Friday, February 28, 2014

Writers Blogs: Questions and Observations Post Panel at AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference in Seattle

Apart from getting my picture taken in the book fair holding a loft a giant stuffed fish, late yesterday afternoon I was on the panel chaired by poet Zack Rogow with novelist Charles Johnson (standing in for E. Ethelbert Miller) and another extraordinary poet, Mark Doty.

Doty gave the lie to my rather cavalier assertion that blogging about oneself was narcissistic. I still have zero interest in blogging about my personal life (so far, no tweeting about my food, either!!), but Mark read from his blog a piece about his personal life, a painful story about how his house "bit him," pure poetry, and all I can say is, I salaam.  Do read more over at Doty's blog.

Charles Johnson paid homage to dear Ethelbert, who has long been an angel of both Washington DC and national literary culture.

Zack Rogow's talk, about his go-to blog, Advice for Writers, started out with practical tips for bloggers and ended with a reading from his blog of his new translation of Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo," the poem that ends with one of the most jarringly perfect last lines.

My talk was "Eight Conclusions After 8 Years of Blogging."

To get a sense of the level of things, I first asked the audience, maybe 150 writers, how many had blogs? Up went the overwhelming majority of hands. How many had been blogging for more than 2 years? A sparse scattering. Five years? I counted two hands. Oh my goodness, I felt like Methuselah.

As for the questions, what struck me about many of them (both during and after the event) was their anxious flavor, the concern about the variety of problems a blog could bring a writer. There are valid concerns, of course, and it's good to get one's mind around the genre, or at least take its temperature and a sounding before doing a cannonball into the deep end. But it seems to me that what we basically have here is the very same fear around any writing, any publishing. It's all just "monsters under the bed" stuff, after all. Or, as Rose Rosetree calls it, STUFF, that is, astral clutter, including frozen blocks, in one's personal energy field.

Speaking of clutter, one of the many appealing things to me about blogging is that it doesn't require physical space except for, say, a place to plunk one's laptop while typing. All of my book projects, on the other hand, have each produced a mountain of research files and then contracts and then marketing materials and such, plus a little (well, not so little) library of related books. Finding space is a challenge.

More anon.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Writers' Blogs (and My Blog): Eight Conclusions After 8 Years of Blogging

Herewith, the notes for my talk for the Associated Writing Programs conference panel discussion "Homesteading the Digital Frontier: Writers' Blogs."

MADAM MAYO Blog is now on a new platform at To read this post on the new platform, click here.

How to blog, how not to blog... that was a hot topic a few years ago, when blogging was new, and indeed in 2008, for the Maryland Writers Association conference I gave a talk on the best practices for writers' blogs. But that was then and this is now. Now I don't have so much advice; what I have are some conclusions about what's right for me and, sort of maybe kind of, by extension, for other literary writers. There isn't any one right way to do this-- what might annoy this reader enchants another, and anyway, someone is always barging in with something new.

To switch metaphors: this genre is built of jelly. Electrified jelly in rainbow hues.

I started blogging with Madam Mayo back in the spring of 2006. I kept at it, blogging once, twice, sometimes more often, every week. By the end of this March it will have been eight years. What have I concluded?

# 1. I remain charmed by the name of my blog, "Madam Mayo." 

I was a little uneasy about it at first. It seems nobody gets the joke, that it's a play on Madam Mao. Oh well. It still makes me chuckle.

As a reader, I appreciate fun or at least memorable names for blogs. A few examples:

Mr. Money Mustache
Pigs, Gourds and Wikis (Liz Castro)
Jenny Redbug (Jennifer Silva Redmond)
E-Notes (E. Ethelbert Miller)
Real Delia (Delia Lloyd)
Cool Tools (Kevin Kelly)
The Metaphysical Traveler (John Kachuba)
The Blue Lantern (Jane Librizzi)
Chico Lingo (Sergio Troncoso)
Quid Plura? (Jeff Sypeck)
Poet Reb Livingston's now unavailable blog, Home Schooled By a Cackling Jackal, that was my all-time fave.

#2. Whoa, blogging has an opportunity cost. 
For me, looking back at eight years, it's probably a novel that didn't get written, plus a few essays and articles in newspapers and magazines that didn't get polished up, submitted and published. Do I regret that? Yes, but not hugely because in those eight years I did manage to publish three books (Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion; a novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire; and Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual), plus I published several Kindles (Miraculous Air; From Mexico to Miramar; The Building of Quality; El último principe del Imperio Mexicano), plus I promoted a paperback edition of my travel memoir; I also published several articles, scads of book reviews, poems, more translations, and over 30 podcasts. Oh, and I wrote an ebook of writing exercises and an ebook, Podcasting for Writers. So you can't say I'm not a productive writer. But yes... (sigh)... I do wish I could have written that novel.

