Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blogs Noted: Economex, Real Delia, Mad Aggregator, Mashable, Cheese Underground

Economex by economist and Mexico expert Dr Deborah Riner;

Real Delia by writer Delia Lloyd;

Mad Aggregator by poet T.R. Hummer;

Mashable: Guide to Effective Fan Book Pages;

Cheese Underground by Jeanne Carpenter.

More anon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest-blogger Nate Martin on Stop Smiling's Top 5 Author Interviews

Stop Smiling is an art and culture magazine based out of Chicago and New York which in the words of editor Nate Martin, "harkens back to the golden age of magazine publishing--- think 70s-era Esquire--- with plenty of long-form interviews... It's also the favorite magazine of Slate media critic Jack Shafer." Stop Smiling #38 features, count 'em, 20 interviews. Stop Smiling? Why? (Aside from the global economic crisis and yesterday's opening of the baby seal slaughter season, I mean...) Apparently, the title of the on-line journal Stop Smiling doesn't mean anything. Certainly, most of the writers interviewed in Stop Smiling are not smiling (but less in an oh-my-god-what-atrocious-fate-has-befallen-us-all-now than in a know-ye-that-I-am-a-profound-artist kind of way). Herewith Stop Smiling's Publishing Associate Nate Martin's 5 favorite author interviews:

1. Islands Apart: Junot Díaz
From the current issue, 20 Interviews, our interview with the author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao presents his thoughts on hip hop, his homeland, The Dominican Republic, and adapting novels to film, as the movie rights to his Pulitzer Prize-winning book were recently sold to Miramax.

2. Q & A with Studs Terkel
No Chicago Issue would be complete without an interview with Studs Terkel, the prolific oral historian who was "as much a part of Chicago as the Sears Tower and Al Capone," as a BBC journalist once remarked. In the online excerpt, Studs regales us ith his experiences among Chicago writers like Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow.

3. The Melancholia of Everything Completed: Kurt Vonnegut
The Stop Smiling Ode to the Midwest issue features what, sadly, urned out to be one of the last interviews that Vonnegut ever provided. Extensive in itself, it is only part of an 18-page Vonnegut spread that is available in the
print edition.

4. Citizen Dave: Dave Eggers
Though intrinsically tied to his adopted home, San Francisco, where he launched what has become one of the most vibrant contemporary lifelines between young people and literature, his multi-faceted publishing house, McSweeney's, Eggers' interview in Ode to the Midwest gave the author a chance to discuss how his Midwestern roots shaped much of what has become of his life to this point.

5. DC Confidential: George Pelecanos
No one expresses the true Washington DC like lifelong native George Pelecanos, whose dozen-plus novels set in and around the city show the progression of its gritty underbelly across decades step by harrowing step. From the Stop Smiling DC Issue.

--- Nate Martin
---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Countess Kollonitz: Eine Reise nach Mexiko im Jahre 1864

Just got my copy of the 1868 English translation of Countess Kollonitz's The Court of Mexico (Eine Reise nach Mexiko im Jahre 1864). It's a remarkable memoir; in my novel, I based much of the description of Maximilian's voyage from Europe to Mexico on her vivid descriptions (in the Spanish translation, Un viaje a Mexico en 1864). There's a bit about the countess on the Mexico Desconocido website. Later in life she had a brief and unhappy marriage to Felix Eloin, the Belgian mining engineer who had been Maximilian's chef du cabinet. She does not appear in my novel, however, as she departed Mexico just before the action began. More anon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From the Writer's Carousel: Literary Travel Writing

Apropos of my one day only workshop on Literary Travel Writing April 18th at the Writer's Center in Bethesda MD:

Literary Travel Writing

by C.M. Mayo

"[Y]ou have to go out. You have to open space, and deepen place. Fill your eyes with the changing light."

— Kenneth White

"In the artist’s recreation of the world we are enabled to see the world."

— John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

Literary travel writing is about first perceiving in wider and sharper focus than normal; then, in the act of composition, shaping and exploring these perceptions so that, as with fiction, it may evoke in a reader’s mind emotions, thoughts, and pictures. It’s not meant to be practical, to serve up, say, the top ten deals on rental cars, or a low-down on the newest "hot spas." Literary travel writing, at its best, provides the reader the sense of actually traveling with the writer, so that she smells the tortillas heating on the comal, tastes the almond-laced hot chocolate, sees the lights in the distant houses brightening yellow in the twilight, and, after the put-put of a motorcycle, that sudden swirl of dust over the road.


Most beginning writers overemphasize the visual; because of our brains’ wiring, it’s a natural tendency. So we have to make a practiced effort to bring in the other senses— to note the slithery feel of the satin curtains, the round hum of a temple bell. Why is this so important? Think of a book you have already read that pulled you in so that nothing else mattered, not the laundry, not walking the dog, you only wanted to keep turning the pages. And it wasn’t just the cheap trick of suspense that enthralled you; it was the full-ness of a whole world and the humanity, glorious and flawed, of the people in it. I promise you, if you were to pluck that book off your shelf and open it to any page, you would find that the writer makes ample use of specific sensory detail.

