Saturday, December 19, 2015


John M. Daniel’s Blog
December 19, 2015

This week beginning on the third Saturday in December I am pleased to welcome Eileen Obser as a guest to my blog. Eileen is a writer, a writing teacher, and a professional editor. She is a published memoirist, and her memoir, Only You, won a prize from and was published by Oak Tree Press.

Eileen’s post this week is about the importance of using all five senses in our writing. What she has to say about including the sense of smell in our stories is, if you’ll pardon me, right on the nose. The nose is a reliable reminder of times and events in our lives. The aroma of madeleines supposedly prompted Marcel Proust to write Remembrance of Things Past, a huge and hugely important fictional memoir, which I confess I’ve never read.

For me there’s another nostalgia-enhancing smell I inhale when I walk into a bookstore at this time of year. It’s probably an imaginary smell, but it’s a mixture of books, customers, clerks, money changing hands, and greetings exchanged with smiles; and it all smells a bit like chocolate chip cookies for some reason. Anyone who has been a bookstore clerk knows the electric thrill of the Christmas rush, which starts right after Thanksgiving and builds and builds and builds until six p.m. Christmas Eve. The customers are frantic but happy, the books fly out of the store in bright colors, and the cash register goes jingle jingle jingle. I’ve always been sentimental about Christmas, and I love the party atmosphere, and it’s also a time when a clerk can be the greatest help to a person in need. I’ve enjoyed every Christmas season I’ve spent in a bookstore, and there have been many.


To celebrate the joy of bookselling, I include toward the end of this post a promotion of my bookstore mystery, Hooperman. Please check it out.

And don’t forget: you have an invitation to send me your 99-word story for January. See the instructions, deadline, and prompt at the end of this post.

And now, let’s hear from Eileen Obser.



         I’m known to have an acute sense of smell, and there are many odors I simply don’t like, including strong-scented laundry detergents, colognes and perfumes, tea tree and eucalyptus oils; foods such as kielbasa, cucumbers, and beef liver. At meetings, in theaters and especially at restaurants, I’ll move away from a heavily Chanel No. 5’d woman because the pungent aroma overcomes my other senses. Companions frown and say, “Deal with it,” but I refuse, and find another seat.
         The sense of smell is crucial in our lives and in our writing, as are all the other senses: touch, hearing, taste, and sight. I teach memoir writing to adults and seniors, and ask students to draw on their life experiences, showing as much as possible, instead of telling. I’m so delighted when they get it; when their recalled memories are infused with the senses.
         I’ve been rereading Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses, a “treasure trove of information, diverse in space and time and culture but all related to the pleasures of sensory experience,” according to one review.
         Ackerman notes that “one of the real tests of writers, especially poets, is how well they write about smells. If they can’t describe the scent of sanctity in a church, can you trust them to describe the suburbs of the heart?”
         In a personal essay published a few years ago called “Santa and His Beer (I mean Deer)” I wrote the following:
It was Christmas Eve at our house in Glendale, Queens (New York). My younger brother, Al, and I were scrubbed and shampooed; we had to be super clean, both for the party that night and for Christmas Mass the next morning. Mom fed us a light supper of grilled cheese sandwiches and hash brown potatoes.” I didn’t use the word “smell” but the comforting fragrances of Ivory soap and Prell shampoo, of grilled cheese on Wonder bread and crisp, buttery fried potatoes surround me as I write, as if it was last year, not the late 1940s.
         We went downstairs to join my five cousins, to drink hot chocolate and eat homemade Christmas cookies and wait for Santa Claus to make his annual visit. Santa ho-ho-ho-ed as he chatted and handed us gifts, then happily gulped down two beers that our mothers offered him, causing all the children to grimace. Hence the title of my essay.
         After Santa left, and while we were opening gifts, our fathers appeared, tired-looking and glassy-eyed. “Daddy’s home, Daddy’s home!” the smaller kids shouted.
         Grandma Campbell, who let my father and uncle in the door, said with a scowl, “I can see you’ve both had a snoutful.”
         “Now, Mom, don’t be criticizing us,” my father said, giving her a hug. Merry Christmas!’ He bent down to kiss me, and I smelled the “snoutful” close up.
         “Hi, Daddy.” I turned my nose away and let him kiss my cheek.

