Thursday, July 28, 2011

Like People You See in a Dream: An Excerpt from Miraculous Air About San Ignacio

The latest podcast is live
: my reading of an excerpt from Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions paperback; Dancing Chiva e-book). It's from an excerpt from the chapter about the Jesuit missions and San Ignacio, in the center of the peninsula. (Approximately 28 minutes.)

The e-book edition of Miraculous Air should be up on Kindle by the second week of August, if not sooner.

>Read more about this book here.
>Listen to another podcast from this book, about Baja California's pioneer sportfisherman, Bob van Wormer, here.

My podcasts are free; download them from podmatic or iTunes. For a complete list of podcasts, including those on creative writing, Mexican literature in translation, Mexico's Second Empire, and more, visit

Mexico City Melissa Garden and Las Azoteas de la Ciudad de México

It's the rainy season; almost every afternoon we get drenched. In the sunny mornings, the bees have been happily sipping at the lavender, but I couldn't find any on this rainy afternoon. Picadou (pug) stayed inside, cozy in her bed. (Acapulco it ain't.)

Here's another view, from the door, with the Ajusco in the distance.

What's a melissa garden? It is a honeybee and pollinator sanctuary. Click here to read all about the wonderful one in California.

Mexico City has long had a tradition of rooftop living. The flat rooftops are called "azoteas." Here's a classic and widely reproduced painting from the 19th century, "Las azoteas de la Ciudad de México" which shows the cathedral and the volcanos in the distance. (To my suprise-- and delight-- my publisher, Unbridled Books, included this painting in the cover design of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. It's a little difficult to see on-line, alas.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Emperor's Little Pears

Over at my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota, where I share research on Mexico's Second Empire, the tumultuous period also known as the French Intervention, a story from San Miguel de Allende.

Thanks to "greenfinger" at for the picture of the pears.

More anon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Niño Fidencio: De Roma a Espinazo

As part of my research for the introduction to my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual (forthcoming this November), I've been reading widely and watching documentaries about Spiritism in Mexico. One documentary I can recommend is the fascinating "Niño Fidencio: De Roma a Espinazo" which can be seen in its entirely, with English subtitles, at this link:

For anyone interested in Mexican spritism, this is a must-see, but even for those who are not, it provides a glimpse into the complexity and strangeness of Mexico, as well as the erosion of Catholic Church. The end of the film shows rare footage of Niño Fidencio being rolled over the top of a mosh pit and then, from on high, as a method of healing, pitching fruit at his followers.

For further reading, see Dore Gardner's Niño Fidencio: A Heart Thrown Open (University of New Mexico Press, 1999)

This is all very different from the more urban, Kardec-inspired Spiritism of Madero. But there are connections. More anon.

Interview by Jada Bradley for

... in which I talk about Dancing Chiva and bringing some of my books into digital editions. Read the interview here.

More interviews about Dancing Chiva Literary Arts here.

More anon.

First Newsletter Out via MailChimp

Mailchimp seems to be a very popular e-mail newsletter service, and I can see why. It's playful, easy to use, and inexpensive, in fact, free up to a very large number of emails. I just wrangled my way around it and sent out my first-- July 2011-- newsletter, covering news about my books, forthcoming works, podcasts, videos, articles, events, and writing workshops. I also included a free 50+ page e-book of tips for creative writers.

>>To view the July 2011 newsletter, click here.

>>To get that free e-book, sign up for my newsletter. Next one goes out in September.

P.S. I'm aiming to adhere to my own idea of best practices in sending newsletters. Read more about that here.

More anon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest-Blogger Eric D. Goodman 5 Train Stories Worth Riding

Guest-blogging this Wednesday is my fellow Maryland Writers Association member Eric D. Goodman, who has a new book out, Tracks: A Novel in Stories, set on a train traveling from Baltimore to Chicago. It has been garnering effusive praise, including from Madison Smartt Bell who calls it "a most cunningly crafted tale-- a perfect read for trains, planes, and automobiles... or even your armchair." Hop aboard at

Five Stories Set on Trains
By Eric D. Goodman

The train is a wonderful setting for a story. Trains are mysterious, exciting, and always in motion, the setting virtually unset. Strangers on a train are placed side by side to share a journey into the unknown, and in many cases, by the end of the line they are no longer strangers. Movies, novels, stories; adventures, comedies, mysteries—genres and themes as diverse as the passengers on a train. There are hundreds, but here are five train stories worth riding.

1. The Train
Those who appreciate art should appreciate this classic film starring Burt Lancaster, based on the true story about the looting of master paintings from the Musee du Jeu de Paume. A German officer steals a collection of French masterworks and loads them onto a train set for Germany. Labiche and the resistance vow to stop the train before it reaches the border.

2. Murder on the Orient Express
For the mystery lover, it doesn’t get much better than Agatha Christie’s Poirot mystery confined on a train. It was adapted to film more than once, the most successful version being the 1974 film starring Albert Finny, Sean Connery, Lauren Becall, and Anthony Perkins. But if you’re only now boarding this train, read the book before witnessing the movie.

