Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Free Autographed Bookplates now available

If you’d like to turn your garden-variety copy of Black Cow into a nifty autographed copy that suddenly seems much more gift-appropriate and collectable, just email me your postal address and I'll get one out to you straightaway.  If you want it customised for a particular occasion, just let me know and I'll happily scribble to suit.  At the moment, I've got two lovely designs to choose from, the big owl/small owl plate (left), and the owl border (right). You can pick which one you like, remove the adhesive backing, stick in your copy of Black Cow, and voila, you've got an autographed copy.  If I've got some bookmarks in stock, I'll throw one of those in too. 

Black Cow Blog Tour Day 4: Interview at Nancy Famolari's Place

The tour continues with another stop at Nancy Famolari's Place where we chat about the origins of Black Cow, about my challenges in writing the book, and a discussion about traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Please drop by and say hello, tweet, FB and generally interact to get another entry into our blog tour draw.  See you there!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Black Cow Blog Tour Day 3: New review by Terri Forehand

Today's blog spot is a new review by blogger Terri Forehand at Writing and other ways into the heart.  "This is a heartwarming story of the Archer family. The Archers have been living the high life, big corporate lives with money, fame, and everything a family needs. But there is something missing. Would you be able to leave corporate security with the paycheck and prestige attached if it meant you could gain the family connection back?"  Drop by Terri's blog for the rest of the review. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Black Cow Blog Tour Day 2: New review and reading vid

Today is the 2nd day of my Black Cow Blog Tour. Drop by Write What Inspires You!, Donna McDine's blog, to read a lovely review written by Fellowship of Australian writer president, and author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor Jan Mitchell, and to check out my reading of the opening pages of the book.  Don't forget to retweet (#blackcow), share, or comment to be entered into our great blog tour giveaway.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Goodreads Book Giveaway

To celebrate the Black Cow book launch, enter at Goodreads for a personally autographed hard copy sent anywhere in the world. 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Black Cow by Magdalena Ball

Black Cow

by Magdalena Ball

Giveaway ends March 24, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Black Cow Blog Tour Day 1: Characterisation in Picture books

Today is the first day of the Black Cow blog tour.  Educationtipster Kathy Stemke has a post from me on the topic of characterisation in picture books.  Here's a taste:

"Normally when writing instructors speak of the 'character arc' they're talking about textual based fiction, but all good books, from novels to children's picture books use characterisation well. So why is characterisation important? There's one key, critical reason and that is because everyone reading your book is going to be a person who will need to relate to and accept (even if temporarily) as real. To achieve good characterisation in a novel you need details, specifics, visual impressions, motion. This can be achieved just as well with images as it can with text."  

For the rest of the post, which references some of my favourite picture book characters, the Lorax and Little Bear (how I love those books - as a child and as a parent), drop by Kathy's blog.  Don't forget to retweet (use #blackcow), update your FB status or comment for an entry into the Black Cow Blog Tour Giveaway!  Everytime you do it you get another entry. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Black Cow book launch!

Fellow Bookworms

The wait is over:
Black Cow is now officially available! You can get it at Amazon (discounted!), BeWrite's website, Book Depository (with free worldwide shipping!), other online retailers, and local bookstores on request - hip hip hooray! I hope this book entertains, moves, and stimulates you. Want a sneak peek? Here's a free excerpt! We're shooting for the bestseller list this week, so if you have it in your heart and wallet to buy, now's the time! See below for all the ways you can help. Today's the day when I hit the virtual road for my international book blog tour (no plane tickets needed and no suitcase restrictions). The tour kicks off at Kathy Stemke's place where I'll be talking characterisation in picture books. Please tune in and share your comments, questions, etc - as I intend to answer every question.  Throughout late Feb and all of March, I'll be visiting a wide range of radio shows, blogs, websites, and even doing a little video at some of the most exciting virtual venues in town, followed up by an in-person Australian launch at the Hunter Writers Centre to which, of course, you're all invited.

Black Cow Book Launch 24 Feb to 29 March 
Throughout the launch, any tweets, comments, or Facebook links you put up will go into a draw to win a number of autographed bookpacks, electronic sets, and limited edition signed promotional items like magnets, stickers, bookmarks, postcards, and even a tote bag!  If you'd like to help make Black Cow hit the bestseller list, here are ways you can show the love this week. Big hugs and deep bows in advance!

