Interview with Mals86 of “The Muse In Wooden Shoes”!

Mals86 of The Muse in Wooden Shoes is perfume blogging’s Pioneer Woman. Mals writes from her beef cattle farm in very rural southwest Virginia, where her access to perfumes is just a little bit limited (she has to drive an hour to reach a mall with both a Belk’s and a Macy’s). Not only does The Muse in Wooden Shoes provide an utterly unique perspective (where else are you going to read about perfume and farming in the same paragraph?), Mals’ writing is also terrifically droll and engaging. Today Mals shares a tantalizing peek at her newly written novel and lets us city slickers know what country smells we’re missing out on.

Why do you write about perfume?
I write about perfume for a couple of reasons – for one thing, I love getting that huge rush of emotion from a scent that surprises me, and I totally dig writing about that.  For another, I enjoy the conversations that arise when people’s emotions are touched, the way that so many people are so affected by smells.
You just completed a staggering achievement: writing an entire novel in one month for NaNoWriMo. What can you tell us about your novel? Did you manage to work in any perfume references?

Oh, gosh, the novel… it’s hard to talk about.  It’s like it’s my baby, and it hasn’t quite got its party manners yet, and I just want everybody to be nice to it, and yet I’m not sure it deserves that at this stage.  But briefly,Bright as Day concerns a girl named Meredith, a driven college student who struggles with social anxiety.  She shines at academics, but instead of making headway on her degree over the summer break she’s pushed into going home when her internship falls through, too late to find another one.  At home and bored and frustrated, she decides to push her personal development in another direction.  She does realize that becoming familiar with new situations seems to help her deal with them, and after several years of shunning boy-girl interaction (and makeup and perfume and clothes and other “girly” things), makes up her mind to explore this facet of life new to her, with the help of her childhood friend Day.

Day, for his part, is head over ears in love with Meredith, and he’s got bigger plans than just giving her kissing lessons.  Meredith discovers Infusion d’Iris, which she likes because it’s so subtle, and finds out that smelling something nice helps keep her calm. And then she discovers a different, vintage fragrance, gifted to her by the elderly lady she has begun to assist, whiling away the rest of the summer before she goes to school.  It blows her socks off.  It changes her perspective.  She makes some risky decisions.  Then Day – quintessential Boy Scout, rescuer of stray puppies, little-kid-magnet, everybody-loves-Day – is arrested for rape, and Meredith’s life goes into another tailspin.
And that’s all you get, for now.  (Yes, I’m eeevil.)
What are your favorite perfume houses?
I think I may be all across the board with my favorite brands – there are very few houses where most of, or even a goodly percentage of, the line works for me.  I do quite well with Sonoma Scent Studio, Parfums de Nicolai, Frederic Malle, and Chanel, and I nearly always find something wonderful in my sample orders from DSH Perfumes.  Also, and this may be cheating but hey, you asked: vintage Coty.  There’s something truly delightful about finding scents that were made for a drugstore market years ago and discovering that although they were cheap when new, they smell of good materials, thoughtfully composed.  Basically, older Cotys (Emeraude, L’Aimant, L’Origan, Les Muses, La Rose Jacqueminot, Chypre, even Sand & Sable) Just Smell Good.  I’m not even talking about the original, much-coveted really-vintage Chypre, but the 80s reincarnation.

What is your favorite place to shop for perfume?

