Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Guest-blogger Marjorie Price on 5 Inspiring Women Artists

Many writers dream of making beautiful paintings, and many painters dream of becoming writers, but few manage both. Marjorie Price, author of A Gift from Brittany, a memoir of painting and making a life in a remote corner of France, is one of those rare artists. Her Bathers Series paintings will open on April 3 at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center in Frederick, MD and will continue through April 24. So where does she get her inspiration? In part from other artists. Here's what she has to say about some of them:
Five Inspiring Women Artists

I believe we’re all a part of a slice of history. Some of us are minimally touched by it; some of us are shattered by it; and some of us weave it into our work. My memoir, A Gift from Brittany, focuses on a time in my life when I went to France to paint and lived in an isolated village in Brittany during the 1960’s. It was not long after World War II. Outwardly the country people’s lives seemed sheltered from world events (television was unheard of, most of the villagers had no radio, and many couldn’t read or write), yet all had been deeply affected by the German occupation, by men being taken away as prisoners-of-war, by collaborators in their midst, and by the violence and turmoil of the times. Since I had come from the suburbs of Chicago, the traumas of World War II were remote to me. Suddenly they came to life.

What influences my choice of these five women artists is how history affected their artistic expression. While the authors are writers of fiction, not memoirs, their life experiences are the heartbeat of their books. (I also included one painter.)

1. Isabel Allende
The political events of 1973 in Chile had an enormous impact on Isabel Allende. Her uncle, Salvator Allende, the elected Marxist president of Chile, was assassinated by a military coup, supported by the U. S. government and the CIA. The tragedy devastated the Allende family and the entire country, especially since a repressive dictatorship replaced him. The connection between political upheaval and personal lives is crucial to her first novel, the haunting House of the Spirits, one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read. Assimilating dramatic events and transforming them leads Allende into the mesmerizing world of magic realism. Mystical characters become real and unforgettable. In a fascinating interview on her website, she writes:
“… life is full of mystery. And the goal of literature is to explore those mysteries. It actually enlarges your horizons. When you allow dreams, visions and premonitions to enter into your everyday life and your work as a writer, reality seems to expand.”

2. Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette
Any page I turn to in Colette’s irresistible Retreat from Love is a delight. In spite of life’s trials, her characters exude a very French joie de vivre — and in this way, they reflect her own life. She had three marriages and many liaisons; she took dangerous risks during the German occupation to aid her Jewish friends and hid her Jewish husband in her attic during the entire occupation; she lived life to the fullest and infused her writing with her fearlessness and sensuality. She wrote fifty novels, although her first husband published her early writings under his name. Retreat from Love was the first book she was "allowed" to sign with her own name. How familiar this sounded to me since my French painter husband ordered me to stop painting and not even to mention that I had been a painter. The day I left him, I brought my paints out into the open. How well I understand what it’s like to assert oneself as a woman and as an artist.

3. Irène Némirovski
Prior to World War II, Némirovski had been a best selling author in Paris. When the Germans occupied France, she was sent to an extermination camp. Somehow she managed to write her marvelous book, Suite Française, clandestinely and by hand before she was killed. The manuscript was salvaged, but her two daughters, who had survived the holocaust, were too traumatized by losing both their parents to read it. Forty years later, one of the daughters found the courage, took it to a publisher, and the book became a best selling phenomenon in France. The book takes place during the German occupation in France, but is not about Némirovski's personal plight. It is France's plight and becomes universal. Having lived in France not long after the war, I found the situations and characters so gracefully and accurately drawn that I couldn’t put it down. Now, Némirovski is again an acclaimed author. Amazing. But I can’t help wondering how many gifted artists were lost during those terrible years, and whose work will never see the light.

