Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bay to Ocean Writers Conference, February 26, 2011 (Near Easton MD)

For the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference this February 26 I'll be offering a miniworkshop, "Top 10 Techniques of Creative Nonfiction and Fiction" from 1: 15 - 2:15 pm
Whether literary, mystery, spy, detective, romance, science or historical, fiction relies on specific techniques to invite the reader to form and maintain a "vivid dream" in his or her mind. The same is true for creative nonfiction, that is, literary travel writing, personal memoir and literary journalism. With examples of many different kinds of highly effective writing, award-winning travelwriter and novelist C.M. Mayo covers the ten most powerful of these techniques.

On Sunday February 27-- the following day-- I'll be offering a longer, three hour workshop, also on "Techniques of Fiction," at the Writer's Center in Bethesda MD. To read more and register on-line for this workshop, click here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lucky Dog Max!

My Mexico City amiga Cynthia Kaplan has started a business I am DELIGHTED to see: home cooked food for dogs. Oh, I have a lot to say on this subject, but read Max's story here.

Podcast Now Live: C.M. Mayo at "PEN Writers Aloud" in San Miguel de Allende

Here's the podcast from my recent reading and discussion of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire as part of the PEN Writers Aloud Reading Series in San Miguel de Allende last week. The reading was co-sponsored by SOL Literary Magazine.

Relevant links:

---> PEN Writers Aloud Reading Series

---> SOL Literary Magazine

---> The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

---> El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano

---> Full archive of my podcasts

More anon.

Alissa Walker, aka "Gelato Baby" on Creative Mornings LA

2010/12 Alissa Walker | Gelatobaby from LosAngeles/CreativeMornings on Vimeo.

"Gelato Baby's" talk for Creative Mornings LA
A sweet video, well worth watching. Charming indeed, and inspiring, like, um, yeah, really!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ópera y vida cotidiana en la Puebla Imperial, a new book by Margarita López Cano

Professor of history and opera expert Margarita López Cano has just brought out a fascinating new book, Ópera y vida cotidiana en la Puebla Imperial ("Opera and Daily Life in Imperial Puebla"), co-published by CONACULTA and the Secretary of Culture of the State of Puebla, as part of the "Colección Bicentenario 2010."

Puebla is that Mexican city made famous by the Cinco de Mayo, the temporary but devastatingly defeat of the invading French Imperial Army in 1862. One of Mexico's most splendid Spanish colonial cities, Puebla is strategically situated on the route inland from Veracruz; no power could rule from Mexico City without first controlling Puebla. The French did retake Puebla a year later, however, and then Mexico City; thus, only a year later than planned, by the spring of 1864, having been crowned Emperor and Empress of Mexico in Trieste, Maximilian and Carlota were en route.

The Second Empire has rich and staggeringly diverse sound track . . . CONTINUE READING over at my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota: a blog for researchers, both armchair, and serious, of the Second Empire or "French Intervention."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Report from San Miguel de Allende

Think art colony + sunshine + pedestrian paradise (if you're wearing flat shoes, that is)... Oh, all the pink puffs of bougainvilleas against pure blue sky! I managed to reach escape velocity from Mexico City for a brief visit to San Miguel de Allende apropos of a reading of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which took place in the gloriously pink and coral-red Salon Quetzal of the Biblioteca, sponsored by PEN San Miguel and SOL Literary Magazine.

PodCast is now live at

Thank you, Eva Hunter, for the introduction, and Bill Pearlman, for all you do to organize this splendid reading series. Lucina Kathmann and Edward Swift, it was a delight to see you there. Edward-- everybody listen up! -- has a new novel about to come out, and it features Nezahualcoyotl's poems and stunning cover art by Kelly Vandiver. Edward's novel is one I am eagerly looking forward to reading, for I am a must-tell-EVERYBODY fan of his extraordinary memoir of growing up in the Big Thicket, My Grandfather's Finger. It was also a happy surprise to meet my fellow Unbridled Books author, George Rabasa, author of The Wonder Singer, whose new novel, Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb, is about to come out this spring. And Mariló Carral, Marisa Boullosa, and Lulu Torbet, wonderful artists, I send you besos.

P.S. I'll be back in San Miguel de Allende later in February for the San Miguel Writers Conference, for which I'll offering the mini-workshop on "Techniques of Fiction."

