Monday, May 20, 2019

Why Do Old Books Smell? / Plus from the Archives: "What the Muse Sent Me About the Tenth Muse, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz"

By C.M. Mayo

A most wonderful rare book about a 17th century American poet, whom I aim to write about, has arrived in my library. But phew, it STINKS. It stinks so nasty, I cannot even bear to read half a page of it.

Monday, May 13, 2019

BatCat Press' Call for Submissions, Plus from the Archives: "Out of the Forest of Noise: On Publishing the Literary Short Story"

By C.M. Mayo

This blog posts on Mondays. As of 2019 the second Monday of the month is devoted to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing. (You can find my workshop schedule and many more resources for writers on my workshop page.)

Now that anyone and everyone and their dog, cat, budgie, llama, and chartreuse polkadot giraffe can start a blog, or for that matter an online magazine (dub your blog an online magazine, pourquoi pas?), I am rarely asked, with that gaze of yearning, as I so often was twenty years ago, how can I get published? These days, um, lift a finger and click “publish.” 

Nonetheless it remains a fact that for most poetry, short stories, and literary essays, discerning readers will be easier to come by when said work is brought out not by its author, but by a print magazine or imprint of repute. (There are exceptions, but that would be another blog post.)

Back at the end of March I attended the annual AWP bookfair— this is the biggest litmag scene in the US– and what struck me about it was how little things had changed in the past 20 years. There were Poet Lore, the Paris Review, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction— a whole host of venerable litmags that have been around since forever. (In the case of Poet Lore, that would be 1889.)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Michael F. Suarez’s Ted Talk “Glorious Bookishness: Learning Anew in the Material World” / Plus, From the Archives: “Translating Across the (US-Mexico) Border”

By C.M. Mayo
My favorite rare book historian Michael F. Suarez, SJ gives this excellent talk for TEDxCharlotteville:
Poco a poco (bit by bit), since January of this year I have been migrating selected and updated posts from Madam Mayo’soriginal Google Blogger platform to self-hosted WordPress here at www.madam-mayo.comMadam Mayo goes all the way back to the Cambrianesquely Blogasonic Explosion, I mean, um, 2006… This past week I’ve worked a bit on the translation posts, among them:
Originally posted October 29, 2015
Edited Transcript of a Talk by C.M. Mayo
at the annual conference of the
American Literary Translators Association (ALTA)
Muchísimas gracias, Mark Weiss, and thank you also to my fellow panelists, it is an honor to sit on this dias with you. Thank you all for coming. It is especially apt to be talking about translating Mexican writing here, a jog from the Mexican border, in Tucson—or Tuk-son as the Mexicans pronounce it.
I grew up in Northern California and was educated in various places but mainly the University of Chicago. As far as Mexico went, until I was in my mid-twenties, I had absorbed, to use historian John Tutino’s term, the “enduring presumptions.” Translation: I had zero interest in Mexico.
You know that old saying, if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans?
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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Q & A: Joseph Hutchison, Poet Laureate of Colorado, on "The World As Is"

By C.M. Mayo

This blog posts on Mondays. This year the fourth Monday of the month is devoted to a Q & A with a fellow writer.


The World As Is: New and Selected Poems 1972-2015 by Joseph Hutchison
Photo by C.M. Mayo. 
(My own fave is “Poem to Be Kept Like a Candle, In Case of Emergencies.”)
One of the blogs I’ve been following for a good long time is poet Joseph Hutchison’s The Perpetual Bird. We have never met in person but I feel as if we have; moreover, we have friends in common, among them, poet, essayist and translator Patricia Dubrava– and if my memory serves, it was her blog, Holding the Light, that first sent me to The Perpetual Bird. Here on my desk I have Hutchison’s collection of his works of several decades, The World As Is. From publisher NYQ Books’ catalog copy:   >> CONTINUE READING THIS POST AT WWW.MADAM-MAYO.COM

Monday, April 15, 2019

Texas Pecan Pie for Dieters, Plus from the Archives: A Review of James McWilliams' "The Pecan"

By C.M. Mayo

What’s a Texas pecan pie for dieters? It’s the same as the normal pie– loads of pecans, butter, and sugar– but it’s a tiny pie. And I happen to have the perfect tiny Texas pie dish for it– a work of art by Alpine, Texas-based ceramic artist Judy Howell Freeman. It’s one of the loveliest pie dishes I have ever seen. My photo does not do it justice.


Monday, April 08, 2019

This Writer’s Distraction Free Smartphone (DFS): First Quarter Update

By C.M. Mayo

This blog posts on Mondays. As of 2019 the second Monday of the month is devoted to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing. (You can find my workshop schedule and many more resources for writers on my workshop page.)

As a writer your foremost resource is your creativity applied by the sustained power of your attentional focus.

Your foremost writerly resource is your creativity applied by the sustained power of your attentional focus. The Muse can gift you with a zillion ideas every minute of the day, but if you cannot plant yourself in your chair and stay focused on your writing, your book will ever and always remain an unfulfilled wish, a ghost of your imagination. 

Most people have forfeited more than a generous portion of their attentional focus to their smartphones– to checking and scrolling through text messages, social media feeds, games, shopping, news, YouTube videos & etc. Ergo, I would suggest that if you want to get some writing done, don’t be like most people: consider your smartphone use. Very carefully.

