In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years René le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen's rivals.
But it's René other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That's when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene's secret to immortality.
Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.
Set in the forest of Fontainebleau, crisscrossing the lines between the past and the present, M.J. Rose has written a mesmerizing tale of passion and obsession. This is a gothic tale perfect for fans of Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Diana Galbadon.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Collector of Dying Breaths by M. J. Rose. I am hosting a Q&A by the author.
Q & A with M.J. Rose, International Bestselling Author of “The Collector of Dying Breaths:”
1. What attracted you to France and to researching the world and history of French perfumes which are a focus in your new book, “The Collector of Dying Breaths” and also in your novels, “The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction?”
When I worked in Mad Men land I had the opportunity to work a new fragrance from the very first days of naming it through to full up TV commercials we shot in Hong Kong and edited at the Lucas Ranch. It was a 40 million dollar launch that culminated with the spots running on the Oscars. During all that, I became intrigued and besotted with everything about the 8th art, as fragrance is called, and it’s a passion that’s never left. But I didn’t know about the history of fragrance before and found it fascinating. As for France – my great grandmother was French and my heritage has always been important to me. Besides, as Audrey Hepburn says “Paris is always a good idea,” and I completely agree.
2. Since scent has been called the most powerful memory trigger, how do fragrances tie in to your books?
I am fascinated with how the past influences the present. From a psychological point of view, a historical, and even mystical one. So since the memory center of the brain sits next to the olfactory center of the brain, scent stimulates memories of the past as nothing else can. From there it was just a jump to thinking scent might stimulate even older memories… past life memories.
3.Jac L’Etoile, your main character takes “trips” into the past that are triggered by scents—which makes sense for her character since she was trained during childhood in formulating perfumes. Did you find accounts of people who had similar olfactory experiences or did your imagination produce this persuasive story telling device?
Throughout history shamans and mystics have burned hallucinogenic incenses as aides to help them visit other realms and experience past life memories. The blue lotus – which can be found in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings – is just one such essence priests from that time used to enter into trances.
4. In “The Collector of Dying Breaths,” you explore how fragrance was brought to France in the 16th century. Who was responsible?
Catherine de Medici was a fascinating young Italian woman who came to France at fourteen years of age to marry one of the crown princes. She brought her perfumer and her astrologer with her. René le Florentin was apprenticed at the Officina Profumo–Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies which was founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars who made herbal remedies and potions. He created scents and creams for the young Catherine de Medici. When the fourteen-year-old duchessina traveled to France to marry the prince, she took René with her. René and Catherine are credited with bringing perfume to their newly adopted country.
5. Is Catherine de Medici’s use of poison to rid herself of enemies based on historical fact?
Yes, although there are of course questions about how many people she had poisoned. For instance there are rumors she had her daughters’ mother in law poisoned. But we know for sure that Catherine had her perfumer, René Le Florentin create innovative and well disguised poisons for her to use on her enemies.
6. You write in both “The Collector of Dying Breaths,” “Seduction” and “The Book of Lost Fragrances” about the L’Etoile family of perfumers in France. Were the fictional L’Etoiles based on a real family of French perfumers or did they arise from your imagination?
The Guerlain family, which opened their doors to business in 1826, created many of my favorite perfumes, and so in a way they were a great inspiration, but the L’Etoile family’s loves, tragedies and triumphs are all pure invention.
7. Was collecting someone’s dying breath something people actually did in the past or was this idea something of your creation as a fiction author?
We don’t know where this concept originated or if anyone in the Renaissance suspected such a thing was possible. But it’s not a far stretch from the well- documented and centuries-old alchemical search for immortality through the breath concept. We do know that in the twentieth century, automotive magnate Henry Ford and the great inventor Thomas Edison, who both believed in reincarnation, supported the idea that in death, the soul leaves the body with its last breath. In fact, Edison’s dying breath, collected by his son, Charles, is in fact on display at the Edison Winter Home in Fort Myers, Florida.
