Monday, December 28, 2015

"Madam Mayo's" Top Posts in 2015

As usual, this year many of this blog's posts pointed to my works posted elsewhere on the web, e.g., to several "Marfa Mondays" and "Conversations with Other Writers" podcasts; travel writing; new translations, and various book reviews (for Literal and Washington Independent Review of Books). The posts listed below, however, are all works original to this blog, and I offer them here with my warmest wishes to you, dear reader, for a wondrous 2016.

I note that this year I discontinued guest-blogs but did post several extra-crunchy Q & A's-- this in addition to my podcasts and transcripts of same for Marfa Mondays and Conversations with Other Writers.

December 21, 2015

December 7, 2015

On the Trail of the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos
(also a guest blog post for Mary S. Black)
November 3, 2015

October 29, 2015

August 31, 2015

by James McWilliams
July 6, 2015

January 12, 2015

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

At the FIL or, the Mexican Megabookmashup

This blog post comes with a soundtrack (click here for the YouTube of Vicente Fernández singing "Guadalajara"). 

Back on December 2, I hopped over from Mexico City to Guadalajara for the megabookmashup otherwise known as the Feria Internacional del Libro or FIL. It is so big-- aisle after aisle after aisle after towering aisle, all aflutter with so many book presentations, the aisles and escalators swarming, and auditoriums and meeting rooms cram-packed with readers and editors and marketers and journalists and writers ranging from the internationally famous to shall we say, locally intense (yes, some guy wanted to "share" his poetry), that, well, whew! 

Read Mexican poet Francisco Hinojosa's reflections on the FIL, what he calls, among other things, "the Pantitlán metro stop at rush hour."

This year the FIL estimates 792,000 attendees, nearly 2,000 editors, more than 20,000 book professionals, 304 lterary agents, and.... do use both your hands to hold your jaw in place while you check out this list. 

Never mind if you can follow the Spanish or not, grok the scene with this official video from the FIL website:

When anyone whinges about how "no one" reads anymore, obviously, they have yet to set foot in the FIL! 

But as for me, what I like to do is sit by myself at my desk and write-- or else ramble around whilst conjuring poetic thoughts in the desert. You know, the shamanic Orphic Journey thing. (My writing assistants model the process.) Although I relish meeting other writers and readers, I cannot endure the windowless crazy-buzz of FIL for more than a couple of hours every other year. Which is, more or less, my track record. 

This was my third presentation at the FIL, the two previous presentations being for my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire in 2009 and, in 2010, for its translation by Agustin Cadena as El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, plus the anthology Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction (my contribution to that was the translation of a short story by Alvaro Enrigue). I first attended the FIL waaaaaaay back in 1998, when the American Literary Translations Association held their annual meeting there and, providentially, I brought along the first issue of Tameme.

So here I am on this past December 2 with 
Dr María Teresa Fernández Aceves, left (reading from her talk) and my editor, Rose Mary Salum, founding editor of Literal Publishing, right.

Fernández Aceves
 is the author of Mujeres en el cambio social en el siglo XX mexicano (2014). The translation of that could be Women and Social Change in 20th Century Mexico, and here's hoping that comes out soon. See my blog post about one of the many biographies in her book: of the Spanish feminist and Spiritist Belén de Sarraga, whose conferences during Madero's administration scandalized Mexican conservative society.

I suppose you could call me an "independent scholar"; I wrote Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution firstly as a translator, and secondly as a literary essayist and novelist, and I consider it both a work of scholarship and of creative nonfiction. In other words, I am not an academic historian, so it is an honor indeed to have such a distinguished Mexican historian present my work in such a forum. I owe my meeting Maria Teresa Fernández Aceves a few years ago to my amiga the historian and biographer Mílada Bazant, who organized a brilliant conference on biography at the Colegio Mexiquense and edited a volume of essays, including one of mine, about fiction and truth and Agustín de Iturbide y Green. (And more in this post.)

Over at the Literal Publishing stand, who of all people showed up in the middle of my radio interview with this kind gentleman from the University of Guadalajara...

... but Raymond Caballero, ex-mayor of El Paso, Texas and the author of the excellent new biography of Mexican revolutionary General Pascual Orozco, and whom I happened to have to just interviewed for my Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project! 
Well! How about that! Here we are! 

Ray sat down and chimed right in -- so that University of Guadalajara radio show got two biographers on two biographies out of the Mexican Revolution, both Madero's and Orozco's! I hear the interview aired yesterday, Sunday, and I hope they will send a link to the podcast....

>Listen in anytime to my "Marfa Mondays" interview with Raymond Caballero on his new book, Lynching Pascual Orozco: Mexican Revolutionary Hero and Paradox

I hope Caballero found a Spanish language publisher in the FIL for his vital contribution to Mexican and Far West Texas history; certainly, this book should be available in Spanish-- like, yesterday.

