Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

Artist/ economist Hans Abbing has written a most intriguing book on the economics of the arts. It is his thesis, counter-intuitive but brilliantly argued, that government subsidies in fact increase the poverty of artists. (That won't keep me from applying, yet again, for an NEA grant, however!) As a literary writer/ economist myself, I've often found that I think about the literary world in terms of industrial organization, which, I suppose, my writer friends find somewhat bizarre. Much of what Abbing has to say here is not new to me, but so well articulated that it is a true pleasure to read. One especially important point he makes is that "people contemplating a career in the arts are usually ill-informed; they think the arts are more open than they really are and they are unaware of the extent to which informal monopolization characterizes the arts." Ah, indeed. His personal view is that artists resemble magicians. Magicians of course, are loath to reveal their tricks. Read more here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mexico Guru & The Telenovelas

Travel writer Jane Onstott has just launched --- a very useful resource for anyone interested in visiting Mexico. (She's the author of several guidebooks, by the way, including the National Geographic Traveler Mexico.) Jane's article on the Mexican telenovelas is Mexico Guru's current featured article. Buen viaje!

From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion

My essay about a journey to Maximilian's Miramar Castle in Trieste has been published in the Massachusetts Review. More anon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Madam Mayo's Top Ten Books Read in 2006

1. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
I finally read it. I was finally ready to read it. Elliptical fabulosity.

2. Alfredo Castaneda (transl. Margaret Sayers Peden) Book of Hours / Libro de horas
One of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. (Read post.)

3. Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer
More useful than 1,000 writing workshops. (I do not exaggerate.)

4. Patricia MacLachlan, Once I Ate a Pie
Starring Mr Beefy, the pug!

5. Colonel Charles Blanchot, Memoires: L'Intervention Francaise au Mexique
Criminally out-of-print. Scads of spicy gossip.

6. Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
Gorgeously written; thoroughly original. Visit his website here.

7. Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe
(Read post.)

8. Carolly Erickson, Josephine: A Life of the Empress
Masterfully researched; vivid as a novel.

9. Frederic Morton, Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914
A romantic tragedy, to be read whilst sipping coffee. (Read post.)

10. Joshua Leeds, Sonic Alchemy: Conversations with Leading Sound Practitioners
(Read post.)

For more lists, check out Wendi Kaufman's The Happy Booker blog-- Tod Goldberg's "Five Books I Told People I Read But I Really Didn't" and Alan Cheuse's "Book Selections to Nourish the Mind at the Holidays," among others.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Yes And

Where else can you drive a Hummer over your Isle of Skye competitor in the International Lawn mowing competition, and host a panel discussion of academic grass fertilizer experts, all in the same two hours? There was also a Madonna impersonator, hula dancing, and a lot of screaming and yelling about dead bunnies. In short, I just finished Shawn Westfall's fantastic 6 week Improv Comedy Class at the Washington DC Improv Comedy Club. New mantras: "Yes, and." "Listen and build." "Are you having fun?" "Character is plot." "It's all about relationship." "Add emotion." The improv process, I found, is something like a writing workshop + old-fashioned charades + ping pong + choir practice. But it's also like dance: you're not creating narrative in your head but with your whole body. (Read about Zip Zap Zop here.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion Nominated for's Mexico Travel Book of the Year

Mexico A Traveler's Literary Companion --- not a guidebook but a portrait of Mexico in a collection of Mexican fiction and literary prose--- has been nominated for's Best Mexico Travel Book of the Year Award. Voting is open from December 5 to January 12th. Click here to see the nominees and to vote. (Whether you vote or not, or vote for another book, please know that this anthology includes work by 24 Mexican writers, and numerous literary translators, all of whom deserve more recognition. It is my hope that this anthology will encourage more literary translations of Mexican writing--- as I note in the preface, "Mexican literature— a vast banquet— is one of the greatest achievements of the Americas. And yet we who read in English go hungry, for so astonishingly little of it has been translated. This is more astonishing still when one considers that the United States shares with a two thousand-mile-long border with Mexico.")

Internet Surfari: The King Goa Chair

While researching a few things for my novel I surfed into "Deafness in Disguise: Concealed Hearing Devices of the 19th Century." Pictured left is the King Goa Chair: "Perhaps the most ingenious design of an accoustic throne was created by F.C. Rein for King John of Portugal (also called King Goa VI). King John used the throne from about 1819 until his death in 1826, while ruling from Brazil... Visitors were required to kneel before the chair and speak directly into the animal heads..." read more...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thunder at Twilight

Just finished Frederic Morton's splendidly researched and beautifully written Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914. (It was of special interest me as I'm finishing my novel, which includes a character who was the Kaiser Franz Joseph's younger brother: Maximilian, the Emperor of Mexico.) Thunder at Twilight is a braiding of several narratives, among them, Freud's struggles with Jung; Trotsky and Stalin's stays in the city, and above all, the prelude to World War I. Especially well-done is the story of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand -- whom Morton aptly calls "the volcanic apostle of pacificism"-- in Sarajevo. If I could give this book ten stars, I'd give it eleven.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Picadou is PugSpeak's Pug of the Month

Picadou, the pug who owns Madam Mayo, is Pug of the Month over at Mary Crissman's chock-ablock full of pug stuff Picadou's portrait with the monarch butterflies, by the way, is by Julie Feingold. (Picadou also barks in the audio CD, "The Essential Francisco Sosa or, Picadou's Mexico City", an essay read by the author, which first appeared in Creative Nonfiction and won a Lowell Thomas Award. A part of all proceeds go to benefit Presencia Animal, a Mexico City dog and cat rescue organization.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Campaign for the American Reader Blog, In the Sierra Madre, and the Page 69 Test

The Campaign for the American Reader features Jeff Biggers's splendid new book In the Sierra Madre. Check it out-- and this wacky but wise page 69 test.

