The nose knows: M.J. Rose talks perfume and murder

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Collector cover 200The scent of perfume almost wafts off the pages of M. J. Rose’s latest work, The Collector of Dying Breaths. It’s an intriguing combination of a story set in Renaissance France and a contemporary one featuring Jac D’Etoile, the heroine of two prior Rose books. Check out BookTrib’s review of The Collector of Dying Breaths here.

The nose knows. Jac is a member of a family that has created exquisite perfumes for centuries. She is the descendant of famous noses, as it were. Her own sense of smell is exceptional, but that is not what makes Jac unique. Jac has knowledge of her past lives. She has been reincarnated, and flashes of a prior life flit across her mind as she becomes involved in a dangerous search for immortality.

Catherine de Medici 200In mid-1500s France, René le Florentin is the perfumer (and poisoner) for the infamous Catherine de Medici. René’s life’s work, however, is to learn how to capture a dying breath and use that breath to reanimate the dead. In modern times, Melinoe Cypros, a very wealthy woman and great collector of objets d’art, wants Jac to determine whether René succeeded and, if so, how he did it. If she can puzzle it out, she will have the key to living forever.

BookTrib had the privilege of interviewing M. J. Rose about this book and other interesting aspects of her life.

Alluring perfume and dying breaths seem to be at the opposite ends of the olfactory experience, so what inspired Rose to write a book about both? Her research for The Book of Lost Fragrances (2012), an earlier Jac D’Etoile book, led her to discover that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford both believed in reincarnation and that a person’s last breath contains his soul. “I was totally taken with the idea of our souls being expelled in that last breath and it became the thesis of my novel,” she said. She combined it with other research she did into perfume. “It was fourteen-year-old Catherine de Medici who brought her personal perfumer with her when she went to France to marry the prince. It was that Italian woman, with her perfumer René le Florentin, who would be responsible for France becoming—what it still is today—the perfume capital of the world.” Et voilà, Rose had the two parts of her novel.

Why is smell so important? According to Rose, “our sense of smell is amazingly powerful and since the olfactory center is literally next to our memory center in the brain, we tend to remember experiences through scent.” Memory and scent, the captivating combination underlying Rose’s book.

Rose learned much about perfume, enough that she knows what her mixture of scent notes would be. “Amber, vanilla, hyacinth, and roses,” she answered.

Jac D’Etoile is an expert in mythology and hosts a television show about it. How extensive was Rose’s research into Jungian psychology, which relies heavily on a collective mythology for an understanding of the human psyche, for use in Jac’s background? “Very extensive,” she said, “I read and studied psychology and worked with two therapists creating Dr. Malachai Samuels [Jac’s mentor in her regression attempts] and Jac’s ideas.”

Rose has written several stand-alone books, but The Collector of Dying Breaths is one of three — along with The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction— starring Jac. “I have tried to make them stand-alones as well as a series,” she said. “I thought having the ability to stay with Jac for three books gave me a lot of insight into her character with each additional book and allowed me to dig deeper into who she is and show she changed — it allowed me to grow with her.”

MJ Rose 200What does she herself believe about reincarnation? “I still, after all these years doing research and meeting people who believe in reincarnation deeply, am not sure what I believe,” she said. “I don’t not believe anything. I want reincarnation to be part of the natural world, though. I think it’s a very comforting and hopeful belief.”

Will there be another Jac book? She answered, “Collector is not the last book…just the last for a while. I know what the next one will be but really wanted to write something else next.”

Years ago M. J. Rose’s books sold so well as e-books and she built up such a considerable fan base, that a traditional publisher then successfully brought out her works in print. She was the first author to have succeeded first as an e-book author and then as a traditional print one.

Rose’s fan base also applauds the books she writes with an element of erotica to them. How has writing sex scenes changed since she began writing and why is it so popular and mainstream now? “The world is much more accepting of erotica as a mainstream genre than it was when I started writing in 1998,” she answered. “I think the anonymity of the Internet giving readers the ability to buy books online contributed greatly to the genre’s popularity. But the sex scenes themselves? No, if you read “The Story of O” — written 60 years ago — there have always been steamy novels.”

Rose obviously believes in giving to the writing community. She is one of the founding members of International Thriller Writers and, along with Lee Child, is its co-president. “We don’t require dues and have over 2000 members,” she explained. “We just started an online Thriller Writing School and have a special debut author program that helps our debuts navigate that first tough year.” But that’s not all! “And then there is ThrillerFest every July — a fan/author convention in NYC,” she proudly states. “It gets bigger every year.”

Image Credits:

Cover Image: http://lesbellesdejour.wordpress.com/category/apothecary/

Author photo: www.mjrose.com

Catherine de Medici: http://www.thetuscanmagazine.com/articles/modern-perfume-industry-born-florence

worked for Murder by the Book in Portland, Oregon, for over twenty years. She enjoyed helping people discover great books. Even though she no longer has to read crime fiction for work, 99% of the books she now reads for pleasure are mysteries. When not reading, she enjoys hiking and drinking single malt Scotch.

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