Thursday, May 27, 2010 What Connects You to the 1860s?

A "reprint" of my recent guest-blog post for the bodacious book blog,, apropos of the new paperback edition of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire:

My novel is based on the true, strange, and heart-breaking story of, as the title says, “The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.” If you’ve never heard of Mexico’s little half-American prince, not to worry: even many beautifully educated Mexicans have not.

Mexico’s 19th-century history is, to make an understatement, labyrinthically labyrinthical. (I like to say, if you’ve heard of Santa Anna and you know that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, you’re doing OK.) Many Mexicans would prefer not to dwell on the Second Empire of Maximilian, a period also known as the French Intervention. Royalty, foreign invasion: not an appetizing combination for many.

Furthermore, when I came upon the story of Mexico’s last prince, and began to read more deeply, I soon realized that the little that had been published about him was riddled with errors and a mystifying vagueness. And so began my plunge into nearly a decade of research in archives from Mexico to Vienna to Texas and Washington, D.C.

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire came out in hardcover last year; this May 5th marks the publication of the paperback edition (and yes, a Spanish version comes out this fall). One of the most surprising and delightful things about traveling around the U.S. and Mexico promoting it has been hearing the stories other people tell me about their connections to this time.

When, in a Barnes and Noble in Bethesda, Maryland, I read the scene where the prince’s mother attends the ball in Mexico City’s Imperial Palace, one of the members of the audience put on such a wide-eyed expression, I almost stopped reading. Afterwards, with great emotion, she told me that when she was little, she had played with her great-great-great-grandmother’s ball gown—she had been told it had been worn at Maximilian’s ball in the Imperial Palace. Perhaps that very same ball.

From Guanajuato, Mexico, a reader wrote to me about Maximilian’s crystal flute—a rare German flute still being played today, by an acquaintance, member of the symphony orchestra in that city.

After a book group luncheon in Austin, a Mexican lady showed me a slender bracelet that had belonged to the Empress Carlota. It was black and gold, as elegantly severe as Carlota herself. Its small heart-shaped black locket with a gold cross had been Carlota’s mother’s. The clasp was broken. There the little locket lay, shining in the Texas afternoon, on the open palm of her hand.

A Mexican consul in Texas, with great fierceness and pride, told me that his ancestor, a Juarista, had fought against Maximilian and the French.

Here in 2010, as we’re facebooking and tweeting and skyping, wearing jeans and T-shirts, spooning up microwaved whatnots as we watch news of, say, President Obama or President Calderon, it might seem the world of crinolines and kings (and I mean the kind that actually wielded some power, not just provided fodder for People magazine) has nothing, not a thing, to do with our world. But these anecdotes, these relics—- a gown, a bracelet, a flute—- remind that, perhaps, however blindly, we are all more closely connected to this time than we realize.

Near Washington DC, a reader with a German name told me that her ancestor, inspired by Maximilian, had immigrated to Mexico during the Second Empire, to farm in Yucatan. Things didn’t work out; he soon made his way to Ohio. Who would have guessed?

I myself had a surprise last year when I learned that my own great-grandmother, whom I remember from when I was a little girl, had grown up in the house of her uncle, William Wirt Calkins. Calkins did not have anything to do with Maximilian, but he was, like Maximilian, a dedicated botanist. Calkins was also a veteran of the U.S. Civil War and author of one of its most important histories: The History of the 104th Illinois. Oh, would that I had known and could have asked her about him!

But we can find vivid connections to the past in more ways than these. Here’s a mind-stretcher of an exercise: imagine that from your birthday, time runs backwards—where do you end up? I was born in 1961, which makes me 49. Forty-nine years into the past would take us to the year 1912. In that year, the prince, Agustin de Iturbide y Green, only a toddler when the Emperor Maximilian took him into his Court, is now my same age! (Living in Washington, D.C., and teaching French and Spanish at Georgetown, by the way.) Mexico, lately ruled by the iron fist of Porfirio Diaz, a general who fought against Maximilian, has just begun to convulse in what will be a decade of Revolution. The Empress Carlota is still alive, too, mad as a mushroom, locked away in a castle in Belgium. Had Maximilian survived, he would have been 80 years old. (Imagine the splendid copper-red beard grown out as white as Santa Claus’s.) Maximilian’s older brother, Franz Joseph, is still Kaiser of the Austro-Hungarian Empire World War I has yet to shatter. It all seems so long ago and yet, it is a heartbeat away.

What connects you to the 1860s?

Monday, May 24, 2010

More on Book Trailers - Article in Today's New York Times

Today's New York Times has an interesting article on book trailers. Just the other day I posted a blog on these things, a first attempt to provide a rough taxonomy (read that here). And today I had lunch with a writer friend who has a book coming out this fall: trailers, trailers, trailers, that took up about 50% of the conversation.

