Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

The Joy of Writing or A Story About Ash McGrath and Writer's Digest

This is a story about what I might have missed without Writer’s Digest and the kind of authors it inspires.

It is a story that might have never been told—or at least a story I might never have heard. It is a story about the great feeling of winning. It is a story applauding the kind of loyalty Writer’s Digest inspires (including me for I have been reading it for decades!) But mostly it is a story of just one of those readers.

My memories of this event are a bit fuzzy. It happened at least a year after I had entered my latest book of poetry, Imperfect Echoes, in a Writer’s Digest contest and probably a month or two after the Writer's Digest issue announcing winners had disappeared from the newsstands. I had received a beautiful critique from one of the contest judges and after that...well, nothing. I have learned not to mourn losses but to look for the positives in them. So, I excerpted a lovely blurb from the critique and moved on.

Enter Ash McGrath. She is a friend I have seen only in online images. I think she knew me because I have displayed my how-to books for writers in a book fair sponsored by Valerie Allen's AuthorsforAuthors group for years. As an author of marketing books, I understand that frequency is important to any campaign; as a realist, I know that one can't expect marketing for a series of nonfiction books for writers to cross genres for a book in another genre. So when I received a tag on Facebook from Ash that offered me her copy of the issue that announced winners of the contest I had entered my book in...well, I was puzzled. And thrilled. And appreciative.  I gave her my address but didn’t dare to expect to see it in my mailbox any time soon. These are busy times. Online friendships are often fleeting. Ash's writers group is mostly made up of writers who live 3,000 (at least!) miles from me. I had never presented at their writers' conferences--or even attended.

Shame on me! I underestimated the generosity of authors. I underestimated not the reach of Writer’s Digest but the loyalty of its readers. I underestimated the connection we writers often have with one another based the simple fact that we write. When I asked Valerie Allen, the director of several book fairs and conferences in Florida I mentioned before she said, “We call Ash our ‘Conference Ambassador’ because she volunteers at all of our events.”

I call her my writing angel. Her copy of Writer’s Digest is now my copy of Writer’s Digest. It means more to me because the memories it holds are layered. It lives on a bookshelf in my office I keep for writing successes. It’s a little like a vision board. I sometimes peek at what I have stowed on that shelf to keep me moving forward during my most discouraging times.

Let me introduce you to Ash.
She signs her emails: “Ash” Ashley McGrath

And then—to make us all aware of one very important thing in her life, she adds:
“UnabASHed by Disability”

I shall never underestimate the ties that bind author-to-author again. Or to include those ties among the many joys of writing.

My best to all Writer’s Digest’s grateful authors out there, And special thanks to Ash McGrath.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor which won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award.  

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An Evening with Kwame Alexander

"If you don't stand for something,
you'll fall for everything."

                                            --from "swing," by Kwame Alexander
                                             with Mary Rand Hess
Anyone who has had the good fortune to see poet, educator, and New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two books Kwame Alexander in person, will come away changed. On a rare rainy night at the University of New Mexico, Kwame and guitarist Randy Preston, the terrific musician who accompanies him for many presentations, made a stop in Albuquerque on their 16-city tour. It is obvious in his books and in person that his poems come from his heart; in person memorized and recited with vigor and finesse; and punctuated by soft background guitar music, poignant popular songs chosen to go with the poems, and original songs.

Words have Power. Words can Transform our Life.
Daycare at three years old.  Living on the Upper Westside of New York City, a kid knocked over Kwame’s blocks. The only weapon Kwame could conjure up were his words. He used a few choice ones and made the kid cry. That’s when Kwame learned the power of words. From then on words transformed his life. Who else at that age would immerse himself in the Dr. Seuss book, Fox in Sox, and know it backwards and forwards? That marked the beginning of Kwame’s love of words.

Speak Out. Your Voice Matters.
A man in the audience pointed out that he could hear empowerment in Kwame’s books, and asked how Kwame’s empowerment came about. Kwame’s dad, headmaster of his school in Brooklyn, dragged him to a march—a protest against police brutality after the killing of a black man. He didn’t want to go. He was scared. Then teachers and kids started singing. He sang too, and the tears dried up. That’s when Kwame realized he has a voice. And his voice matters. He says, “You have to speak out to make wrong things right.”