Also new at the FIL: Here is Rose Mary Salum's new book of short stories set in Lebanon, El agua que mece el silencio, just out from Vaso Roto. And I am both delighted and honored to mention that I am about half way through translating this work into English as The Water That Rocks the Silence

The title story was published earlier this year in English, with a slightly different title, in Origins.

When I see friends' books I always feel like a little band of literary leprechauns is waving "hi"! (I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but to me, books really do have a life of their own.) 

Here, also at the Vaso Roto stand, is a stack of my ex-Coyoacán neighbor, Anne Marie O'Connor's splendid The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauertranslated into Spanish as La dama de oro. I will take the teeniest crumb of credit for at least wishing this book into Spanish, for in this book's presentation in Mexico City back in 2012, I did say that:

"My one and only criticism of Anne Marie O'Connor's The Lady in Gold, which is really more an expression of admiration and enthusiasm, is that it is not already available in Spanish."

Well, looky here!

P.S. There is often official FIL hotel-expense support for literary translators who are attending. To get the latest news flashes and be sure to meet up with other translators at the FIL, I can warmly recommend the American Literary Translators Association.

More anon.

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Café San Martín: Reading Mexican Poet Agustín Cadena at the Café Passé in Tucson, Arizona

Sparkling sky and only a jeans jacket on the night before Halloween, University of Arizona students everywhere, in witches' hats and zombie makeup: that's how it was in Tucson when, as part of the American Literary Translators Conference "Café Latino" bilingual reading fiesta at Café Passé in Tucson, I read my translation, together with the Spanish original, of Mexican poet Agustín Cadena's poem "Café San Martín." That translation appears in poet Sarah Cortez's recent anthology, Goodbye Mexico (Texas Tech Press).

> Read Cadena's poem and about Goodbye Mexico here.

> Listen to the recording of my reading of Cadena's "Cafe San Martin" in the Café Passé as a podcast here.

Alas, Cadena could not be in Tucson because he lives in Hungary, where he teaches Latin American Literary in Debrecen. Follow his blog, El vino y la hiel.

Cadena's name and many works -- he is incredibly prolific and writes in almost every genre--were mentioned many times over the course of this year's ALTA conference. My dear amiga Patricia Dubrava, who also translates Cadena's poems and short fiction, shared a panel with me on the following day. 

Read about that panel, and my talk for that panel, here.

It was an extra special honor to read Cadena's poem and my translation because not only is Cadena a treasure of a writer-- among the very finest Mexico has ever produced-- but he has translated many of my works, including the most recent Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution (as Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana). 

The audience was also especially distinguished, including Jeffrey C. BarnettMary BergEllen CassedyDick Cluster,  Pamela Carmel, Jill Gibian, Jesse Lee KerchevalSuzanne Jill LevineAngela McEwan, Barbara Paschke, Liliana Valenzuela, and so many other writers, poets and literary translators of note. 

And a very special thank you to Alexis Levitin, my favorite Portuguese translator (and, by the way, editor of Brazil: A Traveler's Literary Companion), who organized and MC'ed the reading.

P.S. I will be teaching the workshop "Podcasting for Writers" as part of the San Miguel Writers Conference this February 2016 in Mexico. More about that on my workshop schedule page and on the San Miguel Writers Conference page.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Re: Ye Olde Website Tufte-esqued or, The Chocolate-Boxy Yum of Small Multiples

An eon ago I had the ginormous fortune to attend Edward Tufte's one day workshop on Presenting Data and Information. (Cost: 2 - 6 pairs of shoes, excellent value, jump-up-and-down recommended. And would that every government official in all the lands could attend!) 

One of the multitudinous things I learned on that day was what Tufte calls the power of small multiples. Finally, over the past weekend, I got around to applying it to some of the subpages on ye olde ever-morphing and mountainous website,

From Tufte's Envisioning Information, chapter 4, "Small Multiples": "Small multiples reveal, all at once, a scope of alternatives, a range of options." Um, yum, like a box of chocolates! 

Here are Tufte's books, displayed, yea verily, as small multiples:

I invite you to visit my website to view my books and other publications, now displayed as small multiples. If you've seen my website in the past, you will note an all-new look, which is thanks to fonts and glyphs from my latest unscheduled enthusiasm, The New Victorian Printshop by Walden Fonts. Whee, that was fun. 

Behold the new Tufte-esqued subpages with banners:

Yes, it would seem that I am procrastinating on writing my book about Far West Texas. Or am I? I like to think that a writer's website, whatever her visual and technical skills may or may not be, is an integral part of her work.

P.S. A shoutout for Jane Friedman, whose advice for my website headers and organization was most helpful. I also warmly recommend her free choc-full-of-helpful-nuggets newsletter.

