Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 Books Read 2011

1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
I have so much to say about this, why, I wrote a whole blog.

2. What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
The concept of the "technium" is something I find myself coming back to again and again. The author writes a brilliant blog called The Technium.

3. The Magus of Strovolos: The Extraordinary World of a Spiritual Healerby Kyriacos C. Markides
This was one of the many books I read in preparing the introduction to my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911. Sociologist Markides' work stands out among the many books on esoteric subjects not only for the quality of the writing, but the author's open-heartedness combined with discernment. If anyone were to ask me where to start reading on the subjects of healers and mediums, I would tell them to start with Markides.

4. Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon
Highly amusing. I've become a fan of the author's blog, The Contrary Farmer, where, by the way, you can download a free e-book of his best posts.

5. Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and Living in Viet Nam by Wayne Karlin
Transcendent and fascinating, this is one of the most important works to come out of the Viet Nam War.

6. To Be Young by Mary Luytens
Oh, those wacky Theosophists...

7. Francisco I. Madero by Stanley R. Ross
The classic of the 1950s. I have my quibbles about the book but overall, it is an impressive work of original scholarship and reads as smoothly as a good novel. I'd put it on my short list of recommended books to read about Mexico.

8. Art, Life and UFOs: A Memoir by Budd Hopkins
A deeply strange book by a deeply courageous and all-around original American.

9. Peregrina: Love & Death in Mexico by Alma M. Reed, Edited and with an introduction by Michael K. Scheussler; Foreword by Elena Poiatowska
This is the memoir of Alma Reed, a San Francisco journalist, a feminist far head of her time, who came to Mexico and fell in love with Yucatan's charismatic left-leaning governor, Felipe Carrillo Puerto. They were engaged to be married when he was murdered in 1924.(I hope to interview Michael K. Schuessler about this book for my Conversations with Other Writers podcasts in 2012.)

10. The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus

Top 10 Books Read 2010
Top 10 Books Read 2009
Top 10 Books Read 2008
Top 10 Books Read 2007
Top 10 Books Read 2006

Monday, December 19, 2011

Conversations with Other Writers: Sara Mansfield Taber, Author of Born Under an Assumed Name

Just posted on Conversations with Other Writers:

-> Listen on podomatic

-> Listen on iTunes

C.M. Mayo talks with Sara Mansfield Taber, author of the memoir Born Under an Assumed Name. For Taber, growing up in Taiwan, Japan, Washington DC, the Netherlands, and Borneo was tough as well as exotic, and she found the experience even more unsettling because, as she learned at fifteen, she was the daughter of a covert CIA agent. The conversation ranges from her father's work in Asia, including his daring rescue of over a thousand Vietnamese after the fall of Vietnam to the Vietcong, and his disenchantment with the agency while working in Germany; Taber's childhood in Taiwan, highschool years in Washington DC during the Vietnam War; her previous books, including Bread of Three Rivers and Dusk on the Campo; other travel writers, reading as a writer; writing practice, and teaching writing. Recorded in December 2011. (Aprox 50 minutes).

Quick links:

-> Watch the trailer for Taber's BORN UNDER AN ASSUMED NAME

-> More about BORN UNDER AN ASSUMED NAME (and how to order)

-> More conversations with other writers, including Solveig Eggerz and Rosemary Sullivan

-> All C.M. Mayo podcasts

Monday, December 12, 2011

10 Tips to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Writing Workshop

The article is now a podcast (about 8 1/2 minutes). Basically, this is everything I wish I'd known when I started taking writing workshops, ayyy, 20+ years ago.

--> All my podcasts
--> My podcasts for creative writers
--> Marfa Mondays podcasts coming soon (follow @marfamondays)

Yes, I'm giving a two day only "Techniques of Fiction" workshop this February 2012, directly after the San Miguel Writers Conference, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Find out more and register on-line.

More resources for writers here.

P.S. Updates on the Reading War & Peace blog asap. Whew, I'm on page 987! Moscow has burned to a charred mess, Pierre is in a pickle, and Prince Andrei has expired in a most romantic fashion.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Where the Buffalo is Marfa? About the Trailer

So, who are all these wacky people in my "Where the Buffalo is Marfa?" trailer for the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project: Exploring Marfa, Texas & Environs in 24 Podcasts? I have no idea. The clips and photos are all "gigs" from check out their profiles and many other gigs, all @ USD $5 each. All of these sellers were prompt and professional, and I can recommend them warmly. You can check out their gigs, their ratings-- and if you like one (maybe for a holiday greeting --or your own wacky trailer?), just hit the PayPal button.

Herewith, with my thanks, the cast:

Accordion player: squeezeboxhero

(Australian?) dude reading message and then smacking to wall: coreworkouts

American guy yelling "Marfa!" in a rant-like way: mel864

Plastic bag man: robertocarlos

Redneck character in blue sunglasses: johnwright238

Zombie: kristylynn

Psycho Welshman: facebook_poster

British banana: bethan

Peapod dancer: haleylujah

Funky dancer in brown shorts: coreworkouts (again)

Accordion guy (again): squeezeboxhero

Girl in elephant mask and Marfa sign: reticent

Guy in fur hat with Marfa sign: newsfromstreet

Swimmer with Marfa sign: rubikart

OK, what is truly mind-warping is that I don't know their real names and I don't know where they live nor where they filmed any of these. And these previously impossible, even unthinkable, digital juxtapositions interest me as something to explore in the book I'm about to start writing. When I did my last travel book, Miraculous Air, about Mexico's Baja California peninsula, in the late 1990s, almost no one (outside of a very few people in Tijuana, Ensenada and Los Cabos) was on-line and it was quite the novelty that a telephone or two had arrived in some villages. Now, looking at Marfa, Texas and environs (Alpine, Fort Davis, Valentine, Marathon, and the Big Bend), I find restaurants tweeting their breakfast menus and the local lamp shop on Youtube. I've yet to do a podcast-- the project starts in January-- but I'm already following a small community of West Texas tweeters, and you can follow me @marfamondays.

