Monday, October 18, 2021

Perfumed to Death?

LUCY BURDETTE: Last week, as I was reading Kent Krueger‘s latest book, Lightning Strike, I noticed several scenes where the smell of a woman’s perfume plays a role in the mystery. And that got me thinking that less perfume is being worn these days, maybe partly because people are more sensitive to it, or more vocal about allergies. And because of that, maybe we’re losing a good source of clues in our books. Certain scents I think I would know even blindfolded. My mother always wore Tweed. Or looking back on it from the adult point of view, that’s what we always bought her for birthdays and Christmas! Maybe she had dozens of bottles tucked away in a closet and would have loved something--anything--else?

My first perfume was called Ambush and I still have an almost empty bottle of it in my drawer. And then for a while, I wore Oscar de la Renta because I liked it on a friend. She was dating a psychiatry resident at the time, though she was not the only mare in his barn. He gave her a bottle of perfume and said: “I give all my women Oscar de la Renta.”

Truly, he should be a victim in all of our books… How about you Reds--perfume memories? Have you used scents as clues?

HALLIE EPHRON: That is SO CREEPY! I see a murder mystery with a serial killer and all the victims are wearing the Oscar de la Renta.

My mother wore Chanel No. 5 when she went out fancy. But the smell I remember was her bath oil. No idea what it was. And a sticky orange skin cream, name also lost in the pages of time. In my teen years I loved Jean Nate (powder) - then Canoe (musky, dab behind the ears.) In my 20s, My Sin -- the perfume was overpowering but the powder was just right.

RHYS BOWEN: perfume as a clue. Classic! Strangely enough we had overnight guests and John has been sneezing all morning because of some lingering scent. The killer was here earlier today…. Nice.

My first perfume was Je Reviens by Worth given to me by my boyfriend ( he had a mother with good taste). I liked that for year then moved to Arpege and Ansais Anais. But alas I’ve become allergic to most scents which is a shame as John loves to give me perfume.


Oh, Ambush. That was high school, definitely. I’d love to smell that again. And how about Heaven Sent? (Or was it Heaven Scent?) (A little bit naughty but heavenly…)

And oh, White Shoulders!

(And that disgusting Youth Dew. Seriously. Deadly. To my nose, at least. Or maybe people just wore too much.)

My first good perfume was Shalimar, which I still love.

And in the before-times, I wore perfume all the time to work, but not to conferences, because of possibly giving someone a career-ending sneezing fit. It’s called 24 Faubourg, from Hermes and it is transporting.

(At a big zoom event recently, I reached out my arm to put it on--and it was very sad when I realized it didn’t matter.)

Scents as clues. Well, dogs do it all the time. HA!

JENN McKINLAY: Such a fabulous topic and perfect as a clue in a mystery! I love perfume but a little goes a long way. Obsession by Calvin Klein. I spent the late 80’s and early 90’s wearing that one. Then it was Red Door by Arden for the early professional years. After I got married and birthed the Hooligans, which aged me exponentially, I switched to a lightly scented body lotion - I could manage about five minutes of self care per day back then - called Sun by Zents and I’ve never gone back.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I love perfume, but like a lot of the rest of you, I'm careful about when I put it on, because I don't want to trigger anyone's allergies. But oh, the wonderful memories scent conjures up!  My grandmother always used Elizabeth Arden's Blue Grass powder, and as a treat, she would let me put it on after a bath when I was visiting her house. My mother had a whole wardrobe of perfumes, but her signature and favorite was Joy by Jean Patou. 
The first scent that was mine, all mine was Revlon Lemon Cologne, which is apparently so out of date the only pic I could find of it was a used bottle for sale on Ebay! It was like dousing yourself with lemon juice and rubbing alcohol. I loved it. My preference to this day is for citrus and woodsy scents, so over the years I've probably used more men's cologne than women's perfume. I had a wonderful lime cologne I picked up in a little shop while on vacation in Bermuda ages ago; I've never been able to find it again. Sigh.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, I am laughing. Revlon Lemon Cologne sounds truly horrible. For me, the very first scent was Yardley English Lavender. I recently tried some while in a London chemist and was instantly transported back to 7th grade!  No other lavender scent smells quite like it. Then I cycled through many of those iconic 70s colognes. Oh, Rive Gauche! I still love anything with bergamot. But there was one scent that was really grassy green and fresh and I cannot remember what it was.
And, oh gag, then there was patchouli, in those hippies years. And does anyone remember Musk Oil???
I haven't worn anything other than Jo Malone, however, since the first Jo Malone boutique opened in London in the 90s. I used to bring a new scent back every trip, until they became available in the States. My faves are Peony and Blush Suede, and Wood Sage and Sea Salt. But, alas, all those bottles have just been sitting on my dresser since the pandemic...
How about you, Red readers? Can you think of a book that used perfume or scent as a clue? How about perfume memories of your own?

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Do I need an Apple Watch?


RHYS BOWEN: We are not exactly in the forefront of technology in our house. John had a flip phone until I finally put my foot down when, for the zillionth time I landed at the airport, called to be picked up only to hear his recording because he hadn’t turned it on! So I bought him an IPhone and guess what—he forgets to charge it for weeks. So I land at the airport and …. Get his recording. 

I’ve never been one for gadgets. Strangely enough that is John. We have the bread maker and the bacon slicer and the onion cooker and the food sealer and the air fryer and the juicer and even the battery powered shoe polisher. 

