Interview: Margot Berwin

Margot BerwinJen: Today we welcome Margot Berwin to Romancing the Book. Margot, will you share a short bio with us?
Margot: Margot Berwin is the author of the best-selling novel Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages. She earned her MFA from the New School in 2005 and she lives in New York City. Scent of Darkness is her second novel.

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Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Margot: Scent of Darkness is about love, and obsession and of course perfume.

It’s about a woman named Louise who is an aromata, a master in the art of scent, a sorceress of nothing, as she likes to call herself because scent has no physical form.  Louise creates a very special perfume for her granddaughter Evangeline. She pours a few drops into a tiny ruby-red vial with the instructions: Do not remove the stopper, Evangeline, or everything in your life will change.

Of course Evangeline does remove the stopper and you will have to read the book to find out what happens!

When I was a kid I used to mix perfumes in the bathroom like a little four-foot chemist. Much to my mother’s dismay I’d pull the stopper out of her Chanel #5 and pour in a little of my dad’s Aqua Velva just for good measure.

As a writer I am of course a huge reader. At some point I became obsessed with books on scent and scent making such as The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr and Perfume by Suskind. I found myself learning all I could about the major perfume houses in the south of France–Guerlain, Hermes, Chanel, Creed, Houbigant, Givenchy and many more. It got to the point where I was spending all of my free time in the perfume section of Sephora or Bergdorf Goodman spraying and waving little white strips of paper in the air.

Eventually I started to make my own scents. I hit upon a combination of essential oils in a base of scentless sunflower oil and people in restaurants and bars would tap me on the shoulder and ask me what I was wearing!

I briefly thought about marketing the scent but instead I combined my love of perfume with my love of writing and turned them into a novel.

Jen: Describe your writing in 3 words.
Margot: Very sensual indeed.

Jen: What’s been the highlight of you career to this point?
Margot: I wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I had no idea how long it would take me to get published, nor how winding the road would be. I went through a marriage and a whole different career before it finally happened. I remember sitting in my tiny cubicle at work when I got the call from an editor at Knopf that they were buying my first book. I think I was in shock. That was a definite highlight. A few months later, SONY pictures called to say that they wanted to option the book to be a film. I thought it was a friend playing a joke on me! But it wasn’t and it was another huge highlight. It’s been a wonderful ride.

Jen: Who has influenced you as a writer?
Margot: Let’s see….

Anne Rice has influenced me a lot as a writer because she is able to tell a long, involved and thoroughly engrossing story over a series of books. I would love to be able to do that! It’s a special talent that I’m working to develop.

The French writer Marguerite Duras is another strong influence. Her writing is stunning. Each word a perfect choice. Her work is spare yet emotional. A very difficult combination to master.

And I would have to say the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In my humble opinion he is the greatest living writer. Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore, The Windup Bird Chronicle, all masterpieces.

Jen: How do you come up with characters names?
Margot: For this book I chose the name Evangeline for the main character because I’ve loved the name since hearing of Evangeline Lily who played Kate Austen on the television show LOST.

The main male characters in my novel are named Gabriel and Michael. I took them from the Archangels of the same names and gave them some of the qualities of those angels.

Naming characters is difficult. The grandmother in my book is named Louise. I was never satisfied with that name, but there it was and once I had written her lines, it was simply her name and I could not change it-much as I tried.

Oddly enough a blogger wrote to me recently to ask if I had ever read the Longfellow epic poem Evangeline. I had not.

The poem is about an Acadian girl named Evangeline who is searching for her lost love Gabriel!! My Evangeline also loses her love Gabriel although for very different reasons. And my book takes place in Louisiana where many Acadians settled! I was stunned to learn about these similarities.

Jen: Do you do anything to celebrate a sale, new contract or release?
Margot: This time around I’m going to party! I’m throwing a big ole cocktail party for the people who stick by me while I’m deep in the throes of writing a new book. For my friends who do little things like bring me coffee and tell me to take a shower!

Jen: What’s next for you?
Margot: I’m not really sure yet. I would love to do a sequel to Scent of Darkness. The Return of Michael.


5 thoughts on “Interview: Margot Berwin

  1. Nancy Goldberg Levine says:

    Great interview — will have to check out your book (and the movie!). I first heard the name Evangeline on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” I love that name.

  2. Kathleen O says:

    This was a great interview.. You are new to me author and I will be sure checking out your books. I am amused at your “mixing the Channel #5” story.. It reminds me of the time one of my younger brother’s dropped my mother’s fav perfume Arpage’ all over my mom and dad’s bed.. Mom was a little ticked to say the least.. This story of course has been shared many times in our house.

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