Interview with J. Arlene Culiner, Author of All About Charming Alice

Please welcome J Arlene Culiner to the virtual offices today! She’s here to chat about her book All About Charming Alice.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Please tell us a little about yourself.

[J. Arlene Culiner] I was born in New York, raised in Toronto, but for most of my life, I’ve been living in England, Germany, Holland, Turkey, France, Greece, Hungary and the Sahara. At the moment I’m in a very dull French village, in a 300-year-old former inn that I open to the public on Heritage Day. My wildlife garden is a reserve for butterflies and birds and, like my heroine in All About Charming Alice, I also protect spiders, snakes, any living creature. As far as character goes, I’m suppose I’m rather unconventional. I do love well-written books of any genre, rousing discussions, and having a roaring great laugh, but I’ve never owned or wanted a television and, aside from the very occasional documentary, never go to see films. And I’d far rather walk from village to village than drive there.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about All About Charming Alice?

[J. Arlene Culiner] All About Charming Alice, is the story of two warm, rather wary but intelligent people falling in love. Both lead interesting lives, both are passionate, idealistic, and both are somewhat older than the usual romance heroes and heroines. My heroine, Alice, because of a past she’d rather forget, has to learn how to trust again, whereas my hero Jace has to become flexible. And although the budding – and sometimes hopeless-sounding – romance is the main story, quite a few quirky, often amusing, secondary characters also make their appearance. And there’s even some fascinating but little-known history of the American far west.

Here’s the blurb:  

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? 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[J. Arlene Culiner] Many years ago, I spent a few days in a crumbling Nevada community of shacks, old trailers, and one dilapidated old hotel/bar/restaurant. I loved the place, and the atmosphere has stayed with me throughout my rather itinerant life. I have, of course, gone back to Nevada and looked for that community but, strangely enough, I’ve never found it. Therefore, I decided to recreate it in my book, All About Charming Alice, to name it Blake’s Folly, and to populate it with all the original and strange folk you’d find in out-of-the-way places. Of course, my heroine Alice is also a rather strange character – you’d have to be if you lived in Blake’s Folly -  but she’s endearing as well.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Alice?

[J. Arlene Culiner] Alice is definitely determined. And a giving sort of person, one who wants to please – despite her prickly exterior and her need to protect herself. And she respects all living creatures.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Jace had a theme song, what would it be?

[J. Arlene Culiner] I’m certainly not good at naming theme songs, however, one morning, my hero Jace tells Alice he’s going walking in the desert with her. Desperate to keep some distance between them, Alice refuses, although she knows Jace is a pretty determined guy and he’ll win in the end. And as she furiously storms back into her house, she hears Jace whistling: You’ll Never Walk Alone.  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Alice is never without.

[J. Arlene Culiner] A camera

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Jace’s bedroom?

[J Arlene] You’ll never, ever, find men’s perfume or aftershave or cologne of any kind; you’ll never find hair gel; and you’ll certainly never find Viagra.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Alice’s greatest regret?

[J. Arlene Culiner] She regrets that she allowed herself – many years before – to be dominated by her unfaithful, ambitious and manipulative first husband. He bullied her into an acting career she’d never wanted, into a Hollywood lifestyle she hated, and forced her to spend her energy hiding his infidelities from the press. After much scandal and losing a baby, she eventually ran away, started doing what she really wanted – working as a herpetologist in the desert. But she is sorry she compromised for so long.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[J. Arlene Culiner] Hearing new ideas, finding new ways of looking at things. Social criticism particularly stimulates me, but so do landscapes – especially lonely, out-of-the-way places like deserts or flat plains, or groves, or sleepy old towns with their original architecture. All these things inspire me to create, work, think.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[J. Arlene Culiner] 1. Solitude. I can’t be sitting next to someone I know. I need the peace of my own work space. But I can – and do – also write in train stations, on trains or in cafés. Yes, sure there are other people all around me in such places, but I don’t know them so the solitude is definitely there.

2. A need to communicate with the world: I want to share a good story, amuse people, make them weepy or get them chuckling.

3. My inner voice: it wakes me up in the early morning; it has dialogue racing through my head; it sends me bright images, sly characters and snappy tales. It’s a strange kind of electricity, that inner voice.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was your biggest distraction while working on All About Charming Alice?

[J. Arlene Culiner] I suppose my dogs are always a terrible distraction. Dogs are forever lying around at your feet, watching your every move. You know that all they want is to be touched, talked to, taken out for a walk. You are their whole life, and you certainly have to get up from time to time, give in to their wishes – even if you’d much rather stay put and keep writing. And then there are the cats… They come strutting by, and if you ignore them, they’ll roll over the computer keyboard, bump and rub against you until you pay attention to them and give them some love.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[J. Arlene Culiner]]  Limonov by the French writer Emmanuel Carrère. This brilliantly written book is not only the portrait of a Russian dissident, one of society’s rebels, it also presents 20th-21st century Russia, is an analysis of Russian literature and Russian authors. Limonov is even more than a book: it’s a whole journey.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[J. Arlene Culiner] I  can’t think of one book only. There were several that, as a child, opened the window to life, gave it another dimension. One, Magic by the Lake, had a turtle that granted wishes, and ever after I always hoped I’d find the right lake so that adventure would come to me too. Then there was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis in which, by simply walking into a closet, four children find themselves in an alternate world. Believe me, after devouring that, I tried out every wardrobe, closet and closed door in every single house I passed through. But perhaps it was those Trixie Belden books that taught me that there were adventures and mysteries to be found in even the most boring, domestic settings.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[J. Arlene Culiner] I’m an amateur musician. I play the oboe, English horn, oboe d’amore, flute, piccolo and bombarde, and I play every chance I get – with four different bands, two orchestras, two chamber music groups and a double reed group. I go on workshops, travel all over France to play with different musicians and give concerts. If that isn’t an obsession, I don’t know what is.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[J. Arlene Culiner] They can come visit my site and write to me there: www.j-arleneculiner.com

They can come see my blog, read the – sometimes provocative – articles I write, and tell me what they think: j-arleneculiner.over-blog.com

And they can also write to me at jarleneculiner@gmail.com

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

Purchase link

About the 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