# 3. But on the plus side, frequent blogging, like a jogging routine for an athlete, helps me stay in shape as a writer. 

Indeed, if I hadn't been blogging over these past 8 years, perhaps I would not have been as productive as a writer. So maybe the opportunity cost was the other way around! But that's probably wishful thinking. My sense is I blogged just the right amount for me at the time. I blogged more frequently the first couple of years, back when I was still trying to get my mind around the nature of the genre. Looking forward: Best for me to blog once a week, maybe twice.

# 4. Although my ego would like Madam Mayo to draw legions of passionate followers, all perched at the edge of their seats for my next post, ready to fly to their keyboards with their hailstorm of comments...  The fact is, writing that strives for an ever-larger following is not the best strategy for me as a literary artist or as a person. 

I think egos are rather like big dogs. They protect you, they love you, but they bark a lot and sometimes they slobber. For mea literary writer whose focus through several books in multiple genres has been examining various regions and aspects and periods of Mexico in an international context, numbers of followers... well, let me put it this way: If what I'd really wanted was a mass following, I wouldn't be writing the kinds of books I'm writing. QED.

> See The Whopper-Foie analogy.

> And: Through narrative we become more human. Truth is beauty. Exploration is infinite.

# 5.  Not all, certainly, but a sizable number of people who trouble to comment on blogs seem stuck in Emotional Kindergarten. 

One day they shall evolve to their next educational opportunity; meanwhile, I am not in the business of managing snotty little brats pushing each other off the swings in Blogland. Therefore I do not manage nor publish comments on my blog. But because I hope I am not shouting into the wind here I do care about hearing from thoughtful and civilized readers I always include a link that goes to a contact page on my website. So, with two clicks away from my blog post, any reader can send me an email. What I have very happily learned is that spammers and trolls don't bother. That extra click and knowing in advance that their comment will probably not be published, wow, that is a Mount Rainier-sized barrier. With my no comments but email link in place, so far, fingers crossed, I have yet to receive an email from anyone but the readers I want to have, that is, civilized and intelligent people.

# 6. Blogging is very much like publishing a literary short story or book it goes out into the world to an opaque response. 

We might scare up some numbers, say, as how many people clicked on a blog post and at what time of day via which search engine, or how many bookstores ordered how many copies of a book. But even with endless hours of crunching through, say, Google Analytics, we may never know, the reaction of every single reader. All of us read thousands of things we never comment on, dozens and dozens of books we will never reviewthough some of them may prove deeply meaningful to us in the course of our lives. As anyone who has published a blog or a book knows, sometimes the silence can be downright eerie. So if you want to write a book or a blog post, it helps to have the tough-mindedness to accept that maybe... you will never know the true, full nature of the response. Maybe the person who will most appreciate a given blog post has not yet been born. Or maybe my best blog post will find its biggest fan next week. Maybe what I said yesterday changed someone's life today in... Australia. I don't know. And that's OK. I write anyway. That is the kind of writer I am.

# 7. More on the plus side: sharing what I call cyberflanerie and celebrating friends and colleagues and books and all wonder of things is a delight. 

(In ye olden days, we would take scissors and cut things out of magazines and end up with overstuffed files full of yellowing papers. Difficult to share.)

# 8. Madam Mayo is not so much my so-called "platform," but rather, a net that catches certain special fish the readers who care about the things I care to write about. 

(And this is especially true for my other blogs, Maximilian-Carlota and Reading Tolstoy's War and Peace.)

This last conclusion is the one that took me the longest to reach. It seems obvious to me now, and it probably will for you also, but back when blogs were new it was difficult to appreciate both their nature and their potential. Back when, most people thought of them as a diarya web log which is how we got the term "blog." The idea, supposedly, was to talk about yourself, frequently. I know it turned off a lot of writers at the time. I had zero interest in blogging about my personal life.

Another way writers thought about blogs and at first I had a foot in this camp was as a digital newspaper column. If you were good, if you put out well-crafted and witty and super informative posts, you'd get readers. You'd be famous! You could sell more of your books! Wow, maybe even sell ads and ka-ching, ka-ching! 

But of course, anybody can start a blog. The gates blown open, suddenly, there popped up a million wonderful and a zillion crappy blogs, and everything in between, all muddled up together, hay, needles, kitchen sinks, elderly lama. Back in 2007, 2008, most serious writers I knew turned their noses up at blogging, as something for wannabes, for kids. But by 2009, 2010, those same writers, nagged by their publishers' marketing staffs, I suppose, had started blogging to promote their books. (From what I can see from all those blogs that petered out once the book tour was over, or sometimes not even halfway through, if marketing a book is the only goal, one is unlikely to be able to sustain the energy to keep at it for more than a few months, at best.)

But here's the wonder: The diary and the newspaper column of yore were not searchable the way digital material is. The paper diary was tucked in someone's drawer; the newspaper, after a day, lined the bottom of the proverbial parrot cage. OK, a very few people might go search things cataloged in a library. And a collection of newspaper articles might end up in a book... one day. But basically, massive an audience as some newspapers columnists enjoyed, before the digital revolution, their writing was ephemeral.

