Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A New Mexican Book on the Regulation of (Yep) Pot

This blog steers far clear of politics, usually. Today I make an exception.

It seems to me that it doesn't take a coconutful of brain cells to recognize that (1) what one disapproves of and (2) what should be illegal for the greater public good, all costs considered, may not be one and the same thing.  (Though it may still need to be regulated.)

For example, I don't approve of pot smoking, except in the very few cases where there may be no other effective drug for pain relief. That said, I think it should be legal, as legal as many thousands of other completely daft things some people do, such as to become addicted to Coca Cola or Diet Pepsi, breakfast on Pop Tarts, watch television for hours and hours a day, care deeply about spectator sports (to the point of painting one's face an unnatural color and crying and screaming), wear high heels, drive motorcycles, join the Jehovah's Witnesses, keep gerbils as pets, forget to take their diabetes medicine, decorate with clashing plaids, get a nose stud, visit Las Vegas for any reason whatsoever… 

Gee, that's a long list and I haven't even gotten started! 

What I mean to say is, it's a free country-- or at least (hat tip to Mr Snowden), that's the idea. As long as you don't harm someone else in the process, I think you should be able to ingest whatever you want, go where you want, dress as you please, gussy up your fingernails if you feel so inclined, root for Red Sox or Manchester United or Hulk Hogan, and believe what you want about God and Jesus-- and the dinosaurs, for that matter.

At the same time, some regulation of some things is appropriate. For example, the ingredients on the label on a Diet Pepsi or a Pop Tart should be accurate. If you want to come into the stadium to watch a game, you should not be admitted without a ticket, nor if carrying a bazooka. You can keep pets, but not torture them. Etc.
Josefina Ricaño de Nava

It is a rotten shame that we spend so much taxpayer money to arrest and incarcerate people who grow, trade and smoke pot, and, add to the shame, this effort has caused no end of trouble and blood south of the border. So I for one am very happy to see this new book, just published by México Unido Contra la Delincuencia, a foundation that fights crime. (Read about its visionary founder, Josefina Ricaño de Nava.

My translation of the title: How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide.  I note that the back cover includes a quote from the President of Uruguay, who lead the way to legalize cannabis in his country (my translation): 

"The traditional approach has not worked. Someone had to be the first [to legalize non-medical use of cannabis]."

In other words, this is a serious attempt to provide a framework for making cannabis legal-- responsibly.

P.S. A little U.S. drug trade history for those with a literary inclination, over at Gregory Gibson's Bookman's Blog.

COMMENTS always welcome.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Writerly Edition (Aimee Bender, Claire Cook, Djerassi, Historical Novelists Society, Guadalupe Loaeza, Leslie Pietrzyk & More)

Pictured left, my handsome new writing assistant, Uli Quetzalpugtl. Right now he is specializing in mind-clearing walks. He will be four months old on the 25th. Yes, he is a pug. Yes, those are his real eyebrows. 

Aimee Bender on What Writers Can Learn from Good Night Moon
(Hat tip to @portershreve)

Claire Cook on Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (For Now) on Jane Friedman's Blog (well worth reading, and Yours Truly left a lengthy comment.)

Djerassi Resident Artists Program
> Watch a brief introductory video

Day before yesterday I finally joined the Historical Novelists Society, thanks to fellow members of Women Writing the West suggesting it. Joining Women Writing the West was one of the best things I did last year. I may have been publishing for over 20 years, but everything in publishing has so changed in the past few years… fellow members' advice on the listserv has been invaluable. 

Uli visits the childhood home of Willa Cather,
Red Cloud, Nebraska, June 2014.
What can I say, Uli has good taste in authors.
(He does try to chew my hand, after all.)
Here's what really impressed me about the Historical Novelists Society: their webpage is completely automated. I was able to pay, add my bio, and see my member listing without waiting for anyone to get back to me, bingo. (Such is life in the time of the bots…)

Yesterday I was interviewed for Mexico City's MVN radio live by Mexican writer Guadalupe Loaeza about Mexico's Second Empire / French Intervention and my novel El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano (Agustín Cadena's translation of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire), fue una verdadera delicia. Hope to have that link to the podcast by tomorrow. (P.S. Back in 2006, I translated a bit of Loaeza's hilarious classic on Mexico City's Polanco neighborhood for my anthology Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion). By the way, Loaeza's website takes a moment to load because it's got all this flash. Be patient... it's worth taking a look at. 

