Monday, October 31, 2016

Santa Fe 2016: Women Writing the West and Allá

Dear reader, if you are a writer who has not yet attended a writer's conference, may I suggest that, whether you are a beginner or a battle-scarred multi-prize-winning veteran in this "business," a conference can be one of the best investments you make in yourself. Plus, if you have even a wee bit of extrovert in you, it's a gab fest.  

That said, over the years I've participated in so many writers' conferences, most blur together in a sort of schmoo of vaguely remembered panels and jostling in the corridors and too much coffee and overcrowded ladies rooms... I sometimes wondered, ho hum, what could possibly be new? 

Well, a couple of years ago it occurred to me that it would be both new and apt for me to look west; after all, the majority of writers conferences I had attended up until then had been on the East Coast, and I am at work on a book about Far West Texas. Plus, my agent, bless her heart, passed away, so I might need another one (whether I do or not remains an open question)-- the agent pitch sessions at a writers conference are always valuable if for no other reason than to practice pitching. 

After attending the 2014 Women Writing the West conference in Golden, Colorado, I learned so much and met so many accomplished and friendly and indeed, women-writing the-west writers, including several Texans, that I hoped to attend another. Finally this October it was possible, and that meant a journey to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

My participation this year was on the panel "Writing Across Borders and Cultures" with Dawn Wink and Kathryn Ferguson and I gave a workshop on "Podcasting for Writers." 

> Transcript of my remarks for "Writing Across Borders and Cultures" here.
> Handouts for the workshop "Podcasting for Writers" here and here.


One of the highlights for me was meeting anthropologist Stacy B. Schaefer, whose biography of Amada Cardenas, Amada's Blessings from the Peyote Gardens of South Texas (University of New Mexico Press) was a finalist for the Women Writing the West Willa Award for Scholarly Nonfiction. Of course my book in-progress about Trans-Pecos Texas will include some discussion on peyote, since its habitat, mainly in South Texas and Northern Mexico, includes a patch of the Big Bend, which is in the Trans-Pecos. Schaefer is one of the leading scholars on peyote and her story of the first federally-licensed peyote dealer Amada Cardenas is essential reading for anyone who would seek to understand the history and ritual of the Native American Church, as well as a vital part of US-Mexico border culture and history.

Another highlight was Denise Chavez's magnificently theatrical luncheon keynote, a reading from her book, A Taco Testimony. 

In the photo below, to the left of Chavez, in blue, sits acquisitions librarian Alice Kober, who later gave a talk entitled "Why Would Librarians Buy Your Book
 Or Not?" (Oh dear, those "nots"...) 

Most writers' conferences offer a panel on book marketing. In my newly-forged opinion, ideally, all writers' conference panels on book marketing should feature an acquisitions librarian. Would that he or she could be half as wickedly excellent a speaker as Alice Kober.


Another sparkling keynote, "The Right to Write," was delivered by Julia Cameron, and at the Willa awards banquet, Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso read her exquisite works.

Further entertainment was provided by this fine mariachi band.


Apart from being entertained, noshing on buffet chicken, gleaning loads of practical advice, and selling books, a writers conference offers the chance to put faces to names. Among them: Amy Hale Auker, author of The Story is the Thing; Brenda BlackKathryn Ferguson, author of The Haunting of the Mexican Border; Laurie Gunst, author of Born Fi' Dead and Off-White; and Lisa Sharp, author of A Slow Trot Home.

And among the many writers I was fortunate to meet back in 2014 and cross paths with again were Andrea JonesPam Nowak (who did so much to make this conference run so smoothly!)Jane KirkpatrickCynthia Leal MasseyCarmen Peone, Heidi ThomasSusan Tweit, and Dawn Wink. Susan Tweit and Dawn Wink, dynamic duo, not only gave a terrific jump-starter of a workshop on mapping stories, they also smoothly MC'ed the Willa Awards Banquet.

(One of my long-time goals was rekindled with this awards banquet: to read Willa Cather's complete works. It's in my Filofax for 2018. I made my hajj to her house in Nebraska back in 2014. More about the inestimable Willa Cather anon.)

How to join Women Writing the West and attend their next conference? You will find the whole enchilada o' info in their website here


Alas, I did not have time to explore much of Santa Fe on this occasion, but for one afternoon session I skipped out for a chance to see the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral, and so happened onto a rally in the Plaza for Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party candidate for US President! In a moment, candidate Johnson himself appeared, looking buff after his bike ride down from Taos, and, although I don't think the crowd was following him, he unleashed a stream of expialidocious-wonkaliciousness on Aleppo. I am not kidding. (In case you were wondering, dear reader, as far as politics go, this blog resides on Planet Uli Washi.)

