Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blogs Noted: Karen Benke, James Kunstler, Reading the Past, Karen Maezen Miller, Work-in-Progress

Huffington Post's Karen Benke
On creativity. P.S. Check out her guest-blog for Madam Mayo here.

By Tom Christensen. And this post on his new book, 1616.

Clusterf**k Nation
(Will those twin asterisks fool the google robots? One does hope so.) By James (The Long Emergency) Kunstler. Doom, gloom, general disaster, and deflation and, alas, though my take on human nature is a sight more charitable, I usually concur with his overall diagnosis. (Recently: "the only change Americans want is from the cash register at Wal-Mart." Ouch. This week, he had Senator Dodd slurping the bean soup in the Senate cafeteria.) P.S. For a vibratory antidote, Cute Overload usually does the trick. I am not kidding.

Cute Overload
Best ever: the voiceover for the Carnitas video.

Reading the Past
Like the title says.

By my amiga novelist Leslie Pietrzyk, blogging consistently and informatively on matters all & sundry about creative writing. With a beautiful, all-new cherry-pie-red design! (P.S. Leslie, thanks for the mention.)

Karen Maezen Miller
Zen. But I am not sure about the laundry part.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Guest-blogger Karen Benke: 5 Writers on What It Takes to be a Creative Writer

This "guest-blogger Wednesday" it is a very special delight to host poet, Poet in the Schools, and writing guide Karen Benke (who, by the way, sends out one of best newsletters I've seen-- click here to sign up). Years ago, on my book tour for Sky Over El Nido in 1996, we met at a Barnes & Noble in California. She had that "vibe"-- somehow, I just knew she'd do fabulous and creative things, and she has. The author of a poetry collection, Sister (Conflu:X Press, 2004), Benke is also editor of a hot-off-the-presses book for kids, Rip the Page! Adventures of Creative Writing (Shambhala, 2010), which she describes as "an everything-you-need guide to spark new poems and un-stick old stories, including adventurous and zany prompts to leap from; dares and double-dares to help you mash up truths and lies into outrageous paragraphs; and letters of encouragement written directly to you from famous authors, including: Annie Barrows, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lemony Snicket, C.M. Mayo, Elizabeth Singer Hunt, Moira Egan, Gary Soto, Lucille Clifton, Avi, Betsy Franco, Carol Edgarian, Karen Cushman, Patricia Polacco, Prartho Sereno, Lewis Buzbee, and C.B. Follett." (Hey, y'all, did you catch that Yours Truly is listed there, shoulder-to-shoulder, with Lemony Snicket? Lemony Snickett!! Seriously, Lemony is the bomb.)

Over to you, Karen.

Five Writers Offer Advice to Kids on What it Takes to be a Creative Writer

Last year, I decided it was finally time to write the book I wished I’d had on my nightstand when I was in fourth grade. So I created Rip the Page!, a guide to offer the 8 to 12 year old set inspiration and encouragement. Since I didn’t want all the you-can-do-it cheers to come from me—- as a 44 year-young writer, I needed encouragement too—- I contacted some of my favorite poets and authors who speak kid.

Here are the tips from 5 of the writers who so generously took time away from their own projects to contribute to mine.

1. Carol Edgarian, author of Rise the Euphrates (Random House, 1994) and the forthcoming Three Stages of Amazement (Scribner, 2011) is a gifted and generous teacher of literary fiction and non-fiction. She, along with her husband, Tom Jenks, are cofounders and editors of Narrative Magazine, which publishes stories, poems, cartoons, and art aimed at readers young and old. Carol flat-out tells kids that there’s a lot of advice in the world, so she isn’t going to bother with all that. Just practice story telling on the page and out loud, and then watch for the engagement of your listener. This can often be the best practice. She considers kids some of the best storytellers she knows, calling them “deadly good,” since they know how “to take the audience by the hand and never let go.”

2. I fell in love with Avi one rainy afternoon at my local library. My then seven year-old son and I curled up for hours and entered his series set in Dimwood Forest. Ereth’s Birthday, (Harper Collins, 2000) about a grouchy and tough-talking porcupine is our favorite. Among Avi’s advice to kids who want to write are some definite Don’ts: “Don’t be satisfied with answers others give you.” “Don’t assume that because everyone believes something, it is right or wrong,” (to which my son now frequently and annoyingly uses to his advantage). Avi strongly suggests that kids understand why they believe things, write what they honestly feel, then “learn from the criticism that will always come your way.”

