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Monday, February 08, 2016

On Writing About Mexico: Secrets and Surprises (UTEP Centennial Lecture)

From the transcript of  my lecture "Writing About Mexico: Secrets and Surprises" University of Texas El Paso, Centennial Lecture, October 7, 2015. 

(Podcast coming soon).

My husband, who is Mexican, likes to joke that I missed being born Mexican by five miles. You might guess that means that I was born right here in El Paso—this "City of Surprises," as writer and editor Marcia Hatfield Daudistel calls it. My dad was an artillery officer stationed at Fort Bliss—and I understand that he took some engineering classes here at UT El Paso. So it is a very special honor for me, as a native El Pasoan, to have been invited to speak to you today.

I can't say it's like coming home, because my parents are from Chicago and New York, and when I was still a baby, my dad decided on a career in business, and he took the family out to California—to the part of the San Francisco Bay Area now known as Silicon Valley. Culturally speaking, I'm a Californian.

But back to El Paso—to quote Marcia Hatfield Daudistel again— this "dark-eyed stranger abducted into Texas by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848."

For me, to be here in El Paso is like coming home in another, deeply meaningful sense. This is a border city. I am a border person. Where others might be... let's say, a little nervous... we border people go back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico with ease, we are oftentimes bilingual, bicultural— or at least we don't blink at some of the more exotic juxtapositions, whether culinary or musical, and the mixed up lingo. I too, have been known to speak my gringa-chilanga version Spanglish—or, I might throw clumps of español—para que me entiendes bien— into my English.

I don't live on the border geographically, but culturally. I mean to say, when I got married 29 years ago, my husband and I moved to Mexico City—his home town, Chilangolandia—and now I have lived in Mexico City for more years than I have lived anywhere else, including California. And I should mention, I don't live in Mexico as a typical expat, coccooned among my fellow Americans and Canadian snowbirds. I am enconsed in a Mexican family, living in a Mexican neighborhood, and I have many very dear Mexican friends and colleagues.

Long story short, over the last three decades of my life, although I remain a U.S. citizen, Mexico has become my world. This is why my books are all about Mexico.

I hope my books might be both beautiful and useful—I write them with as much courtesy for the reader as I can muster. But the truth is, the reason I write them is because I want to delve in and explore the complexity around me, and then, having gained a new level of understanding, tell the story my way. Living in Mexico, very quickly, I learned to distrust the easy assumptions and much of the narrative about Mexico spooned out for us, whether on this side of the border or the other, whether in tourist guides, newspapers, television, paperback novels, movies. And sometimes... even in textbooks.

In Mexico, it is often said that nothing is as it seems. If you halt the show and question— sincerely and energetically question— read the bibliography, and read beyond the bibliography; take the time to interview people, really listen, with both an open mind and an open-heart; go to places and stand there and look around for yourself; roll up your sleeves and dig into the archives... it has consistently been my experience that you will uncover secrets and surprises.

Of course, that could be said about the whole world, from Azerbaijan to Zambia. And El Paso, Texas, itself. But Mexico is what my books are about. I won't stretch your patience to go on about all the books. I'm going to give you but three examples. [CONTINUE READING]

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Five Super Simple Tips for Better Book Design (Plus Notes on Adobe InDesign and Email Ninjerie)

While it may have become far easier to self-publish, most self-published books look... well, self-published. As do many put out by newbie small presses, alas. So for my dear friend who recently asked-- and for you, dear reader--here are my top tips for making your book look professionally designed, which is to say, reader-friendly. 

1. For your text choose an easy-on-the-eye font.
Do not get lost in that gnarly list of fonts already installed in your computer! The best way to grok this is to get up from your computer and walk over to your own bookshelves. Pull down several titles of books that you have already read and loved. My bet is, these books are well-designed or else you wouldn't have managed to finish reading them. So look at those fonts. Emulate those fonts! And of any of them do happen to be hard on your eyes, why subject your readers to them? 

This image shows the sort of fonts to avoid because-- I'm sure we can agree-- they're challenging to read:

2. Consider pairing a sans-serif font for chapter titles (and possibly also subtitles) with a serif font for the text. This isn't a must, but it often works nicely. Here are some examples of sans-serif and serif font pairings that might work for you:

A few sans-serif fonts I like:
Arial, Gill Sans, Helvetica, Verdana

A few serif fonts I like:
Baskerville, Garamond, Georgia, Sabon, Times Roman

3. Be a Midas with your margins!
The first thing that screams "self-published" and "amateur" is a page with text splatulaed into every corner. Why such Scroogerie with blank paper is so common mystifies me because everybody knows from their own experience that it is, indeed, exhausting for the eye to follow long lines of crowded text. Badly designed books usually end up, sooner or later, in a dump-- now there's a waste of paper.