Also of note: My amiga writer Gina Hyams will be giving a workshop on blogging. Check out her bodacious blog! For anyone interested in starting or improving their blog, this is a terrific opportunity.

And here's the Q & A that didn't make in time for the announcement in San Miguel de Allende's local paper, Atención:

Three Questions for C.M. Mayo

Q: Why did you decide to write about this period of Mexican history?

A: I was so surprised to learn that the mother of the prince of the title– Agustin de Iturbide y Green (1863-1925) – was an American. I am also an American married to a Mexican, one very distantly related to her mother-in-law, so I was curious to learn more about her, how she came to Mexico and what made her agree, at first, to collaborate with Maximilian von Habsburg. When I started to delve into reading about the period and about her, however, I quickly found so many contradictions, mysterious distortions and vagueness, that I realized her story, and that of her son, had never been properly researched. I also felt it is an important story, for both Mexicans and Americans.

Q: As the author of nonfiction books, two on finance and a travel memoir of Baja California, how did you make the transition to writing fiction?

A: I made an effort to learn the craft of fiction through taking workshops, reading books on craft, and then re-reading novels, not as consumer wanting to be entertained, but as as a fellow craftsman, actively noting, for example, how does Chekhov describe the snow? Or Tolstoy, a dress? Lampedusa, a dance? Flaubert, a sense of joy or despair? How do they handle dialogue, transitions, building suspense? And so on. It was really as simple– and as difficult— as that.

Q: Which authors have most influenced your writing?

A: For this novel, the most influential was Guiseppi di Lampedusa's richly splendid novel, The Leopard, which covers a similar period in Sicily. For the flexible narrative voice and language I learned from Henry James’s Portrait of A Lady and Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country and for structure, her tragic novel The House of Mirth. Contemporary influences include A. Manette Ansay, Kate Braverman, Bruce Chatwin, Ted Conover, Douglas Glover, V.S. Naipaul, and oh, so many others. Everyone in Mexico asks me if I’ve read Fernando del Paso’s Noticias del Imperio. The answer is, other than a very few pages which I translated for my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, no, and not because I am unaware that it is considered one of Mexico’s greatest novels. Del Paso covers the same period and many of the same characters, and I wanted to have a clear conscience that my novel is my own. So now I have to read it!

More anon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Top Ten Books Read 2010

1. Finding Iris Chang
by Paula Kamen
Iris Chang was the author of three books, including the blockbuster The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of WWII. Kamen, also an accomplished journalist and author of four books, was first Iris's rival at the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana and then, for many years, an admiring and close friend. Kamen's is a book by a writer about a writer, or rather, the biography of a rich and evolving writerly friendship with a violent end, for Iris Chang was found shot to death in a car by the side of the road near her home in northern California. Chang was then working on a book about the Bataan Death March, and as she had a small son, a happy marriage, and blazingly successly career, many people found it easy to believe she had been murdered, though, as Kamen explains at length, Chang's life was not what it appeared. Kamen's is a deeply moving book that should be read by anyone who is or would be a writer; it's a terrible lesson in the dangers of unbalanced ambition and, at the same time, ironically, the advantages of unbounded ambition. Beautifully written and researched, this is a work to be savored, both on the page, and in many meditations afterwards. I know I will be rereading this one.

2. The Big Short
By Michael Lewis
I relished Lewis's late 1980s memoir of working at Salmon Brothers, Liar's Poker, which I would describe as laugh-out-loud funny and grimly picaresque. The Big Short is equally entertaining, but, well, not funny. It is in fact horrifying. Unlike many books on financial shenanigans, this one is written by someone who actually worked in investment banking, who has an insider's understanding of the culture and the mentality of those, alas, not so few, who aim to "game the system." So what happened to the financial system in 2008? To begin to understand, start here.

2. When a Crocodile Ate the Sun
by Peter Godwin
It might seem an exotic horror story: Mugabe's Zimbabwe. But it's so much larger than that. What transpires when the government really, truly, breaks down? How do you find bread when your money inflates to near-nothing? What happens to the old people? To the animals? The crops? And the names of things? In other words, this is a story at once ancient and ever-new, a story that, for as long human nature and human societies endure, we will go on telling in its thousands of permutations. But this time, this book, wow.