---> Read about the Marfa Mondays Project

Monday, December 05, 2011

Reading War & Peace

I'm plumb in the middle of it: wow. Reading War & Peace has long been on my "bucket list" and it is such a delight to find that it more than deserves its reputation-- and it looks like, yes, I will get to the end of it before December 31st. Right now I'm on page 722, just after the old prince (Andrei's father) has expired of a stroke and the French are about to swarm over his estate. Talk about tension!

Blogging-wise, though, I'm catching up, only on about page 192.

The latest: the part where Rostov falls in battle.

I'm keeping a log (blog) not to summarize the novel (many others have done that), but as an aid to help me read it as a writer: always asking, what do I admire and why? What bores me or confuses me and why? Above all, what can I learn from this for my own writing?

--> Read the Reading War & Peace blog here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blogs Noted: Reading War and Peace, Sam Quinones, Sophy Burnham, Sandell Morse, and More
Check out the "supercut" video riffing through Nicholas Cage's wiggy and not so wiggy hairstyles. Read what Kevin Kelly has to say about the so-called "supercuts" genre here.

Reading War & Peace: A Novelist's Notes
Yes, it's by Yours Truly, and I'm just catching up with the blog posts-- I am actually now about half way through this "loose baggy monster," right after the fall of Smolensk, and on schedule to finish the whole enchilada by December 31. Yes, dagnabbit, 2011 is the year! I welcome fellow readers' comments. As a writing workshop leader I am always telling people to "read as a writer"-- herewith, taking my own advice.

Marfa Mondays
Which starts up in January 2012. Follow on twitter @marfamondays. Watch the two trailers, "Where is Marfa?" and -- featuring plastic bags and dancing peas-- "Where the Buffalo Is Marfa?" here.

Sophy Wisdom
Mystic, essayist, historical novelist Sophy Burnham's new blog.

Sam Quinones' True Tales
An amazing journalist, hosting amazing true tales by others.
P.S. Check out his guest-blog post about this for Madam Mayo.

Sandell Morse
A new blog by a thoughtful and articulate writer of creative nonfiction

Richard Seymour on TED
How Beauty Feels

Another wingsuiting video
Whew (maybe for the next interplanetary reincarnation)

More anon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Onward, War and Peace

I'm more than half way through War and Peace-- page 709 to be precise. As for blogging about it, I'm more than a bit behind, oh well. Looks like I'll make the year-end resolution to read the whole enchilada in 2011. It took some effort to get started, but it is a mighty and glorious read.

---> Read my Reading War & Peace blog here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dr Konrad Ratz Today @ 17:00 in the National Palace, Mexico City

Dr Konrad Ratz has translated a profoundly important work for understanding Maximilian's Mexican adventure and gruesome end: The reports of the Prussian Ambassador to Mexico, Baron von Magnus, to Otto von Bismarck. Those who are aficionados of the period will know that Baron Magnus was the only diplomat who witnessed Maximilian's execution in 1867. Dr Ratz found Magnus's reports in the archives in Berlin. . . CONTINUE READING.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Conversation with Other Writers Podcast: Solveig Eggerz on Seal Woman

Just posted, a new podcast of an interview with my amiga, the amazing writer Solveig Eggerz, about her poetic novel, Seal Woman-- and Iceland, writing, publishing, facebook, and more.

Listen in on podomatic or, listen in on iTunes.

Here's the official description:

As part of the new series of occasional conversations with other writers, C.M. Mayo talks with Solveig Eggerz, author of the fiercely poetic novel Seal Woman. Inspired by the Icelandic fairytale of the seal woman and the true story of some 300 German war widows brought to Iceland to marry and work on the remote farms, Seal Woman has been widely praised and translated into both Hebrew and Icelandic. The conversation ranges from the author's unusual background (from Iceland to England to Germany to Alexandria, Virginia), Iceland's book culture, fairytales, advice for writers, and more. Visit Solveig Eggerz at

P.S. Read Solveig Eggerz's guest-blog, 5 works of historical fiction.

(Next winter I'll be starting up the Marfa Mondays series and some of those podcasts will be cross-listed with "Conversations with Other Writers.")

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guest-blogger Andrew Dayton on 5 Books to Get Your Head Inside Iran

Guest-blogging today is Andrew Dayton, co-author, with his wife Elahe, of The House That War Minister Built, a most unusual epic historical novel that is attracting showers of praise.

From the jacket:

"In the crumbling days of the Qajar dynasty, Nargess's fate seems sealed as the upstart Reza Khan Shah sends his army to surround her husband's palace. She does not know that the greatest threat lies within! For the next three quarters of a century, Nargess and her family will endure the conflicts between a medieval religion and a modernizing population, between emerging nationalism and foreign manipulation. Contending with betrayal, arrogance and moral dissolution, they search for redemption, which only one of them will find - on a deathbed in a strange land.
An epic saga with iconic characters, abundant cultural insights and surprising historical details, The House That War Minister Built covers the Iranian experience from the end of the Qajar dynasty in the 1920s, into the post 9/11 era."

Still married after thirty-one years, the last 8 of which involved writing their epic saga of Iran, they live on a mountaintop retreat on Maryland Heights, near Harpers Ferry. Both are scientists who picked up writing later in life. Andrew was educated at Princeton, then the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. He has previously published short fiction in The Potomac Review and currently leads a research group in molecular virology on the NIH campus in Bethesda. Elahe was educated at the University of Tehran, then at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. You can find out more about them and the novel at their website


Five Books to Get Your Head Inside Iran
By Andrew I. Dayton

If you want to feel, smell, taste and generally get your head inside Iran, here are a number of books that will get you there:

Garden of the Brave in War, Recollections of Iran, by Terrence O’Donnell is undoubtedly the most evocative. It paints a vivid tableau of the Iranian character: tolerant, generous, mirthful, capricious and devious – from beggars to voluptuaries a people far removed from the puritanical fanaticism portrayed in the West. In these memoirs you will encounter a range of characters, from servants whose intrusiveness derives from caring, to feudal princes who adopt peasant children to raise as their own. You will learn the truth to the old Persian saw that a missionary once complained of spending fifty years in Iran without a single convert. “Don’t worry,” an Iranian friend consoled him, “Mohammed didn’t get any either.”