4. Break up your text, where appropriate.
Another thing that makes it easier on the reader's eyes: Where appropriate (I know, sometimes it's not), break up big chunks of text into smaller  paragraphs and/or other breaks. For example:

5. For chapter and/or section openings, consider using a drop cap and/or some variation to the text such as caps and/or bold and/or italics and/or even another font.
More tricks to make it easier on the reader's eyes. This first example shows a drop cap (from the opening chapter of my latest book):

This next image is the opening chapter of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican EmpireThe design for this was done by publisher, Unbridled Books. The point is: you can really get wiggy with those drop caps!

Here is an example without a drop cap but the opening text is in capitals and bold:

Again, look through the books on your bookshelf that you have already read and loved and see if you can identify some of these elements-- and more. 

A Note on Adobe InDesign
If you plan to print a proper paperback book, as opposed to something you run off at Office Depot or your local copy shop,  you will need to get your design into Adobe InDesign and from there make a PDF. Adobe InDesign has a frighteningly steep learning curve-- and picture at the top of the cliff some ogres readying to roll down a boulder or three. I venture that unless you're a software whiz or are planning to make a profession of graphic design, the few hundred dollars to hire a professional to format your book would probably be money well spent. 

There are oodles more notions about book design and a hundred and seventeen ways to get started on that monster of a subject. My number one recommendation is to take Edward Tufte's one day workshop if you possibly can. 

Apart from all of the above, I have little more to say on this subject because I am not an expert on designing books; what I do is write them. But hey, designing books isn't rocket science, necessarily.

A Note on Email Ninjerie
Back in the late 1990s and 2000s, I used to get torrents of emails asking my advice about the publishing business, e.g., Do I need an agent? How can I find a publisher? How can I promote my book? I'm a writer, not a publishing or marketing expert, but anyway, an age ago, I realized that I could do the right karma thing and save chunkoids of email time by simply posting my answers to these frequently asked questions on my website. 

In other words, if you, dear reader-- whether friend, writing workshop student, or mysterious Albanian--(bless you all, mysterious Albanians)-- were to write to me with any of these questions, I would respond email-ninja-like with a link to My Answers to the 3 Most Frequently Asked Questions About the Writing "Business."

(I do have assistants but when it comes to emails they're all paws.)

Ah, but how things have morphed with the digital revolution! Now the questions many of my students and fellow writers often ask me are: How can I start my blog? How should I handle social media? How should I go about self-publishing an ebook and/or a print book? (Most of my books have been traditionally published, including with two university presses, but my most recent book, on a very niche subject, is under my own imprint, Dancing Chiva. Translation: Yes, I do know a bit about self-publishing.) 

Email ninjadom in service of good karma continues! I now offer my answers to frequently asked questions with posts including Getting Started with Blogs and WebsitesHow I Published My Kindles; and It's Not Peanut Butter and Jelly But It's Not Rocket Science Either or, How I Made My POD (And You Can, Too). (And more over on my Resources for Writers page.) And now, added to all of that, is this post. 

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Q & A with John Kachuba, the author of THE SAVAGE APOSTLE

John Kachuba has just published a novel from Sunbury Press that promises to be a riveting and very rich read: The Savage Apostle. Here's the catalog copy:

In 1675, when the body of Christian Indian John Sassamon is dragged up from beneath the ice of Assowampsett Pond, speculation is rife as to who murdered the man. Sassamon was a man caught between two worlds, that of his Wamponaug ancestry and that of his adopted English society; people on both sides could find cause to kill him.  
John Eliot, missionary and founder of the Praying Villages where Christianized Indians lived among the colonists of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies is particularly grieved by his protégé Sassamon’s death. Eliot had converted the young Sassamon, educated him at Harvard, and trusted him as missionary to the Indians, especially to the Pokanoket and their sachem Metacom. Eliot knows that converting Metacom and his people could be the key to lasting peace between the colonists and the Indians, a fifty-year peace that is dangerously unraveling. 
Metacom finds his authority and sovereignty once again undermined by the Plymouth authorities when three of his closest advisors are arrested for the murder of Sassamon. Pressured by his people to retaliate, but knowing the disastrous consequences war with the English would bring, Metacom struggles to find a way out, just as Eliot tries to keep the two sides from falling into a war that could only end in ruin for English and Indians alike.
Thoroughly grounded in years of research, The Savage Apostle, is an exciting and colorful account of the events leading up to King Philip’s War, the costliest war per capita ever fought on American soil. Moreover, it is an exemplary lesson for today’s world where divisiveness and conflict are so often brought about by racial and religious intolerance.

