Every year my husband asks me for a Christmas list, and every year I come up with a few books which I must own a hard copy. To qualify for my list, it has to be a book I know I will read, reread, and re-reread over coming years. The problem with my list is that I often pick books that are out of print and hard to find.
This year, I received from my in-laws The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. I talked about it earlier this month. Because it’s made up of short stories, both classic and modern, it has wide appeal and you can dive in anywhere.
Did you get books for Christmas? Digital or paper? What titles and why did you ask for them?
This post from business author and speaker Anita Agers-Brooks offers wonderful literary gifts ideas if you are still have people on your Christmas gift list. I love that writing gifts can be personalized. From the twelve ideas Ms. Angers-Brooks lists, I especially like #1, #2, #10, and #11. #10 concerns using puns as gifts ideas, and I have a definite weakness for punny humor.
While I was working, I dropped into my writing zone. It doesn’t happen very often, and usually only when I am doing original writing, straight out of my imagination. When I get into my zone, my entire mind is occupied with writing. I’m not thinking of anything else, not the laundry, or how my kids are doing at school, or even what’s going on outside my window.
It feels like I’m underwater, immersed in a strange, new world. When I surface from my writing zone, I might actually need to gulp a breath, as if I’ve just come up diving deep. My surroundings seem strange to me. When I take a break from writing, it may take me several minutes to over an hour to acclimatize myself to reality again.
Do you ever dive into a writing zone? What does it feel like? When does it occur? I would love to hear what other writers experience!
My article “Going Through the Motions” is posted on the American Christian Fiction Writers blog today. If you have ever felt like your were just going through the motions as you celebrate Christmas, or in your writing, check it out.
Writing about smell might be the most difficult sense for me. I think that’s because, first, I have a very dull sense of smell. I’m sure a skunk could spray at my feet, and I ‘d only notice a slight change in the surrounding air. My youngest has a terrific sense of smell and lets me know with questions like “How come your car smells so bad, Mom?”
A second reason for my difficulty is that, as abundant as the English language is, we don’t have a lot of words to choose from that concern only smells. We have to describe it in other terms, like the physical reaction to a smell.
Mr. Young points out no sense can stir memories like smell. A smell can be a very natural and meaningful way to start a flashback because everyone has had this experience. When I smell onions cooking, no matter where, I grow very nostalgic because it reminds me of my grandmother’s house. The combination of sunscreen and bug spray immediately reminds me of marching band camp.
I am going to revisit my novel The Truth and Other Strangers and review how I have used the sense of smell in it. Here are some settings and other characteristics of my novel where I could use it:
Mountains — My novel is set in the eastern mountains of West Virginia in July. The rhododendrons bloom in that month but don’t have much of a smell. I could use that, such as, “Funny, how something so pretty had no delicate scent to partner it.” Since my main character Junior loves being in the mountains, I would select only pleasant smells to support his feelings.
Food — Because Junior’s family is poor, he often is hungry. So the odors of food means more to him than to well-fed characters. He has recently lost the aunt who raised him, so I could use a smell to bring back memories of her and underline how much he misses her.
Vehicles — To me, vehicles have their own peculiar smells. Junior’s family has nine kids and owns a very old, battered van. All kinds of smells could be trapped in its abused interior.
Bar — Junior visits a notoriously rough bar twice. Describing only bothersome smells, like cigarette smoke and alcohol, would show how uncomfortable Junior is in this setting.
The Absence of Smell
The lack of smell can also be used dramatically. If your characters are animals and lose their sense of smell, that would be traumatic. In a work of speculative fiction, an object’s or area’s lack of smell could be a signal to the characters that something is horribly wrong.
How do you use the sense of smell in your writing?
I have to exercise some imagination here because I try to get all my shopping done in November to avoid the crowds of holiday shoppers.
The cozy smells of cinnamon and baking bread wafting from the coffee shops taunt the strained faces and aggressive gestures of the shoppers, who push, stalk, and shove their way to their destinations. The Christmas carols blaring from hidden speakers also sing of a mood absent from the crowd it wraps in its cheery melodies. But, maybe, a few shoppers will escape the press of people, squeeze into a coffee shop, and let the tastes of the season remind them why they are doing what they are doing. Then the carols will feel as sweet as they sound.