The Road from Twenty-two Rejections to the Newbery Medal
The Crossover. The best book Kwame felt he has written. The book he wrote from his heart, written at Panera Bread, winner of the Newbery award, garnered twenty-two rejections before it found a home. Upon publication, no one wanted to read it. A book about basketball? Girls don’t read books about basketball. Boys don’t read poetry books. Then boys tried it. Then girls. Then they asked for more. The rest is, as they say, history.

How did Kwame begin his journey?  At a booth in Reston, Virginia. Kwame set up a card table, wore a T-shirt with Miles Davis on it—he listens to jazz while he’s writing—laid out 100 books, and sold them all in about an hour.

The evening ended with Kwame’s reading of his new book, Undefeated, while displayed on a large screen. The reading cut me to the core. I came away in awe of how Kwame’s words dig deep into the soul. Bring out feelings about how we as inhabitants of this Earth interact with each other. And how beautiful it is when we celebrate each other. Read Undefeated for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. There is so much to learn about Kwame Alexander. Please visit his website: Like me, you will never be the same.
Clipart courtesy of:

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. She has recently become editor of the New Mexico SCBWI chapter newsletter and is working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

Summer Writing Activities

Here we are at the end of July and as usual, summer seems to be slipping by us.

I hope you found time to get away, even if it's a spot in your own backyard.

Maybe you've set your writing aside while vacationing or working on projects around the house.

Sometimes rest isn't just sitting around. It can be doing something different and changing up your schedule a bit.

Here are some summer writing ideas that may be fun, help break up your routine, and energize you to finish the year out with gusto.

1) Read, read, read.

I don't read as much as I should. I used to think it was a luxury for people who had the time. Then I realized I have to make the time. Not just for relaxation but to help make me a better writer.

If you haven't been much of a reader, now is the time to start. It's been said, good writers read. Some benefits include mental stimulation, increased vocabulary, inspiration, and improves memory.

So, while you are escaping with a great novel, you are getting added benefits along the way!

2) Enter a writing contest.

My very first success came when I won in the inspirational category of one contest and Honorable Mention in another one. Both boosted my confidence and started my list of credentials. It was also very exciting to see my name in print in an anthology!

There are many, many (did I mention many?) contests out there. Do a search and you will find them. Most offer cash prizes and/or a free trip to a conference.

3) Take an online course.

Last year I took a course, How Writers Write Fiction. I am a non-fiction writer and do not enjoy writing fiction, but by the time I completed this free course, I found I could write fiction and I actually enjoyed the assignments. 

Choosing a genre you aren't interested in will help you grow as a writer. The challenge is not only fun but taps into an ability you are unaware exists.

4) Write something new.

I don't like to read poetry.

But I can write it!

Go figure.

I didn't know this until I was assigned a poetry lesson at the end of my free writing course. 

Summer is a great time to get adventurous with a new writing experience. 

How about you? What are some ways you have enjoyed the summer? 

Have you taken a full break from writing? Or is summer a time to play catch up?

Please share your comments below.

Image courtesy of Naypong at


Kathy is a K - 12 subsitute teacher and enjoys writing for magazines. Recently, her story, "One of a Kind", was published in The Kids' ArkYou can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts

Turning your poetry dabbling into a marketing tool

Poetry doesn't sell.  It's so often said (and validated by poets everywhere), that it has become something of a truism.  If you write poetry, you probably do it for the love of it.  You may well be supporting your poetry habit with a range of more lucrative types of writing like nonfiction or even working a day job.  However,value doesn't always come in the form of cash.  There's real value - and ultimately financial value, to be had by using your poetry as a marketing tool.  So where do you begin?  Here are a few tips to get you going.