John Kachuba is the award-winning author of twelve books and numerous articles, short stories and poems. Among his awards are the Thurber Treat Prize for humor writing awarded by The Thurber House and First Place in the Dogwood Fiction Contest. John teaches Creative Writing at Ohio University, Antioch University Midwest and the Gotham Writers Workshop. He is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Library Association’s Authors for Libraries.
John frequently speaks on paranormal and metaphysical topics and is a regular speaker at conferences, universities and libraries and on podcasts, radio and TV. He has been a repeat guest on radio’s “Coast-to-Coast AM with George Noory” and appeared in the Sundance Channel’s TV production, “Love/Lust – The Paranormal.” His blog is The Metaphysical Traveler.  
C.M. MAYO: The Savage Apostle is grounded in years of research. What sparked this work?

JOHN KACHUBA: I grew up in New England and the region’s history has always fascinated me. In addition, I have had a lifelong interest in Native American history and culture, so this novel, which combines both interests, is a natural for me. Still, it was a long time in the making.

The actual “spark to the fuse,” though, was some research I as doing for a novel in-progress which deals, in part, with the 19th-century Indian boarding schools. As I read about the often disastrous attempts to ”civilize” Native Americans by stripping them entirely of their culture and heritage, I wondered how that idea had originated. That speculation led me back to New England and the Harvard charter of 1650 that promoted education for the youth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, both Indian and White. From there it was a quick link to Harvard-educated John Sassamon’s murder and the subsequent terrible events that resulted in King Philip’s War.

C.M. MAYO: What was the nature of your research? Can you mention a few key archives, visits, and/or books and how they influenced your novel?

JOHN KACHUBA: Having grown up in New England, living in Connecticut and Rhode Island, I had already visited some of the sites associated with King Philip’s War. I relied heavily on other books for my research. I am especially indebted to Russell Bourne’s The Red King’s Rebellion: Racial Politics in New England, 1675-1678, long regarded as the “bible” on that war. 

A fascinating book dealing with the trial of the three Wampanoag accused of murder Sassamon was Igniting King Philip’s War: The John  Sassamon Murder byYasuhide Kawashima. This last book, in particular, exposed some of the superstitious beliefs that still existed at that time, beliefs that were even more in evidence during the Salem witch trials that took place roughly fifteen years after the events recounted in The Savage Apostle.

C.M. MAYO: Having done so much research, you chose to write the story as fiction. Of course, the novel may the most powerful way we have to convey emotional truth. Is there an emotional truth here that only fiction can convey? (And why is that?)
JOHN KACHUBA: The reason why I wrote this book as fiction is precisely because only fiction can reveal the emotional and psychological truths of those involved in the events. Since the Native American population of which I write was almost entirely illiterate, depending upon oral tradition to tell and pass on their histories and beliefs, there are no written records from them concerning the war and what befell them as a people. The only written accounts we have are from English chroniclers of the time who were writing from a place that held their own biases and cultural and religious beliefs. I thought the only way I could fairly relate Metacom’s version of the events and that of his people was through fiction.

C.M. MAYO: In our national consciousness King Philip's War pretty much draws a blank. Why was this such a crucial period in the history of North America? And do you see parallels and/or echos in other periods of our history, other regions?

JOHN KACHUBA: Yes, King Philip’s War is one of the “forgotten wars,” like the War of 1812 or the Spanish-American War. Even in New England, it’s possible for schoolchildren to graduate without ever hearing of it. Yet, the war was the costliest war, per capita, ever fought on American soil; dozens of English towns were destroyed, the Native American population was almost entirely wiped out, and the New England economy was so devastated that it too almost a century for it to recover.
But one of the war’s legacies remains with us today. How the English colonists ruthlessly dealt with their Indian neighbors after nearly fifty years of peaceful coexistence set the policy for all future dealings between White authorities and Indians, a policy that extended westward and led to the attempted extinction of Indians, the stealing of their lands, and the destruction of their culture. Indian schools, albeit far more humane that their earlier predecessors still remain and an outdated and broken reservation system continues to keep Native American as wards of the state.
I also believe that The Savage Apostle can serve as a cautionary tale for today’s world where divisiveness and conflict are so often brought about by racial and religious intolerance. That is why I have included a Discussion Guide in the back of the book in hopes that teachers and book clubs may use it as a tool to explore these topics.

C.M. MAYO: You have an impressive background as an expert on metaphysical subjects and in particular, on ghosts. Did this inform this work and if so, how so? (And in your researches, did you encounter any ghosts?)

JOHN KACHUBA: This book is something of a departure from my usual paranormal haunts, so to speak, but maybe not as far afield as one would think. Like many indigenous people, Native Americans have a strong belief in the spirit world and its paranormal denizens. For them, spirts are real and are with us all the time, whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge them or not.
There are two scenes in The Savage Apostle in which Metacom is visited by the ghosts of his brother, Wamsutta, and father, Massasoit. Did that actually happen? History does not tell us, but given Metacom’s culture and beliefs it is possible that such visitations could have occurred, or he could have believed that they occurred ( a subtle difference, but one that does not matter to the person experiencing the visitations).
In addition to the ghosts, there is also mention of various spirits that would have been consistent with Metacom’s religious beliefs.

