The coolest Airbnb in North Portland, Oregon

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We stayed at the most adorable and perfect AirBnB in Northeast Portland. You can pull it up on the Airbnb site as the “Authentic Alberta Arts Abode.” Just $115 a night, this little basement apartment encapsulated everything to me about why short-term rentals of private spaces poses such a challenge for the traditional hospitality industry. That’s just a fancy way of saying I loved it so much I knew as soon as I stepped into the main room that I was never going to want to leave.

Normally the words “basement” and “apartment” don’t go together in my world, but my general attitude about being on the bottom floor doesn’t apply to this place. It’s small — perfect for two people — and the smallness makes it difficult to capture, in photos, the essence of what makes it so wonderful.

So here’s a game I like to play wherever I go. Describe a space in two words. Just two. You have to pick two ideas that work together in a space to make something different.

My husband and I sat each evening just looking around, trying to pinpoint just how one might describe the aesthetic of our Airbnb. It felt so idiosyncratic, so personal and yet professionally done, that we wondered if the owners had hired a Portland stylist to come decorate the place. A quick look at the owner’s house will tell you that they are the kind of enterprising people who believe in doing things themselves, and I was later able to confirm with the owner that styling the space is her art.

The two-word descriptor we came up with was “Pendleton Retro.” “Pendleton” because the objects in the rooms highlighted some of the more iconic motifs of the West, specifically of the Pacific Northwest. “Retro” because the art, appliances and a few objects harken back to the Eisenhower Era.

Maybe we cheated by using a brand name this time (and all of its associations), but I’m sticking with it.

The host owners here go out of their way to make the experience amazing. Every detail has been carefully chosen but feels intimate and gracious.

Ease of Access. It couldn’t be easier that to get a code from a host, drive to the property, punch in the code and walk inside. (Clearly I’m not showing you the outside of this place for privacy’s sake).

Food in the house. We spent our two days eating around Portland, but it was refreshing and comforting to know that we had pancake mix, drinks, a cookie jar filled with Snickers minis, Lucky Charms, and some of those vacuum-sealed Indian foods if we got hungry.


Welcoming materials. Penelope left us a bottle of wine (which we didn’t drink or take), as well as travel magazines and materials in a piece of vintage luggage.


Truly stellar books. I’m a former book reviewer, and I was over the moon to see a startlingly well-curated selection of highly readable fiction and nonfiction on all the shelves.


The comfiest of beds. I was a little concerned that the bed nook might be a little claustrophobia-producing, but it is the opposite: Cozy-as-can-be. We arrived at 1 p.m. and I promptly fell asleep for two hours after reading a few pages. The linens were perfect.


Sconces galore. I now get the power of the sconce, after being in a place that had (?) eight of them.


A judging matriarch. There’s this awesome portrait of a woman hung on the wall next to the couch. I named her Betty. Wasn’t everyone named Betty in the mid-20th century? We told some stories about her during our visit.


Clean clean clean. Old Portland houses can feel a little dirty unless they are cared for properly. No problem here!


A personal itinerary. The hosts picked out their favorite neighborhood places in this giant list hung near the door. If living like a local is your thing when you travel, I can’t think of a better tool. Again, it’s the personal recommendations. The difference between a brochure rack at a hotel and a good friend texting their faves.


What a perfect way to spend a 37th birthday!  The trip totally made up for not getting my dream present of a room full of 37 floating Mylar balloons a la that exhibit at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

I’ll be posting a couple of other highlights from our Portland adventure in the coming weeks. I was able to finally meet one of my perfuming heroes, Heather Siellaff of OLO perfume and had my to-date best meal at a place on Alberta.

Where’s your favorite Airbnb in the world? Please share with me since I’m always planning my next trip!


The Scented Cup that Could Help You Drink Fewer Calories


It is my ardent belief that scent is an untapped resource for the food industry and that paying more attention to scent cues could revolutionize many industries.

Now comes an Indigogo project that harnesses the simple fact of human olfactory and taste — scent accounts for as much as 80% of what we taste — to make a new product that could help people drink fewer calories and up their intake of water overall.

The goal of the cup, which is being crowd-funded right now, is to allow people to smell flavor similar to what beverage companies currently put in their drinks while the drinker is imbibing water. Instead of getting the calories from soda or fruit juices, the drinker gets pure water that tastes like the scent of the cup.

From the company’s campaign:

How does it actually work?
In order to appreciate how The Right Cup works, it’s important to understand the dynamic of how smell affects taste. First the tongue only tastes 5 sensations: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and Umami. The overall taste experience is a result of the interaction of these 5 sensations and the sense of smell. It is estimated that the sense of smell is responsible for approximately 80% of the flavor experience. When people eat and drink, food and liquids release volatile aromas that travel up from the nose and from inside the mouth, past the sinuses until they reach the nasal epithelium which sends a message to the olfactory bulb that the aromas being smelled are a taste being tasted. The Right Cup’s natural fruit aroma combined with a patented sweet taste technology, gives your brain the total perception you are drinking a fruit flavored water.

