Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Scent of a Pencils and Pine

by Nicki Salcedo

How Do You Describe a Hero?
Without saying he's a tall, sexy, time-traveling warrior, can you describe your hero with your other senses? What does he feel, smell, taste, and sound like?

There are mornings when I wake up next to a man I do not recognize. On my finger, I see his ring, plain white gold that is slightly dented instead of inscribed. This band is the only indication that I am his and he is mine.

I close my eyes and inhale. Then my eyes open slowly, and I realize that I do know him. I know his scent.

He sleeps the way men do, deeply generating heat that has a gravitational pull. He is in another world. I…I sleep like a cat, with one eye open. If he ever thought to wake and gaze at me, I would know instantly. But he sleeps soundly, journeys to distant dimensions, and I can watch him at my leisure before he wakes.

I close my eyes again and inhale. When I was young and foolish I told him that he smelled like sand and tasted like the ocean. How else do you compliment a boy from California? Things like the ocean and eucalyptus were foreign to me then. I grew up with Georgia. My oceans were forests—deep, lush, and green even in the cold of winter. Even now, I'm so familiar with the scent of pine I don’t notice it.

When I first met him it was like seeing the ocean. He was both wild and calming. When he first met me he said I smelled like freshly-sharpened pencils. I didn't know then what he meant, but I do now. He knows me not because I smell like pencils, but because I smell like pine.

I don’t compliment him on his scent anymore. We are not in that kind of love anymore, but I still think he is delicious. He smells better than peach cobbler or pot roast, but I don’t tell him. These are not things he should know.

Each morning he enfolds me in his arms. We have to be brief in our touches. Each moment is a precursor to the cat purring and staring at us upside-down, or a child crying and wanting to join our snuggles.

All day we are absent from each other. How many things come between us? The distance, welcome or dreaded, is unavoidable. The world is filled with scents I dislike. Exhaust, tar, burnt popcorn. Sometimes I smell good things. Paper warm from the printer or the last fresh scent flowers give before the bouquet dies.

At the end of the day, we are reunited. I find my offspring - the other halves of him - and they are syrupy with their stickiness and unnatural heat. When he arrives there is an unexplainable buzz of erratic running and then we fall into hugs. We are a family of wild cubs. What else should we do other than sniff each other and laugh?

He leaves us to make dinner, and he roasts green chilies on a cast iron pan. The fire is hot. We feel it from across the kitchen. He pulls back the transparent pepper skin to create food the way he learned from his female ancestors. His mother three times zones away would be proud. Because his grandmother is no longer alive, she can be nearer. Her ghostly hands, wrinkled though softened with lard and maza, guide him. The way he touches food is hypnotic. It reminds me of how he touches me.

The chilies under his care are not diminished. Their aroma lingers. It reminds us that it came from the earth.

We don’t wash dishes. We don’t have time. We’d rather spend our time sitting next to the tub getting splashed or turning our noses into necks. But the truth of the world is never this ideal. Nothing is perfection.

His feet stink. His big toe has a monster nail that scratches me in the night. He snores and sleeps with his mouth open. I dodge his wayward elbows in the night. I am not perfect either. Sometimes I make mean faces, and I want to be alone. Sometimes I am too tired to bathe. Sometimes I want to smell like the real me. The me of pine and pencils.

His scent varies. Today it is foreign, and I don’t recognize him. Diaper ointment. Laundry detergent. He will do blasphemous things like use soap and add deodorant and cologne. He will put on suits and ties and discard his holey shorts and flip flops. Gone will be the stranger and my clean, well-dressed husband will arrive. He carries a briefcase, but he still listens to his music too loud.

When I am unsure of who he is or who I am, I let him embrace me. I smell him. His sweat is sweet. When he laughs I laugh with him. I inhale and he inhales back. He can tell when I am wanting, when I am pregnant, when I am sad. I can tell him from any other creature. Sometimes he purrs. Sometimes he too cries out for my attention. Deep in the pine forest where we live, I know him. His scent still reminds me of sand. He still tastes like the ocean.

  • Challenge to writers. What does your hero smell like? What actions show that he is caring or in love?
  • Challenge to readers. Who is your favorite hero from a non romance novel?
  • Challenge to men. What is something your partner likes about you that surprises you? (I’ll give serious thanks to any man who comments)


Nicki Salcedo said...

I will answer my own questions.

1) Shoe polish and cherry cough drops
2) Shane (written in 1949, and still great hero when I was 10)
3) (I'll answer for my dh) Sweeping. Its not that he does it, but that he is so detailed in his efforts!

Tami Brothers said...