4. Toni Morrison
Growing up during the thirties and forties in America, it must have been hard for a black woman to imagine herself an acclaimed woman of letters. Morrison was undaunted. An avid reader, she loved the folktales of the black community her father used to tell her. She won honors, attended college and began writing early in her career. Along the way, she invented a new and thrilling way of expressing the English Language. Reading her prose, you hear her sonorous voice, sounding like a mixture of song, poetry, negro spiritual and Greek chorus. Her books need to be read aloud. Her stories are like fables, but are based historical facts — the kind of expanded reality Allende describes in her interview. Morrison's book, Beloved is a heartbreaking story of slavery and the tragedies it imposes on its victims. Out of this suffering comes a language that soars and moans and sings.

5. Joan Mitchell
Finally, since I am both a writer and a painter, I can't resist including a painter whose work and life I have admired for years. In the 1960’s, Joan Mitchell was among a group of New York abstract expressionists, which mostly consisted of macho, hard-drinking men. New York was the center of the Art World; it was where "art history was being made.” But Mitchell had enough of the New York scene. She abandoned everything, moved to France and set up shop in an isolated farmhouse in the French countryside. Without distractions, her work gained an intensity that, in my opinion, took it to a level that the other painters of the group never attained. Sealed off from the rest of the world, she, too, reached a state of “expanded reality.” During her lifetime she never achieved the success of Franz Kline, de Kooning, Jackson Pollock or the others. Perhaps it was necessary to seal herself off from the world, to experience isolation, loneliness and a closeness to nature that would have been impossible in the big city in order to create an intensely personal body of work. I know of no other painter who captures the essence of nature to the extent of Joan Mitchell's art.

-- Marjorie Price

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

Dining Out Despite Food Allergies: Paula Whyman in Today's Washington Post

"Check Please: When the Menu is a Minefield": My amiga "Curious Writer" Paula Whyman has a piece in today's Washington Post about dining out despite food allergies--- in which her P & J sandwich and Twizzles star. I don't have any food allergies myself (thank goodness) but several of my friends do, and so I know very well the rigamarole with the waiter... What I do not understand is why more restaurants don't make an effort to indicate those items on the menu that are safe for those with common food allergies-- so, boom, no more having to grill the waiter, a person can just order! OK, I'm off my soap box now.... Click here and read Paula Whyman's beautifully written, witty and informative piece, and check in again to the same at 12:30 EST today for her on-line Q & A.

P.S. Read Paula Whyman's guest-blog post for Madam Mayo on baking for writers.

More anon... later today I'll be posting the Wednesday guest-blog post...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Trailer of the Day at The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

The new trailer (video) for the May 5th paperback edition of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books), is book video of the day today over at (book biz news).

P.S. Very light blogging this week as I'm past deadline to turn in revisions on the translation. But check back tomorrow for a very fun guest-blog post...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Blogger Jennifer Silva Redmond on 5 Favorite Short Story Collections

Guest-blogging today is my amiga, Baja Buff Jennifer Silva Redmond, who wears three sombreros, as it were: blogger, writer, and editor. Her new blog is Jenny Redbug: Words and Pictures About Writing, Books, and Life Aboard a Sailboat; her recent short fiction appears in Daniel Olivas's recent anthology, Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature and, as editor, her latest publication is an anthology she edited with Roger Aplon, A Year in Ink, which she tells you about below. Over to you, Jennifer!

Five Favorite Short Story Collections

These five are my current favorites-- and I'm so into short stories right now having read dozens of short stories last year, in order to prepare myself to read 150+ story submissions as prose editor of an anthology. More on that later.

1. I started with a great collection edited by Stephen King, The Best American Short Stories 2007; sure, it was a couple years "old" but with timeless literature, who cares? Plus, I love Stephen King and I don't care who knows it! (No one can mix the awful/gruesome/eerie with the hilarious like King. No one.) Anyway, the 2007 collection is excellent and varied, and King's intro is a wonder-- I wish he would write more essays. As to the stories/authors included, any book that includes T.C. Boyle's story "Balto" can't help but move you, and the list goes on and on. Here's a fine review of the collection from bookslut.

2. The beautiful pieces in Lavanderia: A Mixed Load of Women, Wash and Word were often heartbreakingly sad, but always rang true. Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca called Lavanderia "the nitty-gritty life of suds, soap, bleach, love, hurt, loss, resentment - in short, life with blood stains that don't wash out, of memories blowing like sheets in the wind." The story behind the collection of spoken word pieces, prose, poetry and photographs is a pretty good story, too-- you can read about the project and The Wash House Collective on their website.

