Interview with J.Arlene Culiner
by Authors to Watch
After abandoning a Hollywood life she hated, Alice Treemont retreated to a ramshackle house in the Nevada community of Blake's Folly, began studying and protecting snakes. Now a recognized herpetologist, she spends her days walking across the desert, running a shelter for abandoned dogs and cooking gourmet vegetarian meals. She's perfectly happy too (lonely sometimes) but she wouldn't trade this life for any other.
Jace Constant, well-known writer is out of his element in the desert. A stray dog on the highway brings him into contact with Alice Treemont and it's a meeting he can¹t seem to forget. Why? She's not his type at all. He's a Chicago man, loves sophisticated women, contemporary art, fine dining. And when he finds himself knocking on Alice¹s creaking door with the intention of renting a spare room, he wonders if dry desert air has addled his brain.
Put Alice and Jace near each other and the air crackles. Love at first sight? Impossible! Alice won't make life easy for a sweet-talking man of words who hates dusty shoes, dogs, desert bleakness and snakes. So what if he's intelligent, sexy and nice. So what if her fingers ache to reach out, caress. So what if Jace is just as clearly attracted by her own long lankiness, her braids and her odd lifestyle. She's not in the market for a short lusty fling with someone who¹ll be stepping out of the picture any day now, heading back to city lights.
Out on the sidelines, avidly watching the love play between Alice and Jace, are the other 52 residents of Blake's Folly. Without scruples or shame, they're happy to indulge in a heavy dose of interfering, theorizing and intensive match-making. Alice doesn't really stand a chance, does she?
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself? When did you begin writing?
A: I was raised in a perfectly normal family in Toronto, but I was a restless dreamer and so, at 17, I headed out for bright lights and big cities. I lived in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and Amsterdam before realizing I didn’t like cities. Since then, I’ve resided in small villages in Greece, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, France, and England. I haven’t seen much financial luxury: I eschew the consumer world as much as possible, am a proponent of the simple life. I’ve lived in cars, in an isolated moorland farmhouse, a mud house on a great plain, a mining-town row house, a condemned building, a closet and in a Bavarian castle. Frankly, my life has been so varied and so fantastic so far, I can hardly believe it’s happening to me.
I’m now owner of a 400-year-old former hotel and café in a tiny village in the west of France, and I live here for seven months of the year. The other five months I live near Paris. The reason? I hate the city: Bernard, my partner of eight years hates the country. So we compromise.
Because I’ve lived in odd places and had an unruly life, I’ve always kept notes and diaries and have written stories. How could I do anything else? Writing was stability.
Q: Can you tell us about your most recent release?
A: My recent release is a romance — a category romance — All About Charming Alice. I was in the mood to write a romance with a good, intense story, strong characters and a happy end. I wanted to write about Alice, an independent woman who is brave, who loves nature, her environment and all the unloved creatures of the world (she is a herpetologist, a woman who studies, loves and protects snakes.) I also wanted to write about the man who falls in love with her: Jace. He’s open, warm and determined — just the sort of partner an old toughie like Alice needs. And Jace is also a very committed, intellectually curious person.
I also wanted to write about a setting I love: the Nevada desert and a clapboard community of misfits, odd characters and (fairly loveable) cranks.
I admit this story is a bit more than a romance, though. I also wanted share my own love of landscape, of the other creatures inhabiting this earth (I really do appreciate the beauty of reptiles, and learning about them makes fear dissipate). I also wanted to pass along some old true tales of the far west, stories that few people know.
Q: If you could recommend just one of your books to my readers, which book would you choose?
A: This is a difficult question for me. I have three books available at the moment and they are all of different genres, so it really depends on what someone wants to read.
My recent release, All About Charming Alice, is pure category romance, and that means there’s all the intensity — and doubt — of first attraction and new love. So, if someone wants to live all those first intense moments, this is the book to go for. Of course, there’s also conflict in the story, and it does feel as though the relationship between Alice and Jace certainly can’t last. Luckily they do find a happy, loving, workable solution.
Another book I wrote, Slanderous Tongue, (a print edition although I’m hoping it will soon be an e-book) is a cozy mystery. Set in a small French village, there are nosy neighbors and the heroine is an amateur sleuth, but there is another aspect to the book: it is also a condemnation of industrial animal farms.
I also wrote, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, a travel/essay/history book tracing the 1899 immigrant trail from Romania to western Canada. For this, I crossed Romania on foot, took trains through Austria, Germany, Holland, England and Canada, spent five years researching in European and North American archives. It was a very exciting project. The book won a literary prize.
So you see what I mean about having to choose?
Q: Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?
A: In, All About Charming Alice, I’ve written about the odd, cranky characters that crop up from time to time in life. These are people I adore simply because being confronted by their difference keeps us on our toes. Misfits, these folk don’t fit into neat houses and tidy gardens: they’re not rebels by choice, but by character; they’re the real thing. In my book, they form the population of Blake’s Folly, a dusty, run down Nevada community of trailers, shacks and old cars. Nosy, interfering and truculent, they observe Alice and Jace who are lost in that overwhelming haze of new love (that usually excludes all normal conversation and most civilized behavior) these community and provide us with their rather original opinions on the romance.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
A: For me the most challenging aspect of any book, any article, any letter, any communication is not being boring. That means making sure there are no boring, oft repeated, silly conversations, no boring descriptions of the usual boring urban landscapes, no boring people, no boring rehashed conflicts. Far too often, we readers are just kicking our heels, waiting for characters to stop being boring so we can get on with the story. Sigh.
Q: What is your primary goal as an author?
A: Well I have several goals, not just a primary one. I want to entertain, to amuse and to stimulate. I want people to re-think some of their ideas (life is so much more interesting when we jostle our intellects). And, if possible, it would be wonderful if I could influence people to smile happily at perfect strangers.
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
A: A romantic suspense, a Canadian history, an autobiography written as a series of portraits, a history of eastern Hungary. That’s it for the moment. Again, sigh.
Q: What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
A: Find those rare but wonderful books with words and sentences that sing. Read them over and over again until they become part of you. Buy and read as many grammar books as you can (read them when you’re in bed at night, just before falling asleep, and the rules will stick with you.) Write and re-write each sentence, each paragraph until it’s beautiful. Cut, cut again. Cut some more. And don’t talk or dream about writing: do it!
All About Charming Alice
Great Romance and Engaging Stories!