There is a mall within about 20 miles of my house, but for perfume it’s pretty lame.  The better mall is in my hometown, 50 miles away, but its best well-stocked perfume counter is at Macy’s, which doesn’t carry higher-end fragrances.  So I shop online a lot.  It’s probably one reason that I was so willing to try independent perfumery houses like DSH and SSS, so I can’t complain about that too much!   Also, I’m cheap: I like the online discounters.  I’ve found a lot of wonderful fragrances at bargain-basement prices, by being open to buying inexpensive bottles unsniffed: Gres Cabaret, Hanae Mori Haute Couture, Cuir de Lancome, the first Ines de la Fressange.  I have recently taken to stalking the perfume counter at Walgreen’s, because they have testers.  I haven’t bought anything there, but I like to know what’s available at the lower end, too.
You live on “a beef cattle farm in Southwest Virginia”. What country smells are us city slickers missing out on?
Oh, farm smells!  They run the gamut from sublime to truly disgusting.  On the sublime side: whole fields of newly-mown hay drying in the sunshine, masses of honeysuckle in full bloom, recently-split firewood.  Other lovely rural smells might include sheets dried on the clothesline in the sunshine, the fresh dewy quality of the air on a clear day, and woodsmoke drifting through rainy evening air.  The milk replacer powder we mix up into bottles for orphaned calves smells a lot like custard, sweet and creamy and not much like powdered milk you can buy at the store. The CEO is fond of alfalfa hay in particular, and of the smell of corn silage, which is sweet and greenish and aromatic.
On the disgusting side: burnt hydraulic fluid and dead animal.  Somewhere in the middle are manure, iodine, wet animal bodies, and the smell of hot machinery.  (I wish to point out that our cattle are eating grass and hay, and their manure is less odoriferous than that of dairy cattle or pigs or chickens, because those animals are fed a lot of grain.  I mean, sure, manure is poo.  But manure from grass-fed beef has a very grassy smell.)  Oh, and the smell of the farm pickup is absolutely distinctive!  My grandfather’s pickup smelled exactly the same as The CEO’s truck: engine oil, diesel fuel, cattle smell, dried manure, old sweat, cow medicines, iodine, old cracked vinyl, and dust.
What are some of your other interests outside of perfume?

Interests outside of perfume include marathon novel-reading, writing about whatever’s on my mind, and singing in my local community chorus.  I love to cook, but I live with a couple of mildly-picky people, one fairly-picky person, and one insanely picky person*, so of necessity my cooking repertoire is somewhat more limited than I’d like.  I used to cross-stitch and crochet, but incipient carpal tunnel syndrome has nixed those hobbies.  I don’t watch a lot of TV, although I have recently discovered reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  And I just freaking LOVE marching bands.

* There was a period in my youngest son’s life during which he lived on only milk, red food and chicken nuggets.  He’s better about trying new things now, but not that much better.  I can forget about trying to cook that recipe for scallops in coconut milk.

What perfumes are you hoping to find under the Christmas tree/Menorah branches this year?

Perfumes I’d like to find under the Christmas tree?  Well, assuming that some magic philanthropist sneaks into my house in the middle of the night to leave me fragrance (it certainly won’t be The CEO), I’ll put in an order for a full bottle of Iris Poudre and/or Guerlain Vega.  But maybe I’d trade them both for a bottle of Carnal Flower.  However, there won’t be any.  (We don’t really do Santa at my house – not that we’re opposed philosophically, but we prefer to not give credit for gifts to some imaginary dude in velvet pants.)

Alas, The CEO and I need a new bed.  The antique rope bed that my grandmother had had refinished and retrofitted with siderails in the late 1940s, the one that I’ve owned since I was twelve?  Well, those siderails are starting to crack.  And because the metal fittings that hook the rails onto the head- and footboard were specially made, I can’t use a standard set of rails or a standard bedframe with my bed.  We could probably find someone to make us new rails, but in the meantime we’d have to put the mattress on the floor – ergo, it’ll be a new bed and no new smellies for me this year.  Update: we just found a guy who’s willing to make new rails for us.  That’ll be in January.

You didn’t ask, but I have both a cat and a dog.  The cat is 18 years old.  Her name is Silvia, after a character in a Scott Turow novel, and she is The Queen.  The dog is 7 and a half; her name is Hayley and she’s a beagle-lab mix, a rescue dog that is so! happy! to be here!  (wag wag, bark of affirmation)  I would have included a picture of all three of us together, but Silvia refuses to acknowledge that Hayley exists, so I didn’t even bother to request a photo op.  Besides which, neither of them seem interested in fragrance at all.  Silvia has arthritis, but she can still hop off the couch and zip into the kitchen in under 3.2 seconds when the molecules of tuna scent the air.  Hayley loves to go out into the pasture and roll in things better not discussed here, and she has the annoying habit of stealing and hoarding dirty socks, especially The CEO’s because he is her Favorite! Person! in the WORLD! (wag wag, bark of affirmation).

28 thoughts on “Interview with Mals86 of “The Muse In Wooden Shoes”!

  1. How fun to find an interview with another of my favorite perfume bloggers! I also enjoy reading her stories about her kids, the farm, and her writing. Mals, we want a chance to read your novels!

