Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Seymour on TED
How Beauty Feels

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

More anon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Onward, War and Peace

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Conversation with Other Writers Podcast: Solveig Eggerz on Seal Woman

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

Listen in on podomatic or, listen in on iTunes.

Here's the official description:

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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

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

From the jacket:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Andrew Dayton

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day: My Dad on the Importance of Sharing Research

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

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


Here's the official press release:


NOVEMBER 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

WHERE: Cyberspace, space, and Mexico City.

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

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

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

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







Dancing Chiva Literary Arts

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

>> Q & A here.

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

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

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

Monday, November 07, 2011