A Good Opening Primes the Palate

  Nikki’s Perfume Journal Entry


November 22, 1978

Definition: Chypres

Chypres is a highly original group that is based on contrasts between bergamot-type top notes and mossy base notes. Chypres perfumes tend to be strong, spicy, and powdery.  This perfume group was named after the famous perfume from Cyprus of Roman Times.


            I told the insurance company I was sleeping when the house blew up.

            In actual fact, the cold woke me. I stood at the top of the stairs that led to my basement at three A.M. on a morning in late winter, daring myself to go down and find out why the furnace was not working. Puffs of dust-scented air wafted around my ankles. The narrow wooden steps disappeared into yawning darkness, and even when I turned on the light, it wasn’t particularly inviting. I hate basements – spiders and water bugs and the possibility of creepy, supernatural things lurking. Ammie, Come Home scared the holy hell out of me when I was seven, and I’ve hated basements ever since.

Scent of Hours, Barbara Samuel


I view story openings in the same way I view the appetizer to a good meal.  Done well, an appetizer primes my palate, hints at what’s to come, and leaves me wanting more.  But while a meal doesn’t need an appetizer to be delicious, a book definitely needs a strong opening if it’s going to be devoured by the reader.

Scent of Hours (previously published as Madame Mirabou’s School of Love)  by Barbara Samuel met my expectations on multiple levels.  Since I love perfume and aromatherapy, the journal entry kicking off the story acted as my primer. I quickly read on.  I told the insurance company I was sleeping when the house blew up. That single sentence impacted me on a visceral level. It hints at what’s to come and it begged me to read on. I quickly understood this is a woman alone having to deal with things she really doesn’t want to deal with (daring myself to go down and find out why the furnace was not working).   It’s the middle of the night, it’s cold, there’s the yawning darkness of the basement and I know from the first sentence that the furnace is about to blow.

Will she be caught in the explosion? Will she get out in time? I needed to know.  That was me as a reader wanting more . . . the gut emotion of the thing.

On a more cerebral level, I’m struck by the sharp contrast between the journal entry talking about perfume, which is sensual, indulgent and sweet, and the harsh reality of a cold, broken furnace in a dark, dusty basement. Contrast doesn’t seem to be talked about much in fiction these days, which is too bad. It’s an excellent, and often overlooked, tool.

From the journal entry describing the strong, spicy, and powdery scent of chypres to the narrative describing puffs of dust-scented air, I realize this is a character who is heavily influenced by scent and the sensuality of her world.  The journal entry also tells me she likes to write, and the reference to Ammie, Come Home hints at a romance, possibly even a touch of the supernatural.

This opening held a huge promise of good things to come.  I was not disappointed. And, yes, I devoured the book.



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