4. Las tentaciones de la dicha
by Agustín Cadena
Who is Agustín Cadena? Think: Franz Kafka meets Juan Rulfo meets Raymond Carver or, the Mexican Chekhov. But that's not quite right: he's unique. I've just finished translating one of the stories, "The Vampire"--- hope to have news soon about a home for that. And some excellent, though to me, unexpected news: this book was named one of the top books of 2010 by Mexican critic Carlos Olivares Baró.

P.S. Read my translation of an earlier short story by Cadena, "Lady of the Seas," which appears in Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion.

4. The Bolter
by Frances Osborne
A superbly written biography of Idina Sackville, "the woman who scandalized 1920s Society and became White Mischief's infamous seductress," by her own great granddaughter. Every chapter is a surprise, and the last one more than any. (Oddly, this gave me a more nuanced appreciation for the decor in the Ralph Lauren shops.)

5. John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappriasal
by Thomas M. Settles
This new biography of a key 19th century military figure, best known as a controversial Confederate general who defended Virginia and Galveston,Texas in the U.S. Civil War, it is also crucial reading for anyone interested in the U.S.-Mexican War, the Civil War, and / or Mexico's Second Empire.

6. Black Robes in Paraguay
by William F. Jaenike
This magnificent, deeply and scrupulously researched book will always have a place of honor in my library. It should interest anyone who enjoys Latin American history -- and that includes the history of Mexico's Baja California, because of the parallel stories of their Jesuit missions.

7. Move Into Life: The Nine Essentials of Lifelong Vitality
by Anat Baniel
Protégée of Moishe Feldenkrais, the Israeli engineer and Judo expert who developed the renowned "Feldenkrais Method," Anat Baniel built her own "Anat Baniel Method" (ABM) on this foundation and three decades of helping thousands of people, from the tiniest babies to elders, move more easily and find freedom from pain. I have tried the ABM: gadzooks, it works! This book is a fine introduction to the method, and all-around inspiring. P.S. Her video beats a cup of coffee.

8. The Art of Intuition
by Sophy Burnham
A broad and knowledgable overview of issues related to and methods for accessing intuition, this is a most unusual book because it is written by a mystic and a literary artist: one and same person. Though Burnham is best known for her New York Times best-selling books on angels, some of her earlier books, especially The Art Crowd and The Landed Gentry, deserve far more recognition than they have yet received.

9. The Permit That Never Expires
by Philip Garrison
Anyone who wants to understand Mexican immigration should read this book -- and it's a gripping read, for Garrison is at once stylish, unusually perceptive, wryly humorous, and, above all, both compassionate and deeply knowledgeable. This is an astonishingly original and important work.

10. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
by Clay Shirky
I don't know Clay Shirky but, from his description of his childhood, we could have been next door neighbors, for I too recall hours planted, zombie-like, in front of Batman and Gilligan's Island. So what happens to our culture as a whole when we move from passive to active-- even for the merest smidgen of time? As they used to say on Batman, "sha-zam!" (Only Clay Shirky could get me to sign up for LOL Cats. Oh, yes, it was a-meow-zing.)

---> Top 10 Books Read 2009
---> Top 10 Books Read 2008
---> Top 10 Books Read 2007
---> Top 10 Books Read 2006
More anon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blogs Noted: Laura Carmelita Bellmont, The World of Edgar Allan Poe, Julianne Douglas, Leslie Pietrzyk, Adriana Camarena, Bricolage, and More

Laura Carmelita Bellmont
Who will be teaching a 2 day pop-up paper engineering workshop at the Center for Book Arts in NYC, wow. (Yes, MSC, it would be grand to live on CPW. For more on NYC, click here.)

Artist and writer Jim Johnston's Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide: "Mom in Morocco"

Undine's The World of Edgar Allan Poe
See especially "The Reticent Mrs Shelton". So bizarre.

Julianne Douglas's Writing the Renaissance
A new year's resolution post EVERYONE should read.

Adriana Camarena in the Mission
A Mexico City lawyer's interviews in SF.

Via Bricolage, the Keats-Shelley house in Rome has such a beautiful new website it makes me sigh for Rome...