1) Buy it while it’s hot! Please purchase between Feb 24 and 31 March if at all possible. It's available at Amazon at a nice discount, and other online retailers. If you've bought it already, grab another copy for your family and friends! I've got some lovely owl bookplates available and I'd be more than happy to custom autograph them for you and send them, no charge, anywhere in the world, for the perfect personalised gift.

2) Tweet! Tweet! and Retweet! Chirp about Black Cow (use #blackcow) and cut and paste this link to buy: http://tinyurl.com/BlackCowNovel

3) Update your Facebook status with Black Cow news and provide the link http://tinyurl.com/BlackCowNovel

4) Write a Black Cow review in your blog or newsletter. Share your reflections, generate discussions, and post the link.

5) Contact me for media and book club requests.  Drop me a line and I'll be happy to come and talk to your book club (via Skype anywhere in the world or in person if you live nearby), write an article for your blog or magazine, or do an interview on your show.  For review requests, please contact me directly, or my publisher Neil Marr ntmarr[at]bewrite.net.

Check out Website for more info about the book including bookclub notes, an excerpt and more.

Thank you very much for your support!  Magdalena

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Black Cow Virtual Book Tour (and more)

Hello wonderful fellow bookworms.  I'm very excited to report that my new novel Black Cow is about to be released on February 24th.  To celebrate we've got lots of fun events.  For starters, there's a brand new video (to the left).  We've also got a bookalicious book tour where I get to drop by some of the best blogs (and radio shows) on the net to talk about the book, about some of the themes, get interviewed, sing and dance (sort of), and of course give away lots of freebies, books, gifts (including some rare items like a BC tote bag, magnets, bookmarks and of course books). Do please join me, comment, and generally give my amazing hosts some love, and if you can't wait until the 24th, feel free to pre-order a copy of the book from Amazon. If you do, drop me a line with your postal address and I'll make sure you get a fantastic thank you gift in the post (along with an autographed book plate).  Without further chit chat, here's my book tour schedule.  Hope to catch up with you there. 


Book Tour Schedule

Friday, 24 February: Educationtipster
Sunday, 26 February: Write What Inspires You
Tuesday, 28 February: Nancy Famolari's Place
Friday, 2 March: Brummet's Conscious Blog
Saturday, 3 March: Boychik Lit
Sunday, 4 March: The Simplicity Collective
Monday, 5 March: Slow and Steady Writers
Tuesday, 6 March: World of Ink Network (radio show, 4pm US MST)
Thursday, 8 March: The Alliterative Allomorph
Saturday, 10 March: Writers on the Move
Monday, 12 March: WOTM Webinar workshop
Wednesday, 14 March: Poetic Muselings
Thursday, 15 March: Heidi M. Thomas
Saturday, 18 March: Paper Dragon Ink
Tuesday, 20 March: The Dark Phantom
Wednesday, 21 March: Do North
Saturday, 24 March: The New Book Review
Sunday, 25 March: Blogging Authors
Thursday 29 March: Australian Book Launch (in person event) Hunter Writers' Centre, 10:30am, 90 Hunter St, Newcastle, NSW, Australia
Wednesday, 4 April: The Writer's ABC Checklist - blog 
Sunday, 8 April: Book Reads (live radio show)
Thursday, 26 April: A Book and a Chat radio show

Monday, February 13, 2012

Poetry Monday: Luke Davies

Lest I be accused of gender bias, I thought I'd feature a male poet this week. And since you're probably reading this on Valentine's day (possibly), why not a love poem. I've mentioned Luke Davies' Totem before on this blog and probably will mention him again, so you may as well get used to it.  Totem is like one long extended love poem in intricate, fresh variations. Here's one of them titled "(Plateau)" which particularly took my fancy when I first read it. I've read it again this weekend (thank you poetry Monday for forcing me to revisit my collections - and remind me how much I love having good books on the shelf to dunk into), and it still takes my fancy.  Maybe it will take yours too. After all, it's a day for fancy.

All that there was was beauty and bluff.
Then a deeper thing grows.
In the coinage of rapture
I will pay you my praise.

You will tell me every story
As we drive; in your eyes
Whole forests will flicker past,
Whole skies, enormous mysteries...

That beauty can malfunction
Is a given.  Love knows
Of all the beauties beyond this.
At every plateau, praise.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stepping off the page: characters on the muse

Yes it's a little risqué but my protagonist, the young composer Marianne Cotton wasn't content to let her life fold up into the pages of Sleep Before Evening, especially with my new novel Black Cow about to be released. Neither was Alexander Wainwright, the great artist protagonist from my pal Mary Martin's Remembrance Trilogy.  So when our two characters somehow or another met up one fine autumn day and had a chat, Mary and I decided not to fight it.  Here's their interchange.  Who knows, they might just meet up again.