Think themed chapbook

Have a look through your existing poetry collection, and see if you can find a recurring theme that you can use.  Some examples of themes which immediately suggest a market include (and I’ve used some of these myself) – Mothers, Love (in all forms or a specific aspect of love such as romantic love), Pets, Nature, your locale, a historical period, person or notion, politics, family life, humorous wordplay, or even sports.  Some chapbooks that I’ve particularly admired from well known poets include one on phobias, one on romantic love, and one set in the world of Walt Whitman during his period on the battlefield.  My own tendency seems to be towards writing scientific poetry – astronomy, physics, the genetic code, evolution.  So don’t limit yourself to clichéd themes.  If there’s something you tend to gravitate towards, go with it.  Another option is to think about what fits your other work - the stuff you want to sell, and theme the book around that - this way you'll be drawing in your target market. And speaking of markets...  

Define your market

Identify the market that matches the theme you came up with in the first exercise.  Try to make of list of up to three specific markets, and then list another six examples of those.  For example, if your market is florists, then come up with six florists you could contact when you go about marketing your work.  Having a sense of where you’re planning to market will help you plan and create your book in a much more coherent and effective way.  Always keep your market in mind when you’re constructing a book.

Construct Your Book

This might sound like a big thing but it's actually just a simple collation exercise.  Start organising your poetry into a Word (or other word processor) file.  You can use a Word book template for that - there are quite a few that come as standard with with Word or you can search here:  A chapbook could have as few as ten and as many as thirty pages of poems. Twenty poems would be about average for a small chapbook.  Put them in an order that makes sense and if there are any gaps or areas that require more poems, then write them!  Once you've got everything together number your pages, add a table of contents at the front, and voila, you're almost there.

The all important bio

This is the key - your bio.  This is where you need to make your book work for a living.  Include not only a little bit about yourself, but a link back (with an enticing offer like a free chapter) to your selling page for whatever product - your novel, your nonfiction, your audio series, etc, you want to sell.  Also include an attractive photo.  Don't rush this.  This is what's going to make value for you. 

Get someone else to read it for you. 

Whatever you do, don't skip this step. Get a fellow writer or eagle eyed reader to read through it for errors, things that don't make sense and the overall ordering.  If they like it, get them to give you a quote to use somewhere at the back of the book. 

Get it out there 

Make sure you've got an enticing title, that the book looks good, and then turn it into a .pdf.  If you're using Word 2007 onward, then you can just save as a .pdf.  You could sell the book if you want, but you probably won't make much.  Using it as a promotional tool, you can upload it to your website or blog and offer it as a gift for anyone who subscribes.  This way you not only get more subscribers, more people reading your work, but you also draw in readers and potential customers for your big tickets items. 

Writing isn't always about commerce and marketing. Sometimes it's about creating meaning, and that, of course is at the heart of poetry.  But there's no reason why you can't create meaning, bring in readers and still sell your work.  Using a poetry chapbook is a unique way to gift your work and still benefit financially from it. 

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

On performing poetry – slam bam thank you ma’am

I think at heart I’ve always been a rock and roll star.  I can’t pick up my guitar or sing along to my favourite tunes without visualising myself on-stage before a rapturous crowd.  But it irritates me that the words I’m singing along to are often dumb.  Sung or spoken with enough conviction, almost anything can move a crowd.  Bush and slam poetry sometimes makes emotive appeal and delivery its end goal – taking simple sentences or stream of consciousness outpourings and speaking them with punch.  I’ve attended a couple of events recently that have had me picturing the spoken poem on the page and no matter how powerful the performance, finding it wanting.  I’ve done the same with music lyrics and been similarly disappointed, even with my very favourite songs.  Neither is an appropriate response, but being a wordgirl, I just can’t help myself.   However, I can’t let go of the notion that poetry is a natural medium for performance, and that the best way of getting people, especially young people, interested in poetry is perform it, with enough pizzazz for anyone – even the person who claims to ‘not be into poetry’ or to ‘not have time to read’ (yes, that puts a shiver down my spine too), to feel the power of what you’ve written. 

Is there really a disconnect between performance poetry (that is, poetry written specifically for the purposes of performance, rather than for distribution on the page), and traditional poetry (that is, poetry written to be read on page rather than performed)?  Are the two mutually exclusive?  I think not.  The best performances, for me at least, are those which take what works perfectly on the page, using imagery and subtlety, and presents it outloud with rich nuances that might not have hit me on my first few readings, or ever.  Of course the performance of poetry is one of the oldest of art forms, going back to Gilgamesh, to the Ramayana, to Homer.  It tugs at something rather deep in our preliterate psyche.   Getting the listener to feel that tug, and recognise the meaning being created is what a good poetry performance is all about.

