Monday, April 27, 2015

Q & A with Yours Truly on Novelist Mary S. Black's Blog (on Marfa Mondays) and "Bacon and Books" (on Dancing Chiva)

For those of you interested in travel writing, podcasting, and navigating the shoals, dolldrums and Horse latitudes of publishing, I have oodles to say in these two recent blog interviews. 

Mary S. Black's blog:
C.M. Mayo, Marfa Mondays, and Writing
"’s moving through the majesty of vast spaces and so retrieving a relationship with both the earth and the sky, and always, a burning curiosity about the people of its past and its present. That is certainly true for me about the rock art, especially that of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands." [READ MORE]

Michele Orwin's Bacon and Books blog:
Women and Independent Publishing - An Interview with C.M. Mayo, award-winning author, journalist, poet, translator and publisher.

"Writing can be a tricky path (especially when we start discussing publishing!) but it is also a joyous one. For me it’s about exploring the complexity of what it means to be human and, in fashioning a narrative, creating both meaning and beauty. Whether this genre or that genre, it’s all poetry. Nowadays we can crunch a bunch of sales and click data, but this doesn’t change the fact that a book still goes out to largely opaque response. So one has to write and publish with a big dose of crazy faith. That has always been true, and I think it will continue to be true for as long as humans can put words on some surface for others to decipher." [READ MORE]

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(C.M. Mayo's Workshop Page)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The second issue of Origins, edited by Dini Karasik, Featuring Mexican Writer Rose Mary Salum


I am so delighted and honored to announce that my translation of the opening chapter of Mexican writer Rose Mary Salum's novel, El agua que mece el silencio, "The Water That Stirs the Silence," is in the second issue of Origins, a new literary magazine edited by Dini Karasik (hat tip to Francisco Aragón for suggesting I submit something). 

I've written on this blog before about Rose Mary Salum's Literal Magazine; her visionary anthology Delta de las arenas, a collection of Arab and Jewish Latin American writing; and I've posted a podcast interview with her for my Conversations with Other Writers series. If you come to the conclusion that I am a big admirer of her work as both a writer and an editor, you'd be exactly right.

Having founded an edited a literary magazine myself-- Tameme (circa 1999-2007)-- I know what courage, what eye-crossing hard work, time, not a little cash, help from many friends, and avalanching Himalayas of email it takes it bring one out. As a writer and translator, I celebrate any new literary magazine, and especially one so well designed and edited. As a reader, I say, "cheers!" for I relish the chance to encounter new voices, most especially those edgy ones not necessarily for the smooth and easy slots of mainstream commercial media.

Writes editor Dini Karasik, on Origin's website's introduction, 

"We are interested in distinct voices. Writing that tells us something about a character's roots or what makes her unique. Stories that transport us across town and country, beyond and within borders both physical and abstract, to discreet moments that change or define us. We want to read provocative poems and have gripping conversations with writers about everything from craft to creativity.  
Literature offers us the opportunity to endlessly interpret who we are as human beings. This journal is a celebration and investigation of our diverse origins and the art that inevitably springs forth."
Check out the website at Origins sells downloads for a modest price, $2.99, via, and I am informed that a print-on-demand edition of this issue of Origins will be available shortly. Writers and translators, you will also find on the website a call for submissions.

+ Your COMMENTS are always welcome. And you are also most welcome to sign up for my newsletter.

(podcast and transcript)

(from Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion)

Monday, April 20, 2015

A 9th Conclusion After 9 Years of Blogging

Last year, for the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Seattle, I gave a talk titled "Writers Blogs: Eight Conclusions After 8 Years of Blogging." I leave those conclusions unchanged, but now for the 9th anniversary of "Madam Mayo," I add a ninth:

9. Q & A's are fun to do, always surprising, and very informative, both for me and my readers.
Ergo, look for more of these. 

Herewith a few Q & A's from the recent and not-so-recent past:
Q & A with Michele Orwin, Founding Editor of Bacon Press Books 
Q & A with "Heron & Crane" Podcaster Chris Gondek
One Q and 1 A with "Listen Well" Podcaster Margaret Dulaney
Q & A with Tod Goldberg of Literary Disco Podcast
Q & A with Rice Freeman-Zachery on Creative Podcasting 
Five Quick Questions for Mexican Writer Agustin Cadena 

(P.S. I've done scads more interviews  lengthy ones  for my podcast series Conversations with Other Writers and Marfa Mondays and, of course, I also mention these on this blog. Stay tuned for the Marfa Mondays interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor.)