Alexander Wainwright entered Central Park near 66th Street. Ahead of him he could see The Central Park Carousel perfectly still in the late afternoon sun of an autumn weekday.

Seated on a nearby bench was a young girl, music book spread on her knee, staring out into space. Leaning heavily into her book, her concentration seemed solid, a strong contrast to the delicacy of bony shoulders revealed through a filmy top. Thick black hair fell over her face but couldn't conceal the ethereal beauty that held Alexander's gaze.  After a few moments of staring, she looked up and saw him.  
Alexander appeared timeless, and his stare natural to Marianne, his artistic appraisal of her and paternal smile reminding her of her now deceased grandfather Erik, a pivotal character in her life. At the very least, she knew this man would be entirely benign. She also sensed he might be wise. Immediately, her thought struck her as odd and yet entirely right. Was it that magical blending of artistic temperament she had always hoped to find in another?

Alexander sat on the bench next to her, though not so close as to cause her discomfort. He saw that she had been composing a symphony of some sort. The notations in her book marched across the page with  authority, although he could see at a glance that she was stuck for inspiration for the next lines. Immediately, he sensed she was intensely dedicated to her art.   
            “You’re a musician?”
            Nodding her head, Marianne leaned towards him, conspiratorially, as if she were confessing something dark. “Of sorts. I'm studying composition at Julliard. And you? You're an artist right?”
            Alexander smiled, “Yes, you recognise me?”
            Laughing and pushing some of her voluminous hair out of her eyes, Marianne said, “No, I'm afraid not. It's the cerulean blue on your fingers.”
            Alexander glanced down at his hands and then smiled slowly at her. “So it is. You know color well. Do you paint as well as compose?” He knew she didn't, even as he asked it. Those long clean fingers didn't belong to a painter, though the artistic touch was evident to him.
            “My mother is a painter. I grew up with paint everywhere. I'd go to take a plate out and there would be paint on it. I'd get a sheet of paper to write on and there'd be a big magenta thumbprint on it. Paint was everywhere.” She laughed. “Painters always leave evidence.”
            “Ah, well I'm Alexander. It's good to meet someone so immersed in the art world – music or painting – there's a similar impetus, don't you think?”
            “Marianne.” She put out a hand and shook his, deliberately aiming for the one with the blue smudge on it. “You're probably right, Alexander. It's all about meaning making of one form or another, I suppose.”
            “The whole notion of the source of creativity; the muse if you will, is one that interests me. I think I’ve spent most of my life searching for her,” he said wistfully.
            She saw that his eyes contained that yearning she thought must be common to all artists of all kinds. Immediately she felt safe in his presence.
“Tell me more about your mother and her artwork. Has she been a big influence on your work?”
            “Yes and no. To a certain extent I deliberately chose not to allow her work to influence me. I moved away from the abstract and visual towards a more analytical and linear medium. Music for me is a little like mathematics – a subject I've always been drawn to. Yes, the outcome is fluid and intuitive, but at its base I feel I'm working with code – though I can hear it; transpose it as I'm working, for me the auditory is a more natural medium than the visual. But that said, she and I, and I suppose this surprised me when I realised it, have been working in parallel striving to say and reach a similar outcome. There's always a struggle though I think, for me and her as well.  The difficult front end of trying to say something you haven't said, that hasn't been said. I'm struggling now with my piece.  It's always at that point that you wonder whether the capability will be able to match the desire.  Do you experience that Alexander?  When did you really accept yourself as an artist? Were you always sure?”
            With  a wry smile, he said, “No, it took a long time and much work. I went to the Slade School of Art in London. I think the life of any artist is extremely challenging. We stumble around in the dark most of the time and, if we’re lucky, we occasionally find something .”
            Marianne nodded her head appreciatively.
            “They can teach you much about technique, but I don’t think they can teach you creativity. That comes from within yourself…nobody else can give it or teach it to you. In fact, most good painters spend their lives chasing after their muse. My whole life I've wondered where inspiration comes from and how to court the muse. Much of the time she can be quite faithless!”
            “Do you listen much to music?”
            “Yes I do— a lot. As you astutely mentioned, all art is expression of what lies inside the creator. My friend Peter Cummings, a very good writer, has often said that he wishes he could structure a novel like a symphony…developing various themes… the rise and fall of passion. Do you think it’s so very different?  Maybe it’s just another language?” Alexander was entranced. He loved to speak with youth. They were so open to ideas and feelings. Not like some artists he knew who were stuck in ruts they had spent their lives digging. Any new thought was seen as a challenge to their hard won authority.
