Interviews by Write Way Café
The Write Way Café welcomes J. Arlene Culiner. She's led an itinerant life, learned from her experiences, and done some crazy things in the name of love!
Tell us a little about Felicity’s Power.
Felicity’s Power is the story of a couple whose romance didn’t work the first time around. It starts out in the hippie days in San Francisco, when Marek, my wonderful hero, is finishing a doctorate in literature. He needs security, success and a family — his own father is violent and alcoholic — but when he meets Felicity, a very unlikely partner, he is immediately attracted. Felicity is rebellious, adventurous, sexy — all the things that are exciting in life. However, the last thing she wants is stability. She needs to see the world, be useful, and when she refuses to settle down, marry, have a family, the romance is doomed.
Years later, Felicity seeks Marek out again. She’s been living in the world’s danger spots as an aid worker, and is now ready to come home. She has always loved Marek, but can she convince him to give their romance another chance? It doesn’t seem likely. Now a famous author, Marek lives in isolation. He hates travel, and certainly has no desire to have Felicity break his heart a second time. But Felicity is a very determined woman, and she’ll do her best to make him change his mind.
What or who has been instrumental in or to your writing journey?
I’ve led an itinerant life, putting myself in highly uncomfortable situations in places where I knew no one, understood nothing, had no reference point. Those experiences kept me alert. With no one to communicate with, and totally dependent on my wits, I had to keep my eyes open, observe what was going on around me. And, unable to communicate, I kept journals. That was the first step in becoming a writer…
What’s the best writing advice you’ve been given? What’s your best writing advice for others?
Read. Read. Read more. Read books that are different from what you would normally choose: history books, experimental novels, intelligent travel accounts, and certainly non-mainstream works published by small publishers. These last aren’t money-makers, or popular genre fiction, but they do have the finest writing. Also, expand your vocabulary, devour grammar books. Having a good knowledge of grammar not only helps you produce better work, it can assist you in tricky situations. Like several other authors I’ve met, I’ve found myself (although rarely) confronted an editor or two who just didn’t know their job — a very embarrassing situation. These people want to change your style, your sentence structure, add unnecessary conjunctions, remove important commas, but they miss the real errors. They are dangerous.
I’d like to add here, that my editor for Felicity’s Power at The Wild Rose Press, Eilidh MacKenzie, is wonderful. This is the second book I’ve worked on with her — the first was A Swan’s Sweet Song — and she is just a pleasure.
What “keepers” are in your home library?
There are so many, and most are non-fiction. But since we’re talking about novels, I’ll mention two fiction titles, both wonderful satires: Chrome Yellow by Aldous Huxley; Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
If you could be a character in any book you’ve read (or written), which character would you be and why?
Oh, I’d love to be Felicity Powers, the heroine of my book. She’s so smart, so determined, so much fun. And she gets to be with Marek Sumner, my hero.
Characters often find themselves in situations they aren't sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
For years, I’ve traveled alone, often crossing countries on foot and sleeping in fields. Doing this sort of thing has dropped me into some admittedly tricky situations. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get out of them, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, safe, sound, and answering your questions. I was arrested on a false charge of espionage in Turkey, was twice held in custody by very corrupt police in the Sahara desert. I’ve had to hide from one ambusher in the mountains of Spain, from another under deep snow in Turkey. I’ve escaped rapists, a murderer or two, a few Mexican gunmen, an all-night stalker on the Slovakian border, and I once got lost in a minefield in the middle of a war zone near the Mauritanian border. How did I manage to get out of such conundrums? By sensing the danger, keeping a cool head, having a good line of chatter… and lots of luck, I suppose.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Rejection slips are pretty tough criticism, but when I look over the stuff I sent out years ago, I understand why it was refused: most of it was pretty awful. However, the toughest criticism I’ve had, was unjustified (and this does happen, often enough, in the world of non-fiction.) I had sent out a manuscript; the publisher liked it, was considering it for his list. Then, because it was an historical work, he sent it to a friend, a university professor. She immediately attacked me, claiming I had no right to write about that subject because I wasn’t a professional in the field, and wasn’t attached to a university. It wasn’t a shattering experience — I knew my cousin, a specialist in pre-historic, middle-eastern wells (!) had the same thing happen to her twice — but it was very annoying. The best compliment I’ve had, is praise for my style and content.
We’re adding books to our Café menu. Would your book be a drink, an appetizer, an entrée or a dessert? What would you call it?
A drink, I think. Heady, fun and bubbling. I’d call it Pure Felicity
Tell us about the book in your closet.
It’s a rather strange autobiography — strange, because it doesn’t concern me, but the people I’ve met over the years. It isn’t at all politically correct, thank goodness.
And now for the fun stuff!
If you aren’t a full-time writer, what is your day job?
I’m a contemporary artist, a photographer, and I also work as an actress and baby-boomer model. However, an enormous amount of my time is spent on music. I’m only an amateur musician, not a professional, but I play in three orchestras, one band, and several chamber groups. I have rehearsals and concerts all the time, and all the excitement, tension and pleasure that comes along with performing. What instruments? Oboe, English horn, baroque oboe, oboe da caccia, flute, piccolo and saxhorn.
Are you a dog/cat/other person?
My cats and dogs are part of my entourage; I love hugging them all, and I need to feel their fur under my fingers. When I’m away from them for more than a day, I miss them terribly. However, I love every creature: bears, foxes, bees, wasps (I’ve had some great relationships with wasps who had their nests right at face level, but knew I wouldn’t hurt them), snakes, and spiders (they’re all so different and so beautiful, I watch them for hours).
What is your favorite season and why?
Winter, when the snow is deep, and dark comes early. I love the atmosphere in cozy, lamplit, warm places.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of love?
Oh boy. I’ve done some crazy things, believe me. Changing countries, hopping on a plane, or boat, or train, abandoning all for a moment’s passion; racing across Europe just to meet someone for a few hours; climbing out of windows, shinning up walls; hiding for an entire day in a locked, 15th century chapel with a new lover, while a previous one, wildly jealous, pounded on the door. However, I suppose the craziest thing I’ve ever done was risking my life, sneaking through night streets after curfew, just to get to the hotel where a lover was waiting. Soldiers with machine guns were patrolling everywhere, and I might have been shot – certainly I’d have been arrested if I’d been caught. I now shake my older, wiser head at such follies, but I never know what adventure might be waiting for me next…
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
I work in a closet. No kidding. The apartment we live in (just outside Paris) for part of the year, is so tiny, I moved my computer and tables into a closet (without windows, of course.) Thus, I spend much of my life as a closet writer.
Great Romance and Engaging Stories!