How to come up with that detail or, to put it another way, perceive with wider and sharper focus? In my one day workshop, we start with "right here, right now." Yes, the classroom. (Last I checked, there is no White-Bearded Committee in the Sky that prescribes the distance one must travel for "travel" writing.) Indeed, as you’re reading this, mundane as your surroundings may seem to you, someone out there would consider them extraordinary. A kitchen counter in Rockville! A café off Dupont Circle! How to render them vividly? Well, what do you hear, right now? What do you smell? Where is the light coming from, and how would you characterize it? What’s on the floor by your left shoe? What is on the wall— or whatever— directly behind you? Look straight up, what do you see? Jot it all down. This exercise might seem trivial, even silly. But for literary writing— whether travel, fiction, or poetry— identifying specific detail that appeals to the senses is the first and most crucial skill to nurture.

We then delve deeper into detail, into the use of imagery, synesthesia, and a series of techniques for heightening vividness and showing movement through time and space. Then we consider the shaping and exploring— the act of composition. Is this bit about the visit to souk best dispatched in a few words or, slowed down, fleshed out into a full scene, with dialogue and lush description? How to identify clutter? How best to handle dialogue?

As for narrative structure, we begin with the beginning. What is the difference between an effective opening and a garden-variety dud? We look at pacing, turning points, climax and denouements, and explore different paradigms for thinking about structure. Finally, there are several crucial lessons from poetry. How to put energy and rhythm into the prose, so that the music reenforces meaning? How to slow it down, speed it up, make it jagged or slide-and-glide?

This is a lot to cover in a single afternoon, but we manage. Always with reference to examples from notable works of literary travel writing (as well as some fiction and poetry), there are several cycles of "mini-lecture" / questions and answers / and a brief writing exercise. In this way, these many techniques are illustrated and explored, and everyone has a chance to try them out in their own writing.

Whether your goal is write a memoir of your childhood in Pakistan or to keep a journal on your upcoming month on a trawler off Alaska, whether to write only for your grandchildren or to bring out a book with a major publisher, this workshop will not only give you an array of tools and an immediate improvement in the quality of your writing, but help you experience the world as more vivid and rich with complexity.

For more information about this workshop, click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Juggling Point of View in the Novel

First, second, third, omniscient or---? I'll be on a panel with novelists Susan Coll and Leslie Pietrzyk discussing point of view in the novel this April 11 in the 3rd annual Conversations & Connections Writers Conference. Its looks like a great lineup of writers and editors--- and loads of practical advice on getting published. More anon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Children's Book Guild of Washington DC Honors Susan Campbell Bartoletti

My amiga DC writer Margaret Blair sends news:
The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. is honoring Susan Campbell Bartoletti as the 2009 winner of The Children's Book Guild/The Washington Post 2009 Nonfiction Award in an April 4th program to be held at the National Geographic Society at 1145 17th Street, N.W. The 2-4:30 pm program will include a talk by Bartoletti as well as a performance by the Culkin School of Traditional Irish Dance with a reception and refreshments to follow. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online at www.childrensbookguild.org, or by sending a check to The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., 216 Walnut Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20012.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Traveler in Mexico: A Rendezvous with Writer Rosemary Sullivan (Inside Mexico)

My profile of Canadian writer and poet Rosemary Sullivan and her book Villa Air-Bel is now on-line in the new issue of Inside Mexico.

Coyoacán has become inextricably linked with painter Frida Kahlo, so what better place to rendezvous with poet, writer, and biographer of Surrealists Rosemary Sullivan? A professor of English at the University of Toronto, Sullivan had just alighted in Mexico City and would soon be on her way to meet with Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington when we met over cappuccinos at the sun-drenched Café Moheli to talk about her latest book.

Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille is a page-turner of a deeply researched history about the rescue of artists and intellectuals trapped as the Nazis closed in. This effort, promoted by the New York-based Emergency Rescue Committee and their agent in Marseilles, Varian Fry, managed to save André Breton, Marc Chagall, and Max Ernst, among others, and found refuge for them in the United States. But some came to Mexico, including Russian novelist Victor Serge, his son Vlady, and most famously Surrealist painters Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, who today (along with Frida Kahlo) are among Mexico's most revered artists. For this reason, Villa Air-Bel is a work important to the history of modern art in Mexico.

But the book's connection to Mexico goes deeper.

