Today’s Spotlight is on J. Arlene Culiner, author of All About Charming Alice:
Why do you write?
Hi Shelley. Thanks very much for giving me this opportunity to… well… talk about myself. Inviting other authors to join you on your blog is a generous thing to do. Now, on to your questions. Why do I write? Why do I breathe? Because I couldn’t stop myself even if I wanted to. It’s an instinct, a need, and overwhelming desire to communicate. It’s also a way to present the sometimes strange and quirky characters I’ve run into in my life and to recount – often in a highly altered version — some of the odd things I’ve experienced.
What’s your favorite genre? Do you have a favorite author (if so, please tell us the name)?
This is a question I really have trouble answering. I don’t have a favorite genre. I love intelligent mystery – but without the gore, blood and violence, I love history books, travel books, beautifully written romance books and books that teach me things I know nothing about – things like the history of plumbing, or waste disposal, or grammar, or seventeenth century Eastern European road systems, or the history of street lighting. I guess you could say I love reading and learning things.
To be successful as an author, what do you see as the main goal?
It all depends on what you mean by the word success. For some folks, it means making piles of money. For others, it means having a big name that people recognize. I don’t value either of those things — especially not the first. I think that many big names and big money-makers write badly-written bad books. For me, being successful as a writer means your phrases sing and your paragraphs are beautiful. Gustave Flaubert, one of my favorite authors (France, 1821-1880) wrote no more than a paragraph each day. He polished each word, listened to the tempo of what he wrote, perfected, rejected, tried again. When you read his books now – Madame Bovary, for example — you luxuriate in his phrases. I’ll never ever be as fine or as intelligent a writer as Flaubert, but I do polish my stories, my sentences, and listen to the music of what I’ve written. And when I’m pleased, when others take pleasure in my “style”, that’s success as far as I’m concerned.
What inspires you and how do you channel it when you need inspiration?
Watching people, eavesdropping, hanging around cafés and listening to absurd conversations, other people‘s stories, prying into what doesn’t concern me, utter boredom, long, mindless journeys, excellent writing – all these inspire me. I tuck their traces into the memory drawer somewhere in my head (it’s an awfully messy place) and let them stew. Finally, they’re when they’re fighting to come out, I snag them, slap them down on paper. And there they are!
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
I’ll repeat what Henry Miller said to inspiring writers. He advised them to write and write and write and write. And when finished, begin to cut and cut and cut. Then cut again and keep cutting.
Okay, I’ll admit Henry did ramble on a bit too much in his own books, that there is much repetition, that he really should have taken the cutting more seriously, but we wouldn’t want to have been without him, his work, his portrait of a vanished era.
I would also like to add that if you really want to be a writer, you have to persist, accept rejection. Rejection is just part of the experience. Move on and forget it.
What advice would you give to the youth of today (not just authors)?
Take out those earphones, get rid of your television sets, never play video games, only use a telephone for short and necessary conversations, never send a text message unless it is absolutely necessary (such as setting a meeting time or place) stop — whenever possible — listening to the sort of consumer music pushed out at you in every supermarket, bar, by every radio station etc. Protest against the consumer world that is trying to turn you into a mindless victim. Listen to silence, to others (but don’t let them monologue to you), go for long walks and let your own thoughts fly, learn to live life to the full without the support of “products” and fashion, abandon perfume and love your own natural, healthy, clean smell, definitely abandon hair dye because it’s dangerous to your health and it’s also horribly tested on animals — ditto for all beauty products tested on animals — never eat food that has palm oil or any additives, save the world by consuming less, learn how you can do a good deed a day that will save nature, never……hello? Are you there? Are you listening to me? Oh… I see. You can’t hear me because you’re still wearing earphones and the music’s too loud.
What’s on your bucket list?
I have eight books swirling around in my mind; I want to get them written. And I definitely want to become an excellent musician Not a pro — I definitely don’t want to be a professional musician. But I want to improve until I know I’m really good, until I can pick up a Bach Sonata and make it sound wonderful (I play the oboe, oboe d’amore, English horn as well as flute and piccolo in several orchestras, bands and chamber groups.)
Tell us about your book:
Alice Treemont has given up hope of meeting the right man and falling in love. Living in depopulated Blake’s Folly, a quirky community of rusting cars, old trailers, clapboard shacks and thirsty weeds, she spends her time cooking vegetarian meals, rescuing unwanted dogs and protecting the most unloved creatures on earth: snakes. What man would share those interests? Certainly not Jace Constant whose life in Chicago includes elegant women, fine dining and contemporary art.
Jace has come to Nevada to research the new book he’s writing, but he won’t be staying; as far as he’s concerned, Blake’s Folly is hell on earth. He’s disgusted by desert dust on his fine Italian shoes, dog hair on his cashmere sweaters and by desert bleakness. As for snakes, he doesn’t only despise them: they terrify him.
So how is it possible that each time Alice and Jace meet, the air sizzles? That she’s as fascinated by him as he is by her? That they know their feelings go deeper than raw desire? Still, it looks like this relationship is doomed before it starts: Jace won’t be around for long, and Alice wants to avoid the heartbreak of a short fling.
In need of some juicy romantic gossip, the other 52 residents of Blake’s Folly have decided Alice has been alone for long enough. The attraction between her and Jace is obvious to everyone, so why worry about essential differences? If you trust in love, solutions do appear. But don’t those solutions call for too many compromises, too much self-sacrifice?
What would you like people to know about you:
I was born in New York, raised in Toronto, but I’ve spent most of my wandering life living in odd places: in an isolated stone house out on the English moors, in a Bavarian castle, on a canal in Amsterdam, in central Turkey (where I was a belly dancer), all over France, on the Greek island of Samos, in a traditional mud house in eastern Hungary, and in the Sahara desert. I’m now the owner of a 300-year-old former inn (open to the public on Heritage Day) in a very dull and not terribly pretty French village. Much to my neighbor’s dismay, I protect all living creatures, especially spiders and snakes; my wild (or wildlife) garden is a classified butterfly and bird reserve; one of my attics is a happy home to many beautiful bats.
My contemporary romance, All About Charming Alice (Crimson Romance), is my most recent book but I have had four others published under the name Jill Culiner: a photography book, Sans s’abolir pourtant (Echoppe, Paris, 1991) Felicity’s Power, a romance published by Power of Love Publishing, Australia in 2001 (now out of print) a history/essay, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers (Sumach Press, Toronto, 2004) and a mystery, Slanderous Tongue (Sumach Press, 2007).
For romances: www.j-arleneculiner.com
For my art, photos, house and other books: www.jill-culiner.com