A blog, however, can be found at anytime by anyone anywhere (OK, maybe not in Burma). As people search for words, phrases, topics, names, and come upon Madam Mayo, and its many blog posts with many links to whatever interests me and all about my works, books, ebooks, podcasts, articles, newsletter, and so on and so forth, it serves as a kind of net that catches a certain kind of fish. Over time, as I continue to blog, to add tags and links, my fishnet grows. So now, after 8 years, I have a very big fishnet. And some very nice fish have come in. Though I don't know who you all are, I sincerely appreciate you, dear readers. Cheers to you!

More anon.

UPDATE 2016: On the occasion of this blog's 10th anniversary.
UPDATE 2017: On the occasion of this blog's 11th anniversary.

Your comments are always very welcome.

I also welcome you to sign up for my newsletter 
which is free, goes out every other month (more or less).

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Secret Life of a Secret Book: The Barcelona Edition of Francisco I. Madero's Manual espírita

The edition from Barcelona's Casa Editorial Maucci,
date unknown, but after 1913.
(The original Manual espirita was published
in Mexico in 1911.)
Its author, Bhima, was Francisco I. Madero,
leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution
and President of Mexico, 1911-1913.
Very few people in Mexico know about Francisco I. Madero's Manual espírita, which I translated into English for the first time as Spiritist Manual on its centennial, 2011. It is true, as I detail in my new book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, that some of Madero's political enemies knew about it-- in fact, the Reyistas published "Bhima's" book, unmasking the author, Mexico's president-elect at the time, precisely in order to damage his reputation. As every Mexican schoolchild learns, President Madero, Mexico's "Apostle of Democracy," was murdered in the coup d'etat of 1913. It would seem that the few thousand copies of his Manual espírita then sank into oblivion.

While some Mexican historians-- Enrique Krauze, Yolia Tortolero, Manual Guerra de Luna and Alejandro Rosas, among others-- have written about Madero's Spiritism, it remains a "not ready for prime time subject," and I can tell you it is not easy to find a copy of the Manual espírita.

In 2000, Alejandro Rosas brought out the collected works of Madero, including his Manual espírita,  but that volume of that series is now scarce. (I did find a copy in a used bookstore in Mexico City, but it took some effort.) Gustavo de Anda published an edition in the 1970s but I have yet to find a copy of that. And, as I lately learned, a very small print run sponsored by the State of Quintano Roo came out in 2000. Bottom line: until 2010, when a Mexican government website commemorating the Revolution of 1910 posted a PDF (as one of a multitude of historical documents), one had to have access to a major library or get into the archives to see it. A copy is in Mexico's Ministry of Finance, which holds the Francisco I. Madero archive; another is in the remains of his personal library in the Centro de Estudios de la Historia de Mexico CARSO in Mexico City.

Since I collect rare books, I had an eye out for the 1911 edition of the Manual espirita. Every week or so, I would (and still do) surf onto Google and the rare book dealers websites to look for it. One day, bingo, there it was-- Bhima's Manual espírita, "circa 1900." Apparently the seller did not realize that Bhima was Madero's pseudonym. The price was-- well, let's call it peanuts. So I bought it. Imagine my surprise when I opened the package to find Bhima's Manual espírita, ancient browned paper, the same exact text but slightly different design-- from the Casa Editorial Maucci of Barcelona!

It did not have a date of publication but at the bottom of the title page it said:

Gran medalla de oro en las Exposiciones de Viena de 1903, Madred 1907, Budapest 1907, Londres 1913, París 1913, y gran premio en la de Buenos Aires 1910.

So: this places the date of its publication in Spain sometime after 1913. 

And now I learn, on this Spanish website, Grupo Espírita de la Palma, that there is an edition of Madero's Manual espírita published in Spain in 1924.

I suspect, given that Casa Editorial Maucci seemed to be taking medals so frequently, that the 1924 edition was not the one I bought-- I suspect that mine came out earlier, closer to 1913. But that's just a guess.

Nonetheless, whether there were one or more editions out of Barcelona, first published closer to 1913 or later, in 1924, the existence of an edition from Spain strongly suggests that Madero's Manual espírita had a wider influence on the Spiritist movement than I or any Mexican historians previously suspected.

And there may be more. I understand that Spanish translations of the French Spiritist books (and perhaps also the Manual espírita itself?), played a key role in bringing Spiritism to the Philippines. It certainly will be interesting to see what turns up.