In Blood and Oil, Memoirs of a Persian Prince by Manucher Farmanfarmaian, a scion of the country’s most famous family and one time Oil Minister under the Shah examines a considerable chunk of modern Persian history through the prism of oil politics, in which his family played a major role. Much of the information is surprising and counter intuitive. Did you know, for instance, that the hue and cry raised by the British over Iran’s nationalization of their oil company in the 1950s (leading to a CIA-sponsored coup) masked crocodile tears? Did you know that only a decade later President Kennedy’s well-intended populist policies first raised Ayatollah Khomeini to national prominence?

Speaking of the 1953 CIA coup, which toppled the democratically elected regime of Mossadegh, did you know that it was led by our man in Tehran, Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy? Find out more by reading Stephen Kinzer’s All The Shah’s Men, An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Operation Ajax was the first time the United States Government toppled a Middle Eastern government. The resulting restoration of Mohammad Reza Shah to the Peacock throne allowed a tyranny that led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and much of the Islamic terrorism that plagues the world today.

On a lighter note, to savor the visual pleasures of Iran, browse through the splendid Persia, Bridge of Turquoise, a coffee table masterpiece featuring stunning photographs by Roloff Beny, and an interesting forward by Seyeed Nasr on Iranian culture and religion. This book is out of print, but worth tracking down for the photographs alone.

Finally, for insight into the tragic general failure of Islam (including Iranian Shiism) to keep up with the West, you can’t miss Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East This renowned Princeton scholar examines the multitude of forces that led the once dominant Islam, for centuries the vanguard of world power and learning, to tumble into an abyss of backwardness. Not the least of their errors was one to which we may fall victim ourselves: failure to learn from those we disregard.

-- Andrew Dayton

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

Recent guest-blogs include Jim Johnston on Mexico City; Gerry Hadden on some spectacularly remote places; and Richard Jeffrey Newman on sites to learn more about the Shahnameh.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day: My Dad on the Importance of Sharing Research

Apropos of Veterans Day, I'd like to mention a very special video. It's a talk my dad, Roger Mansell (1935-2010), was scheduled to give at a conference in September 2010 in England on the history of POWs in the Far East. But he wasn't well enough to travel, so his friend and fellow POW researcher John Hicks recorded it for him at home. It was played at the conference to much applause for his message-- one he always gave, but in this video, very eloquently-- is such an encouraging one. He stresses the importance of saving stories and sharing research. In my own work -- most recently, on Mexico's Second Empire and Francisco I. Madero's 100 year-old "secret" book-- I have also tried to be as generous as possible in sharing. As my dad says in the video, if you don't write it down, it's lost, and if it stays in the drawer, it dies.

My dad's website is
He founded the Institute for Research on Allied POWs of the Japanese, which is being continued by Wes Injerd and Dwight Rider.
Watch the video of his talk here.


Here's the official press release:


NOVEMBER 11, 2011

WHO: Francisco I. Madero, leader of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, and President of Mexico from 1911-1913, author (as "Bhima") of the Manual espírita, originally published in 1911.

The translator, C.M. Mayo, is author of several works on Mexico, most recently, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009) which was named a Library Journal Best Book 2009. Mayo is also editor of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press, 2006), a portrait of Mexico in the fiction and literary prose of 24 contemporary Mexican writers.

WHAT: The first English language translation of Manual espírita as the Spiritist Manual.

WHY: This year marks the centennial of this book which is, in the words of C.M. Mayo, "an essential work for understanding Madero, the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and his presidency."

WHERE: Cyberspace, space, and Mexico City.

Cyberspace: The book has been published on Kindle, available on
(Other digital and print editions are forthcoming.)

Space: Madero claims in his book that that is where we all end up, so maybe that's where he is.

Mexico City: C.M. Mayo's office.

WHEN: The book is published today, 11-11-11.
2011 marks the book's centennial.







Dancing Chiva Literary Arts

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Kindle Edition is Live: Francisco I. Madero's Secret Book of 1911, The Spiritist Manual, Translated by Yours Truly

The Kindle edition of the Spiritist Manual, my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Manual espírita, is available-- as of today (though the official pub date is this Friday)-- at
I will be giving a lecture about this most unusual book on Thursday November 10 as part of the "Author's Sala" reading series in San Miguel de Allende. Click here for more about that.

Apart from its extraordinary content, and the fact that Madero's Spiritist Manual is one of the earliest Spanish language manifestos of this new religion, what stands out about this work is that it was prepared precisely during the brief period when Madero's political career was rocketing to its apex: he was campaigning throughout the country for the Mexican Presidency, then fighting the Mexican Revolution both in Mexico and, variously, from exile in Texas and New Orleans; and then, running again for the presidency— which, later in 1911, he was to win.

As Mexican historians Enrique Krauze, Yolia Tortolero, Alejandro Rosas and Manuel Guerra, among others, have emphasized, Madero's Spiritism undergirded his political philosophy and actions as candidate for the presidency, as leader of the Revolution, and as President, many of which were incomprehensible to and/or misinterpreted by both his supporters and his adversaries. For this reason, the Spiritist Manual is a fundamentally important work for anyone who would study Madero and the Mexican Revolution.

