Interviews by Nancy C. Weeks
Welcome J. Arlene Culiner, Author of Desert Rose
"I've discovered forgotten communities, have met strange characters and had some very odd conversations."
Today, I sitting down with a very dear woman, J.Arlene Culiner, author of Desert Rose. We have a wonderful conversation in store so I'm just going to get right to it. But first, let's meet J. Arlene. She really is lovely.
Thank you J. Arlene for sitting down with me. To start off this interview, tell us a little about yourself--the real Erin behind the writer.
Thank you for inviting me to your blog Nancy. Write about myself ? Well… it's a bit 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 when confronted by life's more dangerous moments. I've since crossed much of Europe on foot, traveled, 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.
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, photographer and writer.
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 do incorporate these experiences into my books.
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:
Wow! What an amazing life. J Arlene, you have taken the motto, 'living life to it's fullest' to new levels. You mentioned above you used your life experiences in your writing. How did you come to write Desert Rose? Such a cute cover.
My latest romance, Desert Rose, is set in Blake's Folly, Nevada, a rundown semi-ghost town of trailers, shacks and old cars. This quirky community with it's strange local characters was the setting for another of my romances - All About Charming Alice (a new version of the book will soon be released by Fire Star Press) - and I wanted to return to Blake's Folly 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.
As for the locale, I have managed to wander 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.
Completing a book is an enormous challenge. What was your biggest obstacle and how did you overcome it? In other words, what do you think drove you to complete this enormous project?
I dislike writing. I have to force myself to do it and it's hard work. Of course, after the first draft it gets incredibly easy, and that's when I start having fun, polishing sentences, making paragraphs beautiful, bringing characters to life. But getting down that first draft is terrible, and it takes me a long time to write a book: I'm not one of those authors who can pop out something new each month.
Most of my books take at least six months to write, but I love the writing. I dislike the editing. That's when things get hard and the stress to produce a better than my last book sets in.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
In elementary and high school, instead of doing homework, paying attention to the teacher and participating in class, I passed the time dreaming and writing stories. Needless to say, I was always the class dud - perhaps even the worst student in the entire school. I once received an astonishing minus 4 out of 100 on a report card. To this day, I wonder how the (math) teacher arrived at that number.
I'm only related to brilliant mathematicians. Math hated me at a young age. I found books.
My next question is one of my favorites. Do you believe writers are born or made?
Made of course, because it takes so much determination and hard work.
But what about the desire and passion to write? It was the story, the creation of new worlds and incredible characters that pulled you away from your subjects. You didn't draw or zone out. You wrote. That had to come from somewhere.
On a lighter note, tell us about your ideal writing space?
In the warm months, I live in a five hundred-year-old former inn. My office is huge, with ancient beams, rough stone walls, and an ancient quarry tile floor. It's very beautiful, and I even get up in the middle of the night, just for the pleasure of writing in this space.
OH...I have to slip in here. I'm jealous, and I hope that doesn't make me a bad person. This place is Gorgeous! My laptop, a cup of tea and maybe fresh bread and French cheese ... piece of heaven.
Back to J.Arlene...
In the winter, we're presently just outside Paris in a minuscule two room apartment. In order to have space of my own, my papers, clothes, chairs and desk and computer are all in a closet, and this is my office.
It's very cramped. There's no window. I live by lamplight and I have no idea what time of day it is. I also have no idea what the weather is like. All my animals - two rescue dogs and two rescue cats - think this the perfect nest to hang out in, so they snuggle around me. I can't just get up and move without trampling on some poor beast. But in this excellent writing space, I can withdraw into the world I'm writing about with no distractions.
I love the idea that you're writing outside Paris. I was in and out of Paris so fast, it's like a dream. But you live there, and get to write there. I would love that cramped little space too.
What moment in this journey are you most proud of?
Some years ago, five or six months after my non-fiction book, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, was published, I happened to be in Egypt with several artist friends. One day, I found a cyber café where I could read my mail, and I discovered that my publisher had written to tell me I had just won a literary prize for Canadian history, and I that I had to fly to Canada for the awards ceremony. I was so dazed, I could hardly believe it. This had happened to me? I went outside, told my friends, and they immediately flagged down a donkey cart and pushed me into it. And as I clomped around town beside the amused cart driver, my friends followed and cheered. It was quite a moment.
You have great friends. Now for a few giggles. There is someone you will never meet but whom you desperately need for them to know who you are. The only way to communicate with them is to send them a box with three items. What would those three ideas be?
Three of my books, of course. Which books? It all depends on why I want this person to know who I am. Do I want them to love me? Send me money? Write to me? Dream about me? Hm-mmm…
Great answer. Here's another one. You're going into battle. What are you writing, who are you fighting and what is your weapon?
Battle? Me? Are you kidding? I hate battles, wars, crowds - even small crowds, fights, aggression, any noise, all chaos. If there's a battle that has to be planned, written about or fought, I'm running in the opposite direction. Believe me, I'm going so fast, you can't even see my dust.
Dang, your funny. I write about chaos, but the real me will be right beside you. So, what is up next for you?
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, craving something lighter, 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.
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 - A Swan's Sweet Song, and Felicity's Power, as well as my mystery, Sad Summer in Biarritz, and books by other authors, and I'm itching to start on a new project…perhaps narrating Desert Rose.
Great Romance and Engaging Stories!