By J. Arlene Culiner (Guest Blogger)
I love writing about people who are different. Some are forced to adapt to new circumstances in order to survive, others are originals, folks who have never really managed to fit into mainstream society. But no one is humdrum, and all have dreams.
I want to write—and read—about people who challenge the status quo. They are often opinionated, sometimes obnoxiously so, but they are also entertaining, and stimulating, and they do make us question our own values.
I also want to know that, once the first zing of romance is over, that heroes and heroines won’t end up sitting in front of the television, bored, eating fast food and being…well…dull. So here are my cranks and misfits, all gathered together in A Room in Blake’s Folly.
What do an embittered mail-order bride, an adventurer, a brothel madam, a silver baron/artist, a war refugee, a pacifist, a playboy veterinarian, and a woman who protects spiders all have in common? They get another chance to find love. And what better setting for romance than a semi-ghost town in Nevada?
A Room in Blake’s Folly begins in 1889 with the romance between Sookie Lacey, former prostitute now saloon dance girl, and Westley Cranston, adventurer. But love rarely follows a straight path. Times change, life goes on, new relationships form.
By 2022, Blake’s Folly, once notorious for its saloons, brothels, speak easies, and divorce ranches, has become a semi-ghost town of abandoned shacks and weedy dirt roads. But the old stories are still very present, and they have the power to influence the 53 remaining inhabitants.
A Room in Blake’s Folly
If only the walls could speak…
In one hundred and fifty years, Blake's Folly, a silver boom town 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 a widow?”
“No.” She could hear the tightness in her voice and feel the tension in her shoulders.
His eyes glinted. “A runaway wife.”
“Not that either.” Did she have to say more? She didn’t. But since people were bound to be asking that same question over and over, she might as well get used to it, even though the answer was only partially true. Even though it could never express what her life had been like up until now. “I left of my own accord, but with my husband’s full agreement. He’ll be looking into getting a divorce.”
“And your children?”
Ah, there it was. The big question, the one thing everyone would be curious about. “No children. I’ve never had any.”
He said nothing. Had he heard the note of anger in her voice? She’d done her best to sound neutral, but neutrality wasn’t an easy note to hit. How vividly she remembered the first time she’d caught sight of her future husband, Sam Graham, waiting with a little knot of men by a shanty train station in the middle of nowhere. He and the others had been eager to grab a sight of their brides-to-be, women lured west by the promise of marriage, land, and a home. How had the other women fared? Had they been as discouraged as she at the sight of the vast lonely wasteland, the emptiness, the bleached-out colors, and the coarse men who would be their lifetime partners? Men honed by the elements, a hard life. And rough alcohol.
Westley Cranston stood, walked in her direction—no, walk wasn’t the word she could use. He sauntered, a slow, elegant saunter. A man sure of himself, of his power to seduce. Yes, that was why she’d felt so wary yesterday. He stopped when he was standing beside her. Smiled. No, there was nothing seductive in his smile. She’d been wrong. What had she been imagining? That she was still the young attractive woman she’d been years ago? What a fool she was.
He touched the top of the piano with a gesture that was almost a caress. “Don’t worry. You’ll do well. The boys you’ll be playing with are good musicians, nice guys, too. They play at all the dances in town, and they’ll teach you the sort of pieces folks out here are used to hearing.”
His eyebrows rose. “For what?”
“For being so kind.”
“Kind?” He guffawed. “It’s not kindness. I’m fighting for survival. High time we got a good piano player in this place. Bob, before he let that stray bullet hit him, knew how to slap at the keys, all right, but he didn’t know the first thing about keeping time. I’ll bet pretty well all the customers were happy to see him taken out of the running.” Grinning, he moved away in that casual easy way of his, headed toward the front door. Then stopped, looked back, his eyes twinkling. “But they couldn’t do that, not legally, anyway. One of the rules here in town forbids shooting pistols in a barroom.”
She grinned back at him. “Sounds like a pretty good rule to me. And what are the other rules, if you don’t mind me asking. If there are any others, that is…”
“Sure there are. Need plenty of rules in boom towns, especially after payday. The other ones are, you can’t insult a woman, you can’t ride a pony or horse on the wooden sidewalks, and you can’t ride them inside this establishment or any other business in town.” He was chuckling again when he turned the lock, stepped out into the street, and disappeared.
Hattie remained seated at the piano. Her anguish had totally vanished. Amazing, how he had put her at ease. He hadn’t judged her, hadn’t looked at her with disgust when she’d told him some of her story, hadn’t condemned her for feeling unsure about her piano playing. She wondered why she’d felt so mistrustful. He had behaved like a perfect gentleman—and a friend.
Then another thought struck her. What had he been doing here in the Mizpah so early in the morning? Had he slept here? Obviously he had. Hadn’t he just let himself out? And that meant he had probably spent the night with one of the ladies upstairs. That he was a client.
Disappointment washed over her. She couldn’t condemn him—men had needs, desires. Why was she so saddened by the thought?
Review of A Room in Blake’s Folly
Rich detail and scintillating dialogue transport the reader through the decades between 1889 and 2022 of this surprising saga. With flowing descriptive phrases (“… the walls had a yellowish hue that only time could bring,”) Culiner effectively intertwines the characters and descendants of Blake’s Folly. And although overhunting and pollution mean environmental change, the charm of this old world community remains intact. Cheers for this book!
~ Lisa McCombs for Readers’ Favorite
About the Author
Writer, storyteller, photographer, and social critical artist, 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.
Author Website: http://www.j-arleneculiner.com
Storytelling Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
Amazon Author Page : https://www.amazon.com/author/jarleneculiner-quirky-romances