It is also a vital work in the history of both Spiritism itself and modern gnostic Christianity. Whatever one's personal beliefs may be, it would be intellectually naïve to dismiss Madero's Spiritism as mere superstition, as most people who first hear of it and indeed, most of his biographers, do. Spiritism emerged in a context of the mid- to late 19th century's far-reaching scientific experientation; moreover, it has its place alongside other religions that emerged in the same century, among them, Christian Science, Mormonism, Spiritualism, and Theosophy.

>> Q & A here.

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After publishing so many books the old-fashioned way, it has been such a strange experience to publish a book first as an e-book. This afternoon, I caught a typo after it was uploaded onto Kindle, which I fixed immediately, and Kindle registered the change within the hour. Anyone who has published (print) books knows that stomach-churning, wide-awake-at-3-am anguish about typos. (No matter how many times and how many people check it, there is always a typo, or thirty-nine.) What a luxury it is to be able to make corrections!

And another ginormous change: I couldn't-- and I shouldn't-- give a squished fig about manoevering this book into brick-and-mortar bookstores. Not that it doesn't have readers, but because it's so unusual, and very specifically Mexican, I don't think it would get far into ye olde agent-house-distributor-store-shelf labyrinth-o-rama. So what I want for this book are the right "tags" for google searches and the like. I spent two hours this evening going over the book's entry on and this newfangled thing. What a world we've plopped into! In publishing, as in so many other areas of the economy, wierdly, it's becoming drastically constricted even while opportunities are dramatically expanding.

But yes, there will be a print edition, as well as an iBook and Nook edition of the Spiritist Manual. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Astral Projection, Interplanetary Reincarnation (and Way More!)

Working on the website for the Spiritist Manual, my translation of Francisco I. Madero's 1911 secret book, Manual espírita. Read all about it here.

Watch the plummy new video here:

I'll be presenting and discussing my translation of this most unusual work in San Miguel de Allende next Thursday November 10th at the Author's Sala reading series.

The book will be available as an e-book, both PDF and Kindle. (And a print edition? Stay tuned.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lift Off! War and Peace

So, I started War and Peace. Again. Dagnabbit, 2011 is the year! I'll be posting the first blog about that later this evening at the Reading Tolstoy's War & Peace blog.

For those of you who follow the Maximilian ~ Carlota blog, the Tuesday update is on-line.

No, I don't blog every day. Just Mondays here, some Tuesdays at Maximilian ~ Carlota (that's to share my research on the Second Empire /French Intervention of the 1860s) and, from now through December 31, the Reading Tolstoy's War and Peace blog. I aim to finish by December 31.

So what happened to the Wednesday guest-blogs? Well, never say never. But reading War & Peace and preparing the translation of Francisco I. Madero's secret book of 1911, are keeping me more than busy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guest-blogger Jim Johnston on Mexico City’s Centro Histórico: Five things to see with your feet off the ground

Born in New York City, Jim Johnston grew up in the woods of New Hampshire. After studying architecture at the University of Virginia and graphic design at the School of Visual Arts, he worked as a professional artist and potter in New York City for 27 years. He moved to Mexico in 1997, where he continues working as an artist and writer. A few years ago, I was fortunate to make his acquaintance through our mutual friend, the writer Janice Eidus, and I've been a fan ever since.
I follow and warmly recommend his blog, Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide, which has the same title as his book. If you're going to visit Mexico City or, especially, if you happen to live here, get your copy from

Mexico City Centro Histórico:
Five things to see with your feet off the ground

By Jim Johnston

My first visit in 1989 to Mexico City's Centro Histórico was scary. Teeming with manic energy in the daytime, the streets became eerily empty at night. Scars from the 1985 earthquake were evident: tall buildings stood abandoned, gaping holes in the pavement defied you to pass. There were rumors of thieves lurking in doorways and kidnappers prowling in taxis. But as a rule, I like any town that's more than 700 years old and still cookin’. So, of course, I fell for Mexico City, hook, line and molcajete.

Mexico is a city that wears its age well. It’s got Aztec splendor and ruin, Spanish majesty and bombast, 50’s modernism, quirky time-warp shops, smoke tinged cantinas, excellent museums, and street life that never stops.

In the past five years, the Centro Histórico of Mexico City (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) has been transformed. It's busy night and day, and looking better than ever. There are increased security measures, new paving and lighting; hundreds of old buildings have been plastered and painted (gracias a Carlos Slim). New museums, hotels, restaurants, outdoor cafés and shops have opened. Several streets are now traffic-free pedestrian zones (check out 5 de Mayo, Motolinia, and Regina). You can now ride your eco-bici to the centro. New bars and dance clubs are drawing young crowds on weekend nights. It seems like every time I visit (about once a week) I see something new. But one thing hasn't changed-- the intense level of energy on the street, which can excite and exhaust in equal measure.

What to do? I like to take my feet off the ground.

Here are a few tips for keeping above the fray--5 places in the Centro Histórico that are above street level, semi-hidden places I’ve discovered over the years that you are sure to enjoy.

1. Sears Cafe
Go up to the 8th floor of the Sears store, just across from the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The coffee is good and the view is great.

2. Museum of Architecture
Take the elevator to the very top of the Palacio de Bellas Artes (separate ticket required). The changing exhibits on Mexican architecture are OK, but the real treat here is the surprising view you get of the building itself.

3. Pasteleria Ideal (16 de Septiembre #18)
Upstairs, this ‘world of cakes’ is one of the city’s great surreal spots.

4. Shoe Museum
Bolivar #27) Above the venerable Borcegui shoe store is this entertaining mini-museum.

5. Studio of Joaquin Clausell
(Museo de la Ciudad, Pino Suarez #30 at El Salvador). Tucked away on the second floor of this exquisite colonial mansion is the former studio of Joaquin Clausell (1866-1935), a Mexican impressionist painter. For years he used the walls of his studio as a sketchbook, and the result is a delightful mural of overlapping paintings and sketches.

Above and beyond the Centro Histórico you can tour the major attractions in Mexico City on the Turibus. The open top deck affords great views and a wonderful feeling of being above all the hustle and bustle. Click here for information.

