Honestly, if she wasn't so damn nice, we'd have to hate her. Here she is, telling us about her whiff of scandal:
Time now for a little True Confession.
I write crime novels full-time, but I also have a little moonlighting gig that might surprise you.
Late at night as my family slumbers, I slip out of bed, fire up the computer and enter a secret and obsessive online world. Bathed in the monitor’s green glow, I pop open glass vials, lift them to my nose or press against the pulsing veins of my wrists.
I inhale deeply, then throw my head back in rapture.
My name is Denise, and I’m a secret perfumista.
I’m also the perfume columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Maybe it came of having a glamorous Russian/French mother who wore Chanel Cristalle, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche and Madame Rochas. I’d spend hours in the bathroom, applying each fragrance, lining up the gorgeous glass bottles on the tile counter, daydreaming about ballgowns and waltzing with tuxedo-clad young men while orchestras played til dawn.
Growing up in the arid wastes of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, a vivid fantasy world was absolutely necessary for survival.
I remember one mirage-inducing summer when I doused myself with Chanel No. 5 (blooms great in 110-degree heat) and read all the Joseph Wambaugh books on my parents’ shelves. It might have been incongruous to devour The Onion Field while wafting Parisian perfume on Mickey Mouse polyester sheets, but what do kids know?
I wore perfume throughout my 20s (though I never got into sillage monsters like Opium, Giorgio, Poison), but it wasn’t until I ran across a box of Donna Karan Chaos perfume at the Goodwill that I tumbled down the rabbit hole into true obsession.
After spritzing in the store, I wrinkled my nose. Too spicy strong. Also, $29.95 was pretty steep for the thrift store! Back at home, I idly googled the perfume. Chaos had notes of cardamom, oud, agarwood, incense, lavender, cinnamon, saffron, clove, padukwood, coriander. It was also discontinued and fetching $200 on ebay.
Scurrying back to the Goodwill, I snatched up the bottle, thinking I’d sell it and pocket a few simoleons.
Curiosity led me to online sites such as Basenotes, PerfumeOfLife and Fragrantica. I started buying tiny 1 mililiter samples of fragrances whose descriptions intrigued me and swapping perfumes on MakeUpAlley.com. I became conversant on Haitan vetiver, Madagascar vanilla, the decimation of Mysore sandalwood forests in India and ambergris from whales. To my surprise, I found that 80-year-old parfums stored away from heat and light can be as heady and intoxicating as fine aged wine.
Today, I remain in awe of perfume as an art form and the creative process perfumers work through in creating new fragrances. Great perfumes tell a cogent ‘story’ that is both thrilling and inspiring. To me, perfume offers a very personal way to experience great art as mediated by creative geniuses such as Ernest Beaux of Chanel or Ernest Daltroff of Caron.
I’ve also discovered that perfume wafts through the pages of some of my favorite mystery writers from Agatha Christie to S.S. Dine to Ruth Rendell and Ian Fleming. Our sense of smell is the least utilized and appreciated of our five senses, but mystery writers long ago discovered the potential of weaving olfactory clues, obsessions and scent triggers into their plots.
That’s why I made the heroine in my new book Damage Control a budding perfumista, a talent that proves crucial by the book’s end when perfume provides an important clue.
I always look forward to book tours and the opportunity to meet readers and bookstore staff. But this year, you also might find me scouring antique malls in your city, looking for vintage bottles of Guerlain, Caron, Dior or Chanel.
After all, it’s research for my next column!