Monday, January 30, 2012

Brutal Journey: Cabeza de Vaca and the Epic First Crossing of America by Paul Schneider

It's peculiar that Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca is not better known. That old saw, "truth is stranger than fiction" applies in his case, or at least his version of events, which one might as well believe because the fantastic fact is, Cabeza de Vaca did reappear in northern Mexico in late April of 1536, one of only four survivors of the 400 who participated in the Narváez expedition to Florida in March of 1528. He left a memoir, translated as Castaways, and based on this, as well as other documents and archaelogical research about the peoples he encountered, Paul Schnieder has written a jaw-stopping story that reads like a novel. It's only January, but without a doubt, Brutal Journey will go on my top 10 books read list for 2012. A few links for surfers:

Paul Schneider's website

The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca 1542, translated by Fanny Bandelier, 1905

Nicholás Echeverría's movie, Cabeza de Vaca, on Netflix

A bit about Guillermo Sheridan's screenplay for that same movie

Angell Expeditions, owned by Charlie Angell, expert wilderness guide, who is very knowledgable about the areas Cabeza de Vaca visited in the Big Bend region (La Junta de los Ríos and northwest).

UPDATE : Listen to my interview with Charles Angell.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Links Noted: Yayoi Kusama, Kevin Kelly, Thumb Thing, Sam Quinones, Ken Ackerman, Joy of Books, Ken Gordon

The World According to Yayoi Kusama
(The Financial Times)
A very unusual elderly artist whose polkadotted pumpkins fetch the price of a ski condo.

The Art of Endless Upgrades
(Kevin Kelly's The Technium blog)
I was thinking just the same thing the other day when I had to upgrade my operating system for the second time in a year.
(KK's latest book, What Technology Wants, is on my Top 10 Books Read 2011)

The greatest pug picture ever
(Burro Hall)
By someone who has a highly strange sense of humor.

The Thumb Thing
The Spoonsisters
(Did they just come up with this in the 21st century? I think I need one of these.)

Sam Quinones' True Tales
Cool, generous, amazing, engaging, and frequently updated.

Viral History
A blog hosted by historian Ken Ackerman
Highly recommended. Sign up for the free newsletter.

The Joy of Books Video
Yikes, 2 million plus views already!

People Who Claim to Communicate / Have Communicated with Disembodied Consciousnesses
My updated list for surfers in the more esoteric waters. (Apropos of my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911. Stay away from those Ouija boards...)
Hopping freaked about about that 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission? Ken Gordon is doing something about it and so can you.

More anon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Newsletter January 2012

Last year, after I found out about mailchimp on the bodaciously good swissmiss design (and general creativity) blog, I signed up and started sending a newsletter about my books, podcasts, upcoming writing workshops, etc., every once in a while (I'm aiming for 4 - 6 times a year) for those who would like to receive it. (Read about my newsletter philosophy here; sign up to receive the next one-- which will probably go out in March or April-- here.)

Dear Subscribers,

Warmest wishes for the new year and welcome to all, and an especially warm welcome to those of you who are new to this list. There's something in this newsletter for writers, anyone interested in Mexico, Iceland, undercover CIA agents (yeah!) and West Texas.

The past couple of months have been all about podcasting and a bit about making videos. As a writer enchanted by the myriad possibilities of enhancing text in the digital age, this is so exciting! Thanks to Ruben Pacheco . . READ MORE

Monday, January 16, 2012

Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project: Welcome and Introduction

Today, Monday, January 16, 2012 is the launch of the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project: Exploring Marfa, Texas and Environs in 24 Podcasts, one per month through 2013. This project is lieu of (though maybe in addition to) writing magazine articles as I proceed with a book project the title of which... well, it's way too early to say much about that. Suffice it to say it will be a travel memoir about West Texas.

>>Listen in to today's podcast here.

The next Marfa Mondays podcast will go live on Monday February 20th. I am not sure yet but I expect it will be about Cabeza de Vaca's epic journey through the region in the 16th century.

It's been an age since I did some travel writing. My book on Baja California, Miraculous Air, came out in (ayy!) 2002. Since then, I published a couple of long essays in literary journals, (The Essential Francisco Sosa or, Picadou's Mexico City and From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion), but almost all my recent writing has been either blogging or fiction, e.g., The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (2009), another novel in progress, and translations of work by Mexican writers Agustín Cadena, Álvaro Enrigue, and Francisco I. Madero. I am very much looking forward to doing more travel writing; apart from venturing into odd corners of the world, one of the things I love about it is the chance to interview people.

Follow the Marfa Mondays Podcasts on twitter @marfamondays or sign up for my free newsletter here.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Yes, I Finished War and Peace on December 31, 2011

One of my resolutions for 2011 was to read War and Peace. This was, in fact, also a resolution for 2009 and for 2010... so, round about late October, I realized that if I didn't want to (sigh) put it on my resolutions for 2012 list, I'd better get cracking. It also occured to me that, as a novelist myself and a creative writing teacher, it would be an excellent exercise to keep a blog.

I'm always telling my students how important it is for a writer to read not as a passive consumer, nor as an English major, but as a fellow craftsman looking to see how, precisely, the thing was made. Some questions to ask are, what strikes you as especially good and why? Can you identify a specific technique that you could use? And if anything bores you, why does it bore you? And so on. (I'll be teaching a two day "Techniques of Fiction" workshop in San Miguel de Allende on February 20th and 21st and so I'll be updating my handouts on using point of view, detail, dialogue, etc etc with some examples from War and Peace.)

It turned out that throughout a rather crushing holiday season I was able to keep up with the reading but not, alas, the blog. I'm almost caught up with the blog, however. Meanwhile, you can check it out here.

Final word: wow. War and Peace is one of the best books I have ever read. It does take some investment and persistence, especially in the first few chapters, but it will blow the top of your head off. I'll have quite a bit more to say about it in the next few days as I finish up the blogging there.

P.S. This week I'm also getting ready to launch the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project on January 16th. Follow on twitter @marfamondays

UPDATE (January 14): The Reading War & Peace is finished-- check out the conclusions (no worries, not a plot spoiler) here.