hand holding bottle of Snake Oil perfume in front of a window, beyond the panes of which are visible some vases and purple hydrangea bushes
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The Write Scent: Snake Oil

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, in case the mood should take you.

NOTE: I’m posting just this one review, which I wrote back in the week of 5/15, because I just can’t face doing the other two scents I’d meant to review right now, with everything going on. But I figured, I had the one review done, I might as well share it. Here it is, as written at the time:

Snake Oil, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Scent Description: Snake Oil has shed its skin, and is back — now with vintage patchouli and dark, rich, aged vanilla absolute. Snake Oil is our signature scent, our first perfume: deep, rich, earthy notes swirled with vegetal musks, sugared vanilla bean, and dark spices.

Scent Review: First of all, don’t assume that just because I’ve not posted any scent reviews/writing prompts in forever it means I was wearing A Wet Moon, Putney Road over and over. You know what happens when you assume: a big, hairy man comes by and bops you on the head.

(I was, though. I was totally just wearing A Wet Moon, Putney Road every day.)

ANYWAY, I have been That Person who cannot wear Snake Oil fresh out of the mailbox, and doesn’t have the patience to let things age, but dearly wishes they could participate in the revels that surround every new Snake Oil variant. I am excited about Snake Oil’s return because, with vintage patchouli and aged vanilla absolute, my whole problem with impatience may be solved. It feels like a cheat code for aged Snake Oil, like I just get to skip the game and play the awesome ending boss fight…

Sure enough, this is wonderful. I always fear that the vanilla could be very sweet, but it’s not, it’s richer, thicker, more dark and syrupy with the patchouli. What’s interesting is that this is a sweet scent that isn’t light or sugary, but it’s not quite dark. It’s not gritty or dirty, though the vegetal musks are there, grounding, smoothing. It’s… a sincere sweetness, but you can’t trust the sincerity, because it’s in this shadow. That lack of trust is so perfect; it justifies the scent name. It’s rich and swirly, so the scent keeps kind of turning, switching back on itself like a maze—sweet, dark, sweet, dark. It smells so good… But something this beguiling can’t be quite innocent, either.

Writing Prompts:

Non-fiction: Write about a person or situation that seemed good or kind, but despite the niceness—or even because of it—you didn’t quite trust them or it. Were you right?

Fiction: Every time I sniff my wrist I get that swirling, the sense of a maze path turning back on itself, and being turned around. Thinking about this, and the idea of snake oil, I want to encourage you to tell a false promise story. You’ll need a character X who needs something—love, health, wealth, whatever—and another character Y who wants something that character X has—their money, their trust, etc.—and a means to swindle the character X to get it. Write a tricksy, disorienting story!

I wish you happy scent-inspired writing! And if you’re here because of your love of all things Gothic and scent-inspired, may I interest you in my debut novel? It’s a responsibly kinky, below-stairs Victorian Gothic Romance/Romantic Suspense called On Good Authority—like if you crossed Tess of the D’Urbervilles with Secretary:

Paperback copy of suspense novel ON GOOD AUTHORITY, on the brick hearth of a fireplace, leaned up against a screen, beside a poker and brush.
Out Oct. 11th! Available for pre-order: paperback, e-book & audiobook.

When lady’s maid Marian Osley and footman Valentine Hobbs assume their positions at the cliff-top estate of Valor Rise, they already share a history. Raised together as paupers in a London workhouse, they escaped through games of imaginary crimes and sublime punishment. Now they’ve been unexpectedly reunited―in subservience to the brooding Wythe Bornholdt and his frail wife, Diana. A master and mistress with their own dark secrets.

In private, Marian and Valentine return to their playful and addictive games―now tinged with BDSM. But when lecherous Wythe sees something he desires in Marian, he turns the pair’s diversions violently against them.

If this sounds like your jam, I would deeply appreciate the add on Goodreads, or you can pre-order for the book’s release (October 11, 2022).

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