THE TURKISH AFFAIR: AUTHOR Q&A with J. Arlene Culiner @jarleneculiner #interview


We are thrilled to have J. Arlene Culiner with us today to talk about her new book, THE TURKISH AFFAIR, and to share her knowledge of the publishing biz.


Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  When did you come up with the idea to write your book?

Like the heroine of The Turkish Affair, I once worked in central Turkey, translating for tourists. The landscape was beautiful but bleak; the winters were Siberian, the summers, hot and heavy. It was a dangerous time, too, and I knew there were rules that had to be respected: the police were untrustworthy; there was political unrest; and there were frequent arrests. I spent much time on archaeological sites where I learnt about artifact theft; and, through rather strange circumstances, I witnessed what happened to political prisoners inside Turkish prisons.

Now, living in France and launched as a writer, I realized how perfect a Turkish setting would be for a mystery: thus The Turkish Affair, was born. Although a romance and an intrigue, the story is realistic. There’s menace, but it’s psychological; the murder happens off stage, without graphic description, car chases, or screaming sirens. The setting is exotic, but because this is an unstable part of the world, we can’t feel too comfortable. And we can’t count on the police either, for corruption is endemic here.

I know that those don’t read romance books, or who only read certain kinds of romances, think these are books about fluffy silly people doing fluffy silly things, or that they’re turgid narratives that make the Kama Sutra look like Sesame Street. Yes, such books do exist, but there are others: it all depends on a writer’s skill and inclination. And, since so many people regularly read romances, why not write one? It’s a vehicle for a good story well told; it’s a way passing on information that many might never discover otherwise. Even better, a romance book teaches us that if we know how to give, we can find love.

Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

My publisher for The Turkish Affair is The Wild Rose Press. I’ve published two other books with them, A Swan’s Sweet Song, and, Felicity’s Power, and I adore working with my editor, Eilidh MacKenzie. I’ve also published several romances with Fire Star Press.
I don’t self-publish because I like knowing my books are good enough to be accepted by an official publisher. Also, I would never be any good at doing all the hard promotional work those who self-publish must contend with.

Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

Absolutely. When the now-defunct Australian publisher, Power of Love, accepted my romance/women’s novel, Felicity’s Power, for publication in 2001, I was quite surprised... and very pleased. Both the hero and heroine in the story are in their sixties, and, back then, romance publishers only considered books with characters in their early twenties — as if falling in love has a sell-by date! Fifteen years later, I rewrote and added new chapters to Felicity’s Power, and it was accepted by The Wild Rose Press. Today, many readers want romances with older main characters, but genre publishers are still refusing such manuscripts.

Do you believe a book cover plays an important role in the selling process?

Yes, I think it does. I’m very attracted to those that are aesthetically beautiful. If a book looks crude, silly, or vulgar, I immediately think the contents are too. There are excellent covers being created for mainstream literature, however, romance covers do tend to follow trends. Because of that, so many look the same — think of all those covers with shirtless men showing their over-developed abs and biceps. More recently, there’s a new trend — illustrated covers — and they’re less embarrassing for those who are uncomfortable about reading romance in public places. Unfortunately, so many of those covers are also starting to look alike.

How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

It was very difficult writing this book, but for me, writing is always hard work, and it demands much research and discipline. Working on the first draft is a horrible slog, and I give up thousands of times. When I get to the second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts, I have fun. I can play with sentences, tweak phrases, improve the vocabulary, add to the characters, work until the rhythm is right, and paragraphs sing. But because I’m so exigent, I’m hardly in the position to give tips to other writers that will make the job easier. I also know that not everyone is willing to rewrite the way I do. Some manage to knock off books, one after the other, and never look back; others depend on ghostwriters.
The one thing we are all faced with at one time or another is rejection, and I have no words to lighten the dismal feeling a rejection slip brings. We just have to get on with it, send that manuscript out again. After a while, rejection doesn’t even hurt: it’s just another challenge.

What other books are you working on and when will they be published?

At the moment I’m writing a series of novellas that will become part of a new, third book in my Nevada small town romance series, Romance in Blake’s Folly. The stories begin in the 1889 and go up to contemporary times. I hope the book will be published this year. I also have two non-fiction manuscripts looking for publishers: one is a narrative non-fiction about the Hungarian village where I once lived; the second is the rather unconventional biography of a forgotten Ukrainian rebel, songster, and poet who died in 1875.

What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

Many people who visit a foreign country, go for a vacation. The world they see is the modern tourist world of beaches, big hotels, shopping trips, and visits to historic sites. 

But Turkey, a tourist’s paradise, is also a country with a shocking human rights record, where journalists, writers, and moviemakers constantly run the risk of being arrested. In, The Turkish Affair, there is a glimpse into what daily life is like for most. And even though this is a work of fiction, the danger, and corruption are very real.

Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?

I’m taking people on an exotic journey to backwoods Turkey. There, they’ll experience the thrill of discovery on an archeological site, peek into the little-known Hittite Empire. In other words, I’m offering an insider’s view of a country as well a armchair travel with no airport hassle, no check-in lines, and no bumpy plane ride.

But this is also a story about learning to trust another person, about the rewards in letting go of the past, and about how proud we feel when we take risks.

Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Because I think that language and imagery are such important elements in a good book, I would suggest that any potential writer read—and absorb—poetry, particularly that written between 1940 and 1980. The work is accessible, and very strong. Some poets I particularly love are: Stevie Smith, Earle Birney, Norman MacCaig, Elizabeth Bishop, Dannie Abse, Roy Fuller, Anthony Hecht, Derek Mahon, and Randall Jarell. But there many others, too, and their poems are available for free on the Internet

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 and, much to local dismay, protects all creatures, especially spiders and snakes. She particularly enjoys incorporating into short stories, mysteries, narrative non-fiction, and romances, her experiences in out-of-the-way communities, and her conversations with strange characters.




Priceless artifacts are disappearing from the ancient Hittite site of Karakuyu in Turkey, and the site director has vanished. Called in to solve the mystery, archaeologist Renaud Townsend is hindered by both his inability to speak the language and the knowledge that the local police are corrupt. His attraction to translator Anne Pierson is immediate, although he is troubled by her refusal to talk about the past and her fear of public scandal. But when murder enters the picture, both Anne and Renaud realize that the risk of falling in love is not the only danger.


Author J. Arlene Culiner does not disappoint in this fast-paced novel, The Turkish Affair. Glittering descriptions, magical settings, and enviable characters bring the solemn grounds of Turkey to life as we are planted firmly in an archeological dig in Karakuyu, Turkey. Culiner’s mastery of the English language and sentence combinations form an enchanting read. The Turkish Affair is a must-read for all lovers of romance and adventure.
–Lisa McCombs for Readers’ Favorite

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