The Advent of Scent, Week 14

A day late, but not a dollar short!

* Jack
Described as “true Halloween pumpkin, spiced with nutmeg, glowing peach and murky clove.” Okay, based on previous perfumes, I had theorized that mallow was creating the really cloying, semi-creamy effect I got off a few bottles — but here it shows up again, with no mallow in sight. So I got no idea. Fortunately that faded quite quickly, leaving behind a warm, pumpkin scent with some hints of spice. Nothing wrong with it, just not my speed, especially not with how it starts.

* Black Forest
Described as “thick, viscous pine with ambergris, black musk, juniper and cypress.” I think I’m starting to get a sense of what ambergris smells like — kind of salty, though that’s not quite it; this is one of those places where vocabulary fails me. The evergreen doesn’t hold its own for very long against that, and then in the long run (as it so often does) the musk wins out. I might like this better as an incense than as a perfume.

* Dracul
Described as “black musk, tobacco, fir, balsam of peru, cumin, bitter clove, crushed mint, and orange blossom.” Orange blossom, we hardly knew ye; I smelled it in the bottle, but never again. Starts out what I dubbed “mintergreen,” with a hint of tobacco; turned into what my sister dubbed “the living room in your great aunt and uncle’s house.” Sort of musky spicy tobacco, and not in a good way, at least not for my taste.

* Dana O’Shee
Described as “milk, honey, and sweet grains.” Given my track record with dairy notes in perfumes, I wasn’t expecting anything good out of this — but I was pleasantly surprised! We dubbed this one “diet amaretto,” not derisively; it has the almond sweetness of that drink, but not nearly so heavy. There’s a slight milkiness later on, without being cloying, and then it finishes up as a light honey and musk. It reminds me somewhat of Bastet, and at some future point I’ll try them both for comparison.

* Harlot’s House
Described as “angel’s trumpet, violet, white sandalwood, oude, copaiba balsam, angelica, white tea, olibanum [which apparently is just a different name for frankincense], and oakmoss.” It started out almost citrus-y in its brightness, slightly floral once applied, with a green note coming through that might have been the angelica or balsam. As it dried it became sweet and green with a trailing edge of resin, but in the end, the resin was really all that was left, in a very meh fashion.

* Queen of Hearts
Described as “lily of the valley, calla lily, stephanotis, and a drop of cherry.” The cherry, though not super strong, seems to blunt the floral notes in this, bringing them down from that kind of grating edge they so often have for me. It’s briefly medicinal-smelling when it’s applied, but that fades rapidly, leaving a remarkably constant scent that doesn’t change too much over its life. I just don’t like it enough to want to keep it, is all.

* Xiuhtecuhtli
Described as “copal, plumeria and sweet orange and the smoke of South American incense and crushed jungle blooms.” As usual, the orange doesn’t last long, though it’s nicely sweet at the outset. Mostly this turns into a sweet, musky resin — but a different resin than the usual suspects of frankincense and myrrh. I used to burn copal incense when I was writing Mesoamerican stuff, and now I’m tempted to do that again to compare it against the perfume. Anyway, this one is different enough to keep around for now!

* Pele
Described as “muguet [which I believe is just lily of the valley by another name] and Hawaiian white ginger enveloped by warm, damp tropical blooms.” For once, the perfume actually smelled to me like the flower instead of floral; I could very much see using this scent in a soap, which is not the same thing as calling it soapy here. It gets a little more conventionally floral over time, but stays reasonable. Nothing wrong with it; just not something I’m likely to wear.

Six Months of Sitting

A few days ago I passed the six-month milestone for when I began meditating again.

That isn’t quite the same thing as six months of meditation. My streak is no longer unbroken: I have missed three days, two in February, one in March. But I’ve gotten far enough that those missed days don’t feel like I’ve broken something. (One place where not having the gamified achievements turns out to be good, even though those are usually effective for me — there’s no brass ring I just missed getting.) The principle I’ve tried to really absorb is “begin again”: whether it’s the attention wandering away from the breath, a missed day, or months on end without sitting down to meditate, the answer is simply, begin again. But I’m at a point now where it doesn’t even really feel like I’m beginning; I’m just continuing. A missed day is not the end of the world.

I don’t think I’m quite at the level where I can call it an ingrained habit, though. Not to the extent that I can with my Duolingo Japanese practice, where my streak is now over 500 days long, even though the last achievement carrot to bait me onward was back at the 365-day mark. I also have to admit my sessions lately have not been what you’d call great — though I did comment on Twitter a while back that there are two kinds of good meditation days, the ones where my mind is obedient and focused and the ones where it’s like a hyperactive puppy but dammit I try anyway. We’ve had a bit more of the hyperactive puppy in recent weeks, alas. I still sit down for ten minutes, though, and that counts for something.