The makers of The Right Cup hope it will be used by people who are trying to lose weight, who want to get that recommended 8 cups of water every day (but struggle to do so), and by people who are moving away not just from the calories of carbonated beverages but from the preservatives and chemicals used therein.

Now, can we ask them to have some out-of-the box scents like lavender, bergamot, elderberry, or Turkish rose? What scent would you want to smell in your water?

Tessalation! Or: when little projects take over…

Greetings! I wanted to let you all know of another project I’m doing, which just happens to involve my obsession with patterns.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a children’s book called Tessalation! and promptly put it in a drawer.

These things happen. I’m sure every writer has a ton of these projects just waiting for their time in the sun.

Well, despite the gloomy and despondency-producing greyness in Oregon right now, the time for Tessalation! is NOW!

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to hire an illustrator to get this book out in the world. You know, just slap the thing together, put it up on Kindle and call it a day.

Ah, the best laid plans. After posting some images of the book on FB and receiving a ton of interest, I’ve decided to explore printing a small first run of this book.

I’m not interested in clogging up your inboxes with news you don’t want, and I realize this is a little different that perfume/mind body/memoir/feng shui and the usual you get from me, but if you are interested in children’s book publishing, pattern-making or just want to follow along as I feel my way through this process, I’ve started a blog on the book site about it.

I’ve barely started this and have already had to answer a ton of creative and industry questions for myself as I go. I hope that I’ll be able to inspire other people to dust off old projects and watch them fly!

If you’d like to learn more about Tessalation! please visit the site and sign up for the newsletter.

My Design*Sponge guide to McMinnville


HouseI love being a travel writer, but I reach a special level of stoked when I get to write about my hometown.

For McMinnville, it’s easy. It’s so simple to slip into the eyes of a tourist here. There’s a lot to do — especially in the wining and dining sector — and a lot of the things I get to write about really fall into that”La vita è bella!”factor.

Design*Sponge published my Guide to McMinnville today. I’m so thrilled with it. I’ve loved this site for pretty much forever and I couldn’t be happier to be featured on it.

I’ve written a ton about McMinnville recently because my town keeps winning all of these awards, basically for how adorable it is (historic preservation, foodie town, great small town, etc.).

But the reason I like this particular story is I got to include Rag & Bone and Mid*Mod and some of the other shops that often get left out when I write for more general publications.

I hope you enjoy this story! Please share. 

Where I’m speaking in 2016


airstreamI have some dates set for speaking engagements for 2016 — Save the Date(s)!

First, I’ll be talking to Willamette Writers’ Salem group on January 20, 2016 at the Salem Public Library about the art and craft of developing the Nonfiction Book Proposal.

This talk is based on my experiences finding an agent and getting three offers for representation of my memoir by attending the Willamette Writers Conference. Even if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend this festival as a place to hone your craft, meet industry experts and perfect the way you are telling the story about your creative projects.

In April, I’ll be speaking at the Terroir Creative Writing Festival, which happens in my own small-town of McMinnville, OR. I am so very proud of this little festival, which just keeps getting bigger and better and more focused every year. It’s a one-day event, and we take great pains to make it affordable to anyone who wants to attend. If you want to follow news from Terroir, please visit the Terroir Facebook Page. I’m on the board for this festival and have the (mwah ha ha!) pleasure of being involved in picking who gets invited to speak.

What should I talk about at Terroir this year? In the past I’ve done travel writing and nonfiction book proposal writing, but I think it might be time to do another workshop on blogging… here are some ideas I’m throwing around:

  • How to Self-Publish Children’s Picture Books
  • Blogging Basics for Business or Pleasure
  • My Gorillla Guide to Platform Building
  • How to Connect with Famous Authors (and move your career forward)
  • Writing in all 5 Senses
  • Writing the Humorous Personal Essay

Which of these would you be interested in?



Pinor Noir — the most fragrant wine varietal

Crush at Sokol Blosser Winery, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon, Credit: Andrea Johnson

Crush at Sokol Blosser Winery, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon, Credit: Andrea Johnson

There’s this origin story about Oregon that I always return to when trying to explain how people end up here. We used to call it “pioneer spirit.” But really, that’s just short-hand for a story Oregon winemakers throw around.

During the mid-19th century, there were two groups of people heading West. The group seeking wealth and gold went to California. I like to think of them as the Magpies. The other group were lifestyle seekers, the people drawn to the Willamette Valley, its own fertile crescent, a rich landscape between the mountains where you could carve out a life. That’s how most people still end up in Oregon. It’s the idea that you can create something here.

I see that in every single one of the magazine stories I write, especially in the profiles I am drawn to. This dream-it-and-you-can-live-it quality is especially apparent among the winemakers I interview for my stories for Zester Daily.

