Welcome to the sixty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with poet, non-fiction author and novelist Maggie Ball. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Maggie. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Maggie: I’ve been reading since I was about four and writing for me has always been the flipside of reading – a need to entertain myself, to take the many voices in my head, observations and experiences and turn them into stories, poems, or editorial.
Morgen: Four. Wow. That’s the youngest start age of my interviewees to-date, I think. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Maggie: My favourite genre both to read and to write is literary fiction, but I also love poetry and tend to write in both forms regularly. Nonfiction comes quite easily to me and I tend to write nonfiction for relaxation. I have a secret desire to write sci fi, but I’m not sure I’d be able to create those kinds of inventive worlds. My writing tends towards realism, though I’d love to be able to do it.
Morgen: Have you tried? I only ask because I have a fantastic 70-something (I think, sorry Anna if I’ve got that wildly wrong) sci-fi / fantasy writer who has never read a word of it but when I asked her why she writes it she said “I don’t know. I just started writing and that’s what came out”. What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Maggie: I’ve got a full-length traditionally published poetry book titled Repulsion Thrust, and a traditionally published novel titled Sleep Before Evening. I’ve also co-authored a poetry ‘celebration’ series of chapbooks with Carolyn Howard-Johnson. These include, to date, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. We have a new book coming out this month titled Deeper Into the Pond. All of these are lovely gift books themed around specific celebrations like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas. I’ve got another poetry chapbook traditionally published titled Quark Soup, and a nonfiction book titled The Art of Assessment. I do a lot of marketing – serendipitously taking up whatever opportunities come along when I’m between books, and putting together formal marketing plans and working through them for new books.
Morgen: My goodness, how organised. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Maggie: I don’t have an agent (yet!). No I don’t think they’re vital to an author’s success, and to be honest, these days I think that getting an agent is harder than getting a publisher.
Morgen: I think you’re right. I’ve been hearing that for a while and met three agents at the recent Winchester Writers Conference. I know a couple of people were picked up there so it’s not impossible. 🙂
Maggie: There are many traditional, high quality small publishers that are happy to read unagented submissions and are looking for quality over fame.
Morgen: Yay for small presses. 🙂
Maggie: I’m certainly open to the idea of an agent in the future, but at the moment, I’m comfortable managing my own writing career.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Maggie: All of my books are available in both print and ebook form. That process was utterly painless, and I feel that any form that makes life easier for or entices a reader is good and should try to be accommodated. Personally, I have a Kindle, and I love reading ebooks. As a reviewer, I prefer ebooks to print – they take less space, and are easier for me to annotate and bookmark, and are more portable.
Morgen: That’s interesting. I’m a paper fan but then I’ve not really dabbled my eReader yet. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Maggie: I can’t remember my first acceptance! I recall a full centre spread of poetry in a local newspaper back when I was a teen, and that heady pleasure is one that is still just as thrilling.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Maggie: Totally. I’d be surprised if any writer was ‘rejection free’.
Morgen: Unless they never submitted anything. 🙂
Maggie: It’s an inherent part of the process. If it’s a nice, well-written rejection that has advice then I read it carefully and sometimes, rethink the submission, especially if I respect the source. Otherwise, you have to take a zen-like attitude to the rejection – it’s there because you’re putting yourself out and submitting, and therefore it’s good. Enough rejections lead to acceptance. Breathe in, breathe out, and get back to work.
Morgen: 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Maggie: I’ve just started a new novel. It’s a little early to talk about it, but I will say that it’s jointly set between the 1940s and 2011, with just a hint of time travel. Each chapter will be a self-contained short story.
Morgen: I like that idea but sounds like hard work. That said, I’m planning on converting my chick-lit novel (which I presented to the aforementioned agents) into an anthology as most of the chapters contained separate characters. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Maggie: Yes – I do manage to write every day, but sometimes it’s not a huge amount.
Morgen: That’s OK. The main thing is you’re doing it. 🙂
Maggie: I’ve got a lot of conflicting priorities, so have to stay relatively gentle with myself and just do what I can. I don’t think in terms of word counts, but rather in terms of chapters, sections, concepts, character arcs. The most I’ve written is a complete chapter. It doesn’t happen often.
Morgen: But it happens. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Maggie: I think that ‘writer’s block’ is a symptom of something – maybe a problem point in a story that needs more planning, or maybe a function of the ‘monkey’ or ‘lizard’ mindset in which too much self-criticism is happening at too early a phase. The best way to deal with it is to write through it – change genre, do research, write until it dissipates or until the source is dissolved.
Morgen: I totally agree. It’s easy to get too focused and frustrated on one thing. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Maggie: I’d always been a “pantser”, but lately I find myself needing to put a lot of time into plotting. I find that the more time I put into setting up my writing, the fewer drafts I have to write.
