I’m a huge fan of the work of Tom Robbins. Another Roadside Attraction is my favorite, although I’d probably argue Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is his best. Recently, I started re-reading – for the third or fourth time – Jitterbug Perfume.
A brief synopsis: Jitterbug Perfume is an epic tale that connects the desire of an ancient, pagan king to thumb his nose at death to the activities of a group of modern perfumers making an effort to create the ultimate natural scent. Scent is the center around which the rest of this novel works, whether’s it’s the incense of Kudra, the earthy odor of Pan or the jasmine that permeates the modern scenes. It’s all about odor.
So I get about 75 pages in, enjoying the read, catching those little things you sometimes miss on earlier reads because you’re caught up in the tale or because you were a less mature reader last time around. Then it hits me: My developing novel doesn’t stink. Which is a bad thing.
I realized that, through all the work I’ve done setting scenes, drawing the reader in, giving them that vital mental picture, I’ve pretty much completely ignored one of the five senses: smell. There’s a church scene where smell comes up, and there’s a specific scene where the change of odor in the room is a hint that someone’s broken in. But that’s it. I’ve set a novel in rural Indiana, in the middle of a bunch of cornfields, yet never mentioned the smell of fertilizer, cow shit, tractor grease, outdoor cookouts, that fresh, breezy smell of the early rural morning. I’ve got a Grandma getting down in the kitchen, but I never mention the odor of butter, baked bread, cooked corn, greasy ham, nothing. I even have a character who smokes weed, yet never mention that distinctive, skunky smell.
I don’t know why, is the thing that’s driving me nuts. I understand the power of smell, the power it has for me, particularly when it comes to nostalgia or a sense of place. How did I pretty much completely ignore that?
Perhaps I should focus on the positive, that I caught it now, while still in the developmental/writing stages. I’ll just call it a win, and move on.