Whenever a gift-giving holiday approaches and people ask me what sort of things I would like to receive, candles are usually near the top of my list. I’m a frequent visitor at the Yankee Candle in the mall where I work and get way too excited about candle sales at Bath & Body Works.
An entire drawer in my writing room is devoted to candles and wax melts. Pun fully intended, I burn through them fast because lighting a candle is part of my writing ritual.
Even in college, I had numerous battery-operated LED candles since we were not allowed to have real ones in our dorms (they were simply prohibited regardless of whether or not we intended to light them). My collection grew so much I had one friend compare a homework session to a seance on one occasion I had them all turned on at once.
Candles play such an integral role in my writing habits that I consider them a necessity.
Even though I don’t write by candlelight alone because I have the wonders of modern technology at my disposal, there is something to be said for ambiance. I write historical fiction, so much of the lighting found in my settings is provided by candles. You won’t find a character walking into a room and flipping a light switch. Instead, a servant might be seen lighting a sconce or making use of a tinderbox.
Having candles lit as I’m writing is among the ways I’m able to bring myself closer to the work. It’s one of my favorite ways to set the mood and get myself in the right mindset.
Not only does writing in a candlelit setting give me a sense of time, it’s a means of giving myself a scent of time.
One way a writer can bring their readers into the worlds they create is through details such as smells. This might be the lye in the soap used by a maid as she is doing laundry, the saltiness of the air by the ocean, or the aromas of the spices used in a meal. It helps create a realistic picture in the reader’s mind, placing them right in the middle of the story.
Bayberry is among my go-tos for candles because it was so popular in my time period. With Guises to Keep, I lean more towards pine because of the woods that play an integral role in the third act. The decor of my writing space is also inspired by the forest, so I tend to have pine candles burning most often.
Another Guises to Keep-themed scent is roses. This one is especially scene-specific because of the chapter in which James and his sister have a heart-to-heart in the garden.
Of course, these are all better options to me than perhaps the odors of the stable or the tallow that actually was used in making candles back in the day, but you get the idea.
Sometimes I may pair specific smells with my characters.
Eve of Bound to the Heart is associated with jasmine because of her perfume. Oak is often referenced in describing Zach’s scent because of his use of Aleppo galls in making ink at his bookshop, so I am extremely excited for the autumn candles to start rolling out again (and more importantly, the autumn candle half-price sales start rolling out at the start of the holiday season to make room for my beloved pine).
Citrus notes are among my favorites for Forged in the Salle because the pomade Nancy uses when tending to her wig has an orange scent.
Depending on which character I’m writing about on a given day, I might light a candle that reminds me of them. As is the case with describing settings, it is a method that allows me to better acquaint myself with those little details that make them come to life.
I always say candles would be part of my dream author merch if I ever reached a point in my writing career where it would be feasible. Along from things like t-shirts and sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and stationary, I love the idea of including candles inspired by my books. If anything, I’d want to include them as part of giveaway packages along with a copy of my book and other goodies inspired by the story because being able to step into the semblance of its atmosphere than the comfort of my readers’ own home?
And with the way I’m burning a candle at both ends when it comes to my writing, that day may come soon.