What about the results? Well . . . honestly, of late things have not been great. Some of you might have seen me on Twitter the other day asking for cute animal pictures and the like, because I was having a very bad day stress-wise. Unpacking why and what I’ve been doing about it is a separate post, but I can’t say I’ve been any model of equanimity lately. Would I be in a worse state if I weren’t meditating? No way of knowing. Do I think it’s been good to have in my toolkit six months’ worth of practice focusing on my breathing, or the lesson of being aware of what’s going on inside my own head? . . . maybe. I certainly don’t think it has hurt.

Regardless, the takeaway is that I’m going to keep going. To nine months, to a year, to more — I hope. I know I can do this, and furthermore I can keep doing it even when I stumble. A missed day doesn’t have to turn into me not even trying. That alone, I think, is useful.

picking a series type and laying a foundation

Having made a general typology of series (with a lot of good comments on the DW version of that post in particular, unpacking the various gradations between what I called the Setting Series and the Cast Series — I’ll include those when I make a more polished version of these posts), I want to start chewing on “so how does one write one of these things, anyway?”

I mean, you can just start typing and not stop until you have lots of books. But I don’t recommend just charging in blindfolded like that. 😛

Obligatory Disclaimer: prescriptive writing advice is a mug’s game, since somebody will always come along with an example of people not doing it that way and ending up fine. This is me talking about what I suspect may be helpful, not what is required. It’s what I would say to somebody who feels adrift and needs some direction. And in that vein, I welcome comments about how other people view this process.

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The Advent of Scent, Week 13

* New Orleans
Described as “sweet honeysuckle and jasmine with a hint of lemon and spice.” The hint is very slight; I never get the spice at all, and the lemon is only fleetingly there while this is wet — not even really discernible as lemon so much as a touch of lightness (that doesn’t show up when my sister tries this one). It’s one of the better florals I’ve tried, though, nice and mild, with a faint honeyed note that comes through toward the end. Holding onto it for now.

* Manhattan
Described as “sheer amber, black leather, white mint, lemon peel, white tea, grapefruit, kush, teakwood and orchid.” I definitely smell a sweet leather in the bottle, along with the citrus, but (as is so often the case) the floral elements end up dominating. Not gratingly so, but enough that this is just a meh for me. (And yes, “meh” has become an actual rating in my system, indicating that it’s a three on my five-point scale.)

* Arcana
Described as “frankincense, rosemary, lavender, neroli, and verbena.” Starts out as rosemary and citrus, becomes resinous and herbal, and winds up as a mellowed frankincense that could almost pass for sandalwood. Not bad, but not me, so: meh.

* Bergamotto di Calabria (Perris Monte Carlo)
Described as “bergamot, petitgrain, timur pepper, pink pepper, orange flower, neroli, orange blossom, jasmine, iris, sandalwood, vetiver, and musk.” In the bottle, a generic “perfume” smell with an orange-y tinge. On me, it’s basically a citrus floral air freshener: inoffensive but also completely forgettable.

(Here endeth the Kurayami-Hime Citrus Collection. Now begin the samples that cgbookcat1 very kindly mailed to me!)

* Nephilim
Described as “holy frankincense and hyssop in union with earthy fig, defiled by black patchouli and vetiver, with a chaotic infusion of lavender, cardamom, tamarind, rosemary, oakmoss and cypress.” Oh BPAL, I’ve missed your more outrageous descriptions. 🙂 I suspect what I smell when I first apply this is the hyssop, maybe tag-teaming with the rosemary; it’s something very green and sharp. Over time the fig comes through, and I wind up with that and the cardamom. In the long run I’ll probably decide it’s not for me, but I’ll try it again.

* Penitence
Described as “a blend of pure, pious frankincense and graceful myrrh.” This is the first time I’ve had a perfume go full circle! In the bottle it’s kind of a heavy, sweet spice, but as soon as I apply it the tone goes much lighter and sharper, almost medicinal. Then it takes on a green and resinous edge, before mellowing to . . . a kind of heavy, sweet spice, pretty much identical to its bottle scent. Another that’s probably not for me, but I’m holding onto it because it will be useful for comparisons against more complex blends with frankincense and myrrh.

* Fighter
Described as “leather, musk, blood, and steel.” Well, it delivers, I’ll say that for it? Been a while since my reaction to a scent was “ugh, NO,” but I don’t really want to smell like metallic leather.

* Miskatonic University
Described as “Irish coffee, dusty tomes and polished oakwood halls.” Since I never got the woody element other people report for this, it was pretty much just identical to Irish Coffee Buttercream, which I tried before. But I’m going to hold onto it so I can compare the two; I’m curious what differences I’ll find between them, before I dump one or both.

Perpetuating the Cult of the Badass — Or Not

I know some of you have started to read A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, either via my rec or elsewhere, so you’ll have already seen Devereaux’s sequence of posts about the idea of the “universal warrior.” (If not, then tl;dr — he thinks the notion is absolute bollocks.)