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Q & A with Independent Publisher Michele Orwin, Founding Editor of Bacon Press Books

A new independent publisher
As some of you may know, I wear another chapeau as editor / publisher of Dancing Chiva (which specializes in publishing works by Yours Truly and, shall we say, denizens of the Afterlife). In that guise, I attended last weekend's excellent two day seminar in Austin, Texas, "Publishing U," the annual conference of the Independent Book Publishers Association, where I ran into my Washington DC writing friend, novelist and poet Michele Orwin. Turns out she's started up Bacon Press Books

Check out the Bacon Press Books's beautiful website and the latest book, the first paperback edition of Kate Blackwell's superb short story collection, You Won't Remember This, which was originally published in hardcoverand to glowing reviews by Southern Methodist University Press.


Herewith some Q & A:

C.M. MAYO: What prompted you to start the press?

MICHELE ORWIN: I knew if I wanted to keep working, I’d have to have my own business. Since I’d spent my whole professional life working as a writer and teaching others about writing, I wanted to do something where I could use my experience. Then I read about digital publishing. It made so much sense. 

We know so many writers who had published books that are only available in hardcover. I thought once I learned how to publish, I could either release their books in paperback and Ebook or else teach them how to do it. 

The first paperback edition
of Kate Black's splendid book of short fiction
Bacon Press Books, 2015
C.M. MAYO: I for one am delighted to see what I would call a "hybrid press." (Would you agree with that term?) It seems authors such as myselfpreviously published with various small and commercial presses, a track record of reviews have been caught between, shall we say, less than attractive deals, or self-publishing, with zip in between. Self-publishing has usually meant that one's book gets lost in the haystack, next to Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes, which is set in some horrible font with a blecch cover. (Though now that I think about it, Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes could be the title for a delicious comic novel...)

MICHELE ORWIN: There’s been a lot of discussion in the indie community about terms. I’ll be very happy when we all finally come up with ones we can use. People still confuse what used to be called "vanity publishing" with "self-publishing."  Vanity publishing in the past meant all you had to do was pay a (usually) exorbitant fee and you’d get a book. No vetting and not great editing. Self-publishers today are a lot more sophisticated and they have access to a wide range of talented free-lancers, so the quality of self-publishing can be pretty high. 

Plus there are a lot of what’s now called "hybrid authors." Authors who publish both with traditional publishers and with independents or else self-publish. For some it’s a question of economics, they can make more money publishing on their own. For others, it’s a matter of control. We have one author who was published traditionally but wanted to go in a different direction from what his publisher wanted, so he chose to work with us. 

I call myself an independent publisher. We don’t take on most of the books we’re sent. We have high editorial and production standards. People can’t pay us to publish bad books or even mediocre ones.  Not sure what we’d do with Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes. 

I call the business model I use "partnership publishing." That comes closest. We've tried to make it as author friendly as possible and still be in business. While we can’t offer advances, and we do ask authors to cover production costs, we share other expenses. And while they may provide the capital, I put in way more time than our authors do once the book is published. We offer a generous split on revenues, a two-year contract so authors can go elsewhere if they get a better offer or aren’t happy, and the author keeps all rights and all files. 

C.M. MAYO: You've been around a long time and seen many other small presses. Not to name names, but what are some of the things that you've seen as common practice in the small press world that you think would be best to avoid?

MICHELE ORWIN: Not sure I can answer that. We published our first book in January 2013 and we’re still learning. What I have seen is that the indie community is incredibly generous in helping newcomers. Giving out information, sharing  contacts. I’ve learned so much from conferences, online groups, and other small presses.  The really awful things are done mostly by the larger companies that charge authors a fortune and don’t do much more than produce a book and make the author buy hundreds of copies. 

C.M. MAYO: What are some of the common misconceptions first time authors have that make it difficult for their press?