>Watch a 3 minute video about another very rare book, the 1907 translation of Leon Denis' Después de la muerte by Ignacio Mariscal, then Mexico's Foreign Minister, which was sponsored by Francisco I. Madero and his father.
>For more about my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, I invite you to visit the webpage. It is now available in both Kindle and paperback
>The Spanish edition, Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana, which includes a reprint of the original Manual espírita, will be available soon. Is now available.
> More blog posts about this book-- and other information for researchers 


Biografía (Biography) edited by Mílada Bazant (and my essay about El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano)

una colección de ensayos
compilada por
Mílada Bazant
Prólogo de Enrique Krauze

Reposting from my other blog (sharing research about Mexico's tumultuous period of the 1860s known as the French Intervention / Second Empire):

It was a delight and an honor to be able to attend Mexican historian Mílada Bazant's book presentation yesterday evening at the Fería Internacional del Libro in Mexico City's Palacio de Minería. The book, with a splendid prologue by Mexico's leading biographer, Enrique Krauze, is Biografía. Métodos, metodologías y enfoques
(El Colegio Mexiquense, 2013). 

Other contributors include Mary Kay Vaughn, Carlos Herrejón Paredo, Daniela Spenser, Rodrigo Terrazas Valdez, Esther Acevedo, Francie Chassen-López, María Teresa Fernández Aceves, Ma. de Lourdes Alvarado, María del Carmen Collado, Susana Quintanilla, Ana Rosa Suárez Arguello, Celia del Palacio, and Yours Truly.

(Bazant is the author of a fine biography, Laura Méndez de Cuenca. Mujer indómita y moderna (1853-1928). Vida cotidiana y entorno. El Colegio Mexiquense. Gobierno del Estado de México; México, 2009.)

Fería Internacional del Libro,
Palacio de Minería,
Ciudad de México, 2014
You can read my essay, which is about the nature of the literary novel per se, and blending the fiction and nonfiction in my own novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empirehere. (The essay is in Spanish and refers to Agustín Cadena's Spanish translation of the novel, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano.)

You can order a copy of Bazant's Biografía here.
ISBN 978-607-7761-52-5

P.S. Please be sure to see the previous post about the excellent conference running this winter and spring 2014 about Maximilian in Mexico at the Centro CARSO in Mexico City. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Camelmania Edition

Gearing up to return to my far West Texas book project-- so I am reading up on camels, which were imported to that desert region by the U.S. Army back in the 19th century. 

George Marsh's 1856 classic The Camel, now a free download on

Texas Mountain Trail Daily Photos: Trekking with the Camels of Far West Texas

Watch this 6 minute (ish) video about the US Army Camel Experiment

But there is oodles more about camels!

Australia: Home to the World's Largest Camel Herd
BBC News article by Sarah Bell

Dairy Owners Promote Camel Milk Benefits
By Sue Manning July 16, 2010

Camel Milk For Sale

Camel Racing in Qatar (spot the robot jockeys at 4 minutes in)

Camel Jumping (as in jumping over camels)

Camel Charisma: Realizing the True Potential of Camels

Lonesome Bull Ranch has camels for sale

Lazy Dog Ranch offers:
Caring for Your Camel 

Camel Clinic

The NYT sez: Camels Had No Biz in Genesis
And The Guardian weighs in with "The Old Testament's made-up Camels are a Problem for Zionism"
But Madam Mayo sez: Just because a small group of archaeologists has not found and properly identified extremely ancient camel bones does not necessarily mean they are not there-- nor does it mean that camels were not there. Have any of these people ever heard of the concept of "sample size?" As in, you have to have a meaningful sample size before you can draw a meaningful conclusion? Madam Mayo, betraying neither her opinion of the Bible nor of Zionism, shakes her head slowly.

Yours Truly on a camel
(I say they are to a mules as a Cadillac to a pickup truck.)

Giant Ancient Camel Roamed the Arctic
History in the Headlines article by Jennie Cohen... so the camel originates in North America, after all.

Mecca of Camelmania: The Pushkar Camel Fair

Everything you always wanted to know about camel hair.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Guiseppe Garibaldi's "A Toast to Rebellion" and the Mexican Revolution of 1910

Guiseppe Garibaldi posing in Russian Uniform
One of the little-known but movie-worthy aspects of Mexico's 1910 Revolution is the role of mercenaries-- American machine-gunners, Germans of various stripes, a Scandinavian (yes, really) and even an Italian of some fame: the self-styled "freedom fighter" Guiseppe Garibaldi II, whose hard-to-find memoir, A Toast to Rebellion, 1935, is now available for free at (Note: if you have trouble accessing it you might need to set up a free acount with openlibrary. My understanding is that the book is now in the public domain. Tip: you may be able to find a copy at

A few notes: The chapter "Viva Madero!" begins on page 219.

"But I never got to China...All unwittingly I arrived in Mexico on the eve of momentous events." 


Garibaldi describes the leader of the Revolution, Francisco I. Madero as:

"A small and unassuming man, with a twitch in his neck which caused his head to jerk nervously toward his frail left shoulder, he has been called an idealist and a dreamer, as if these were terms of reproach. Events have proved that he was too trusting, but he possessed an undaunted faith and a superb courage. His tragic end will forever remain a blot on Mexico's history."

p. 225
"Following the guide Orosco [sic] had sent into El Paso to escort us, we secretly crossed the Rio Grande and were led to the rebel camp hidden in the hills... Orosco awaited us standing up, his lean tall figure outlined against a low fire. He received us courteously enough, offered coffee all around, but I felt a latent hostility in his manner."