Banff International Literary Translation Centre

Here's an announcement for literary translators:
The Banff International Literary Translation Center is seeking applications for its residency program, due on January 12, 2007. The program is open to literary translators from Canada, Mexico and the United States translating from any language, and to international translators working on literature from the Americas (both the North and South American continents). Over the past three years, BILTC has welcomed translators from ten countries working on projects involving thirteen languages. Writers from Canada, the United States and Mexico have been invited to spend a week in residence to consult with their translators from abroad. Literary translators are also invited to apply year round for independent residencies in The Banff Centre’s Leighton Studios. Click here for application information.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Katherine Min at the Writers Center Sunday December 3rd @ 2 pm

The world is a handkerchief, as they say in Mexico. About 500 years ago, Katherine Min and I spent some weeks at the New York State Sumer Writers Institute at Skidmore College. Curiously, we had the same blue batik dress. I was just starting to write, or, I should say, finish, my own my own short stories, and Katherine, with her numerous litmag publications was an enormous inspiration to me-- her talent and her persistence were, and are, extraordinary. I am so delighted that she will be reading from her new novel, Secondhand World, (Alfred Knopf), at the Bethesda MD Writers Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD, Sunday December 3rd at 2 p.m. Click here for more about the event and visit her website,, to read more about her work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wars Within War by Irving W. Levinson

A most fascinating and original book I've been meaning to write a proper review of: Irving W. Levinson's Wars within War: Mexican Guerrillas, Domestic Elites, and the United States of America (TCU Press, 2005). From the jacket text: "Traditional characterizations of the 1846-1848 war between the United States and Mexico emphasize the conventional battles waged between two sovereign nations. However... [this work] examines two little-known guerrilla wars that took place at the same time and that proved critical to the outcome of the conflict. Utilizing information gleaned from twenty-four archives, including the normally closed files of Mexico's National Defense Archives, Wars With War breaks new ground by arguing that these other conflicts proved crucial to the course of events." My current research, for a novel about Maximilian, among other characters, focuses on the French intervention of the 1860s-- and the French, as one might imagine, faced similar issues. What I found especially interesting was the difficulty the U.S. Army had in securing the Veracruz to Mexico City corridor--- very similar to difficulties the French faced. (Shades of Iraq's highway from the airport into Baghdad.) The neighorborhood of Rio Frio, a stagecoach stop on the highway in the mountains between Puebla and Mexico City, was long and famously infested with bandits. I recently posted a note about the new translation of Manuel Payno's classic The Bandits from Rio Frio here.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Maribeth Fischer and "Writers at the Beach: Pure Sea Glass" '07

News from literary dynamo Maribeth Fischer: her novel, The Life You Longed For, is coming out this spring 07, and she's finalizing the schedule for Writers at the Beach, the big bash of a writers conference to be held this year March 16-18 in Rehoboth Beach at the Altantic Sands Hotel. Yours truly will be there--- I'll be giving a workshop, participating on a panel discussion, and reading and signing my books. Check out the line up from last year here. Note: Not only is Writers at the Beach a great conference, it's for a great cause: 100% of net profits go to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.

Friday, November 24, 2006

At the Corcoran: Princess Marie d'Orleans' Joan of Arc in Prayer

Working on a chapter of my novel set in Paris 1866, which includes a section from the point of view of Carlota, Empress of Mexico, I felt drawn--- not sure why--- to go see the Joan of Arc exhibit at Washington DC's Corcoran. So that was this afternoon. It's a fascinating exhibit that features some truly extraordinary illustrations from the late 19th century. What arrested me, however, was the bronze statue after the marble by Princess Marie d'Orleans (1813-1839), an amateur sculptor who was the daughter of France's King Louis-Philippe-- and aunt of Carlota, Empress of Mexico. (Carlota's mother was Princess Louise, daughter of King Louis-Philippe.) Here's the accompanying text:

"Princess Marie d'Orleans, the second daughter of King Louis-Philippe, was a gifted amateur artist with a passion for medieval art and culture. After a life-size marble copy of her Joan of Arc in Prayer was installed at Versailles in 1837, the princess's sculpture became one of the most popular and widely emulated images of Joan ever made. In the mid-19th century, Joan of Arc in Prayer was replicated and could be found in varying sizes and materials in churches, museums, public squares, and private collections throughout France. Joan of Arc in Prayer is one of the first historical treatments in sculpture of the Maid's appearance. Joan appears here with a short, boyish haircut, wearing late medieval armor, including a cuirass (joined back and breastplates), condieres (elbow guards with shell-like flanges) and in full-scale reproduction, a bascinet (an open-faced helmet) resting with a pair of gauntlets on a tree stump."

The exhibit continues through January 21st 2007. Click here for the Corcoran Gallery's press release on the exhition.