My amiga novelist Leslie Pietrzyk on the writing life: it really is a bowl of cherries.

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30 Deadly Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing

Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More Free 5 Minute Writing Exercises

Regina Leeds Guest-Blog for Madam Mayo 5 + 1 Resources to Make a Writer Happy in an Organized Space

Conversations with Other Writers podcast series

Friday, July 18, 2014

Brave Blood: The Bullfight in Mexico by Richard Finks Whitaker

Yeah, I'm one of those animal rights people but anyway, bullfighting is… bullfighting. And for anyone who wants to know anything about it, or write about it, Richard Finks Whitaker's Brave Blood: The Bullfight in Mexico, is required reading and an essential reference work. The beautiful new paperback is available from Editorial Mazatlán.

COMMENTS always welcome.

Kindle Lending or, Lo, The Inevitable Has Arrived

This just arrived in the inbox:

Today we are excited to introduce Kindle Unlimited-–a new subscription service for readers in the U.S. and a new revenue opportunity for authors enrolled in KDP Select. Customers will be able to read as many books as they want from a library of over 600,000 titles while subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. All books enrolled in KDP Select with U.S. rights will be automatically included in Kindle Unlimited. 
KDP Select authors and publishers will earn a share of the KDP Select global fund each time a customer accesses their book from Kindle Unlimited and reads more than 10% of their book-–about the length of reading the free sample available in Kindle books-–as opposed to a payout when the book is simply downloaded. Only the first time a customer reads a book past 10% will be counted. 
KDP Select books will also continue to be enrolled in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL) available to Amazon Prime customers in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Japan where authors will continue to earn a share of the KDP Select global fund when their book is borrowed. KOLL borrows will continue to be counted when a book is initially downloaded. 
For July, we've added $800,000 to the fund, bringing the July fund amount to $2 million. 
Learn more about Kindle Unlimited. Visit your Bookshelf to enroll your titles in KDP Select, and click on "Manage Benefits" to get started. 
Best regards,
The Kindle Direct Publishing Team

Yes, some of my titles are in Kindle Select-- notably, the most recent, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish titles Odisea metafisca hacia la Revolución Mexicana and the novel El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano. 

Everything also listed at iTunes iBookstore, no.

My take on Kindle Lending is: Good thing. But it should exert a downward push on Kindle edition prices.

Another thought: Commercial book lending, whether electronic or bricks-and-mortar, is the future. In part because it's easier to do with digital technology and in part because I doubt that U.S. public libraries will be able to maintain their services in the coming fiscal crunch.

COMMENTS always welcome.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

River of Ink: Literature, History, Art by Thomas Christensen

I've been a long-time admirer of Tom Christensen, and so I was delighted to receive a review copy of his latest, River of Ink, a collection of essays forthcoming from Counterpoint. Herewith my blurb:
Truffle-rich, cumin-exotic, from Mutanabi Street to Céline's ballets, Gutenberg and the Koreans, a winged sphinx and an iron man and Nur Jahan--  oh, and a beturbaned Sadakichi Hartmann-- these world-trotting essays make one groovy box of idea-chocolates.
Yes indeed, River of Ink goes on my top 10 books read list for 2014. (Here's the Top 10 for 2013.)

P.S. Christensen mentions the Youtube video of Sadakichi Hartmann dancing. Here it is:

COMMENTS always welcome.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Mexico, Dinofuzz, Head Like an Orange, Keffir, Farnam Street & etc

The always excellent food blog Mexico Cooks! offers a mezcal primer.

My amiga, intrepid traveler Judith Leaver on Finishing Spanish School (Or Did It Finish Me?)