He is referring to Pascual Orozco, one of the leaders of the Revolution, who would later turn against Madero and ally himself with General Victoriano Huerta.

p. 231 Garibaldi meets Madero:

"You are Garibaldi," he said, stepping forward to seize my hand.
"Yes, Señor Presidente," I replied, for it was Madero.
... The President was thirty-seven, I was thirty-one, and most of the others were still younger. None but myself had any previous military experience. But that meeting marked the first decisive step in the victorious revolution which overthrew Díaz. Faith more than made up for youth and inexperience....

There is also a very interesting bit about the Titantic on p. 311 

In sum: rollicking good reading for anyone interested in an eyewitness account of the 1910 Revolution, and globe-trotting adventure. 

Strange that there were mercenaries in Mexico's Revolution? Not at all. A war is like a magnet-- everyone and anyone who wants action feels the pull. 

> For more about the Mexican Revolution of 1910, my book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual is now (Feb 2014) in Kindle and paperback. 

> The Spanish edition, Odisea metafísica hacia la revolución Mexicana, translated by Agustín Cadena, is forthcoming, I hope as soon as March. is also available.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cyberflanerie: The Voynich Manuscript, Books, Used Books, Rare Books, and the Future of Bookstores Edition

Totally huge news: The mysterious circa 15th or 16th century Voynich manusucript might be of Mexican origin: Arthur O. Tucker and Rexford H. Talbert make a very interesting case in, of all places, HerbalGram, the Journal of the American Botanical Council, issue 100, 2013, in their article "A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Minerology of the Voynich Manuscript." Could the strange, supposedly cipher, language have been simply a dialect of Nahuatl?

To see the Voynich manuscript on-line, check it out at the website of Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. 

Sam Quinones, a most original and intrepid journalist, who hosts the Tell Your True Tale website, has just brought out the Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles, in both paperback and Kindle.

Novelist and blogger Carmen Amato has asked Yours Truly and other "influential bloggers" to pontificate on the Future of Bookstores. (For some visuals, try this.)

The Rambling Boy of the Big Bend Sentinel, Lonn Taylor, goes browsing for bargains at used bookstores.

Find books with Bibliopolis.

Here's a cool new venue for selling books: Gumroad. Stay tuned on that front.

More anon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Andrew Jackson Davis, the Seer of Poughkeepsie

One of the many unlikely personalities featured in my latest book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, is the so-called "Seer of Poughkeepsie," Andrew Jackson Davis, the "John the Baptist" of Spiritualism-- from whence came Spiritism.

(For Mexicans and anyone else wondering how to pronounce Poughkeepsie: pa-kip-si.)

A brief excerpt:

Born in 1826 to working-class parents, Davis received boyhood training in tailoring from a Mesmerist who recognized his psychic talents. Soon Davis was well-known in the region for his clairaudience (psychic hearing) and clairvoyance (psychic sight), which he used for making medical diagnoses. One day in 1844, he claimed he fell into a trance and woke to find himself in the Catskill Mountains, some 65 kilometers northwest of Poughkeepsie, where he conversed with the spirits the Greco-Roman physician and philosopher Galen and the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, who had died more than 70 years before. Subsequently, over a period of little more than a year, by entering a trance and allegedly channeling the words from spirits, Davis wrote a book. Published in 1847 when he was twenty one years old, his nearly 800-page opus, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations and a Voice to Mankind, foresaw the explosion of Spiritualism in the following year. The famous quote:
"It is a truth that spirits commune with one another while one is in the body and the other in the higher spheres. . . and this truth will ere long present itself in the form of a living demonstration. And the world will hail with delight the ushering-in of that era when the interiors of men will be opened, and the spiritual communion will be established such as is now being enjoyed by the inhabitants of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn."
Davis’ Principles of Nature was a best-seller of its day—according to historian Mitch Horowitz, it sold nearly a thousand copies in its first week. For many readers the “proof of the pudding” that this was genuine communication from beyond the veil was that its author was not only so young but unschooled. Davis himself claimed he’d read almost nothing in his entire life. A professor of Hebrew at New York University, one George Bush, assured the New York Tribune that he had heard the entranced Davis quote Hebrew correctly and “display a knowledge of geology which would have been astonishing in a person of his age, even if he had devoted years to the study.”
It did not go unremarked, and Davis readily acknowledged, that his Principles of Nature echoed much that was in Swedenborg’s works. And here we must dig a little further and examine one more root of roots: Swedenborgianism, which had arrived on American shores in the late eighteenth-century, when an Englishman brought Swedenborg’s books and their stunning revelations to Philadelphia.

More about Swedenborg anon.

Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America, a book I found invaluable for my researches, notes this on his blog over at Huffington Post:

"One of the most quietly monumental figures of the nineteenth-century was the American trance medium Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910), known (sometimes jokingly) in the press as the "Poughkeepsie Seer" for his Hudson Valley, New York, home.
Davis coined the term "Law of Attraction," though in a subtler sense from how it is used today. More significantly, the New Yorker's trance-based dictations, which he folded into several massive books starting in 1847, united the progressive and mystical impulses of the era. .. READ MORE

Horowitz also posted a bit about this beautifully done 20 minute documentary directed by Julia Bailey Johnson and other Vassar College students, "The Seer of Poughkeepsie," a poetic take on past and present Poughkeepsie, and which features an interview with Mitch Horowitz. Well worth watching.

>More blog posts about Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Memoirs of Rafael L. Hernández Madero (Memorias de Rafael L. Hernández)

In the past few years a passel of vitally important biographies and memoirs of the Mexican Revolution have been published in both the US and Mexico-- though in Mexico, alas, these have been mainly in very small print runs, making it difficult if not impossible to find a copy outside of a few libraries. (I am  pining for the day more Mexican works can be made available as Kindle and print-on-demand editions from the likes of

For my recent book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, I thought I had unturned every bibliographic stone, as it were. But no. Yet another book has come to my attention, and just the other day, thanks to a Mexican friend and aficionado of Mexican history: Memorias de Rafael L. Hernández, edited and introduced by Fernando Serrano Migallón (Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones de México, 2009).* It also boasts a prologue by the great historian of Mexico, Friedrich Katz.
The cover shows a portrait of President Madero
with his cabinet. His first cousin Rafael Hernández
is second from left.

From the back cover (my translation):

A conservative businessman, Rafael L. Hernández Madero was born in Parras de la Fuente in Coahuila, Mexico, in 1875. He served as a federal congressman representing the state of Puebla until 1908. In February 1909 he formed the Reelection Club [in support of Porfirio Díaz]. Nevertheless, he later came to support the political ideals of his first cousin, Francisco I. Madero. During the Revolution, in February 1911, he traveled to Corpus Christie, Texas to help negotiate an agreement between the Maderistas and the Porfirian regime. After the fall of Porfirio Díaz, during the interim government of Francisco León de la Barra, Hernández Madero served as Secretary of State and then, Secretary of Justice and Development. When Francisco I. Madero assumed the presidency on November 6, 1911, Hernández continued in Development until November 27, 1912. After Jesús Flores Magón stepped down,  Hernández Madero became Secretary of the Interior (Gobernación) in November 1912. During the Tragic Ten Days, Madero and his ministers, among them Hernández Madero, were taken prisoner by Aureliano Blanquet. Once Madero and [Vice President] Pino Suárez were assassinated, Hernández Madero was freed, and he retired to private life. He died in Mexico City in 1951.
For my book, which focuses on Madero's Spiritism, the memoirs of his conservative cousin shed little light. However, for anyone interested in the Madero family and the politics of the period, the memoirs are important reading.

Here is a bit of what Hernández has to say about Francisco and Gustavo (another key figure in the 1910 Revolution and the Madero regime)-- again, my translation:

Francisco I. Madero, Pancho, as we friends and family called him, just like Gustavo his brother, were brothers to me, comrades since childhood, when there was born among us a great friendship that grew and became stronger, by and by, until it became a truly brotherly and very close friendship. This friendship knew no distance, no jealousies, no envy. It was genuine and it lasted as long as it lasted, until the end of the lives of those two dear and unfortunate friends of mine who were assassinated by those villains and cowards who caused those hateful events in Mexico in the month of February 1913.
As psychological types the two brothers were completely and perfectly different from one another. Pancho was one of deep feelings, an idealist, a profound mystic and in consequence, an exalted one who maintained his ideas with all the vehemence of a true believer. He had a powerful will, and when he adopted an idea, it was with passion and he would take it in practice to its last consequences. 

Later on, Hernández says more about Francisco I. Madero and his political principles, though, notably, without ever mentioning his ardent Spiritism. (again, my translation):

President Madero... was a man who stayed firmly constant in his principles, and on more than one occasion, to an extreme degree. This strict adherence to principles, alas inapplicable in a country in a state of evolution such as Mexico, caused attacks on his government, and he was accused of weakness. Weakness! It was the moral energy of an extraordinary character that did him in. He had the heroic energy to not make himself into a dictator. He had the fortitude  and the greatness of soul necessary to never lose his equanimity. Only the perversity of his enemies,  blinded by their own passions, have been able to argue to the contrary. Neither in adversity nor in the face of death did the President lose his moral equanimity. He believed in in the implicit virtue of his principles and he was not deceived.
His person was sacrificed, but not his principles.  Sooner or later these will triumph and they will move Mexico a step forward. Mexico will have to recognize and confess the debt of gratitude that it has contracted with President Madero. I am comvinced of this and time will show that I am right.