1)Old Spice Deodorant and saw dust (he just finished putting in a hard wood floor for a friend).

2)Favorite hero would be Robert Langdon from The DaVinci Code (love that book)

3)(about my DH) His willingness to jump in and help out around the house or anything else that needs to be done - especially when I'm running so far behind it looks like I won't even show up...grin...

Great post, Nicki. You really drew me in. I could smell the sand and taste the ocean. You had me remembering those early days way back when and the little things we (me and mine) used to do for each other... I definitely needed that reminder. I think we all do sometimes.

Tami Brothers

Cinthia Hamer said...

Geez, Nicki...I'm...uh...gobsmacked is the only word that comes to mind.

How do you do it?? I'm so envious!

What does my hero smell like? Like warm wool (he's a military guy), leather (he rides a horse) and bay rum from the islands.

I'd say my favorite hero from a non-romance would have to be Jack, from Raven Hart's Southern Vampire books. Jack may be a blood sucker, but he's got a ton of honor. As far as smell, I'd bet he smells like axle grease and blood. ;-)

Thanks again for a great post, Nicki!

Sandy Elzie said...


Great sensory in this piece. Hummmm, my man, over the years, has gone through several fragrances. In our youth, it was sunshine & sweat (we rafted down rivers in Calif, rode bikes, camped, fished, etc) Then after the munchkins came alone, it was baby powder, occasionally, and sweat since he was, again, outside, but now doing the lawn & that sort of thing.

Now, it's his deordant that I love...hot and spicy...and the way he loves to touch me all the time...even just my fingers, holding hands, a hand on the knee, snuggled up beside each other with our legs touching. After decades together, I recognize his breathing instantly, his walk from a huge distance, his smell anytime, anywhere.

Does he help out in the house? Yes and without even a frown or grumble...that just makes him a little more special.


Marilyn Baron said...

OMG. Nicki, I bow to the master. This was an absolutely phenomenal post. It could be (maybe it should be) an opening to a novel.

I knew it was you writing from the moment I started reading. I guess it must be your VOICE. Or because we're critique partners.

I can't tell what my hero smells like because I was born without a sense of smell. Bummer (except when I had to change dirty diapers). But I have a heightened sixth sense and we can communicate without talking (most married couples can) because I know exactly what he's thinking and what he's going to say before he says it.

The part about the monstrous toenail cracked me up because mine had one of those (I made him cut it off).

But I was mesmerized reading your post.

Marilyn Baron

Walt Mussell said...

Since you wanted a husband post..

Being married 13+ years, I would never say anything current that my wife could tell me no on later. However, I will say that one of her initial attractions to me was my "ignorance." (It has nothign to do with smell, but you'll understand why in a second.)

At the time my wife and I met, I had been in Japan neary three years. Were I the type of man who was only interested in hooking up with Japanese girls, I would have been smooth after three years. Instead, though I could speak the language, I didn't know a single "pick up" line.

Brenda Maxine said...

Nicki - 1st comment didn't post; trying again.

Wonderful writing - the ocean and sand were so real.

1)It's unique. And odd that I can't name exactly what it is, but I know when I breathe him.

2) Tom Selleck. I'm a goner for cowboys - then there's Magnum and Chief Jesse Stone.

3) He thinks I'm beautiful.

Cyrano said...

You are brilliant. Your post was so well written I feel like I'm a memeber of your family, breathing in the scents and sounds, the love and laughter, right along with you.
I not only bow to you, I am prostrate in wonder of your talent.
So why aren't you published yet?

My husband smells like...my husband. I don't like it if he wears cologne because the chemical perfume hides his true scent. The only way I can describe Dusty's smell is as being warm and salty, clean, but tinged with a definite animal masculinity. It's completely intoxicating and unlike you (Nicki), I tell him that all the time. Maybe I shouldn't though, because he usually just smiles...as if he knows the effect his personal scent has on me.

Now don't laugh ladies, but my favorite hero in a non-romance would have to be...Benjamin Franklin. I have a huge crush on him. I own loads of biographies on his life, pore over the internet to find more information about him. I'm completely besotted with the portly, balding father of our country. I wish I could have met him, although I feel certain I might have thrown myself at his stockinged feet if I had. And my husband knows that too.

When I have a headache, or my neck hurts from writing too much, my husband will take my bare feet in his hands and massage until I'm so relaxed the pain is forgotten. He does this nearly every night, but I still act surprised each time. I think he likes that better than if I simply expect it.

Sorry my comments are always so long guys, but you all inspire me so much, I can't seem to stop typing!