The Bandits from Rio Frio: A Naturalistic and Humorous Novel of Customs, Crimes, and Horrors

Manuel Payno's 19th century classic, The Bandits from Rio Frio: A Naturalistic and Humorous novel of Customs, Crimes and Horrors, has been translated for the first time into English by Alan Flukey (Heliographica Press, 2005). It would be fair to call Payno Mexico's Dickens. The Bandits from Rio Frio is a major work-- and the translation is superb. Read a review over at River Walk Journal Blog, and another at Eco Latino. This translation should have gotten a lot more attention than it has.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Oakland CA's Libreria Coyoacan

Via David Peattie at Whereabouts Press, an interesting article by Duanes Moles about Oakland CA's new Spanish language bookstore:
When Hurtado opened Libreria Coyoacan, he chose to name store after the neighborhood in Mexico City where he grew up. Once home to Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky, Coyoacan has remained a neighborhood where the arts and political action meet. Beyond the name, Liberia Coyoacan keeps Hurtado connected to his roots. When Hurtado has trouble tracking down a hard to find book, he sometimes calls old friends back in Mexico City.... read more

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Night Faculty Potluck @ The Writers Center

The House on Q St, Ann McLaughlin's delightful WW II -era novel set in Washington DC, was one subject of conversation tonight at the Writers Center's faculty potluck. Madam Mayo dropped her jaw at the news that McLaughlin has started writing her seventh novel (!) Most of the other discussions, it seemed to Madam Mayo, were about the on-line world-- what the heck is a blog? How does an on-line workshop work? Writers Center Director Gregory Robison talked about the new on-line tools now available to instructors on Blogging guru Chris Abraham, (who helped Madam Mayo get that RSS feed stuff up there), had plenty to say about the nature and power of blogs. Basil White, who gives the comedy writing workshop, talked about combining on-line discussions, or what he called "webisodes," with face-to-face meetings. Doreen Baingana talked about her experience giving an on-line fiction writing workshop, in part, from Uganda. Also in attentance: Sunil Freeman, Leslie Pietrzyk, Ginnie Hartman, Ellen Braaf, Margaret Blair, and poets Judith McCombs, Miles David Moore, and many others. Excellent to see all. Write on!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Eduardo Jiménez Mayo's New Website

Translator, writer and professor Eduardo Jiménez Mayo (no relation?) has just launched his new website--- check it out at His fine translation of Bruno Estañol's "Fata Morgana" appears in my anthology Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. He has also recently published Bruno Estañol: Collected Fiction (1989-2003) with Floricanto Press. Here's what's coming down the pike: The Lost Empire: Literature and Society in Austria (1880-1938), Jiménez’s English translation of the nonfiction title by Mexican intellectual José María Pérez Gay about some of the great Jewish Viennese writers of the Holocaust.

Viva Mick Jagger! Or, Madam Mayo's Sister's Neighbor's Dog's Licketysplit (But No Licking) Aura Analysis

For the full story, click here. For Madam Mayo's previous "aura analysis" post, click here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Grace Cavalieri's Essay in the Montserrat Review: Little Mags in America

One of my favorite poets, Washington DC's own wonderful Grace Cavalieri, has an essay on little mags in America here. (My own little mag, the bilingual Tameme, is now a chapbook publisher. More about that anon. The first chapbook, a short story by Agustin Cadena, is at the printer... )

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Literary Travel Memoirs: Some Favorites

Apropos of the Literary Travel Writing Workshop I'll be offering this November 18th at the Bethesda MD Writers Center, a list of a few of my personal favorites:

David Haward Bain, Sitting in Darkness: Americans in the Philippines
Frances Calderon de la Barca, Life in Mexico
Bruce Berger, Almost an Island
Bill Buford, Among the Thugs
Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana
Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
Ted Conover, Coyotes
Ted Conover, New Jack
Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland
Charles Fergus, Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World
M.F.K. Fisher, Long Ago in France
Ian Frazier, Great Plains
Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu
Farley Mowat: Walking on the Land
Jan Morris: Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere
V.S. Naipaul, A Turn in the South
Sheila Nickerson, Disappearance: A Map
Gontran de Poncins, Kabloona
Sam Quinones, True Tales from Another Mexico
Vikram Seth: From Heaven Lake, Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet
Sara Mansfield Taber, Dusk on the Campo: A Journey in Patagonia
Sara Mansfield Taber, Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf
John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez
Jon Swain, River of Time
Jennifer Toth, The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City
Sara Wheeler, Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica

(My own memoir is Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California the Other Mexico. It will be out in paperback this spring with Milkweed Editions.)

Literary Travel Writing Workshop at the Writer's Center Nov 18th

I'll be giving a one-time literary travel writing workshop this Saturday November 18th from 1:30 - 4 pm at the Writers Center in Bethesda MD.
Take your travel writing to another level: the literary, which is to say, giving the reader the novelistic experience of actually traveling with you. For both beginning and advanced writers, this workshop covers the techniques from fiction and poetry that you can apply to this specialized form of creative nonfiction for deliciously vivid effects. For more information and to register, click here.
A few other links: my workshop page; resources for writers; my books and articles; an interview by Rolf Potts.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mexico's "War" on Drugs by Celia Toro

Madam Mayo highly recommends Mexican political scientist Maria Celia Toro's book, Mexico's "War" on Drugs. Madam Mayo hopes it will be re-issued in paperback soon. "Earth to publishers...?" Read Toro's article on the DEA in Mexico here. Madam Mayo's own book, Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California the Other Mexico, which includes an overview of some the nastiest shenanigans of the early 1990s, will be out in paperback by Milkweed Editions this spring. Madam Mayo will now revert to using first person. Over and out.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Library of Congress: 19th Century Periodicals

Here's a very useful link for anyone interested in 19th century US history. Periodicals galore on-line.