-- Jim Johnston

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Event in Mexico City October 18, 2011

Some news re: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
Tomorrow, October 18th 5 pm, I'm doing an unusual event for my book, the Spanish translation (beautifully translated by Agustín Cadena), El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano: a live interview by Bertha Hernández in the National Palace (Palacio Naciona), as part of a series hosted by Random House Mandadori and SHCP about the historical novel of Mexico. All events are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Guest-Blog Archive On-Line

The Wednesday guest-blog will resume next week with a very fun piece by my amigo, the Mexico City-based artist and travel writer Jim Johnston. Meanwhile, check out some of these other guest-blogs on Mexico:
>Nicholas Gilman 5 Funky Foods and Where to Find Them in Mexico City
>Claudia Long 5 Delicious Links on the Food of Baroque Mexico
>Trudy Balch on 5 Things Gaby Brimmer Loved, or Would Have
>David Lida on 5 Secrets of Mexico City

---> Visit the archive here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Author's Sala on November 10, Reading from and Discussing Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual

Some news: on November 10 as part of the Author's Sala reading series in San Miguel de Allende, I'll be reading from and discussing my translation-- the first into English-- of Francisco I. Madero's secret book, Spiritist Manual. Yes, Francisco I. Madero, the leader of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and President of Mexico, really did write this book with the pen name "Bhima," a character in the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavadgita. My website for this book is still under construction, but visit again soon for extensive Q & A, resources for researchers (bibliographies and much more), podcasts, videos, and excerpts.

I'll be updating this blog post with updated links shortly.

>C.M. Mayo translations
>C.M. Mayo events

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Podcasting: 5 Frequently Asked Questions for Yours Truly

On Wednesdays I run a guest-blog post when I happen to have one. This week's didn't come through. Oh well! So I'm going to talk about podcasting, my new enthusiasm. (Click here to visit my main podcast page.)

I started podcasting back in 2009 because I wanted to make available my lecture at the Library of Congress about the research behind my novel based on the true story, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. The last prince was, in fact, Agustin de Iturbide y Green, grandson of Mexico's first emperor, Agustin de Iturbide. Because the story takes place in Mexico during its Second Empire or so-called "French Intervention," one might very naturally assume that my archival research would be primarily in Mexico. But in fact the Library of Congress has the main archives, that of the Emperor Iturbide (first Emperor) and the Iturbide family. Mexico's second Emperor, Maximilian von Habsburg, has his archive in Vienna and, though I did visit that archive, fortunately for me, there is a nearly complete copy at the Library of Congress. Anyway, I explained all of this is elaborate detail in my lecture, now a podcast, which you can listen to here.

There are many ways, and I won't bother count them, but I can tell you, I find it very easy to use Apple's "Garage Band" program. I usually just talk into my iPhone's dictation app and take the mp3 file from there. I am sure professional sound engineers would be horrified. Oh well! If I want to add music, I buy clips at royalty-free sites such as, or Music Bakery.

Again, there are many ways, but the one I like to use is I offer the feed at iTunes. Next year when I start up my Marfa Mondays Project, I plan to also add those podcasts to a youtube page. Stay tuned.

*****UPDATE 1/16/2012***** The Marfa Mondays Podcasts have launched. Read all about it and listen in here.

As they say, information wants to be free. And well, many of my podcasts (such as this one), are, quite frankly, intended to help promote my books and workshops. Others are for my writing students-- a gift to them. Others, such as "Conversations with Other Writers," are just fun to do and I hope people enjoy them.


Podcasting is still very new to me. Just like blogs and youtube channels, there are so many that it takes some time to sift the (alas) few grains of wheat from the Himalayas of chaff. A few podcasts I am delighted to have found are NPR's (and the iPad app lets you put together a playlist); Rice Freeman Zachary's Notes from the Voodoo Lounge; James Howards Kunstler's; and Dr Rita Louise's "Just Energy".

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

Monday, October 03, 2011

New Podcast in the Series on Creative Writing: How to Break a Block

The occasional podcast series on creative writing continues. Just posted: How to Break a Block.

Several podcasts are coming up on various subjects, including conversations with other writers. Check out my main podcast page here.

Further surfing:

>I'll be teaching "Techniques of Fiction" at the San Miguel Writers Workshops and also in Mexico City this winter. Click here for my schedule.

>Giant Golden Buddha & 364 more 5 minute writing exercises

>Recommended reading on the creative process (several cover the issue of block)

>C.M. Mayo on Creative Writing: The Best from the Blog, a free e-book for members of the Dancing Chiva Literary Club (it's free)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest-blogger Claudia Long: 5 Delicious Links on the Food of Baroque Mexico

Growing up in the United States, I never once, that I can recall, heard of Sor Juana. But once in Mexico—- I arrived some 25 years ago-- I found her to be ubiquitious, literally. She's on the 200 peso bill right now. You cannot visit a bookstore in Mexico without finding something by or about her. Back before Mexico was Mexico, that is, when it was still a Spanish colony, Sor Juana, which means "Sister Juana," was a nun and a literary prodigy taken under wing by the vicereine, and given a provocatively promininent place in court. One might imagine how this went over with the grimly-bearded Church fathers who were, now and again, busying themselves with burning people at the stake. Once the vicereine returned to Spain, things did not go swimmingly for Sor Juana. Hers was one of the great intellectual tragedies not only of Mexico but, one could argue, of humanity.

Josefina's Sin, by Claudia H. Long, is a story of love, poetry and the Inquisition. A sheltered land-owner's wife goes to the vice-royal court in colonial Mexico, in 1687, and meets the famous poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Sor Juana teaches Josefina about the terrors and joys of writing, loving, and living life to the fullest, under the cruel and watchful eye of the Holy Office.

Claudia grew up in Mexico City, and lives in California. Her book has received critical acclaim and can be bought at bookstores, and the usual on-line sources, including Amazon.

