Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mexico City Maltese

So the receptionist sees my dog and says, "Fourteen! I had a Maltese that lived to be 25 years old. It died of an accident. It was blind for a few years. But it was fine, you know? One day when no one was looking, it fell in the swimming pool. But before that, it got hit by a car, it got bit by a Doberman, and it chewed a live electric cable. Very low voltage, but still, it got electrocuted. And people would say to me, I can't believe your dog is still alive! Oh my God, your dog shouldn't still be alive."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cyberflanerie: This 'n That 'n Cat Edition

Originally in Japanese! By Kaori Tsutaya, translated by Amy Hirschman, an uber weird 'n charming n' peculiarly practical book on how to make lots of little things, most especially felted finger puppets, from, yeah, cat hair. If you liked Knitting with Dog Hair...

Swedish UFO blog by librarian Håkan Blomqvist (in English) has a note about the book (in Swedish, alas) about the Rosicrucian Queen of Sweden who gave it all up to convert to Catholicism and live in Rome.

In the NYT, a Continuing Care Retirement Community's members rather alarmingly ask, Where's the Money?  Seriously, if you're all agog about these newfangled retirement setups, whether for yourself or your parents, check out this whopper of a caveat emptor.

(Speaking of cushy set-ups, and segueing over to a parallel concern, what I wonder is, why do people pay $$$ for membership in a club so they can plod like a blinkered mule on a treadmill and, at the same time, shell out more $$$ to someone else to mow their lawn? Either way you've got to take a shower afterwards. Seriously, I am not being snarky; I find this a fascinating question. I suspect the answer has to do with the stories people tell themselves. And some people tell themselves the stories that land them, happily or unhappily, in a CCRC.)

International jokes. Way better than Prozac.

Spectacular: Photographer Richard Barron's pix of the Four Corners region.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Las Misiones Jesuíticas de la Antigua California, Baja California Sur, México (The Jesuit of Missions of Antigua California)

Dr W. Michael Mathes
Talks about the origins of the Jesuit
enterprise in Antigua California
From the trailer:
A most delightfully nostalgic evening spent watching the DVD my amiga the Mexican historian Carmen Boone-Canovas recently sent me: Sergio Raczsko's new documentary film, Las Misiones Jesuíticas de la Antigua California (The Jesuit of Missions of Antigua California)-- "Antigua California" being old California, the first California, that nearly 1,000 mile long peninsula that now belongs to the Republic of Mexico. Sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Iberoamerican University Foundation, Mexico's Consejo para la Cultura y las Artes, and the Organization de Estados Iberamericanos (OEI) it celebrates the Jesuit missions of Baja California with interviews with historians (including the outstanding W. Michael Mathes, Miguel Leon-Portilla, and Barbara Meyer Stinglhammer, among many others) and brief visits to each of the missions-- many of them both very remote and very picturesque.

>Watch the trailer here

>As soon as I can find a link to buy the DVD or download the full documentary, I will posted it here.

When I first came across it more than two decades ago, the story of the Jesuit missions of Antigua California profoundly changed the way I thought about both Mexico and the state of California. I was born in Texas but came to California as a baby, and then went through the school system there, which taught every fourth grader that the "California Missions" began with Padre Junipero Serra in San Diego-- as if Antigua California and the daring and  tragic Jesuit enterprise that spanned nearly a century did not exist. The encounters of a paleolithic people with a cadre soldiers and (speaking of the Jesuits) some of Europe and the New World's most educated, visionary, and best-organized men though unintended, resulted in the former's destruction-- right about the time that the Jesuits themselves were betrayed in a both cruel and mysterious manner by the King of Spain.

The first permanent mission of Antigua California was Loreto, founded by an Italian Jesuit, Father Salvaterra who named it after Our Lady of Loreto-- Loreto being a town on the Adriatic which purports to have the Santa Casa, the house of the Virgin Mary, removed from Nazareth and flown across the sea by angels. (You read that right.)

From  my memoir of my travels through Baja California, Miraculous Air, the chapter "Like People You See in a Dream":