The most recent story I’d like to share with you about Oregon winemakers celebrates some of the family stories behind Oregon’s wine-making revolution. It’s a series of mini-profiles with nods to some stand-out vintages from these makers.

Did you know that Pinot Noir is considered the most fragrant wine varietal? As much as 70% of your experience of wine comes from smelling it. With pinot, the scent adapts over time as you drink it.

I’ve been drinking Pinot Noir since we moved to Oregon, but I still feel like I am at the very front of my wine education. It’s never-ending, really. But this year, I hit a point at which I finally began to understand how wine works, why it is compelling, and why every wine is a story. Wine is drinkable perfume, evocative of its time and place. It elevates and celebrates life and it brings all of the senses to the forefront, especially scent. I am so very much in love with it.

I hope you enjoy my wine story and are inspired to try some of these great wines!

23 Ways to Bring More Scent into Your Life

If you’re looking for a way to engage your sense of smell — and you should — here are 23 fun ways you can bring more scent into your life.


1. Use a candle to set the mood

Brooklyn Candle Co.

Brooklyn Candle Studio

Is lighting a candle a part of your life? It should be! Candle light is romantic, yes, and it certainly creates an atmosphere in the home. But the scent it releases in your space can help make your house feel like a place of respite and safety. How do you find the right one for you? If you know which essential oils you prefer, you should be able to choose a candle without smelling it, assuming that the candle maker uses quality oils. Otherwise, go shopping! If you’d like to meet some contemporary candle makers who are using natural scents in their tapers, vessels and votives, please read my blog post on the subject, 8 New Candle Makers Using Natural Scents. I’m particularly fond of Archipelago’s Driftwood, a combination of Water Hyacinth, Driftwood and Tonka Bean that burns a long 90 hours.

2. Buy an aromatherapy diffuser


If you have a stash of essential oils you adore, you can send them into the atmosphere with ease by using an aromatherapy diffuser. I am particularly partial to the Essential Oil Aromatherapy Diffuser by InstaNatural. Try altering your mood by your needs by choosing an essential oil known to enliven, relax or soothe, like Peppermint or Bergamot (uplifting), or lavender (relaxing). Most aromatherapy diffusers, fed with 4-5 drops of oil, will work for about five hours.

3. Wear a natural perfume

Caption Blankenship is one of my favorites.

Caption Blankenship is one of my favorites.

Wearing a perfume made by an artisan can bring happiness while making you smell like nothing else on earth. Natural perfumes, made using only natural ingredients such as essential oils, alcohol or base oils, harness the power of natural ingredients and are a luxury experience like none other. Don’t know which one to try? My favorite indie perfumers of late working with natural ingredients are Jessica Hannah, Mandy Aftel and Jana Blankenship.

4. Travel by nose

The Young Lycidas is the most fragrant rose at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens.

The Young Lycidas is the most fragrant rose at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens.

Have you ever noticed how you respond to a place based on its scent? How a spice market feels so different to you not just for what you’re seeing, but what you’re smelling? That a city has a smellscape all of its own, how a trip to the woods can restore you with every breath? Paying attention to what you are smelling is what I call traveling by nose. It simply requires you to be present and notice the differences between places based on what your olfaction is telling you. What are my favorite smelly places? Well, the Pacific Northwest, of course, home to lavender, ponderosa pine, hops, mint and many other aromatic plants. But every geography has its intrinsic scents. A walk around the neighborhood will reveal its own smellscapes.

5. Go “Forest Bathing”

Truffle hunting is a great way to travel by nose.

Truffle hunting is a great way to travel by nose.

The Japanese call working through the forest atmosphere Shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing, or taking in the whole environment of the forest. The next time you walk into the woods, pay attention to the scents coming off the coniferous and broad-leafed trees. Look for the smell of geosmin, which is the damp earth smell, peaty and decaying. Experience how the water makes your nose smell more powerfully after a light rain. Forest bathing reduces stress, blood glucose levels and can ease depression. Can’t make it to the forest? Well, drizzling some Oregon Truffle Oil on some pasta is a fine replacement.

  1. Create scented bath salt


Baths solve everything. Really. So next time, use a scented bath salt using your favorite essential oils. I mix a combination of 2 C. Epson salts with 2 teaspoons Jojoba oil, 5-10 drops of my favorite essential oils (I like lavender, cedar wood and clary sage for baths). Shake it up in a container of your choosing, a Ball Jar is fine.

7. Make a scent spray

I use Monster-Away Spray to help my toddler assuage his fear of monsters.

I use Monster-Away Spray to help my toddler assuage his fear of monsters.