Novelist Leslie "Work-in-Progress" Pietrzyk talks points about her recent writers pow-wow.

Thx Thx Thx
Thx! Viva Thx!

Southern Cross Review
Rudolf Steiner meets 2011

Araceli Ardon: Kurt Wenner in Queretaro

Washington Musica Viva Links page
See especially artist Marilyn Banner's "Expanding Unconscious Sources: A Return to My Inner Self"

Getting the Royal Treatment
So, like, totally true.

And finally: my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota, for researchers of the Second Empire / French Intervention, will resume next Tuesday.

Next post: Monday.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guestblogger Richard Goodman on 5 Favorite and Unexpected Literary Figures in NYC

Twin Towers image by Gaylord Schanilec is from New York Revisited, The Grolier Club, 2002

One of the things I find most fascinating about publishing now is the trend toward the ephemeral, on the one hand (e-books), and on the other, increasing material quality (collectors' books). So the very same book could appear as an e-book, and as a limited, autographed, letterpress edition with, say, handmade marbled paper. The first could cost only a few dollars, while the second could run into hundreds of dollars. (Where's the still big fat middle? Ye olde paperbacks shipped from and packing the shelves in your local bookstore.)

Collectors' books, 19th century style, are often sold by subscription. This is the case with travel writer, essayist and writing teacher Richard Goodman's latest, or rather, forthcoming, The Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker's Journey Through September 11th, which will feature original wood engravings by noted fine printer and wood engraver Gaylord Schanilec, to be published by Midnight Paper Sales. (Read the prospectus, a PDF, here.)

Apropos of this, I invited Richard to contribute a guest-blog post about literary New York. He's an expert on the city, having lived there for many years (check out his recent book, A New York Memoir.) Over to you, Richard.

by Richard Goodman

The list of literary figures who have visited or lived in New York is long and, sometimes, quite surprisingly delightful. Here are some of my favorites from that list. I’m always eager to hear about more, so if you know of any surprises, please post a comment.

Henry David Thoreau in Brooklyn
(The link is to a video in which a librarian at the Library of Congress discusses the day in Brooklyn Whitman and Thoreau exchanged books).
The famed naturalist and solitary dweller at Walden Pond did step foot in New York City—where, as we know, most of its citizens lead lives of quiet desperation. In 1850, he came to Fire Island—today, summer playground for young Manhttanites—to look for the effects of a drowned friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s. In 1856, he was in Brooklyn where he met, and walked two hours with, Walt Whitman. Whitman gave Thoreau a copy of Leaves of Grass, which, it turns out, Thoreau liked very much. “We ought to rejoice greatly in him,” Thoreau declared in reference to Walt.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on Central Park South
(The link is to a New York Times article about a walking tour, "In the Footsteps of Saint-Exupéry")
The aviator-author of such lyrical classics as Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight lived briefly at 240 Central Park South in the early 1940s where he began his children’s classic, The Little Prince. He also lived on Beekman Place and in a rented mansion on the North Shore of Long Island before returning to France and a fateful rendezvous with a German fighter plane south of Toulon over the Mediterranean Sea.

Simone Weil on the Upper West Side
(The link is to Francine du Plessix Gray's biography, Simone Weil.)
In 1942, the wonderful, severe, brilliant and difficult French writer, Simone Weil, settled briefly with her family—including her equally brilliant brother—in an apartment at 594 Riverside Drive. The author of The Need for Roots eventually died in England, at age forty-four, later to become, in T.S. Eliot’s estimation, a saint.

Frederick Garcia Lorca in Harlem
(The link is to a New York Times article about his year in New York City.)

The celebrated Spanish poet, author of the plays, Yerma and Blood Wedding, spent 1929-30 in New York City where he attended, for a while, Columbia University’s School of General Studies — essentially, its school of continuing education. Out of this sojourn came his book, Poeta en Nueva York with its powerful poem, “El Rey de Harlem,” The King of Harlem.

Lorenzo da Ponte at Columbia University
(The link is to information about his grave in Queens)

The librettist for Mozart’s operas, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, da Ponte was born in 1749 near Venice. After a long and colorful career as a librettist working with Mozart and his nemesis, Salieri, da Ponte came to New York to escape his creditors. He became the first teacher of Italian at Columbia, opened a bookstore, and introduced the works of Rossini to America. He died in 1838, and is buried — where else? — in Queens.

--- Richard Goodman.

P.S. Read more of Richard Goodman's guest-blog posts:
Five Wondrous Works of New York Art
Five Favorite Books with Soul

--> Click here for the complete archive of guest-blogs posts at Madam Mayo.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

PEN WRITERS ALOUD Speaker Series, San Miguel de Allende

In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Hosted by Bill Pearlman.

In the Sala Quetzal of the Biblioteca

January 5====Hal Johnson and Lynda Schor
The series begins with iconic poet Hal Johnson and prose stylist Linda Schor.

January 12==Eva Hunter and Christopher Cook
San Miguel well known memoirist Eva Hunter & popular writing teacher and co-editor of Sol Literary Magazine Also, Christopher Cook, whose novel Robbers was made into a film, will read from recent work.

January 19==C.M. MAYO
Novelist C.M. Mayo will read from her recent work, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, the novel based on the true story.

January 20==A tribute to Leonard ‘Red’ Bird
Bill Pearlman, Jane Leonard and others will pay tribute to the great “atomic veteran” and astonishing poet Leonard ‘Red’ Bird, who recently passed on.

February 2==Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin
Acclaimed writing team Wim Coleman & Pat Perrin take the stage.

February 9==Margaret Tallis & Katka Pinosova
Short story writer and artist Margaret Tallis has the mike, along with Czech poet Katka Pinosova.

Feb. 16==Carolyn Hernandez & Wayne Frank
Prose stylist Carolyn ‘Cazz’ Hernadez, who also serves as assistant editor of Sol, teams with Milwaukee playwright and poet, Wayne Frank.

February 23==Jan Harvey and Bill Pearlman
Storyteller and essayist Jan Harvey reading with poet Bill Pearlman.

Series Ends March 2==Geoffrey Young
Series ends with Figures Press editor & poet Geoffrey Young from Great Barrington, MA

(All proceeds go to help support Pen & Biblioteca Scholarship Fund. 70 pesos, students 50 pesos)

Monday, January 10, 2011

SOL Literary Magazine: Call for Manuscripts

Here's the direct link to the submission guidelines:

From editor Eva Hunter:

SOL: English Writing in Mexico is seeking submissions for its third on-line literary magazine, which will come out in March. Deadline for submissions is January 15. SOL seeks fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Well-known writers in previous issues are C.M. Mayo, Christopher Cook, Tony Cohan, Wayne Greenhaw, and others. SOL seeks material from already publishing writers, as well as promising new writers. A hard-copy of each year's on-line magazine will be published at the conclusion of each year's issues. Full information about submitting to SOL can be find in the writers' guidelines section of the magazine,

P.S. Want to meet the editor? Eva Hunter is reading in the PEN Writer's Aloud Speakers Series in San Miguel de Allende on January 12th.
More anon.

Blogs Noted: Carl Banner, Mummenshanz, Chore Wars, Smaller Box, Juniper Ridge and More

Carl Banner plays Beethoven (brief video). And check out the blog, too: DC Musica Viva, and in particular, You Know You Are An Artist When. (People, please stop saying DC is all about the rat race... )

Beltway's newest issue is now online, the Langston Hughes Tribute Issue, co-edited by Katy Richey and Kim Roberts. Contains 34 poems inspired by Hughes's legacy, commemorating his residence in DC in the early days of his career.

Wish I could have posted this one a couple of weeks ago: via Swiss Miss, the digital story of the Nativity.

Also, via, Mummenshanz.

Mary J. Lohnes' interview with Olga Grushin.

Managing Pain without Drugs... on Squidoo

Gloria Ruentiz, artist in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur

Smaller Box Blog

Todd Caldecott

The 2008 Collapse (Wired)

Chore Wars testimonials

Double Rainbow Maker
For the leprachaun within.

Juniper Ridge
I'm a big fan of their Douglas Fir Tip tea. Wildcrafting: I wonder who came up with that million dollar word? Tres 2011.

Speaking of evergreen: check out Karen Benke's advice on breaking writer's block for NANORIMO.

More anon.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Techniques of Fiction Workshops, February 2011

This winter I'll be doing a couple of "Techniques of Fiction" workshops:

San Miguel Writers Conference, Sunday February 20
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The Writer's Center, Sunday February 27
Bethesda MD

Read more about both workshops at

More anon.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Five Favorite Characters: Frau von Kuhacsevich, Oseola Green, Josefa de Iturbide, General Bazaine, and the very jolly Belgian, Baron d'Huart

(Oops, how it get to be 2011 already? I meant to post this a month ago!) The blog tour for The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire continues... one of my recent guest-blogs was posted a at the Book Drunkard.

The Top 5 of the “Tussie-Mussie”
By C.M. Mayo, author of the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

A “tussie-mussie” is a bouquet of flowers and herbs (and just the thing for a Washington DC belle to press to her nose as she walks through the markets of 19th century Mexico City…) I like to think of my characters in The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire— from the likes of Louis Napoleon, Maximilian von Habsburg, the Pope (Pio Nono, none other) to a galopina (Mexican kitchen maid), a bandit who sings mermaid songs, and two (count ‘em) American princesses—as a tussie-mussie (and one with maybe a few misidentified weeds as well).

I’m often asked, of the dozens, which characters are my favorites? Well, there are oceans of difference between a character I’d like to be; a character I’d want to sit next to at dinner; and a character I enjoyed writing. Writing fiction is a process much like acting. Fleshing out a character sometimes requires reading and other background research, but mostly imagination. Some characters can be a painful, awkward stretch. Others, at least for a little while, can be jolly fun to play— like a game!

Here are the five I most enjoyed writing:

Frau von Kuhacsevich
Wife of the Purser of the Mexican Imperial Household, Frau von Kuhacsevich came to Mexico as a long-time member Maximilian von Habsburg’s entourage. That meant, to put it plainly, that she had extensive experience with Europe’s most exactingly formal protocol for, prior to accepting the Mexican throne, Maximilian, younger brother of Austria’s Kaiser, had served as Viceroy of a major province, Lombardy-Venetia, where he ruled from his palace in Monza. As might be expected, Frau von Kuhacsevich found no end of trouble and trauma in managing a Mexican staff in Mexico City, and later, in the winter Imperial Residence in what was then the picturesque but exceedingly remote village of Cuernavaca. Her opinions and her stream of consciousness could not be said to be politically correct. Ho ho.

Oseola Green
The younger brother of the American mother of the prince of the title is such a minor character that anyone reading novel might be forgiven for forgetting him entirely. But in writing the novel I was charmed to chuckles when he appeared— as little brothers do— saying dreadful things about his sister’s beau and, in the swimming hole, making fart noises with his armpit. (Did he really say and do that? I have no idea. Just a novelist’s guess.)

Josefa de Iturbide
The daughter of Mexico’s first emperor, Agustín de Iturbide, after her father’s execution by firing squad in Mexico, Josefa grew up in Washington, DC, where her mother, the widowed empress, found herself struggling to pay the rent. A spinster, after her mother’s death in Philadelphia, Josefa returned to Mexico City to help her younger brother, Angel, and his American wfe, Alice, with their new baby— the baby who was destined, it turned out only a little later, to be taken into Maximilian’s court. As per Maximilian’s 1865 contract with the Iturbide family, Josefa de Iturbide received not only the magnificent pensions and status of “Imperial Highness,” but, unlike the parents of the baby, she remained in Mexico, a member of the Court, and was, with Maximilian himself, co-tutoress of the heir presumptive to the throne. She had the most to gain and the most to lose. Think: Otto von Bismark meets Salma Hayek meets Queen Victoria meets Torquemada. (OK, maybe I am exaggerating, a little.) I particularly enjoyed writing her conversations with Frau von Kuhacsevich.

