Thursday, January 12, 2017 | By: The Write Way Cafe

The Problem with Books by J. Arlene Culiner

The Write Way Café welcomes J. Arlene Culiner. She writes with sincerity and talks about why it is important to tell a great story.  

(Note: Arlene will be checking in over the weekend as she is traveling today.)

Thank you so much for having me back at the Write Way Café to talk about my latest release, The Turkish Affair. But first, I’d like to talk about other people’s books and why I love or don’t love them.

I’m lucky: five or six absolutely wonderful books with humor, exciting language, an original way of telling a story, have recently made their way onto my reader. But there have been others too, well-written, almost interesting. Almost interesting? Yes, a certain amount of research has gone into them, and I can’t complain about the writing. It’s just that, for me, there’s something missing. It took me a while to work out what — but now I know: sincerity.

No, we aren’t all alike, and no, we don’t all like the same books, thank goodness. But I do think one of the reasons many of us read, is to have a peek into someone else’s life. A story doesn’t have to be autobiographical, but there have to be elements that show the author is writing about something he or she feels absolutely passionate about, or about a personal experience. And, for me, that experience can’t be a few glossy impressions gathered during a visit to a tourist destination. It has to come from a real emotion, even one as tiny as feeling alone and desolate one afternoon, or having a terrible crush on someone unavailable, or a failure of some sort. Those experiences make us human, and sharing them brings us closer to each other. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

I’ve recently been reviewing books for an English site. One was written by a young man drifting around England on his broken down bicycle. Everything he owned was tied onto the back, and he spent the nights either camping or dropping in on friends along the way. His one great passion is music, and he earns his way by busking, playing his guitar and singing his own compositions under bridges or on busy street corners. He wrote about how frightening it can be sleeping rough but how beautiful to wake up with the birds, rabbits, and deer. Yes, his grammar is shaky and words are misused, but the book is personal, and sincere, and touching. And fascinating. Haven’t you always wanted to have a peek into that sort of life? I have.

The next book was a story written by a man but from a woman’s point of view. The heroine wanted to be a writer for the BBC, and she tried, then flopped, tried and flopped, tried and flopped again before having a bit of success… then flopping once more. Not only that, her love life was disastrous. But the book is so warm and funny, I roared with laughter all the way through. The author had also once been a writer for the BBC, and you knew this was his own experience. And it worked. It was wonderful.

Another book arrived: a romance between a seamstress and powerful Scottish laird in the nineteenth century. There was even an element of suspense and danger thrown in. Well written, the grammar was fine, there were no misused words. The seamstress got her man; the laird got his seamstress; the villain got his comeuppance. It was happily ever after. And I was happy it ended. I could forget it. It had nothing personal in it. It was a pure invention — and not very deep invention. It was written to sell, but not to open a conversation or to share. I was pretty certain the author, living in American suburbia, had been on a vacation to Scotland and seen a few castles. That was it.

Am I making my point? Two first books made my life richer; the third wasted my time. Do you need that personal element too? Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear how you feel about this.

Okay, I can hear your question: how much personal experience did I put into my romance, The Turkish Affair?

Many years ago, like Anne, the heroine of The Turkish Affair, I was living in central Turkey and working as a translator. Sometimes, I’d head out for other parts of the country. Once, the bus I was traveling on pulled off the main road, down a rutted lane, and into an archaeological site — we were to deliver a package of some sort. While we waited, I stared idly out of the bus window and caught sight of a man ambling in the direction of a tumble of pillars and ruins. He was lean, supple, and the bright sun caught the golden blaze of his hair — he was a very romantic figure. Who was he? An archaeologist? I never found out. With a puff of noxious smoke, the bus sprang to life, turned, roared back toward the main road. Where was that site? I did go that way again, but never found it. But the blond man’s image has remained with me all these years; he was slated to become my hero, archaeologist Renaud Townsend.

Another time, I was living with a Turkish archaeologist. We had been at a friend’s house — another archaeologist — and were enjoying ourselves. Time flew, and before we knew it, it was too late to go home: back in those days, there was a curfew, and you would be arrested if caught out in the street. Therefore, we had to spend the night at the friend’s house. Around an hour later, there was a knock on the door. It was the police: some antique coins had been found in the baggage of tourists leaving the country — it’s highly illegal to smuggle antiques — and the two archaeologists were ordered to drive down to the coast, verify the worth of the coins. I accompanied them, and the way both men summed up the situation and helped the tourists (who would have had a terrible time of it, and probably would have gone to jail without trial) is told in The Turkish Affair.

Another time, I got myself into a dangerous situation on a road out in the backcountry. I shouldn’t have gone walking on my own out there — it was a very stupid thing to do. I was lucky to be rescued by a very brave and rebellious young woman, Leyla, and I couldn’t resist putting her, her unpleasant mother, the whole incident, into The Turkish Affair.

In fact, I always put experiences from my own life into all my books, no matter what the genre. But I think I must be very fortunate: I’ve had quite an original wandering life and many adventures.

Danger at the ancient Hittite site of Karakuyu

A top notch Washington journalist before a liaison with the wrong man implicated her in scandal, Anne Pierson has been hiding in backwoods Turkey and working as a translator. She’s determined to keep her past a secret, to avoid personal relationships. But after meeting Renaud Townsend, her discrete little world is turned upside down.