Travel writer Sean Paul Kelley on José María Sánchez y Tapia.

Interesting GIFs on Head Like an Orange.

How to Travel with Keffir and Be a Pioneer.

Hooray for Dinofuzz! (I am still recovering from the elimination of Pluto; now they say dinosaurs had colorful fuzz…)

Shavings: a Blog for Woodworkers by Gary Rodowski.

Alain de Botton offers A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success (Infectious accent alert!!)

More cyberflanerie at Farnam Street Blog.

COMMENTS always welcome.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My July 2014 Newsletter Just Went Out

Whew, it only took me a year and half. But finally I'm officially announcing the new book, a batch of podcasts, another batch of book reviews, and a big event next week at Mexico City's Palacio Nacional (though that's for an older book, the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire). 

>Read the whole enchilada here.

I love Mailchimp. Here's the message they sent me after I hit that "SEND" button:

P.S. I'd be delighted to add you to the roster for the next newsletter, which might or might not go out in another couple of months. You can opt in here, via Mailchimp, the leading no SPAM email service.

YOUR COMMENTS always welcome.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Cracking Open the Door to Creativity (A Few Resources)

Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More Free 5 Minute Writing Exercises

Debra Eckerling's new Kindle, Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages

More for kids (of any age): Karen Benke's Rip the Page!
> Her guest-blog for Madam Mayo, 5 Writers on What It Takes to be a Creative Writer> Her latest book, Leap Write In!
My ever-longer list of highly recommended books on creative process/ life. 

Read interviews with accomplished writers, such as Leslie Pietrzyk.

Read even more interviews in the Paris Review.

Listen Better (Julian Treasure's TED Talk)

Follow poet, writer and creative writing teacher Zack Rogow's excellent "Advice for Writers" blog.

Get inspiration from visual artists (all links to the blog This Is Colossal)
(Whew, even your coffee will taste, like, expanded.)

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> My workshop page with more resources for writers and workshop schedule.

COMMENTS always welcome.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Francisco I. Madero: A Cien Años de su Muerte (On the 100th Anniversary of His Death)

This handsome choc-full-o-photos tome might seem just the thing for the coffee table, yet it is filled with a  magnificent collection of original scholarly work. Published late last year by Mexico's Ministry of Finance (Secretary de Hacienda y Crédito Público), the edition is already out of print (agotada, as they say in Mexico). I sincerely hope a paperback and an ebook will be available soon, for every scholar of the period should be sure to consult it.

(Alas, it came out too late for me to be able to incorporate any of it into my own book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual-- but then, this was to be expected, for Madero and the Mexican Revolution he led in 1910 are going to be the subject of studies, books, documentaries and more for years to come.)

Of special note:

The first chapter, on Madero's loaded gun of a book, La sucesión presidencial en 1910 (The Presidential Succession in 1910), rich in the detail of political intrigue, is by Josefina MacGregor, professor of history at Mexico's UNAM (National University). It is no exaggeration to say that the whole cascade of events that brought down the dictator, Porfirio Díaz, began with this, Madero's first book.

Lucrecia Infante Vargas wrote the chapter touching on Madero's Spiritism: "Conducir el espíritu, gobernar la nación: La Ilustración espírita (1870-1893) y la difusión del espiritismo en el México de entre siglos." ["Leading in Spirit, Governing the Nation: La Ilustración espírita (1870-1893) and the spread of Spiritist in Turn-of-the-Century Mexico"].  This covers the basics of Kardecian Spiritism in Mexico, Madero's intense involvement in Spiritism, and his Manual espírita. I was especially intrigued to read about Laureana Wright, a writer and Spiritist who in 1892 became the President of Mexico's  Sociedad Espirita Central de la República-- most unusual for a woman of that time.

