Give the Gift of Poetry this Christmas

In keeping with the gift-giving this season, I’d like to offer a gift of poetry to all of you!

Multi award-winning poets Carolyn Howard-Johnson and Magdalena Ball figure nothing is more meaningful at any holiday than a poem—a real poem, not sing-songy impersonal verse from the shelves of card shops. They also noticed that many folks remember many people they forgot when it may be too late.

Ta Da! We  are offering you our “rational” Christmas chapbook to procrastinators free. Enter the KDP Select free e-book feature. All you do is go to on Dec. 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 and click.

Anyone can send it free to anyone they’d like to have a thoughtful—and fast—Christmas gift with a click of a mouse (no not the same mouse that’s in “The Night Before Christmas” poem!). Blooming Red: Christmas Poetry for the Rational was honored by the Military Writers Society of America and USA Book News award.

It’s a mini gift and greeting card in one!

Blooming Red includes Magdalena’s science-inspired and Carolyn’s nostalgic poetry. It also includes some humorous poems for fair measure.

Magdalena Ball runs the highly respected review site.  She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, which was published to unanimous 5-star reviews.  Her novel Sleep Before Evening was a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist. Her latest novel, Black Cow, has been called “an intelligent, deeply reflective novel of our time.”

Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s poetry appears frequently in review journals. She is listed in Poets & Writers and her chapbook of poetry, Tracings , was given the Award of Excellence by the Military Writers Society of America and She Wore Emerald Then won its highest honor of gold. One of her poems recently won the Franklin Christoph Poetry Prize. She is also an award-winning novelist and short story writer and instructor for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

For more information on any of the chapbooks in the Celebration series, contact either of the authors, or visit media rooms at How to do it Frugally or Magadalena Ball’s website. To learn more about artist Vicki Thomas and to see her selections of her work, go to her website.

Author Interview: Meet Magdalena Ball

My guest this week is Magdalena Ball, novelist, poet, nonfiction writer, and reviewer.  Among the work Magdalena has published is her new novel Black Cow

Black Cow explores the lives of James and Freya Archer, a couple at the ‘top of their game’, earning massive salaries and enjoying exclusive lifestyles with their two beautiful teenage children, but something is rotten under the shining façade of their lives.  A recent survey estimated that close to one quarter of adults worldwide have made a voluntary decision to change their lives in ways that reduce their incomes and spending.

Demographers are predicting up to one million people will downshift during the next three years. Coupled with the worldwide economic downturn, there is clearly an interest in living life in a way that doesn’t involve continually trying to earn, and spend more in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses.” 

Black Cow is a ‘tree-change’ novel that explores these notions in the context of a single ailing Australian family.  Set between New South Wales’ ritzy Double Bay, and a small village outside of Hobart, Tasmania, where the couple decide to radically change their lives and become self-sufficient, the novel follows one family on the brink of collapse, struggling to regain balance and creativity in their lives.  Black Cow explores serious and topical issues, such as the modern dilemma of ever increasing workloads, ‘the rat race’, and the impact of stress on families, and overconsumption on the environment, but it also touches on the psychological development, as the family has to dig deep into both the earth and their selves in order to find out what is ailing them.

Author Lisa Heidke calls the “writing excellent, professional and polished … capturing that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped and not knowing where to turn.  This is a gripping yarn that will appeal to a wide group of readers.”

I asked Magdalena to answer a few questions about her novel.

How did the story come about?

In many ways Black Cow began as a sort of wish fulfillment. My husband and I always had leanings towards self-sufficency — I’d pore through the pages of Earth Garden, Jackie French’s guide to Self Sufficiency and a number of other books, and imagine myself growing all my own fruit and vegetables, making my own fuel, raising chickens, and living simply off the land.  Of course we both knew that dreams were one thing and the reality of self-sufficiency quite another. But the idea stuck with me as one that had rich novelistic pickings.  Also I’ve watched the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and the way in which governments and businesses have encouraged people to work longer hours, spend and consume more, and that has simply struck me as odd and counter-productive.  I wanted to explore that notion more, albeit in fictionalised form.  I do have to say as well that I’ve always been a fan of the BBC show The Good Life, and the idea of picking up a few of those threads was appealing to me.

In addition to your novels, you’ve also published a number of poetry books, and even a non-fiction book.  Why do you choose to work in different genres?

For me the processes of writing poetry and nonfiction are completely different to the processes of writing a novel.  While all of these genres involve analysis and construction, I find that the poetry is more intuitive, symbolic and actually relaxing for me — a way of exploring a notion within the framework of a few stanzas — like a single moment in time.  It’s something I find myself gravitating to it almost as a kind of need. The gratification is usually reasonably fast.

The nonfiction is almost always about teaching, in a purely naturally flowing way that I find reasonably easy and pleasurable.