MICHELE ORWIN: There are five misconceptions that I’ve run into and have heard other publishers talk about too. First, that the book is fine as is and doesn’t need an editor. Second, just because a book is good, it’ll be a best seller or maybe even sell at all. Third, that they don’t have to do any marketing or promotion to help their books get discovered. Fourth, that they’ll make money. Fifth, that it’ll happen quickly. 

With more than 600,000 books expected to be published this year, it’s a very tough business. 

C.M. MAYO: Your website is one of the best I've ever seen. Tell, tell!

MICHELE ORWIN: Thank you! I tried about half a dozen different providers. But I’m not very adept and they just didn’t come out right. My daughter knows coding, she told me about SquareSpace. I needed something easy to use that would look good and SquareSpace was it. 

C.M. MAYO: How about book stores? Does Bacon Books Press work with sales reps?

MICHELE ORWIN: Not all the books we publish would do well in book stores. But for the few that would, we haven’t had much luck. The books can all be special ordered or ordered online from the stores. From what I’ve heard, that’s how many stores would prefer to deal with most small presses. 

We’re not working with distributors yet. But at some point we will be when it makes economic sense for us to do it. A big part of this new publishing landscape is having access to a global market by making the books available online. That’s where we’ll find most of our readers. 

C.M. MAYO: Can you talk about your background as a writer and poet and how that informs what you're doing now?

MICHELE ORWIN: I’m a fiction writer, my husband is a poet. It’s been a real eye-opener for both of us. Though probably more for me. I now understand why agents/publishers don’t want to see a whole book, or won’t read past the first 10-20 pages. You really can tell pretty quickly if you’re going to like something. I understand how subjective it all is. One book I turned down now has 25 5-star reader reviews on Amazon. It just wasn’t right for us, but I’m sure the author is wondering why I passed.

And I understand why it’s not a good idea to give too much feedback if you’re going to reject a book. Just because I see flaws doesn’t mean someone else will. It’s better to let the author try elsewhere. 

I also understand better why authors need to be involved in marketing. I used to cringe at the idea of self-promotion. But now I can see that the author really is the best person to connect with readers. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another Transcript Now Available: Marfa Mondays #11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys and an Interview with Michael Stevens

Still working on the edits for Marfa Mondays Podcast #17, an interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor and, meanwhile, still churning out the transcripts. Available to date:

#16 Tremendous Forms: Paul Chaplo on Finding Composition in the Landscape

#15 Gifts of the Ancient Ones: Greg Williams on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands

#14 Over Burro Mesa (not a transcript but an article)

#13 Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with Historian John Tutino

#12 Dallas Baxter: "This Precious Place"

and as of today... drumroll...

#11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys
and an Interview with Michael Stevens

[Note: If you want to hear the songs, which I highly recommend, it would be a far sight better to listen to the podcast.


C. M. Mayo: We're going to hear some more music in this podcast, but I want to go back for a moment to put all this into some context by sharing with you some of my interview with Michael Stevens, which was recorded in one of the lounges at Sul Ross State University's University Center just before the show. Michael Stevens is the one you heard first in this podcast singing about the Old Double Diamond. My first question was, how did this all get started?

Michael Stevens: Well, it started out as just cowboys getting together. And when it really would happen in the old days, it was just people heard about these guys who get together and talk and BS and tell stories and, you know, that's all they had. It's an oral tradition of just like, seamen. And there is a Fisher Poets Society in Oregon/Washington, somewhere up there. I've forgotten where it is. It's around Siskiyou Pass I think. But it happens right about now. Of course, they did it before we did. The ships were out there long before the cowboys were here and they told stories and sang songs. A lot of those songs and old Scottish and Irish ballads got turned into cowboy songs when the people came over here. Instead of singing about whales in the ocean, or whatever they did, they took that melody— and I believe "Streets of Laredo" is "The Bard of Armagh" or something like that— so it was some old melody that they just changed the words to. They weren't musicians particularly. A lot of times they didn't carry instruments, so a lot of it you'll hear a cappella, a lot of what those guys had—or they took an instrument out and it fell apart. Banjos seemed to last longer than guitars and things like that.

So it's a real old tradition of telling stories and it gets moved to the next person because a lot of those people didn't write, and so what the cowboys picked up on and started and then, at some point a few people, John Lomax and his son, they started recording these songs. Well, there were people before that even that were some of the cowboys that were starting to collect the songs.