            “No, not really. Not in a formal conscious sense. But something will strike me. It might just be an emotion – a sensation I hold onto for longer than is required in the situation I feel it in. Something that hurts, or excites me, or it might be a sound – a repeated birdsong, a honking car, another song or composition, or even one of my mother's pieces, which goes back to your other question about her influence on me. We sometimes visit galleries together when she comes to see me here – she lives on Long Island where I grew up.”
Marianne winked at him. Surprised, Alexander frowned for just a moment. But he continued to be drawn by the deep intelligence in her voice and luminosity in her face, which he thought he might like to paint one day. 
“How does your music come to you. Do you hear just little bits first. Do you know where it comes from?”
            “These things can often spark something in me, and then I'll start to play with it until something takes form.  But for me, a lot of art comes from some place dark, a point of pain or confusion out of which light can grow.  Do you find that with you work?” 
            Alexander smiled sadly. “Yes…sometimes it’s that way more than others. I think that my images come from a place, I don’t know very much about.” He sighed deeply. “My art comes from deep within. Some places are comfortable, familiar rooms, which I have often visited in dreams and reveries. Others are wonderfully fanciful and enchanting lands. And still others contain the terrifying stuff of nightmares. But all those places have their treasures and must be explored and intimately known if one is to create. Some quality, an essence, within the muse is like a candle flickering in the dark, illuminating everything in those rooms.
            Throughout, Marianne had remained silent, transfixed by the passion with which he delivered his words. When he was done, he suddenly gave an embarrassed shrug.
He asked, “What about you? Do you sometimes forget yourself when you’re creating….go somewhere different?”
            “Yes, not too much at the beginning when it's all work and form and mathematics. But later, when I'm in the 'flow' I will lose myself, and find that I'm gone for a bit.”
            “I’ve heard some musicians say that music is just “in the air” which makes a lot of sense to me You know like the music of the spheres. In my art, I don’t really “hear” it but I do see it as light.”
            “So your work is also motivated by music, just as mine is by art? Or do you think that we pick up on some pre-existing music, art, words, that are already there? And it's our ability to listen and perceive that sets us apart, rather than our ability to create?” 
            Alex drew back from her in surprise. His eyes widened and Marianne could see her grandfather Erik again in the artist.
            “You have the makings of a very fine artist, Marianne. I marvel at such wisdom at your age. But I don’t think it’s just the ability to listen or hear. When an artist goes to his source, wherever it may be, he must do something or make something with the raw materials he or she finds there. That, my dear, is true creativity. At least in my experience.”
            “But Alex, what if you make something from those raw materials and you bring it back to the world…like a gift. And, the world doesn’t want it?”
            Alexander smiled sadly. “My dear, all true artists must deal with that. Just by asking the question, you have proved yourself as a real artist. You see, suppose you create your symphony or a painting and the critics turn up their noses or worse still…tear it to shreds. What do you do then?”
            Lost in thought, Marianne did not answer.
            “You can toss up your hands and say the hell with them and go back to your studio and get to work making what you think they want to see or hear. Then you spend all your time trying to figure out what popular taste happens to be. Why not? Who doesn’t want to be appreciated? But what real artist ever does that? That’s what a hack does. If you’re not true to your muse, she’ll never pay you another visit. Of that you can be sure!”
Marianne sat for long moments considering what Alex had said. At last she said slowly, “I never thought of it quite that way. You mean, a real artist must always follow his own heart…her own muse.”
            Alex nodded enthusiastically. “I think that is true. At least it has been for me.”
Suddenly, Marianne checked her watch. “Oh god, I've got a class in 10 minutes for which I'll be late.
Alex smiled. “You may find your muse in that very class, Marianne.”
Marianne grinned at him. “I did enjoy talking to you very much Mr. Wainwright.”
She winked again, and Alex, smiling, realised that she knew exactly who he was, and had done so all along. This was definitely someone he would be looking to talk to again.
            “Marianne, I’ve have really enjoyed our conversation. Someday, I will be in a concert hall listening to your music. I will be listening to your muse.”
            She smiled a radiant smile as she collected her books and bag. Then she was off to the street past the merry-go-round. She pointed up at the horses frozen in motion. “Someone once called that a Miracle Round. Maybe that’s one place inspiration lies.”
            He waved at her as he watched her hurry from the park. Those, he thought, who did not listen to the wisdom of youth were bound to shrivel up and lose any hope of finding the muse.   

