Aline Soules is a poet whose work includes the anthologies Evening Sun and Meditation on Women; here is a link to her website:
Q: What is the theme of Evening Sun?
A: Evening Sun is a journey through the challenges and emotional turmoil of widowhood. While it is my personal journey, my goal was to make that journey universal and also to celebrate my life with my amazing partner. That’s why I threaded music through the work as well, connecting our experiences with the related stories of composers.
Q: How did you come to write it?
A: My husband dropped at my feet of a brain aneurysm. All I could salvage from that event was being able to donate his organs and tissues to help someone else have a better life. The woman who got his heart wrote to me (letters are anonymous and go through the transplantation society) and I realized that the experience of widowhood was one that many shared. Researching the U.S. Census for an essay on widowhood for an anthology, I read that 13 million are widowed annually in this country, 2 million men and 11 million women. Some months after my husband’s death, when I began to recover from shock, I decided to write about the various stages of this experience, partly to cope and partly because I came to understand that not enough has been written about the emotional changes we undergo.
Q: What is the overall theme of Meditation on Women?
A: In Meditation on Woman, my theme is every-woman. Women have so many roles in life and I wanted to celebrate as many of them as I could by creating this one woman in multiple short pieces, all of which go together into a complex whole.
Q: Why did you choose this subject?
A: Being a woman in the latter half of the 20th century and now into the 21st century is one of the biggest challenges women have faced. As someone who went through the feminist movement, I am aware of how impossible it is to “do it all” or “have it all.” My generation was the first to try to work full-time through marriage, childbirth and child rearing, elder care issues, and so on. We were exhausted for years, but slogged on in spite of it all. That said, I’m grateful to feminism because it has enabled me to own my own home, buy my own car, have rights that the young women of today take for granted. In fact, as a teacher of information literacy, I’m amazed at the bad rap women in their late teens and early twenties give feminism. They are shocked when I talk about how they’d have to have a man sign for a car or a business or a home, if we hadn’t fought for those rights. Their lack of awareness was another drive to write this book.
Q: Who are some of your writing influences?
A: There probably isn’t enough “air space” to name them all. While I read work written in English, mostly, I also read work in translation, particularly after a Nobel Prize winner is named. I read poetry, short fiction, essays, novels, articles—whatever comes to hand. I’ve been known to read the cereal box on occasion!
As for influences, my strongest ones are probably poetic: Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Stephen Dunn, Thomas Tranströmer, Seamus Heaney, Louis MacNeice, Emily Dickinson…
I am also influenced by prose writing. I love the work of Isaac Babel, particularly his descriptions. I read Dickens and Thackeray and Scott and Trollope. I adore the work of P. G. Wodehouse. Every year, I wait for the Nobel Prize announcement and pick up books I might not read otherwise—Doris Lessing, Orhan Pamuk, Kenzaburo Oe, John M. Coetzee. Of course, poets have also won—Tranströmer, Heaney, Wislawa Szymborska, whom I forgot to name above. I think of everything I read as an influence although my work isn’t like most of them, but I aspire to greatness.
Q: What is the secret to good flash fiction?
A: Flash fiction implies a story—a single idea, focus, and pithiness—all given in the heightened language of poetry. In Meditation on Woman some of my work is prose poetry and some is flash fiction and there is a thin line between the two that’s hard to detect.
Q: What have you done to promote your writing?
A: Marketing and promotion are aspects of writing I never thought I’d need when I began, but I’ve learned that writers must be “out there” and offer content on an ongoing basis. I have a web site, http://alinesoules.com, which is linked to Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In. Every day, there are new, similar services popping up, but I’ve stuck to those three for now. I try to blog regularly, ideally once a week, often more like twice a month. As I haven’t given up my day job, time is a challenge. I also do readings locally, if opportunities arise or I can make them. Interviews, such as this, are a gift. Some books are easier to promote than others. Meditation on Woman is an unusual work because it doesn’t “fit” in a category. Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey has already been easier to promote because the chapbook has been chosen by bereavement counselors to share with clients as well as by poets. This has been most heartening because it confirms that I am achieving my goal of making the journal universal and expanding the conversation about the emotional aspects of widowhood.
Q:. What kind of day job do you have and how does it influence your writing?
A: I am an Academic Librarian. I work at California State University, East Bay, teaching information literacy, working with collections and reference, and acting as liaison to the Departments of English and Geography/Environmental Studies. As a faculty member, I also have the joy of research and publication (yet another type of writing), and participation in academic governance. It’s a full plate, but very rewarding. It influences my writing because I am fully engaged with that work. I have found that when my writing doesn’t go well, something’s not going well at work. Similarly, if things aren’t going well at work, I don’t write as well. They’re symbiotic. I also think that it’s important to be out in the world—at least for me. I know that many writers, especially when they achieve sufficient monetary success to quit their day jobs, stay home and write, but I’m not sure that would work for me. I need people. Living fully in the world gives me material for my writing.
Q:. What is your oddest library story?
A: I don’t know if “oddest” is the right word for this story, but here goes: I have worked in four different academic libraries in my career—public and private; in the U.S. and Canada; large, medium, and small. In all of them, within one week of starting, I have found a used condom somewhere in the book stacks. When they say that the library is the crucible of life, they mean the intellectual content of what is found there, but, for me, it has an added meaning.
Q: If you take a writing class from Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath who would you pick?
A: Even though I have written more poetry than prose, I would pick Virginia Woolf. Her work is so insightful and who can resist A Room of One’s Own? I have a great fondness, too, for Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. The whole Bloomsbury Group was a passion of mine for many years and I immersed myself in both the works they’d written and the works about them. I loved, too, A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy, that fabulous book about the idiosyncrasies of working at the Hogarth Press and growing up in that charged environment. Perhaps I may need to work in the outer world, but I love to read about the inner writing world as well as participate in it.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)