The first gathering of this type that I know of was Elko, Nevada. They'd created a folklore center. I never studied the history of that either. If you could get ahold of Joel Nelson he might fill you in a little bit more but you can Google all that. About '85, well, Joel Nelson and his wife at the time, Barney Nelson, who's a teacher here in Ryder, got some really neat books out, they went. They heard about it. Joel's always been into poetry. He reads Robert Service. He reads Pushkin. You know, name it. If he sits down and does "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost with a big mustache and a cowboy hat you think it's the best cowboy poem you ever heard and then he says "Robert Frost" and you can see people go, Oh, that's why it seemed familiar to me! Because it's kind of what cowboys do. You know, they go the other way. If they want to make a lot of money they wouldn't be a cowboy.

So they came back here the next year after Elko and started a little gathering here and I wasn't here at the time. I was in Austin building guitars, but I'd gone from a horse ranch in McKinney to Austin and been in and out of the horse business since I was a little kid.
When I came down here [Alpine], my wife wanted to live here and she was not living anywhere else, and I heard about it. And then a friend of a friend, a girl we'd known in college had married Warren Burnett, the trial lawyer from Odessa and then I met Warren and he one day said— I hadn't gone to the gathering—he said, "You should go meet Buck Ramsey. He's my friend. He's the guy in a wheelchair and if anybody gives you any trouble…" Well, Warren says, "Anybody gives you any shit you tell them," because that's the way Warren was. I don't know if you know anything about Warren. Anyways, so I met Buck Ramsey and played music. Well, it turned out I knew a couple cowboy songs, and I didn't even know they were cowboy songs because I'd been in Berkeley since 1967 and played a lot of music and country music.

C.M. Mayo: Out in California?

Michael Stevens: Yeah. When I hit there I left Fort Worth in '67 and got there in November of '67. I had a cowboy outfit with bell bottoms, embroidered shirts and long hair and they called me The Sheriff. And we played country music. Cody was there. We played the same kind of venues as Commander Cody. Then they said you won't believe who's coming from [??] asleep at the wheel, so I was out there. Then I learned a bunch of folk songs hanging around the Freight and Salvage and those things. Well, it turns out a bunch of them were cowboy songs, and I'd heard a lot of Jack Elliot and all that, well, there's a bunch of cowboy songs stuck in there.

So I got down here and somehow after meeting Buck and playing... So they said, we need some more performers. Would you come and we'll stick you in a session and sing a few songs? And I went, Hey, I like this.

C.M. Mayo: What year was that?

Michael Stevens: That would be about '93 or '94.

C.M. Mayo: You've been coming back every year since?

Michael Stevens: Well, I live here.

C.M. Mayo: So you've come to all the Cowboy Poetry Gatherings?

Michael Stevens: Well, I was on the committee for 16 years and of the 16 years I think I was vice president about three and president for seven, at least. I just retired from the 25th year. This is my first year as a performer as a civilian.


C.M. Mayo [to listeners]: A little further into the interview Michael Stevens talked about after Berkeley, how he came back to Texas. But then you're going to hear him backtrack and talk some more about his time in Berkeley at the Freight and Salvage. That was, and is, the hub of the folk music scene.


April Newsletter

The writing assistants

My April newsletter has gone out via MailChimp with oodles of podcast transcripts, the best from this blog, my upcoming Literary Travel Writing workshop, and more.

> More newsletters with lots of yummy stuff in the archive.

> If you're not already a subscriber, I invite you to opt-in to get the next one here.

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking: A Beyond Glowing Review

This is a 1,000 candle review, but I should start by saying I am the last person who would attend an Amanda Palmer concert because I don't like loud, I don't like crowds, and especially feisty crowds, and most things explicit make my toes curl. As far as music goes, I'm more an opera-at-the-Kennedy-Center kind of person (and that would include some fairly way-out opera, by the way). I have zip to do with the music business; I write literary fiction, poetry, and essay. But Amanda Palmer, you're a hero to me because you're an artist as shaman, and that's what it's all about, and in The Art of Asking, you explain this beautifully and with bodacious heart. 