[[ Not Planet Uli Washi ]]

Here is my photo taken by my smartphone, which, alas, does it no justice of St Francis of Assisi's unusual and very beautiful main altar:


My one other escape from the conference was a hajj of sorts: a visit to Allá, the best Spanish language bookstore north of the border. So many writers and translators over the years have told me about Allá. (I mean you, José Skinner, Raymond Caballero, Patricia Dubrava...) I had heard that Allá was on the southwest corner of the Plaza, but on my previous visit to Santa Fe, I couldn't find it. This time, armed with the precise address, 102 West San Francisco St, and my smartphone's map app, I discovered that it is a little ways past southwest corner of the Plaza, and you won't find a sign on the street. However, as you can see in the photo below, there is a reference Allá Arte- Libros - Música pasted in between some steps on the stairs. So head on up to the second floor, hang a right, and there you may enter into the bright warren of rooms all filled with tesoros, both literary and scholarlyand if you're lucky, meet the owner himself, James J. Dunlap.

Yes, here you can find Mexican writers such as Agustín Cadena and Mónica Lavín. And bless his corazón, he had books on Mexico in English by my amigos, Bruce Berger and David Lida and... drumrrrrrrroll... he had 
two of my books sitting out on the table, Mexico A Traveler's Literary Companion and Sky Over El Nido, and he said he had just recently sold another title, Miraculous Air, my memoir of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. 


Speaking of miracles, my luggage accommodated the pile of books I hauled out of there, including some Mexican scholarly works on the Apaches and Comanches that, from Mexico City, I have been trying to hunt down for over a year. Somehow I also took home a fat hardcover first edition of a memoir of life among some indigenous people in Tierra del Fuego. Visit Allá at your own risk! If you dare, tell Jim that Mayo told you to ask about a-gogo and psícadelico

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

On Seeing as an Artist or, Five Techniques for a Journey to Einfühlung: Remarks For the Women Writing the West Panel on "Writing Across Borders and Cultures"

TRANSCRIPT (slightly expanded and now with a proper title) of C.M. Mayo’s talk for the panel “Writing Across Borders and Cultures”
Women Writing the West Annual Conference
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Saturday, October 15, 2016



How many of you have been to Mexico? Well, viva Mexico! Here we are in New Mexico, Nuevo México. On this panel, with Dawn Wink and Kathryn Ferguson, it seems we are all about Mexico. I write both fiction and nonfiction, most of it about Mexico because that is where I have been living for most of my adult life— that is, the past 30 years— married to a Mexican and living in Mexico City. 

But in this talk I would like to put on my sombrero, as it were, as an historical novelist, and although my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, is about Mexico, I don’t want to talk so much about Mexico as I do five simple, powerful techniques that have helped me, and that I hope will help you to see as an artist and write across borders and cultures.

# # #

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

My Recollections of Maximilian by Marie de la Fere; Introduction by C.M. Mayo 
(A rare eyewitness English-language memoir published as an ebook 
by permission of the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley)

(podcast and transcript)

See also my other blog, 
of the Tumultuous Period of Mexican History Known as 
the Second Empire or French Intervention
(Transcript of my talk for the panel on "Why Tramslate?"
American Literary Translators Conference, Milwaukee, 2015)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In Plain Sight: Felix Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914 by Heribert von Feilitzsch


My review, just published in Literal:

by Heribert von Feilitzsch
Henselstone Verlag, 2012

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said, "A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history." Like Gandhi, Francisco I. Madero was deeply influenced by the Hindu scripture known as the Bhagavad-Gita and its concern with the metaphysics of faith and duty. And like Gandhi, Madero altered the course of history of his nation. From 1908, with his call for effective suffrage and no reelection, until his assasination in 1913, Madero received the support of not all, certainly, but many millions of Mexicans from all classes of society and all regions of the republic. But the fact is, during the 1910 Revolution, during Madero's successful campaign for the presidency, and during Madero's presidency, one of the members of that "small body of determined spirits," who worked most closely with him was not Mexican. His name was Felix A. Sommerfeld and he was a German spy. >>> CONTINUE READING

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Reading List for Writing Across Borders and Cultures

This was my handout for the panel "Writing Across Borders and Cultures" with Yours Truly, Dawn Wink and Kathryn Ferguson at the Women Writing the West Annual Conference, Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 15, 2016. 

UPDATE: Now posted, transcript of my remarks, "On Seeing as an Artist: Five Techniques for a Journey to Einfühling"



C.M. Mayo
+ Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual
+ The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
+ Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico

+ Sky Over El Nido: Stories
+ (as editor) Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion


Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Crawford, Matthew B. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. 

Duffy, Patricia Lynne. Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their World. 

Said, Edward. Orientalism. 

Scarry, Elaine. Dreaming by the Book. 


Edwards, Betty. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. 

Ricco, Gabriele Lusser. Writing the Natural Way.

Smith, Pamela Jaye. Inner Drives: How to Write and Create Characters Using the Eight Classic Centers of Motivation. 

Zinsser, William, ed. They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing. 


Baum, Kenneth. The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind-Body Connection. 

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art: Winning the Creative Battle.

P.S. Gigazoodles more recommended reading at my writing workshop page (on tips, on craft, process, editing, publishing, and more).

>> Stay tuned for the transcript of my talk for this panel.