3. Prartho Sereno is a muse, painter, storyteller, and poet who encourages kids—big and small—to be the kings and queens of their poems. She believes there is great power to be found living among questions and inside of mysteries and shares with kids that she “loves the pictures words paint inside us,” and is “amazed that sounds from her mouth, throat, and lungs can send a story to you.” One evening, sitting in her kitchen, she started to imagine the stories the utensils drying in the dish rack and resting in their drawers would tell if they could talk. And this is how she ended up writing and illustrating Causing A Stir: The Secret Lives and Loves of Kitchen Utensils (Mansarovar Press, 2007).

4. Moira Egan lives a discus throw from the Coliseum in Rome, Italy and is a master of the sonnet. Though 8-12 year olds can be taught to write a sonnet, Egan just reminds them that “every single person on the face of the earth is different.” She quickly asserts to kids that, “You are YOU, and there has never been a you like you before. So write YOU. Let the world see you. Let the world see the world the way you see the world, and you’ll never run into the idea that you don’t have anything new or interesting to say.” Amen.

5. Two months before poet, Lucille Clifton, (author of Blessing the Boats, New and Collected Poems, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2000) passed away, she answered my e-mail request for a note of advice. If I’d known she was so ill at the time, I never would have bothered her. But Ms. Clifton said nothing about being ill and simply wished me good luck with my project. Tell the children: “Ignore the answers, follow the questions, they will take you where you need to go.”

--- Karen Benke

Madam Mayo comments: This is superb advice, and not just for kids. Every poet and every writer, of any age, would benefit from reading and trying the exercises in this book. So what do Lemony Snicket and Yours Truly advise? Go read the book, my dears!

P.S. Check out Karen Benke's guest-blog for Huffington Post.

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Maximilian ~ Carlota Blog Updated

It's Tuesday, the day for the update on the Maximilian ~ Carlota blog, with a story (and very plummy video) sent in from my "Austrian correspondent" in Los Angeles, about the diamonds. The blog is meant to serve as a resource for researchers (both serious and armchair) of the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire or "French Intervention."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sol: English Writing in Mexico, Edited by Eva Hunter

Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Ajijic, Cuernavaca, Tepoztlan, Todos Santos, La Paz... so many Mexican cities and towns have been attracting U.S., Canadian, English, and other English language writers, why not a literary magazine? Well, now we have one. Eva Hunter has just launched a beautiful new on-line literary journal focusing on English language writing in Mexico: Sol (which means "sun"), with fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The inaugural issue includes works by James Cervantes, Tony Cohan, Eva Hunter, Wim Coleman, Jan Harvey, Carolyn Hernandez, Halvard Johnson, Bill Pearlman, Pat Perrin, Margaret Tallis, and Yours Truly, with an excerpt from my novel, just out in paperback, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. Read Hunter's introduction to the inaugural issue here. Viva Sol!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blogs Noted: Lofty Ambitions, Entre los espacios, Too, Becker-Posner, Jane Katra, Bourgeois Dilemma, Book Lady's Blog

Entre los espacios
By Mexican writer Rose Mary Salum, editor of Literal: Latin American Voices, which by the way, has an excellent new issue just out on "Trans-border, Trans-fronterizo".

Lofty Ambitions: Aviation, Science, and Writing as a CoupleBy Douglas DeChow and Anna Leahy, authors of Bombs Away. P.S. Check out their guest-blog for Madam Mayo on aviation museums here.

Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide
By artist and travel writer Jim Johnston. When I get especially exasperated, this helps.

By Sergey Brin, the google guy.

The Becker - Posner Blog
Commentary on economic and legal topics.

Dr. Jane Katra
High vibration. (But what is she doing on MySpace?)

Bourgeois Dilemma
And the dilemmas are nicely numbered.

