Author Interview: Margot Berwin of Scent of Darkness

Margot Berwin author of Scent of Darkness-Heashot

After reading Scent of Darkness a couple of weeks ago,  I’m thrilled to have the chance to interview author Margot Berwin.  In case you missed my review,  I loved the novel.  (Go ahead, read the review. I’ll wait.) Margot let me pester her in a format outside of Twitter and answered a few questions about Scent of Darkness.

From Left to Write: You mentioned on Twitter that your first draft of Scent of Darkness was written in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Did you already know you wanted to set the novel in New Orleans before you arrived? How did your writing location influence the story?

Margo Berwin: I did write the book in the French Quarter and that was a bit of a happy accident. I was freelancing, writing websites for an ad agency, bitching about how I couldn’t find a quiet place to write in NYC, when a co-worker and a friend offered me his flat in NOLA. He was swamped at work and couldn’t leave NYC so he handed me the keys to his apartment and just like that, a month later I was living in New Orleans! I had never been there before and fell immediately and completely in love with it.

I got one of my characters into medical school at Tulane (he was originally supposed to go to Columbia med) and then placed the second half of the book in the French Quarter. I can’t wait to go back down there on my book tour and read in the beautiful Garden District Book Shop!

New Orleans had a profound effect on my story. A city like NOLA can’t possibly NOT have an effect. From the people, to the food, to the music and the plant life, every minute of it impacts the senses. And when it comes to a story about scent, the senses are everything.

Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin

FL2W: What were your favorite things about New Orleans? What type of “on location” research did you do during your visit?

Margot: I did visit Tulane Medical School. Not that interesting but I needed to see it and get a feel for it. I spoke to a few of the students but like medical students everywhere, their heads were so far into the books, they barely noticed what city they were in.

I lived on St. Louis near Chartres, which was also near Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. The smells coming from there were often impossible to resist and I’ll admit to adding on a few lbs, which by the way, is totally unavoidable in that city! I also went to an unforgettable crawfish boil in Mid-City. But I digress…it’s hard to get off of the topic of food when discussing New Orleans.

(FL2W: I have to jump in and say that the food in New Orleans is part of the experience! In Louisiana, eating is more than feeding your stomach, it’s how we socialize and bond.)

One of my favorite things about the French Quarter are the many used book stores. I mean they’re just incredible. Packed with the most wonderful books imaginable. I spent hours in Dauphine Street books, probably days. I picked up the Dylan Chronicles there. In the book he talks about recording his first album in a studio in New Orleans. I took that as a very good sign!

FL2W: In your novel Evangeline has become irresistible to everyone around her, thanks to her grandmother’s gift. I imagine that many people have wished for a similar power. Why do you think people are so drawn to that kind of power?

Margot: People want to be wanted. To have their flaws overlooked. Evangeline’s gift is similar to being born beautiful. There is a power in that even though we often don’t want to admit it. And also, it’s easy. There is no work involved, it simply…is. I think people imagine their life would be much easier with such a gift.

FL2W: As someone who grew up in southern Louisiana, I enjoyed the parallels between Scent of Darkness and Longfellow’s Evangeline. We previously chatted about this and you revealed to never reading Longfellow’s (long) poem before. I confess I haven’t read it either. How has your view of Eva’s journey changed now that you’re aware of Longfellow’s poem?

Margot Berwin author of Scent of Darkness

Margot: I’m still shocked. Particularly by the use of names. Longfellow’s Evangeline is the story of an Acadian girl, Evangeline, who is searching for her lost love Gabriel. In Scent of Darkness the two main characters are also Gabriel and Evangeline. And they too are lovers who become separated, although for very different reasons than in the Longfellow poem. Still the parallels are eerie considering the fact that I had never read the poem.

I chose the name of my protagonist from Evangeline Lilly who played the Kate Austen character on LOST. I fell in love with her name somehow. It happens to us writers upon occasion. And Gabriel I got from the Archangel Gabriel. I took both male leads in my novel, Michael and Gabriel, from the Archangels and based their characters on the qualities those angels possessed.

FL2W: This book has received great reviews from YA readers. What do you think makes it appealing to both young adults and and adults?

Margot: I don’t know but it makes me very happy. Many books are cross generational these days-there is actually a whole new category called “new adult fiction”, which are basically YA books that skew a bit older.

FL2W: In the movie version of Scent of Darkness, who would you cast to play Evangeline, Michael, and Gabriel?

Margot: Dakota Fanning [for Evangeline]. Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Pattinson, or Ryan Gosling as Michael. And maybe Topher Grace or Jake Gyllenhaal as Gabriel. But I’m not as sure about him. Any suggestions?

FL2W: Any hints about your next book?

Margot: If Scent of Darkness does well enough…I would love to write a sequel. It would of course involve the return of Michael.

FL2W: Is there anything else you would like to add or share with our readers?

Margot: I want to add that I am thrilled that you like this book particularly because you are from Louisiana. I was very nervous writing about such a great and unusual city as New Orleans. I really wanted to get it right because I know how the people from NOLA really deeply love their city. I worked very hard to capture what I thought was a certain essence of place. So I was excited (and also relieved) to hear that I didn’t cause any pain in my descriptions!!

Big thanks again to Margot Berwin for her time. You can chat with her on Twitter after you read her book Scent of Darkness. Or before you read it. She won’t bite.

If you’ve read the book, which actors would you cast in those roles?

Photos courtesy of the author.