Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we
Hello Fiona. Nice to meet you. I’m Jill Culiner and my pen name (for my romance books) is J. Arlene Culiner.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born in New York and raised in Canada, but I left North America a long time ago, determined to have a life of adventure and discovery, not one of security and comfort – although those things can be appealing during life’s more uncomfortable 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. I’ve lived in unique places — in a Hungarian mud house, a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave dwelling, on a Dutch canal,and in a lonely, very haunted stone house on the English moors. Presently, my French partner and I live in a 400-year-old former inn in a small French village.
My sort of lifestyle means staying flexible and taking up any sort of work that presents itself: belly dancer, fortune teller, translator, fashion model, story teller, b-girl, radio broadcaster, actress, social critical artist, photographer, and writer.
I’ve discovered forgotten communities, met strange characters, had some very odd conversations, and I incorporate all the information into my books. So far, I’ve had five romances published and, as Jill Culiner, two mysteries and two narrative non fiction works. I also narrate audiobooks, and I have a podcast — Life in a Small French village — that can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My latest releases are two romances,All About Charming Alice and Desert Rose, published by Fire Star Press. Both books are part of a series — Romance in Blake’s Folly — but each book is definitely a stand-alone.
Once upon a time, I found myself in a clapboard, 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 colourless wallpaper was surely a century old. Outside, an ever-buffeting wind dragged dust across the frozen ground, rattled low-lying grasses, and set the wooden doors of abandoned shacks tapping. In the hotel’s shabby bar, a talentless band whined out bad country music, and eccentric locals dished up tall tales, wry humour, and suspicion. It was a singular community, quite magical, and I’verecreated it as Blake’s Folly,the setting for these two romances.
Of course, I love the setting, the stories, my heroes and heroines, but I take particular delight in the secondary characters portrayed in these two books. True misfits, they don’t fit into neat houses with tidy gardens. Rebels — not by choice, but by quirk — they’re the real thing.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
From elementary school, and all the way through high school, instead of doing homework, paying attention to the teacher, and participating in class, I passed the time dreaming, drawing, 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.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
As soon as my first bookwas accepted for publication. Okay, I knew I was only a beginning writer, and it would be a long time before I could say with utter conviction:“yes, I’m a professional writer,” but I was excited to have finally begun.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I’ve always written, and I have around six or seven unpublished books to prove it — mysteries,biographies —and they’re all pretty awful. I consider them my apprenticeship works.
The first book I had published, was a romance, and I’d written it as a challenge. I was writing and broadcasting stories at Radio France at the time, and Christine, a woman I worked with, said she’d always dreamt of writing a romance. I’d also been wanting to write one, so we decided we’d each begin writing, then see who finished first. I completed my book, butI don’t think Christine ever did.
I sent mine — Felicity’s Power—off to an Australian publisher, Power of Love, who was looking for romances with older heroes and heroines. It was accepted immediately, and published a few exciting months later. Unfortunately, Power of Love folded shortly after. The book has now been updated, and is published by The Wild Rose Press. It’s also available as an audiobook.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
It was my publisher, Jenny Millea, who came up with the title, and I think it’s quite wonderful.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I suppose I do, because critics have mentioned it. But even if I can’t analyse my own style, I know that I willalways spend an enormous amount of time polishing each sentence, and trying to make every paragraph beautiful. There is also a certain amount of humour in my work — even in my serious non-fiction writing.
Fiona: How much of your books are realistic,are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
All of my books are realistic, even my mysteries, and romances. I feature real people, and write stories that really could happen. And, yes, I certainly do use events in my own life, and incorporate people I’ve met into my books.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process? Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
For some of my books, I’ve had to travel extensively, and I’m always learning new things. In my mystery, Death by Slanderous Tongue, I had to find out about rural French traditions. In Sad Summer In Biarritz, I looked into the history of southern France.
For my non-fiction,Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers (which won the Tanenbaum Prize for Canadian history) I had to walk across Romania, cross Europe and Canada by train and bus, do research in the archives of England, Holland, France, Germany, and Austria, plus learn a language — Yiddish — so I could translate documents.
In my recently completed (not yet published) biography of a forgotten Ukrainian/Romania poet, I had to go back to those archives again. Of course, I also had to spend time drinking red wine in sleazy Romanian bars, just like my poet did — but that’s another kind of research altogether.