Hernández also talks about the social and political challenges he and his cousins faced as Northerners (norteños) in Mexico City (my translation):
The people of Mexico City felt a certain disdain for the Northerners, for they considered them rough, arrogant, and poorly educated. The fronterizos or frontiersmen, for their part, disdained "Mexican" society, considering it frivolous, courtly, and even hypocritical. They did not enjoy their company and thus the relations between them were very superficial and not at all harmonious. The designation frontiersman included those of the five northernmost states: Coahuila, Nuevo Léon, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and Sonora. These formed their own world apart; they celebrated their independent character and they could not care less what people in the capital thought of them. This attitude was held not only by the men, but also the women. The triumphal arrival of the men of the revolution, men of the North, was not well-seen in Mexico City. They saw them as ranchers, upstarts, barging into an elegant salon without looking around and without manners.
The Madero family was divided over the Revolution-- many did not support it and in fact, the head of the family, business magnate and ex-governor of Coahuila Don Evaristo Madero, was dead set against it. For his grandson's Spiritist convictions, Don Evaristo considered Francisco addled in the head and sure to ruin the family's businesses. (Indeed, the first step the dictator Porfirio Díaz took against Francisco I. Madero's call for open elections in 1910 was to strangle financing to the Maderos.) 

Later, when Hernández Madero served in President Madero's cabinet (my translation):

In spite of our closeness, in spite of the great affection and love with which we had always treated each other, and, notably, with the singular exception of Gustavo himself and and one of his brothers and of my uncle [Francisco Madero, father of Francisco I. Madero], became very cold towards me and I knew very well that in the family home and in conversations with "political friends" who came to visit, there was no scarcity of very hard criticisms against me, farther probably than my family members intended, but since that time there began a work of malicious intrigue and propaganda by those "friends" of the family who later turned out to be "pseudo friends" as one could have guessed, making me look like an enemy of President Madero himself. I always despised such attacks, for the President and Gustavo knew me well, as I knew them well, and so, disdaining the attacks, I went on, fulfilling my duty, though one can appreciate how disagreeable my situation was.
Ah, Mexican politics. Nothing new there.

The memoirs also include new details about the survivors' exile to Cuba and then the United States in 1913. The President's once substantial personal fortune had been largely spent by this time, and what remained was illiquid. His widow, Sara Madero, was able to collect a $9,000 dollar life insurance on her husband, thanks to Hernández. 

His memoirs were written in 1918, it seems in a dash, and with feelings still very raw. The memoirs remained with a family member until 2004, when editor Fernando Serrano Migallón, one of Mexico's most distinguished lawyers, took on the project of their publication, realized at last, in 2009.

As Friedrich Katz writes in his prologue (my translation), these memoirs "constitute a very important source for understanding history, but also the conflicts and internal contradictions of the government of Francisco I. Madero."

Other recent biographies of note:

+ Madero family members:

Collado Herrera, Maria, and Laura Pérez Rosales, Sara Pérez de Madero: Una mujer de la Revolución. SEP, 2010. 
Guerra de Luna, Manuel. Los Madero: La saga liberal. Tudor Producciones, 2009. 
 Hernández y Laso, Begoña Consuelo. Gustavo A. Madero:  De activo empresario a enérgico revolucionario (1875-1913). Editorial Los Reyes, 2013.
+ A key general who supported Francisco I. Madero and later Pancho Villa:
Rosas, Alejandro, Felipe Ángeles. Wasteland Press, 2013.
+ President Madero's chief of secret service:
von Feilitzsch, Heribert. In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914. Henselstone Verlag, 2012. (By the way, von Feilitzsch hosts an excellent blog, The Mexican Revolution.)

Not recent, but new on Kindle (and very highly recommended-- essential reading on Francisco I. Madero):

Tortolero Cervantes, Yolia, El espiritismo seduce a Francisco I. Madero.

More anon.


+ + + + + + + + + +

*ISBN 978-970-824-078-9.

My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, is now available in Kindle and paperback on 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Bajacaliforniana

The ever-inspiring Graham Mackintosh, author of Nearer My Dog to Thee: A Summer in Baja's Sky Island, among several other Baja classics, is back. Check out his website:
San Pedro Martir 2012
Picacho May 2013
Picacho June 2013
Picacho July 2013

And more for Baja Buffs: 

>Trailer for the film-in-progress Las Misiones Jesuíticas de la Antigua California, Baja California Sur, México 

Baja California Guest-bloggers of yore here at Madam Mayo:
>Graham Mackintosh
>Jennifer Silva Redmond
>Greg Niemann

> Two Podcasts from my memoir, Miraculous Air: Journey of 1000 Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico. 

I've got sky islands on my mind because I'm now writing a book about far West Texas-- home to many sky islands. To me, the most beautiful are the Chisos.


