three perfume bottles from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab in a row
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The Write Scent: Vigil for the Harvest Suitors, Love Let Her, and Citrine

Using scent to tell a story — scent reviews and inspired prompts for fiction and non-fiction writers.

What’s This? I use perfume oil to inspire character, setting, mood, and so on as I write. To share that love with other writers and scent enthusiasts, I post reviews for perfume oils that include fiction/non-fiction writing prompts inspired by the scent. You don’t need to buy the oils to play along, but I do my best to post about oils that are currently available, should the mood to shop take you.

Vigil for the Harvest Suitors, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (Darla Teagarden: Altars collaboration)

Scent Description:

Beeswax, bone, broomcorn, and lilac.

Scent Review:

Full disclosure, I don’t know what broomcorn smells like. Come to that, I can’t say I know what bone smells like either—but I did sniff Are You Digging On My Grave? That has a bone note in it. Anyway. This smells like sweet beeswax and lilac to me—creamy, almost buttery but not quite gourmand enough to go there. It’s a pastel purple in my mind. Have you seen Ouran High School Host Club? I feel like Music Room 3 might smell like this. My less-niche association is with childhood tea parties, with Victorian-esque teasets and a dainty tablecloth. It’s a playful scent, but it also wants to be fancy. It’s reaching for… for grandeur. It’s daydreaming about sophistication, and taking those daydreams very seriously.

Writing Prompts:

Non-fiction: What about adulthood did you daydream of, as a child? Leave off with comparing reality to your expectations—we all probably need a break from how bleak things are just now. Instead, dive all the way in to your fantasy of being grown-up. What fascinated you? Why? How did you pretend at being grown-up?  

Fiction: Write a tea party. This could be any tone you like—from Alice to Ouran, somewhere in between those, or way out of left field in ways I’m not even thinking of. Go saucy, go catty, go prim, go lewd. Go vicious, go kind. Just let there be teacups, and people giving looks as they sip, whatever sorts of looks they may be.

Love Let Her, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (Darla Teagarden: Altars collaboration)

Scent Description:

Velvet-pink carnations with tea roses, peonies, and rose sandalwood with a whiff of candlesmoke.

Scent Review: I expected the candlesmoke to veer this into the same innocent sweetness of Vigil for the Harvest Suitors, but the carnation is more forward, giving that snappy, floral spice it has. This is also a more fresh scent than I expected first on, like cut flowers. I get the roses and peonies, but I also get the stems.

The longer I wear it, the more I get the sweetness, which is not identifiable as candlesmoke/beeswax… It reads to me, in this already-very-floral context, like the thick and heady smell you get with some lilies. I think of it as a pollen smell—I don’t know if that’s what it is. I’m sure the rose sandalwood is helping here, too, to give this impression of fuzzy insularity. To close, it sounds odd to tell you that this scent is both fresh/snappy AND fuzzy/comforting, but here I am, telling you that. And this one reminds me of being a child, playing pretend, as well… But the game is a little different. In this one, we… we’re trying out power? We are safe, there is lots of safety in this scent, and in that safety we are beginning to consider villainy—the dangers we may face in the future, or maybe reveling in a bit of villainy ourselves.

Writing Prompts:

Non-fiction: Let’s keep it light: what’s an imagined danger of your childhood that never came to pass, but fascinated you? What about it kept you coming back to the idea? How did you deal with it?  

Fiction: Write some child-like villainy. This could be a kiddo acting out, or it could be adults carrying out some mischief that would please your inner child. No one has to know that, once the story’s told—it’s just a satisfying starting place. Aim for spicy character behavior that you may not strictly condone but it soothes something in you, the author.

Citrine, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (scent for Haute Macabre)

Scent Description:

Glittering ambrette seed, crystalline sparkles of lemon and orange blossom, blood orange and orange peel, bay leaf, sweet myrrh, and caraway.

Scent Review:

This scent is much more adult than the other two I’m reviewing in this post (and rightly so, we’ve jumped collections). Citrine smells expensive. But I still think it goes with the other two, and I’ll tell you why: it reminds me of this time that my older step-brother just up and took me to the mall. Not because he smelled like ambrette seed or orange blossom, but because of the way this scent makes me feel. See, we didn’t regularly hang out. He was four years older than me, and most of the time I wasn’t really cool enough to be around him. Whether that was coming more from him or me I’ll never know, but it meant that when he DID invite me to do something with him I felt this wonderful sense of possibility and adventure. This smells like a cool person’s car: strange (to you) but pleasant and sophisticated. You may never hang out with this person again, but this day is going to be good. You’ll talk about things you’ve never talked about, they’ll dispense some cool-person-wisdom that flips around how you see the world, and then they’ll be back to their lives somewhere else, like Mary Poppins—but more conventionally badass.

Sorry, okay, actual notes that are giving me this vibe: the ambrette seed, bay leaf, and caraway could take this to a spicy, masculine cologne place, but all the sweet fruit and flowers pull it back, to something more summery, sensual and optimistic. So it’s got this sturdy, powerful base that’s spicy sweet, but also this flirty juicy sweetness. I’m left with this perfectly androgynous thing that, instead of saying “I’m a womanly woman” or “I’m a manly man,” very nonchalantly says, “I’m very confidently myself, miss me with your boxes.” That’s, I think, where that older-brother thing is stemming from, for me. It’s not that it’s gendered, it’s that it ISN’T. It’s that the person wearing this doesn’t need or want your approval, they’re cool and they know it and you want to be them. Or rather, you want to be as certain of who you are as they seem.

Oh, wow. Let’s do some prompts before this turns into a therapy session, shall we?    

Writing Prompts:

Non-fiction: Who was that cool person in your life? Write about an adventure you went on with them, and what it meant to you.

Fiction: Write a scene that begins with someone saying, “Miss me with your boxes.”

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