3. I reread Guacamole Dip: From Baja, tales of love, faith--and magic by Daniel Reveles, which I'd edited a couple of years earlier. And, yes, it was just as good, if not better than I remembered. I especially like the story about the modern-day "hardboiled" P.I. who takes a job in Tecate, not having ever been south of the border; the character is a Latino who speaks no Spanish and the results are hilarious and eventually life-changing for him. Reveles' characters are real and warm and funny, but don't think for a moment that this talented author can't still shock you-- one of these stories has an ending that you definitely won't see coming! Daniel's website is a lot of fun--take a minute to visit him there, or read this exceptional article about Reveles by Arthur Salm. One of Reveles' stories, from Tequila Lemon and Salt, was also featured in the very fine anthology Mexico: A Travelers Literary Companion, edited by Madam Mayo herself.

4. Having finished the anthology selection, I swore off short story reading for a while-- then I met Midge Raymond at the Southern California Writers Conference and was inspired to buy her new collection, Forgetting English. A wise choice: the stories all have a theme of strangers in a strange land-- sometimes the characters may think they are in familiar territory, but that usually turns out not to be the case. I like this short interview with Raymond in The Short Review.

5. As I said earlier, I edited the prose for A Year in Ink, vol 3, an anthology published by the San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI); I'm adding that collection to this list, because it's an exciting and eclectic mix of voices and of pieces (many are flash fiction and some are short-shorts). The anthology also contains poetry, which was edited by Roger Aplon, a great poet--you may hear him read his poetry on his very cool author site. Should you care to buy a copy, you might like to know that all the proceeds benefit ongoing writing programs at the non-profit SDWI; check out their site to buy the book or to read all about them. The book is also available on Amazon, here.

--- Jennifer Silva Redmond

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, including from King of the Baja Buffs Graham Mackintosh, travel writer Isabella Tree, Zen organizer Regina Leeds, and writer and blogger Daniel Olivas, click here.

---> See also Jennifer Silva Redmond's previous guest-blog post for Madam Mayo, Five Favorite Baja California Writers' Websites.

P.S. My anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, which Jennifer mentions, is a collection of 24 works by contemporary Mexican writers. These include leading literary figures such as Agustin Cadena, Carlos Fuentes, Monica Lavin, Angeles Mastretta, Carlos Monsivais, Pedro Angel Palou, and Juan Villoro. Daniel Reveles's story, set on the border in Tecate, was so hilariously perfect, it opens the collection.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One More Blog Noted: The Falcon's Blotter

Earlier today I posted my weekly (ish) Blogs Noted post, and then I found this one: Falcon's Blotter by an anonymous but certainly very creative writer who is posting responses to my Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More Daily 5 Minute Writing Exercises. Well, golly, I am delighted to see that someone finds them useful. Write on--- and blog on!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blogs Noted: Julie Zickefoose, Nicholas D. Kristof, Mark Monlux, Alan Weber, Steven Hart, Numero Cinq, Lewis Lapham, Gayle Brennan Spencer

Several blog posts for writers are in line: one on my notes from the Writer's Center's Leesburg First Friday lecture about "Staying Focused: Writing and Researching the Longer Book Project," also a note about the fabulous panel at the recent Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville and-- more!-- the jaw-dropping "Writing the Future" conference at the Writer's Center with Lee Gutkind and company. That one, truly, changed the paradigm for me and I'll be blogging about that soon. But I'm on deadline (past deadline, actually) to turn in some translations, so today's post is brief.

Julie Zickefoose
Artist, writer, Boston Terrier and Macaw person

On the Ground
Nicholas D. Kristof writing for the New York Times

Now Smell This
A perfume person. I'm interested to learn more about scent-oriented blogs.... anyone?

Mark Monlux's Poohabspiel
(Don't you love that blog title?)