If you need a mid-day pick-me up or are just in a foul mood, a scented spray can do wonders. Recipes abound on the web, but for a simple sleep spray, I like to use a spray bottle with about 2 C. of water. I like my spray heavier on the lavender side, so I do a mix of 8 drops lavender to 4 drops Roman chamomile for each cup of water. So if your spray bottle holds two C. distilled water like mine, use eight drops Roman chamomile oil and 16 drops lavender oil. Shake well before each use.

8. Get Cinematic


Olibere is a perfume company that creates short films to go along with its perfumes. Neat idea! But there are also full-length movies that harness the power of scent. How about Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, after the novel by Patrick Süskind? Now Smell This, one of my favorite scent blogs, has a wonderful post about perfume usage in the movies.

  1. Make a DIY seasonal potpourri is a good source for potpourri if you don't have access to your own materials.

Each season demands its own scents, and fall (happening as I write this), has some of the best (decorative gourd season, anyone?). Take some whole cinnamon sticks, slightly crushed, use a teaspoon of vanilla essential oil or extract, a handful of anise seeds, a dash or two of allspice, a ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, and ground or whole cloves (based on how much you like gloves). Set to simmer on your stovetop in some water et voilá! It’s autumn in your house.

10. Meditate with scent

Lavender is an excellent oil to use for meditation, as is sandalwood.

Lavender is an excellent oil to use for meditation, as is sandalwood.

Medtation has proven benefits for well-being. But did you know that focusing on the body’s breath can be made even more enjoyable and meaningful by adding scent? Millennia of prayer with incense cannot be wrong. You can even add scent to your yoga practice. Scent is rarely the focus of such activities; it is simply a way to enter the practice. Adding scent to your meditative practice can be as simple as burning a scented candle or scented incense or dabbing a few essential oils on your temples.

11. Pick some flowers

When possible, enlist help!

When possible, enlist help!

Bringing fresh flowers is said to energize the home (or office, or garden, whatever) with great energy. Scented flowers work even better since they infuse spaces with the aromas of the natural world. Want the smelliest flowers? You’ll do better to choose flowers that are local to your area, which aren’t bred to travel long distances. Don’t go too stinky, though. The smelliest flower in the world, the corpse flower, smells like rotting meat. Instead go for roses, lilies, peonies, cherry blossoms, daphne, hyacinth, honeysuckle or whatever is growing seasonally in your region.

12. Clean with essential oils

If you don't want to make your own, Meyer's Mrs. Clean Day is a good producer of scented cleaning materials.

If you don’t want to make your own, Meyer’s Mrs. Clean Day is a good producer of scented cleaning materials.

Don’t want to clean? Me, either. Unless I get to use a homemade cleaning product made with hand-picked essential oils. Williams-Sonoma, Aura Cacia, and a host of other companies are now making green cleaning products with essential oil bases if you don’t want to invest in your own oils. Some great oils you can add to water for simple dusting include peppermint, bergamot, eucalyptus, cedarwood, grapefruit, lavender, pine and geranium.

13. Make your own body oil/ Do Self-massage


Self-massage might be your answer to a good night’s sleep. It’s as simple as buying some carrier oil such as jojoba and adding essential oils in a combination that provides an uplifting or relaxing scent experience. One of my favorite oil blends is featured on my post 7 Benefits of Daily Self-Massage (and essential oil blend to do it). I also really like the Vata oil and other Ayurvedic products from Banyan Botanicals.

  1. Read some smelly literature


I can’t get enough scent cues in literature. If you pay attention to them, you’ll notice they reveal much about characters’ psychology. If you don’t, they just add to the story. I’ve been compiling my favorite scent writing in a project called “The Scent in Literature Project.” I’ve been adding new entries for about a year now, and the scope just gets richer. If you’re looking for books specifically about scent, Base Notes as a great conversation going about the subject.

15. Drink your flowers

The Meadow in N. Portland is one of my favorite places for exploring flower syrups.

The Meadow in N. Portland is one of my favorite places for exploring flower syrups.

One of my favorite kitchen items is our Sodastream, which allows us to make our own sodas. It’s an easy way to make a flavored fizzy drink without worry about all the additives and extra sugar that ends up in commercial sodas. You can drink your scents this way. My household loves Elderflower, Rose, Lavender and Violet! One of my favorite places to explore bitters and flowers you can drink is The Meadow in Portland.

16. Cook with essential oils

Aftelier makes an excellent line of essential oil sprays for cooking.

Aftelier makes an excellent line of essential oil sprays for cooking.

There was a time when many ketchup recipes used essential oils instead of the aromatic plants themselves. That time has come again! Using essential oils in recipes is often favored over using the plant matter since the oils harness the finest qualities of the herbs and spices without some of the drawbacks. Think: pepper oil instead of pepper (you lose the heat and retain the aroma/flavor). You can use any of the oils on the USDA Generally Regarded as Safe list. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of sourcing your own oils, you can try one of the great cooking sprays by Mandy Aftel of Aftelier.

