The Booktopia Book Guru asks
M. J. Rose
author of The Book of Lost Fragrances
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in New York City – on the upper east side – and raised there. In the shadow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park. I went to an all girl school – the Lenox School from 1st to 12th grade – including an extra year when I was in 7th grade and got left back. (I was very dyslexic and they felt that if I had an extra year in there I could catch up. I did.)
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be a poet and painter. When I was eighteen I wanted to be a painter. When I was thirty I wanted to be a screenwriter. I was always in love with art and very much wanted my life to be about creating beautiful things that would move people. To make a living I went into advertising and at thirty I was the creative director of a big NCY ad agency. I started writing screenplays- hoping one would get produced and I’d move into telling stories full time. When one was stolen and made into a very bad movie, I started my first novel.
3.What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I thought I was destined to be miserable in love.
4.What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand first when I was fourteen and its message about individuality and never compromising your artistic vision for anyone else had a huge impact on it.
Monet’s Water Lily paintings in L’Orangerie in Paris are a second influence. I always cry when I see them. The artist was at the end of his life and going blind and yet created these astonishing works that are so unique to him and oh so beautiful. His passion is my measure of a true artist.
Can I choose the whole of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as another great influence? I lived across the street from that museum for more than 15 years – at different points in my life – and have never gone longer than a few weeks without visiting there.
Thomas Merton said – “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” I so wish my books might do that even on a small scale.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Well I tried lots of others first. Painting, sculpting, poetry, screenwriting… but it was when I started writing fiction I found what Joseph Campbell calls “your bliss”. I simply knew that this was what I wanted to keep doing.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Book of Lost Fragrances is a tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra–and lost for 2,000 years.
(BBGuru: here is the publisher’s blurb – Jac L’Etoile has always been haunted by the past, her memories infused with the exotic scents she grew up around as the heir to a storied French perfume company. Fleeing the pain of those remembrances – and the suicide of her mother – she’s left the company in the hands of her brother Robbie.
But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives in Paris, and then suddenly goes missing – leaving a dead body in his wake – Jac is plunged into a world she thought she’d left behind.
For the House of L’Etoile has been hiding a powerful secret since 1799: a scent that unlocks the mysteries of reincarnation. In the wrong hands, it’s a perfume with a deadly power. However identifying the formula may be Jac’s only chance to save her brother…
The Book of Lost Fragrancesfuses history, passion and suspense in an intoxicating weave that moves from Cleopatra’s Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet’s battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. )
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
What William Faulkner said: “To help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”
Every writer who keeps working at it, who rewrites and rewrites and perseveres, who doesn’t think that money is the only measure as success. Why? Because so many of the books that really moved me and meant something to me were written by writers who hadn’t yet succeeded, who faced odds of one kind or another, but never gave up.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write a book that really matters.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Writing is an art; publishing is a business and an oft broken business at that. You can’t control the market or the fads. Write only because you love it – because you cannot dream of not writing. Write for your own pleasure, write for your heart, your soul and your own entertainment.
M. J. Rose, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.