Manuel Guerra de Luna, the author of a biography of Madero, and of the Madero family (Los Madero La saga liberal), and the screenplay for  the documentary "1910: La Revolución Espírita" wrote the chapter on how the Revolution was financed. ("Los Madero y el financiamiento de la Revolución Mexicana en 1910.") No one knows the Francisco I. Madero and the Madero family archives better than Guerra de Luna, and this subject should be of special interest for anyone looking into the Revolution. Madero was a scion of one of Mexico's wealthiest families, so the story most often told is that he simply paid for the 1910 Revolution out of his own pocket. Conspiracy theorists retail their version-- not substantiated in the archives-- that involve a meddling Uncle Sam and oil companies. The story, as Guerra de Luna reveals, is not so simple-- more an action-packed thriller with an astonishingly unlikely outcome. 

COMMENTS always welcome.

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>Mexican historians Enrique Krauze, Manuel Guerra de Luna, Alvaro Matute and Jean Meyer discuss Francisco I. Madero, October 18, 2010. Podcast: click here to listen (in Spanish).

>Francisco I. Madero by Stanley R. Ross

>Enter Allan Kardec, Chef du Spiritisme

> Después de la muerte by Léon Denis, a Spiritist book translated by Ignacio Marsical and sponsored by Francisco I. Madero and his father, Francisco Madero, published in 1906. Includes a video showing my copy of the book.

>A rare book adventure in Mexico City: Una ventana al mundo invisible: Master Amajur and the Smoking Signatures

> Francisco I. Madero and Dr Arnoldo Krumm-Heller: Some Notes on Sources

> My talk in 2012 about translating Madero's Manual espírita, in English, for PEN San Miguel de Allende and SOL Literary Magazine. Podcast: click here to listen. (At the time, my introduction was very brief-- not the full-length book it is now-- and only available in Kindle. So you'll see if you click through to the podcast, the cover and title were different.)

>My book is now available in paperback and Kindle: Metaphysical Odysey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. Also, the Spanish is available in Kindle: Odisea metafisica hacia la revolución Mexicana. More news about that title soon.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

30 Deadly-Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing

Where do you find the time? (Was it hiding in the crawlspace?) It’s not so much finding time as it is prying your physical presence and attention away, either permanently or for a spell, from someone, something, someplace less valuable to you—if you really do want to write, that is, not just pretend and fantasize and gripe. Herewith, 30 ideas some of which might make you shake your head, but some just might work for you. For me, most of these have always been no-brainers, but I confess, a number of them took me awhile to recognize and/or fully appreciate.

1. Give up TV. Just give it up, deep-freeze turkey & freekin' forever and oceans of time, vast and sparkling, shall spread before ye. 

2. Cut the digital leash, the crackberry, whatever you want to call that soul-sucking hypnotic thumb-twiddler. The price of this is that you must therefore continually combat tidal waves of exasperation from loved ones and others that you are not instantly and always available to them. Find the humor in this. Because really, how blazingly ridiculous.

3. No drugs. 
Duh. And I include prescription drugs here, too. Exercise, eat lots of vegetables, drink raw juice, meditate… do whatever you possibly can to avoid adult onset diabetes and joint issues and so having to take drugs, for aside from suffering from lousy side effects, you'll waste countless hours waiting for doctors to write prescriptions, then getting them filled at the pharmacy, dealing with insurance, and complications, and so on & so forth. 

4. Reduce or eliminate your commute. 
If you can possibly live closer to where you need to be during the day, even if you have to sell half your furniture to fit into a smaller place, do that. Otherwise, try to get into the habit of writing while commuting. I hear some people have been able to do that. I admire them genuinely.

5. No drama
Mantra: not my circus, not my monkeys. If you relish fighting / debating / gossiping because you find it entertaining, that's your writing mojo leaking like water onto the asphalt. Incessant worrying about other people's problems that are not yours to solve is also silly. You can be aware, you can be concerned, you can be compassionate, and when they are your problems, then they are your problems.