Zip, Zap, Zop at the DC Improv

Inspired by poet, editor, and creativity guru Deborah Ager, Madam Mayo has just begun the Improv class given by Shawn Westfall at the DC Improv. We did the "Zip, Zap, Zop" exercise and the alphabetical line exchange-- is that what it's called? Two people exchange lines of dialog in alphabetical order, to wit:
Are you freaked out?
Can't get enough, huh?
Darn, I'm hungry. Let's get off this train.
Exit, where's the exit?
Fred, listen, calm down, we'll get out at the next stop.
Hey, I know a great pizza place.
I know an even better place.
& etc.
Not the kind of dialogue exercises I'm used to from creative writing. Head yoga, definitely.

Madam Mayo Interviewed by BBC TV

As she was out walking Picadou by the Potomac. That's right, a BBC reporter and camerman nabbed me for a 10 second spot. I had to give my name (hint: it's not Madam Mayo), place of residence (Washington DC, at the moment) and say what I think is the most important issue in this Tuesday's elections (the war). I then proceeded to walk on into Gerogetown and as I did, I realized two things. #1: my vote in DC has nothing to do with the war because, duh, as a DC resident, I don't have a voting represenative in Congress and no Senator (if you don't believe that, click here) and anyway, this city is traditionally a slam-dunk Democrat stronghold; #2: I caught my reflection in a store window and saw that my slouchy tweed dog-walking hat and black glasses were, well, oh well.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Perfect Coffee or, None of the Deleterious Properties That Lurk in Boiled Concoctions

Just finished another chapter in my novel-- an historical novel set in the mid-19th century. (Here's the embryonic webpage.) One of the things that's most fun about it is the research. Here's a snippet from my current reading--- The Ladies' Etiquette Handbook: The Importance of Being Refined in the 1880s (originally published in 1887):
There is but one way to make perfect coffee, and this in the French cafetierre, which is automatic in its working, and can now be bought at all house-furnishing stores. One large enough for twelve to eighteen after-dinner cups, or six to ten breakfast cups, can be bought for $7.50; and to one who has never tasted a cup of coffee made in one, the first sip is a revelation. Buy only the best coffee. A favorite combination with most is half Mocha and half Java. Have it as freshly roasted as possible, keep in tightly closed jars, and grind as used. The cafetierre is not out of place on any sideboard or table, and the automatic process of making coffee on the table, is always watched with interest by all to whom it is a novelty. Have the coffee ground fine, and let it go over into the glass receiver twice. It retains all of the aroma, but takes up none of the deleterious properties that lurk in boiled concoctions.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Alexandra van de Kamp: Featured Poet This Week (Starting 11/5) on

My amiga Alexandra van de Kamp, terrific poet and terrific translator-- and, to boot, one of the founding editors of Terra Incognita, the bilingual literary magazine--- is this week's featured poet on a website run by Michael Mart, previous owner of the bookstore Good Times in Port Jefferson, NY, and George Wallace. Very cool!

My Fellow Americans, Do You Really Want to Build a Wall?

The "Mexican immigration issue" isn't just about Mexicans coming to the U.S. A friend alerts me to this month-old article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the ongoing gringo invasion of Mexico. At every single reading I've given for my new anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, people tell me they're thinking of retiring to Mexico--- Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende, San Jose del Cabo, Cuernavaca... This has happened in Washington DC, in California, in Texas, you name it. And about that wall: here's a speech it would be well to remember. Feliz viaje.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pug Rescue

Does this pug need to be rescued from his Halloween costume? Well, apropos of pug rescue, Madam Mayo has received news from Mary Crissman about a charity auction of paintings by Joanne Knauf:
"Joanne was an artist from South Africa--- she was best known for her pug art. She had a wonderful way of capturing the pug "essence." At any rate, she passed away in March. She bequeathed to me her remaining collection. I am selling two pieces and donating the proceeds to two rescues here--- Colorado Pug Rescue and Prairie Pugs Rescue. This is something that would have pleased Joanne--- very much. She donated a good portion of her work to rescues all over the world. I was hoping you could pass the word along--- if you know anyone who collects or enjoys art---particularly pug art. If you know someone with interest, you can direct them to my website--- There is a link there to Joanne's work--I had just completed her website the day she passed."
More about pug rescue at Picadou's links page.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Secret World

Neat-o applet. Click here to download.

Back from Texas

Just landed... back from the Texas Book Festival. Charlas: Kirk Walsh, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Patricia Quintana, Ricardo Ainslie, Jeff Biggers, Maria Finn, David Dorado Romo, and many more... in Houston, a day in Rice University's Charlotte and Maximilian Collection; a long breakfast with Rosemary Salum, founding editor of the gorgeous Literal, Latin American Voices, one of the finest and most beautiful literary magazines out there, and going strong. More anon.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Three Events at Two Texas Book Festivals

Off to Texas for two book festivals--- the first ever Southwest Writers & Arts Festival at Texas A & M University and Austin's venerable Texas Book Festival. I'll be reading, signing and discussing my new anthology of Mexican writing, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. At Texas A & M I'll be reading Oct 26th from 4-5:30, and at Austin's Texas Book Festival, I'll be doing a panel in Spanish Oct 28th from 2-3 pm ("Todo sobre mi Mexico: Impresiones Literarias"), and another in English Oct 29th from 12:30-1:30 ("Mexico in Mind: Literary Impressions of a Distant Neighbor.") Details of the schedule are here. Events are free and open to the public, so if you're in the neighborhood, come on by. Back blogging next week.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

World Hum: The Speed of Rancho Santa Ines

The saying goes: Bad roads, good people. Good roads, bad people. On a sleepy Mexican ranch, C.M. Mayo finds out what the Transpeninsular Highway brought to one stretch of Baja California.