Wonderful, wonderful post Nicki.

Have a great day everyone.
Happy writing,

Nicki Salcedo said...

Tami, I love Old Spice deodorant. Its better than cologne.

Cinthia. Warm wool is a great description. I can really imagine that. Bay rum smells like heaven. I throw it in the kids bath water when they are sick.

Sandy, incidental touches are very telling of love. Does the hero in your book walk like your husband?

Nicki Salcedo said...

Marilyn, I forgot about your sense of smell thing, but its cool that you make up for it my having a psychic connection. Have you ever thought about having your characters finish each others sentences before they realize they are in love?

You are the queen of distinctive voice, so maybe we are good influences on each other.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Walt, you are the man! I will think of something nice to do for you the next time I see you. Your "ignorance" attracted her? I will be sure to mock you for this later.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Brenda, you are beautiful! Note my answer about Shane. I love cowboys, too. Something about a man in the wild on a horse... sexy, heroic. I like how in current westerns the heroes are a little more questionable. Did you watch the show Deadwood or the movie 3:10 to Yuma? Mean cowboys are hot, too.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Tamara, you are a part of my family. As an artist, do you think you are more atuned to your senses than most people? Touching someone's feet is such a sign of reverence and caring. It is biblical and also Julie Garwood has a great scene where her heroine warms the hero's feet in Honor's Splendor.

I think smart guys are hot, so Ben Franklin is alright by me.

Cyrano said...

I'm not sure if being an artist makes me more atuned to my senses than other people.
I do know this, however, my nice big Italian proboscus is an excellent scent discerner. I can sniff out separate ingrediants in recipes, whiff when rain is coming and pinpoint truffles in the soil like a well trained sow (That's a slight exageration, but you get the idea) So I'm a relative self proclaimed expert when it comes to smell. By the way, Dusty's personal fragrance might light my fire, but his foot odor can sure put it out. Whew, what is it with men's feet?
And I'll have to check out that Garwood book you mentioned. Sounds sexy.
And yes, brilliant men are exceedingly attractive. I'm glad you agree.


Susan May said...

Oh, to write like you. There is nothing like rolling into my husband's warm pillow after he leaves in the mornig. That smells stays with me all day. Smell is the one sense that bring everything right back to you. Thanks for your insights.

Anna Steffl said...

How am I supposed to write anything now? I just fell in love with what you wrote. I need some time to be there, live in the love that YOU created in me.


J Perry Stone said...

That's not writing, Nicki.

That's poetry.

(that's also go-juice if you read this to your husband ;)

And like Anna, I'm too overwhelmed to comment.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Tamara, I can't even discuss men's stinky smells. We write romance to forget.

Susan, I notice that you particularly like your husband's scent when he is not there. :-)

Anna S, I will put you back on track. What do you think David Bowie smells like? Now write!

Nicki Salcedo said...

J, I am cracking up. "Go-Juice?" Actually, using the phrase "go-juice" would be my husband "go-juice." Poetry is sorta his cold shower.

Linsey Lanier said...


What a gorgeous post. You're writing is exquisite. It takes me to another place. I'm as jealous as the others!

1. My DH loves to squirt on tons of cologne before going out, which I think is totally unnecessary. I like his natural smell. He just smells like . . . him. I think people have a unique scent that is indescribable, though Nicki has come close. If I had to put it into words, I'd say he smells like fun and magic and happiness.

2. It would have to be Spenser. I love Robert B. Parker.

3. He thinks I'm disciplined!


Molly Evans said...

My DH doesn't indulge in fragrance too often, but when he does, I'm immediately attracted and want to smell him all over-well, mostly all over.
The men's cologne, Drakar, elicits a visceral reaction in me. I have followed men through stores when I have caught that scent.
For me, a scent is very evocative of a man-woman reaction or brings up a memory, or a reminder of someone who has passed from this life.
I love fragrance and scents and this is an amazing topic.

beverley said...

1. A hero smells like clean skin and some gorgeous musk scent.
2. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.
3. Not a guy, but I do like my football. Which guy wouldn't totally appreciate that!


Dianna Love said...

This is a little quick b/c I'm in Los Angeles (heading to Australia for a reader event), but I love this post. And, I so enjoy everyone's writing voices in all the different posts.

Nicki - wonderful topic and beautiful examples.

My husband does the sweetest things at the most unexpected moments - like when he loaded a Shaina Twain album in my car way back when and cued it up to Forever and For Always. I drove away on a trip and he called me to hit the on button.