The Jesuits had not been long ashore when Ibó warned Father Salvatierra: the Indians were planning to kill them and take the food. Salvatierra was a veteran missionary to the Tarahumara, a fierce mountain tribe in the mainland's Sierra Madre. With his rock-launching mortar and harquebuses in place, the priest took the news in stride. The attack came from the heights, a rain of arrows and rocks and dirt clods that lasted for two hours. Finally, the Indians charged. Salvatierra stood up and warned them away, gesturing towards the harquebuses. But the Indians did not understand what harquebuses were; they loosed three arrows at him. "In this desperate strait," Salvatierra wrote, "God inspired me..." He manned a harquebus, and together with his soldiers, opened fire. The Indians "were struck down from every side — some were injured and others were killed outright. Disheartened and terrified at our valor, they all withdrew simultaneously at sunset." Then: absolute silence. After about fifteen minutes, Ibó appeared in the reeds facing the trench. He walked slowly towards the priest and his soldiers. And then he entered their compound, sobbing.
A bronze bust of Father Salvatierra was mounted on a concrete pedestal in the plaza facing Loreto's mission church. His expression was grim, like a man watching his house burn down.  Carved into the stone above the door to the church were the words
I savored that for a moment: Head and Mother of the Lower and Upper California Missions. In grade school, we'd been taught that the California missions began in San Diego. Father Junípero Serra and the Franciscan order played the heroes — or villains, depending on one's point of view. Salvatierra, Loreto, the Jesuits, none were so much as mentioned.
For years I'd had a recurring dream about finding a room in my house that I hadn't known was there. Sometimes the door was at the back of a wardrobe, othertimes I found it behind a cabinet. I suppose that's common, like dreams about flying. Baja California, I was beginning to realize, was like my dream about the room. Except that it was true.
The stone church looked small and plain, but inside was a luscious confection of an altar, all gold and Wedgewood blue, with an effigy of the Virgin in gold-leafed robes set back into a niche of pleated satin. The pews each had a plaque: En memoria de Teresa Valadez Bañuelos; Familia Benziger Davis; En memoria Ernesto Davis Drew. Names like Davis and Drew, I'd read, were from sailors, like Fisher and Ritchie and Wilkes in Los Cabos. The building had been heavily restored. A chubasco ravaged the town in 1829 (the capital was moved then to La Paz); earthquakes did further damage. By the mid-18th century, the Indians had died off and everyone who could had left for the Gold Rush and other mining booms. With no one to rebuild it, the church remained a ruin. When John Steinbeck came through in 1940, the only room left intact was a side chapel.  It was that simple whitewashed room which interested me, because here was the original Virgin of Loreto carried ashore by Salvatierra himself. I was so struck by Steinbeck's description of the brown-haired wooden effigy that I'd made a note of it:
[S]he has not the look of smug virginity so many have —  the "I-am-the-Mother-of-Christ" look, but rather there was a look of terror on her face, of the Virgin Mother of the world and the prayers of so very many people heavy on her.
Which was a remarkably creative thing to say, I thought as I gazed up at the shiny polychromed face. To me, she had a vapid expression. Her eyes were open, but she looked as though she hadn't yet woken up.

I'm not too cozy with the Catholic Church, as you might guess, but I did write about the Jesuit missionaries with as much accuracy and compassion as I could muster. Unlike the men of most of the other missionary orders, the Jesuits left a remarkable trove of reports, memoirs and letters, and in reading them, I came to appreciate them as individuals, as well as recognize the scale and fearsome hardships of their enterprise. (A few, such as the curmudgeonly German Father Baegert, author of Observations in Lower California, I became quite fond of.) I also tried, with the help of their reports, recent scholarship, and conjecture based on comparisons to other "first contacts" to tell what stories I could from the points of view of the indigenous peoples. It really was a thrill to write, for Antigua California's, which has been told and retold and will continue to be retold as long as there are tellers, is one of the greatest stories of the Americas.

For scholars: the most authoritative overview is Harry Crosby's Antigua California.

For scholars and anyone else, I warmly recommend Sergio Raczsko's documentary is a superb and rich introduction. (Carmen Boone-Canovas, who is a leading expert on Our Lady of Loreto and the Jesuit missionaries in Mexico, consulted and also edited the text.) Again, I will post the link to buy the DVD as soon as I have it.

Back to Junipero Serra. Several fine biographies have come out or are about to come out this year. More about him, and more about the desert and about conversos, anon. 

Now I'm back to writing about the Big Bend of far West Texas (that project was interrupted this year by the rather unexpected Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution)-- a land that has much in common with Baja California.  Stay tuned for my podcast interview with historian John Tutino about the origins of capitalism (oh, yes) and Spanish North America.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Updating a Kindle and a Print-on-Demand Paperback: The Never Ending Story

In Days of Yore, when printing book meant 2,000 + copies shipped to a warehouse, the mistake of, say, having called Jorge Luis Borges "José Luis Borge" would remain in one's book and upon one's conscience (like an itchy scar) until the reprint-- which, for most books, never happened. And even if it did, one's publisher might not trouble to make corrections. But now, with digital print-on-demand paperbacks, and of course ebooks, fixing mistakes is like being able to text message your kids-- you never have to really let go! Wonderful! Terrible!