I also think that the best performances morph what is on the page into a new medium.  It turns the verbal into the visual, showing what kind of power words can have.  The best poems for performance have an innate musicality, using alliteration, rhythm, rhyme and assonance to further add meaning.  As the great Basil Bunting put it, it is only when ‘sounded’ that this rhythm reveals its full power.  Bunting should know. He was one of the great poetry performers, charging his words with the power of a Shakespearean actor to take the audience deep into the heart of his meaning, effortlessly and instantly.  The performances draw the reader into the intimacy of the work, breaking open the familiar so that it appears completely, surprisingly new.  Of course that’s what great poetry does on the page too, but it takes a commitment on the part of the reader to get there.  Gaining that sort of commitment from a reader isn’t always easy.  Ask any publisher who sells poetry.  Ask any poet who publishes their work.  

Performance is something entirely different.  When done properly, with a poem that truly merits more, rather than less, commitment on the part of a reader, the performance can become its own work of art – like the musical symphony, stirring something inchoate and deep within a listener.  It draws a crowd, and challenges perceptions.  It can work, and should work, in conjunction with the publication – to bring in readers, and to compel people to explore their own clichés and assumptions about themselves.  It opens doors. 
Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

Writing Themed Gift Books

It’s that time of year again when people struggle to find just the right gift. This is especially so in tough economic times when people can't afford big lavish presents. Beautiful holiday themed gift books are always welcome gifts, especially when you match the gift to the recipient. So as authors, this is a ready market and one that you can fill with your own personal talents.

You could, for example, write a children’s book, a novel, or a nonfiction book of essays built around a holiday theme. Or, as Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I have done, you could create an attractive poetry book. What Carolyn and I have done is to keep our books to greeting card size and greeting card price, so that people are encouraged to purchase the book to tuck into a stocking or give with a box of Godiva chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. This way the books fit all budgets and provide a beautiful gift that can be customised for any recipient. We even offer Blooming Red (our Christmas themed book) in quantities of 25 or more, just like cards, at a 40% discount. The cover by Vicki Thomas is certainly pretty enough for a card--or a basket.  

You can find more information on the many holiday themed booklets that we've created on Amazon or on at Carolyn’s Web site at Many of the books have won or been shortlisted for awards and have not only been fun to create, but have proved to be very popular promotional tools for us, some even hitting #1 on Amazon.  Although writing a book is never easy, building a book around a holiday theme is a great way to create work that is easy to promote and will meet a market niche. Why not drop by Carolyn's site, which is full of samples, videos, ideas and freebies. Have a look at the many themed gift books we created, and of course, steal the idea and customise it to suit your own particular area of expertise.  You have my permission.  Of course if you’ve got hard-to-buy people on your list, you might even like to grab a copy or even a set to giveaway as cards.  Happy holidays! 

Inexpensive Gift Ideas for the Literate Dad

Are you floundering over what to buy for dad this year?  I always buy books for my father (my mother too) - and this year is no exception.  Just knowing that I can pick something that fits his taste, and at the same time provides him with much needed relaxation, pleasure and intellectual stimulation is enough incentive for me to keep getting the same type of gift each year.  If you're wondering what to buy, books are great gift ideas and personalising your choice to your dad's taste is really thoughtful. 

If Dad isn't a big reader, then nonfiction is a pretty safe bet. You can buy manuals, guides or coffee-table books on almost any topic.  Biographies of people Dad admires or people from historical periods that Dad is interested in are also good.  If in doubt, go for award winners.  This year's National Book Critic winner for biography was Robert Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson.  This year's Pulitzer Prize winner The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss.  I think either of those would be a hit with most fathers - even those who don't normally hunker down with a book.   