The Book Lady's Blog
Read novelist Johanna Smith Rakoff's guest-blog post for the Book Lady's Blog on Why I Hate Bookstores-- to which I can, like, totally relate. (Even though I did a guest-blog post for Red Room on my favorite bookstores.) P.S. Read Johanna Smith Rakoff's guest-blog post for Madam Mayo here, and my guest-blog for First Person Plural about guest-blogging here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guest-Blogger Deborah Batterman: "Self Publish (?) or Perish: 5 Links on the New Digital Imperative"

Like many readers, my book buying habits have been evolving with the digital revolution. As much as I adore the quirky character of my local independent bookstore, I now buy the majority of my books directly from the publisher, the author, or For price, convenience and selection, sorry, those factors usually outweigh beautiful shelves, the bodacious gift card selection, and the coffee (and let's face it, many of the indie bookstores are more café than bookstore). And another change: with the ease of on-line ordering, I've also been buying more rare books, off-beat and artist books, and, if not many, then many more self-published books. More than ever before, a book can do mighty well without a publisher and the traditional distribution channels, especially when the author can summon the savviness and stamina (it's not a lark in the park) to promote her book and when she can count on a loyal following from her workshops and newsletters. Just to give an idea of three successful self-published nonfiction niche books (in paper): check out Rose Rosetree (Aura Reading Through All Your Senses), Stephanie Bennett Vogt (Your Spacious Self) and Carol Olmstead (Feng Shui for Real Life). And, alas, more than ever before, large publishers, with their cumbersome and expensive scale, caught in the triple tsunami of recession, mergers and acquisitions, and the digital revolution, are passing up the chance to publish books that, a decade ago, would have been snapped up, and from an agent. Several of my writer friends who have had works published by notable houses have found their latest novels, memoirs and short story collections, accomplished as they are, going unsold--- not an encouraging development for anyone. So Deborah Batterman, one fine fiction writer, and a blogger (The Things She Thinks About), has a timely story to tell about taking her short story collection, Shoes, Hair, Nails (published in 2006 by Uccelli Press) digital. Over to you, Deborah--


Back in 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts published a survey with a curious finding: literary reading is down, creative writing is up. With the explosion of blogs and web sites (literary and otherwise), the impulse to write has gained not only a new medium but one that stands to grant immediate gratification: if you build it, they will come. By logical extension, self-published books are flying to the page via print-on-demand (POD) technology and/or being downloaded to the latest and greatest eBook devices. As a writer with a short story collection that went the ‘defunct-small-publisher’ route before it had a chance to get off the ground, do I seize the moment, hitch a ride on this wave of digital books? You don’t have to dig deep to find those stories of writers disappointed with traditional publishing experiences, who took the leap into self-publishing. Likewise for those writers who, frustrated by years of rejection, decided there has to be a better way. Call it timing. Call it faith. Call it going digital.

And yet I admit to some reservations about going full-throttle into digital DIY mode. As a reader I love the feel of a book in my hands, the reflective nature that seems diminished by the visual nature of reading on-screen. As a writer I love the way words take shape in my mind and on the page. The ‘page’ as it exists on a digital reader is not the same: differences in the technology that drives each eReader result in variances in formatting. If I go this route, am I sacrificing my sense of what a book IS and everything it takes to bring one to fruition? Yes. At the same time, as a writer seeking ways to increase my exposure, why not tap that market of readers shelving their paperbacks in favor of viewing books on portable screens? And even if my plunge into the world of self-published digital books carries the risk that my own work (now a thumbnail image in an eBookstore) may get lost in a sea of ‘vanity’ books, all it takes is one good wave to lift it out of the water.

1. It was a recent article in the Wall St. Journal, ‘Vanity’ Press Goes Digital, following on the heels of an e-mail I received re: Apple looking to give more presence to self-published authors in its iBookstore, that got me thinking, what if? Some of the key players noted in the WSJ article were listed as Apple-approved ‘aggregators’ (don’t you love that word?). A good starting point for choosing a publishing/distribution platform.

2. Aggregators offer a variety of services, both for indie publishers and authors going digital. I opted to go with Smashwords, mostly for its cross-platform technology and very user-friendly site. The Smashwords blog, maintained by founder Mark Coker, is a good source of information and links relevant to self-publishing. His July 13th post is worth reading for its insights on traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

3. The rationale is even more colorfully spelled out by DIY success story Steve Almond in his column at The Rumpus, Presto Book-O (Why I Went Ahead and Self-Published). Using POD technology (Harvard Bookstore’s Espresso Book Machine), Almond produced books (with two covers) to be sold only at readings. Sometimes less really is more.

4. The bottom line: As Diane Gedymin, founder of The Publisher’s Desk, noted at BookExpo America 2010: The Changing DIY Ethos, some 83 percent of Americans dream of writing a book. Ninety-three percent of those who actually make the effort and get published via traditional channels will sell less than 1,000 books. There’s a reason that taking a more proactive role in controlling the means of publishing and distribution is on the rise.

