Monday, January 24, 2011

Report from San Miguel de Allende

Think art colony + sunshine + pedestrian paradise (if you're wearing flat shoes, that is)... Oh, all the pink puffs of bougainvilleas against pure blue sky! I managed to reach escape velocity from Mexico City for a brief visit to San Miguel de Allende apropos of a reading of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which took place in the gloriously pink and coral-red Salon Quetzal of the Biblioteca, sponsored by PEN San Miguel and SOL Literary Magazine.

PodCast is now live at

Thank you, Eva Hunter, for the introduction, and Bill Pearlman, for all you do to organize this splendid reading series. Lucina Kathmann and Edward Swift, it was a delight to see you there. Edward-- everybody listen up! -- has a new novel about to come out, and it features Nezahualcoyotl's poems and stunning cover art by Kelly Vandiver. Edward's novel is one I am eagerly looking forward to reading, for I am a must-tell-EVERYBODY fan of his extraordinary memoir of growing up in the Big Thicket, My Grandfather's Finger. It was also a happy surprise to meet my fellow Unbridled Books author, George Rabasa, author of The Wonder Singer, whose new novel, Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb, is about to come out this spring. And Mariló Carral, Marisa Boullosa, and Lulu Torbet, wonderful artists, I send you besos.

P.S. I'll be back in San Miguel de Allende later in February for the San Miguel Writers Conference, for which I'll offering the mini-workshop on "Techniques of Fiction."

Also of note: My amiga writer Gina Hyams will be giving a workshop on blogging. Check out her bodacious blog! For anyone interested in starting or improving their blog, this is a terrific opportunity.

And here's the Q & A that didn't make in time for the announcement in San Miguel de Allende's local paper, Atención:

Three Questions for C.M. Mayo

Q: Why did you decide to write about this period of Mexican history?

A: I was so surprised to learn that the mother of the prince of the title– Agustin de Iturbide y Green (1863-1925) – was an American. I am also an American married to a Mexican, one very distantly related to her mother-in-law, so I was curious to learn more about her, how she came to Mexico and what made her agree, at first, to collaborate with Maximilian von Habsburg. When I started to delve into reading about the period and about her, however, I quickly found so many contradictions, mysterious distortions and vagueness, that I realized her story, and that of her son, had never been properly researched. I also felt it is an important story, for both Mexicans and Americans.

Q: As the author of nonfiction books, two on finance and a travel memoir of Baja California, how did you make the transition to writing fiction?

A: I made an effort to learn the craft of fiction through taking workshops, reading books on craft, and then re-reading novels, not as consumer wanting to be entertained, but as as a fellow craftsman, actively noting, for example, how does Chekhov describe the snow? Or Tolstoy, a dress? Lampedusa, a dance? Flaubert, a sense of joy or despair? How do they handle dialogue, transitions, building suspense? And so on. It was really as simple– and as difficult— as that.

Q: Which authors have most influenced your writing?

A: For this novel, the most influential was Guiseppi di Lampedusa's richly splendid novel, The Leopard, which covers a similar period in Sicily. For the flexible narrative voice and language I learned from Henry James’s Portrait of A Lady and Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country and for structure, her tragic novel The House of Mirth. Contemporary influences include A. Manette Ansay, Kate Braverman, Bruce Chatwin, Ted Conover, Douglas Glover, V.S. Naipaul, and oh, so many others. Everyone in Mexico asks me if I’ve read Fernando del Paso’s Noticias del Imperio. The answer is, other than a very few pages which I translated for my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, no, and not because I am unaware that it is considered one of Mexico’s greatest novels. Del Paso covers the same period and many of the same characters, and I wanted to have a clear conscience that my novel is my own. So now I have to read it!

More anon.