World Hum: Travel Dispatches for a Shrinking Planet has just posted "The Speed of Rancho Santa Ines," an excerpt from Miraculous Air. This excerpt also appears in Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion.

Jim Benning, you rock.

Catherine Mansell Carstens: Las nuevas finanzas en Mexico and Las finanzas populares en Mexico

Las nuevas finanzas en México (Editorial Milenio / ITAM / IMEF) se publicó en 1992;

Las finanzas populares en México (Editorial Milenio / ITAM / CEMLA) en 1995.

Published in 1992 and 1995 respectively. Both are still in print and available from Editorial Milenio in Mexico City.

See the website

Para la nota biográfica de Catherine Mansell Carstens, haga clic aquí.

Cadena's "Lady of the Seas" in Robert Giron's ArLiJo

Arlington, Virginia-based poet, literary translator and Gival Press publisher Robert Giron has started a new on-line literary journal: ArLiJo and the current issue, I'm delighted to note, features my translation of Mexican writer Agustin Cadena's short story "Lady of the Seas." This beautiful story appears in Cadena's new collection, Los pobres de espiritu, which won Mexico's San Luis Potosi Award. (My translation of this story first appeared in the bilingual New York City and Madrid-based journal Terra Incognita. It's also in my anthology of Mexican fiction and literary prose, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion.)

Madam Mayo's Tower o' Reading

The pile just got a little smaller. Just finished--- and highly recommend--- Douwe Draaisma's Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past; Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer (and click here for other books for writers); Bob Woodward's State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III. Am in the midst of Erika Pani's El Segundo Imperio. Just started Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. Not to mention the many manuscripts to read for Tameme's Chapbook / Cuaderno #2 (#1, a short story by Mexican writer and poet Agustin Cadena, is in production). Best place to read: the cafeteria by the fountain in the National Gallery. And the tuna sandwich is pretty good.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Momotombo Press's Chapbook Show-Time at the National Writers Union

Just back from Francisco Aragon's fascinating talk on small publishing at the Washington DC National Writer's Union. I've long been an admirer of his Momotombo Press and the gorgeous chapbooks of Latino Literature that he's been bringing out from Momotombo's new home at Notre Dame University. (The Momotombo Press chapbooks were the inspiration for Tameme's new format-- the first Tameme chapbook, a short story by Mexican writer Agustin Cadena, is currently in production.) I hadn't realized that Momotombo itself was inspired by Gary Soto and Lorna Dee Cervantes's Chicano Chapbook Series-- which published, among other poets, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Sandra Cisneros. Aragon brought an astonishing variety of chapbooks to show--- some self-published, some very beautifully produced, some put together with Scotch tape, (beautiful, too, in their humble way). There was also a self-published chapbook by Uraoyan Noel that had a cover made out of those plastic anti-skid thingies that go under car carpets (what is the word for that?!)-- and the epigraph was by Cher. It was an education. Poet and activist Sarah Browning hosted; and DC's own Poetry Goddess Kim Roberts offered delectable morsels of advice, including reminding me to check out Beltway's gargantuan Resource Bank. Gracias all! (Now... I'm going to get out some scissors and glue and make a chapbook out of "The Building of Quality.")

January Writing Workshop in Coyoacan

I'm going to be offering a one-day writing workshop in English in Coyoacan (Mexico City) this January. More anon.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Rockville MD

Well, I missed the tour out to see F. Scott Fitzgerald's gravesite, but as it's a short walk from Washington DC's red-line metro stop, I suppose it will be easy to do another time (hmmm... what shall I bring?) At yesterday's F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference I gave the travel writing workshop--- we "traveled" to the class room, and found it quite as exotic as a Persian spice shop. Also had a chance to hang out with Richard Peabody, Robert Giron, Anne Levy, Jessica Seigel, Ellen Braaf, Michael Olmert, Katharine (Kitty) Davis (who tells me her new novel, Capturing Paris has just gone into a third printing!!) antiquarian bookdealer Charles Burroughs (Stepladder Books), and editor of the Potomac Review, Julie Wakeman-Linn, who was working hard to make it all happen. Well worth waiting for was the last event of the conference: Jane Smiley's lecture on the novel. Since last year, I have been slowly savoring and re-reading her magnificent 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. She called Fitzgerald a kind of "good uncle" to us all. A lovely thought.

By the way, I'm giving another travel writing workshop in November at the Writers Center (Bethesda MD). Some of the reading lists are here. Also, 365 five minute writing exercises--- all very handy for literary travel writers--- are here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Malvina Shankin Harlan's Some Memories of a Long Life

A lot of people have been asking me how my novel (set in Washington DC, Mexico City and Paris in the 1860s) is going. Good. Very good, actually. Part of the writing process is not writing, however, but reading. Recently I've been going through Malvina Shankin Harlan's Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854-1911, a sweet and surprisingly moving memoir by the wife of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan. I also love her language. Here are a few of the curious words and phrases she uses:
unspeakable calamity;
my fixed purpose;
to vanish like dew before the sun;
laughing in their sleeves;
a trifle unwise and hasty;
he was my oracle;
uproarious Jehu;
I double-knotted my purse strings;
garments (so-called) of such gauzy texture as to suggest nothing more than a butterfly's wing.