Alan Webber Rules of Thumb

The Path of the Bookseller
By Joseph Zitt. We had an amusing exchange over at Steven Hart's blog recently.

Steven Hart
Author of The Last Three Miles and newbie bookseller (go, go, go!!)

Numero Cinq
Aphorisms wanted! Wit and arrogance appreciated (so they say..) My own aphorism about bagels and death masks seems to have shut down the contest, however... (TR Hummer, O poet of tweets, are you there???)

Bobby Byrd
Motto: "It's a good time to be a poet, I think, although the pay is shitty." Author of White Panties and Dead Friends

Lapham's Quarterly
Some foie gras for this world o' Whoppers.

Postcards from San Antonio
By Gayle Brennan Spencer

More anon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


An announcement from novelist Douglas Glover:

Submissions March 15-31, 2010

Submit by commenting on the following post:

Submissions must be no more than 150 words in length

Do not enter a submission unless you have figured out what an aphorism is first.

Wit and arrogance appreciated

Contest open to everyone including employees of Numéro Cinq, their significant others, children, and small pets

First Prize — Instant Worldwide (e)Publication w/ commentary

Plus honours & laurels

Friday, March 12, 2010

Picadou is Ten Today

Today is Picadou's 10th birthday. (Pictured right is her buddy, Tibetan Spaniel Pabu.) Read more about Picadou in Marshal Zeringue's bodacious blog, Coffee with a Canine. More anon.

Writing the Future at the Writer's Center March 20, 2010

Highly recommended: Saturday March 20, 2010, one day conference at the Writer's Center in Bethesda MD on "Writing the Future". For more information and to register, click here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guest-Blogger Katie Pickard Fawcett on 5 Favorite Books of Appalachia

Guest-blogging today is Katie Pickard Fawcett, author of the just-published novel for young readers (ages 9 - 12), To Come and Go Like Magic, about 12 year-old Chili Mahoney, who feels cramped in her small Appalachian town and yearns to see the world. Fawcett herself grew up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, though she now lives in McLean, a suburb of Washington DC and certainly, she has seen the world: she writes often about her travels in Mexico and elsewhere on her blog, Kite Dreams.

About Appalachia, and her novel, which is set in 1975, Fawcett notess, "In the early 1960s this region was still one of the most isolated areas in the country. As far as mountain people were concerned, the much-talked-about '60s' happened primarily on television. Riots and demonstrations and parading 'flower children' were seen only on the six o'clock news. But the decade of the 70s brought VISTA workers and a variety of social welfare programs to the hills, opening a door to the world and bringing the world to Appalachian doorsteps. Mountain people had always been suspicious of strangers, so the great influx of 'outsiders' during this period created tension in communities and across economic groups, sometimes causing clashes with long-held beliefs and traditions."

I've been a great admirer of some of the extraordinary fiction out of Appalachia, such as the stories of Bobbie Anne Mason and Chris Offut, so it's a special treat to learn about Fawcett's recommendations.

Five Favorite Books of Appalachia

Many people have written about Appalachia, but I've found that the stories and essays and poetry from the region's own sons and daughters are the most authentic. Here are five favorites, representing a variety of genres, places, and times.

1. Hunter's Horn by Harriette Arnow
A bestselling novel about a Kentucky hill farmer and his efforts to catch a sly red fox he calls King Devil. (Many people are familiar with Ms. Arnow's most popular novel -- The Dollmaker. Made into a TV movie in 1983 starring Jane Fonda, it told the story of a Kentucky family's difficult move from their farm to a Detroit housing project.) It was Hunter's Horn, however, that first brought Ms. Arnow national fame, and the book finished that year close to William Faulkner's A Fable for the Pulitzer Prize. Joyce Carol Oates has called this novel "our most unpretentious American masterpiece."

2. The Best-Loved Short Stories of Jesse Stuart, selected and edited by H. Edward Richardson
Jesse Stuart published almost 500 stories in his lifetime. The thirty-four in this collection reveal a wide range of characters and life experiences. The collection begins with the mischief of young boys in "Saving the Bees," and includes the author's most popular story, "Split Cherry Tree" (a teen's moral dilemma, written while Stuart was on a Guggenheim Fellowship in Scotland and feeling the emotional tug of his mountain home); it ends with "This is the Place," a story about the immortality of those who love the land. The theme that runs through all of Jesse Stuart's stories is the strength of mountain people and their seemingly invincible positive view of life.