6. No ruminating over the past.  
Regrets, nostalgia, whatever, writing gets done in the now.

7. Less fantasizing about the future. 
Again, writing gets done in the now.

8. Quit nursing grudges against editors / agents / other writers / 

reviewers / readers. Oh, the injustices of the literary world! These can vacuum up untold hours of yammering in workshops, at conferences, and over sad and grumbly cups of coffee. But listen here: the so-called gatekeepers and the clueless readers and half-literate kids glued to their handheld devices, they’re just doing the best they can, too. So are the peasants wading through their rice paddies in Burma. You are luckier than a lottery-winner to even be able to write at all. So strive to always improve and write for those who appreciate what you do, knowing that, of course, even if you one day win the Nobel Prize, only the teensiest portion of the population of Planet Earth will have heard of you, never mind actually read anything you wrote. Bottom line: If you can’t stay focused on doing your own best work, you’re not writing, you’re back to ruminating.

9. Stop picking up the telephone. As Marie Antoinette might have put it, Let them send email. If you can, pay for an unlisted number and caller ID and change your telephone number at least every other year. If that little click to voice mail distracts you, why, just unplug it! And, pourquoi pas? Fling it out the window!

10. Eliminate recreational shopping, aka "retail therapy." Whew, this one adds up over a season, a year, two years. So never, ever shop in stores or on-line or in fact anywhere anytime without your list. If an item is not on your list, do not buy it. Shopping malls are time- and money-gobbling maws and believe it, the marketers, watching your every move on their cameras, are more sophisticated than you think you are. Not only does recreational shopping squander prime writing time, but it tends to fill up your house with clutter-- a time-suck in itself. Go to a park, a museum, a library, the seashore, a basketball court, have fun and refresh yourself as necessary, but stay way away from the maw. I mean, mall. 

11. Do not accumulate a large and varied wardrobe based on navy, brown and/or beige. And better yet, give all that away to Goodwill. If you wear clothing that is black and/or coordinates with black, you'll be able to make fewer shopping trips, pack faster, and do far less laundry and dry cleaning. And since black makes colors "pop," your blue sweater, say, will appear brighter. Yet another advantage: black makes you look slimmer.  (Ha, maybe I was a Jesuit in my last life.)

12. Cancel the manicure. 
Horrendous time sink there. Plus, the polish is toxic and it flakes. (Nobody notices or cares about your fingernails anyway except manicurists, I guess, and those who get manicures themselves. Last I checked, they aren't getting much writing done.)

13. Quit following the stock market on a daily basis. This is a tick-like habit that achieves nothing but a heightened sense of anxiety. On par with spectator sports.

14. Quit playing computer games. 
On par with drugs. Or any other addiction. Including following the stock market on a daily basis.

15. Reduce Facebook and Twitter time. 
Of course, these can be useful for keeping in touch and promoting one's books and events, but like Burger King, best indulged in rarely and only of dire necessity or unavoidable human frailty. Almost, but not quite on par with computer games.

16. Ignore spectator sports. 
Do not attend games, do not watch or listen to or otherwise follow games, do not discuss games, and whole weekends for writing will emerge from the sea of froth. 

17. Do not indulge in expensive, time- and space-consuming activities such as, oh, say, collecting and expounding upon various types of fermented grape juice. Come on, folks, once it goes into a carafe, 99% of your guests won't know the difference between one chablis and the next chardonnay. Pick a reasonable brand and stick with it, white and red. For me, it's Monte Xanic-- or else it goes into the pot for coq au vin.

18. No more hauling laundry. 
You've got to get your clothes clean so, failing a maid to do it for you, get a washer / dryer for your house or apartment. If you do not have space, if it's not allowed, or you cannot afford this, then consider a portable washer/dryer because hauling bags to the laundro-mat or down to the basement only to find the machines full, that is one woolly mammoth of a time suck. (If you're paying for each load at a landro-mat, you might find it cheaper in the long run to use your own portable washer. I wouldn't know, since I'm fortunate enough to have a washer/dryer, but a little bird told me...)

19. Never hunt for your keys / wallet / purse / cell phone. This is an easy fix. The moment you step in the door, you always, always put them in the same place, a designated hook or a bowl or a basket. This might seem minor, but those two to ten minutes of running around with your hair on fire add up.