For fathers who enjoy reading, you could do worse than picking an award winner in whatever genre they like.  for example, I got my own dad, a sci fi fan, the novel 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson.  The book won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the plot summary sounds like it's just up his alley (normally I pre-read the books I send him, but haven't read any sci fi this year). Why not tuck in (perhaps instead of a card), a poetry chapbook as well to really stimulate Dad's literary imagination.  Imagining the Future: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions is the book of poetry I co-authored with Carolyn  Howard Johnson and can be either purchased as a super-inexpensive e-greeting card or sent as attractive paperback. To get you in the mood, here's a poem from the collection:

Horizon Scanning

Your eyes squint at glare
wavering between dreams

imaginary lines
or clear delineations

from this point
it’s not possible to judge

take a stand from your degraded platform
speaker’s corner cardboard soapbox

microwave radiation
blocking your ears

you can shout your head off
until everyone gathers

it won’t change reality
or will it?

28 billion light years
one edge to the other

there you are
explorer without a map

scratching your head
the horizon problem flakes those broad shoulders

Atlas in messy hair
and bell bottoms

every mystery you solve
invokes another.

Sublime Planet - A Review

Title: Sublime Planet
Authors: Carolyn Howard-Johnson and Magdalena Ball
Photos: Ann Howley 
ISBN: 978-1482054705
Reviewed by Karen Cioffi

Gearing up for Earth Day, Carolyn Howard-Johnson and Magdalena Ball are releasing a brand new collection of poems titled Sublime Planet. The collection features relevant poems by Carolyn and Magdalena that demonstrate the interconnections of the world around us, including life, family, and love, along with the growing concern for the earth’s preservation.

This is a beautifully written collection that allows the reader to pause and take note of the world around her.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “The Giraffe:”

A tongue generous
as my head he reaches
for me, barriers no match
for his long neck, sniffs
my hair, kisses my face.
He unaware
he is endangered.
I unaware he might
be dangerous.

This poem is a powerful, yet simple tribute to a majestic creature that is now an endangered species. Can you imagine a planet without the giraffe?

Another poem in the collection that struck me is “Tipping Point” by Magdalena Ball: “[. . .] you eat and eat through four billion years of evolution now held loosely by one thread. [. . .] The future waits impatiently your decision.”

Again, powerful, and revealing.

Sublime Planet offers moving insight into the world around us and into a world that is in need of attention, and it certainly honors Earth Day. I highly recommend it.

For those who aren’t aware of what Earth Day is, Senator Gaylord Nelson created this special day in the spring of 1970. The purpose behind it was to make everyone aware of all the toxins being spewed into the air and dumped in nearby streams or other waterways by manufacturing companies.

At that time, there were no regulatory or legal safety nets to protect our planet, our environment. Senator Nelson took a stand and his cause quickly caught on.
The earth is our planet, our home, our responsibility, and we’re not doing such a good job protecting it.

Sublime Planet will be released before Earth Day (April 22nd). Keep a look out for it and get a copy as soon as it’s available.

The poems "Giraffe" and “Tipping Point” are from Sublime Planet, a book of poetry in the Celebration Series coauthored by Carolyn Howard-Johnson and Magdalena Ball. It will be released before Earth Day.  In the meantime learn more about Carolyn's poetry books (including that Celebration Series!) at And, learn more about Magdalena’s poetry and fiction at


Poetry for Christmas (again)

Is it too early to start thinking of Christmas?  Not really if you want to send personalised greeting to family, friends and colleagues - now is the perfect time to begin planning your greetings.  Are poetry and Christmas at odds?  Of course not, especially if you avoid the syrupy cutesy cards you pay huge $ for and choose a beautiful book full of real, award winning poetry. Instead of a card that will end up as landfill, you'll give a gift and card in one that people will keep.  My co-author Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I have pulled together just such a book, and you can order them, with their beautiful full-color cover by prize wining water-colourist Vicki Thomas, for only $3 each.  That's less than the cost of a card (only $75 for 25 of the most memorable holiday greetings you've ever sent to your family, friends, and colleagues), and will make a significantly more powerful impression, especially if you write a personal note inside.  The book was a USA Book News finliast and a Military Writers Society of America Silver Award Winner.  To order, just send an email to with HOLIDAY ORDER in the subject line, and Carolyn will make direct payment arrangements with you. Or you can drop by Amazon (click on book cover above) and buy the books individually for $6.95.  Here's a sample:

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.

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

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