3. Far Appalachia: Following the New River North by Noah Adams
The author takes the reader with him on a river journey through the Appalachians, sharing memories and stories about the history, the people, and the legends of this area. There are musicians and preachers and white-water rafters, general stores and train depots and universities, mountain trails and mills and canyons to explore. Sometimes Mr. Adams follows the gospel notes of a guitar to see where it leads, or he garners a story by asking a young woman where she bought her "handsome old fiddle," or he stops to hear a band playing favorites from his own youth -- "Mustang Sally," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," or an old Gram Parsons song about "the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels." (Noah Adams is a native of Kentucky and was a long-time co-host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered.")

4. Appalachia by Charles Wright
Wright is considered one of America's most honored poets. In this, his 13th collection of poems, he again grapples with the big issues: life, death, time, identity. "Give me the names for things, just give me their real names,/Not what we call them, but what/They call themselves when no one's listening --" he says, in "The Writing Life." His imagery is vivid -- "Lightening bugs lifting heavily out of the dry grass" or the "Whunk of a ball being kicked" or "Darkness beginning to sift like coffee grains" (from "American Twilight"). Most book lovers will appreciate the way Wright ends the poem, "The Appalachian Book of the Dead VI" -- "I hear that the right word will take your breath away." In this collection, on many occasions, Mr. Wright has found just the right word.

5. Shiloh and Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason
Miss Mason's Kentucky people are caught in the great flood of change that first hit the area in the 1970s. They juggle the old and the new, trying to hold onto rural traditions while coping with shopping malls, TV evangelists, and women's lib. Mason's women learn to cook strange new dishes, sign up for college courses for the first time, or take up a musical instrument. In one story a preacher's wife gets hooked on video games; in another a bus driver dreams of being a New-Wave disc jockey. The dialogue, details, and insight in this collection give a rich and authentic portrait of a place, a time, and a people.

Any list of Appalachian writers, long or short, has to mention Thomas Wolfe. My favorite of his books is Look Homeward, Angel, but perhaps the most popular -- and certainly the most oft quoted -- is You Can't Go Home Again. The title comes from the book's finale when the protagonist realizes that you can never go back to your childhood, "back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." As someone born and bred in the hills, however, I'm happy to say that reading the stories and poems and memoirs of these wonderful authors makes time travel almost possible.

--- Katie Pickard Fawcett

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

Monday, March 08, 2010

Staying Focused: Researching and Writing the Longer Book Project

Check back again soon; I will be posting the handouts from my talk at the Writer's Center's First Friday in Leesburg VA. But this week is bananas. Stay tuned for Wednesday's guest-blogger. More anon.

P.S. Meanwhile: resources for writers.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Guest-blogger Regina Leeds on 5 + 1 Resources to Make a Writer Happy in an Organized Space

Writes organizer Regina Leeds:

"There is all too often a major disconnect between what we say we want and what we are actually doing on a daily basis. The task at hand is to bring everything we do into alignment with what we say we want."
There are writers who can work amidst piles of clutter, but I am not one of them. And while we may occasionally see a photo of some impishly grinning genius amidst his swirls of chaos, I would bet bucks that the overwhelming majority of would-be writers are defeated by their clutter before they have a chance to sit down. (Who would even want to sit down in a cluttered room?) Ever since I devoured her The Zen of Organizing: Creating Order and Peace in Your Home, Career, and Life, I've been a big fan of Regina Leeds. For my writing workshops, which have included "Break the Block" and "Staying Focused: Researching and Writing the Longer Book Project," I always and warmly recommend her tips. Leeds is also the author of the New York Times best-seller One Year to an Organized Life; One Year to an Organized Work Life; Creating a Place Without Losing Your Space: a Couples Guide to Blending Homes, Lives and Clutter, among others. Her latest is One Year to an Organized Financial Life, which she wrote with financial advisor Russell Wild. How (in blazes) does she get so much writing done? Herewith, Regina Leeds' links for you:

5 + 1 Resources to Make a Writer Happy in an Organized Space

My style of organizing, called ‘Zen Organizing,’ is devoted to help you create physical environments that literally nurture and support you. You’ll be fighting an uphill battle with your creative impulses if your work area looks as if Katrina just blew through. I’ve decided for this guest blog to share some of the diverse items that make me a happy writer in an organized space. I hope they help you as well.

