Tag Archives: Carol Smallwood

Aline Soules

By Carol Smallwood

Aline Soules is the author of numerous poems and prose works. Her most recent publication, Meditation on Woman, is a mix of prose poetry and flash fiction. A small selection of pieces appeared in the Kenyon Review under the book’s working title Woman Acts. Her chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, will be published by ADC Press in 2014. Aline earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles in 2003. She also holds master’s degrees in English and library science. She is widowed with a grown son and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Carol Smallwood invited Aline to talk about her passion for writing about women and mothers; how form enhances her themes; and the influence of other writers, the Internet, and writing classes.

Carol Smallwood: Your work focuses on the roles of women and mothers. Why are those themes so central to your writing?

Aline Soules: Women’s roles became a passion when I was a university student in the mid to late 1960s. I learned how vital it was for women to expand their rights and opportunities. I value career, marriage, children, and the independence that has become possible for women over the decades. I worked, cherished my family, and spent years in “the sandwich generation,” caring for both parents and child. Looking back, I note the recurring presence and importance of all women in my work—daughters, mothers, workers, women living daily lives and coming into their own—perhaps because I have experienced those roles.

C.S.: Can you describe how those themes appear in your work and give us examples?

A.S.: In The Size of the World, the title piece dealt with how my mother’s world shrank as she neared the end of her life. In my most recent publication, Meditation on Woman, I created an “über-woman,” who embodied all these elements. In my forthcoming chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, I explore a condition that so many women will experience and include my relationship with my son and how that relationship affected decisions at the time. Some of these poems appeared in literary journals such as the Houston Literary Review and Straight Forward, but my chapbook draws them together into a thematic whole.

Motherhood is a key element in all my poems, whether I am writing about my grandmother, my mother, or me. In “Links,” my child is a nursing baby, but in “Jogging,” he is grown and leaving home. I think every mother experiences that full spectrum and all the experiences in between. The universality of motherhood is inescapable. Even when I write surreal work, such as some of the pieces in Meditation on Woman, motherhood creeps in. In “Golden Handcuff,” a woman becomes a man, but the biological imperative is still there and s/he adopts. Being maternal is inescapable, both a passion and an experience.

C.S.: How does form contribute to the expression of your ideas?

A.S.: I have definitely experimented with form to explore my themes. My earlier poetry was more traditional poetry with line breaks and stanzas, and my prose was primarily in the form of short stories. In Meditation on Woman, I mixed prose poetry and flash fiction to create über-woman because I wanted to focus on the confluence of as many factors as I could, even the confluence of forms. I love intersections—where poetry meets prose, where fiction meets nonfiction—anything that blends genres. In Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, I sought a reflective, calm environment where the reader can follow a widow’s journey, and I returned to more traditional poetic forms to achieve that.

Now, I’m working on a novel. It’s early yet, but I am exploring story and character first and will develop description and other elements later. It’s part of a “novel in a year” process guided by Ellen Sussman, author of The Paradise Guest House and other novels.

C.S.: What writers have influenced you the most?

A.S.: So many writers, so little time! Among poets, I would choose lyric poets in particular, e.g., Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver, but also Stephen Dunn, Seamus Heaney, and many others. In prose, my influences range from Isaac Babel to P.G. Wodehouse. I name these two to illustrate both the wide range of my influences and the eclectic nature of my reading. Babel is fabulous for description—never a wasted word. His description isn’t just description; it contributes to the story. Wodehouse is an amazing plot master.  Every author gives you something.

I do not choose authors by gender. I deeply admire Doris Lessing’s work, just as I admire the discipline of a writer like Anthony Trollope who rose and wrote every morning before going to his job at the post office. Of course, he was not disciplined while at the post office, being late and insubordinate and disliking the work, but he was certainly disciplined as a writer.

C.S.: Can you share with us your experience with writing classes? Which ones have helped you the most?

A.S.: I have taken writing classes all my life and every one of them has given me something. When I lived in Michigan, I drove to Iowa City every summer for a week and a weekend of classes at the Iowa Writers Summer Festival. Jane Mead and Gordon Mennenga come to mind, particularly Gordon, who showed me so much, including how to conduct a writing workshop and not get hung up on one piece. He kept critiques moving and we covered much more work that way.

In 2000, I began my MFA on a low residency basis at Antioch University Los Angeles. It was fabulous from the design of the program and generosity of its founder and director, Eloise Klein Healy, to my mentors, such as Jim Krusoe and Frank Gaspar.