I suppose some of these were cliches of the time. To my ears they sound strange.

Smackdown in Tijuana

Over at World Hum: Travel Dispatches from a Shrinking Planet, Jim Benning has a new piece up about la lucha. (And what does Madam Mayo have to say about that Jack Black movie? Click here.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On a Roll--- New Review of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion Over at Chez Robert Giron

A very nice review of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion over at Chez Robert Giron, Robert Giron's blog. I'm especially honored because Robert is not only a distinguished poet and publisher; he's also a translator himself. In fact, he translated a beautiful book of poems by Jesus Gardea, Songs for a Single String. (Jesus Gardea's short story, "According to Evaristo", a short story set in the state of Chihuahua, translated by Mark Schafer, appears in Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

First Zyzzyva, Now UGA

The other day I noted that Zyzzyva, the California-based literary magazine, has a blog. Now one of my publishers, the University of Georgia Press, has started one. I'm already thinking of starting one for Tameme... but that one will have to be run by an intern. What with blogging here and blogging for ALTALK (the blog of the American Literary Translators Association), I'm getting "blogged out." Happy blogging to y'all.

Monday, October 09, 2006

With Mexican Writer Araceli Ardon In Queretaro's Casa de la Marquesa

C'est moi and writer Araceli Ardon, at the Casa de la Marquesa, after our book presentation (Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion) at the Museo de Arte de Queretaro. Araceli Ardon read my translation of her short story, "It is Nothing of Mine," which is set in Queretaro. (Click here to read her story on the National Public Radio website.) She's the author of two books: the novel Historias intimas de la casa de Don Eulogio and--- hot off the presses--- a collection of stories set in Queretaro, El arzobispo de gorro azul.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Maximilian in Queretaro

I've updated my Maximilian page with a few photos from a recent visit to Queretaro. A lot of people have been asking about how the novel is going... very well. It's turning into a 600-pager... I'm nearing the last couple of chapters, trying to unravel what General Almonte was up to.. And I'm happy to report that it looks like my essay, "From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion" will finally be coming out in the Masschusetts Review this December. More anon.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pugs Rule

"Chilling evidence of the Pug Revolution, this was the last picture taken by a French Journalist who did not obey the Pug dog."

Tres triste. Thanks to Alice, we now know where to get our bumperstickers.

C.M. Mayo's Literary Travel Writing Workshop at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference

The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Rockville MD is coming up. October 14th I'm giving the literary travel writing workshop. Click here for the conference brochure. Some of the other writers: Jane Smiley, A. Scott Berg, Michael Dirda, Richard Peabody, Kitty Davis, and Patricia Elam.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dose o' Backbone

Feeling whiney? Daniel Olivas, writer, blogger, attorney & etc., has the cure. Yowza.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Yvette Neisser Moreno at the Writers Center, Starting October 14th

Poet and literary translator Yvette Neisser Moreno is offering a literary translation workshop at the Writers Center in Bethesda MD (just outside DC). This is a very special opportunity as workshops in literary translation are so rarely offered. Here's the boilerplate:
The Art of Literary Translation: Spanish to English
6 Saturdays, 2 to 4:30 p.m., October 14 through November 18 At The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815 Tuition: $210 ($190 for Writer’s Center members)

This workshop is designed for creative writers who want to explore the exciting, mysterious art of literary translation. No previous translation experience is necessary; however, participants should have experience writing either poetry or creative prose in English (and have strong knowledge of Spanish). By examining different translations of sample texts, doing in-class exercises and experimenting with our own translations, we will discuss the myriad questions that a literary translator faces, such as word choice, sentence structure, tone, rhythm, and sound. Discover how the creative process of translation can enhance your skills as a writer and stimulate your own writing.

Workshop Leader: Yvette Neisser Moreno is a poet, translator, writer and editor. Her poems and translations of poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous magazines and anthologies, including the Innisfree Poetry Journal, The International Poetry Review, and The Potomac Review.

For more information and to register visit

Monday, October 02, 2006

Seen in Georgetown, DC

Tonight while walking by the Bacchus Wine Cellar at 1635 Wisconsin Ave NW, Madam Mayo spotted a little placard in that window:


Hugo "El Diablo" Chavez

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Madam Mayo Says Ciao to the Daily 5

On October 1, 2005, I began posting a daily 5 minute writing exercise. All 365 are now on-line. Most are my own; a few were provided by friends, among them, Leslie Pietrzyk, Lisa Couturier, Dan Olivas, Basil White, Mary Kay Zuravleff, and many others. Help yourself. I hope the exercises are both fun and useful.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Zyzzyva Speaks

Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva, informs Madamn Mayo that he too is blogging. Blog on! Tameme is going to get a blog, too, one of these days...

That Hat

"That Hat" is today's 5 minute writing exercise-- the penultimate one. Tomorrow, September 30th, will be the last day I post these. I began on October 1, 2005, so the year's worth will be complete. I'll leave them on-line. Hope they're both fun and helpful.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What Would Ronald Reagan Say?

Madam Mayo is in despair. She sure would like to call up her Senator and give 'em an earful. But get this-- as a resident of the District of Columbia, she has no voting representation in the House or the Senate. That's right: US citizens who are DC residents have no vote in the House or the Senate. And about this wall they want to build along the US-Mexican border? What would Ronald Reagan say about that? Check out this speech. If you're over the age of 20, you might remember it.