Back in the fall of 2011 I put up a Kindle edition of my translation of Francisco I. Madero's 1911 Manual espírita as Spiritist Manual. I gave a talk about it for the San Miguel de Allende's Author Sala in November of that year, and then another talk for PEN San Miguel in 2012 (link goes to the podcast). Why no paperback edition? I wasn't ready to commit because the five pages of introduction I offered with that first Kindle edition were OK, but rather like having recounted a multilayered mega-saga such as Anna Karenina in the teacup of a paragraph. I refer not so much to the Spiritist Manual itself but to the origins and spread of Spiritism, Madero's own life, and Madero's role in that movement and in Mexican history. For those of you don't follow this blog or Mexican history, Madero was the leader of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and President of Mexico from 1911 to 1913, when he was assassinated. And the powerfully radical significance of his secret book, Spiritist Manual, cannot be appreciated without this, well, rather novelesque context.

Finally, late last year, I got that introduction done to my satisfaction. I took a breather over the holidays and then, in January, published it as a proper paperback: Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. 

So back to the Kindle for an update. Librarians will sniff rather loudly that, with a different title and 200+ pages of new material, I should have used a new ISBN-- that is, published it as a different book. But I wanted the people who had bought the earlier version to be able to go to "Manage My Kindle" on their dashboard and get a free update.

So then what is the copyright year on this thing? Can it be entered in thus-and-such a competition as a first publication (or not)? A dozen wiggly little questions all over the place! But digital publishing isn't considered the Wild West for nothing. Ain't no sheriffs I can see. So I just went ahead and updated the same old Kindle-- same ISBN. And since January, I have updated the Kindle, fixing typos, adding a map, another book to the bibliography, oh… 5 or 6 times.  Just yesterday I fixed a couple of typos. (I swear, typos are evidence of parallel universes.)

It's so easy! I just go into Sigil, type in or delete what I want, then upload the epub file to Kindle Direct. A few hours later, bingo, it's live on

P.S. Why am I so enthusiastic about Kindles? This chart from Bowker (hat tip to Jane Friedman) says it all.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Digital Economics Edition

Enter Airbnb and a little far West Texas town starts turning into... read Rachel Monroe on housing trends in Marfa, TX

Robotenomics-- excellent new blog

Seth Roberts says Nick Szabo is Satoshi Nakamoto, inventor of Bitcoin
(more bitocoiniana here)

Amazing prices for organic crops (Gene Logsdon, the Contrary Farmer)
(He's the author of the hilarious and profoundly insightful Holy Sh*t!)

How to Borrow Ebooks from your (USA) Local Public Library
Oh! It was this easy.

Free Getty Images (Bloggers Take Note!)
Hat tip to the Publicity Hound

More anon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What Is Happening to the Publishing Business? Watch Philip Evans' TED Talk: How Data Will Transform Business

A highly recommended, brief, business-oriented TED talkTake home point: the nature and role of institutions (plug in "publishing house" here) are defined by transactions costs. Transaction costs are plummeting because the economics of communicating and processing information are plummeting. Ergo, as Philip Evans puts it, "technology is driving the institutional boundaries beyond where we are used to thinking about them." 
After having published several books with publishers ranging from bloatedly large (Random House-Mondadori) and small (University of Georgia Press), I went ahead and self-published my most recent work, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. It wasn't that I couldn't sell it, I couldn't see, and I still cannot see, how it would make sense for me to do otherwise.

Evans talks about polarizing scale (little ol' me can publish a book out of my home office now) and the breaking up of the "value chain"-- value chain in the past as seen in a publishing house's multitude of employees, from acquiring editors to sales reps. But I can now very easily, at the click of a button, hire a freelance editor, freelance book designer, cover designer, and so on. As for printing, binding, distribution, and fulfillment, that's easy, too. And isn't all amazon. There will also be iTunes and Gumroad editions. And more.

But enough about the book biz. What will these sea-changes mean for how we buy food, clothing, and so many services? It's already very interesting. And I haven't set foot in a mall in an age.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin: This splendid, intrepid, and thoroughly original marvel goes on my top 10 list for 2014. Most interestingly, in this day & age of facebookesque over-sharing, Emma Larkin has no web page to refer to, such is the nature of her work. P.S. Emma Larkin on pen names.

I have so much more to say about Finding George Orwell in Burma, but alas, I am in the midst of overseeing the final touches to the Spanish translation of Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, and must (must!) finalize two podcast interviews, one with historian John Tutino, the other with Mexican writer, editor and translator Rose Mary Salum. Stay tuned. And meanwhile, all thinking people, dear readers, go get yourself a copy of Emma Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma. And if you don't know who George Orwell is, get your 1984 here.

More links:
Top 10 Books Read 2013.
> Recommended Literary Travel Memoirs


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Cleverly Icelandic & More Random Clevernesses Edition

Cleverly Icelandic: Besti Flokkurin, mayoral campaign song video. Via Seth Roberts, on We Need Only One Santa. (More from this ray of shiva guy, I mean Seth Roberts, here and here and here and here.)