As an historical novelist myself (The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, set in the 19th century), I can well imagine some of the struggles Claudia must have faced in getting the details just right. And because, in Mexico anyway, Sor Juana is such a major figure, anything inauthentic, ayyyy ... No doubt every historical novelist loses sleep over this (I know I did).

Over to you, Claudia.

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5 Delicious Links on the Food of Baroque Mexico
By Claudia Long

When I was writing Josefina's Sin, which takes place in Mexico from 1687 to 1690, I thought feeding one's literary characters would be a simple task, but that's far from the case! Did you know that rice did not originate in Mexico? It was brought during colonial times. Sometimes, what seems so "typically" Mexican is really an import.

Josefina goes on a picnic with the ladies from the court. A tree with large, dark green, glossy leaves and hanging green fruit provided shade. Ah, a mango tree, I thought. Not so fast, said the editor at Simon & Schuster. Mangoes weren't introduced into Mexico until 1775! My mistake—- it was a papaya tree!

It's not hard to find out what food was available to the indigenous people of Mexico before the European colonization:

And it's not hard to figure out which foods were ultimately imported to Mexico:

But it's really a question of "When?" What did they have? And what could they have had? If the first mention of mangoes was in 1775, they could well have had them in 1750, but there wouldn't be a mature tree sitting conveniently near my ladies in 1687!

Once I had the ingredients, I had to prepare them. Some of our favorite Mexican foods are easy to make, and were likely done the same way.

Take "agua de jamaica," or hibiscus tea. Jamaica flowers originated in Africa, and came to Mexico during the colonial era. The refreshing tea became popular for its great taste and medicinal value.

Here's a fun, timeless recipe for jamaica water.

One ingredient we know with certainty was native to Mexico: Chocolate—- amazing, wonderful, and powerful.

In 1519, when the first Spanish conquistadors entered the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, where today Mexico City stands, they found chocolate. Today, we may sweeten it with sugar (sugar cane came later. . .) but we enjoy it as much as Josefina did.

And now, back to our papaya. Papaya is native from Southern Mexico through the Andes of South America. We love it cut up, sprinkled with lime. But some things have definitely changed since Josefina's day. Enjoy this entertaining suggestion for preparation of a papaya for modern times:

"First, you need to soak the outside of the papaya for 20 minutes in water with "microdine" iodine drops to kills any latent bacteria." I know Josefina never did that!

--Claudia Long
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Further surfing:

> Claudia Long's Shelf Awareness profile

>Claudia Long's page at Simon & Schuster, which includes an informative brief video.

>Octavio Paz's book, Sor Juana Or, The Traps of Faith, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.

>Sor Juana's Poems, Protest and a Dream, selected and translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, introduced by Ilan Stavans.

>Sor Juana's The Answer / La respuesta, translated by Electa Arenal and Amanda Powell

>Guest-blog post here at Madam Mayo by Russell M. Cluff to celebrate his musical CD of Sor Juana's poetry.

---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blogs, click here.
Recent guest-bloggers include midwife and memoirist Patricia Harman; traveling (to some strange places) reporter Gerry Hadden; and spiritual reporter Mare Cromwell.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic

Just in time for Halloween or, I should say, Day of the Dead:

So very delighted to see this: the new anthology edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, which includes my translation of Agustín Cadena's masterful short story, "Murillo Park," just got this review in Publisher's Weekly:

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic
Edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, intro. by Bruce Sterling. Small Beer (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-931520-31-7

By turns creepy, self-consciously literary, and engagingly inventive, these 34 stories selected by translator-scholar Jiménez Mayo and writer-critic Brown offer some excellent and ghastly surprises. Entanglements with characters who aren’t entirely human and may well be dead provide one intriguing theme; in Agustín Cadena’s “Murillo Park” a middle-aged narrator befriends a strangely anachronistic older widow who goes by Jorge outside his office on his lunch hour, but recognizes to his sorrow that she belongs to a lost world of vanished clubs and hotels. . . . Several of the tales envision a marvelously collapsed dystopia where anarchy and violence reign such as in Liliana V. Blum’s “Pink Lemonade,” where a “Somalization” of the world leaves the survivors fighting each other for food. “Wittgenstein’s Umbrella” by Óscar de la Borbolla cleverly supposes the death of the second-person narrator, while Pepe Rojo’s “The President Without Organs” is a grisly sendup of the national preoccupation with the president’s physical health. These are punchy, ghoulish selections by south-of-the-border writers unafraid of the dark. (Dec.)

Further surfing:

>Agustín Cadena's blog, El vino y la hiel

>An interview with Cadena apropos of my translation of his short story, "An Avocado from Michoacán"

>Small Beer Press

>Co-editor Eduardo Jiménez Mayo's home page

>More of my translations, including Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, which includes Cadena's haunting short story, "Lady of the Sea" and Eduardo Jiménez Mayo's translation of Bruno Estañol's "Fata Morgana."

(So are Eduardo and I related? ¿Quién sabe? Probably way back when!)

Trailer for My Translation of "Bhima's" Manual Espírita

A new trailer (about 1 and a half minutes):

Forthcoming this fall as an e-book from Dancing Chiva Literary Arts. Want to be alerted when it's available?
>>Join the Dancing Chiva mailing list
>>Join the C.M. Mayo mailing list

UPDATE October 15, 2011: The book now has its own website, with extensive Q & A, resources for researchers (bibliographies, lists of archives, films, podcasts,and more).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Workshop, Podcasts, Newsletter for September 2011

--> Tomorrow, Saturday 24th, I'll be giving a one day only workshop on "Techniques of Fiction" at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland (near Washington DC). Visit my "Workshop Schedule" page for details.

--> If you can't make that, or, even if you can, may this podcast, "The Number One Technique in the Supersonic Overview," be of use for you with your writing.