Note #2 Re: Homesteading on the Digital Frontier: Readers? The Whopper-Foie Analogy

Yesterday I posted about my upcoming Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference panel on writers' blogs, "Homesteading on the Digital Frontier," to be chaired by poet and Advice to Writers blogger Zack Rogow. First of all, when we're talking about "writers" at AWP we generally mean literary writers. And while "literary" and "the market" have been known to intersect, and sometimes clangingly so (e.g., Angela's Ashes, War and Peace), it's more often than not a sad song. Generally speaking, readers are few for literary works, while readers are legion for vampire / naughty whatnot / movie star shenanigans / UFOs / mysteries about murders and/or megalithic structures / anything about making money / bash 'em politics. Herewith the Whopper-Foie analogy:

You want to sell food to the masses, well, they like Whoppers.
You want to sell 5 Star fussy little plates featuring foie, there may be a very few (but, one hopes, highly discerning and loyal) diners.

Whoppers or foie? You decide. But it's pointless to cry / gnash teeth / grumble / spend hours on Google Analytics /FB /Twitter trying to grow your numbers when THE FACT IS, the most people say phooey to foie. (And the people who actually read your book, have you answered their emails?)

Take home point: if you're doing literary work, the numbers -- how many buy your book, how many followers for your blog or your twitter-- are not the only, nor even the main indicator of  "success."

I put "success" in quotation marks because it's just a story one tells oneself, after all.

What is the story you tell yourself? And what is the story you'd like to tell yourself-- and believe?

More anon.

See also:
Homesteading on the Digital Frontier: My Humble Opinion on Google Analytics and Comments
>Why Aren't There More Readers? A Note on Curiosity, Creativity, and Courage
>So How's the Book Doing? (And How Many Books Have you Sold? And What Was Your Print Run?)
>Getting Started with Websites and Blogs


Monday, February 03, 2014

Homesteading on the Digital Frontier: My Humble Opinion on Google Analytics and Comments

Madame Blavatsky
Mega-magnet on the digital frontier
(No relation to Madam Mayo...
but one sends a salute on the astral plane)
Gearing up for the Associated Writing Programs conference panel "Homesteading on the Digital Frontier: Writers' Blogs," to be chaired by poet Zack Rogow, whose excellent blog is Advice for Writers. Since I first started blogging back in 2006, writers' interest in blogs seems to have taken a rollercoaster ride from WOW! to bleh, and around-again. 

(Time machine: Gone to the Litblogs circa 2008 and my talk, "Writers' Blogs: Best Practices" for the 2008 Maryland Writers Conference).

Anyway, one thing that has not escaped my notice is that all the writers who turned their noses up at blogging back in 2006-2009, once they have a book to flog, they blog. Yes, they all blog. 

But who reads our blogs? 

Zack asked me about Google Analytics-- something someone is sure to raise a hand about. My (slightly edited) response:

I think I looked at Google Analytics when it came out and that was the last time. If you were selling, say, on-line pizza, it would probably be a great tool. My personal opinion is that, for a literary writer / poet-- by my definition, that means one is not writing just for the market, and certainly not following it-- it's a dangerous time-sink.
If one wants to write for the numbers, may I suggest giving up literary pretensions and covering topics involving vampires / naughty whatnot / UFOs / movie stars / money $$$$$ / politics and preferably all mixed together in one super-steamy stew!!
So alas, I am not the one to say anything about Google Analytics. (Though I do mention astral wildlife / UFOs and politics in my latest book. But, um, in a literary sense.)
But I will say this: If one uses tags (or "labels") and searchable words in the titles and provides quality content, there will be readers. How do I know? Because people tell me when I see them, or in an email, or they mention something on their blog.
And also, on my dashboard it does show the numbers of views for each post, so I am aware, for example, that my post about Madame Blavatsky works like an industrial-strength magnet, while my mention of a friend's literary magazine excited a cyber snore.
I am not bereft of handy tips, however, and neither am I wholly blind to numbers.  
Tip #1: Providing a link from a blog post to one's own webpage, article, book, or, say, podcast, will help oonch that up in the search engines.
Translation: I might not get crowds following my every blog post, but the people who really want to know about, say, Dr. Krumm-Heller and Francisco I. Madero, may Google and find precisely that, chez moi.
Once in a while I'll google something of mine to see how far up in the list it appears-- another pointless time-sink I occasionally fall into. But only up to the ankles.
By the way, I long ago disabled comments because I was getting pestered by mattress companies in Pakistan or else people I don't know who seemed stuck in a bad day in Emotional Kindergarten. I added a link to my contact page so that the readers who feel moved to do so can send me an email. I sincerely welcome emails from readers; I make every effort to answer, unless it's from a troll. Haven't had any so far! And the Pakistan mattress people go away, too.
More about writers' blogs anon. 

[UPDATE: My talk for AWP: Writers Blogs (and My Blog): Eight Conclusions After 8 Years of Blogging]

P.S. Zack Rogow advises, Don't Avoid the Book Fair. People, the AWP book fair is the point.

Your COMMENTS are always welcome.