Five Things M.J. Rose Didn’t Know She Needed to Know Before Writing THE COLLECTOR OF DYING BREATHS
My guest author today is M.J. Rose! Her brand new novel The Collector of Dying Breaths crisscrosses between 16th Century Italy and France and present-day France.
Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind. A lush and imaginative novel about a perfumer and a mythologist searching for the fine line between potion and poison, poison and passion…and past and present.
Here’s a collection of five things that M.J. found out she needed to know as she traveled the path of writing her novel.
(Click on the question to reveal the answer)
Edison’s dying breath, collected by his son, Charles, is in fact on display at the Edison Winter Home in Fort Myers, Florida. I was totally taken with the idea of our souls being expelled in that last breath and it became the thesis of my novel.[/expand]
There is a lot of fact mixed in with my fictional tale. The main historical character is a 16th century perfumer named Rene le Florentin who was an apprentice at the officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies.
Founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars, the pharmacy was famous for its herbal remedies and potions.
When Catherine de Medici was young she bought scents and creams there. And when the fourteen-year-old duchessina traveled to France to marry the prince, she took RenA? with her. He and Catherine are credited with bringing perfume to their newly adopted country.[/expand]
Momie was an ingredient used in perfumes and remedies in the middle ages.
It is found in the tombs of the people who have been embalmed with spices, as they used to do in ancient times. It’s found near the brain and the spine. Instruction manuals from the 15th century suggest it should be shining, black, strong smelling, and firm. And that the white kind, which is rather opaque, does not stick, is not firm and easily crumbles to powder, must be refused.[/expand]
I had to study the psychology of a collector — its best summed up in an excerpt from the book.
“I inherited my father’s love of collecting. And all of his collections. Which I’ve added to.” She gestured to art on the walls and the china in the glass-fronted table. “There are collectors who make arrangements for their life’s work to be kept intact after they die. But do you know how often their wishes are upheld? The enormous sums of money it takes to ensure that a collection is not disbanded? We don’t even have full records of some of the greatest collections in history. Emperor Rudolf had one of the greatest in the world, and we only know a few hundred paintings, jewels, curiosities and other works of art that he owned. I can’t think about all this being broken up. I must be with it always!”[/expand]
[expand title=”5. What a wunderkammern is.”]It’s a Cabinet of Curiosities and one of the most famous is in my novel.
The Augsburg Cabinet of Curiosities was a gift to King Gustav II from the German city of the same name in 1632. It once held over five hundred precious objects both artistic and natural. It was the age of exploration and the beginning of the scientific revolution. Trade routes were open and merchants were bringing strange and wonderful things back to Europe.
These cabinets really were the precursors to our museums. Man has always thirsted for knowledge and needed to examine the world in order to understand it. Dissect it in order to comprehend it. These cabinets are the era’s depositories of knowledge. Some cabinets were devoted to medical nature, others to the arts. Peter the Great’s was filled with teeth that he had pulled. He thought he was a dentist :)[/expand]
M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed. She believes mystery and magic are all around us but we are too often too busy to notice. Books that exaggerate mystery and magic draw attention to it and remind us to look for it and revel in it.
You can find her all these places:
not to mention twitter @mjrose
Excerpt — THE COLLECTOR OF DYING BREATHS
March 1, 1573 Barbizon, France
Written for my son to read upon my death, from his father, Rene le Florentin, perfumer to Catherine de Medici, Queen Mother.
It is with irony now, forty years later, to think that if I had not been called a murderer on the most frightening night of my life, there might not be any perfume in Paris today. And that scent, to which I gave my all and which gave me all the power and riches I could have hoped for, is at the heart of why now it is I who call myself a murderer.
It is one thing to fall in love with a rose and its deep rich scent. Once the blood-red flower blooms, browns and decays and its smell has dissipated, you can pluck another rose about to bloom. But to fall in love with a woman after a lifetime of not knowing love? In the browning of your own days? Ah, that is to invite disaster. That is to invite heartbreak.
The chateau is cold tonight, but my skin burns. My blood flows hot. Who knew that yearning alone could heat a man so? That only memories could set him on fire? I feel this pen in my fingers, the feather’s smoothness, and I imagine it is Isabeau’s hair.
I close my eyes and see her standing before me.
Isabeau! Exuberant, tender, dazzling. And mine. I see her sapphire eyes twinkling. Her thick mane of hair like a blanket for me to hide in.
I whisper to her and ask her to undress for me slowly, in that way she had. And she does. In the dream she does. She strips bare, slowly, slowly, of everything but her gloves, cream kid gloves that stretch above her elbows. Her silken skin gleams in the candlelight, golden and smooth, smelling of exotic flowers. Gardenias and camellias and roses, scents that emanate from within. This is her secret and mine. Isabeau had a garden inside of her body. Flowers where other women had organs. Her own natural perfume richer and more luxurious than anything I ever could have created and bottled.
In this dream, Isabeau never takes off her gloves. Night after night, I beseech her to strip all the way for me, but she just smiles. Not yet, Rene. Not yet. And then she reaches out with one gloved finger and traces her name on my skin. One day, Rene. Once you have found the elixir.
I dream this asleep. And hear it, awake, in the wind. Her promise.
Once you have found the elixir.
I lie there, sweating into my nightshirt. Trembling from the memories.
There was something about the way the bell rang that first day she came to my shop. Its tone was different, almost tentative, as if it wasn’t sure it should be ringing at all. Now, looking back, were the fates warning me? How cruel of those witches to give me love at that moment — after a lifetime of holding it back.
But I will have my revenge on them. I, Renato Bianco, known as Rene le Florentin, will figure out how to reanimate a dying breath and so wreak havoc for their folly. So help me God, this I will work at until I have no more of my own breath in my body.
Winter is upon us now, and it is quiet here in the woods and forests of Fontainebleau. The days stretch before me, an endless vista of foggy mornings and chilly evenings and dark nights devoted to one thing and one thing only: my experiments. If I cannot succeed with them, I cannot, I will not, go on with my life.
It was one man who heard the bell ring to the shop and opened the door, and another who closed it. That was how long it took for Isabeau to alter me. And it is the me who is altered who has this need for revenge on the crones who have done this to me.
Let me tell you first about the man who heard the bell.