--> More podcasts, workshops, the best from the blogs, and notes on current and forthcoming publications, are in my September 2011 newsletter which just went out to subscribers. (I use, whence the funny picture of the monkey. )

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guestblogger Midwife and Author Patricia Harman on 5 Sites to Help You Go Green

To the average reader this might seem silly, but we writers tend to obsess about publishing-- so should it be any suprise that what first caught my attention about Patricia Harman's books was that they are published by Beacon? For those of you don't know Beacon, it's one of the finest small literary presses in the U.S. (it also happens to be the publisher of my amiga Sara Mansfield Taber's splendid Bread of Three Rivers.) So I knew Patricia Harman's memoirs, based on her many years of caring for women as a lay-midwife and later, as a nurse-midwife, had to be something very special. Harman's first book, The Blue Cotton Gown, is about her patients; her second, the recently published Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey, tells the story of growing up during one of the most turbulent times in America and becoming an idealistic home-birth midwife.

From the dust jacket text:

Drawing heavily on her journals, Arms Wide Open goes back to a time of counter-culture idealism that the boomer generation remembers well. Patsy opens with stories of living in the wilds of Minnesota in a log cabin she and her lover build with their own hands, the only running water being the nearby streams. They set up beehives and give chase to a bear competing for the honey. Patsy gives birth and learns to help her friends deliver as naturally as possible.

Weary of the cold and isolation, Patsy moves to a commune in West Virginia, where she becomes a self-taught midwife delivering babies in cabins and homes. Her stories sparkle with drama and intensity, but she wants to help more women than healthy hippie homesteaders. After a ten-year sojourn for professional training, Patsy and her husband, Tom, return to Appalachia, as a nurse-midwife and physician, where they set up a women's-health practice. They deliver babies together, this time in hospitals; care for a wide variety of gyn patients; and live in a lakeside contemporary home--but their hearts are still firmly implanted in nature. The obstetrical climate is changing. The Harmans' family is changing. The earth is changing, but Patsy's arms remain wide open to life and all it offers.

Her memoir of living free and sustainably against all odds will be especially embraced by anyone who lived through the Vietnam War and commune era, and all those involved in the back-to-nature and natural-childbirth movements.

"There are more honest, revealing moments here than in many memoirs. Harman, whose prose is sparse but not simple, covers a span of decades, deftly revealing her own youthful struggles with identity through the children we witnessed her raising earlier in her book, revealing, in short, a full life." —Publishers Weekly

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Five Great Websites to Help You Go Green, A Little Bit at a Time
By Patricia Harman

Once, I confess, I was a total eco-freak. Forty years ago, I lived in a cabin without electricity and running water. We used hand tools because we didn’t want to waste non-renewable resources like oil and gas. We tilled the soil by hand, grew our own food organically, canned it in mason jars and stored it in a root cellar we dug into the side of the hill.

Looking back, I wonder at our extreme life, but at the time we were worried about pesticides like DDT killing the eagles and power plants polluting the air. We were looking for a way to live lightly and sustainably on the earth.

Then for thirty years, in the rush of raising kids, going back to school and working as a midwife 70 hours a week, I forgot all that. We moved up in the world, started our own OB-Gyn practice, got a house on the lake, two gas-guzzling vehicles and a jet ski. My youthful ideals receded to an amusing antidote about my past.

Lately, however, my conscience has bothered me. The world we face now seems so much more dangerous than in 1970s. With climate change, extreme weather, the disappearance of honey bees and wars in the Middle East fueled by competition for oil, my concerns about the environment have returned

Now, I’ll admit, I’m not interested in returning to a life without running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing, but I’m worried enough to begin altering my ways. Maybe it’s time, for all of us, to again consider how we can live more sustainably. Maybe it’s time we all think about what we can do to save Mother Earth. Maybe it’s time we all consider how we can be a little more green.

Here are some websites I’ve found helpful and inspiring on this, not so extreme, journey.

1. Natural Life Magazine
(35 years of inspiring articles about green family living.)

2. Mother Nature Network
(Recycling, home renovation, sustainable communities)

3. Mother Earth News
(Guide to Living Wisely, how to do it)

4. The Green Grandma
(Homey and witty)

5. Sustainable Communities
(The big picture…world view)

--- Patricia Harman CNM, midwife and author

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--> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blogs, click here.
Recent guest-bloggers include travel writer and reporter Gerry Hadden ; master gardener and spirituality reporter Mare Cromwell; and narrative arquitect and app designer Julia Sussner.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Techniques of Fiction: New Podcast & Workshop This Saturday at the Writer's Center

A new podcast went live this morning: "Techniques of Fiction: The #1 Technique in the Supersonic Overview"--- apropos of my one day workshop which will be held this Saturday, September 24th from 10 - 3 pm (includes a free hour for lunch on your own) at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland (just outside DC).

To register on-line, and for more information about the Writers Center and this workshop, click here.

P.S. Many more podcasts for writers here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest-blogger Gerry Hadden on 5 Great Places to Visit that You'd Probably Never Find (and 5 links to learn something more)

Gerry Hadden is the author of a book just out from HarperCollins that, as a long-time resident of Mexico City-- the very navel of the Americas, IMHO-- I am especially anxious to read: Never the Hope Itself. It's been garnering rave reviews, including from Publisher's Weekly, which calls it, "Offbeat, gripping....It's the rare journalist who shows such a mystical bent, but Hadden's quirks and openness give his book a rare charm."

Here's the catalog copy:

A former NPR correspondent takes you into his own ghost-filled life as he reports on a region in turmoil. Gerry Hadden was training to become a Buddhist monk when opportunity came knocking: the offer of a dream job as NPR’s correspondent for Latin America. Arriving in Mexico in 2000 during the nation’s first democratic transition of power, he witnesses both hope and uncertainty. But after 9/11, he finds himself documenting overlooked yet extraordinary events in a forgotten political landscape. As he reports on Colombia’s drug wars, Guatemala’s deleterious emigration, and Haiti’s bloody rebellion, Hadden must also make a home for himself in Mexico City, coming to terms with its ghosts and chasing down the love of his life, in a riveting narrative that reveals the human heart at the center of international affairs.