I once enjoyed a week-long workshop with Mark Doty—amazing. He both guided our work and created a safe and artistic space to foster exploration.

Now, I’m part of the “novel in a year” process guided by Ellen Sussman. It’s been a steep learning curve and I’m far from where I want to be, but the twelve of us met half a dozen times through 2013 and became a community. It’s very interesting to work with such diverse writers. All may be writing the first draft of a novel, but the works are very different. There’s historical fiction, young adult, women’s fiction, literary fiction, and memoir. Conversations draw from all these perspectives and we inform each other’s work in ways that wouldn’t happen if we were all writing in the same genre.

C.S.: How has the Internet influenced you as a writer and how do you use it to help promote your work?

A.S.: The Internet connects me to the world. I have “met” so many authors I would never have known, read so much work that would have passed by unnoticed, and entered a wider writing world.  While there are new challenges for writers—more competition, a more cut-throat business approach, a greater need for self-promotion—there are also new opportunities.

My website combines website and blog and I try to post every couple of weeks. I work full time at California State University, East Bay, as a library faculty member and a teacher, and there are times when I fall behind. I also get busy with editing work on the side and that can derail my posting plans as well, but any post I provide must offer content or perspective. I’m not interested in simply promoting my work. Although I have been published by small presses (most recently by Anaphora Literary Press) and marketing is now every writer’s responsibility, I want to offer something of meaning that stems from my love of the English language and my desire to convey ideas, emotions, or thoughts clearly and effectively.

C.S.: What advice would you give to other writers?

A.S.: Keep writing; keep sharing; keep reading; keep taking classes; keep going to conferences; network, network, network; write, write, write. Never give up. Enjoy the process; otherwise, you’re not in love with writing, you’re in love with “having written” and seeing your name in print. Even if some of your work is never published, if you’ve enjoyed the process, then you’re a winner and a success. And that is what I wish for every writer—success.

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Carol Smallwood’s over four dozen books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers. Carol has founded and supports humane societies.

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Justin Hoffman, Editor

By Carol Smallwood

Justin Hoffman is the editor of  FreightTrain Magazine.

Carol Smallwood: Please describe your work with FreightTrain Magazine.

Justin Hoffman: My work at FreightTrain Magazine consists of everything that needs to be done, from reading submissions to editing, from the web programming to story posting. It’s a small operation that I do in my spare time right now. The project is done out of love for reading and writing. It’s one way I can do something more for the author community.

C.S.: Tell us how FreightTrain Magazine came about.

J.H.: FreightTrain Magazine was something I wanted to do for a long time, so I took a small press publishing course in college. As you can imagine the point was to create a small press. I choose to create the fiction magazine I had been dreaming about for years. Ever since I have rarely been able to stop working on it.

C.S.: What writers have influenced you the most?

J.H.: Here’s a really short list: Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, George Orwell; I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there. The two that probably influenced me the most are Stephen King because he made me believe I could write, and F. Scott Fitzgerald because he’s the one I wish I could write like.

C.S.: What are the most common writing mistakes you see?

J.H.: Punctuation. I see a lot of novice author’s work. They mostly stick to commas and periods, which is a shame. Often a story can be improved with slight changes to the sentence structure, and all it needs are some colons or semicolons. The biggest problem is the comma. Writers tend to either overdo the comma or never use it, and most times, they flip back and forth in style during a story. Usually reading a story out loud will alert the author to the placement of commas. Tense consistency is another common issue. If the story is in past tense, don’t use present and so on. Those are technically mistakes; if I had to come up with a plot problem it would be: your story probably shouldn’t end with the main character dying. That’s the easy way out; a mistake I find myself making on too many short story first drafts. There’s usually a stronger ending.

C.S.: What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?

J.H.: I went to college for fiction writing, so I would have to say just about all of them. The key really isn’t what you write or who reads it that will help you the most. It’s simply writing constantly and consistently. The classes also helped in another way: by forcing me to read varied and new-to-me authors. It’s important because you might learn a new way to tackle a problem or find a style you might like to incorporate into your own.

C.S.: What advice would you give other writers?

J.H.: Don’t stop. Writing like anything else, takes a lot of practice. You need to read a lot to learn how to write, and to write a lot to learn how not to write, and to listen to a lot to learn from your mistakes.