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

Five 2 Word Exercises for Practicing Seeing as a Literary Artist in the Airport (or the Mall or the Train Station or the University Campus or the Car Wash, etc)


Later this week at the Women Writing the West conference in Santa Fe,  I'll be talking about seeing as an artist, apropos of which, this brief exercise:

Wherever there be a parade of people, there's an opportunity for a writerly exercise. This is a quick and easy one, or rather, five. The idea is to look-- using your artist's eye, really look at individuals and come up with two words (or 3 or 4 or 7) to describe them. Yep, it is that easy. 

It helps to write the words down, but just saying them silently to yourself is fine, too. The point is to train your brain to pay attention to detail and generate original descriptions.

As someone walks by:

1. One word to describe the shape of this person's hair; a second word (or two or more) for the color of his or her shoes (referring to a food item), for example:

knife-like; chocolate pudding
She had a knife-like bob and slippers the color of chocolate pudding

curve; pork sausages
His head was a curve of curls and he wore pinkish clogs, a pink that made me think of pork sausages

sumptuous; cinnamon candy
She had a sumptuous do and spike-heeled sandals the red of cinnamon candy

stubbly; skinned trout
He had stubbly hair and tennis shoes the beige-white of skinned trout.

(By the way, it doesn't matter if the words are any good or even apt; the point is to practice coming up with them. Why the color of a food item? Why not?)

2. Is this person carrying anything? If so, describe it with one adjective plus one noun, e.g.:

fat purse
She carried a fat purse

lumpy briefcase
He leaned slightly to the left from the weight of a lumpy briefcase 

crumpled bag
She clutched a crumpled bag 

white cup
On his palm he balanced a white cup

3. Gait and gaze

loping; fixed to ground
shuffling; bright
brisk; dreamy
tiptoe; squinty

4.  Age range

older than 10, younger than 14
perhaps older than 20
I would believe 112
obviously in her seventies, never mind the taut smile 

5. Jewelry

a gold watch; a silver skull ring
feather earrings; a toe ring
eyebrow stud; hoop earrings
a wedding band on the wrong finger; an elephant hair bracelet

One need not use all this detail; the point is to generate it in the first place-- to get beyond stereotypes (eg she was a short Asian woman) and write something more memorable and vivid. 

She had a knife-like bob and slippers the color of chocolate pudding. She carried a fat purse. Her walk was brisk, her gaze dreamy. Perhaps she was older than twenty. She wore a wedding band on the wrong finger and an elephant hair bracelet.

>> How to select the detail and avoid clutter? See "On Respecting the Integrity of Narrative Design: The Interior Decoration Analogy."

More anon.

UPDATE: See the transcript from my talk 
"On Seeing as an Artist or, Five Techniques for a Journey to Einfuhlung"

Monday, October 03, 2016

Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion and the Whereabouts Press series

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of my Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion anthology. This week I'm off to the American Literary Translators Association conference in Oakland, California, where, thanks to my amiga, Jill Gillian, editor of Argentina: A Traveler's Literary Companion, I will be participating on roundtable discussion panel of editors of the Whereabouts Press Traveler's Literary Companion series: founding editor David Peattie; Jill Gibian (Argentina); Alexis Levitin (Brazil); Ann Louise Bardach (Cuba); and William Rodamor (France).

Whereabouts Press founder David Peattie's concept of the series is visionary, and I was truly honored to have been invited to edit the Mexico collection. 

As the Whereabouts Press website says, "unlike traditional guidebooks, our books feature stories written by literary writers. Through these stories, readers see more than a place. They see the soul of a place."

Isabelle Allende praised the Whereabouts Press Traveler's Literary Companion series: 

"We can hear a country speak and better learn its secrets through the voices of its great writers. An engaging series— a compelling idea, thoughtfully executed."



Webpage for Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion

> Table of Contents

> List of writers and translators

> Preface

> "Lady of the Seas" by Agustin Cadena

> About the cover-- the beautiful painting of the "Cocina verde co arroz al horno" (Green Kitchen with Baked Rice) by Elena Climent 

> National Public Radio interview about this book with Yours Truly

> Q & A plus other interviews

> Links to buy this book from amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and more.

"It will open your eyes, fill you with pleasure and render our perennial vecinos a little less distante." 

Los Angeles Times Book Review

"One of the outstanding contemporary works on this country"
David Huerta, El Universal, Mexico City

"Highly recommended."
Library Journal

"Discovering it was like opening a door and walking into a brightly lit room filled with all kinds of literary treasures" 

Mexico Connect

"This delicious volume has lovingly gathered a banquet of pieces that reveal Mexico in all its infinite variety, its splendid geography, its luminous peoples. What a treat!"

Margaret Sayers Peden, editor, Mexican Writers on Writing

+ + + + + 

Because I am at work on a book about Far West Texas, my translation endeavors have slowed to a bit of a crawl this year. That said, I should soon be finished with my translation of Mexican writer Rose Mary Salum's award-winning collection of short stories, The Water that Rocks the Silence. More about that anon.