Thursday, June 30, 2011

La Giganta y Guadalupe

An absolutely beautiful and crucial book about the volcanic spine of Mexico's nearly one thousand mile-long peninsula.

Published by Planeta Peninsula / Niaparaja AC
ISBN 978-607-95007-1-9

Fotografía de Miguel Angel de la Cueva y textos de Bruce Berger y Exequiel Ezcurra.


>>Webpage for Fundación Wild

>>Center for a Better Life article.

Planeta Península A.C.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blogs Noted: Gene Logdson, Full Cry, Cute Overload, Global Swarming Honey Bees, Delia Lloyd, Mexico Cooks!

Gene Logsdon, "Archeology Not Agriculture Teaches Good Agriculture"
By the author of the greatest read of 2011, Holy Sh*t. I am not kidding.

Full Cry: The Hounds of Beagle House
Delightfully writerly descriptions of a bunch of, yeah, hounds. Not for those who want to save the foxes.

Cute Overload Ceiling Cat
A brief, wierd video. Good if your Prozac dose is a little low today. (Why take Prozac at all when you can check in with Cute Overload?)

Global Swarming Honeybees on Urban Beekeeping in Hong Kong
Links to a beautiful and strange video.

Delia "Real Delia" Lloyd on one uber funky vacation

Mexico Cooks! Reviews my favorite Mexican restaurant in Mexico City, El Bajío.

I just bought this b-b-b-bodacious sound clip for the new Dancing Chiva video-- which will be on-line next week.

Thanks, amiga M., for sending this link to the TED video about e-Patient Dave.

More anon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Weekend with the Goats

Kind of a bizarrely fun way to spend the weekend: using Apple's Keynote program, I'm putting together a YouTube thingamajig about the cover design for the e-books I'm publishing with Dancing Chiva Literary Arts (the mascot is a little goat), and gee, neet-o, I figured out how to make the little goats dance along the website URL. This actually became extremely absorbing. I had seven of them doing the can can. But that got canned. The video should be up by next week; meanwhile, here are a few images from the project:

The video, as well as information about these and other e-books, will be posted at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Promotion, Book Trailers, and (shazam!!) Carolyn Parkhurst's Trailer for The Nobodies Album

I've begun work, at last, seriously, on a couple of new books, but the question of book promotion continues to amuse, fascinate, and consternate me. In part this is because I have come to realize, both from my own experience having published several books, and from seeing that of friends and students, that book promotion is a Mt Everest of a hurdle, emotionally, psychologically, and even artistically (see my blog post, "The Arc of Writerly Action"). For each writer the size and particulars of the challenge is unique, but it seems that almost everyone, except the certifiable narcissist, feels well, wierd, about promoting their own work.

One of the new and very powerful tools of promotion is the so-called book trailer, a brief (or maybe not so brief) video. (You can view my most recent trailer here.) It's difficult to make generalizations about book trailers, though I've tried-- see my blog post, "Book Trailers: Some Categories (or, Draft of a Taxonomy)".

All that said, the #1 best book trailer I have ever seen, by five hundred miles, is my amiga (and I am not saying this because she's my amiga) Carolyn Parkhurt's latest, for her novel The Nobodies Album. And it co-stars my amigas, novelists Amy Stolls, in the T-shirt, and Paula Whyman, reading the reviews. Seriously, I have never seen a better book trailer. And for you writers squirming about (gasp) self-promotion, just take a deep breath, a swig of whatever you're drinking, and watch the anecdote now:

Good luck, Carolyn!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Podcasts for Writers

New on my writing workshop page: podcasts for writers. To date these include:

On Decluttering Your Writing or, Respecting the Integrity of Narrative Design: The Interior Decoration Analogy
My answer to the inevitable first question in my writing workshops. From the series on creative writing here on the "Madam Mayo" blog. (About 7 minutes.)

"Twelve Tips to Help You Hang in There and Finish Your Novel"
Adapted from a blog post for "Madam Mayo," a guest blog post for "Work-in-Progress" and the Writer's Center's blog, "First Person Plural." Also part of a talk for the Writer's Center's "First Friday" lecture series in Leesburg, Virginia. (About 12 minutes.)

"The Writing Life: A Report from the Field"
A panel discussion at the Artlantic Festival at the Writers Center, May 22, 2010, with Yours Truly, David Taylor, Alan Elsner, Kevin Quirk, and moderator Jessie Seigal. (About an hour and 16 minutes)

P.S. More resources for writers here.