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Carol Smallwood’s books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, foreword by Molly Peacock (McFarland, 2012) on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011). Carol supports humane societies.

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Galsworthy: Novelists and Craft

 By Carol Smallwood

As writers we wonder about others who’ve influenced and shaped our favorite novelist’s apprenticeship and craft, want to know they’ve struggled and didn’t spring full-grown like Athena. In my case, I’m curious who John Galsworthy read and regarded the most highly–who helped this Nobel Prize winner become such a widely read, prolific writer of novels, plays, essays, short stories, and poems. After The Forsyte Saga began airing in 1969, the series became so popular that Masterpiece Theatre was created to meet the demand for great literary adaptations.

My own Galsworthy favorite, The Patrician, has been the novel I’ve savored since high school for its lyric beauty, how every one of its words builds an inevitability rivaling a Greek classic. Each time I read it, I learn something of style, characterization, narration, point of view, mood, tone, irony, theme, dialogue, satire, imagery: it never fails to satisfy, to bring a feeling of regret for leaving its world after the last chapter of Part II. And for weeks after find myself wondering what Miltoun, Barbara, Lady Casterley, Courtier, might be doing, sniffing the orange-flower water of Gustard’s, the dried rose-leaves of Mrs. Benton–wishing for a sequel but knowing none could match it. That to wish for any other ending would be to deny its very theme: Character is Fate. I’ve read his other novels several times but The Patrician continues to have no rival–although I do wish there had been more novels written featuring that most engaging character Dinny Cherrell than just the trilogy, End of the Chapter.

In his address, “Six Novelists in Profile,” Galsworthy places Charles Dickens first among English novelists because of his ability to convey human nature so vividly. Looking at the novel, Galsworthy notes, “Under Jane Austen, Dickens, Balzac, Stendhal, Scott, Dumas, Thackeray and Hugo, the novel attained a certain relation of part to whole; but it was left for one of more poetic feeling and greater sensibility than any of these to perfect its proportions, and introduce the principle of selection, until there was that complete relation of part to whole which goes to the making of what we call a work of art.” Galsworthy regarded Ivan Turgenev as writing “in terms of atmosphere rather than in terms of fact,” his poetry less poetic than his sketches and novels. I read some of Turgenev he mentions trying to catch the poetic moods Galsworthy admired without success—then realized I’d missed the obvious: writers borrow and transform, make it into their own and in the process lies the inevitable sea change.

Of Guy de Maupassant, Galsworthy writes, “The vigour of his vision, and his thought, the economy and clarity of the expression in which he clothed them, have not yet been surpassed. Better than any other writer, he has taught us what to leave out; better than any illustrated for us Flaubert’s maxim: ‘Study an object till its essential difference from every other is perceived and can be rendered in words.’” Galsworthy regarded him as a supreme craftsman who hated prejudice and stupidity capable of displaying deep emotion.

Galsworthy saw Leo Tolstoi’s wide canvas opposite of Turgenev’s, his mind more concerned with what he wanted to convey than the manner in which he did. Style according to Galsworthy, is “the power in a writer to remove all barriers between himself and the reader—the triumph of style is the creation of intimacy,” and Tolstoi the master of creating the feeling of actual life, War and Peace the greatest novel.

Joseph Conrad he credited with having more than other novelists with a “cosmic sense” in which fate plays the important role. Galsworthy considers him supreme in “word-painting,” of folding stories over and over giving “subtlety, richness, and depth” and placing Nature first, Man second. Every time I read Conrad I cannot believe English was not his native language.

Anatole France is described by Galsworthy as having a style that was “the poetry of pure reason” and credits him with influencing modern thought, perforating “prejudice and punctured idolatry so adroitly that the ventilation holes were scarcely visible, and the victims felt draughts without knowing why.”

Galsworthy observes that the novel “has always been the subject of a ‘tug-of-war’ between two schools of thought—the school that demands of it a revelation or criticism of life, and the school that asks of it nothing but pleasure-giving invention,” but contends art must have the quality of life: “a sufficient relation of part to whole, and a sufficient flavouring of the artist’s temperament. For only these elements give to a piece of work the essential novelty of a living thing.”

In this essay written in 1923, Galsworthy, concludes that the novelist needs to see widely, feel deeply and “mould what he has seen or felt into that which has a new and significant life of its own.” He compares the novelist with Manet equating painting with jumping into the sea without knowing how to swim.