Archaeologist Renaud Townsend is troubled by Anne Pierson’s refusal to talk about her past, but instinct tells him he can rely on her. Or is it only desire speaking? A lusty love affair for the duration of the summer dig is a very appealing idea.

When Anne’s bad reputation links her to stolen artifacts and murder, the budding romance with Renaud comes to a halt. If they learn to trust one another, her name can be cleared. But is there still enough intensity to give love a second chance?

Published by Crimson Romance
ISBN 10: 1-5072-0121-4
ISBN 13: 978-1-5072-0121-3
eISBN 10: 1-5072-0122-2
eISBN 13: 9 978-1-5072-0122-0

     The door opened. Anne looked up. And froze. Speak of the wolf and you see his tail. Renaud Townsend. She stared at his long, tight body, the tousle of sun-bleached hair. Noted again his casual, elegant saunter as he entered. Remarkable. But what was he doing here? What mad coincidence had brought him to Necmettin’s café? And now that he was here, how could she avoid him? Get up and go home? Her fingers inched toward her purse strap in preparation for the getaway, while she lowered her head and pretended to read. But, despite her desire not to look, she couldn’t help glancing up.
     He was watching her.
     Their eyes locked. Time became fluid, spilled out into a long, loose eternity. Until, finally, he was moving again, easing his way toward her, stopping beside her table, his blue eyes radiating intimacy. Intimacy she didn’t need. Or want.
     “Hello.” His voice was warm, coaxing. Very different from the tone she’d heard this morning.
     Speech temporarily deserted her. His eyes scanned her mouth slowly, and her throat closed. His gaze was as intimate as a caress.
     “I’m happy I’ve run into you again.”
     He meant it; she saw that. Did it mean he’d been looking for her? Combing the scruffy town until he found her? Ridiculous. Why be preoccupied by a woman he’d met only briefly?
     “I want to apologize for my rudeness at the site this morning. I felt guilty all afternoon.”
     She stared at him blankly. Humility was the last thing she’d expected. She fought her curiosity … and lost the fight. “Guilty?” He didn’t look like the sort of man who’d know what the word meant. She had him pegged; she knew his type. He was a man who helped himself to what he wanted and ignored the rest. As easy to read as a fluorescent billboard.
     He nodded. “Please, let me explain.”
     But he didn’t look quite so sure of himself now. And she felt herself relenting. “You don’t have to explain anything.”
     “Of course I don’t have to.” His lips twitched into a faint smile. “I want to. My behavior was offensive.”
     She forced herself to shrug, as if his explanation didn’t matter to her. She had to discourage him, because friendliness was the last thing she needed from him. Arrogance she could deal with; it would be easy keeping him at arm’s length with that. But warmth? Sympathy? She didn’t think she was strong enough to handle those, not when his very presence excited her, made her want to open up to him.
     “Explanations really aren’t necessary, Mr. Townsend. Please don’t bother—”
     “Not Mr. Townsend. Renaud. Just Renaud and Anne, okay?”
     How calm, how vibrant his voice was. There wasn’t the slightest trace of the aggression she’d heard this morning. And first names were too intimate. She wanted to stop him, say, “I don’t want you in my territory. You spell trouble.” She didn’t want complications and emotional upheaval. Those would churn up her daily life, turn it into complete misery.
     Yet it was a nice name. Renaud. She tried the weight of it in a part of her mind. “Yes,” she heard her own traitorous mouth murmur.
     He indicated the second chair at Anne’s small table. “Mind if I sit?”
     Of course she minded. Or did she have a mind left at all? She shook her head. He’d traded in the tight T-shirt for a loose, beige shirt that managed to suggest all the tight muscles it hid. He still wore jeans, though. Tight, worn jeans outlining his thighs. His hair had been brushed back into a semblance of order, but a few unruly curls invited her fingers to touch.
     “It’s the first time I’ve been on a site in Turkey. I know nothing about local customs; I don’t speak a word of the language. And having responsibility for the site dropped onto my shoulders only days ago made me less than pleasant this morning.”
     “I wasn’t particularly charming either.” She hadn’t wanted to say that. Oh, why was he making her say things she’d had no intention of admitting? The last thing she should be doing was encouraging him, opening the door to easy conversation.

     Born in New York, raised in Toronto, J. Arlene Culiner has spent most of her life in England, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Hungary and the Sahara. She now resides in a French village of no interest and protects all creatures, especially spiders and snakes. She works as an actress, a photographer, a contemporary artist, a musician, writes mysteries, history books and perfectly believable romances. Her heroines are funny and gutsy, her heroes, dashingly lovable. All are (proudly) over the age of forty. The Turkish Affair is her fourth romance.
     Two of her books have just been re-released: a mystery, Death by Slanderous Tongue, by Club Lighthouse Publishing; a non-fiction book, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, by Now and Then Books.
     She’ll be starting a podcast, In a Small French Village, in February. Some of her cartoons can be seen at and her short fiction at


Susanne Matthews said...

Well said. I think there's more of me and my beliefs in my books than there should be, but I understand what you mean. Good luck with your new book.

Diane Jewkes said...

Really enjoyed the book and I could feel the sincerity of the characters throughout.

J.Arlene Culiner said...

Thanks, Susanne. And good luck with yours too.

HiDee said...

Nice post. Congratulations on the new release, and thank you for being with us today!

J.Arlene Culiner said...

Thanks, HiDee, for letting me come back for this visit. And thanks also, Diane. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.