J. Arlene Culiner, born in New York, raised in Toronto, has spent most of her life in England, Germany, Holland, Turkey, France, Greece, Hungary and the Sahara. She now resides in a 300-year-old former inn in a French village of no real interest. Much to everyone’s dismay, she protects all living creatures—especially spiders—and her wild (or wildlife) garden is a classified butterfly and bird reserve.
First, can you let us know what projects you are currently working on?
My category romance, All About Charming Alice, (Crimson Romance) will be coming out on August 12th, and I’m busy contacting people about that. I’m also working on a romantic suspense, Turkish Delight, and it should be ready in a few months. Not only that, I have two other romances that are receiving finishing touches — phrases being jiggled around and polished so that they sound beautiful. One of these is Felicity’s Power, a romance published by Power of Love Publishing, Australia, in 2001. Power of Love is no more, sadly, and I have re-written the book in the hope that it will soon be available again.
1.) What does your writing schedule look like? Do you have to plot or do you write as it comes?
I definitely have to plot. I spend days, even months, mentally working out a story. Then, when I’m finally writing it, I spend hours each day thinking out phrases, events and conversations. For me, working on a manuscript is a full time obsession, particularly because combining stylistic beauty with believable characters is necessary for me. And I need each paragraph to have a lovely rhythm.
2.) What inspired you to be a writer? Who is your biggest support system? When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I love stories. I love telling them, dreaming them, reading them and hearing them. Writing has always been a natural thing for me to do, even as a child. I completed my first manuscript, an autobiography, when I was twelve: my experiences in Europe during the Second World War. Of course, it was a tall tale: I was certainly born after the war and, back then, I had never left North America. I do wish I could read that manuscript now, though, but my mother threw it into the garbage when I was away at summer camp. Still, in those days, I had no intention of becoming a writer. What I really wanted to do was become a queen. If I couldn’t be a queen somewhere, I’d have accepted being a princess. Failing that, countess status was fine too. I haven’t yet accomplished any of those goals.
3.) Which genre is your favorite to write? Is there a genre that you would love to write but haven’t yet? Are there any that you would stay away from?
No, I really have no favorite genre. I love writing romances; I love writing mysteries; I love writing history books. I’ve done all three of those now, and I want to continue with all. I would, however, stay away from paranormal (I need reality) and I just can’t see sitting down and writing a treatise on, say, mathematics or physics either.
4.) Do you use a pen name? Why or why not? If you do does the name have a special meaning to you?
I do use a pen name — of sorts. For books that aren’t romances I use Jill Culiner. For romances, I make use of my middle name: J. Arlene Culiner. The only reason I use two slightly different names is so that readers can distinguish my romances from the other books. But whether I’m writing romance or history, style is, for me, the most important aspect of my work.
5.) Have your characters ever taken a turn on you and changed personalities? What was your most challenging character to create and why?
No, I haven’t had that happen to me, perhaps because I have such a clear image of my characters before I begin putting them down on paper. However, even if their personalities don’t take me by surprise, sometimes their conversations do!
Alice, the heroine in my latest book, All About Charming Alice, was somewhat of a challenge for me, though. She’s stubborn; she wants to avoid pain; she’s afraid to love Jace, my hero. And Jace? Well, he’s a lovely guy. I fell in love with him instantly, and I sometimes wished Alice would just stop fighting an attraction that was so obvious to everyone else. However, her love of all animals, her generosity, her passion, had me rooting for her all along the way.
6.) What kind of research do you do for your books? Where is your favorite place to find what you need to know? What is the most interesting thing you have learned?
Again, it depends on what I’m writing. For history, I go through the archives: my book, Finding Home, required me to comb the archives in Romania, Germany, Austria, Holland, England, Canada and the United States. For my mystery, Slanderous Tongue, I had to start reading about abusive farm practices; I had to interview the police, post office officials etc. And for, All About Charming Alice, I had to brush up on reptiles. But the best part of this last book, was being able to use my impressions of the Nevada desert. I love deserts, love being in them, love discovering their forgotten communities.
The most interesting thing I’ve learned? I think it’s the knowledge that nothing can make you feel quite so ecstatic as writing does. There’s a wonderful high when you’ve done a day’s good work. And you also know that those delightful — and sometimes cranky — characters you’ve invented will give reading pleasure to others.
7.) What is the last book that you read that left a big impression on you?
So many books have left an impression on me that I hate to cite only one. Therefore, I’ll mention one book that I’ve read many times, and held dear for all these years: Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. This book, written in 1932, is a classic of English literature. Not only is it wonderfully well written and perfectly ageless, it is a romance as well as a brilliant parody. I highly recommend it.
1. and 3.) What is your favorite TV commercial? How about your least favorite?What are your favorite TV shows? Which shows could you do without ever watching
I’ve combined questions 1 and 3 for a good reason: some years ago, a neighbor in a village where I was then living, announced she had an old television set she was going to give me. She thought I’d be very pleased. I did my best to explain that I didn’t want a television, but I never could make her understand why. I believe she finally gave up because she thought me too primitive.
Years have passed and I’ve still never bought a television. I far prefer dreaming, walking through the countryside, playing music with others (I’m an amateur musician) and, of course, reading. I feel that nothing is better than the images we create ourselves: they belong to us; they give us incredible satisfaction and pleasure; they are a reflection of our talent. Television stunts that wonderful innate talent by overwhelming us with commercials, horrific noise, flashing colors, consumer rubbish and pure silliness.
2.) Who was your first celebrity crush? Is he still hot?
I’ve never had a celebrity crush. I don’t even know who is a celebrity since I have no television and never, ever, go to see movies. I could take you on a walk down the ancient sunken green lanes in this area, though. Tell you all about the forgotten history of this place. Point out edible flowers and teach you about architecture. I could also introduce you to some fascinating people who live original, intelligent lives. But they are certainly not celebrities.
Alice Treemont has given up hope of meeting the right man and falling in love. Living in depopulated Blake’s Folly, a quirky community of rusting cars, old trailers, clapboard shacks and thirsty weeds, she spends her time cooking vegetarian meals, rescuing unwanted dogs and protecting the most unloved creatures on earth: snakes. What man would share those interests? Certainly not Jace Constant whose life in Chicago includes elegant women, fine dining and contemporary art.
Jace has come to Nevada to research the new book he’s writing, but he won’t be staying; as far as he’s concerned, Blake’s Folly is hell on earth. He’s disgusted by desert dust on his fine Italian shoes, dog hair on his cashmere sweaters and by desert bleakness. As for snakes, he doesn’t only despise them: they terrify him.
So how is it possible that each time Alice and Jace meet, the air sizzles? That she’s as fascinated by him as he is by her? That they know their feelings go deeper than raw desire? Still, it looks like this relationship is doomed before it starts: Jace won’t be around for long, and Alice wants to avoid the heartbreak of a short fling.
In need of some juicy romantic gossip, the other 52 residents of Blake’s Folly have decided Alice has been alone for long enough. The attraction between her and Jace is obvious to everyone, so why worry about essential differences? If you trust in love, solutions do appear. But don’t those solutions call for too many compromises, too much self-sacrifice?