A bunch of lilac blossoms in a Pyrex measuring cup, taken from above.
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The Write Scent: Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre , A Tudor House in Moonlight & The Houses at the Back, Frosty Morning

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.

Vase de Lilas a la Fenetre, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Scent Description: Freshly-cut lilacs with a touch of amber, bourbon vanilla, and muguet.

Scent Review: I have a lot of lilac-scented oils already, but I had to have this one because of the muguet/lily of the valley. Lilac and lilies are my favorite flowers, and adding the amber just sounds like a really good idea.

First on, it’s a very deep, wet lilac smell. Oftentimes the lilac note can read a little light, a little more gentle, but this really is a face-full of actual, deep lilacs. It’s got an almost-wetness to it. You may think this is weird, but I find there’s something almost pear-like about the most luscious lilac smells, and this has that: a smell that is so richly floral that it’s almost fruity—like juicing a lilac. I get a bit of muguet that reads as a fresh and gentle sort of bite among the lilac blooms. I can’t identify amber or bourbon vanilla individually, but there is a non-foodie sweetness that must be them, making this smell comforting as well as dramatic and refreshing.

Writing Prompts:

Non-fiction: What’s your favorite flower? Is there a memory attached, a feeling? Tell a story that shares where the love comes from—or a story that comes from that love.

Non-fiction: Now you know I associate the smell of lilacs with the smell of pears. What’s an unusual association you have between two smells? Write about it.

Fiction: To what purpose might one put to the juice of a lilac? Who would have the means and desire to do such a thing, and for what reason? This is probably a fantasy story—but then again, I don’t know your life.

A Tudor House in Moonlight, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Scent Description: A slurry of ambergris accord, pale sage and white mint, mugwort, mahogany, coffee bean, and wet dead leaves.

Scent Review:

On wet, this reminds me of Bonfire—I think because of the dead leaves and the sage (maybe). I think for a moment of that strong, popping firewood smell that I love, but then my nose hits a sort of soft wall of coffee bean—dark but welcoming, fuzzy-gentle but also fresh. As it dries I lose that bonfire smell association entirely, and it feels like I’ve slipped through the soft wall to some ruins in the woods. You know when you find a clearing in the woods, and maybe an old stone room, the smell of the trees kind of drops away and you’re just smelling the coolness of sharing the shade with the rocks? This is like that.

I find the dead leaves scent again, but they’re not sharp like fire anymore. Everything is blending together to give the impression of shade. It’s cooling. The coffee bean is threading through if I really, really search for it, but this is not a foodie scent. Neither is it discernably minty at any point. The freshness I mentioned is a green, mossy fresh (from the mugwort?). Probably the white mint is just aiding that sense of cool shade I get. The coffee bean sticks around, making this feel safe—peacable. Like you’ve brought a bit of home with you into this place. Next morning, I had such a comforting sweetness left on my wrists.

Writing Prompts:

Non-fiction: Write about a walk in the woods that was memorable for you. Write about ruins, literal or metaphorical, you found there.

Fiction: I like the cadence of the phrase “sharing the shade.” What story does it make you want to tell? Write it.

The Houses at the Back, Frosty Morning, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Scent Description: A haze of misted ambers, orris root, and dappled lilac.

Scent Review: Light lilac, without being a flat scent—the amber and orris keeps it rich even in its lightness. Dappled is right. I get afternoon from this—gentle, lazy, sunny days with shifting leaves. As it dries down, it smells almost like a sort of lilac bubblegum. A juicy one, like if Bubblicious made it. Not that there’s any bubblegum scent here, I just… want to chew on this?

Writing Prompts:

Non-fiction: Write about a thing that you thought looked or smelled good enough to eat, which was not food. Did you find out the hard way?

Fiction: This is giving me walk-home-from-somewhere vibes. Maybe school, or a friend’s house, or just walking the dog. Write a story about a walk gone wrong—or right.

Book cover for On Good Authority by Briana Una McGuckin: image is of a woman from behind, in a white corset and dark red skirt, with her hands tied loosely behind her back with purple ribbon. The title text is in a gold Gothic font; the author's name is in a Gothic white font.
I wrote this!

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? It’s a responsibly kinky, below-stairs Victorian Gothic Romance/Romantic Suspense called On Good Authority, in which a lady’s maid must teach a bad master the difference between servitude and surrender—and confront a dark desire for the footman along the way. It’s TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES meets SECRETARY, for fans of Sarah Waters and Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA. 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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