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Five Great Places to Visit That You’d Probably Never Find
Gerry Hadden

1. The shaded stream that circumvents a Garifuna village near Punta Gorda, Belize.
I was floating in it with a young Garifuna known as “the Jamaican” among the drug dealers in Queens. He was back in the village, trying to start over. He had seven bullet scars. “Look,” he said. I turned my head. Inches from my nose began an endless floating field of tiny white flowers, stretching upstream. I don’t know how they all ended up in the water. They moved passed us like silent boats, tickling our necks.
-->Learn to speak Garifuna.

2. The forest brothel along another river, Veracruz state, Mexico.
Sitting in the open shack, under Christmas lights strung in trees, talking to the girls, waiting for my interviewee. A mean guy showed up first, put a knife and a bottle on the table, made me drink with him. The sugarcane worker I was waiting for arrived. “Leave the Gringo alone,” he said. The mean guy stood, smashed his bottle and pointed it at me. I ran like hell. Then I turned back. I didn’t want to leave my contact behind. But when I reached the brothel all the lights were out, the music turned off. I ran again.
-->Hear some music from Veracruz(search Graciana Silva).

3. A ridge in the sierra outside San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.
A shaman showing me his garden: plants to staunch bleeding, to help with birthing, to cure the chills or the fear of walking alone in the dark. The view looked West down a sloping valley crisscrossed with hills fading one into the next. Foreigners were coming to steal the shaman’s medicinal secrets. I never wanted to leave.
-->Take a canoe ride through Chiapan culture.

4. A field behind a voodoo temple, Western Haiti.
They were holding the ceremony so that Jean Bertrande Aristide would win the presidency and be a good leader. That was a lot to ask. A bonfire burned. Women circled it dressed in white and blue, singing something beautiful. We men formed an inner circle. The priest danced close to the fire and then let a goat have it with a machete. The rest is history.
-->See some of the best photos of Haiti.

5. A wooden meditation hut in the highland rainforest outside Xalapa, Veracruz.
I’d complained to the Buddhist monastery’s abbey that I couldn’t concentrate. The constant traveling had my mind racing. But after a week of solitude I began to feel grounded again. Upon returning to Mexico City that peace evaporated quickly. Okay, this last place you can find.
-->Here’s the link (in Spanish only).

-- Gerry Hadden

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

Guest-blogs on travel in Mexico include David Lida on 5 secrets of Mexico City; Nicholas Gilman on 5 funky foods in Mexico City and where to find them; Stephanie Elizondo Griest on 5 glimpses into the Mexican underworld; and Isabella Tree on 5 favorite books about Mexico.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Francisco I. Madero by Stanley R. Ross

Re: The rightly famous and splendid biography by Stanley R. Ross, Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Mexican Democracy. If you're interested in learning more about Mexico, put this on your short-list for reading ASAP. Originally published in 1955 by Columbia University Press, it is the first major biography to include original archival research as well as interviews with eyewitnesses, including Madero's widow, Sara Pérez de Madero.

For Americans, it explains much of the hostility many Mexicans still feel about U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Madero, who was not only the leader of the 1910 Mexican Revolution which torched the decades-long rule of Porfirio Díaz, but, after De la Barra's interim government, Mexico's democratically elected President. In Ross's work, U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson comes across as a coldly contemptuous and narcissistic intriguer. In 1913, in the aftermath of General Victoriano Huerta's violent coup and Madero's assassination, Ambassador Wilson was, quite rightly, recalled by President Woodrow Wilson (no relation) shortly after the latter assumed office.

Though backed by deep research, Ross's biography reads like a novel, each chapter ending in a cliff-hanger.

Its major drawback is that Ross does not give Madero's Spiritism the serious consideration it deserves for, neither Madero's political career nor his downfall can be understood without taking his deeply held, if unorthodox beliefs and his mediumship into full account.

Ross does address Madero's Spiritism in the opening chapter, explaining that, when a young student in Paris, Madero came upon the Revue Spirite, the magazine founded by Allan Kardec, the 19th century founder of Spiritism. Without delving into the nature of Spiritism, -- then already well-established among Mexican urban and provincial elites--nor the extensive writings of Kardec, nor his followers, Ross, as if swatting a fly, dismisses it thus: "Madero lacked sufficient preparation to develop his own doctrine and did not subject his acquired beliefs to penetrating analysis."

Then briefly, in a single paragraph, Ross covers the influence of the Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of the Hindus. Ross does not mention that it was from this book that Madero took his pen name, Bhima, for his Manual Espirita, published in the same year Madero took office, 1911. Nor does Ross mention Madero's Manual Espirita or even include it in his bibliography.

Both U.S. Ambassador Wilson and General Huerta referred to Madero's "peculiar" beliefs with acid contempt and even discussed whether or not Madero should be confined to a lunatic asylum. Ross quotes them both, but does not probe the reasons underlying such hostility. No doubt, in part, this was because Madero was, in fact, a leading evangelist for Spiritism, even as he fought the Revolution and then defended his administration. The narrative begs for more explanation.

Others, including Enrique Krauze, Yolia Tortolero, Ignacio Solares, Manuel Guerra de Luna, and Alejandro Rosas, have written about Madero's Spiritism. To be fair, however, until Krauze's work came out in the 1980s, for historians, Madero's Spritism was something to be mentioned only as briefly as possible, for it was too strange and, for many, embarrassing, to treat seriously. Fortunately, this is changing. There is also a fine documentary on the subject. I'll be commenting on these works anon.

UPDATE: My book, Metaphsyical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, which includes my complete translation of Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911, is now available in paperback and Kindle and in Spanish.

More blog posts on this subject here.