Interview on the Romance Reader's Club
Today we’re pleased to welcome J. Arlene Culiner to the 20QS spotlight.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve always been a restless sort of person, ever itching for adventure. Raised in Toronto, at age 17 I headed for New York, then San Francisco, before abandoning the North American continent to go live in London, Amsterdam, Paris, in a stone cottage on the English moors, a 16th century Bavarian castle, a backwoods Turkish village, on a Greek island, in a traditional adobe house in Hungary. I’ve delivered newspapers, been a barmaid, b-girl, fashion model, translator, belly dancer (in Turkey), photographer, contemporary artist, tour guide, radio announcer, film extra, actress and writer. At the moment, I live in France.
2. Please tell us about your most recent release, when it was published, and what it’s about?
I like writing realistic contemporary romances with funny, original, and dashingly lovable heroes and heroines. Felicity’s Power, my most recent release, is about a couple whose romance didn’t work the first time around. Marek, my hero, always needed security because his own father was a violent alcoholic. At the beginning of his love story with Felicity, desperate to escape his background, he was completing his doctorate in literature and hoping for a university career. Felicity represented adventure, sexuality, all the exciting things in life, but she didn’t want — or need — stability. When she refuses to settle down, marry, have a family, the romance is doomed.
Years later, Felicity seeks out Marek again. She’s been living in the world’s danger spots as an aid worker, and she’s ready to come home. Can she convince Marek to give their romance a second chance? It doesn’t seem likely. Marek, now a famous author, lives in isolation, hates travel, and has no desire to have his heart broken again.
3. Please share a little about your previous books.
In my romance A Swan’s Sweet Song, country singer Sherry Valentine and playwright Carston Hewlett are complete opposites. Sherry has fought her way up from poverty to stardom, and she’s now surrounded by clamoring fans and paparazzi. Carston, a renowned but reclusive playwright, cherishes his freedom, his home in the woods and solitary country walks. Perhaps a short fling is the answer to their steamy attraction, but when their names are linked in the scandal press, the budding relationship seems doomed.
And in my first romance, All About Charming Alice, my heroine lives in a Nevada community of rusting cars, clapboard shacks, and thirsty weeds. She cooks vegetarian meals, rescues unwanted dogs and protects snakes. My hero, Jace Constant, is in Nevada doing research, but he won’t be staying long. He hates desert bleakness, dust, and dog hair. As for snakes — they terrify him. His life in Chicago includes elegant women, fine dining and contemporary. But each time Alice and Jace meet the air sizzles…
4. Have you always written in the romance genre? If not, what else have you written?
Absolutely not. I’ve written a mystery, Slanderous Tongue, set in a backwoods French village complete with village gossip, agricultural abuse, and bed-hopping. Another book, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, is a non-fiction work tracing Romanian immigration to America from 1899 to 1907.
5. What or who inspired you to be a writer?
I’ve always loved reading, and I’ve always written (writing is a heady experience) but, of course, that didn’t mean I was a writer — only someone who writes. When I got a job writing and broadcasting stories on Radio France, I knew I was a writer… of sorts. I finally was able to say I was a real writer when my book was accepted by a publisher. That was an exciting moment, particularly since I’d waited years for it to happen.
6. Where in the world are you?
As I mentioned earlier, I now live in France. In the summer months, I’m in a 500-year-old (possibly haunted) former inn in a very dull village. During the winter months, I live just outside Paris, in a teensy apartment, with my partner. I go on the road too, for research, to “gather atmospheres” for my stories, or just for the pleasure of walking along the ancient sunken green lanes, going from one village to the other — I can do that sort of thing in Europe.
7. What do you love best about being a writer?
I love hearing good stories, reading good stories, telling good stories, writing good stories, and making people laugh, entertaining them with words, presenting a point of view that might get them thinking. And I love the excitement that comes when the writing really works.
8. What’s your favorite romance trope?
I suppose I love the idea of opposites attracted to each other. Everything seems so hopeless, despite the zing and desire and appreciation. And then… somehow it all works out.
9. What’s your typical writing day like?
I’m afraid it’s not all that organized. Sometimes I wake up early and begin writing, at four or five or six in the morning. But that’s when I’m hot on the trail of something, or so inspired I can’t sleep anyway. Most of the time, I practice music in the morning, and write all afternoon until seven in the evening.
10. Where do you usually write?
In the summer months, I write at a huge old desk in a beautiful room with ancient beams, mud and sand walls, old quarry tile floors and lots of light. However, I really prefer the winter months during which I’m holed up in a tiny closet with no window, only lamp light. In this closet piled high with possessions in great disorder, I do my best writing — perhaps because there are no distractions, or perhaps because in this tiny space, my imagination can run free. My two dogs and two cats also join me in the closet: they must think it’s a nest.
11. When you’re writing, is it coffee, tea, soda, or water?
Nothing. Sometimes sliced fruit or roasted, salted pumpkin seeds.
12. Do you have other creative outlets? If so, what?
I’m a musician and play several instruments — oboe, oboe d’amore, English horn, baroque oboe, and oboe da caccia in several orchestras. Baroque music is my great love. I also restore old houses with my partner, climbing up on scaffolding, using traditional materials like sand, lime, mud, and straw, making my own paints with ochre and linseed oil.
13. What books are you reading now?
Several. I always read a few books at the same time: the intelligent ones, in the very early morning; the most entertaining ones in the evening. Here’s what I’m reading now: The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth Century Thought by William R. Everdale, The Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan, and, on the “light” side, Survival of the Fittest by Jonathan Kellerman.
14. Name three of your favorite television shows.
I don’t own a television, thank goodness. I’ve always refused to own one, so I never got into the habit of mindlessly staring at a screen. This has kept me away from endless commercials, propaganda, the pressure to conform, and utter silliness. My time is my own, and I can read, dream, create my own images, experience, walk slowly over the world, breathe deeply, and be as free as possible.
15. If you could have dinner with any author — living or dead — who would it be and what would be on the menu?
I’d give anything to be able to dine with the Ukrainian-Yiddish poet/songster Velvel Zbarzher. I’ve just finished writing his biography, and I’d like to, finally, meet him. Alas, he died over 140 years ago, so there’s little chance of snacking together. And since he never mentioned food, I have no idea what the menu would be. He did, however, soak up inordinate amounts of red wine, so I suppose that would be all the nourishment I’d get — along with outlandish conversation, much boozy song, and, I hope, some flirting.
16. If you couldn’t be an author, what other job would you choose?
I would love to be a maker of 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century wooden wind instruments — bassoons, oboes, cromornes, shawms, ratchets, and other oddities.
17. What are you working on next?
I’ve just finished writing and sending out three books — a romantic suspense set in Turkey, a mystery set in the south of France, and a non-fiction biography. So what will I do next? I’m not quite sure. Go back to a few of the manuscripts I’ve begun and never finished? Certainly. But which one?