But I want to particularly highlight the last post in the series, about the “Cult of the Badass.” I’d picked up this general vibe before, of course: the idealization and idolization of a certain kind of tough masculinity that we see all the time in books and movies, in TV and video games, and in real life (at least aspirationally). And it isn’t hard to miss flaws like the toxicity of that concept, or the sexism baked pretty much into its core.

What’s new to me is the extent to which the Cult of the Badass maps to the values of fascism.

I’m not going to recap Devereaux’s points in that essay; you can go read them for yourself (the part about fascism is under the header “Echoes of Eco”). The reason I reference his argument — apart from the fact that it’s a good one — is because recently I also read an essay by Ada Palmer that . . . okay, has vanished from her blog in the time since I read it, and I’m not sure why. I guess this is what I get for not posting about this until now? Anyway, it was her transcribed remarks from (I think) a convention she was a guest of honor at, talking about how we commonly teach the Renaissance as being about these few visionary guys who knew what the future could look like and tried to bring that vision into reality, which — surprise! — is a massive misrepresentation. They were trying to change the world, sure, but not to look like the world we have now. And much of what we have now is the product, not of a few visionary guys, but of huge quantities of people having their own little conversations all over the place. The essay had a great example of this, in the form of how the unknown individuals who wrote the printer’s forewords to various editions of a particular Greek philosopher (I can’t remember which one, dammit) led to this philosopher being taught all over the place, in ways that very much influenced the change in culture.

Anyway, here’s my point, somewhat undermined by not having Palmer’s piece available for linking. When she talked about lots and lots of people having their conversations about things and the power of that to change society, I found myself thinking about Devereaux and the Cult of the Badass and fascism. Because the more we tell and consume stories about how awesome it is to be a warrior at heart, the more we repeat and reify the notion of a particular kind of strength (and implicitly, screw all the people without that strength) . . . the more we nudge society in that direction. But by telling other kinds of stories, by reading different books and watching different movies and recommending them to our friends, we dilute that trend.

I got tired of those stories a long time ago. But now I’m more than tired of them: I reject them. I don’t want to give them my time, my money, or a place in my skull. War is not the metaphor around which we should be organizing our lives. There are better ways, and I’m going to try to have the conversations that lead to them.

towards some thoughts on series

I’ve had discussions with other writers about how there’s tons of advice out there on writing novels, but very little on writing series.

File this one under “stuff I know how to do, but don’t know how to articulate or explain.” But this one will be less polished than the pieces I wrote on the structure of paragraphs, scenes, and chapters, because I’m really thinking out loud as I go here.

Step one, I think, is to take a look at what a series is. A set of interconnected books, okay. But there are ways and ways of connecting things, and they’re not all going to operate the same. After chewing on this for a while, I’ve decided that you can very roughly sort different types of series into a spectrum from discrete to linked (with two semi-outliers that I’ll note as we pass them.) So:

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several bits of publishing news

Five things make a post, right?

* About two hours from when I post this, Alyc and I will be doing an event with Tubby and Coo’s, a New Orleans independent bookseller! We’ll be in conversation with fellow author Bryan Camp, and three attendees will get their very own Rook and Rose astrological chart from Alyc.

* Last summer I was a guest on the Aurora Award-winning Worldshapers podcast. One of the neat things about this podcast is that the guy who runs it, Edward Willett, edited an anthology featuring stories from the guests he had in his first year. Now he’s doing it again, with a Kickstarter to fund the second volume! I’m on deck to provide a story for that, and I’ve also offered some fun goodies in the rewards: signed copies of The Mask of Mirrors, ebooks of Maps to Nowhere, and even some photographic prints.

* The reason I was on Worldshapers last year was because of Driftwood, which is my segue to the next item: my publisher, Tachyon, has teamed up with Humble Bundle and the Carl Brandon Society to offer a truly massive superbundle of Tachyon titles, Driftwood included. The bundle as a whole has a value of $441, and you can get all the levels for just $28. Proceeds support the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Carl Brandon Society, the latter of which helps support readers and writers of color in speculative fiction.

* Publication news! I crowed here when I sold a story to F&SF (after nineteen years of trying); now I can hold the proof of my success in my hands. 😀 They’re having some website problems right now that mean there’s no direct way to buy a physical copy, but ebooks can be gotten through Weightless Books, or you can subscribe here.

* And finally, one of my horror-style flash fairy tale retellings, “The Snow-White Heart,” has been reprinted in Frozen Wavelets! This and its fellow tale “Waiting for Beauty” are among my most-reprinted pieces, which is funny because I don’t generally think of myself as someone who writes horror . . .

I think that’s it for now. But my brain is like a sieve lately, so who knows. 😛