  1. Journal while smelling something from your past


Scent is deeply connected to memory. So the next time you decide to do some journaling, get something smell-laden from your past. Breathe it in deeply, and write for 20 minutes on whatever comes to mind. Who knows, you might just have a text worthy of the Olfactory Memoir Project!

18. Explore the nearest scent shop

Credit: Josh Partee

Credit: Josh Partee

Do you have a perfume shop in your city? Do you have any boutiques that carry indie perfumers? Is the closest place to find perfume a department stores? Take it slow. If you’re new to perfume trying three perfumes in one day might be enough. As you start to understand how perfumes are composed, using top, middle and base notes, you will become more interested in types of perfumes, like Oriental, Fougere, Floral and Herbal. You’ll start being able to identify them, even seek them out. My new favorite place to explore scent is at Spruce Apothecary in Portland, which carries several lines of European fragrances not often found in the United States.

19. Feng shui an important room in your house

Some rooms need more than an essential oil spray :)

Some rooms need more than an essential oil spray 🙂

Okay, so feng shui isn’t actually a verb. But you could space-clear a room according to the principles of feng shui and then bring energy into it using an aromatherapy spray. I like this post on how to space clear using sage, but more often, I simply clear a room of clutter, wipe down the surfacing using one of my aromatherapy sprays. It freshens up the space in a way you can feel down to your bones.

20. Drink pinot noir

For great wine, a great vessel.

For great wine, a great vessel.

Do you love wine. Well, then I’ve got a wine varietal for you. Pinot noir is said to be the most fragrant of varietals. In Oregon, where I live, we even put our pinot in a glass that could ACTUALLY HOLD AN ENTIRE BOTTLE OF WINE. Don’t believe me? Try drinking pinot in an Oregon pinot noir glass. The glass maximizes the surface area of wine touching the air and funnels the aromas in a way that captures the scent of the varietal. I won’t drink pinot in anything else.

  1. Add essential oils to your tea


Ah, the tea habit. So civilized. But even if you just have some loose green tea leaves, you can make it more interesting by spraying some essential oils in there. Maybe some bergamot, or rose, or lavender. Florals are great here, as are citrus. If you want to make your own essential oil food and drink spray. You can mix a Cup of vodka with 4-5 drops of essential oil. Be careful, a spray or two is enough.

22. Find your signature scent

If you can't find your signature scent, make your own!

If you can’t find your signature scent, make your own!

Your signature scent will likely change over your lifetime as you age and your olfaction changes. That’s to be expected. What you love at 20 is not what you love at 80. So consider your journey towards finding your signature scent a lifetime one. Remember: Scent is a deeply personal experience. You don’t have to like what other people like. Some people change their signature scent seasonally. Others change it day by day! If you’re ready to begin that particular journey, I recommend this story by New York Magazine.

23. Replace all of your spices

If your cinnamon has been grandfathered into your cabinet, if your cloves smell kind of off, if even your basil smells stinky, you really need to just do a full sweep and gets some new spices. Your spice collection is not intended to last forever. They are organic products with real shelf lives. Indeed, investing in better spices will please your nose and palate and make cooking more fun. My favorite new spice company is the Curio Spice Co., launching this autumn by my friend Claire. In addition to having my favorite logo of all time (a bear! Supersniffer!), Claire blogs about spices (and why sourcing them matters) at her Aromatum blog.

What’s your favorite way to bring more scent into your life? Please share with me in the comments section. I read every one!


Q & A: Warm Bodies author Isaac Marion writes dead people better than most people write live ones (and smell is part of it)


I can’t stop talking about Warm Bodies. Literally. Can’t. Stop. Talking. It is so good. And yet, so many people I bring it up respond with claims of “Not Being into the Zombie Thing.”

Well, let me tell you that this is no ordinary zombie story. This is a book in which a zombie shows more humanity than characters with beating hearts and the opportunity to transform oneself means more than just a before/after pic.

So for my Halloween post, I thought I could give you a glimpse into just how thoughtful Mr. Marion is with an interview about his use of scent in writing.

More than any other contemporary novel I’ve encountered recently, Warm Bodies: A Novel, and its prequel, The New Hunger: A Warm Bodies Novella (The Warm Bodies Series), present an idea made for the digital age, one that cuts to the core of a truly contemporary problem. Author Isaac Marion’s wandering philosopher zombie with a heart on his sleeve yearns for connection despite his own limitations and the real and imagined barriers he encounters.

Warm Bodies is also one of the smelliest books I’ve ever read, with scent descriptions that made me run to add Marion to my list of great scent writers in the Scent in Literature Project.

Here’s an example of how Marion writes scent.

“As this happens, my sinuses ignite with a new smell, something similar to the life energy of the Living but also vastly different. It’s coming from Julie, it’s her scent, but it’s also mine. It rushes out from us like an explosion of pheromones, so potent I can almost see it.” — “R,” from Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies

Q & A with author Isaac Marion

IsaacMarion Emily: What’s your relationship with your sense of smell? Are you a super-sniffer or just really connected to your olfaction?