I'll be offering a one day workshop on "Techniques of Fiction" at the Writer's Center on Saturday September 24, 2011, and an extended two day version of the same for the San Miguel Workshops in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in February 2012. I may offer a workshop with Dancing Chiva in Mexico City this summer. I'll be posting updates on the workshop schedule page. (Want the news? Subscribe to the Dancing Chiva Literary Arts newsletter here, and / or my newsletter here.)

The complete list of podcasts, which cover various subjects, remains on my main podcast page-- and you can also subscribe for free on iTunes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mary Lutyens: To Be Young

Rarely have I read anything so exquisite that has also made me laugh out loud so many times as Mary Lutyens' memoir, To Be Young. Alas, I have to agree with the author that her editor was quite wrong; the better title would have been From Maryb to Mushe (read it to find out why; this scrap of a blog post couldn't begin to explain). I read it as part of my research, very round about, for writing the prologue to my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual. The connection: a bit tenuous, but Madero's Spiritist Manual was published in 1911, the very same year that Theosophist Annie Besant brought Jiddu Krishnamurti to England, placing him under the wing of Mary Lutyens' mother, Lady Emily Lutyens, an ardent Theosophist. Theosophy and Spiritism and Spiritualism (note the "u" in the latter) are similar in many respects but differ on important points. Anyway, Mary Lutyen's memoir is so delicious, I know I'll be quoting from it in my writing workshops, for it would be difficult to imagine more effective use of telling detail.

On her grandmother, who had been the Vicereine of India:

When the Rector came to lunch on Sundays, the book of memoirs (her favorite reading) would be put out of sight and a religious work substituted. She already seemed to belong to history. She pronounced cucumber, cowcumber; laundry, larndry; soot, sut; and blouse and vase, bloose and vaize. She sent her hair-combings to Paris to be made up into curls which her maid pinned to the front of her head.

On her aunt Con, who had been a militant suffragette:

I was frightened enough of her when she was shuffling about downstairs doing exquisite Japanese flower decorations with her left hand (it was her right side which was paralyzed), but very much worse was when we had to visit her, each in turn, in her very hot bedroom where she lay in bed peeling grapes for her Pekingese. She always wore purple velvet, even in bed, with her suffragette medals pinned to her chest, and she had flannel sheets which made the room feel horribly stuffy; but more dreadful than anything, she expected me to sit on a chair and converse with her... I have since discovered what a wonderful person she was, and one of my deepest regrets is that I failed to value her.

On the notorious Mr Leadbeater, aka Bishop, aka Brother:

Bishop had the merriest of twinkling blue eyes, a jolly manner and a very loud though pleasant voice. I was immediately impressed by his air of sparkling health, as if every faculty, mental and physical, was kept in perfect working order for immediate use. His teeth, although very white and apparently without decay, and certainly his own, were exceptionally long and pointed (all his visible teeth were like that, not just his eye teeth) so that the word vampire jumped to my mind. Under his cloak he wore a red cassock with a large amethyst cross dangling at the breast, and on the third finger of his right hand a huge amethyst ring. The impact of his personality was like a plunge into cold water.

Her portrait of Krishnamurti, the Theosophists' designated Messiah, is equally compelling, and strange: strange indeed to read of the "Messiah" as a teenager discovering P.G. Wodehouse.

Mary Lutyens also wrote several novels, and biographies of her father, the renowned architect Sir Edward Lutyens, and, in three volumes, Krishnamurti. She died in 1999; read her fascinating obituary here.

More anon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Arc of Writerly Action


Last Saturday I gave a talk on writing historical fiction at the annual American Independent Writers Association, held this year at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, just outside Washington DC. It was great fun-- and an honor-- to sit on a panel with such fine writers as David Taylor (moderator), Barbara Esstman, author of the novel The Other Anna, and Natalie Wexler, author of A More Obedient Wife. My own point of reference was my novel based on the true story, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which came out in paperback last spring from Unbridled Books, as well as some of my other books, both fiction and nonfiction.

I began by introducing what I call "the arc of writerly action." Imagine the following arrayed as a half circle:

1. Writing the beginning of first draft
2. Writing the middle of first draft
3. Writing to the end of the first draft
4. Inviting feedback
5. Revising (looping around 4 and 5 multiple times)
6. Selling (submitting to agents, publishers)
7. Moving through the process of production, including further revisions and copyediting
8. Marketing (readings, lectures, booksignings, book festivals, book clubs, interviews, blogging, etc)
9. Interacting with readers
10. Integrating the resulting changes into one's personal and professional life

At each stage the writer risks bogging down. Some, dreaming for years of their novel, never get the traction to even start, while others might race through the first several stages, then, after multiple rejections from agents, stop. Some manage to publish their book but, wincing from a first sharp review, dive deep into hiding.

