This week it is my pleasure to interview Jill Culiner. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers, Jill and share something about your life.
First, thank you very much Rita, for inviting me to come visit you here. It’s so much fun for me to meet another author.
I was born in New York, and raised in Toronto, but I left home early, determined to live a bigger, more adventurous life than the one I was expected to have. I’ve certainly never been rich, but I’ve certainly had an exciting ride, and have lived in a variety of odd places — in several cars, one closet, a Hungarian mud house, a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave dwelling, in a haunted house on the English moors, in the Sahara desert, on a Greek island, and in several French villages.
Along the way, I’ve worked as a go-go girl, belly dancer, fortune teller, translator, newspaper deliverer, radio broadcaster, contemporary artist, photographer, actress and writer. I also got married and unmarried a lot.
I now reside in a 400-year-old former inn/museum in a French village of no great interest, and I rescue dogs, cats, hedgehogs, and protect all other living creatures — especially spiders and snakes. I write romances as J. Arlene Culiner, mysteries and non-fiction as Jill Culiner.
When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
I’ve always written books, but they were never published — and with good reason too: they weren’t very good (some were frankly awful.) Then, in the late 1990s, when I was working at Radio France writing and broadcasting my own stories, one of my co-workers, Christina, mentioned that she’d always wanted to write a romance. I said I’d always thought about doing that too, so then and there, we made a pact: both of us would start writing immediately.
Christina’s book was set in Burundi (she’d run a radio station there during the war). I set mine, Felicity’s Power, in California, and my hero, Marek, and heroine, Felicity, were both older — in their 60s. They had met in the old hippy days, had fallen in love, then separated. Now, forty years later, they meet again, and Felicity decides to convince Marek that love will be even better the second time around.
Much to my pleasure, the book was acquired by a new Australian publishing house, Power of Love Publishing — the publisher, Jenny Millea, was looking for wonderfully sexy love stories with older characters. Power of Love didn’t last long: there were distribution problems — and this was in the days before e-books. But I recently rewrote the book, and it was re-issued by The Wild Rose Press. And only two months ago, I recorded and released it as an audiobook.
Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?
I couldn’t possibly stick to one genre. I love writing romances or Romantic Suspense (The Turkish Affair) for sheer enjoyment. I also adore writing mystery because that genre gives me more latitude: I can sharpen my wits and point out what is wrong with society — something you can’t do with romance. And then I also write history books because I enjoy doing research in archives all across Europe — my book Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, the story of Romanian immigration to Canada in 1899, won an award for Canadian History. I have also just completed two other history books about Eastern Europe and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and they are out there, looking for a publisher.
When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
I don’t know how you work, Rita, but I have the idea for a story a long time before I actually get around to writing it. And even when I finally do begin writing, there are many false starts, and pauses that can last years. I did worry about this at one point, then I just accepted that I will never be the sort of person who churns out one book after another. It takes me years to write one, and I like to prefect the language and bring new information to my readers. For me, reading any genre, even romance, can be a learning experience.
What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
I am also a musician (amateur) and play several instruments : oboe, oboe d’amore, English horn, baroque oboe, and baroque oboe da caccia, flute, piccolo, recorder and euphonium (which is a small tuba) in quite a few different bands and orchestras. But playing baroque music with baroque music ensembles is my greatest love.
Do you have your own website?
Yes, two of them: www.jill-culiner.com (the page where I talk about my books is http://www.jill-culiner.com/pagea17-literature1.html)
And, for romances, www.j-arleneculiner.com
I also broadcast a series, Life in a Small French Village, on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner) and here’s where everyone can also hear the first chapters of my audiobooks for free.
Would you like to give us a short excerpt from one of your books?
Since we both write mysteries, I’ll give you the beginning chapter of my most recent book, Sad Summer in Biarritz. The story is in the form of a journal written by a woman who has just left an abusive relationship, and hopes to find new friends and new love in the French resort city of Biarritz. Of course, nothing is as perfect as she hopes. She soon realises that her new friends are not what they seem to be, and that the kind young man she met on a train was very definitely murdered.
La Pointe des Fous: 2017
On this promontory where Vinnie was murdered, five tourists are ostensibly taking photos of a streaky sky, toothy rocks and agitated sea. In reality, they’re only photographing themselves, documenting their presence in Biarritz. They know nothing of Vinnie. Why should they? Thirty-four years have passed since his death. Perhaps I’m the only person who remembers him; I’m certainly the only one to make a pilgrimage in his name.
How Biarritz has changed. Run-down and ragged when I lived here, the promoters, decorators and architects have since taken things in hand; and destroying monuments, manors, exotic parks, they’ve created featureless apartments for retirees, sterile hotels for tourists who demand an Internet connection. Or perhaps I’m the one at fault, always out of step with contemporary taste, contemporary aspirations, contemporary conversation and contemporary behaviour.
I have no reason to remain — this is merely a trip down memory lane — and it’s a pleasant enough town, despite the modern ravages. The air is rich with the odours of southern vegetation and damp salt; and minus the holiday crowd, the sea front is elegant. Yet, when I lived here, I thought it a sad, sullen place. But I was a different person back then: a desperate creature, fleeing Dominique’s exactions; a lonely woman, spending days in cafés, noting down the conversations of others and the dull details of my own eventless life. I was a dreamer waiting for perfect love.
And like Vinnie, I was an easy victim, scrabbling into other people’s lives and believing their lies.