20. Never hunt for Internet passwords (or wait for the "resend password" email). Keep track of passwords, some way, somehow. I use Grandma's recipe box-- deemed seriously uncool on the Cool Tools blog, but it works beautifully for me and, so they tell me after reading that infamous blog post, many of my friends. (So there.)

21. No boat. 
Do not ever even shop for a boat. Do not even think about shopping for a boat. Unless you plan to sell your house and live in the boat. Ditto RV, camping equipment, or motorcycle. And anyway, you cannot live in your motorcycle. If you like to go out overnight into nature, check out Mike Clelland’s Ultralight Backpacking Tips. (Watch out, though, he features a link to his UFO page.)

22. No second home. On par with the boat. No, worse.

23. Stop buying loads of soft drinks and bottled water. Take into account the time it takes to shop for them, carry them to the car, lug them out of the car, store them somewhere in the pantry or the fridge, then recycle the bottles and cans… Drip, drip, drip goes your time (and money). A good water filter will pay for itself and quickly.

24. Prepare your meals with mis-en-place. Even when making a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, it sure does help to do mis-en-place. If you hate cooking, you probably never heard of the mis. Check it out. (If you want to keep it easy by microwaving everything or relying on take-out, see #3 above.) 

25. Take email seriously. In other words, stop letting it pile up and become a giant, throbbing source of lost opportunities, embarrassment and guilt. 
Email is vital for a writer-- as vital as letter writing in days of yore, so do it well. This also means get quick-on-the-draw to delete spam.
 > My Super Simple Tally-trick to Zap the Backlog and Find the Joy (Yes, Joy) in Email.
Dear Pope Francis….

26. Use a "bucket" for all your to do lists and ideas. In other words, quit trying to keep everything from next week's dentist appointment to the ideas for a holiday party in your head. 
I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system and thereby free up great jazzy swaths of short term memory for more creative work. (One day I may set up a little altar in a corner of my office to St. Allen.) For me, a Filofax is an indispensable tool for implementing GTD.
>Listen to this podcast of November 6, 2013 about the GDT method for creative people. (I couldn't find the direct link; you may need to scroll down for it once you land on that page.)

27. Keep your closet decluttered and organized. Clutter not only makes it difficult to find things when you need them, it pulls and yanks and pinches your attention to decisions you haven't made (like, when and how to get rid of that mustard-colored shirt that doesn't fit / has two missing buttons?) So you're rushed and addled, right at the start of the day. It all adds up over a week, a month...

28. Fie to piles. 
Piles are sinkholes of chaos and, to pile on another mongrel of a metaphor, they tend to sprout and ooze all over the place like fungi. (Yeah, did that need an editor.) Any time you need to do anything important, pay taxes, file a claim, send out a manuscript, if you have to paw and dig through piles to find what you need you will add possibly hours, possibly days, possibly weeks or even months to the process-- not to mention a walloping dollop of time-sucking anxiety. So get a filing cabinet, even if it has to be a cardboard box, and make proper, labeled files, and dagnabbit, file things.

29. Let go of things you won't use but someone else might. 
This might sound strange as a source of time for writing, but think about it: any clutter, anywhere, becomes a drag on your time and attention. So all those old winter coats, faded towels, mismatched dishes, clothes than haven't fit for 10 years, overflows of flower vases, toys For heavenssakes, sell that stuff, gift it, and/or make regular runs to Goodwill or the like. (But remember, trying to sell it will take up your time.) As my favorite estate lady Julie Hall puts it, "the hearse doesn't have a trailer hitch." 

And last but far from least:

30. Remember your pen and notebook. Always, except in, say, a swimming pool, keep these on your person; you never know when the muse may whisper. What I'm saying is, some of the most valuable writing time arrives in snatches-- while you're standing in the dog park, about to get out of the car, riding an elevator, etc. In other words, you might not have been planning to write, but write you do because write you can.

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>Upcoming writing workshops

> Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More Free 5 Minute Writing Exercises

How to Declutter a Library: The 10 Question Flowchart

>Ten Tools for Organizing a Novel-in-Progress

> My latest book: Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual now available in paperback, and Kindle.

COMMENTS always welcome.