with J. Arlene Culiner
Featuring her novel A Room in Blake’s Folly
Welcome back to Sharing The Love, J. Arlene Culiner! I’m excited to have you here again!
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
The first draft is a killer, and I hate it. I have to force myself to sit down and write. Sometimes it takes me years to finish a manuscript. But when I’m on the second, third, fourth of fifth draft, then I’m in ecstasy. I can’t sleep; all my thoughts are with the story, with sentences, with the images I’ve conjured up.
Have you gone on any literary pilgrimages?
Absolutely. For my books that take place in Nevada, books like A Room in Blake’s Folly, I travelled through the state, visiting small communities, hanging around sleepy watering holes, and listening to conversations. For my non-fiction book, A Contrary Journey with Velvel Zbarzher, Bard, I travelled through Ukraine and Romania trying to find a trace of the forgotten 19th-century poet I was writing about; and for my book, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, using the itinerary of the author of a short story, I crossed Romania on foot, then followed his trace through the rest of Europe and on to Canada.
The real question is: were these literary pilgrimages or obsessions?
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
I think I’d like to be in a log cabin somewhere in the far north of Canada, with deep snow all around me. There would be a small community with a few local bars within trudging distance, and I could go there every day to chew the fat with the locals, and to hear some good stories. I’d also have my computer with me, and I’d be free to just write for hours and hours.
Are you a listener or a talker?
I do love listening because I’m nosy. When in the company of others, I’ll tell a tall tale now and again, just so people know I’m still alive and breathing, but the rest of the time I’m all ears, and waiting for secrets.
You have your own late night talk show, who do you invite as your first guest? Why?
Here’s a twist on your question, Anita. Since I don’t own a television, I have no idea how talk shows are these days, but many, many, many years ago, I was a talk show hostess.
It was a dreadful show, and Roger, a rather obnoxious but wealthy presenter, considered himself a major star. My only role was to glimmer at the audience when the show started and say: “Hi, everyone. Welcome to Roger B’s Italian Hour. And here’s Roger.”
After that I just had to sit on the panel and listen. Many of the guests were Italian—people like Gina Lollobrigida—so most of the talk was in that language which I didn’t understand (although I had a great number of fans, mostly Italian grandmothers, who wrote to the station and said I looked like such a lovely Italian girl.)
Whenever it was time for a commercial break, the cameraman would point to me, and I’d glimmer again, then say something like: “And now a word from the California Bank.”
At the end of each show, Roger and I would wave bye-bye, and I’d say: “Thanks for joining us, and see you next week.”
Believe me, that talk show was so boring, even my best friends wouldn’t watch it.
About the Book
A Room in Blake’s Folly, hasn’t been released yet, but I’ve just discovered it’s up for pre-order, so I thought I would tell everyone about it here (like a very proud mother.)
In 2022, Blake’s Folly is a semi-ghost town in Nevada, a backwoods community of abandoned clapboard shacks, endless wind, and scraggly vegetation with strange local names like snatch-it shrub and sticky snakeweed. But back in 1889, when this story starts, the town boasted three mining companies, many saloons, and brothels.
Westley Cranston, an adventurer and journalist, is in love with a former prostitute, Sookie Lacey, and he dreams of taking her away from her life as a dance girl in the Mizpah Saloon. She, however, is hoping to marry the shady, powerful and wealthy Jim Bally.
How their story plays out does affect their descendants one hundred and thirty years later, but Blake’s Folly is home to other love entanglements, too, ones that are just as intriguing.
A Room in Blake’s Folly isn’t only a romance: it is also the story of a town’s early days, its near ruin, and its evolution.
If only the walls could speak…
In one hundred and fifty years, Blake’s Folly, a silver boomtown notorious for its brothels, scarlet ladies, silver barons, speakeasies, and divorce ranches, has become a semi-ghost town. Although the old Mizpah Saloon is still in business, its upper floor is sheathed in dust. But in a room at a long corridor’s end, an adventurer, a beautiful dance girl, and a rejected wife were once caught in a love triangle, and their secret has touched three generations.
“You trust Big Jim?” Resentment rippled down Westley Cranston’s spine, meshed with scorn. “A lousy cad who jilted you when you were carrying his child? Who knew your bigoted family would kill you?”
Seemingly unperturbed, Sookie Lacey dipped her forefinger into the oily pot of carmine on her dressing table, spread the rosy salve over her lips. Turned, met Westley’s eyes squarely. “Jim didn’t have a choice. He was on the lam. He had to keep moving.”
“Because he was wanted for a violent robbery! Why the hell are you making excuses for an unscrupulous criminal who forced himself on an impoverished family?”
“You weren’t out in this part of the world back then. You can’t even imagine that winter when cattle froze to death on the prairie. How could anyone, good or bad, have survived in the open?”
“And while hiding out with your family, he seduced you.”
“Seduced!” Her nostrils flared. “Being with Jim protected me from my vicious brother, my depraved father, I told you that. They both tried to have their way with me.”
It was an old argument, one they’d had many times. Why couldn’t Sookie see that Big Jim’s perfidy could have ruined her life—would have ruined her life if she’d been a weaker woman? A pregnant fifteen-year-old runaway when she arrived in Blake’s Folly, Sassy Sookie had gone to work as a prostitute in the Red Nag Saloon. It wasn’t the lowest sort of brothel, but it wasn’t a classy parlor house either. Yet, clever, lighthearted, and a favorite with the men, she soon realized her own worth. Never succumbing to the temptations of alcohol or laudanum, she’d left the Red Nag, come to the Mizpah, and as a saloon girl, made such excellent money selling dance tickets, encouraging men to buy alcohol, and to gamble, she no longer needed to sell herself.
“So, four years after jilting you, Jim walks into the Mizpah, sees you’ve become successful, and decides to stake his claim. That makes him a decent man?”
“He’s changed. Jim has become a respectable businessman, and he wants to marry me. He’s building us a big fine house where we can live together with our little son.”
“Where? Where will this wonderful fine house be?”
“In Virginia City.”
“Have you ever been there? Seen what he’s building?”
“You know I haven’t. Jim’s been on the road for the last five months. He sends me letters from Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Phoenix.”
How can she be so blind? Westley took a deep breath, forced himself to sound steady and reasonable, not like a man hopelessly in love with the woman he would soon lose. “And what about us? What about what we shared? The nights you spent in my arms?” Nights when she had given herself without reticence but with warmth, tenderness.
Sookie stood, shook out the short, ruffled skirt and colorful petticoats floating just below her shapely calves. Her golden beauty, caught in the lamp’s uneven flicker, made his heart ache. How desirable she was in the low-cut sequined bodice that barely hid the sweetness of her breasts.
“Westley, what you and I shared is our secret. A delicious secret that no one else can know about or even suspect, particularly since Jim has sent Doug Lazy here to protect me.”
“To spy on you, you mean.”
Sookie’s chin tilted defiantly. “Think what you’d like. Just don’t forget I’m marrying Jim in September.”
Pushing past him, she swept out of her boudoir and into the long dark corridor. The tapping of her tasseled kid boots on the stair held a note of finality.
Genre: Historical Romance, Small Town Romance
Preorder It Now (To Be Released in May):
About The Author
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 where, much to local dismay, she protects all creatures, particularly spiders and snakes. She enjoys incorporating into short stories, mysteries, narrative non-fiction, and romances, her experiences in out-of-the-way communities, and her conversations with very strange characters.
A Room In Blake’s Folly can also be found on the Loved-up Library HERE