Stop the Abuse of Power and Stand Up for Freedom: ACLU Membership Conference, October 15-18 in Washington DC

Click here to sign up. Yes, Madam Mayo is a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. You betcha.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

History At Chapters A Literary Bookstore

A moment in Writer's Center history! If I do say so myself. Last night I gave the Writers Center's first-ever workshop at the Chapters Literary Bookstore in downtown Washington DC--- on literary travel writing. What an amazingly eclectic and talented group--- writing about Afghanistan, New Mexico, Positano, India... and a local backyard... (after all, one need not to go far to see with new eyes). Chapters is one of my favorite places in DC. It's a cozy little store with an unsually high quality selection of books-- and a breeze of a walk from the Metro Center stop. (About my literary travel writing workshops: I'll be offering more this fall at the Writers Center in Bethesda MD and also at the F. Scott Fiztgerald Writers Conference in Rockville MD. More info here.)

By the way, Chapters also runs a superb reading series. Tonight at 7 pm Janis Cooke Newman will be reading and signing her novel, Mary, a major new historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln. Apropos of tonight's reading, Newman has a fun guest blog post over at Wendi Kaufman's The Happy Booker.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Miraculous Air --- in Paperback from Milkweed Editions, Spring 2007

Here's the cover of the paperback. It'll be out this spring from Milkweed Editions. (Why is there an angel carrying a tiny house on the cover? Click here to find out.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Taj Mahal, Etc.

"Taj Mahal, Etc" is today's 5 minute writing exercise. I'm posting them daily on my my website through September 30th, at which time I will leave the whole 365 on-line. Hope it's fun. By the way, click here to read about the writing workshops I'm giving this fall--- including one on literary travel writing at Chapters.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Eric Maisel's Creativity Newsletter

Eric Maisel is a creativity coach (he's pioneered the field), family therapist, and the author of A Writer's Paris, Coaching the Artist Within, Fearless Creating, The Creativity Book, The Van Gogh Blues, and other books on the creative life. Madam Mayo is not a client, but she's certainly a fan. His creativity newsletters are free, by the way-- just go to his website to sign up.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

At Chapters, September 26th: A Literary Travel Writing Workshop

I'm giving three travel writing writing workshops this fall in the Washington DC area. First up is a workshop (via the Writers Center) at Chapters A Literary Bookstore this Tuesday September 26th (6:30-8:30 pm):
Take your travel writing to another level: the literary, which is to say, giving the reader the novelistic experience of actually traveling there with you. For both beginning and advanced writers, this three hour workshop covers the techniques from fiction and poetry that you can apply to this specialized form of creative nonfiction for deliciously vivid effects.

For more information and to register, click here. My website,, has information about my travel writing, including Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California the Other Mexico, which I am delighted to say will be available in paperback this spring from Milkweed Editions. More about the other travel writing workshops is here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Short History of Sweet Potato Pie and How it Became a Flying Saucer

More from the DC Shorts Film festival: A strange, sweet and silly film, and especially strange to me, as I recognized so many of the cast members from the Safeway at the Watergate. Here's the synopsis:
In the tradition of 'Chocolat' comes 'Sweet Potato Pie.' Here is the true story of Pearl Mallory who works as a cook at the St. Mary's Court Retirement Home in Washington, DC. Hailing from rural Virginia, Pearl is one of eight children borne of the sons and daughters of slaves, Now, by the age of 82, she has lived nearly her entire life in kitchens cooking for senior citizens. But Pearl's cuisine is not the traditional beige and grey offerings normally found in the institutional walls of old people's homes. Her specialty-- Sweet Potato Pie. Mixed into the sweet cream, orange fruit, and exotic spices of Pearl's concoction is her inextricable connection with her tangled Southern roots and with her unyielding devotion to the Lord. She creates an irresistible and magical potion. With it's rich perfume, earthy taste, and silken lustre, Pearl's Sweet Potato Pie inspires the most extraordinary and unexpected effect on the normally sober and otherwise staid residents of St. Mary's Home. 'Sweet Potato Pie' is all the evidence you need to know that 'You are what you eat.'
But I think the real star of this film was Pearl's artist friend, a St Mary's Home resident who fell into baroque raptures over the color orange and, later, went around the dining room shooting everyone's pie with a can of Cool Whip.


Sunday night Madam Mayo went to the DC Shorts Film Festival's "Best of DC Shorts" screening at the E Street theater. One excellent short film (really short: only 8 minutes) was Zombie-American, the story of Glen, who happens to be a Zombie. Madam Mayo cannot bring herself to tell what he did with the Q-Tip. (And by the way, yes, she is still, like, totally having a major cow about RFIDs.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Secret RFID Testing in the US and in Mexico

Levi Strauss & Co has put RFIDs into clothing in two undisclosed locations in Mexico, according to a April 27, 2006 press release on the Spy Chips website. To wit:
New information confirms that Levi Strauss & Co. is violating a call for a moratorium on item-level RFID by spychipping its clothing. What's more, the company is refusing to disclose the location of its U.S. test. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a controversial technology that uses tiny microchips to track items from a distance. These RFID microchips have earned the nickname "spychips" because each contains a unique identification number, like a Social Security number for things, that can be read silently and invisibly by radio waves. Over 40 of the world's leading privacy and civil liberties organizations have called for a moratorium on chipping individual consumer items because the technology can be used to track people without their knowledge or consent. Jeffrey Beckman, Director of Worldwide and U.S. Communications for Levi Strauss, confirmed his company's chipping program in an email exhange with McIntyre, saying "a retail customer is testing RFID at one location [in the U.S.]...on a few of our larger-volume core men's Levi's jeans styles." However, he refused to name the location. "Out of respect for our customer's wishes, we are not going to discuss any specifics about their test," he said. Beckman also confirmed the company is tagging Levi Strauss clothing products, including Dockers brand pants, at two of its franchise locations in Mexico... Read the rest here.
Who's next? What's next? And what about books? What shall happen to us all when RFIDs get into books? But Orwell knew the answer to that. Ojo: the Spanish version of Spy Chips is out in Spanish: Chips Espias.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

So Who Is Bruce Schneier?