Totally clever! Watch about 1:30 minutes in: How to remove a ring from a swollen finger.

For Mexico City newbies: my amigo David Lida gives the thumbs up to Taste of Polanco.

Mr Money Mustache on Hater's Gonna Hate (But Not Mate) and How to Start a Blog. Mr Money Mustache also advises us that Safety is an Expensive Illusion.

Umbra's vertical book display.

For those low on wax: Benjamin Shine's rekindle candle.

For those low on windows: Adam Frank's Reveal.

Passive solar water heater.

Get Human.

More anon.


Monday, March 03, 2014

How I Published My Kindles (Easy Peasy, Sort Of)

Gosh, I've been having at least a couple of conversations per week (oftentimes more) with fellow writers looking to bring out their own Kindle(s), so I'll just quit yammering and copy/paste this blog post into my email replies. And here's hoping this may be of use or interest for you, also, dear reader-- I know that many of you are writers.

It's changing all the time, and there is more than one way to skin this cat, but so far, here is what I can tell you:


My Kindles as of 2014:

Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution

+From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion

The Building of Quality

Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico

Podcasting for Writers

+ and the Spanish translation of my novel, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano

Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana, Francisco I. Madero y su libro secreto, Manual espírita

My novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is also available in Kindle, but that was my publisher's doing (Unbridled Books).

1. Get your book's text into in a clean WORD.doc. 
This was not easy for some of my older works, which were written in Wordperfect and, alas, converted to babble in .epub (see step #2.). And one was in a PDF that did not convert well either. Most of them had multiple corrections made after it had landed in my original publisher's hands-- and to the galleys, as well. Oh well, I got it done.
2. Convert the WORD doc to an .epub by using a free open source program such as Sigil.
Download Sigil here.
3. Using Sigil, arrange your table of contents and chapters.
There are a multitude of Sigil tutorials on the web, Google and ye shall find. (I hired an IT guy to help me on this-- and that did save some time and head-aches.) 

***UPDATE. A reader writes: "I keep the process easy by setting the paragraph indents to .2 in .docx, then saving the file as Web Page, Filtered. It becomes an HTML file. Upload that rather than ePub (use for Smashwords)." 

4. Open a Kindle direct account on
Click here: 
You will need to provide your email, password, contact info and your bank account number-- they do need to be able to pay you!
5. Purchase an ISBN from Bowker at 
(For a Kindle this is not absolutely necessary, however.)
6. Make a cover.
Amazon provides some free templates. You can do it yourself or hire someone. The Kindle Direct publishing website provides all the relevant guidelines here.
7. On Kindle direct on, upload the description of your book, the files for your book's content (that would be the .epub you created with Sigil), and the cover. Select the rights territories, the price you want to charge, and then the button that says PUBLISH.
In about 12 hours, oftentimes less, you will be emailed the link to your book's page on Update your website, tweet, tell friends and family, etc etc etc.

ROUTE #2. 
1. Get your book in a clean WORD.doc.
2. Open a CreateSpace account (this is part of
3. Follow the very easy instructions to do a print/on-demand paperback edition of your book. (You can do this yourself, hire someone to do it, or pay CreateSpace to do it.)  Once that is all done, click the box that says "Make this a Kindle."

Multiple ebook editions all at once, for a fee, Smashwords does it all for you. I do not have experience with this. 

+ + + + + + +

Related blog posts:

>Seven Reasons Ebooks will be Big in Mexico
> My Excellent (If Occasionally Head-Banging) E-Book Adventure (Note: this is from 2011, ancient history, but includes many crunchy links)
>Guest-Blogger Deborah Batterman: "Publish Or Perish: 5 Links on the New Digital Imperative"

P.S. See all my ebooks in English here and in Spanish here.

Because they are quick to download, easy to read (especially for older people who need larger type and travelers of all ages with sore shoulders) and cheap, whatever one's own opinion about them may be, to expect that they will not continue to erode the traditional book market is to fight the winds and the tides. For those who would lament the loss of bookstores and paper books, take heart! There is the rare book market! (Cherish those autographed first editions with their dust jackets intact!) I say, paper books are like horses and candles. With the coming of cars and electricity the roles of horses and candles in most people's daily lives vastly diminished; nonetheless, horses and candles have not disappeared and probably never will.

Ceteris paribus, I'll take the paper book. But ceteris paribus is rarely what's actually going on. I have been buying and reading Kindles (and iBooks and free PDFs from at a rather voracious pace.

More links of relevance:

> To read Kindles, I use my iPad's free Kindle app.
> Cyberflanerie: Rare Books Entrepreneurship Edition
> Michael Suarez, SJ on the Flow of Books and Money and Information
> A Super Brief Introduction to the Opportunity Cost of Rare Book Collecting

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome. 

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