(Photo Credit: Michael Lionstar.)
I sent some questions to Margot Berwin, who was happy to answer them. Here’s the interview:
Me: When did you start to write?
Margot: I’ve always been very verbal and I began to speak at 7 months. As my mother tells the story, I was lying on my back on the changing table and I looked her right in the eye and said, “mama powder!”
She got scared and ran out of the room.
I started writing for real at six years old. I was very shy so I didn’t tell anyone or show anyone my writings.
Me: Do you think New Orleans has a mystical air about it?
Margot: New Orleans is a lot of things, and mystical is definitely one of them. It’s warm and soft, tough and scary. It’s tarot card readings and voodoo shops. It’s Marie Laveau the voodoo queen of New Orleans. It’s po’ boys and crawfish boils in Mid-City with hot sauce that will make your eyeballs ache. It’s graves that sit on top of the ground instead of underneath. For sure it’s a perfumed city–scented with 30 foot magnolia trees, Carolina Jessamine, Wisteria, Gardenia, and of course, Jasmine. And mostly and above all and floating on top of everything…is music.
I went for a month, stayed for almost a year, and wrote the entire first draft of Scent of Darkness. It definitely had a mystical pull on me!
Me: Did you have any literary antecedents in mind when writing Scent of Darkness?
Margot: I loved Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent, and Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire with its perfect descriptions of New Orleans will always be a favorite. Also Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One, in which he describes arriving in New Orleans in the early part of his career. I found Chronicles in a bookstore on Decatur Street while I was writing Scent of Darkness. I rarely read while I’m writing but I couldn’t put that one down. I would sit in my flat on St. Louis, really mad at myself for reading about Dylan and not working on Scent of Darkness.
Me: What did Louise want Eva to gain from the perfume?
Margot: She wanted Eva to know that all of her desirability and power was her own, something she was born with, not given to her by a man or a job or money or place in society.
Me: Did Louise make perfume for commercial purposes?
Margot: I don’t think so. I never thought about that while writing. But if she had she would have made a fortune.
Me: Would the perfume have worked its magic on anyone except Eva?
Margot: Well, in a way it did work it’s magic on everyone around Eva. It changed Michael, and Gabriel and even the women in the sauna at the gym. It affected the tarot card reader and the boy next-door and even the animals in the Quarter.
Me: Gabriel showed up out of nowhere. Did Louise have anything to do with that? I’m kind of led to believe that their meeting was destined because he’s the one who discovers the source of her power.
Margot: They both have artistic designs (him) and markers that seem to come from the outside, but that they were actually born with. This connects them and makes them the same. I think they were destined too, not by Louise, but by destiny itself.
Me: Eva is more self-aware than most girls her age. Why is she so passive?
Margot: I like to think of Eva as very introspective. Quiet. That’s why her grandmother made a perfume for her—to bring her out of her shell. To show her who she really is.
Also, from a storyteller’s perspective, if Eva were more outgoing there would be no story because she wouldn’t need to find her strengths, to change, which is what the book is really about.
Me: I like how Eva learns to work with the people around her instead of trying to change them. The good guy stays good, the bad guy stays bad, and Eva understands that the onus is on her to accept her mother if she wants them to have a better relationship.
Margot: Yes, I’m glad you noticed that. Eva is strong in that way. She doesn’t blame her mother or her absent father. Even though she is quiet, and yes, maybe a little bit passive, she knows that it is up to her to change. I like this quality as well.
Me: Do you think Eva will become a perfumer?
Margot: Yes! And you’re the very first person to ask that. I think her love for Louise, her grandmother, will lead her in that direction. And the very first scent she’ll create will have jasmine, leather, fire and rose.
(Me: So, read Scent of Darkness. It’s a great book. Check it out.)