“Four More Novelists in Profile,” Galsworthy relates that he began reading Dumas when he was twenty-five when crossing the Indian Ocean and read him for the next four years. Galsworthy notes, “At his best he had no peer at sustaining the interest of a tale. He generally had a number of plots, and drove them four-in-hand at a sharp and steady pace and with a fine evenness of motion.”  That Dumas was mostly interested in entertaining and offered no criticism of life.

Galsworthy considers Tchehov as revealing the “very soul” of the Russian people through “intuitive knowledge of human emotions” that gives his work a spiritual form in atmosphere and mood. His characters “are either too true to life or perhaps merely too Russian to be remembered by name.”

Robert Louis Stevenson is characterized by Galsworthy as living in the moment and not “the type which psychologises and worries about why and wherefores,” easy to read, and superior to Dumas and Dickens “in dexterity and swiftness” and an eternally youthful romanticist.

In W.H. Hudson there was “something of primitive man, something even of the beasts and birds he loved.” Galsworthy regarded Green Mansions as so unique that he didn’t catch its beauty till reading it again ten years later. “Rima, the bird girl of the forest, embodies at once the spell of Nature, and the yearning of the human soul for that intimacy with Nature which through self-consciousness—or shall we say town-life—we have lost.”

As to the future of the novel, Galsworthy concludes, “Art that can stand up above the waters of life, or that can smile apart, or that can do both, is rooted in deep and quiet things, in private and fervent feelings.” Written in 1928, it is interesting to note that he saw how hard it was to “call our souls our own.” And, applying his own definition that books not having “life” in them will be blown away by time, I cannot see that happening to Galsworthy.

In “Reminiscences of Conrad,” Galsworthy goes back to 1893 when he first met Conrad when sailing on the Torrens. Conrad was the experienced chief mate of the sailing ship and was convalescing from Congo fever. Galsworthy relates Conrad read “prodigiously,” and for the thirty-one years he knew him that he struggled with his health and although, “Conrad was critically accepted from the very start,” it was twenty years before his work generated many sales. Galsworthy noted that Conrad wrote “with blood and tears and needed seclusion for it,” that he “stared life very much in the face, and distrusted those who didn’t,” and credited him with having a huge memory for impressions, people, and detail.

In “Creation of Character in Literature,” Galsworthy regards Shakespeare’s as being first of all a poet who in character creation was more of a novelist. He notes that if he hadn’t been connected with acting that he might have held Cervantes’s place in realistic novelists; he regards Falstaff and Hamlet as characters created through the subconscious mind.

Galsworthy notes that Turgenev created one of his characters, Bazarov, from meeting a young doctor on the train. After the journey, Turgenev thought about what the young man’s way of life must be like in a diary he kept for months until he was familiar with the character, coining the term, nihilist. The sense that this was a new type, a modern character, provided the theme for Turgenev’s, Fathers and Children.

In a personal classic account of the creative process in “Creation of Character in Literature” Galsworthy wrote: “I sink into my morning chair, a blotter on my knee, the last words or deed of some character in ink before my eyes, a pen in my hand, a pipe in my mouth, and nothing in my head. I sit. I don’t intend; I don’t expect; I don’t even hope. I read over the last pages. Gradually my mind seems to leave the chair, and be where my character is acting or speaking, leg raised, waiting to come down, lips opened ready to say something. Suddenly, my pen jots down a movement or remark, another, another, and goes on doing this, haltingly, perhaps, for an hour or two. When the result is read through it surprises one by seeming to come out of what went before, and by ministering to some sort of possible future. Those pages, adding tissue to character, have been supplied from the store-cupboard of the subconscious, in response to the appeal of one’s conscious directive sense, and in service to the saving grace of one’s theme, using that word in the widest sense. The creation of character, however untrammelled and unconscious, thus has ever the guidance of what, perhaps, may best be called ‘the homing instinct.’”

So I shall continue to look with awe upon the reproduction of the handwritten first page of the manuscript of The Patrician I keep near my computer, marvel how few crossed out words there are in the first and beginning of the second paragraph, and try to decipher the words crossed out. Perhaps some day I’ll even see some of Galsworthy’s manuscripts and letters at Princeton University’s Firestone Library, Harvard University’s Houghton Library, or Oxford University’s Bodleian Library but till then can treasure his signed books.

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Carol Smallwood co-edited Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching (McFarland, 2012) on the list of Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers Magazine; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011) received a Pushcart nomination. Carol has founded, supports humane societies.

 

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