Monday, February 6, 2012

Poetry Monday: Marie Howe

I almost missed Monday.  Actually in Australia I did - it's well and truly Tuesday here. My only excuse is that I've just had a release date for my new novel Black Cow (24 Feb!), and there's been a load of work to do to get my website ready with links and early reviews, and excerpts, a book tour  - more on that soon.  Nevertheless, there's never a good excuse for skipping poetry, and this week I've been reading Marie Howe's phenominal What the Living Do. I first came across this poem when my uncle recited the whole thing to me, completely from memory, on a visit to the US a few years ago. The poem stayed with me, as good poems do, while I unclogged my own kitchen sink, spilled coffee (tea) on myself, and remembered that I too, with a shiver of speechless cherishing, am still alive. For more of Marie, visit her website: http://www.mariehowe.com/

What the Living Do 
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guest post - E-readers: Self-publishing and Quality

Written by Isabella Woods

Revolution is a term too often used when it comes to new technologies, but the rise of the E-reader certainly qualifies. Last Christmas alone, Amazon sold 1 million of its new Kindle Fire and together with Barnes and Noble’s Nook, the iPad and the various other E-readers on the market, E-book sales now account for 15% off all book sales, outselling Hardbacks two to one. If this trend continues, very soon the traditional book may go the same way as the vinyl record, videocassette or the film camera.

When you consider the advantages of E-readers, their success comes as no surprise. You can store a whole library of books on something the size of a paperback and instantly download from a choice of millions of different titles, from the very latest bestselling fiction and biographies, to self-help guides on relieving stress and buying baby clothing. However, there may be a consequence to all this reading freedom, because E-books are not only changing the way people read books, they are also making the entire publishing industry obsolete.

For agents, publishers and bookstores, E-books are having a dramatic effect. Many local bookstores have closed their doors and even big names such as Borders are no longer with us. But it’s not just the book sellers that are being side-stepped by the E-reader revolution. Publishers too, are becoming increasingly obsolete.

Self Publishing

For the keen eye searching Amazon, it is clear that more and more authors are self-publishing their work. And considering how difficult the traditional route to getting published is, it’s no wonder. First, a writer has to find an agent, which is a necessary step before publishers will even look at a manuscript. This can take month and years in itself and culminate in dozens of rejections. Even if successful, there is no guarantee an agent will then find a publisher for the writer’s work, and even if they do, the publishers need to convince the bookstores to stock it.

Now, however, in little more than an afternoon’s work, an author can upload their latest opus and start selling copies directly to readers. With no need for agents, publishers, or booksellers, and with a far better cut of the profits, it is no wonder so many writers are going the self-publishing route, but is this really a good thing?

Chaff from the Wheat

Publishers don’t just produce books. They serve a couple of really important purposes in the literary world. Firstly, while getting a book published is notoriously difficult, there is a good reason why. Publishers and agents receive hundreds of manuscripts each month. Some are excellent pieces of work, other truly awful. Publishers and agents have always chosen the cream of this crop, but now, with the freedom of self-publishing, there is nothing to stop all those badly written, poorly plotted manuscripts from polluting the virtual shelves of Amazon or other online bookseller.

Anybody that has searched the tens of thousands of self-published titles online will have come across some truly dreadful examples of literature. Even those works that are actually very good, too often are full of mistakes. You see, publishers don’t just print an author’s work, they take pains to make it better. Few self-published books are edited, which means all those mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling go unnoticed, as do all those gaping plot holes and poorly constructed characters.

Too Much Choice

This is not to say all self-published books are bad, they are not. Some truly great works have been self-published, especially in niche markets that would not be financially viable for traditional publishers, but finding them amongst all the poorly written ramblings can be almost impossible. Too much choice is not necessarily a good thing, and this is the other great purpose for traditional publishers and booksellers.

Bookstores have limited shelf space. Consequently, they try to ensure the books they stock will appeal to people. This involves talking to publishers, reading reviews and taking advice from trade magazines such as the Bookseller+Publisher. This ensures that readers are not faced with a plethora of poor quality books and can find something worthwhile reading when they visit the local store.

If traditional publishing and bookselling succumbs to the E-reader revolution, the reading public may suffer the most. While downloading books may be simple and easy to do, actually finding something worthwhile to spend your money on may become a time consuming and arduous task that could just put people off buying books altogether.