My favorite hero doesn't have a name, but he's the one who listens intently to the heroine when she isn't saying word and makes her laugh when she least expects it. He smells like the outdoors and in a way that tells you he's at home there. His hands are clean but a bit rough from living life without hesitation.

I don't know if I answered the question, but I enjoyed the break to share what popped in my mind.

I think this would make a great workshop topic and exercise.

I may not be online much in the next two weeks, but i will invite Aussies to visit you and hope you get some traffic from them. :)


Carissa Gilman said...

1. He smells like sunshine, which is ironic since he hates the sun. (Sleepy boys smell like wildebeest, but that's another story.) He makes me chocolate milk when I need to take my migraine medicine, and he makes me cookies when I am unhappy.

2. Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables), Johnny Cade (The Outsiders), Dickon Sowerby (The Secret Garden), and Radcliffe Emerson. I'm not sure if the Amelia Peabody series falls under romance (it is technically mystery) but Emerson is the most like DH, at least as far as being charmingly irascible.

3. Answering for DH, I would say his stubble. To his great chagrin, I love it when he has stubble.

Anna Steffl said...

Sheesh, everyone knows David Bowie smells like patent leather. Now, give me a hard one.

My hero's hands smell like metal. He's Mr. #1 Swordfighter.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Nicki,

I definitely would recognize my husband by smell alone. Whether it's after one of his workouts(Oh, my God!) or straight out of the shower.

Connie Gillam

Larry said...

Good stuff Nicki. The vividness of your descriptions was excellent. I want some roasted peppers now, myself.

Give all of your lovely family hugs from us.

Ana Aragón said...


Fabulous post! Your writing is poetic.

I love your description of the smells, sounds and feel of your dh roasting chilies, and the maza and lard-softened hands of his grandmother. It made me remember my my maternal grandmother--I really miss the smell of her kitchen as she made flour tortillas over a wood-burning stove. She made them every day of her adult life, until she couldn't stand up anymore.

I'll have to think on the questions and get back to you...on my way to meet Tammy for "write night"!

Muchisimas gracias!


Mary Marvella said...

Great job, Nikki! I had no idea you were uber talented, since I haven't read anything of yours.

I love that I'm not the only person who still loves Old Spice. All my heroes use it or Bay Rum.

My ex did when I met him. I don't wear scents, so I'm really sensitive to them.

Adrianne Paul as the Highlander is my ideal hero! YUM.

Pamela Varnado said...

Wow, Nicki. You make such wonderful use of the senses. I always enjoy reading your posts. They leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy and wanting more.
My hero and dream lover is Terrance Howard. Oh, just writing his name gave me horny chills.

Jennifer said...

Wonderful writing, Nicki. Makes me NOT want to fire off a quick comment, because what could do justice to what you've written? Makes me want to take a warm mug of coffee in my hands and linger over the language and over the relationship. It occurs to me that I experience most of my daytime life as a constant stream of interruption -- the kids battering me with question after question, phone ringing, spilled cereal, etc. Sometimes the interruption makes the moments in between more special, but sometimes it's hard to hold onto those fleeting smells and touches and appreciate them because your mind is already preparing for the next task.

KC's smell was one of the first things I noticed about him -- that and his nice ass -- it used to be a combination of Fahrenheit cologne and cigarette smoke. Now he uses a different scent and doesn't smoke but he still smells like him.

It's funny that his scent first attracted me, because he is also very much into smell. When he comes home and the kids are already asleep he smells them. Loudly. When he holds me he takes time to sniff my hair and body, like a puppy, "to make sure that you're really you." So much for guys being all visual.

PJ said...

Nicki, that was so beautiful. You're an amazingly gifted writer!

Robin said...

When my hero is my hero he smells like truth. Like an open book inviting me in with no expectations. Like a lollipop still in the wrapper tempting me with smells and tastes of the past, the present, and the future. I think my dog likes this smell too because she doen't bark at him when he is in a good mood. . .

My dad is my favorite hero and he is in a book he is writing about himself that he will never publish. After him, I suppose my heroes would be sheroes, too many to count - and then Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thergood Marshall come to mind, but once I head in that direction, this list is also long and filled with men, women, and children.

If you wrote a book, and I was to read it, I'm sure I'd find a new hero to add to my list.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Linsey, happiness does have a scent. The hero should know the heroine better than she knows herself. If your husband thinks you are disciplined then he is right.

Molly, thanks for stopping by. We can't wait for you to be our guest blogger when your next release comes out this summer! They say scent is a better memory trigger than anything. Even "mostly all over." :-)

Beverly, Atticus Finch is perfect in just about every way. Both in book and movie. Football = poetry to me.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Dianna, safe travels. Tell the Aussies we love them from "up above" or something. We aren't really "across the pond" from them so find out what they call us besides bastards.