For both myself and my writing students, I maintain a list of recommended books on process. I'm a voracious reader but it has been a long Gobi Desert of a time since I've read anything to add to this list. Today, with a big fat star, I add The Art of Asking. And not because the book is about asking  and "taking the donuts," as Palmer puts it  indeed, something for which most writers, and especially women writers, need some coaching but because what it's really about is the meaning and the reality of being a true artist. 

That the true artist is a kind of shamanwe forget this in the noise, shiny plastic, and conformity of industrial culture. Remembering it is a profound gift.

P.S. Watch Amada Palmer singing the "Ukelele Anthem" and giving her famous TED talk.

More anon.

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Sarah Cortez, ed., Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Remembrance (Texas Review Press, 2015)

As a poet I keep a sharp eye out for calls for submissions but alas, or rather, in a way, happily, for Texan poet Sarah Cortez's Goodbye, Mexico, I had nothing, nada, because for me, it's "Hola, México," just about every day. Translation: I'm living in Mexico City and not planning on leaving anytime soon. But happily, always happily, I translate contemporary Mexican poetry, and I knew of just the perfect poem: Agustín Cadena's "Café San Martín," so haunting and musical, from his splendid collection, Cacería de Brujas. And so I am delighted to say that Cadena's poem, in my translation, was selected by Sarah Cortez to be included in this important collection.

About Cadena:

Agustin Cadena was born in the Valle de Mezquital, Hidalgo, Mexico. For several years Cadena has been living in Hungary, where he is professor at the University of Debrecen. Author of more than twenty books, including the poetry collection, Cacería de Brujas, Cadena writes in multiple genres, including the novel, screenplay, short story, poem, essay, and children's literature.

> Visit his blog, El vino y la hiel.

From the back cover of Goodbye, Mexico:

"This anthology gathers the strong voices of accomplished poets reaching into and beyond nostalgia to remember, to honor, and to document through figurative imagery their experiences of Mexico and the vibrant border areas before the ravages of the narco-violence. That Mexico has been irrevocably altered by illegal human trafficking and drug cartel violence is indisputable. Together with other complex dynamics of the current century, such as globalization, the failing middle class, and the disrupted tourist industry, this beloved country has changed almost beyond recognition. Many on both sides of the border grieve the loss of the Mexico that was, particularly the Mexico that existed during the last half of the Twentieth Century. This loss engenders memory; memory engenders poems."*

Other poets in this collection include Diana Anhalt, Alan Birkelbach, Sarah Cortez, Martín Espada, James Hoggard, Janet McCann, and Alberto Ríos. If you know poetry, you know that's an all-star list.

With his permission, here is my translation of Agustín Cadena's poem, "Café San Martín":


Do you remember the Café San Martín?
I do, sometimes,
when it rains in the afternoon and it’s summer.
We liked to go there and drink coffee
and smoke while we looked at the rain.
The Café San Martín was small,
lukewarm, and it had big windows
that looked onto a meridian of June.
But it is no longer there.
Now on that corner where it was
they sell video games.
Have you tried to go back?
Have you walked in the rain, alone,
remembering the girl you were
and asking yourself where would these people have gone,
with their pink curtains and old spoons
and their Café San Martín?
Yes, I have wanted to go back,
many times,
when I happen to think of you,
when my shoes fill with water
and I wish I were that age again
and not so foolish
as to let go of your hand that afternoon.
Once again it is June and raining.
Everywhere there are cafés
in certain neighborhoods.
The present erases all traces. 

P.S. Sarah Cortez and other poets will be reading from Goodbye, Mexico on Saturday June 27, 2015 @ 7 - 9 PM  The Twig Book Shop, 306 Pearl Parkway, San Antonio, Texas.

I hasten to mention that despite the troubles on the border and elsewhere, many areas of Mexico are stable and even thriving. I also hasten to add that the narco-violence finds fuel north of the border, and for anyone doubting the deep contradictions and corruption in the United States itself in regard to narcotics policies and trade, I highly recommend for a start on that gnarliest of subjects Sam Quinones' alarming and deeply researched new book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

Five Quick Questions for Agustin Cadena

+ "Lady of the Seas" a complete short story by Agustín Cadena translated by C.M. Mayo in Mexico: A Traveler Literary Companion

My review of Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso, eds, Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence in Literal.

Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with John Tutino

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