Guest Post: Kaaren Christopherson

Sights, Sounds, and Smells: Writing to Appeal to the Senses
By Kaaren Christopherson, author of Decorum


“In the time it had taken Francesca to raise the field glasses to her eyes, the yacht was gone. In its place a spike of fire had shot skyward, followed by a blast of flaming debris and a spreading mantle of black smoke. An eternity had passed before an explosion tore the silence and the shock wave had jetted across the lake and left her flat upon the dock.”

So opens my novel, Decorum, with an explosion—a spike of fire, debris, smoke, and a shock wave that knocks Francesca off her feet and sends her into deep depression from which she recovers between Decorum’s covers. Decorum’s lavish setting in Gilded Age New York offers ample opportunity for scenes of opulent ballrooms and sumptuous dinner parties that appeal to the eye of our imaginations, so much so that we’re apt to forget about other important sensory experiences such as sound and smell.

In our 21st century world, with its hum of air conditioners and automobile traffic and Muzak in elevators and on hold over the telephone, the historical fiction writer can bring “historical surround sound” to a story that will enhance the reader’s experience. Connor O’Casey’s Irish brogue, Edmund Tracey’s lazy drawl, and Blanche’s refined but sultry and seductive speech are as important to describing them as Connor’s trademark silver-handled walking stick, Edmund’s auburn hair, or Blanche’s sexy evening gown. The clatter of horses’ hooves on the street, the thwack of the doors shutting on a hansom cab, the zzzip of stiff ribbon being tied in a bow, the shatter of glass as a rock sails through a window, the voice of a mellow mezzo soprano filling a drawing room with song—all these sounds add dimension to a novel’s scenes and help ground the characters in a particular place and time.

Touch can be sentimental as well as titillating. When Francesca goes through her dead brother’s bedroom, she puts on his boxing gloves and can feel how his long slender fingers had molded the gloves’ leather lining. When she finds an envelope in her father’s desk with locks of hair from her mother, her brother, and herself, she sits with these in her hands and they bring her to tears. Touch can be important not only in describing surroundings, but also in evoking emotion, both for characters and readers.

As any perfumer will tell you, smell is one of our most powerful senses, the memory of which can linger for years after we’ve forgotten a related sight or sound, yet authors often forget this important descriptor of the character’s experience. The smell of blood at a crime scene, a drunkard’s acrid vomit, heady lilies on the drawing room piano, sour milk, unwashed flesh, beeswax and turpentine, shoe polish, horse manure, saddle leather, lavender oil, starched linen, cedar chests, dust, and more are part of the historical novel’s world. Often smells are easiest for readers to relate to, for today we still have dust, sour milk, unwashed bodies, lilies, and many smell experiences in common with people from other historical periods.

Finally of course, there is taste, a close ally of smell—in fact, some smells are so powerful we can “almost taste” them. Taste isn’t restricted to eating food. Situations can leave a bad taste in a character’s mouth or make him feel nauseous, as if he has eaten something spoiled. Likewise, a character can savor an experience, as if she were eating chocolate or drinking champagne. Readers not only love historical fiction for the descriptions of sights and sounds of bygone eras, but also for the touches, smells, and tastes that help readers engage with the characters in shared experience.

Decorum: A Novel!

Decorum: A Novel02_decorum-697x1024
by Kaaren Christopherson

Publication Date: March 31, 2015
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Foramts: eBook, Paperback, Audio
Pages: 425

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

Kaaren Christopherson’s brilliantly observed novel captures the glamour and grit of one of the world’s most dazzling cities during one of its most tumultuous eras–as seen through the eyes of a singularly captivating heroine…

In 1890s New York, beautiful, wealthy Francesca Lund is an intriguing prospect for worthy suitors and fortune hunters alike. Recently orphaned, she copes by working with the poor in the city’s settlement movement. But a young woman of means can’t shun society for long, and Francesca’s long-standing acquaintance with dashing Edmund Tracey eventually leads to engagement. Yet her sheltered upbringing doesn’t blind her to the indiscretions of the well-to-do…

Among the fashionable circle that gathers around her there are mistresses, scandals, and gentlemen of ruthless ambition. And there is Connor O’Casey–an entirely new kind of New Yorker. A self-made millionaire of Irish stock, Connor wants more than riches. He wants to create a legacy in the form of a luxury Madison Avenue hotel–and he wants Francesca by his side as he does it. In a quest that will take her from impeccable Manhattan salons to the wild Canadian Rockies, Francesca must choose not only between two vastly different men, but between convention and her own emerging self-reliance.