For shy authors, may I suggest a "TPA" (see category #2). Most authors opt for "Author Stars" (category #4); and in many cases, this is not, alas, an optimal strategy.

More anon.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Trailers: Some Categories

Now that I have a couple of book trailers (view here and here), I am fascinated by the genre. What's a book trailer? It's a brief video or linked webpages that, ideally, tells you three things:
1. The title, author's name and what it's about;
3. Why you would want to read it;
3. When and where you can buy it.

Beyond that, it seems, whatever floats your boat. A few rough categories:

U Click

Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You

TPA (Text, Photos, Audio, plus some move and transition effects)
Eric Barnes, Shimmer

C.M. Mayo, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

Masha Hamilton, 31 Hours

Chuck Palahniuk, Tell-All

Tim Wendel, High Heat

TPA Plus Film
Erica Perl, Vintage Veronica

M.J. Rose, The Reincarnationist

(It's Not a Movie Already?)
Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters, Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters

James Howard Kunstler, World Made By Hand

Patti Lacy, An Irishwoman's Tale

Author Stars
Anat Baniel, Move Into Life

Sandra Gulland, Josephine B. trilogy and Mistress of the Sun

Penny Peirce, Frequency

David Rakoff, Don't Get Too Comfortable

Mary Sharratt, Daughters of the Witching Hill

Luis Alberto Urrea, Into the Beautiful North

David Wiesner, Art and Max

Writer Reads
Sandra Beasely, I Was the Jukebox

Sergio Tronocoso, The Last Tortilla

Author and Amigo(s)
Martin Atkinson, Tour Smart

Gail Sheehy, Passages in Caregiving

More anon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blogs Noted: Thx Thnx Thnx, Gangs of San Miguel, J.D. Moyer, Jesus Chairez, Bricolage, 13 Bankers and More

Been saving these up for a while. Surf on!

Thnx Thnx Thx
A thank you note a day by Leigh Dietrich. Mind taffy. Serenity-inducing.

Gangs of San Miguel
Evil. In a wickedly amusing way. (Madam Mayo votes for the cobblestone ride.)

J.D. Moyer
Check out his blog post on the sleep experiment.

13 Bankers
By Simon Johnson, author of 13 Bankers.

Baseline Scenario
Also by the author of 13 Bankers

Basil and Spice
Eclectic. Surf around in there for a while.

3 Quarks Daily

Always interesting. Visual candy from a DC writer.

Josh Burker's Blog of MusingsHe's into vintage software, which really crosses my eyes. Some fascinating links in there.

Jesus Chairez
Chicano-Chilango (yes, they do exist) writer and blogger.

Nicholas Gilman
Dining out in Mexico City. All thumbs up! Seriously, I really appreciate this blog, and I own the book in both English and Spanish.

Mexico Cooks!
She sure does!

More anon.

Lit Artlantic

Here's the writeup in the Maryland Gazette. I'll be participating in a panel discussion about the writing life this Saturday at noon at the Writer's Center. More anon.

It Won't Go to Zero

Amusing holistic financial advisor video. (Well, I hope he's right!)

Friday, May 14, 2010

C.M. Mayo Now Podcasting on

Now podcasting at
Subscribe via RSS feed (free) or subscribe via iTunes (also free)

As of May 14, 2010:

Library of Congress lecture on the research in the Iturbide Family, Emperor Agustin de Iturbide, and Kaiser Maximilian von Mexiko archives for the novel based on the true story, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

Historical Society of Washington DC lecture on research for the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, with special emphasis on the Forrest and Green families and the historic country estate, Rosedale.

More podcasts to come on this research, as well as craft of creative writing lectures and much more.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sam Quinones's Series on Mexican Heroin

How did I miss this? If you did, too, check it out here.

P.S. Read my review of his earlier book, True Tales from Another Mexico, here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Leaving Bayberry House by Ann McLaughlin

My amiga Washington DC novelist Ann L. McLaughlin has a beautiful new novel just out: Leaving Bayberry House (John Daniel & Co.) about two sisters, Liz and Angie, who meet at their parents house to prepare it for sale. From the publisher's synopsis:

Liz, the older sister, is a Farsi translator who travels often to the Middle East, while Angie is a potter married to a professor and has two teenaged children. They are besieged by memories in the house, where their father, a charismatic Unitarian minister, committed suicide. Angie, who was in the house at the time, has not returned in the twenty-eight years since it happened. She suffered a breakdown and Liz worries that her illness could return.

