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.