  2. At one point in time (in an effort to spend less time online – didn’t work) I whittled my perfume section of Google Reader down to four blogs: NST, PP, BdJ and Mals. I’ve since seen the error of my ways 😉 and that list has….counting ….. septupled, but Mals is one of my squishies. I will love her and hold her and name her George.

    1. Note to any confused readers: this comment is considerably less creepy if you have seen Finding Nemo!
      Dionne, I am honored to be on what was once a very selective blog list! Congratulations on your new spot at Beauty on the Outside, I’m sure you will do great! 🙂

        1. Dionne, are you KIDDING me? We had a copy of Finding Nemo on VHS TAPE, and it is so badly worn from all the multiple marathon viewings that it’s about to fall apart. I could probably quote about 70% of that movie by heart. (I absolutely can quote every single word of Toy Story, because that one was Bookworm’s and all three kids went through a stage when they wanted to watch it once a week.)

          So I know from squishies, okay? And I will be yours, and I will be your squishy. Very honored.

  3. Thanks for the highlight, Ari! It was such fun to be interviewed.

    Hayley wishes me to lick your face for her, but I’ll just pass on her good wishes if that’s okay…

    1. It was such a pleasure to learn more about you! 🙂
      I have to admit that I would probably be afraid of Hayley in person (when I was very little, my younger brother was attacked by a very large dog), but she is just the SWEETEST thing in that picture. I’ve never seen such a happy doggy!

  4. Pioneer Woman reference is totally apropos. (Only I’m not truly a big PW fan, so mals totally kicks her butt.) Pioneer Woman is a Pi Phi too, whaddaya know?

    Hayley looks like a sweetums. I have a beagle mix too!

    1. I am very into PW’s cinnamon rolls, but I agree that our Mals trumps her. Beagles are one of the breeds of dogs of which I am least afraid. What is yours like, Susan???

      1. Gordie is a beagle-rat terrier mix. His mom was a standard beagle and he basically looks like a smallish beagle with long legs. Really, he has the best of both worlds. He’s not anxious like his terrier dad and he doesn’t bray like a beagle. (Oh those hound dogs and their barking – drives me up the wall!) I don’t know if all beagle-rat terrier mixes would end up like that bu that’s how it worked out for him. He is super gentle and laid back and loves to cuddle.. I can’t imagine a better, gentler dog with our toddler… That said, he doesn’t have scads of personality and spunk like rat terriers do. But he fits our family.

  5. Enjoyed Mals’ “farm fresh” outlook on fragrance – very sophisticated tastes actually. You operate a farm and STILL have time to write a novel, journal, blog AND raise a family? We share a love for vintage Coty (esp. bottles and labels), and I smiled when I read you enjoyed visiting the Walgreen’s cosmetic counter for some of the more common frags. My very first job while in high school was as a fragrance clerk at Walgreens. Were I still there, I’d let you spray and sample ’til your heart (and nose) were content. ;~>)

    1. Mals is a superwoman, for sure. Did you catch the part where she wrote that novel in a MONTH??? I wish I’d had such a glamorous first job! Mine was at Subway, which was just as aromatic as a fragrance counter!

  6. I really enjoyed this interview and getting to know Mals better: my favourite part was the wonderful evocation of farm smells – the good, the bad and the in-between ones. Somewhere in amongst your large family I missed the identities of your pets (Silvia is a very handsome old lady!). The son who used to only eat red food – I like his eccentricity. My brother went through a phase of only eating Mars bars, bananas and crisps, but he is more of a gourmand than me now!

    No mention of Eddie, though… : – )

  7. It’s lovely to learn more about Mals. I grew up on a farm too, and it’s funny reading her description of the milk replacement powder that gets fed to baby calves after they’ve been weaned off their mother’s milk. She describes that smell so well, and it’s one I’ll never forget: when I first smelled Jo Malone Sweet Milk, it brought back that memory to me.

    Here’s wishing Mals every congratulations on her novel, too!

    1. I need Sweet Milk to be re-released already! I’ve heard rumors that the whole Tea line will be back in April.

      We have farmer relatives, but they live in Israel and their farm is therefore very different than most American ones. I’m always fascinated to hear more about American farm living.

  8. It is a pleasure to meet Mals and thank you, Ari, for an interesting interview.
    Mals, I love reading about your farm, about the scents and your memories. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into your world.

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