> Visit John Kachuba's webpage here.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, February 01, 2016

February 2016 Newsletter: Podcasts, San Miguel Writing Conference, Maximilian and Carlota & etc

I have just sent out my February newsletter via the bananatastic (One of the many things I like about When you hit the "send" button you get the chimpy "high five.") 

> You can read my news about both super crunchy and brief podcasts, events and workshops, and more, right here

> If you'd like to get the next emailed newsletter, which will probably go out in March or early April, you are most welcome to sign up right here

I send out my newsletter every other month-ish, very ish, and do aim to make them packed with clickable wonders. 

> As always, your comments are welcome. Write to me here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Conversation with Solveig Eggerz, Author of the Novel Seal Woman

The complete transcript is now available of my podcast conversation with Solveig Eggerz about Seal Woman, her vividly poetic historical novel of Iceland. I highly recommend her novel, and am heartened to see that since our conversation, Seal Woman has been reissued in a handsome new edition from Unbridled Books.

A couple of quotes from the conversation:

"Iceland is really just the setting. For me, there's this particular phenomenon that's going on and it could have occurred anywhere, really. It's the notion of carrying within you everything that has happened to you in the past, and bringing it into a new environment, and then having to deal with your daily life while being haunted by everything that you're carrying around inside of you. Now, since publishing this here and doing a lot of book talks here in this country, I have sort of learned what the story is about in psychological terms because people have told me that they, too, have experienced this notion of carrying something around inside you. I have people telling me how they carry Iowa inside themselves all their lives, even though they never were in Iowa, but their mothers were."
"[W]riting a novel is way more important than publishing a novel. [Laughs] I'm working on a third novel now and just solving the riddle of how these characters interact and how this is all going to work out, that is my big task. Publishing?... I don't think people should be writing with publishing in mind. If you only have publishing in mind, then you're going to be losing a lot of the experience of really producing something that you are happy with yourself. The gap between these two is huge." 

You can also listen in anytime to the podcast of this conversation here. 

> More podcasts and transcripts from my Conversations with Other Writers are hereThe latest in this occasional series is my conversation with historian M.M. McAllen about her magnifcent narrative history of 1860s Mexico, Maximilian and Carlota. A transcript of that podcast will be available shortly. Other podcasts in this series include conversations with Rose Mary Salum, Sergio Troncoso, Sara Mansfield Taber, Michael K. Schuessler, and Edward Swift.

Meanwhile, I am working on podcast #21 in the projected 24 podcast series, Marfa Mondays
, exploring Marfa, Texas and environs, which is apropos of my book in-progress about the Trans-Pecos. Listen in to any one or all of those 20 "Marfa Mondays" podcasts here

P.S. My every-other-monthly-ish newsletter with updates on podcasts, publications and upcoming workshops is going out to subscribers soon. I welcome you to sign up here. It's an automatic opt-in /opt-out anytime via, and yes, it is free.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Madam Mayo's Top Posts in (Yes) 2013

Stay tuned for Marfa Mondays podcast #21, it's almost ready. (And listen in anytime to the 20 posted so far on either podomatic or iTunes here.

Back on December 28, I posted the top posts for 2015 and on January 18, the top posts for 2014. Herewith, with tops posts for 2013, I continue to work my way backwards.

(2013 was heavy on posts about Francisco I. Madero and Spiritism, the subject of my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution, which was published in 2014. In 2015 and 2016 you will find relatively more posts on Far West Texas, the US-Mexico border, and Texas in general-- Far West Texas being the subject of my work in-progress.)

December 30, 2013

December 18, 2013

November 11, 2013

September 25, 2013

September 11, 2013

August 19, 2013

August 12, 2013

July 22, 213

May 20, 2013

April 29, 2013

April 8, 2013

March 13, 2013

March 6, 2013

February 4, 2013

February 1, 2013

Monday, January 18, 2016

Madam Mayo's Top Posts in (Yes) 2014

Belatedly it has occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to offer a list of each year's posts of material original to this blog. Back on December 28, I posted the top posts for 2015. Herewith, I continue to work my way backwards. 

(The year before last was heavy on posts related to my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution, which came out that year. In 2015 and this year, 2016, you will find relatively more posts on Far West Texas, the US-Mexico border, and Texas in general, apropos of my book in-progress.)

December 15, 2014

November 21, 2014

November 17, 2014

November 10, 2014

November 8, 2014

October 21, 2014

October 13, 2014

January 28, 2014

The Future of Bookstores
January 9, 2014