3. The Iron Tracks
For a fine literary ride about a person’s quest for revenge, this is a novel to savor. The narrator, Siegelbaum, spends his life traveling by train through Austria to recover stolen pieces of Jewish culture. But when he reaches his underlying goal, it’s not all he imagined.

4. Silver Streak
Need a little comic relief? Look no further than this Gene Wilder – Richard Pryor comedy. Wilder’s character is a book editor who takes the train because he wants to be bored. That doesn’t work out as he gets involved with romance, multiple murders, and even a runaway train.

5. Strangers on a Train
You may have seen the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. But have you read the book by Patricia Highsmith? The master novelist of psychological thrillers and crime fiction (who also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley) is best known for this “exchange murder” story … which inspired train movies like Throw Momma from the Train, Dead End, Once You Kiss a Stranger, and an episode of The Simpsons. But those are for another list.

--Eric D. Goodman

---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo Blog's guest-blog posts, click here.
Some recent guest-blogs include:
*Susan Coll on 5 Comic Novels
*Richard Jeffrey Newman on 5 Sites to Learn More About the Shahnameh
*Roberta Rich on 5 + 1 Books to Inform a 16th Century Historical Thriller

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dancing Chiva's Maximiliana, Richard Salvucci on How Google Disprespected Mexican History, and Catherine Clinton on Mary Chesnut

UPDATE over at my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota, where I share my research on Mexico's Second Empire / French Intervention of the 1860s:

This blog has been quiet lately because I've been preparing the launch this fall of several e-books, including a few works of Maximiliana, and the e-book of my novel in Spanish translation, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano. (View the complete catalog here and watch my brief video about e-book cover design here.) ...CONTINUE READING

Monday, July 18, 2011

Podcasts for Writers

My podcasts for writers are now on their own reorganized webpage here. Download them for free on podomatic or itunes.

No workshop this summer, but on September 24 I'll be offering a one day workshop on "Techniques of Fiction" at the Writer's Center in Bethesda MD (near Washington DC) and in February 2012, for the San Miguel Writers Workshops, a two day, more in-depth workshop on the same. For updates, visit my workshop schedule.

More anon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Google Disrespected Mexican History

Just out: a profoundly important article by historian Richard J. Salvucci, about what happened to one of the priceless treasures of Mexican archives.

It should make us question the easy assumptions that digitalizing documents and books saves them for eternity, and so cheaply (a big argument thse days for cash-strapped libraries). Digitalization is more fragile, for both technical and economic reasons, than we often suppose-- and this story Salvucci tells about the sad odyssey of Paper of Record is a stunning example of that.

P.S. I have a deep affection and appreciation for old-fashioned libraries, having benefitted so much from so many of them. This is one of the reasons why my publishing firm, Dancing Chiva Literary Arts, while specializing mainly in e-books, will also be publishing limited editions beginning next year. I wonder whether e-books as we know them today will be around in even a few more years. Will the 2020 version of the Kindle or Nook download ancient (circa 2010) e-book libraries? Most people over the age of 25 have stories about once pricey but suddenly obsolete computers and computer paraphernalia. (Anyone still reading floppy discs?) In sum, as genuinely enthused as I am about digitalization, we must never forget the immense value of old-fashioned, you-can-actually-go-there-and-actually-touch-it archives and libraries.

More anon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

At Play in the Fields of Keynote: On Designing Dancing Chiva's E-Book Covers

So what's Dancing Chiva? It's a company I set up a few years ago to do writing workshops, and recently expanded into publishing. Like many writers whose book contracts of yore left them the digital rights, I am bringing some of my already published books into new life as e-books. But with Dancing Chiva I am also publishing some new works as e-books, for example, a collection of blog posts on creative writing and my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Spritist Manual, as well as long out-of-print or, in some cases, never-before-published works of Maximiliana. Check out the Dancing Chiva catalog here.

A note on the covers by C.M. Mayo

As a writer, I've had the sometimes disconcerting (if othertimes also joyous) experience of having someone else—a person I have never met and perhaps never will—design the covers of my books. I am talking about the professional graphic designer. Book cover design is a specialty informed by both graphic design principles and marketing. A publisher wants a book cover that fits with their brand image and— everyone hopes— will fly off the shelves to the cash registers. Alas, though sometimes fortuitously, the author's vision for the cover is not always taken into consideration, and in fact, very few publishers will cede approval to the author in a book contract (believe me, I've tried). . .CONTINUE READING.

Follow Dancing Chiva Literary Arts on Twitter @dancingchiva

P.S. Tuesdays are the day I usually update the Maximilian ~ Carlota research-sharing blog, but, as you can see, I've been otherwise occupied. I still have several file cabinets worth of research to share there, and I'll get back to it, asap.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Mini-Meditation

Trust me, when you watch this, you will feel infinitely better. (Make sure the volume is on.)

More anon.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

San Miguel Writers Conference February 2012 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

I'm teaching the two day only "Techniques of Fiction" workshop this time. Click here for more information.