Tall, dark, and handsome is great, but I think listening and laughing is better.

Carissa, stubble, sunshine and wildebeest are valid answers. Especially since they are not what you expect from him outwardly. Johnny Cade and not Darry? I'm totally a Darry.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Anna S, happy belated birthday. Remember, I know things about you. New assignment: What does Russell Crowe smell like in Master and Commander? You can't say anything about the sea.

Connie, isn't the after workout scent fascinating? Its like bad magic made that smell.

Larry, you are boy #2! Thanks for reading. I bet your wife would say nice things about your smell.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Ana, tell Tammy what's up! Happy writing. Wood-burning stoves have a very distinct scent and they also conjure a lovely visual, too. De nada, linda.

Mary, thank you for stopping by (grin). Look, Old Spice and Bay Rum are my new "go-juice" and until today I didn't even know I had "go-juice." Time traveling highlanders are all right by me.

Pam, "horny pills" is cracking me up. I'm so glad I have you young people to keep me current.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Jen, aren't we now professional of interruptions? So glad KC quit smoking. Give him a fist bump for me. I think there is a stereotype of men being visual, but they are cavemen after all. Apparently, cinnamon is the scent that most likely arouses a man's attention. Here and I thought it was liquor!

PJ, thanks for stopping by. We are glad to be friends with www.RomanceNovel.tv.

Robin, we look forward to hearing about your new writing project. I like the idea that different moods create different scents. A dog should have written this post because they know more about scents than humans! MLK Jr is a great hero. No need to be tall or sword welding to be great. (On that note, have you started Outlander yet?) :)

J Perry Stone said...

Hey, how come Anna gets Russel in M and C?

That's okay. I'll take him in Gladiator ... in manacles ... straining towards me with an "I may kill you; I may do you against the wall" look in his eye.

Pam, I'm totally bogarting "horny chills."

You people are brilliant.

Abigail McKenley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abigail McKenley said...

I loved this post Nicki!

My hero smells like Pasteles and Joop Cologne. I've never really thought about it before, but in thirteen years of marriage his scent has stayed the same and I love it.

I've had the flu for two weeks now and he has been taking care of me after work. I look forward to the thermometer being shoved in my mouth, because I know when he takes it out I'll get a soft kiss on the forehead followed by a whispered 'I Love You'

eaflagg said...

Beautiful post and wonderful responses! What fun to read them. :)

My hero from a non romance novel? How many novels are not romantic in one way or another? I was going to say Mr. Darcy, but he's in a romance. Albeit a chaste romance. Hmmm. I'd have to agree with Gilbert Blythe. Just imagine what fun they might have had hatching their brood?

Nicki Salcedo said...

J, Gladiator is too easy. He smells like MAN. New assignment: What does Morgan Freeman smell like in the Shawshank Redemption?

Abi, their scents never really change do they? Pasteles is a nice one. I think you should keep him.

eaflagg, I think all novels are novels of romance, but who ever cares what I think! Thanks for stopping by.

J Perry Stone said...

How the HELL did you know I adore Morgan Freeman? Huh? HUH?

And I'd go for smell when talking about other men, Nicki, but if we're talking about Morgan Freeman, I HAVE to talk about sound.

That voice.

It's so deep, so smooth--it makes such pleasant vibration in my chest when I listen to it--I feel drunk on it. Like I can almost taste his timber.

Arnold said...

Wow! I forwarded this to my wife and she thought it was very romantic. Keep up the writing -- you're good at it.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Cin, I forgot to mention that blood is sometime an interesting scent depending on the situation.

Anna S, metal is awesome. Is your hero smelting something?

J, I know everything about everyone. Be afraid. Sounds are very evocative, too. You get an A+.

Arnold, you are boy number 3! Thank you for stopping by and for sharing with your wife. Go buy her some romance novels. We can suggestion some. She will so thank you for it later. Romance novels are women's "go juice."

Jessica Doyle said...

1) I am terrible at describing smells. My hero smells just a tiny bit of sweat and somewhat of plastic. And occasionally of solder.

2) Right this second, Augie March.

3) I keep all the notes my husband leaves me. He was writing when I met him -- he doesn't so much now, and more's the pity, since I think he has an amazing style.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Jessica, sweat, plastic and solder is what I imagine the borg smell like. I like the borg! What are you writing?

I googled. Augie March is a real dude. Pick one from fiction. Or at least tell me what you think he smells like.

The notes thing is wonderful. Very revealing of character.