I am thrilled to bring another Scene Spotlight to you, this time from J. Arlene Culiner, a Wild Rose Press author. She’s sharing insight into her book, A Swan’s Sweet Song, about a playwright and a country music star.


Interview with J.Arlene Culiner

by Chris Fey




            Without much enthusiasm, she sauntered in his direction and stopped in front of him. Boldly, she let her eyes slide up and down. Carston almost laughed. She was evaluating him, sizing him up like a chunk of roast beef or a steak, calculating how tender he might be. Well, he had nothing to be ashamed of. He had a trim body and easy grace. Women loved his gray eyes, his silvered mahogany hair, and weren’t physical attributes a more immediate magnet than intelligence? But this singer giving him the once-over didn’t look so pleased about the physique. Or his reputation. Who did she think she was?

            He met her eyes with an equal lack of warmth. Ms. Valentine would learn, very quickly, she was out of her depth when it came to him. But even as the thought crossed his mind, he felt his fatigue and pent-up hostility trickling away. To be replaced by interest. And something akin to desire. Desire? How could his body betray him in this way? He struggled to smother the reaction, nip it in its first, traitorous bud. This country singer was a charmer. She knew what effect she had on men.

            His mind raced, searched for meaningless conversation to smash the powerful silence, quash the sensations and, above all, to hide his reaction from her. He kept his tone cool.

            “Hard to understand why we’re being interviewed together.”

            “Just what I thought,” she answered, just as icily.

            Carston stared harder. Her voice had taken him by surprise: low, vibrant, it clashed with her flashy appearance. Now he really was intrigued. Very much so.

            “We are on opposite sides of the cultural world.” He noted how condescending he sounded. Did it matter? Well, in a way, it did. He had the vague suspicion that condescension  might not be the right tactic to take with Sherry Valentine.

            A sarcastic smile slid over her beautiful lips. “That’s why you were sneaking out the door?”

            Her words pulled him up short, shoved soft, sensual thoughts to the back of his mind. So she’d seen what he’d been up to? He felt himself squirm and sensed he had to justify himself for some crazy reason.

            He shook his head. “Fatigue. That’s why I wanted to get away. What I need right now is a nice big bed with crispy sheets, just like the one waiting in my hotel room. Believe me, I know how good those sheets will feel when they slide over my skin tonight.”

            He stopped, shocked by his own words. Was he crazy? Talking about a bed, sheets, skin? He’d intended to keep the conversation on neutral ground—then had dropped into the trap. Reacted the way all men would. Did Sherry Valentine now expect him to pull out the big guns? Invite her back to that bed of his for a torrid night?

            But she ignored the innuendo. Her lips crooked up into a smile of complicity.

            “A comfortable bed? Sounds heavenly. Just add a glass of wine and a good book to that picture.”


1. Where does this scene take place?

The scene takes place in a local radio station in the rather uninspiring town of Midville. Carston and Sherry are both celebrities — he’s a well-known playwright and she’s a country music star — so they’ve drawn quite a crowd of onlookers. And, being in the limelight, attracting fans and paparazzi certainly complicates their budding romance.


2. What inspired this scene?

Years ago, I worked in a local (French) radio station and had a country music program (something quite unusual in France at the time.) My job wasn’t just to play music: I had to talk about the origins of country music, present different musicians and talk about their musical styles. I had to do considerable research, and all that information has stayed with me. I did sometimes think about using it in a story, but I wasn’t quite sure how.

Around a year and a half ago, I decided to write a romance with a hero and heroine who were complete opposites. For some reason, I remembered those long ago days at the radio station, and how exciting it was to see new people walk through the door every day — some were very charming. I was single at the time, and I wondered if, one day, I’d fall madly in love with one of them... And remembering that, gave me the beginning of my book, A Swan’s Sweet Song.

3. What do you love the most about this scene?

I think that when people fall in love, they do it at first sight. In most cases, they don’t know they’re falling in love — they don’t even know they’re attracted to the future lover. But there’s a subtle, quite unconscious game going on, a sort of testing, a sharpening of wits, even when the conversation is quite banal. And capturing that first magical moment when my heroine Sherry, meets my hero Carston, was a delight to write.

4. Was this scene difficult or easy to write?

For me, everything is difficult to write. This particular scene needed a delicate sort of tension, and I had to make sure to catch that. However, the very finest points come much later, when I rewrite. And I love nothing better than rewriting. I usually rewrite at least four times before I even start to be happy with a manuscript.

5. Can you tell us a secret about this scene?

I certainly can — but, then again, I don’t want to give too much away. As we all know, first impressions are so important, and we always put our best foot forward when meeting someone new. We project an image of ourselves, and hope the other will accept what we’ve presented. Sherry is a flashy-looking country movie star, a self-confident woman in her early fifties with a smart answer for every situation. Carston is an ivy-league playwright, a loner and very reserved.

But neither Sherry nor Carston are what they seem to be…


The air sizzles when a country music star and renowned playwright meet, but can opposites fall in love?

The instant Sherry Valentine and Carston Hewlett meet, there’s desire and fascination in the air…but they’re complete opposites.

Smart-talking Sherry fought her way up from poverty to stardom as a country music singer. Now, she’s ever in the limelight, ever surrounded by clamoring fans, male admirers and paparazzi, and her spangled cowboy boots carry her all across the country, from one brightly lit stage to the next.

A renowned but reclusive playwright, Carston cherishes his freedom, the silence of his home in the woods and his solitary country walks.

Any long-term commitment is obviously out of the question: how about a quick and passionate fling?

But when their names are linked in the scandal press, Sherry’s plans to become an actress are revealed. And the budding relationship seems doomed.

Interview by Lynda Coker


by Lynda Coker

A Swan's Sweet Song

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