Morgen: That’s interesting. I guess we all have to find what works for us. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Maggie: No. I’ll just keep reworking until my work is publishable. I’m not one to put work away in a drawer – I just don’t have that kind of time luxury. I have to make everything I write work.
Morgen: I’m rubbish at submitting. I have over 100 short stories written over the past few years sitting in files but at least it means that I have content that, now more practiced / wise, I can tweak and submit. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Maggie: At this stage of my writing career, my least favourite aspect is that writing tends to be relatively low on the priority list. Everyone is always calling my name and finding time to write is always tricky. I have to create my own imperatives and timelines, which sometimes causes stress. My favourite is that I can turn nearly every aspect of my life – good and bad, into something bigger – art. That makes life pretty fun, even when it isn’t so great. Everything is material!
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Maggie: Read as much as you can in the genre you want to write in. Great writers are great readers. There are no exceptions to this. You can’t write without some deep knowledge of literary reference, and that subtle sense of what works and what doesn’t and reading great literature is the only way to get that. You have to love what you’re doing to do it well, and you can only do that by being a reader first.
Morgen: That’s very true. (note to self: read more :)) What do you like to read?
Maggie: I love to read, and my tastes are broad and varied, but literary fiction is definitely my first love. There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in the fictive dream. I also love poetry – the shortest, most powerful form that gets right to the heart of meaning.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Maggie: There are very many. I’m currently reading Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering which I’m finding quite valuable. His website is also useful: http://storyfix.com. I also quite like http://www.writing-world.com, http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com, and http://blog.marketingtipsforauthors.com. All of these sites are full of a tremendous amount of help. For books, you could do worse than Natalie Goldberg’s classic Writing Down the Bones, Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, and James Frey’s How to Write Damn Good Fiction. I’m sure I’ve left out something fantastic, but it’s a start.
Morgen: That’s brilliant, thanks Maggie. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Maggie: I’m based in Australia. Certainly the local market is smaller, and doing book tours can be tricky and expensive, especially since I tend to promote my work globally. However, living where I live has no impact at all on my ability to do virtual tours, promote and sell books from global bookstores like Amazon and Book Depository (now one and the same!), or doing interviews like this one. In many ways the world is shrinking and where you’re based is not nearly as relevant in terms of promoting books as your online and virtual profile.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Maggie: Both Facebook and Twitter are probably the networking sites I’m using the most at the moment – they are consistently current and active and so, because that’s where the action is, that’s where I tend to hang out promotionally speaking. I can be found at http://www.facebook.com/magdalena.ball and at www.twitter.com/magdalenaball. Another good thing about those forums is that you can go in, post something up quickly, maybe read a bit and then get out and get back to work – they aren’t time traps unless you want them to be. Most of the people I network with are very good with give and take and the conversation is rich and thought provoking. I do participate in many other forums, but in patchy bits and pieces – so I’ll spend a bit of time putting up a profile, and maybe sharing work and discussion and then when the noise dies down, won’t go back again until I’m reminded of it. Meanwhile though and this goes back to your previous question, my profile is still there doing its thing. Give and take is important though, so sites that remain active and engaged are vital to writers. Some other sites I visit regularly (and recently) include www.redroom.com and www.muttonline.com – a relatively new one that has been working hard to keep authors engaged and interacting.
Maggie: My website http://www.magdalenaball.com is definitely the best place to find out more about me. I’ve got links there to all of my books, my Compulsive Reader review site, my radio show, my media room, blog and so on.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Maggie: I’ll just finish with a little (tiny!) promotional plug
Morgen: Sure, plug away. 🙂
Maggie: …by saying that I have two books in the pipeline that will be (hopefully) coming out this year. The first is a poetry book with my amazing collaborator Carolyn Howard-Johnson titled Deeper Into the Pond. These are poems with a feminist edge, and part of our Celebration Series – the book should be out later this month – more on that at my blog and website (above). The second is my new novel Black Cow, which explores the modern dilemma of ever increasing workloads, ‘the rat race’, and the impact of stress on families, and overconsumption on the environment. 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.” Anyone who wants more information is welcome to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop by the website. Thanks very much Morgen!
Morgen: You’re very welcome, lovely to have you take part.
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 http://www.magdalenaball.com.
Update from Maggie, June 2012: Magdalena’s new novel Black Cow is now out and available from good bookstores everywhere, including Amazon. “Magdalena Ball writes with insightful realism, but there is beauty and passion and hope woven into the words, as well… Black Cow is an intelligent, deeply reflective story of a family who reaches its deepest lows, then transcends the expected norm to reconnect with the earth and each other in a joyful, satisfying adventure.” Aaron Paul Lazar
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