The two main reasons writers get stuck, it seems to me, are first, they just don't care that much; and/or second, anxiety about rejection / criticism overwhelms their ability to take action. So for many writers, the middle of the first draft, just where things start getting tricky, is the most likely place to falter. Others stop dead at the first critical reactions to their manuscript. "I'm no good," I don't have talent," "this is a crazy waste of time," and so on-- I've heard so many writers muttering this sort of thing to themselves, and it is precisely what keeps them stuck in the muck.

The emotional exhaustion-- or shall I say anxiety fest/ despair?-- of accumulating agents' and editors' rejections is another cause for freeze-up. I would venture that there are more novels abandoned in drawers and boxes than are ever published.

Point 7 in the arc, moving through the production process, is especially challenging for writers aiming to self-publish. There are a thousand and eleven choices (which printer? print on demand? Smashwords, iUniverse, Lulu? Ebook, Kindle, Nook, and/ or PDF? Encypted PDF? What price? What type of cover, how to do the design it? How to distribute? Hire a fulfillment company? Rent space in a warehouse? Taxes? Do I need to file a "doing business as"? What are ISBNs? Should I get a barcode? etc)-- and so, a thousand opportunities to procrastinate.

Point 8, the marketing phase, can tangle down even the most intrepid writers. Especially women, so "nice girl" careful to not be "self promoters," and/ or -- both sexes fall prey to this one-- assuming the airy attitude, "I am the artist, I do not dirty my hands in the commercial world." As I always say, book promotion is not self-promotion; book promotion is book promotion, and when you have a real publisher, that publisher has employees and they are making their living, and not a very good one, probably, in working for your book and it is not, in any way, helpful to any of them for you to play tortoise.

Also, even though they work for your book, no one knows nor cares about your book as much you do, so it behooves you to get out there and do something for it. (Or, pray tell, why did you bother to write it?) Open a donut shop and see if you can sell even one of the hot-out-of-the-oven chocolatissimo yummies, by keeping your sign in the back of the mop closet.

Point 9, interacting with readers: here I am learning. I try to keep up with e-mail but I admit, I have fallen behind. I'm working on it...

Finally, point 10, integrating the changes resulting from publishing the book into one's personal and professional life: for some, this is a minor thing. But for others, it's more daunting than Mt Everest. I think it's like anything else-- graduating from college, getting married, buying a house, getting a job, having a baby, taking a trip, and so on... whether in a small way or a large way, publishing your book will change you-- how you see yourself, how others see you, and your responsibilities and opportunities. And this takes a little or a lot of adjustment-- should that come as any surprise? Alas, for some writers, it does. But that's life, yes? All about learning.

Of course, we all talked about research. I'll leave that subject for another blog post.

Here's the handout I provided at the event:

--> More resources on the “workshop” page

Panel on Writing Historical Fiction
American Independent Writers Association Conference
The Writer's Center, Bethesda, MD, June 11, 2011
_ _ _

A 3 Pronged Process (kind of sort of... prongs are webbed...)

1. Mastering the Techniques of Fiction

Boorstin, Jon, Making Movies Work:Thinking Like a Filmmaker
Gardner, John The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
*McKee, Robert, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
*Prose, Francine, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
Scarry, Elaine, Dreaming by the Book
Wood, James, How Fiction Works

2. Mastering the Management of Your Time and Creative Energies

*Baum, Kenneth, The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind-Body Connection
Cameron, Julia, The Artist's Way
Flack, Audrey, Art & Soul: Notes on Creating
Lamott, Anne, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Leonard, George, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
Maisel, Eric, PhD., Fearless Creating: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art
*Pressfield, Steven, The War of Art: Winning the Creative Battle
See, Carolyn, Making a Literary Life

3. Seeing, Knowing, and Telling the Truth

Butler, Robert Olen, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
*Ricco, Gabriele Lusser, Writing the Natural Way: Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers
*Smith, Pamela Jaye, Inner Drives: How to Write & Create Characters Using the Eight Classic Centers of Motivation
Simon, Mark, Expressions: A Visual Reference for Artists

More anon.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Monday Miscellanea

The Astral Plane by C.W. Leadbeater
And so many more once very rare and now free ebooks at Project Gutenberg

Book xylophone
A charmingly energetic image of the Apocalypse.

"When the Nile Runs Dry" by Lester R. Brown, NYT
This brings to mind some of what happened under Mexico's "Porfiriato" (late 19th c up through the 1910 Revolution).