Isaac: I don’t know if I have an unusually sharp sense of smell, but I do think I savor it more than some people. I enjoy all my senses on a somewhat heightened level. Not all the time–I don’t walk around shuddering and gasping at every smell and sound–but sometimes I like to zero in on a sensation and really explore all its layers. Our senses provide so much fine detail that we usually ignore and if you examine them closely, you can identify the individual elements and appreciate how they harmonize.

Smell is especially interesting to me since it’s so rarely “used” in daily life. All the other senses are very practical tools for navigating the world, but in humans, smell has retreated into the background as this abstract, subliminal force that just colors our perception of the world in ways we don’t fully understand. It’s kind of a mysterious hidden dimension, and I love that.

 Emily: Why did you decide to use scent as the way the zombies search out their food in your books?

Isaac: Zombies are very animalistic, so it seemed inevitable that they would hunt by scent, but it’s actually not the traditional olfactory sense. Like R says in Warm Bodies, “We don’t smell it with our noses. It hits us deeper inside, near our brains.” They’re not tracking biological odors but the “life scent” which is something more metaphysical. In fact, zombies can’t really smell natural odors at all — except decay and other morbid scents. This is why as R becomes more human, he’s amazed by the beautiful smells that start to creep into his awareness.

Emily: Having a really pronounced sense of smell is often connected to being more animal-like. Dogs smell 1,000 times better than humans, Bears smell 1,000 times better than dogs. And yet, in your books, your characters seem to connect through scent, even after (spoiler alert), they exhume. So does scent make us more like animals or more like humans?

Isaac: Humans have a tricky path to navigate between our animal origins and our loftier aspirations. A lot of our worst qualities come from our primitive nature and we have to fight hard to overcome those, but if we run too far the other way we end up as sterile intellectual beings with no connection to the primal currents that give life color and even “meaning.” So while a lot of this story is about transcending the animal and climbing toward a higher level of existence, it’s also about connecting to the world around us in an immediate and personal way. When “R” marvels over the smell of Julie’s hair, he’s emerging from his lofty contemplation of her qualities and experiencing her as a real, tangible person living in the world, which is a deeper kind of connection beyond just the awareness of her qualities.

Emily: I adore your scent writing. It feels completely organic to your stories. Do you have a philosophy or approach you like to use when incorporating scent into your books?

Isaac: It really varies by the story. Warm Bodies is a visceral story with a lot of sweaty bloody fleshy sensation, so scent has a big role to play, but other stories I’ve written are more about elusive feelings and ideas so I tend to use less sensory detail in those. I think it has to do with how “up close” and intimate I want to be. The more I want to put the reader right there in the mud with the characters, the more sensory detail I include, and if I want a more contemplative aerial view, I scale back the senses.

Emily: Scent seemed to play a larger role in Warm Bodies than in The New Hunger (though I have to say, they are still far smellier than 98% of the fiction out there). Can you give us a hint at what role it will play in the sequels?

Isaac: Its role continues to expand as “R” grows into his humanity, but eventually it starts to go beyond the human spectrum. There are characters with heightened perceptions that look a little like “superpowers.” Senses in general, particularly sight and smell, become part of this mysterious shift that’s happening in the world as humanity is climbing out of the pit toward a new plateau of reality, so I get to write with this godlike POV, swirling around the environments and exploring details that wouldn’t normally be available. It’s really exhilarating.

Emily: Do you have a favorite scent on a person?

THE NEW HUNGER_9781476799650-coverIsaac: I love the smell of a woman’s hair. I don’t know how much of it is just her shampoo and perfume and how much is her natural scent, but it’s unique to each person and since it comes from the head I like to think it’s some kind of personal essence, like the combined scents of all her thoughts and feelings and the places she goes in her life. I also have a weird appreciation for the smell of booze and cigarettes. It was an old flame’s signature scent and will probably always trigger a warm sense of “I should know better but fuck it.”

Emily: Thanks, Isaac! You’ve got a forever fan in me.

The prequel to Warm Bodies, The New Hunger: A Warm Bodies Novella (The Warm Bodies Series), just came out this month, and the word on the street is that there are going to be two sequels. Want more Warm Bodies? Marion did a Q & A with fans over at Goodreads this week.

What’s your take? Does scent make us more human or more animalistic?

The place in Oregon where I’ll never take my kids


See that little red hotel that juts out into the river? That’s our place, the Cannery Pier Hotel

I will never take my kids to Astoria. It’s a place I’ve reserved for my husband and me alone, our place, a storybook harbor town filled with people with mermaid tattoos and hidden pirate longings. Kids can stay at home with grandma. We’ve claimed it, its ours, sorry, Charlie, get out your LEGOS ’cause mommy and daddy are going away!