Fiction on the other hand is always challenging for me. It involves less inspiration and a whole lot more work. There’s world building involved, character development, plotting, stylistics and narrative to map out and keep going over the period of some 90,000 words.  It’s big, slow, and sustained, and yet at the end of it I feel I’ve built something bigger than myself – something reasonably grand.  So I need all three forms in my life I find – working different areas of the brain and producing different types of output.  Of course working in one area feeds the others.  The precision and tightness of thought in poetry and the sheer rhythm and beauty can help write better prose sentences.  The research involved in nonfiction will also feed into fiction.  It’s all connected.

Who are some of your favorite/most inspiring authors?

I get asked this question a lot, and being a big reader, I fear I tend to give different answers each time. I’ve just finished Jane Smiley’s biography of Charles Dickens, and so I’d like to answer, today, Jane Smiley and Charles Dickens (though maybe not all of Dickens – some of his work though is still fresh, even today).  I’d like to say John Steinbeck, because Black Cow, somewhat grandly, has been likened to The Grapes of Wrath (humbling, to say the least).  I almost always say James Joyce, though I have yet to crack Finnegan’s Wake, but Ulysses will keep me inspired for the rest of my life, and I’ve been listening to Frank Delaney’s magnificent ReJoyce podcasts lately which have re-invigorated my love for that great book.  I might stop there, knowing full well, that I’ve left out many of my favourite authors, and that there are new ones I’ve yet to discover as well.

Finally, where can readers get hold of a copy of Black Cow?

Drop by Amazon where the book is available in both the print and Kindle versions.

More information including book club notes (and information on how to score a visit) can be found at Magdalena’s website.

Magdalena Ball is the author of the newly released novel Black Cow. Grab a free mini e-book brochure here: She also runs The Compulsive Reader and is the author of  Repulsion Thrust and Sleep Before Evening.

Thank you for sharing your virtual book tour with us today, Maggie. Best of luck with this new novel!

Her next tour stop will be Tuesday, 20 March: The Dark Phantom

The Lost Art of the Greeting

My guest today is Magdalena Ball who runs The Compulsive Reader. Her short stories, editorials, poetry, reviews and articles have appeared in a wide number of printed anthologies and journals. She is also the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything and three other poetry chapbooks Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse and She Wore Emerald Then.

The Lost Art of the Greeting

by Magdalena Ball

Sending a quick greeting is an easy thing these days.  Just pop a line or two onto an email message (eg HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOSH), and off it goes.  Do we even need to bother with that?  After all, we’re all connected on social networks these days.  On my birthday this year about 30 people I didn’t know (and a similar number that I did) wished me a very happy birthday.  I could wish my whole family Happy Chanukah with a single status update on Facebook.  Or maybe I could pop down to the shop and pick up a card to say it for me: “On Valentine’s Day/just wanted to say/you make my life special/in every way.”

But what does “special” mean?  Do I really mean “every way” (maybe not every single way…).  The problem with greetings is that they really can’t be done without effort.  If you dash off something slapdash and fast, the meaning behind the action gets lost.  In other words, passing on easy cliché may be less meaningful than no words at all.  The whole point of taking the time to say something important to someone is to make a connection.  It’s easy to miss those connections in this fast paced, multi-tasking world of ours.  Let’s see – I’ll cook dinner, finish a business report, bathe the kids, and send off a greeting card to my mother in the next hour.  If you don’t personalise or try to say something that really captures how you feel in a way that is powerful and moving, the whole point of taking the time to make that communication is lost.

When someone gives me a gift or card, what I really want is for them to have spent a few minutes thinking about me.  That’s the gift – the little bit of thought.  A gift or card that says – you actually are in my thoughts.  It’s very difficult to do that with cliché.  Much better to use poetry, where each word is carefully constructed – thought out, pulled together to create meaning that is entirely novel.  That was the thinking behind the Celebration series of poetry that Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I began pulling together some years ago.  We wanted to create little, beautiful gift books of poetry that wasn’t cliché ridden or syrupy, but instead looked closely at particular themes like “love”, holidays, fatherhood and motherhood, and captured something distinctive and new about that theme.  Although the books feature lovely, full colour artwork, most are only $6.95 – about the price of a high end greeting card.  This is definitely a cliché free zone!   The book features a beautiful Poinsettia painting on the cover by prize-winning artist Vicki Thomas, and the books can be bought in packs of 25 for only $3 each (Put HOLIDAY ORDER in the subject line and send an e-mail to to organise a set).  The individual book can be found at:

Here’s a sample poem, which can also be listened to (in the author’s own voice) at The Compulsive Reader.

Silent Symphony

Though it’s calm in the dark room

where you sit on Christmas eve

reaching for familiarity

I’ll take you down

to that imperfect place

of tone and sound

beyond culture’s skin, language

hard wired clickity clack

auditory parasite

multiples of frequencies

simple-ratio harmonies or complex

carols of memory

down there

in the consonance of memory

walking the cobblestones of imagination

your black heart finds light

melodic intervals

of sensation more pervasive than chance

open your ears into the silence

a symphony

vibrating  the universe of your illusory body.

More on Magdalena Ball can be found at her website.

To learn more about another author, check out Kathy Stemke’s blog tomorrow. She’s featuring Stephen Tremp who has just had his first action suspense novel released: Breakthrough.

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (9)  
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