"Emerging Economies Are Ready to Lead" by Agustin Carstens, Financial Times

Tell Your True Tales to Sam Quinones

Peter Behrens blogging on John Brinckerhoff Jackson

"It's Rainmaking Time" with Angela Thompson Smith

Time Slips: Twidders

Walden Font
Purveyors of old and historic fonts

Butch Anthony's Museum of Wonder (etsy blog)

Feltmaker Jean Hicks's Slideshow of Hats

Lisa Carter's Intralingo translation blog

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Mexico City Miscellanea: Links Apropos of an Ongoing Conversation

A most fascinating conversation this morning in Mexico City, apropos of which, this batch of links (some for me, some for my friend, and all for you):

Agustín Cadena "Por qué leo"
Brief, brilliant. I wish people who didn't read books would at least read this one page (ish) essay. Then they'd read books. And then they'd be happier. (It's in Spanish. I'm almost finished translating it into English.)

Those marvelous marbled papers from etsy:
My Marbled Papers
Marbled Goods

Steve Jobs' TED video of his Stanford University Commencement Speech

From the University of Chicago President's Office webpage biography of Robert Maynard Hutchins:
"Hutchins was a strong advocate of academic freedom, and as always refused to compromise his principles. Faced with charges in 1935 by drugstore magnate Charles Walgreen that his niece had been indoctrinated with communist ideas at the University, Hutchins stood behind his faculty and their right to teach and believe as they wished, insisting that communism could not withstand the scrutiny of public analysis and debate. He later became friends with Walgreen and convinced him to fund a series of lectures on democracy."

According to Hutchins in The University of Utopia, "The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens".

Quantifying an Aesthetic Form Preference in a Utility Function

Quantifying Happiness

Quantifying Rotation-Induced Illness in Squirrel Monkeys

Misery, Thy Name is Rumsfeld's Vacation Home

The Campaign for the IMF
People, get a clue.

Robert Darnton's new The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future

And last but not least, the podcast of my book presentation in Mexico City last week is now on-line. With Javier García Diego, Carlos González Manterola, Carlos Pascual, and Eduardo Turrent (En español.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Susan Coll's 5 Favorite Comic Novels

The best novelists are sociologists with a wicked sense of humor. In her widely celebrated novels Beach Week, Acceptance, and Rockville Pike, my amiga Susan Coll has upward-striving suburbia nailed. This month Picador has released the paperback edition of Beach Week, so click on through and get your chuckles. Here's what this master of the genre has to say about some of her own comic reading. Over to you, Susan.

Now there is a pig in this world named “Super Sad True Love Story,” the thought of which is nearly as funny as Gary Shteyngart’s self-same novel, winner of this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. It’s encouraging to see an American--even one who came by way of Russia--win this award, which usually goes to a Brit. A few pages into Super Sad it occured to me that this book does have something of a British sensibility in that Shteyngart's humor relies on the mortification of his male protagonist. This got me thinking about my favorite comic novels--or at least books that had me doubled over in laughter, and I have to confess that the British do seem to have a lock on the sort of droll, dark humor that typically does me in. As do, apparently, men--which is at least the sort of observation that helps get me out of bed and to my keyboard each morning.

1. Our Man in Havana, By Graham Greene (1958), in which a cash-strapped vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba is pressed into service by British intelligence to hilarious effect, and which, I only just learned from Wikipedia, was made into not just a film but an opera and a play.

2. Burmese Days, by George Orwell (1934), which you can read free, on-line, and which amazon describes as a mix of E.M. Forster and Jane Austen. “Stir in a bit of socialist doctrine, a sprig of satire, strong Indian curry, and a couple quarts of good English gin and you get something close to the flavor . . .”

3. A Good Man in Africa, by William Boyd (1982), about a hapless British diplomat in a fictitious African country in the fledgling days of independence. I wrote about this last summer for NPR:

4. The Wimbledon Poisoner, by Nigel Williams (1994), a suburban comedy about a man who tries to murder his wife. Confession: I read this so long ago that really all I remember is my own hysterical laughter. While I can’t vouch for how well it holds up, I can tell you who borrowed my book and failed to give it back, so perhaps you can consult with him.

5. Memories of the Ford Administration, by John Updike (1992). Odd that Updike, not known for his comedy, should be the token American on my list. I worked up the nerve to approach him at a conference many years ago, and told him how much I loved this novel. He seemed surprised, and said something about having almost forgotten writing it. I later told this to a book critic who scoffed and said, “minor Updike.” Minor Updike! The definition of an oxymoron? Or the fate, too often, of comic fiction?

--- Susan Coll

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest blog posts, click here.
Previous guest-blogger novelists include Janice Eidus; Sandra Gulland; Daniel Olivas; Leslie Pietrzyk; Joanna Smith Rakoff; and Porter Shreve.