1. Need an organizing tool? Head to The Container Store. There are two things that make this store my ‘go to’ choice for all things organizing: the quality of the products and the consistency in the stock. What could be more demoralizing for a newbie organizer than to find a product you love and in a few weeks or months not be able to add to your stash. I also appreciate the level of training the staff receives. Everyone knows the stock, how to use it and where it’s located. This knowledge can save you time when you go in to shop.

2. I couldn’t live without my Brother P-Touch label maker. When I open a file drawer and see easy to read labels, it calms me. And, since my hand writing leaves everything to be desired, if an assistant needs to look in my drawers (so to speak) it’s an easy quest for him or her as well. Label makers are available in many styles and range in price form $30 to about $100. All the big box stores like Staples, Office Max or Office Depot carry them. You can purchase the low end machine for as little as $15 during a sale!

3. In all of my books I advocate a holistic approach to getting organized. A big project can be daunting to someone who doesn’t have a natural proclivity for creating order. Stack the deck in your favor with a supply of fresh fruit and cheese in lieu of candy bars or other sweet treats. Drink water as an alternative to caffeinated beverages and sodas that are loaded with sugar. My favorite sources for such items is walking distance from my home. I bet there’s one near you:

4. Sound or silence? Which works best for you? The vast majority of my clients prefer sound. Treat yourself to a quality system (i Pod, anyone?), if that’s how you roll. I prefer silence myself. I go deep into my thoughts and the outside word vanishes. From time to time, however, I do want some ‘white noise’ in the background. I listen to Reiki healing music. My favorite incorporates the call of whales, a haunting sound to be sure. My personal favorite is a recording from AJAD called ‘Reiki Music vol. 3.” My CD was a gift but I found it on line at You’ll find an unexpected by-product is that children and pets are calmed by the sounds as well. Maybe even a cranky partner?

5. Are you in the hot seat? If you use a chair that is less than an ergonomic dream, write at the kitchen table, have inadequate lighting or place your keyboard at an angle guaranteed to give you karpal tunnel, stop the madness! The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to think clearly. Type in ‘ergonomically correct furniture” in your favorite search box and go from there. I’ve tried various types of chairs over the years. Right now I’m using a large exercise ball from Body Sport. Check out the ones available at They are super comfortable, keep your back straight and are really inexpensive.

6. Perhaps the most shocking discovery for me when I began writing professionally was how exhausting it is. As they say in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn: ‘Who knew?’ Taking meditation breaks helps me recharge my nervous system and calm my mind. Not all meditation teachers and systems are created equal. You can, however, trust the information you find at: and Writers come in all sizes and shapes. We have different lifestyles, interests and skills. It is my fondest hope that at least one of the above tips resonates with you and brings renewed joy to your writing life.

- Regina Leeds

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

P.S. For my ten tips for organizing a novel-in-progress, click here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Bunny Energy, Hong Kong Mini-Multi-Unit, Just Noshin', Dead Fly Art, Canine Synchonrocity

Five curiously energy-raising links:

Bizarrely, but I am not kidding, watching this video will boost your energy. Worked for me anyway.

Hong Kong Mini-Multi-Unit
Ingeniously horrible.

Just Noshin'
From Cute Overload. Dangerously addictive blog. P.S. Try the "soich."

Dead Flies
(I think they speak German.)

Pabu Meets Pabu
A Jungian synchonicity of a canine encounter.

P.S. No, really, I do not spend all day surfing the 'Net.