Interviews by Zara West



Interview by Zara West Romance


Welcome, Arlene!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, Zara, the answer is pretty complicated… When very young, I set out to have a life of adventure and discovery, not one of security and comfort - although those things can certainly can be appealing during life's more dangerous moments. I've since crossed much of Europe on foot, travelled, by bus, train, car or truck throughout North and Central America, Europe and the Sahara, and lived in unique places: a Hungarian mud house, a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave dwelling, on a Dutch canal, in a lonely, very haunted stone house on the English moors, and presently in a 400-year-old former inn in a small French village.

Along the way, I've discovered forgotten communities, have met strange characters and had some very odd conversations. I cherish these experiences because they've kept me on my toes, way beyond my comfort zone. Of course, I incorporate much of the information I've gathered into my books and short stories. So far, I've had five romances published and, as Jill Culiner, two mysteries and two narrative non-fiction works, and I have another non-fiction work looking for a publisher. I also narrate audiobooks and I have a storytelling podcast - Life in a Small French Village - which can be heard here:

Is writing something that comes easy to you or not?

No, it isn't easy. I dislike writing the first draft, and I have to force myself to sit down and do it. I find it incredibly hard work. Of course, after the first draft, the writing gets easy and I start having fun, polishing sentences, making paragraphs beautiful, bringing characters to life. It also takes me a long time to write a book: I'm not one of those authors who can pop out something new each month.

What interesting jobs have you had? How have those jobs affected your writing?

My sort of lifestyle has meant staying flexible and taking up any sort of work that presented itself: belly dancer, fortune teller, translator, model, b-girl, story teller, radio broadcaster, actress, social critical artist, public speaker, photographer and writer. As you can imagine, these experiences have given me much material to draw on in my writing.


Can you tell us about any other upcoming books, series, or writing plans?

My newest release, Desert Rose (published by Fire Star Press), is a small town contemporary romance. The setting is Blake's Folly, Nevada, a rundown semi-ghost town of trailers, shacks, old cars and strange local characters. Blake's Folly was the setting for another of my romances - All About Charming Alice (soon to be re-released by Fire Star Press) - and I wanted to return to that quirky community and write about Alice's best friend Rose Badger.

To tell the truth, Rose had been nagging me for quite some time, demanding the limelight, and I'm glad she did. She is a delightful character: gutsy, original, open-minded. As soon as the very appealing, honorable and sexy Jonah Livingstone (he's part Paiute, part Italian) walks into her shop, he's entranced too.

Of course, it's the secondary characters in Blake's Folly that I particularly love. True misfits, they don't fit into neat houses and tidy gardens. Rebels - not by choice, but by character - they're the real thing. And they're also nosy, interfering and truculent.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

In my travels, I've managed to discover into two desert communities that were very much like Blake's Folly. They have a special place in my heart and I wanted to share them with romance readers who are looking for an original, out-of-the way setting. And how could I resist presenting some of the strange people I've met in life?


What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

The last few chapters in my romance books are the ones I love. This is when my characters know - or finally admit - that they truly love one another, although their love story seems doomed because of the obstacles keeping them apart. How they do finally manage to get the happy end they deserve, is the most joyous part of writing romance.

What project are you working on now or what book will be next?

I've just finished a creative non fiction work about an itinerant, forgotten 19th century poet. It was an exciting project that had me burrowing through the archives of Paris and Vienna, taking trains to Ukrainian and Romanian villages, trudging through the snow on country lanes, and lurking in sleazy bars. Now, I'm making notes for another romance, an offshoot of Desert Rose - the romance of Rose's grandmother who came to America from Russia in 1945 and met the love of her life, a Nevada saloon owner.

And when the manuscript about Rose's grandmother is finished, I'd like to write about another Blake's Folly character, the veterinarian Lance Potter. I'll also be narrating some more audiobooks. I've already narrated two of my romances, published by The Wild Rose Press - A Swan's Sweet Song, and Felicity's Power, as well as other books, and I'm itching to start on a new project…perhaps narrating Desert Rose.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Read. Read outside your comfort zone, outside the genre you want to write in. Read travel literature, fine writing, classics. When you are writing, explore all the senses: tell us how things smell, sound, feel, taste. Describe, in the shortest and most imaginative way you can, the setting. And avoid consumer stereotypes: write from your heart. Write, and rewrite, rewrite again. Make each sentence beautiful. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself.


Desert Rose

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