We go once a year, stay in my favorite hotel in Oregon, the Cannery Pier Hotel, and then we play for a few days. I will send friends and visitors to Astoria there until my dying days for the gracious hospitality, free rides around town in a ’58 Chevy, and the way you might just wake up in the middle of the night to a mammoth sea vessel passing silently past your window. Did I mention the sauna and hot tub in the spa on the first floor? Or how you can take the cruiser bikes around town without a lock because everyone in town knows who they belong to?


Last year was a little different. In November, I was on assignment to write a Perfect Day in Astoria for one of my magazine clients, Sunset. Dream of dreams! The story is out in the current issue, and you can read it here.

But my memories of Astoria are not anything from a magazine, so I thought I’d share a few outtakes:

The Garden of Surging Waves


Garden of Surging Waves, Astoria

The first time we went to Astoria we stumble upon these giant marble columns laying on their sides down by the wharf. Say what? The next year, we found them here, at a city’s garden of gratitude to one of its most discounted (by history) immigrant populations. Even in the rain it’s the most beautiful public space I’ve been to in Oregon.

Blue Scorcher Co-op


In my article I mention the Fort George Brewery, but just below is the Blue Scorcher Co-op, a place where we simply feel happy. It’s got this weird 1990s coffee shop vibe, so complete that the last time we were in there they were playing Sublime’s Santeria. Gluten-free baked goods (for me, thank you!), great salads, and lots of toys for someone else’s kids.

The Goonies


HEY YOU GUYS!!!! It can be a little weird when a town lays claim to the films made there and attaches its identity to it  (ever been to Forks, WA?). Unless that movie is The Goonies. I actually want to see more Goonies in Astoria. The film museum even has a Sloth I posed with for an Iphone pic. Sloth + selfie = #Slothie?


My kids are still too young for The Goonies. Like 3 and 5 young. I’m glad they can’t watch it yet because that means I can keep leaving them out of this particular trip.

The Astoria Column


High above the city you can hike past ancient trees and climb the Astoria column. We haven’t been there since it was restored, but the images show that it’s going to be a beacon of art rising in the mist. I believe we made some paper airplanes on one of our visits and flew them from the top of the column. Did we really do that?

The Astoria Coffeehouse


Globes in decorating. This place was made with me in mind. Apparently people bring them so many globes that they’ve started refusing them. Tell me how to have this problem.

That time we went to the Arc Arcade after a fancy dinner


So after we scoped out Albatross (bold name for a restaurant/business, by the way), and had some Prohibition-are cocktails, which did make it into the Sunset piece, we went to the ARC to play… ahem… X-Men, which did NOT make it into Sunset. I got to play some Super Mario Bros., which I used to dominate, but found my 35-year-old 12-bit Nintendo skills do not translate to the arcade version.  This is true love, baby.

UPDATE: Adam tells me I played Wolverine and he was Night Crawler for the superior jump skills.


Finally, I’ll share the little bit of Astoria we took home with us. Wait! That’s Neuschwanstein! Having lived in Germany for three years, I’ve seen Neuschwanstein six times and in every season. Needless to say, I have a problematic relationship to Germany’s most famous castle. For years I thought it was the height of kitsch. If you asked me to go back I’d probably throw myself in a lake. BUT. Having not lived in Germany for more than ten years now, I kind of miss it. I miss what it stands for — someone’s crazy delusional idea that was made in brick and stone. So yes, we bought the hand-carved Neuschwanstein relief. It’s hanging in my office as I write this.


What can I say? We’re big fans of Astoria.

Do you have a place that you don’t share with anyone else? Tell me about it! I promise I won’t tell  🙂

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: A Clinic on How to Use Scent in Novel Writing

PaulaHawkinsSlider-1024x716PerfumeI finished a book proposal and sent it off to my agent last Friday and celebrated with some real mind candy: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

It’s a debut novel that’s been earning comparison’s to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
for the way it plays with readers’ expectations and works the unreliable narrator angle to fuel its pace.

To my great delight, it is also one of the smelliest books I’ve encountered (highly welcome, considering I’m reading it on a  Kindle Paperwhite).

Here’s the story: Thirty-something divorcee Rachel rides the same train into London every day, past the same rows of houses. In her vast and gloomy imagination she has concocted a backstory for one of the couples she sees over the fence from the train. She calls them Jason and Jess, and to her, they are living the perfect life. Until one day, when she see a scene in the backyard that makes no sense, something that will get her involved in Jason and Jess’s lives and that of another couple down the street.

The Girl on the Train is like going to a tarot card reading. Each new bit of information changes everything. Told through the alternating voices of Rachel, Megan (Jess) and Anna, Rachel’s husband’s new wife, the novel asks what terrible things can happen when the grief of moving on with your life means getting entangled in another person’s story.

Oh, and it’s a murder mystery. But honestly, I find the murder ancillary — to me, this book was all about the psychology of voyeurism and the danger in wanting something other than what you already have.