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

Monday, December 07, 2015

Top 10+ Books Read in 2015

#1. Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic By Sam Quinones.

This is a grenade of a book. Based on extensive investigative reporting on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, Sam Quinones’ Dreamland tells the deeply unsettling story of the production, smuggling, and marketing of semi-processed opium base— or “black tar heroin”— originating in and around Xalisco, a farm town in the state of Nayarit, and in tandem, the story of the aggressive marketing of pain pills in the U.S.— in particular, of Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin—and the resulting conflagration of addiction and death. [CONTINUE READING MY REVIEW FOR LITERAL]
A book as surprising as finding, say, a live orca in one's bathtub (well, assuming you have a jumbo tub). Merits a re-read or five.

#3. Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro By Jeff Guinn
A strange, tragic, and expertly told story. I am powerfully grateful that Miss Charles and Mr Warrior and other members of the Seminole Negro community in Bracketville, Texas so generously shared their story with Jeff Guinn and that he, in turn, took the trouble to research and write such a fine book. Deservedly, Our Land Before We Die won the Texas Book Award after it was first published in 2002. (And thanks, Augusta Pines and Windy Goodloe of the Seminole Negro Indian Scout Cemetery Association for the recommendation. I'll have much more to say about this book and the Seminole Negro Scouts in my book about Far West Texas. Stay tuned.)

#4. West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 By Claudio Saunt

Mind-soaringly wizardrous!
(UPDATE: I finally got around to writing a proper review of this in 2018. You can read the review here. )

#5. Walking through Walls: A Memoir By Philip Smith
Now that my own book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution, is out in the world and on its own way, I haven't been delving into metaphysical literature so intensively as before. I miss the way-out wigginess of it and I know, it's not for everyone. But in a way, it's a relief to have moved on because usually, in terms of literary quality, metaphysical literature can be cloggy sloggin'. So this elegant and sensitively told memoir of growing up as the son of a decorator-turned-psychic healer in Florida oh, yeah, it's wiggy was an especially scrumptious read. 

#6. American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America By Colin Woodward
Nothing has helped me understand Texas more than this book. Ditto my family's roots in "Yankeedom," "New Netherland," and "The Left Coast."

# 7. The Edge of the World : A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe By Michael Pye
This completely changed how I think about Europe, and especially the Vikings and the Irish and international trade. Sad about what happened to the codfish.

#8. Tie

J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind by Steven L. Davis

A superb biography about the 20th century's bard of Texas.

Lynching Pascual Orozco: Mexican Revolutionary Hero and Paradox by Raymond Caballero
This is the first major biography in over 40 years of one of the most important figures of the Mexican Revolution. Caballero is also the ex-mayor of El Paso, Texas and, in his words "a recovering lawyer" a background that no doubt helped him unravel the conspiracy he found revealed in the one hundred year-old records of the Culberson County Courthouse, apparently intended to cover up what really happened to Pascual Orozco and his men in the High Lonesome Mountains south of Van Horn in 1915. Caballero's Lynching Pascual Orozco is an important contribution to the history of not only the Mexican Revolution, but of the state of Chihuahua and of Far West Texas. 
> Listen to my super crunchy podcast interview with Raymond Caballero for the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project here.

Crisply entertaining and chock-full of crunchy research by a food historian, this apparently delicious little book on America's native nut (and isn't the cover charming?)  is a horror story. [CONTINUE READING MY REVIEW]

#10.  Tie

Love, Alba By Sophy Burnham

[My writing assistant, Washingtoniana, not sure about cats]
 An audacious literary achievement in the tradition of Watership Down and Timbuktu, Sophy Burnham's Love, Alba takes a Washingtonian cat's eye view of love, betrayal, high society, and art theft that is at once charming and deeply wise.

The Art of Asking By Amanda Palmer
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 shaman we forget this in the noise, shiny plastic, and conformity of industrial culture. Remembering it is a profound gift.
>Watch Amada Palmer singing the "Ukelele Anthem" and giving her famous TED talk.

Giant by Edna Ferber

Of course I'd already seen the 1956 movie starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean. Finally, I got around to reading the novel. It struck me as a Texan (cattle vs oil) version of War and Peace, gorgeous and even transcendent in places, yet glaringly flawed in others. I do believe that Tolstoy himself would applaud the effort and verve of this giant of a book.
> Julie Gilbert wrote an unusually structured but engaging biography of her aunt, the once white-hot famous novelist: Ferber: Edna Ferber and Her Circle. 
> Listen to a recording of Edna Ferber giving a talk: "We All Sag in the Middle: The Delightfully Indignant Edna Ferber"

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

... the list goes back to 2006... 

Book review by C.M. Mayo:

Book review by C.M. Mayo:

Book review by C.M. Mayo: