Thursday, April 28, 2011

Llama Font: Because It's True, Lamas Make Everything Better

Via Swiss Miss, behold: Llama Font. Here is Dancing Chiva (my publishing co, which specializes in e-books and limited editions on Bajacaliforniana, Maximiliana, and works for writers) in llama font:

Why llama font? Click here to see how it makes everything better.

P.S. Sign up for Dancing Chiva's bodacious newsletter here.

More anon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Daniel A. Olivas: 5 Books for the Writing of the The Book of Want

It's guest-blogger Wednesday here at Madam Mayo, with Los Angeles-based novelist Daniel Olivas, who has just published a first novel-- though not his first book :The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press). It has been garnering some glowing praise, e.g., from Los Angeles Magazine: "Olivas’s brand of magical realism has a sense of humor about itself, and he succeeds in harnessing the genre’s unique ability to expose what’s beneath the surface"; from Dark Sky Magazine: "Carefully crafted and provocative, The Book of Want is nothing less than a celebration of human desire in all its forms."

I am also honored to have Daniel Olivas again as a guest-blogger because, as a blogger for La Bloga, he was one of my earliest inspirations for Madam Mayo (though it took me a while to appreciate the wisdom of blogging on Mondays, as Daniel does). I plunged into blogging in March of 2006-- ancient history now-- when the form was still so gelatinous and translucent... ayyy, let me put that in plain English: I had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes I think I still don't, that we bloggers are inventing the form as we go. Certainly, to an extent, that is true of any literary genre, including the novel, though we look to those who have tread some ground before us.

On that note, over to you, Daniel!

5 Books I Relied Upon in Writing My New Novel, The Book of Want
By Daniel Olivas

My sixth book of fiction, The Book of Want, is also my first novel (after publishing three short-story collections, a novella and a children’s picture book). As with my previous books, the City of Los Angeles plays a feature role in the novel. This is not surprising because I was born in Los Angeles and have lived here ever since, except for four years when I was a Stanford undergraduate. Because of that, I can reach back to my own history, as well as that of my parents, to paint a portrait of the city that is not a cardboard cutout.

This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t do research. I think it’s only fair to the reader that I attempt to be as accurate as possible if I mention a particular church or school or park or street and not simply rely on memory which, as we all know, can fade.

So, when I set my novel in various Los Angeles communities, I went back to maps, websites and reference books to double check for accuracy. My novel also dips a bit into the historical relationship between the United States and Mexico during World War II, so I certainly had to hit the books for those portions of my narrative.

Here are but five of the many books that I relied upon in writing my novel:

1. Los Angeles A to Z
(University of California Press) by Leonard Pitt and Dale Pitt

2. Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles
(Angel City Press) by Kevin Roderick and J. Eric Lynxwiler

3. The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space
(University of Texas Press) by William David Estrada

4. Modern Latin America
Oxford University Press) by Thomas Skidmore, Peter Smith and James Green

5. Everything You Need to Know About Latino History
(Plume/Penguin) by Himilce Novas

--Daniel A. Olivas

---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blogs, click here.
Last up: Diane Saarinen on 5 Sassy and Well-Branded Book Blogs.
Next Up: Richard Newman.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On Decluttering Your Writing or, Respecting the Integrity of Narrative Design: The Interior Decoration Analogy

UPDATE: This blog post is now a podcast. Click here to listen now (approximately 7 minutes of listening time).

Ideally a novel provides the experience of a vivid dream, so when I teach writing workshops, I always begin with specificity: generating specific detail that is vivid, that is, it appeals to the senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. Inevitably, a hand goes up. 

Isn't this creating clutter? How do you know when the detail is too much?

Anyone who has taken a writing workshop or three will have heard: cut the adjectives, cut the adverbs, if you need an adverb you probably have the wrong verb, etc.

All of this is right and good, but in my experience, most writing-- and I include first drafts by accomplished writers-- is scant on vivid detail that appeals to the senses. Not vivid? No reader. (Read more about specificity here.)

So, how to distinguish needed detail from clutter?

I like to use the analogy of interior decorating. Let's assume the purpose of the living room is to host a tea party. So you decorate it in order to make your guest feel welcome, to make her feel both charmed and comfortable to come in, sit on the sofa, and enjoy a cup (or three) of tea. That will be challenging if the entrance is blocked by five beat-up sofas and, say, a washing machine. It will also be challenging if you've left last night's pizza cartons on the coffee table.

A book invites a reader in-- so, don't ask, am I expressing myself?; ask, will my reader feel welcome? Will she feel confident that I am in control of the narrative (in other words, that I know what I'm doing?) If not, she'll put the book down-- in the same way that she would not want to sit down and drink tea in a peculiar and cluttered house.

More questions: When can I use adjectives? Can I use adverbs? Can I this, that, or the other thing? There are no rules in art, but I think we find our path toward writing a good book when we understand and respect the intregity of our design.

The interior decorating analogy again: Some living rooms might be beautifully designed and yet feature a lot of detail. For example, a Victorian-style living room might have lace curtains, a knicknack cabinet with dolls and teacups and porcelain pugs; cabbage-rose upholstery; numerous chairs (a straight-back and a rocking chair, ottomans, etc); three potted palms, a fern on a stand; portraits of some twenty-seven ancestors and horses and dogs; and outside the windows, a glimpse of gingerbread trim. Despite all that detail, it could nonetheless be considered uncluttered--- a guest could walk in, sit comfortably, and enjoy her tea in what is a very properly fussy Victorian room.

At the other extreme, we might have a beautifully designed yet minimalist penthouse: black leather and chrome furniture; everything white; one giant painting of a red slash. Outside the floor-to-ceiling window: nothing but sky. Certainly, a Victorian rocking chair would look like out of place, as would the washing machine and those pizza cartons.

Similarly, in the Victorian livingroom, that chrome-and-leather ottoman would look more than rather peculiar, no?

Does your reader feel welcome? Does your reader perceive that you are in control as a designer / host / artist? One of the best ways to get a feeling for that is to go back and read a novel you have already read and absolutely loved, from beginning to end, for that is, by definition, a successful novel. Do not read as a consumer, for entertainment; read as a writer-- examining how your fellow writer (be he or she Austen, Tolstoy, O'Connor, Kingsolver) put in or left out specific detail. Where are the smells, sounds, tastes, textures? Underline them.

Had there been signficant clutter, you would have put the book down when you read it the first time.

The books you have already read and loved are your best teachers-- there they are, waiting for you on your own bookshelf. But you have to read them as a fellow craftsperson, not passively, as a "consumer": nor, for that matter, as a student of English literature. The latter is akin to a student who writes about the history or perhaps sociology of interior decoration. It is not the same as being an interior decorator-- the one who chooses the sofa, hauls it in, and determines where to place it. And if you're wrong about the sofa, no need to return it. Take out your mental zap gun and zap it into the infinite warehouse of your mind.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rosedale, the Historic Estate in Washington, D.C.

UPDATE over at my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota, for researchers, both serious and "armchair," of Mexico's Second Empire, the tumultuous period also known as the French Intervention:

Pictured here is my pug dog, Picadou, a little tuckered out after her walk at Rosedale, when we were visiting just the other day. Rosedale plays an important part in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, because it was the family home of (prince) Agustín de Iturbide y Green's mother and, later, his home for many years, on and off, until it was sold in the early 20th century.

As I recount in the epilogue of my novel, "The Story of the Story or, An Epilogue by Way of Acknowledgements," when I first began researching the novel in the late 1990s, there was nothing-- and I mean absolutely nothing-- available on-line about Rosedale.

I found my way into the story ... CONTINUE READING

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guest-blogger Diane Saarinen on 5 Sassy and Well-Branded Blogs

Brooklyn-based writer and blog tour specialist Diane Saarinen is someone whose praises I often sing, for she did a superb job helping coordinate the fall 2010 blog tour for the paperback edition of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. I've been blogging here at Madam Mayo for four years now, and though I've often blogged about other blogs and blogging as a literary genre, the blogoverse is so expandingly ginormous, there were still-- as Diane showed me-- many outstanding book blogs I'd never heard of, though they've already achieved stratospheric numbers of readers. (And no doubt this is still true, and will always be true. Read more about blog tours and some of the guest-blog posts I wrote for mine here.) Diane Saarinen can be found at the Saima Agency which offers support for the harried writer with author services such as blog tours, virtual assistance, copywriting, and book trailers. The agency recently surveyed book bloggers and has an e-report available on the findings, Best Practices: Pitching Book Bloggers. Over to you, Diane!

By Diane Saarinen

As a blog tour coordinator, I’ve worked closely with my blogging colleagues for a few years now and can tell you that every blogger – and their blog – is unique in the way he or she expresses the passion for reading and sharing opinions. I would imagine, however, that as a new blog publisher, it might be a challenge to stand out from the crowd. Here’s my list of five sassy and well-branded blogs that do just that:

1. Booking Mama Julie Peterson, a.k.a. Booking Mama, has carved a niche out for herself by recommending book club reads. Even her guest posts by authors often relate to book club-related experiences such as memorable readings or unusual insights offered by readers. A nice place for readers who want to connect to find community.

2. Her Circle Ezine Is it a website or a blog? I have a soft spot in my heart for Her Circle Ezine ever since I volunteered there as Blog Producer several years ago. The guest blog posts there are carefully planned and thought out with often unconventional writers offering their viewpoints. Plus it’s an online women’s literary magazine – what’s not to like?

3. The Book Lady’s Blog At first I didn’t understand why Rebecca Joines Schinsky, a.k.a. the Book Lady, was throwing her underwear at authors. However, being a huge Tom Jones fan, it didn’t raise any eyebrows either. Take a look at Rebecca’s site for an example of a blogger having a heckuva good time reviewing books with well-written reviews to support all the fun.

4. Wonders & Marvels The quirkier history is, the more interesting it gets. Wonders & Marvels has the wise, the weird and the wonderful – all in one place. Generous book giveaways as well with multiple copies offered. Truth is stranger than fiction.

5. Speaking of history, how can I forget The Historical Boys ? I’m anticipating historical fiction author C. W. Gortner will get a kick out of being on such a sassy list! Christopher works hard at interviewing other hist-fic authors as well as writing about the latest on research. With his busy writing schedule, he earns even more respect for keeping this blog well updated.

--- Diane Saarinen

>>For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.
Guest-blogs appear on Wednesdays (usually).
Last up: Teresa Nichols: 5 Links About Buryin' Daddy
Next up: Daniel Olivas, author of the novel, The Book of Want.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Links Noted: Bill Cunningham, Ari Seth Cohen, Richard Newman, La extorción de Marcela

Bill Cunningham New York: this has to be one of the strangest and yet sweetest and most inspiring documentaries I have ever seen. It makes me want to get out my orange scarf and ride a bicycle! It's a sophisticated film about a famously eccentric fashion photographer, but it's an exploration in wonder, and seeing the beauty in humanity. How many stars does this one get? Why, the whole Milky Way.

Speaking of fashion, check out Ari Seth Cohen's blog, Advanced Style.

Richard Newman's In Memoriam, Anne Berner 1910 - 2011

This is a side-splitter of a YouTube video. Caveat: it's in Mexican Spanish, and I wouldn't attempt to translate it. (Burro Hall, you game?)

More anon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest-blogger Teresa Nicholas: 5 Links About Buryin' Daddy

What a thrill it was to hear that one of my workshop participants (from San Miguel Workshops in San Miguel de Allende) has just brought out her book. She introduces it better than I can so--over to you, Teresa!

My memoir, Buryin’ Daddy: Putting My Lebanese, Catholic, Southern Baptist Childhood to Rest, which I worked on for eight years, has just published from the University Press of Mississippi, in the series “Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography.”

The memoir, my first book, is set in Yazoo City, Mississippi, a small town that sits half on hills and half on flat land, and calls itself “the Gateway to the Delta.” About our shared hometown and its opposing geography, Willie Morris once wrote, “Its people were really flatland people: roughly half of us Aryan and half African, with an additional leavening of Italian, Jewish, Lebanese, and Chinese.” My family, on my father’s side, provided some of the Lebanese leavening, while on my mother’s side we were Southern Baptists and sharecroppers. Joyce Carol Oates—who herself has a fine new memoir out, called A Widow’s Story --has written that “memoir is an attempt at comprehension,” and I agree. Through the writing of Buryin’ Daddy, I’ve attempted to understand my parents and the divergent strains of my upbringing; I’ve also attempted to understand my relationship with the American South. And in doing so, I think I’ve come to love both better.

For the last month, I’ve been promoting the memoir in my home state. Most people will imagine readings and signings at artsy, independent bookstores whose walls are hung with photos of famous authors. I also thought of book promotion along those lines. That is, until I began my mini-tour, about a dozen events spread over these four weeks.

Which is not to say that I haven’t done some of that type of promotion. As a speaker for the annual Delta Literary Tour -—maybe hanger-on would be a more apt description--I visited Greenwood, Mississippi’s elegant TurnRow Books and Greenville’s quirky McCormick Book Inn. In Jackson, I signed and read at Lemuria Books. (The other keystone of independent book selling here is Square Books in Oxford, which I’ll visit next week, recording for Thacker Mountain Radio.)

“Everyone in the South has no time for reading because they are all too busy writing,” our Nobel Laureate William Faulkner said. But, judging by the response my book has received, I can’t say that’s true. (And the interest isn’t just for us “local” authors; the week I was at Lemuria, the writers Karen Russell (Swamplandia!) and Tea Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife) were also there.

The bulk of my promotion, though, has been different from the standard route. One day, I spent three hours at my hometown’s Gilbert’s Gourmet & Gifts (it’s also a lumberyard); over sixty copies of my book were sold. That night, across the street in the Triangle Cultural Center—- an old grammar school building--there was another signing and reading at the “Southern Soiree” before the auditorium stage was cleared for a spring fashion show. Also in Yazoo City, I did a reading/signing for the Lion’s Club in Stub’s Restaurant (where beforehand we dined on chicken and dumplings), and a formal reading at Ricks Memorial Library, the state’s oldest, as part of National Library Week.

Most of the eight years I spent writing and re-writing Buryin’ Daddy I spent alone, sitting at my desk in a small room in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Here in Mississippi, no matter where or how I’ve promoted the book, it’s given me a chance, for the first time, to connect with readers. (And the reaction to the book has largely been positive, with the possible exception of my mother’s former hairdresser, who reportedly didn’t approve of the way I made my mother speak, saying ain’t and dropping her g’s.) It’s both gratifying and odd, launching a personal narrative into the wide world, hearing strangers discuss my family in intimate terms. Still, it’s what I intended—I wanted my mother and father to become characters through which others might also live and learn. By and large, I’ve enjoyed the book’s promotion, but I have to admit, I’m also looking forward to getting back into my small room in San Miguel.

To read an excerpt from Buryin’ Daddy, and to see what people are saying about the memoir, please visit my website at

--- Teresa Nicholas

For the archive of Madam Mayo guestblog posts, click here.
Last up: Margaret Dulaney on 5 Reasons to Trust the Muse
Next up: Diane Saarinen of the Saima Agency will talk about this newfangled thing called the "blog tour."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On the Death of Maximilian: A Translation from the Hungarian

Over at my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota, where I share my research on Mexico's Second Empire, a tumultuous period also known as the French Intervention, the Tuesday update:

An eyewitness memoir by Dr Szender Ede, who served with the French in Mexico from 1865, and later had quite a bit to do with the aftermath, was published in a Hungarian newspaper in 1876, and has been translated into Spanish. Warning: it's not for the timid of stomach.... CONTINUE READING

More anon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

México Lindo y Querido, Flashmob in Querétaro

My amiga the writer Araceli Ardón sends me this message about a video, with the volunteer work of some 100 singers and artists, filmed the other day in Chucho el Roto, the famous restaurant in Querétaro, Mexico:

Queridísimos amigos:

Grabamos este video en la Plaza de Armas de Querétaro, con los clientes habituales del restaurante Chucho el Roto (que desconocían el evento) y algunos invitados de los cantantes, que también recibieron la sorpresa, porque pensaban que irían a tomar un café o a una cena ligera.

Con este video, la Fundación DRT tiene el propósito de dar a conocer al mundo que México es un país amable y trabajador. Una nación de personas buenas y alegres que aman a su patria. En medio de las terribles noticias derivadas de la guerra contra el narcotráfico y la delincuencia, es importante dar a conocer el otro lado de la realidad.

Hay en nuestra tierra millones de personas que cada día se levantan para dar lo mejor de sí, pensando en sus hijos, en su familia, en su trabajo, sea éste humilde y modesto, o grande, con éxito económico. Somos un pueblo de estudiantes, científicos, investigadores, artistas, constructores, hacemos negocios con ética y honestidad.

La grabación se logró gracias a la participación honoraria de casi cien artistas.

P.S. She has quite a bit more to say about the fascinating genesis of this project on her blog, here.
More anon.

Flavor / Aroma Wheels

I'm surprised to learn that flavor /aroma wheels are a fairly recent invention. What is a flavor wheel? A way of finding your way to the precise words for what you smell and taste. As far as I can ascertain, it was a professor at UC Davis, Ann Noble, who came up with the first aroma wheel, for wine. Watch her brief video introduction to the wine aroma wheel here. As a writer, I am enchanted at the idea of a tool to help us better describe wine-- or, for that matter, anything.
>>Honey flavor wheel
(you have to go over to the right on the page and click to download the PDF of the abstract)
>>Beer flavor wheel
>>Chocolate flavor wheel (and another chocolate flavor wheel here).
>>CSK Flavor wheel for cheese
>>Mary Ann Drake on defining dairy flavors (from 2003)
>>Zarf's Flavor wheels of the world
(Zarf is a interactive fiction / game designer; the link is to an extensive blog post).
More anon.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Links Noted: Mexico, Books, Wheat, Peewee Herman, Margaret Atwood on the Anchovies

Margaret Atwood is ablogging. Why the anchovies are restless: her keynote speech for Tools of Change 2011, available as a free video, is well worth watching.

Rachael Laudan offers some context on wheat.

Borderland Beat. Like the title says.

Jose Padua at Shendandoah Breakdown.

And more along the lines of Mondo Barbie: Rick Peabody and Life in the Trenches by DC Poet & King of Iota, Miles David Moore.

Asher Baggott Bode: sounds like a law firm, but it's the website of the successor to Joyce Carol Oates (all respect intended). Thanks, Sandra Gulland, for the tip.

Prophet of Doom James Howard Kunstler asks the perhaps inevitable question, "Why don't we drop Peewee Herman on Libya?"
Read his most recent post here. Seriously, great blog.

Deborah Batterman, "Good Things Come in Threes", in which she recommends 6 Books.

Over at Burro Hall, find out what King Kong, the Gobernator, Osama Bin Laden, Winston Churchill, and the Exorcist have in common.

Fascinating "visual essays" by Franke James.

My favorite feng shui expert Carol Olmstead summarizes my blog post on decluttering a library.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Carlota's Piano

The Tuesday update is up over at Maximilian ~ Carlota, my blog for researchers, both serious and "armchair," of Mexico's Second Empire, the tumultuous period also known as the "French Intervention."

Carlota's Piano:

So far readers have alerted me to a crystal flute, a saddle, a set of mirrors, and a diamond ring-- and now, Carlota's piano. A fun connection: writer John Randolph Bennett was writing to interview me about Dancing Chiva Literary Arts, my new venture in publishing, among other things, Maximiliana, and in his e-mail he wrote:

"[When] I was a boy growing up in San Jose, CA, we used to buy sheet music as a store called Reid's Music. Somehow they had acquired Empress Carlotta's piano, and they displayed it on a dais in the center of their store. . . CONTNUE READING

Monday, April 04, 2011

Burning Man?

The Playa calls. Maybe. Links to ponder:
>>What Is Burning Man?
>>Brad Templeton's photo panoramas of the Playa and the Burn. (Ayy, looks pretty dusty...)
>>Ten steps to prepare for Burning Man
>>RV? Would be nice to go in a revamped airstream. Maybe rent? (Though this handy checklist (a PDF) makes the whole idea seem a bit daunting.)
>>Or tent? Maybe one of these.
>>Gotta bring a bike.
>>Maybe one of these bikes.
>>Boots, yep.
>>But what about a costume? May this, for a start? And to keep the dust out, a Nubrella? (Might fly off in the breeze...)
>>And a necklace of these...
>>>For food, MREs.
>>2010 Installations
>>2009 Installations
>>2008 Funded Art
>>2007 Art Pavillion

And Michael Christian's artwork is not only amazing, but his is one the quickest loading and well-designed artist websites I've yet seen.

Join the Jack Rabbit Speaks e-mail list for updates.

More anon.