Rules Of Decorum

A gentleman should not be presented to a lady without her permission being previously asked and granted. This formality is not necessary between men alone; but, still, you should not present any one, even at his own request, to another, unless you are quite well assured that the acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter.

If you wish to avoid the company of any one that has been properly introduced, satisfy your own mind that your reasons are correct; and then let no inducement cause you to shrink from treating him with respect, at the same time shunning his company. No gentleman will thus be able either to blame or mistake you.

The mode in which the avowal of love should be made, must of course, depend upon circumstances. It would be impossible to indicate the style in which the matter should be told… Let it, however, be taken as a rule that an interview is best; but let it be remembered that all rules have exceptions…



“A story of discovery, entitlement and love.” – Northern Virginia Magazine

“Remarkable in its similarities to the work of Edith Wharton. The reader feels drawn into a world of glamour, glitz, and supreme hypocrisy. Everything is permissible as long as one does not get caught. It is a drama of manners and the stakes are high—one misstep could mean social oblivion…[Decorum] will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly those who enjoy period novels such as Age of Innocence and The Portrait of a Lady.” – The Historical Novel Society

“Beautiful heiress Francesca Lund must figure out how to assert her ideas within the confines of 1890’s New York high society.” – Library Journal

“Reminiscent of Washington Square but with a more modern heroine, Decorum illuminates the dark world beneath New York society. Christopherson incorporates a clever mystery and populates the novel with a large cast of characters.” – RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

About the Author

Kaaren Christopherson is the author of Decorum—a novel about Gilded Age New York—that began taking form in 1999 during a course on writing historical fiction. From that moment, Connor O’Casey (who had been rattling around in her brain for months) finally appeared one night and said, “All right, woman. Here I am. What are you going to do about my story?” So she began to put his words on paper, and he hasn’t kept quiet since. Soon Francesca, Blanche, Tracey, Vinnie, and the rest of the characters began arguing, gossiping, loving, and forming themselves into Kaaren’s first novel.

Kaaren has had a professional career writing and editing for over 30 years and is a senior editor for an international development nonprofit organization in Washington, DC.

She has written fiction since her school days, story poems, children’s books, historical fiction, and time travel, and continues to be active in writer’s groups and writing workshops. In addition to her career as a writer, Kaaren was the owner of a decorative painting business. She loves to travel and prowl through historical sites, galleries, and museums. She is active in several churches in DC and in her local Northern Virginia community, where she shares her home with feline brothers, Archie and Sammy.

A Michigan native, Kaaren received her BA in history and art and her MA in educational administration from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

For more information visit Kaaren Christopherson’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 11
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, January 12
Guest Post at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Wednesday, January 13
Interview at Back Porchervations

Thursday, January 14
Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Guest Post at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, January 15
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Monday, January 18
Interview at The Absurd Book Nerd

Tuesday, January 19
Guest Post at Brooke Blogs

Wednesday, January 20
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Thursday, January 21
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter

Friday, January 22
Guest Post at The Reading Queen


To win a Paperback or AudioBook of Decorum please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below.


– Giveaway starts at 12:01am EST on January 11th and ends at 11:59pm EST on January 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Spotlight: Cats in Paris

Calling all Colouring Book Artists!

As someone who is very much enjoying the adult colouring book movement, I would like to show people more books and to show them that truly, this isn’t just for kids anymore. I’d like to also reach out to others who are enjoying coloring again and hear what it does for you; are you relaxed? Just having fun? Your experiences, I’d love to hear them! ❤

That being said, I would love to host you here! I am very delighted by each book and each level of creativity that the artist/author brings to them. As such, if you would allow me to host a spotlight or a review, I’d be delighted and all you need do is contact me! 🙂