” according to the book description already forming in my mind. I wouldn’t be writing about perfumer Zoe Flore and her views and experiences in the same way that I’d always written.
Zoe’s frame of reference was scent. A whiff of fragrance brought forth memories that would lead her on her important journey. When Zoe meets fellow perfumer Philippe Chevrefeuille, his scent awakens new sensations in her heart. And speaking of Philippe, he, too, views the world through an olfactory lens.
Before even putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I did my research. A lot of research. Reading books on perfumery. Traveling to Grasse and mixing perfume ingredients in a lab. I developed an olfactory obsession. I, who hadn’t worn perfume for years due to allergies, scoured perfumeries to find just the right scent.
Little by little, I was beginning to view things differently. I found myself describing a traffic jam by the acrid scent of gasoline choking me as I walked down the sidewalk. I noticed the lemony-buttery scent of the layer cake before taking note of its physical appearance on the plate.
Finally, I was ready to write. I realized that for a long time, I had relied so heavily on physical description that I’d neglected this other interesting element. Now that I was more aware of the scents around me, it was easier to get into the mind and the heart of my perfumer protagonists and see the world through… well, not through their eyes… but through their sense of smell.
This doesn’t mean that physical descriptions are lacking in A Perfumer’s Secret. Not at all. Instead the senses of sight and smell become complementary. Philippe’s first encounter with Zoe begins with a scent. Then he notices her hair, her dress. And then the scent disappears, as does Zoe.
But the olfactory work didn’t stop with the concrete. Even before I began to write, I knew that my perfumers associated scent with emotions, or in general, the intangible. What does sadness smell like? What essence best reflects passion? Now, creativity would have to join forces with all that I’d learned through my research. And the great news? There wasn’t only one right answer. When asked such questions, each person brings his or her own experiences to the table.
So I put myself in Zoe’s shoes and began A Perfumer’s Secret like this: Zoe Flore’s first creation was the scent of tears. A hot, salty fragrance that she concocted the day her mother died. A perfume built on oak moss, a touch of geranium and the real tears that tumbled into the mix. It was her fifteenth birthday, and from that moment on, she wore the scent as a suit of armor.
And that sets the stage for this tale of scent… Was it difficult to write? Not more difficult than anything else. And writers always love a good challenge as well as learning something they can take with them from book to book. Sure, I probably won’t be writing about perfume in my next novel, but this discovery of scent, in its own subtle way, will always cling to my work.
Adria J. Cimino is the author of Amazon Best-Selling novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny, as well as The Creepshow and A Perfumer’s Secret. She also co-founded boutique publishing house Velvet Morning Press. Prior to jumping into the publishing world full time, she spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria is a member of Tall Poppy Writers, which unites bright authors with smart readers. She lives in Paris with her husband, Didier, and daughter, Phèdre. When she isn’t writing, you can find Adria at her neighborhood café watching the world go by. You can also find her on twitter @Adria_in_Paris or on Facebook.
Learn more and order your copy of A Perfumer’s Secret here.
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