I have been going through my shelf of books on writing and children’s literature, wanting to post them with reviews on Shelfari.com and Goodreads.com so when people ask, “What’s a good book on writing?” I know which ones I like best and why. I have re-read a couple that I remember liking a lot. The first was a disappointment. Although I recognize the chapter on fantasy as the source of many of our family favorites, the rest of the book spends too much time analyzing works that haven’t stood the test of time.
Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail; a Book About Writing Among Other Things has NOT been a disappointment. It is a delight even after thirty years. I thought I would review it for you, but alas! It is out of print, and the only used copy available on Amazon costs $50! So check your public library for this book that inspires young people to look at life in new ways and get their vision down in words.
Last night I read the chapter on smell and found myself writing a list of my favorite smells and most disliked smells. Rotting meat, vomit and unwashed tripe headed my list of unpleasant smells. Hockey locker rooms are up there too, and this morning when I emptied the vase of wilted anniversary flowers on the table, I added, “stale water from wilted flowers.”
My favorite smell list starts with sheets on the line, wood smoke and fresh cut grass. After listing several other things, I wondered why roses and lilacs were nowhere near the top of my list. They are wonderful smells in themselves, but they don’t evoke the same powerful memories as the other things I had listed. (Maybe if I had received flowers more often…) Experts tell us that smell is the most powerful sense of all. It reaches back into earliest infancy and evokes the emotions of the moments associated with it.
After I turned out the light, I found myself wondering why I love the smell of fresh-cut grass so much. A picture of the lot where my father’s house has stood for nearly fifty years came to mind. He must have bought the lot about 1960. A man in our church was dividing up his family farm and selling off lots. Most were bought by people in the church, so we all knew each other even before the houses were built.
My father was determined that his lot not be an eyesore in the new community, so every summer Saturday until we built our own house, my mother packed a picnic lunch, and we went to the lot to mow the grass. Several of our future neighbors did the same, and some soon moved in, so there were always children to play with. My father used to cut us a fox-and-geese track and then go mow the rest of the two-thirds acres before he came back to obliterate our game. I remember climbing trees, building forts in the high grass of the unsold, and therefore unmown, lot next door, exploring the tiny strip of woods and finding wild strawberries at the end of the road. Every Memorial Day we had a neighborhood picnic, a tradition that continued even after the houses were built and that great expanse of meadow grass was divided into ordinary suburban yards.
Those summers of running in the disappearing countryside are wrapped up for me in the smell of fresh-cut grass. I hadn't seen a picture from those days in years--not until today when I was sorting a pile of slides my father had given me to scan--today, the day I was remembering the smell of summer sun on new-cut grass, picnics at "the lot" and games of fox-and-geese. When you add smells to your writing, you draw on your reader’s deepest memories and pull him into your hero’s emotions.
I would love to hear your favorite (or most detested) smells and what you associate with them.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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