Friday, February 28, 2020

Where Author J. Arlene Culiner Gets Her Best Ideas & Other Bookish Questions

Writer, photographer, social critical artist, musician, and occasional actress, J. Arlene Culiner, was born in New York and raised in Toronto. She has crossed much of Europe on foot, has lived in a Hungarian mud house, a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave-dwelling, on a Dutch canal, and in a haunted house on the English moors. She now resides in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village of no interest and, much to local dismay, protects all creatures, especially spiders and snakes. She particularly enjoys incorporating into short stories, mysteries, narrative non-fiction, and romances, her experiences in out-of-the-way communities, and her conversations with strange characters.


Inside the Book

The Turkish Affair cover anim
Author: J. Arlene Culiner
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Pages: 242
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Love and Danger at the ancient Hittite site of Karakuyu

Priceless artifacts are disappearing from the ancient Hittite site of Karakuyu in Turkey, and the site director has vanished. Called in to solve the mystery, archaeologist Renaud Townsend is hindered by both his inability to speak the language and the knowledge that the local police are corrupt. His attraction to translator Anne Pierson is immediate, although he is troubled by her refusal to talk about the past and her fear of public scandal. But when murder enters the picture, both Anne and Renaud realize that the risk of falling in love is not the only danger.

Author J. Arlene Culiner does not disappoint in this fast-paced novel, The Turkish Affair. Glittering descriptions, magical settings, and enviable characters bring the solemn grounds of Turkey to life as we are planted firmly in an archeological dig in Karakuyu, Turkey. Culiner’s mastery of the English language and sentence combinations form an enchanting read. The Turkish Affair is a must-read for all lovers of romance and adventure.
–Lisa McCombs for Readers’ Favorite


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Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m a musician, and since I play several instruments (oboe, flute, piccolo, baroque oboe, tuba, and recorder) in different formations, practicing takes up a lot of my time. I’m also a contemporary artist creating social critical work. And when I have time left over (yes, there is some of that) I walk along the ancient green sunken lanes between high hedges that lead from one village to another, one farm to another. Europe is crisscrossed with these ancient paths, and I’ve crossed most of Europe on foot.

When did you start writing?

Like most writers, I wrote stories when I was very young. However, I think that many, if not most, children write stories but never became writers. It’s not that fact that people write, it’s how they write, and how they use language that counts, and that takes a long apprenticeship. It’s not something that comes naturally when you are a child. Of course, today, children’s imaginations are programmed by what they see on television and Internet, by cell phone entertainment, and video games. I’m not certain they write their own stories anymore.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

I had already written one romance, Felicity’s Power, that was accepted for publication, but I although I was thrilled, I didn’t yet consider myself a writer — after all, I was a professional artist and a photographer. In 2000, I was in Toronto with my photography exhibition, La Mémoire Effacée, and the curator asked me what I would be working on next. I told her that I would be going to Romania to follow up on a story about Jewish immigrants who had crossed the country on foot after 1889, and that I would also walk across the country in their footsteps. She looked at me strangely, and  said: “That sounds more like a book than an exhibition.”

I thought about that for a while, and realized she was right. So I began working on my book, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers. Five years later, that book won the Tanenbaum Prize for Canadian Jewish Literature and was shortlisted for the ForeWord Magazine Prize.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

I need to have a project first. I hate traveling just for sightseeing, and I never go on holiday because all that free time bores me. I need to investigate something. If I have a choice about what part of the world I would like to return to, it would be Eastern Europe because the history fascinates me.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

I would do more audiobooks. I have done several, but they are very time-consuming. I need those extra hours! Tell me how I can book them, please.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

Bavaria. Few people set stories there, but I lived there for nine years, and I know how lovely — and secretive — it is.

Back to your present book, The Turkish Affair, how did you publish it?

I published through The Wild Rose Press. I’ve also had other books published with them.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

I didn’t have to. Once upon a time, I worked in Turkey as a translator and guide, just like my heroine, and I also lived in a small, restrictive community like the one I describe in The Turkish Affair. The police were aggressive and corrupt, there was political unrest, and life could be frankly dangerous. I also spent time on archaeological sites in Israel, England and France and Greece, so I also know a certain amount about artifact theft. Therefore, it was only natural to combine the things I knew and my experiences in a book. I also love solving mysteries and planting clues.

Why was writing The Turkish Affair so important to you?

I think it’s important for readers to know what life is like in other countries. Most people go to Turkey on holiday, and they see beaches, markets, international-style restaurants, a few tourist sites, and a few clubs. They never learn what life is really like for the people who live there; they hardly know that Turkey is a country with a shocking human rights record, where journalists, writers, and moviemakers constantly run the risk of being arrested. Tourists arrive in the country with set ideas, and they leave with those same ideas.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

In the morning when I wake. I suppose the subconscious has been busy working all night, and in the morning when I wake, just like an over-active fax machine, the ideas come rolling out.

Any final words?

This is for those who wish to write: because language and imagery are such important elements in a good book, I would suggest that any potential writer read—and absorb—poetry, particularly that written between 1940 and 1980. The work is accessible, and very strong. Some poets I particularly love are: Stevie Smith, Earle Birney, Norman MacCaig, Elizabeth Bishop, Dannie Abse, Roy Fuller, Anthony Hecht, Derek Mahon, and Randall Jarell. But there many others, too, and their poems are available for free on the Internet

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