I recently purchased a diffuser that sprays a soft cloud of scented water into the air, as well as one of those warmers that melts scented wax. Both are lovely and do a good job of filling my house with wonderful aromas. That got me thinking about how certain smells awaken memories and can even be used in our writing.

My favorite scents are Vanilla and Lavender. Those would be at the top of my list. Those scents put me in the mood for writing romance. They are romantic all on their own. They help my writing because they remind me of a different era, when women wore gloves and hats and beautiful dresses and men behaved like gentlemen and people had manners.

The scent of roses immediately brings me to my favorite, favorite aunt. She’s gone now and I still miss her. Her name was Laura and she was from Indiana, and as soon as I smell roses I am back at her simple frame home on Webster Street in Kokomo, Indiana. I remember the name of the street, even though it’s been a good fifty years or more since she and my Uncle Harold moved from there to a new home they built in the country. That home, nice as it was, was nothing like the little house on Webster Street. Aunt Laura’s bathroom there was always spotless, and it ALWAYS smelled like roses. I don’t know how she did it – maybe rose-scented soaps, because back then we didn’t have all the lovely sprays and waxes and oils and dispensers we have now.

I could write pages and pages of my favorite things about Aunt Laura, but she’s been gone about twenty-five years now, and even the country house is sold. But the memories of the house on Webster Street are so very vivid for me. When I smell roses, I am right back there again.

Lilacs and anything with a kind of spicy scent remind me of my maternal grandmother, who I mention in my web site because she was my second mother. (And that would be a tie with my Aunt Laura.) Again – vivid memories that will never leave me. Grandma Williams lived for a while in a converted shed with no electricity and no running water. I helped her carry water as a little girl, and she cooked with wood and kept things cool with an ice box. I slept on a feather mattress on a roll-away bed and all night I listened to a ticking clock and trains going by on a nearby track. When Grandma Williams got electricity, we listened to the radio and some of the very, very first radio episodes of GUNSMOKE – probably my first inspiration to want to write westerns. And you know what? The theme music for those old radio episodes remained exactly the same throughout the twenty-five years or so that GUNSMOKE ran on television.

GLADE makes a scent called Fall Hayride. That immediately takes me to the gorgeous fall seasons we have here in Michigan, with spectacular colors in the trees, crispy blue skies, the smell of apples and the joy of taking grandchildren to pumpkin patches. It also reminds me of how my Aunt Laura used to change the colors in her bathroom according to the seasons. Winter was usually deep red or purple, spring was blue and pink, summer was green and yellow, and fall was browns and oranges.

There are two “scents” of pine – one is Christmas pine, the kind you smell when you bring in a live tree or use live greens around your fireplace. Obviously, that brings memories of Christmases past. Then there is the scent of “woodsy” pine. That’s a little different, a little more pungent, and sometimes, if you’re actually out walking amid pine trees deep in the real woods, you catch the smell of rotting wood from fallen trees. That is one of the few smells of something rotting that is actually pleasant to smell.

All these scents can be used in writing. In my Outlaw books, Jake’s wife Randy loves roses, and she saves rose petals and finds ways to get the scent of their oil on pillows and sheets and towels and even on herself. She grows roses everyplace she lives (and with Jake on the run in book #1, they lived in several places) – and she picks the rose blooms and keeps them in vases in the house. I guess all that came from my memories of my Aunt Laura.

When I write about Indians, especially the eastern (forest) Indians, I can bring in the smells of pine and rotting wood, which can also be used when writing about the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains.

When I get into my new Jeep, the scent of the leather seats is very strong, and that takes me to the smell of leather in saddles and boots and tac and vests and “man.” My western heroes usually smell of leather and sage – oops! There’s another scent I left out that I love. Sage.

Sage takes me right smack out west and into the desert and the drier areas of the West.

I find it interesting how smells can immediately drum up vivid memories. And some smells, like lavender, can practically put us into euphoria. I breathe deeply of lavender to calm myself. It literally makes all my worries go away.

I remember when my husband first left on a bus for basic training in the army. I was such a mess you would have thought he’d died. And for the next six months I slept with his unwashed t-shirts because the smelled like Larry and it made me feel closer to him.

I wonder what some of your favorite smells are, and why. And I wrote this to remind other writers how important it is to mention certain smells when you are writing a book. Doing so is just another way to bring your story more alive.


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