5. All of which brings me back to a simple premise: yes, writing (unless it’s in a journal or diary, for the writer’s eyes only) demands an audience, and yet the impulse to write – steadily, draft after draft, with heart and skill that (hopefully) matures with time – demands solitary hours in a room of one’s own. For a reminder of what drives that impulse, I’ll go back to Janet Sternburg’s The Writer on Her Work, in particular one essay that sparkles with Didion-esque insight, "Why I Write." And all it takes is one click of the mouse to bring readers right to Amazon, and into the book.

--- Deborah Batterman

To read about and order the e-book of her collection, Shoes, Hair, Nails, click here.

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Maximilian ~ Carlota Blog, New Posts on Tuesdays

A biography, a memoir, and a musical: check out the Tuesday update over at Maximilian ~ Carlota, a blog for researchers (both serious and armchair) about the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire or "French Intervention."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading Galleys

The Spanish translation of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009, paperback 2010), will be out late this September, translated by Mexican poet and novelist Agustín Cadena as El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano. The publisher is Random House-Mondadori. I'm going over the galleys this week, but look for the Tuesday update to the new Maximilian ~ Carlota blog tomorrow. More anon.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blogs Noted: Pluma Fronteriza, Araceli Ardón, Colonial Mexico, Writing in the Margins, Southern Cross Review, Elephant Painting Gallery, and more

Pluma Fronteriza
By Raymundo Eli Rojas. Ray writes, "Please share that PF is open to receive book descriptions by Mexican authors."

Thursday Thoughts
Book discussion by novelist Katharine Davis.

Araceli Ardón
By novelist Araceli Ardón. A recent post about robots.

Colonial Mexico
So many surprising little corners of Mexico...

Writing in the Margins
Clara Paulino's musings on a home in between: language, places, ways of seeing.

Southern Cross Review
Eclectic magazine with a regular feature on (of all things) anthroposophy. (P.S. I'm calling it a blog because I want to.)

Elephant Painting Gallery
For real.

Bella on-Line Feng Shui Site by Carol Olmstead
I'm a big fan of Carol's newsletter.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Maximilian ~ Carlota Blog

Tuesdays only: updates at the Maximilian ~ Carlota blog, a resource for researchers of the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire or "French Intervention." More anon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Writing Life: A Report from the Field

Now on-line: the podcast of the May 22 LitArtlantic panel discussion "The Writing Life: A Report from the Field," with Yours Truly, Alan Elsner, Kevin Quirk, and David Taylor, moderated by Jessie Seigel, at the Writer's Center.

P.S. For more resources for writers, click here.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Blogs Noted: Nola, Maximilian -Carlota, First Person Plural, Own the Dollar, Charles T. Tart, and more Gulf Oil Spill News Page
Includes links to public blog.

Maximilian - Carlota
I decided to rename my new blog. It was "Second Empire," but that seemed a little Star War-y. It's a blog for researchers (both serious and armchair) of the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire or "French Intervention." I'd love to use a more poetic title taken from a saying of the period (say, "Bed of Roses in a Goldmine"?) but I do have the search engines in mind.

First Person Plural
The Writer's Center's blog now has a new URL.

John Oliver Simon
Poet and translator-- recently blogging about some interesting Costa Rican poets.

Casa del Poeta Ramón López Velarde
In Mexico City. New blog, excellent long-time reading series.

Periódico de Poesía
Editor Pedro Serrano's Defensa de poesía.

Real Delia
On clearing out the inbox. (Holy Smokes, is this really possible?)

Own the Dollar
Includes this fun interview with organizing expert Regina Leeds.(See Regina's guest-blog post for Madam Mayo here.)

Charles T. Tart
Consciousness evolving.

Professional Writing Coach
Excellent new writing blog by Eva Hunter. (See her guest-blog post for Madam Mayo here.)