Madam Mayo first heard the name yesterday when she read his op-ed piece about RFIDs in the Washington Post. Bruce Scheier is a security expert with several books published, as well as a blog and a raft of articles you can read online here. One of the best is "Your Vanishing Privacy." To read more about RFIDs, see my last two posts. Two key things about RFIDs: they're extremely tiny; they transmit.

The ACLU on the Dangers of RFIDs

Read the ACLU's letter of strong protest here.

RFIDs Are Coming: Get Your Passport Renewed

A few months ago I read Spy Chips, a fascinating and deeply disturbing book about RFIDs, the new "spychips." RFIDs are not-- repeat, not-- similar to any tags you've seen before. (Read more at And now --- the outrage du jour-- the U.S. government wants to put them in your passport. In today's Washington Post, security expert Bruce Schneier writes:

If you have a passport, now is the time to renew it -- even if it's not set to expire anytime soon. If you don't have a passport and think you might need one, now is the time to get it. In many countries, including the United States, passports will soon be equipped with RFID chips. And you don't want one of these chips in your passport.

RFID stands for "radio-frequency identification." Passports with RFID chips store an electronic copy of the passport information: your name, a digitized picture, etc. And in the future, the chip might store fingerprints or digital visas from various countries.

By itself, this is no problem. But RFID chips don't have to be plugged in to a reader to operate. Like the chips used for automatic toll collection on roads or automatic fare collection on subways, these chips operate via proximity. The risk to you is the possibility of surreptitious access: Your passport information might be read without your knowledge or consent by a government trying to track your movements....
click here to read the rest.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Into the Home Stretch on the Daily 5

It was on October 1st, 2005 that I began posting a daily 5 minute writing exercise. I will be posting them until September 30th, at which point I will stop, but leave the year's worth of them on-line here. Click here to check out today's exercise.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sept 13th @ 7 pm Reading & Signing @ Georgetown's Book Hill

I'll be reading from & signing Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion at the Georgetown (Washington DC) Public Library, the old mansion on top of "Book Hill" at Wisconsin Ave & R Sts. tonight at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public. More info about the book and other events here. Hasta pronto... that is, more anon, including a post about Maximilandia...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

News From Mexico

From Ann Hazard comes the report that Baja California's East Cape was devastated by the recent hurricane. She sends this website with news and photos. She's going to be setting up a relief fund. More anon about that. And Mexico has a new president: Felipe Calderon. I'm off to Queretaro, back blogging after the 12th.

Enrique Krauze on Mexico's Presidential Elections

What is going on in Mexico? It helps to understand some history. In today's Washington Post, Mexican historian Enrique Krauze offers a concise description of the mess and what's at stake. For more news, check out the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute's Mexico Elections web page.

Monday, September 04, 2006

To Queretaro & San Miguel de Allende

Madam Mayo is heading south:

September 7th I will be presenting Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion with Mexican writer Araceli Ardon ---(read her fabulous short story, "It Is Nothing of Mine", on the National Public Radio website here)---and Mexican literary critic Maria Teresa Azuara at the Museo de Arte de Queretaro. The event is at 8 pm-- details here.

September 8th, from 5 - 7 pm, I'll be reading from Miraculous Air and also Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, together with writer and dream expert Joseph Dispenza, in the San Miguel Author's Sala. The founder, who will be introducing me, is Susan Page, whose book, by the way, The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book, is one I very highly recommend to all my writing students.

Back blogging after September 12th.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

In Honor of Daniel Pinchbeck's new book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, the Daily 5 Minute Writing Exercise Gets an Aztec Headdress

Today's 5 minute writing exercise is "The Story of the Aztec Headdress." (Pictured left is Moctezuma's headdress, a present from Cortez to Carlos V, now in a museum in Austria.) About Daniel Pinchbeck's 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl: Pinchbeck is either a nut or a courageous visionary who, by the way, is quite a good writer. Madam Mayo is not at all sure what to make of this very curious book. Check out what he has to say about his recent Rolling Stone interview here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Obsessed by Peaches

Is today's 5 minute writing exercise. I've been posting these since October 1st, so I'm almost up to 365. View the index here. Why 5 minutes? Click here for 5 reasons. Do I do them myself? You betcha. (I'm almost finished with the complete draft of my novel.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party

Out of 10 stars I give this movie an 11, and I'd give it a 12 if it weren't more than a little bit amateurish. But this is completely excusable! Robert Brinkmann's quirky, self-financed film was made without a script and in only 3 days of shooting. And: it's star is Stephen Tobolowsky, the swim-with-the-dolphins zen master shoulder-to-the-shovel heart-of-a-child genius of a character actor, and he, let me tell you, is a rare blessing upon our culture and our age. You may not recognize the name Stephen Tobolowsky, but surely you'll recognize his face. He's acted in over 150 movies. To sum it up, "Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party" is like "My Dinner with Andre" but 10,000 times better.