General Achille Bazaine
Most readers have heard of Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the defeat of the French at Puebla on May 5, 1862 (no, it is not Mexico’s Independence Day). One year later, however, after hand-to-hand, house-to-house combat, the French finally took Puebla, and soon afterwards, General Bazaine, an able administrator and soldier famous for his coup d’oiel, who had made a spectacular career in North Africa prior to coming to Mexico, took command of the French Forces. Bazaine was both admired and despised, and in reading about him, I quickly learned to closely question the source. In Mexico he found himself in an increasingly difficult situation, for he represented an unpopular and costly occupation in suppport of an increasingly untenable and, alas, incompetent Mexican Imperial government under Maximilian. In the midst of this, his first wife, whom as a child, he had reportedly ransomed from North African white slaver traders, had an affair with an actor in Paris and, on the eve of leaving to join Bazaine in Mexico, she died suddenly. Soon afterwards he married her doppelganger, Pepita de la Peña, the 16 year old neice of one of Mexico’s multitude of ex-presidents. Bazaine is a character both serious and frivolous, tough, yet big-hearted, vigorous, though, as his portraits show, gaining weight, becoming exhausted, small-eyed, on the defence.

Baron Frédéric Victor d’Huart
A Belgian aristocrat, member of the delegation from the new King of the Belgians, the Empress Carlota’s brother, Leopold II, Baron d’Huart was shot in the head when his stagecoach was attacked near Río Frío, out of Mexico City in March of 1866. His murder was a debacle for Maximilian, for it sent the message to all of Europe that his government could not protect its highways. For all my research, I found almost nothing about the Baron d’Huart, so my portrait of him is based on an artistic choice: I wanted him to be sophisticated but naïve; a tourist avid for romance; a youth with every advantage and, stretching before him, a long span of life, so it seemed, until, from the dark woods: the crack of a rifle.

More anon.

Alexandra van de Kamp & Charles Jensen: Tonight at Café Muse (Washington DC)

I hear so many people complain about the "rat race" in Washington DC, and I always say, hon, just go to a poetry reading. I am not kidding.

So, what an amazing way to kick off the first work week of 2011! My amiga, the splendid New York-based poet (and Spanish translator) Alexandra van de Kamp will be reading tonight at 7 pm at the renowned Café Muse poetry reading series in Washington DC. Her new book, The Park of Upside-Down Chairs (CW Books, 2010) will be available, of course. Also reading is Charles Jensen, another terrific poet.

P.S. Check out Alexandra's guest-blog post for this blog, Madam Mayo, "5 Inspiring World Museums"

Seriously, if you're into poetry, this is an event not to miss, and if you've never been to a poetry reading, why not make this one the first? It's welcoming crowd, and, aside from the poetry, the cookies are delicious!

Here's the full event info:

Dear Friend of Word Works,

In 2011, all Café Muse programs will honor poets our community held dear. The January program will honor Hilary Tham.

Please join us Monday, January 3, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
at the Friendship Heights Village Center
4433 South Park Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD
for the Cafe Muse Literary Series when poets,
Charles Jensen and Alexandra van de Kamp read
from their work and sign books.

Café Muse opens at 7 pm with classical guitar by Michael Davis. Our sponsor, the Village of Friendship Heights, will offer free refreshments. Adele Steiner, Hailey Leithauser and Laura Golberg host, and the evening will conclude with a brief open mic reading from audience members. The Center is a 5-minute walk from the Western Avenue exit of the Friendship Heights Metro. Call 301-656-2797 for directions.

CHARLES JENSEN was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award for his book of poems The First Risk. He is the author of three additional chapbooks, including Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O'Hara Chapbook Award. His poems have appeared in New England Review, The Journal, Willow Springs, Yalobusha Review, and 32 Poems. A past recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County.

ALEXANDRA VAN DE KAMP is the author of three chapbooks, and the full-length collection, The Park of Upside-Down Chairs (WordTech Press, 2010). She is one of the founding editors of Terra Incognita, an international literary/cultural journal in English and Spanish. Her work appears widely in Meridian, Greensboro Review, Poetry Northwest and other publications. She lives in Port Jervis, NY and teaches at Stony Brook University.

HILARY THAM (1946-2005) was an artist and author of nine books of poetry, including Counting: A Long Poem. Her second book, Bad Names for Women, won second prize in the Virginia Poetry Prizes (Judge: Gerald Stern) and third prize in the Paterson Prize for Poetry (judge: Diane Wakoski). She also wrote a memoir: Lane With No Name, Memoirs and Poems of a Malaysian-Chinese Girlhood and a set of interlinked short stories, Tin Mines & Concubines. A new project will make her books electronically available to libraries in 2011.

The Word Works is a nonprofit literary organization publishing contemporary poetry in artistic editions and sponsoring public programs for over 35 years. More info at