P.S. World Cup youtuberie with a surprise.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Guest-blogger Writer and Writing Coach Eva Hunter on 5 Ways to Avoid Writing

Writer's block? Sometimes you can begin to dissolve it by looking unblinklingly at the ways you make it worse. But what's tricky about that enterprise is that, lo, you might discover an idea for a story! Today's guest-blog post is by my San Miguel amiga, Eva Hunter, a writer who knows the inside-out-and- upside-downs of this wacky (if you can call it a) business. Eva has been a writing coach for over 20 years, in addition to producing hundreds of literary nonfiction stories, feature articles, short stories and a book, The Lord of the Dolls: Voyage in Xochimilco. Her writing credentials include The New York Times Magazine, Quii, The Quarterly, Northwest Magazine, Oregon Magazine, Portland State Magazine, The Oregonian, Oregon Business Magazine, and the Boston Herald. Currently she is currently writing a memoir about growing up near Las Vegas in the 60s: A Little Mormon Girl. She has taught creative writing as faculty at Portland State University, at the Art Museum School of Portland, and privately in both the United States and Mexico. A popular writing conference speaker, she is co-founder of the Portland, Oregon based Connexus, The Writer's School, and The Writer's Workshop: San Miguel in Mexico. In June, 2010, she started a blog, Professional Writing Coach, which conveys information about the craft of writing. Her weekly series, under the heading "The Craft of Writing" takes the writer from concept to finished product.

Five Ways to Avoid Writing

When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I had a writer friend I called every morning, or— indeed— every time I thought about the particular writing project I was avoiding at the moment. Grant you, this means we talked on the telephone several times a day. One of our regular topics was the imaginary book we threatened to write together: One Thousand Ways to Avoid Writing. Of course we never wrote that book. We were too busy avoiding writing. But what follows is the abridged version. And, of course, one of the best ways to avoid writing is to call someone up and talk about avoiding writing.

1. Investigate 500 potential mates on a dating website even if you already have a mate.

2. Bake a batch of brownies then eat them all yourself, planning your weight-loss diet while you’re doing it.

3. Decide to join Netflicks again, and compile the list of movies they’ll mail you for the next ten years.

4. Plan a trip around the Mediterranean, comparing freighter cruises, air, and land travel.

5. Check out bargain catalogue sites for red boots, (,, real leather, in your size.

Or write a guest blog for someone.

--Eva Hunter

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

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

New Blog: Maximilian ~ Carlota, a resource for reseachers of the period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire or French Intervention

Still blogging here at Madam Mayo, and starting today -- read the welcome message-- I'll be blogging on Tuesdays at Maximilian ~ Carlota, for researchers of the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire or "French Intervention." Why another blog? I've got scads of books, papers, photos, and more from my nearly ten years of researching my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, but also, so many readers write to me with news of books, events, musicals, and even, recently, the auction of Maximilian's saddle, and I'd like to be able share these in a dedicated blog. Though I do maintain a webpage, Maximilian von Mexiko, for most of these links, a blog can be a little wider-ranging and open to comments. Furthermore, this blog, Madam Mayo, covers a near-infinity of subjects (basically, whatever happens to interest me), and just as not everyone who is interested in Mexico's Second Empire cares to know about pugs, soundwork, bees, and say, upcoming fiction workshops, not everyone who follows Madam Mayo yearns for every last tidbit about the Second Empire. But there are people who do, so for them--- for you?--- voila. A veces en español también.

First posts include notes on two books:

Charles Blanchot's L'Intervention Francaise au Mexique

Konrad Ratz's Tras las huellas de un desconocido.

More anon.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Small Mistrake, Mongo Sucking Whirlpool

Via Phronesisaical, aka the "Phron", one of my favorite blogs, this approx 10 minute video about a bizarre accident some three decades ago in Louisiana. Keep watching: it gets wackier as it proceeds. It's one of those stories that make you appreciate the forces of nature anew. More anon.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Blogs Noted: Gulf Blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis, Right-reading, Blue Ocean Notes, Writing from Merida, Scientific American Expeditions Blog, Bees

Tom Christensen's excellent blog. Four years on, I'm still reading it.

Writing from Merida
By Canadian writer in Merida, Mexico, Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado. Mexico bloggers, be sure to add this one to your blogrolls!

Blue Ocean Notes
Dr Safina at TEDx in DC on the Gulf oil spill. (Fast forward 1: 38)

Gulf Blog
UGA Department of Marine Sciences blog.

Scientific American Expeditions Blog

Sic Semper Tyrannis
I've been following this one for several years now, especially when things get dicier than the usual extreme diciness in the Middle East.
See the note on McChrystal.

The Barefoot Beekeeper