"Villa Air-Bel started here," Sullivan said. ...READ MORE

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction
, the new anthology edited By Alvaro Uribe and Olivia Sears--- (which includes my translation of a short story by Alvaro Enrique, "On the Death of the Author")--- is gathering a slew of great reviews. A new batch:

Book List
"Short-story fans hungry for something that doesn't taste like it was cooked up in an MFA program workshop should take note of this anthology of contemporary Mexican writers. There's great variety here, but what all 16 stories have in common are distinctive voices. For the most part eschewing realism, these stories are exuberant, playful, informal, and experimental, and may make some readers nostalgic for the years before U.S. fiction got so institutionalized. Standouts include Álvaro Enrigue's "On the Death of the Author," a metafictional account of the author's attempts to tell the story of Ishi, the last Yahi Indian; Jorge F. Hernández's "True Friendship," about a man's perfect but probably fictional best friend; and Juan Villoro's hilarious "Mariachi," the tale of analysand El Gallito de Jojutla, "the only mariachi star who has never sat on a horse." Stories are printed in both Spanish and English on facing pages; bilingual readers will be able to judge the translations for themselves, and readers who only know English will at least be able to see the shape of the originals."

Omnivoracious on amazon.com
"Even as Mexican culture has become more a part of our everyday lives here in the U.S., most of us probably have not read these influential editors, translators, columnists, and professors, even though they are the most prominent and award-winning authors of the Mexican literary scene. Why? Because many of these writers, and most of these stories, have never appeared in English before."

Shelfari: Translated!
"This extraordinary anthology of short stories, all written by Mexican authors born since 1945... represents an important cultural exchange, at least for U.S. readers. Even as Mexican culture has become more a part of our everyday lives here in the U.S., most of us probably have not read these influential editors, translators, columnists, and professors, even though they are the most prominent and award-winning authors of the Mexican literary scene. Why? Because many of these writers, and most of these stories, have never appeared in English before."

The Latin American Review of Books
"One unique aspect of this work is its transparency with regard to the translation. While many readers will opt to choose to experience the anthology either in Spanish or English, according to their own personal preferences or abilities, it is important to note that, in several cases the translations do not always run parallel to each other, a clear example that this should not necessarily be viewed as a pedagogical text that one uses to learn Spanish with the help of English (or vice-versa), but rather as a collection of narratives intended to offer “a glimpse of the rich tapestry of Mexican fiction” to an ample public. To this end, each story has its own well-established translator whose biographical details, like the original authors themselves, are also included at the end of this volume. This is a worthy recognition of the contribution they make in enabling this book to reach both the Spanish- and English-speaking world."

The Quarterly Conversation
"...Alvaro Enrigue...is such a talented writer that he manages to describe, from within his own story, exactly what makes his story superlative, and he pulls this off without making the inclusion seem the least bit strained:

There is a story, and a very good one at that, told by Bernardo Atxaga. He says that one day, as he walked through a town in his native Basque country, all of a sudden he came upon a man by a door with a hole in it. He chatted with the old man for a spell and then the man asked, Did he know why there was a hole in the door? Atxaga answered, It would be for the cat. No, said the man. They made it years ago, in order to feed a boy who, having been bitten by a dog, had turned into a dog.

The stories I like, the ones that make me wildly jealous and yearn to be able to write that well, have the bedazzling logic of that old Basque: they lack a piece, and this lack transforms them into a myth, appealing to the lowest common denominator that makes us all more or less equal.

'On the Death of the Author' lacks a piece; in fact, it lacks about four or five pieces, as there are four or five “mythical” sub-stories found within this work. Impressively, Enrigue manages to join these sub-stories together with thematic and particular links that make the entire piece come together as a deeply mysterious yet quite comprehensible whole."

OF Blog of the Fallen: "Short Fiction Sunday"
"an excellent, rich, diverse collection of stories that hopefully will inspire readers to dig deeper into Mexico's very rich literary tradition."

More anon.

Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life

Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life, by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. Ten stars. The mega-paradigm shift explained by a leading networks scientist in plain, if elegant, English. Though this book first came out in 2002, it's well worth reading for the light it shines on the current financial crisis and the Madoff scandal. More anon. Maybe via twitter.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, edited by Alvaro Uribe and Olivia Sears, Dalkey Archive Press, 2009, is just out-- it includes my translation of Alvaro Enrigue's short story "On the Death of the Author." Herewith the review by Scott Esposito over at The Quarterly Conversation. More anon.

White Nose and the Collapse of the Bat Population in the Northeast U.S. or, Here Come the Bugs

"White nose" links:

->Linda Moulton Howe Interviews Dr Eric Britsky
Most recent, with detailed information and photos.
->CBS News Dead Bats: Why It Matters to You
Aired Saturday Feb 27th.
->Scientists Scurrying to Find Cause of Bat Disease
->US Gov White Nose FAQ (PDF)
->Bat Conservation International: "The Race Against White Nose Syndrome"

National Public Radio (both text and link to listen in):
->Bats Plagued by Mysterious 'White-Nose' Disease
->Disease Deadly to Bats Spreads in Northeast U.S.
->Northeast Bat Die Off Mirrors Honeybee Collapse
->Experts Identify Fungus Suspected in Bat Die-Off
More anon.