And also, it was about scent. I did a little search and discovered there are at least 36 references to smell in this this novel, which is about 32 more than most books I’ve read lately. I would go as far to say that this book is a clinic on how to use scent properly in novel writing. She even has a psychiatrist in the book chiming in on how important smell is:

“Smell is particularly important when it comes to recall. Music can be powerful, too. If you are thinking of a particular circumstance, a particular day, you might consider retracing your steps, returning to the scene of the crime, as it were.”

Not all of the references are instructive, and some give important details of the book you shouldn’t know before you read it, so I’ve taken a great effort to hold back game-changing details. However, if you don’t like to know anything before you read your thrillers, go read it now and come back!

Scent in The Girl on the Train

Because scent is associated with a specific emotion for each of the three narrators, I’m going to separate them out and see what these scent markers says about them.


Rachel, though not the exclusive narrator, is our way into the story, so it makes sense that she is the character gifted with the highest number and most specific olfactory details in The Girl On the Train. She struggles with alcoholism, but in the moments when she is most coherent, when she is playing detective and trying to suss out what exactly happened to her during her drinking binges, the author often places some sensory cues to show her clear-mindedness.

Rachel, feeling remorse after a binge:

  • “There was blood on the chopping board, the room smelled of raw meat, the steak was still sitting out on the counter top, turning grey.”
  • “We were standing in the hallway, which, despite my best efforts with the bleach, still smelled a bit sick.”
  • “The room is warm; it smells terrible, rank and sour — I’ve barely left it since Thursday

Rachel, on visiting Scott (Jason). Several times she visits him and his emotional state is described through how Rachel interprets his scent.

  • “He smelled of old sweat, and his dark hair was matted against his head as though he hadn’t showered in a while.”
  • “There was a sharp smell of antiseptic in the room, but Scott himself was a mess, a sweat patch on the back of his T-shirt, his jeans hanging loose on his hips as though they were too big for him.”
  • “The heat in the room seemed to build suddenly, the smell of antiseptic rising from every surface. I felt faint.”
  • “The house was less tidy than it was a week ago, the disinfectant smell displaced by something earthier.”
  • “He’s cut himself shaving: there’s blood on his cheek and on his collar. His hair is damp and he smells of soap and aftershave.”
  • “The first thing I noticed when he opens the door is the smell. Sweat and beer, ran and sour, and under that something else, something worse. Something rotting.”

Rachel, on trying to figure out what she has done during a binge:

  • “The hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. I can smell aftershave under cigarette smoke and I know that I’ve smelled that scent before.”
  • “It’s erotic to me, that smell; it reminds me of being happy.”
  • “There’s no one there, of course, and the flat is empty, too: it feels untouched, it smells empty, but that doesn’t stop me checking every room — under my bed and under Cathy’s, in the wardrobes and the closet in the kitchen that couldn’t conceal a child.”
  • “So when I closed my eyes, when I drifted into a half dream and found myself in that underpass, I may have been able to feel the cold and smell the rank, stale air, I may have been able to see a figure walking towards me, spitting rage, fist raised, but it wasn’t true.”

On wanting her ex-husband back:

  • “He leans across then, and I can hardly breathe, I want to touch him so badly. I want to smell his neck, bury my face in that broad, muscular gap between his shoulder blades.”

On letting go:

  • “Swifts are swooping low in the sky, and I can smell the rain coming. I love that smell.”



For Megan, who harbors a terrible secret and who throws herself into dangerous situations in order to feel something, anything at all, scent can be an an indicator of disgust — with the situation at hand, with herself, with her past.

Megan, after leaving her job as a nanny:

  • “When I leave their house I run home, can’t wait to strip my clothes off and get into the shower and wash the baby smell off me.”

As a marker of her sexuality and marital indiscretions:

  • “That smell of cold and damp always sends a little shiver down my spine, it’s like turning over a rock to see what’s underneath: Moss and worms and earth.”
  • “The room is dark, the air close, sweet with the smell of us.”
  • “He doesn’t touch me, but our bodies are close, I can smell his scent, clean in this dirty room, sharp and astringent.”

From a memory of regret:

  • “I can hear it guttering, smell the wax, feel the chill of the air around my neck and shoulders.”
  • “I’d just walk around those dark rooms and I’d hear her crying, I’d smell her skin.”



We don’t hear much of Anna’s voice in this novel, in part because she isn’t the main agent of change or action. But when we do, we sense she is in as much danger as some of the other characters, and equally disturbing. I found only one reference to scent in her passages, which highlights that she is a particularly cold and calculating figure.

On being afraid:

  • “I can smell the beer on his breath. “Have you been up to no good?”” [he says].

Did you read this Tarot Card Reading of a novel? Did you notice the scent details? I’m always on the lookout for writers who use scent effectively, so if you know of any, pass them along!