“Do You Hear What I Smell?”

I was staring at one of the parts of one of the sentences in one of the drafts of one of the books I’m working on. If you write, you’re familiar with the situation; that one part has your arm bent backward and your bone is groaning, and you’re sweating acridly as your work hisses, “Screw youuu.” But you can’t back down, because you gave birth to this, and unless you’re some kind of Oedipal loser you can’t admit that you’re weaker than it.

There are only so many ways to describe a thing, right? And I don’t mean in the equally-frustrating “if I say the word ‘box’ again I will sound like a broken robot, but if I find other ways to describe it I will sound like a literal alien with a thesaurus.” I mean that some descriptive tropes have been around for so long that they don’t even register anymore when we read them.

Let me give an example for clarity: how would you describe the smell of an old book? Musky, earthy, perhaps even woody. But it’s a cloying scent, almost dusty.

And there it is. If you’re a reader, even a casual one, you’re probably familiar with all of the adjectives I just used. Ones like earthy. Cloying.

But I want to be striking. I want to stand out. Surprise!—this is the exact scenario with which I was struggling. I was trying to describe the smell of old books and failing fantastically. There’s something to be said about trying to tango around the trite so desperately, that you plant your foot into a big pile of ‘what drug was the author on,’ and not in the good Shel Silverstein kind of way. In a ‘this is disconcerting and my fear compounds’ kind of way, which is not necessarily what you’re aiming for when you write for young kids, as I do.

Fearing for my hair follicles, I huffed a deep sigh and tried to calm myself, casually voicing my problem to my boyfriend. Without missing a beat, he shrugged and said, “Why don’t you just cross senses?”

Aside from the fact that the flippant response said through a mouthful of PB & banana sandwich made me scowl, I also had no idea what that meant.

“It means like…using a sight to describe a smell, but directly. It can be either a metaphor or a simile. The idea you want to convey will still land. The old book smelled yellow. You instinctively know what I mean by that, right?”

The death-grip on me seemed to relax. I could breathe again.

The notion of crossing senses to renew descriptions resonates with me, and it’s not because I suspect I have the least powerful synesthesia ever. It’s because it adds another layer to what’s possible when you’re stumped creatively in a world full of tropes. To turn a noise into a mental image that evokes the same visceral response is kind of amazing, y’all. When used sparingly, it can resuscitate sentiments and become a point of pride where exhaustion reigned prior.

So, whether you knew about this already or you’re eager to try it out for the first time soon, that’s great! I just wanted to pass this along, from someone who didn’t go to college for creative writing, but whose partner did, in the hopes that someone else might find it useful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to use this as my practice sheet.

“Her hair was summery,” turns into “Her hair looked like the tang of citrus.”

“His laugh was high-pitched,” turns into “His laugh like a knife on ceramic.”

“The flavors were very strong,” turns into “A freight train of flavor.”

“The cold was biting,” turns into “The cold was a sharp tinnitus.”

“The ending was abrupt,” turns into “A hiccup of an ending.”

Two Wild Writers Appeared!

Boogah, I’m purple. Welcome to the very first post on this blog. I’m Sam Speaks, and I’m the verb.

I’m Emily Parsley, and I’m the herb.

So we wanted to both address you, dear reader, at the same time, because this is a shared platform. And if you’re already here reading this, then hopefully you have a pretty good idea of what is going to be going on around here on a weekly basis.

I’m going to be writing a lot about the technical applications of writing–grammar and structure and so forth, but for the most part it’s just going to be whatever aspects of storytelling catch our attention from week-to-week.

That’s right! And while I will certainly try to bring some of that academic vigor to my posts, my observations will be largely anecdotal. I haven’t studied writing extensively, but my education as an artist I feel lends something to be shared regardless. Emily and I met as booksellers at a local indie shop. We were coworkers in horrific solidarity for a while, and had a friendship tempered by customer service. Should we tell them about our backgrounds? Briefly, at least?

Yeah, let’s do it! I’m a recently graduated English major from the University of Kentucky. Genre-wise, in my own writing, I tend to… not have a genre? I love realistic, literary fiction, the classics (English major, always), et cetera, but I also have a love for supernatural-esque stories, especially the folklore research that I get to do as a result.

Let’s see. I graduated from the University of Louisville (UK fans, please hold your “boos” until the end) with a degree in Communication Design. It’s a fancier way of saying graphic arts. I love drawing still, but when I realized I had always been a writer on some level, my goals shifted into focus. I now spend most of my free time when I’m not chronically job-jumping on writing young reader books and daydreaming about which illustrator I’d marry to a picture book idea. I try to read a little of everything, but I tend to gravitate towards middle-grade. So good. So underrated. What’s your favorite book, Em?

You should know better than to ask me that. So many to choose from.

Oh. Yeah. Try to pick…Three.

Okay…. Give me like…. A couple decades…. [ten years later]:

Man, who knew Trump would destroy America? He reduced it to a notion. That sucked.

I knew. On the bright side, I now know my three favorite books. In no particular order: Passing by Nella Larsen, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (childhood favorite that inspired me to become a writer), and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz (first book I read with LGBT+ protagonists. Very influential on basically my entire life). I withhold the right to change this list at any given time. What about you? You’ve had ten years to think about it so I hope you know.

Hahaha, joke’s on you, I’m not as well-read so my list of options is miniscule in comparison. Well, I know you know about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Actually, anything where people who presume they’re in power get destroyed is delicious. I also really love Summerlost by Ally Condie. If anyone out there is looking for a good boy-girl platonic friendship book, GO GET IT NOW. And I have a super soft spot for the Magnus Chase series. Riordan knows how to make a good cast of characters. I actually still haven’t read the third one, and I got the box set for Christmas. Criminal, I know.

Magnus Chase gives me infinite happiness.

*already trying not to cry* I know. Oh, and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice wins the award for most beautifully-written thing I’ve ever read. Okay, I’m done. See, we gotta get this schmultsy stuff out of the way now. Our blog posts can’t be us rambling about our favorites.

I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I have a 5,000 word draft about why I love The Outsiders sooooo….?

…I can probably cut mine about The Color Purple down.

Hypocrite. Is it too late to add The Color Purple to my list?

Of favorites? I didn’t think you’d read it yet.

I read it last semester. I cried.

Oh yeeaaaah. You texted me in pieces. Poor thing. I’ll allow a pass.

I think we’ve gotten off-track.

Right-o. Thanks for reading our introductory post, folks! So, in summation, you can expect from us posts about the craft of writing and observations in the field of books. I would say literature, but that makes us sound…fancy.

I’m going to say literature, cause I’m fancy.  

You have every right to be fancy, you writing graduate, you. Check back next week for our first post, where I smell what color you’re wearing!