8. Why have a signature scent made? And do you think more people today are having signature fragrances designed for them?
To be memorable. To have a man lean across a table and say quietly, I love how you smell. To celebrate your uniqueness. To stand out. To revel in your creativity. In a world of sameness to not be the same as anyone else. There are so so many reasons. And yes I do think that the smaller the world gets, the more we tend to look for ways to express our individuality.
9. Your first Jac L’Etoile novel inspired a perfume, Âmes Soeurs, the Scent of Soul mates by Joya Studios. How did this partnership come to be?
When I was writing the first Jac book – to keep in the world of scent – I burned a lot of candles. When I finished writing, I gave a copy of the book to the perfumer who’d created the candles that had inspired me the most. Frederick Bouchardy. (Joya Studios).
After he read the novel he contacted me and we met for tea in the Peninsula Hotel in NYC. He told me he loved the book and wanted to create his version of the fragrance at the heart of the novel. I was so astonished and honored, I actually started to cry.
Bouchardy even named the fragrance after one in the book: Âmes Sœurs the scent of soul mates. It has hints of Frankincense, Myrrh, Orange Blossom and Jasmine. I think it has a smoky uncommon finish that suggests the past and the future, and lost souls reunited.
10. What scents evoke memories for you?
Shalimar – it was the only perfume my mother wore – so just one whiff and she’s there – all around me. It makes me so happy and so sad at the same time.
Pine – I love to walk in the woods and the scent of pine inspires me. There is something fresh and yet ancient and primeval about it.
Popcorn- Whenever I smell it I remember the first magical time I ever went to the circus with my dad when I was little.
Chocolate – makes me think of Paris. I don’t think I ever had great chocolate till I went to Paris.
Perfume with Lemon –makes me think of high school. We all wore Jean Nate or Love – both lemon based.
Coffee – when I smell coffee I think of New York – my hometown – the energy is the smell of fresh brewed, really really good coffee.
11. What are some of your favorite perfumes and what tones (scents) do they contain?
Vol de Nuit by Guerlain but only vintage – Wood, Iris , Vanilla, Spices, Green notes
Orchidee Vanille Eau de Parfum by Van Cleef & Arpels – Vanilla, almond and chocolate, litchi, Bulgarian rose and violet.
Coromandel by Chanel – a true oriental with Amber tones.
Galconda by JAR – the perfumer has never revealed what the tones are but I smell cinnamon, jasmine and carnation and heaven.
12. Besides being an international bestselling author, you are also recognized as a pioneer in the publishing world? What breakthroughs have you made in this area?
Getting published has been an adventure. I self-published “Lip Service” late in 1998 after several traditional publishers turned it down. Editors had loved it, but didn’t know how to position it or market it since it didn’t fit into any one genre. Frustrated, but curious and convinced that there was a way to market it, I set up a web site where readers could download her book for $9.95 and began to seriously market the novel on the Internet. After selling over 2500 copies (in both electronic and trade paper format) “Lip Service” became the first e-book and the first self-published novel chosen by the LiteraryGuild/Doubleday Book Club as well as being the first e-book to go on to be published by a mainstream New York publishing house. I was also the first person to create the concept of virtual book tours – or blog tours as they are known now – doing one in 1999. As well I was the first author to create a book trailer, in 2000 and the first to have group blog in 2001.
13. You are a founding board member of International Thriller Writers and are its current co-president with Lee Child. How does the organization and its annual event “Thrillerfest” which is conducted in New York City differ from any other organizations and events?
We have a mantra at ITW – when we imitate we fail, when we innovate we succeed. So our goals have been to keep making our efforts and events unique. We have the largest “craft fest” where authors can come to learn the craft from masters like David Morrell, Doug Preston, Steve Berry, Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, and more. We also have the largest “agent fest” in the world. Over 60 agents come to Thrillerfest to hear pitches from authors. For fans, we offer a $10 gift certificate to get them into the book room buying books and unlike most events every single registered author has his or her books for sale.