Why do we find them so fascinating? Is it because we can allow our imaginations to run wild, imagine the long-vanished people who once lived here, thrill to events that just might have taken place on these now empty streets?
Once upon a time (many years ago), I briefly found myself in a rusty trailer, semi-ghost town in Nevada. The hotel I stayed in was a rundown has-been, where ceilings soared high, and the lumpy, almost colorless wallpaper was surely a century old. Outside, an ever-buffeting wind dragged dust across the frozen ground, rattled low-lying grasses, set the wooden doors of abandoned shacks tapping. The only warmth to be found was in the hotel’s shabby bar room where, under a tin ceiling, a talentless band whined out bad country music, and eccentric locals dished up tall tales, wry humor, and suspicion.
It was a singular place, magical, and I’ve recreated it as Blake’s Folly, Nevada, the setting for two love stories in my two (standalone) books in my mini-series, Love in Blake’s Folly.
Tell us about the stories
Rose, the heroine of Desert Rose is a delightful character: gutsy, open-minded, and funny. As soon as the very appealing Jonah Livingstone (he’s part Paiute, part Italian) walks into her shop, he’s entranced too. But even if she’s outgoing and flirtatious, Rose has quite a few secrets, and she won’t share them with anyone. But Jonah has secrets of his own, and before a romance can take place, both will have to confide, and trust each other.
In All About Charming Alice, my heroine Alice is a rather prickly character. Reclusive, she loves the Nevada desert, rescues dogs, and protects snakes. My hero, Jace Constant, is an intellectual writer from Chicago, and he’s not crazy about deserts, dogs, or snakes. And neither Alice nor Jace expect love to come galumphing over the horizon.
I particularly love the secondary characters in both these books. True misfits, they don’t fit into neat houses with tidy gardens. Rebels — not by choice, but by character — they’re the real thing. They’re also nosy, interfering, and truculent.
Give us a hint about a favorite scene.
I love this scene in Desert Rose when Jonah is trying to get Rose to answer direct questions – something she really hates doing. Of course, Jonah is underestimating her, and she realizes it immediately.
“It hasn’t escaped my notice that you have a real talent for asking questions, drawing people out. But being the perfect listener can also be a tactic.”
She looked wary. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That it’s a very good way to avoid talking about yourself.”
“Ah. I see.”
“Is there a deep dark secret you want to hide?”
Her eyes met his. They gave nothing away. “Okay. Fine. What is it you want to know?”
He smiled. “How about we start with essentials?”
“What sort of essentials?”
She looked away, nodded. Looked back. Also smiled… faintly. “Okay. Music is important to me.”
He stared at her, nonplussed. What was so secret about that? Didn’t almost everyone in the world like music of one sort or another? “What kind of music?” He was prepared to be disappointed. What chance was there that their taste coincided? No chance at all.
“My all-time favorite…” She hesitated before continuing. “Well… at the moment, anyway… my favorite is traditional Russian music.”
“Russian music? Russian composers?”
She nodded, looked rather unsure.
“Russian. As in Shostakovich?” he prodded.
“Shostakovich?” She blinked.
“Do you know the music of Shostakovich?” He shook his head, not because of her, but because of his own gaucherie. Why had he come up with the name of that composer? What could she possibly know of the trials suffered by a creative genius caught in a repressive communist regime? He felt like a horrific snob. Or, like a man who wanted to prove that he and the lovely woman sitting across from him had little in common. “Shostakovich was a contemporary Russian composer.”
She looked annoyed. “I know who Shostakovich was.”
“Of course,” she snapped. “Why do you sound so surprised?”
“It’s just that…” He stopped himself before he said something that made him look like even more of a snob.
“Go on. It’s just what?”
“Not many people do know about Shostakovich,” he answered quietly.
“Because I live in Blake’s Folly? Because you don’t think anyone who lives in a backwoods dying community could possibly know anything about classical music?”
Yes, of course. She’d hit the nail on the head, all right. That was exactly the reason why. He could think of a few others too.
She uncrossed her arms, placed her palms flat on the tabletop, leaned forward. “Do you know his arrangements of popular Russian songs?”
“Yes, I do,” he said, feeling fully chastised.
To his great relief, she smiled again. “I can’t blame you for not seeing Blake’s Folly as the cultural center of the world, but I grew up with classical music. My grandmother probably knew every opera ever created. Her father — my great grandfather — was a Russian violinist. Nothing big time, of course. Just a teacher in a provincial town. But still…”
How much research goes into each book you write?
An enormous amount of research in libraries. I feel that I have a responsibility to my readers. They’re giving me their time, and I owe them something in exchange, for example, information they wouldn’t normally have. In Desert Rose, people can learn a little about different types of music, and prehistory; in All About Charming Alice, they can learn a little about reptiles.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Being a natural storyteller, I went on to being a storyteller on Radio France. I then decided I would write the sort of books that would bring pleasure to people and make them feel good.
What is a typical writing day like?
I don’t have one. I’m all over the place most of the time, jiggling rehearsal time (I play in several orchestras) with writing time, dreamtime, and walking time. I promise myself I’ll get up at five in the morning to write — and sometimes I even manage to do just that. At other times, I try to work in the afternoons, but I’m not very consistent. I do try to write something every day. It might not be part of a story — it might be a review, or an interview, or a blog — but it is writing. That way I don’t put any pressure on myself and I avoid writers block.
Do you have any interesting writing quirks or habits?
None that I know if. Ask my dogs and cats.
What authors or friends influenced you in helping you become a writer?
The first book I had published was a romance, and I’d written it as a challenge. I was broadcasting my stories on Radio France at the time, and Christine, a woman I worked with, said she’d always dreamt of writing a romance. I’d been wanting to write one, as well, so we both promised to start writing one immediately, and we’d see who finished first. I finished first (I don’t think Christine ever did) and I sent mine off to an Australian publishing house, Power of Love, that was looking for romances with older heroes and heroines. It was accepted immediately, and I was thrilled. Unfortunately, Power of Love folded shortly after.
The book was later updated, lengthened, and it has been published as Felicity’s Power by The Wild Rose Press. It’s available as a paperback, an e-book, and an audiobook.
What other hobbies or interests do you have?
I’m a musician and play several instruments — oboe, oboe d’amore, English horn, baroque oboe, and oboe da caccia in several orchestras; I play the flute and the tuba in several bands. I also restore old houses with my partner, climbing up on scaffolding, using traditional materials like sand, lime, mud and straw, making my own paints with ochre and linseed oil.
Can you tell us about what’s coming up next after this for you writing wise?
I have a January 15th romantic suspense release: The Turkish Affair, and I’m working on a series of shorter stories for Romance in Blake’s Folly. The stories begin in the 1800s and go up to modern times. And, since I’ve already narrated two of my romances — A Swan’s Sweet Song, and Felicity’s Power – I might do the same for Rose and Alice.
How can readers connect with you online?
Author Website: http://www.j-arleneculiner.com
Storytelling Podcast https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
Actress, photographer, social critical artist, musician and writer, J. Arlene Culiner, born in New York and raised in Toronto, has been living in England, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Holland and Hungary. She now resides in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village of no interest. Much to local dismay, she protects all creatures, especially spiders and snakes, and her wild garden is a bird and butterfly refuge. Her great passion is veering off the beaten track to discover forgotten communities with strange characters and very odd conversations, all of which she incorporates into short stories, mysteries, narrative non-fiction and romances.
Anecdotes and Short Fiction http://anecdotes.over-blog.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/jarlene.culiner