The novel spans the week the sisters are in the house together. Both women evade revealing their current problems: Angie is worried about her daughter, who lives in a commune, and Liz is worried about her marriage, since her husband has threatened divorce. As the week goes on the sisters talk openly and begin to build trust. The crisis comes when the daughter, two hippie friends, and an elderly, judgmental aunt shelter in the house during a storm.

The parallel story concerns the father’s decline during World War ll and its affect on the sisters. As a pacifist, he anguishes over the horrors of the war, has an affair, and is voted out of his church. Deeply depressed by the death of his son, who is killed in action, by his wife’s death from cancer, and by the news of Hiroshima, he takes his life. The sisters confront this event together finally in the place where it happened, and although their own problems remain unsolved, they feel a new love and support for each other.

Ann McLaughlin grew up in Cambridge., MA and graduated from Radcliffe College in 1952. She received her Ph.D. in Literature and Philosophy from American University in 1978. She has taught for twenty-five years at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, where she is on the board.

If you're anywhere near the Washington DC area, be sure to catch one of her readings:

Sunday, May 16, 2 pm The Writer's Center, Bethesda
Sunday, May 23, 1 pm Politics and Prose Bookstore
Tuesday, June 15, 7 pm American University Library

More information at

More anon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo - Pub Date for the Paperback Edition of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

Today, Cinco de Mayo, is the pub date for the paperback edition of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books). Check out the new trailer as well as the Reading Guide, excerpts, genealogies, photos, my Library of Congress lecture, and much more at my website,

This book is available from the publisher, Unbridled Books, as well as all major on-line booksellers and fine bookstores throughout the United States, Canada, and also many English-language bookstores in Mexico. If you don't see it on the shelf, any bookstore can order it for you. ORDER HERE.

Forthcoming in Spanish this fall with Random House-Mondadori as EL ULTIMO PRINCIPE DEL IMPERIO MEXICANO, translated by Mexican poet and novelist Agustin Cadena. Want news? Click here for more information about my mailing list.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

May 15th Biographer's Conference in Boston

Here's a message from from biographer James McGrath Morris (author of many, most recently, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print and Power) about a wonderful gathering for biographers on May 15th in Boston:

In a little over two weeks the first ever Compleat Biographer Conference will open at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Sponsored by the new Biographers International Organization (BIO), it will feature at least six Pulitzer and National Book Award prizewinners as well as best-selling authors who are joining other writers, agents, editors, archivists, and librarians in workshops and panels geared to the practical aspects of the craft.

The registration deadline is rapidly approaching. Would you take a moment and think of writing friends who should know about this conference and pass on the word.

All the details may be found at our website:

More anon.

Why Blog? Ergo Phizmiz, Seth Godin, and Alice's Tulip Analogy

Why blog? After four years of steady blogging, I still get this question almost every day. (OK, I exaggerate. But not much.) What amazes me is the number of people (and interestingly, how all of them are older than Yours Truly) who cannot see the point--- especially if the writer isn't raking in some pile of clams. But must money come into every equation? Madam Mayo thinks not.

Speaking of the gift econonomy, I recently found a fantastic website of open source music over at and I've become a big fan of one of the contributing musician / composers, the wackily prolific Ergo Phizmiz. Click here for his discography, which includes the "EarBallet- Don Quixote" and the punkily nasty "Neighbors" (the idea is, you blast it at those who deserve it). Some of his other tunes: "Lonely Flea in Antarctica" and "Like a Mantelpiece, the Sea.". And from his website, here's his video of a song for chickens and children, "Chicken Trees":

Seth Godin, whose book, Lynchpin, I'll be blogging about asap, has this recent post about "Santa Math" and, as ever, I refer y'all (as well as clam-oriented others) to Alice's Tulip Analogy.

But all that said, do buy my book! The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is out in paperback, officially, tomorrow. More anon.

Ann Telnaes

Well, it's finally happened. I've given up reading the paper in paper; I now read it on-line. I've also become a big fan of the editorial video cartoons. Check out the Washington Post's Ann Telnaes:

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Blogs Noted: True / Slant, Blue Ocean, The Two Way, Karen's Perspective, Energy Doorways, Lists Galore, Epide-Mixe, Must Watch Everything

True/ Slant
by journalist John McQuaid
Be sure to read his article about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Carl Safina (Blue Ocean)
Ocean activist.

The Two Way
NPR's News Blog.

Lists Galore
Like the title says...
I've been surprised to see the amount of traffic
that comes to my blog from this site.

Energy Doorways Blog

Karen's Perspective on Everything
Fascinating and "Cool Stuff," "real estate ready."

Must Watch Everything
by Maryland Writers Association member Glen Jordan Spangler
(who also has a very amusing website).

Transatlantic Photos (Washington, DC and Toulouse, France)
One of the co-bloggers is Ines Hilde, graphic designer who
worked on some of Tameme's beautiful covers.