My other workshops for 2011 and 2012 are listed on my workshop schedule. It's a bit sparse this year, as I'm working on a new novel (when that will be ready only the Muses know) and the prologue to Madero's Spiritist Manual, which comes out this November.

Get my free e-book C.M. Mayo on Creative Writing: The Best from the Blog here. Recent posts on creative writing not in this e-book include

>>Decluttering Your Writing: The Interior Decoration Analogy

>>The Arc of Writerly Action
From a panel discussion on writing historical fiction, American Independent Writers Association Conference, held at the Writer's Center

>>Language Overlay: A Technique of Fiction
A very simple yet very effective technique I learned from novelist Douglas Glover

More anon.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Language Overlay: A Technique of Fiction


Continuing the series of an every other week-ish post on creative writing:

One of the simplest and yet most effective techniques of fiction is "langage overlay." I first learned about this from the Canadian novelist Douglas Glover. In his essay, "The Novel as Poem," (in Notes Home from a Prodigal Son, Oberon, 1999), Glover talks about how he dramatically improved the original draft of his first novel with this technique:

My first person narrator was a newspaperman, he had printer's ink in his blood. [I went] through the novel, splicing in words and images, a discourse, in other words, that reflected my hero's passion for the newspaper world. So, for example, Precious now begins: "Jerry Menenga's bar hid like an overlooked misprint amid a block of jutting bank towers..." Or, in moments of excitement, the narrator will spout a series of headlines in lieu of thoughts.

The key word here is "passion." What is in your character's world that he or she would feel passionate about? There's not a linear formula to follow; just take a piece of paper and jot down any nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, concepts-- in short, whatever pops into your mind that might do.

For example, if your character is a doctor, perhaps her world might include:

stethoscope, Rx, nurse, pills, scalpel, sterile, billing, paperwork, white coat, bedside manner, cold corridors, patient, tubes, IV, tongue depresser, "Say 'ahhh!'"

If your character is a chef, perhaps:
skillet, toque, cooking school, spices, basil, aroma, seasoned, blisters on hands, oven mitt, scalloped potatoes, seared, grilled, boiled, steamed, souffle, sweating in a hot kitchen, hsssss of sausage hitting the oil, Salvadorean pot-washers, waiters, paté, fois gras, freshness, crispness, apron

And surely, with a few minutes and pencil you can add another 10 to 100 more items.

But to continue, let's say your character is a beekeeper:
Bees, hives, smoker, sunshine, blossoms, clover, lavender, moths, gnats, sting, hive tool , veil, gloves, seasons, orchards, Queen, drone, worker, nectar, pollen, propolis, furry, wings, extractor, candles, farmer's markets, bottles, pans, wax, comb, jars, raspberry, apple, recipes, candy, pesticides, "ouch!" mites, cold, wind, directions, forest, nature

Or a shaman:
drum, flutes, shells, spells, chimes, stones, nature, mmm-bb-mmmm-bb, animals, wolves, robes, chants, tent, walking, dancing, running, wind, rain, sun, moon, stars

A writing conference organizer (this went over with a few chuckles at the San Miguel Writers Conference last year):
Internet, paper, books, authors, per diem, agents, writers, money, volunteers, hotel, telephone, e-mail, facebook, "what's he published?"

Of course you needn't incorporate everything on your list anymore than you would eat everything laid out on a smorgasboard. Browse, sniff, nibble, gorge, ignore-- as you please.

To give you an example from my own writing: one of the main characters in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, is Maximilian von Habsburg, the Austrian archduke who became Mexico's ill-fated second emperor. One of the techniques I used to find my way into his point of view was, precisely, language overlay. Before coming to Mexico, Maximilian had served as an admiral in the Austrian Navy, so no doubt he would have used or oftentimes thought of such words as:
starboard, deck, batten the hatches, gimbles, compass, bridge, wake...

In short, I made a long messy-looking list and kept it pinned to the bulletin board by my desk. I also used a Thesaurus, adding terms I didn't think of right away: "kedge" was one. So I had a scene where, in land-locked Mexico City of 1866, Maximilian informs his aide that they're going on a brief vacation to Cuernavaca. "We'll just kedge over there..." Ha! Kedge! One of those perfectly precise words that makes novelists unhunch from their laptops, raise both fists and shout, YEEEE-AH!!! Which, you can be sure, will startle the dog.

The exercise I always give my writing workshop students:

First make your language list for the doctor. Then, in 5 minutes (about a paragraph), have him take a cooking class.

Douglas Glover's essay "The Novel As Poem" is such an important one for any creative writer to read, I would recommend buying the collection, Notes Home from a Prodigal Son, for that alone-- but the collection does in fact include many other excellent and illuminating essays. Visit the publisher's website here.

UPDATE: I'm teaching "Techniques of Fiction" for the San Miguel Writers Workshop in San Miguel de Allende in February 2012. Read more about that here.

Most recent podcast for writers: Decluttering Your Writing: The Interior Decoration Analogy.