Even for my romance books, I do research into country music, herpetology, geology, and archaeology. Research is what makes writing fun.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My publishers usually do the covers. However, for Finding Home and my two mysteries, Death by Slanderous Tongue, and Sad Summer in Biarritz, my publisher said I could use my own photos, and the covers were designed by my very talented graphic artist partner,
Fiona: Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t think there’s an obvious one, but here’s a message I’d like to pass on. A few years ago, I went on a North American book tour, and one day, I found myself in a sleepy, scruffy town in Florida. I wandered around for a few hours,taking photographs, and poking my nose into odd places.
By late afternoon, I was mighty hungry, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find a place to eat.I went up to a rather sweet-looking man and asked if he knew of a place that was open. He took in my backpack, walking boots, thenconcluded I was a homeless person.
“There’s a local charity here in town. If you go there in two hours, they’ll be open.”
I opened my mouth to explain that I wasn’t homeless, when he added: “I go there every evening. They’re great people.”
So, I just thanked him.
We stood there chatting for quite a while — he was kindly, and very interesting. Because he spent a lot of time in the local library, he knew much about Florida’s history. After we said goodbye, I saw him go into an alleyway, come back out wheeling a battered-looking bicycle loaded up with those bundles homeless people lug around with them. And on the back of the bicycle, he’d attached a big sign saying: Be Nice.
So, that’s my message. Be nice —let’s be as nice as we can. If we do that, we’ll keep on smiling, and others will smile with us.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favourite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I love many authors, and it is impossible to name them all. I suppose I could just say (to be brief) Linda Grant, W.G. Sebald, Alan Hollinghurst, Robert D. Kaplan, Charles King. I love the way they use language and images; I love the worlds they take me to.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Quite frankly, I can’t think of any one person — family included — who supported my desire to become a writer. It was just something I very quietly got on with, then talked about after.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, of course. Not one that makes me enough money for dog food, but a career, nonetheless.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Certainly not. I have to be proud of what is finished and published, then move on to the next project.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I know nothing about films, or actors. I haven’t seen a film in many years.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Just the usual: read outside your comfort zone. Read history, learn about other cultures, read classics, read the best contemporary literary work, read poetry — especially the poetry written between 1900 and 1990. And keep your television turned off.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul, by Charles King
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No, I certainly don’t. I began reading very early — at around four, but I can’t remember the first book.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Many things make me laugh. I rarely cry. I’m more likely to get angry about suffering, injustice, and cruelty.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I would dearly love to meet VelvelZbarzher, the poet and songster whose biography I recently completed. After spending years researching him in Ukraine, Romania, Austria, and Turkey, finding the houses he lived in, the bars he sang in, the streets he walked along, I think it’s about time we met up.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I am a musician, and I play the flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, recorder, baroque oboe, and baroque taille, as well as the tuba in many chamber groups and orchestras. Do I have time for other things?
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I have never owned a television. This way, I know that the images in my head are my own, and are as little polluted by the commercial world as possible.
Fiona: Favourite foods, colours, music?
I love salads, fresh fruit, and very spicy vegetarian foods — any kind will do. I’m particularly attracted tobright green, and bright yellow, although I really love all colours.I’m passionate about Baroque music played on period instruments.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Read. Walk along the green roads all across Europe, smell the air, eat well.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
I’d spend it doing what I enjoy most: lying in bed with a good book, writing, eating well, walking along sunken green lanes, talking to my partner, my dogs, and cats.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
How about, Dead and Gone. If you are underground, that confirmation would be quite a relief.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
I have two:
My blog is:http://j-arleneculiner.over-blog.com
Here are a few other links:
Storytelling Podcast https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
All About Charming Alice:
Armen Pogharian said:
I had a good laugh when you said you had met ‘strange characters.’ I suspect that’s what most people think when they meet you – and of course I mean strange as in interesting. Best of luck to you.
Hi Armen. You made me laugh because I’d never thought of that. Me strange? But, of course, you’re right! All the best.
Armen Pogharian said:
I’m glad you laughed because it makes us even. I don’t need that bad karma of indebtedness to strangers….
Never thought of that one either, Armen.
Liz Gauffreau said:
What fascinating adventures you’ve had! I’ve subscribed to your podcast to hear more about them.
Thank you, Liz. I hope you like the (absolutely true) stories about life in a French village.
Liz Gauffreau said:
I’m sure I will! I just downloaded the episodes onto my phone so that I can listen to them in the car on my way to and from work.