But I like to be organized. I have always loved agendas. I used to love my Dayrunner. But then something happened: The Dayrunner begat the Compac electronic diary. Which begat the Palm Pilot, Which begat the Blackberry which begat the iPod, which begat the iPad, then the iPhone and the Mac. So now I’m thinking of getting an Apple Watch. I didn’t consider it before because it’s big and I’ve always gone for small watches. 

But events have propelled me toward making the decision: I know nobody needs a watch these days with their phone nearby but I like to glance at my wrist to see when I have to leave. Remember the Jack In the Box commercial when the intern calls Jack’s wristwatch “Your little wrist clock” as if she’s never seen one before. 

 I’ve been a Swatch girl for ages. I love Swatches with their fun patterns and the fact that I can swim without taking them off. But they have silicone bands that have started to irritate my wrist. So I’ve been walking around with a bare wrist for a few weeks, glancing down every now and then to see that the time is two hairs past a freckle. 

So I need a different watch. I have Seikos: four to date. But I don’t like them. The metal bands are uncomfortable and I have to take them off to swim and shower. So I’m seriously looking at Apple Watches. I can see the benefits: I wouldn’t have to carry my phone around with me all the time. I could leave it in a sensible place where I could find it instantly. (yeah, right! I have to call it from my house phone hundreds of times a day because I’ve left it somewhere). And I’d get my texts, and record my steps and laps And it would warn me if my heart started mis-behaving. It hasn’t yet, but who knows?  But it is super-big and clunky and I think it has a silicone strap that would also irritate my wrist. So I'm in a quandry.

Who has an Apple Watch? Who loves it? Hates it?

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Openings and Closings.


RHYS BOWEN: I have never been good at opening things, or closing them, for that matter: Back in the days when I had little children at home and cakes from cake mixes were a regular treat I could never work out how to open the cake mix box. Usually I had to dig a knife in, have a generous amount of mix cascade to the floor before I read the words “Open other end.” Cans, beer bottles all present problems. Interestingly enough I am a whiz at opening champagne, having been taught the trick by my brother. You put a cloth over the cork, hold the cork firmly and twist the bottle. Perfect every time ! 

Perhaps I needed someone in my youth to teach me all the tricks of opening things. And closing them. When I was a student in Germany I worked in a grocery store and sometimes we had to gift wrap boxes of chocolates. Other employees produced these neat and lovely wrapped boxes, tied with ribbon. Mine was—well, sorry looking. 

Let me confess that for Christmas these days I buy bags and tissue paper. So much easier and they can be reused. My daughter actually made a batch of fabric bags one Christmas. I still use them. Another thing I’m useless at is strapping packages with sticky tape. First I can never find the end of the tape, then it sticks to my fingers, curls onto itself and I need at least three tries before I can do any wrapping.

 But this makes me think of my writing. Openings and closings. So vital to know where to come into a story and where to leave it. Too many writers make the mistake of coming in too soon, giving us lots of detail in the first chapter before we get to anything important. Or of introducing too many characters so that we are confused about Paul and Peter and Frank and Richard. Who the hell are they? And where are we? No sense of place. 

I work and rework the opening scene in my head for ages before I actually start a book. Where do we come in to this person’s life? I know many mystery writers start with the dead body. I like to bring a group of characters together, let us watch their interactions and think ‘no good can come of this’ and then one of them is killed. So sometimes I don’t have a murder in the first hundred pages. (It’s against the rules, I know. But the books do win awards so I guess I’m allowed to break the occasional rule). But knowing exactly where to start is important. 

In Murphy’s Law I chose to start AFTER a major event has happened. Molly is fleeing after she kills the landlord’s son when he is trying to rape her. We know she is running away but we only find out the details as the story unfolds. I think it worked well. She says that her dress is sticky at the back, but “about the state of the front of my dress I chose not to think”. I also toy with the first line endlessly until I am satisfied. I don’t think I can ever do better than “That mouth of yours will get you into trouble one day.” 

And definitely not better than Julia’s “It was a hell of a night to throw away a baby!” Brilliant. Brilliant. 

 I also liked the first line from The Tuscan Child: He knew he was going to die. That much was obvious. 

It’s great to tease with the first line.: If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped out in front of an omnibus, I might have still been sweeping floors and lighting fires at an ostentatious house in St. John’s Wood. So instantly the reader asks who is Helen Barton? And they want to know what happened next. 

 That is actually the secret of every novel WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! IT begins when you read to a small child and say “One day a little chicken found the gate open and wandered out into the forest. In that forest lived a hungry fox.” And you have to turn the page… 

Obviously in many of my books setting the scene is important. Our first page captures the essence of Venice in the Venice Sketchbook. We like to know where we are—time and place. 

But when we come to closings, I’ve had readers complain I’ve ended my books too soon. I was satisfied I’d solved the murder. They want to see the characters happy, moving on, going back to normal lives. They need time to process the shocking events they’ve witnessed, just as the characters themselves need time. Sometimes I like to end on a twist, or a provocative thought. IN Evanly Bodies Evan has solved three murders and found three women who met at a shelter for battered women and each provided the alibi for the other. Brilliant as they didn’t move in the same circles or know anybody in common. But Evan solves it. His superior congratulates him. Evan says “But she won’t go to prison, will she? He was abusing her.” And his superior says “Not at the moment she pulled the trigger.” And Evan realizes he’s condemned these women to jail. 

So how do you like your stories? Do you expect a body in chapter one, or can you take the slower pace of setting the scene.  And do you like the book to go on after the crime is solved? Do you need a satisfying ending? How about you Reds? Do you agonize over your openings and closings?