         The entire essay can be seen on my website:, under “Read My Work.”
         I bought my real Christmas tree last week; I’ve never owned an artificial one. The local nursery offered me hot cider, fresh baked gingerbread, and peppermint candy canes. And I slipped right back into memory land, sniffing and smiling.
         Wherever you are and whatever your plans for the holidays, I wish you much peace and joy, in every sense of those words.


Eileen Obser is a writer and editor and has been teaching creative writing in New York for over 20 years. She returned to school in her later years and is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literature at Stony Brook University Southampton. Her stories and personal essays have been published in many anthologies, magazines and newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazines, Newsday, The Boston Globe, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, Proteus, and The Southampton Review literary magazines. She lives on the east end of Long Island, in East Hampton, New York.

Eileen’s memoir, Only You, set in her teenage years (the late 1950s) was published by Oak Tree Press in 2014.
Buy or order Only You from your local bookstore, from an online booksellers, or direct from the publisher:
1820 W. Lacey Blvd. #220
Hanford, CA 93230
(217) 825-4489


And now for a word from our sponsor:

A Bookstore Mystery
Oak Tree Press
ISBN 978-1-61009-061-2
Trade paperback, $14.95

Buy or order Hooperman from your local bookstore, from an online booksellers, or direct from the publisher:
1820 W. Lacey Blvd. #220
Hanford, CA 93230
(217) 825-4489

Who's Stealing the Books? Who's Bombing the Bookstore?
"Pleasant and unusually good-natured, this novel from Daniel harkens back to a time when printed books mattered and an independent bookstore could be a social club for passionately eccentric bibliophiles." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It's a difficult job for a man with a severe stammer, but somebody's got to do it, because Maxwell's Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.

Who's stealing the books? Martin West, the foul-mouthed nutcase in charge of shipping and receiving? Millie Larkin, who hates the boss because he's a man? Could it be Lucinda Baylor, the dark and sassy clerk that Hoop's in love with? Jack Davis, the socialist, or Frank Blanchard, the anarchist? Or maybe even Elmer Maxwell himself, the world-famous pacifist bookseller?
Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.

Hooperman—A Bookstore Mystery celebrates the joy of books and bookselling and also explores the many ways people get into trouble—deadly serious trouble—when they fail to communicate.
To read reviews of this book, visit:
John M. Daniel is a lifelong bibliophile, having worked in eight bookstores. He’s also the author of fourteen published books, including the well-reviewed Guy Mallon Mystery Series. He lives among the redwoods in Humboldt County, California, with Susan Daniel, his wife and partner. They publish mystery fiction under the imprint Perseverance Press (Daniel & Daniel).


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for January’s 99-word story submissions is January First. The stories will appear on my blog post for January 9, 2016.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story in 99 words, inspired by the words “This time I really mean it.” That can be your title, or your first or last sentence, or just the theme of the story. Reread Rule 3, above; this must be a story, not just an essay. If I receive your story by January 1, and if you follow the rules, your story will appear on this blog January 9.


Thank you for dropping by. There will be no post on this blog next week, starting December 26, but I hope you’ll be back the following week, starting January 2, when we’ll kick off the New Year by resolving to find joy in reading and/or writing stories!


  1. What an interesting and on-point post! So true that really wonderful writing engages the senses.

    1. Thanks for this, Billie. I'm glad to be John's guest today and have shared this on Facebook.

  2. Interesting post. I always try to include at least one scent in my books. Then one reader complained the scents were always linked to food. So I've looked for ways to include the scent of pines and not the stench of rotting flesh in my thrillers. JL Greger, author I SAW YOU IN BEIRUT

    1. Thanks for this comment. I don't use enough of the senses, I feel. Writing this blog may sharpen my scents!

  3. Great topic, Eileen. Scent is often overlooked by writers. Another good book on the topic is Lyall Watson's Jacobson's Organ.

    1. Thanks, John. I'll look for that book. And Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  4. Wonderfully written, Eileen Obser! You bring back so many memories of Christmas through your scented-words. I believe you passed smiles among all your readers, young and old.

  5. Great post. I agree. Good writing (showing) should include all the senses, not just 'seeing.' Your Christmas memory was priceless. I just wonder who Santa really was that morning! LOL. Have a blessed Christmas.

    1. Thanks for visiting this blog, Elaine. I look forward to hosting you as a guest in the coming year. Meanwhile, Merry Christmas!

  6. Thank you, Eileen, for sharing your scent of Christmas past, and your interesting Observation; makes sense!