And honestly. Yes, smartphones are gee-whiz useful. But when you consider how much of your time and attention they can so easily suck up, day after day after day, you can recognize how exceedingly dangerous they are to you as a writer.

Monday, April 01, 2019

AWP 2019 (Think No One Is Reading Books and Litmags Anymore?)

By C.M. Mayo

After attending for more years than I can count, I swore off the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs after Seattle 2014 in lieu of fewer, more narrowly focused, and smaller writers conferences. If you’re not familiar with it, AWP is huger than H*U*G*E, with an eye-addling and foot blister-inducing bookfair, plus endless panels, scads of receptions (free cheese cubes!), readings, and more readings, and even more readings. Finding friends at AWP oftentimes feels like trying to meet up at Grand Central Station at rush hour. Of the few panels that do appeal, dagnabbit, they somehow occupy the same time slot. Then try finding a table for an impromptu group of 13 on Friday at 7 PM! But sometimes, never mind, it all aligns beautifully and you can find friends and inspiration and new friends and all whatnot!


Monday, March 25, 2019

Q & A: W. Nick Hill on "Sleight Work" and Mucho Más

By C.M. Mayo

This blog posts on Mondays. This year the fourth Monday of the month is devoted to a Q & A with a fellow writer.

I was delighted to get the announcement for Sleight Work from W. Nick Hill, a poet and translator I have long admired. Sleight Work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License. The author invites you to download the free PDF from his website and have a read right now!

Here is one of the poems from W. Nick Hill’s Sleight Work which seems to me the very spirit of the book:


by W. Nick Hill

I live in a desert at the mouth of a mine.

The rocks and geodes I leave out on the sand.

If something fits your hand

Go ahead with it.


Monday, March 18, 2019

"Silence" and "Poem" on the 1967 Hermes 3000

By C.M. Mayo
My writing assistant wonders…. um, why?
Truly, I am not intending to collect typewriters. All shelf space is spoken for by books!! Last week I brought home a 1967 Hermes 3000 because (long story zipped) my 1961 Hermes 3000 is temporarily inaccessible, and it was bugging me that my 1963 Hermes Baby types unevenly and sometimes muddily (which could be a problem with the ribbon, but anyway), and I had a deadline to type my short story “What Happened to the Dog?” for the anthology COLD HARD TYPE (about which more anon).

Well, obviously I had to buy another typewriter!

I dare not buy anything but a Swiss Hermes. The one I could find in my local office supply shop was a refurbished 1967 Hermes 3000 with a Swiss-German QWERTZ keyboard. I’ve had to get used to the transposed Y and Z keys; otherwise, kein Problem, and es freut mich sehr to have the umlaut.
A QWERTZ Swiss German keyboard
(American keyboards are QWERTYs)
Of my three Hermes typewriters, this 1967 3000 is by far the smoothest, easiest to type on, and most consistent. I venture to use the word “buttery,” in fact. 
Herewith, typed on the 1967 Hermes 3000, “Silence” and “Poem,” from my forthcoming collection, Meteor:
Typed today but originally published in Muse Apprentice Guild in, ayy, 2002. I think it was.
If you’re going to the Great American Writerly Hajj, I mean the Associated Writing Programs Conference, come on by my reading– it’s a free event– I’m on the lineup with Thaddeus Rutkowski, Cecilia Martinez-Gil, Tyler McMahon, Seth Brady Tucker, John Domini, Teri Cross Davis, Elaine Ray, William Orem, Jeff Walt, and Joan G. Gurfield for the Gival Press 20th Anniversary Celebration Reading on Friday March 29, 2019 @ 7 - 10 PM. Hotel Rose, 50 SW Morrison St, Portland OR. 

The following day, Saturday March 30, 2019 @ 10-11:30 AM, I’ll be signing copies of Meteor at the Gival Press table (Table #8063) in the AWP Conference book fair.

You can also find a copy of Meteor on And read more poems and whatnots apropos of Meteor on the book’s webpage here.
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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Slam-dunk (If Counterintuitive) Strategy to Simultaneously Accelerate, Limber Up, and Steady the Writing Process

By C.M. Mayo

This blog posts on Mondays. As of 2019 the second Monday of the month is devoted to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing. (You can find my workshop schedule and many more resources for writers on my workshop page.)

Those of you who follow me here know that I am fascinated by attentional management and the creative process. Of late I have posted here on my advances in email management; finding time for writing (gimungous swaths of it!); and most recently, my distraction-free smartphone (which post includes an app evaluation flowchart to tailor-make your own, should you feel so inclined).

That last post about the smartphone appeared on the eve of the publication of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. Because I am a fan of Newport’s books, especially Deep Work, which I recommend as vital reading for writers, of any age and any level of experience, I expected Digital Minimalism to be good. As I noted in that post, if nothing else, in broadening our ability to think about the technology we use, Newport’s term “digital minimalism” is an important contribution in itself.


Monday, March 04, 2019

"Round N Round" on the 1963 Hermes Baby

Uh oh (I can begin to see how this gets out of hand!) I just brought home a second vintage Swiss-made typewriter, a 1963 Hermes Baby, which is a sight lighter at 3.6 kilos (just under 8 pounds) and more compact than my 1961 Hermes 3000. It is in excellent working order, klak, klak!


He has not expressed himself verbally on the matter,
but it would seem that my writing assistant would prefer
that I use the MacBook Pro.
Also, geesh, it was ten minutes past suppertime.

From Meteor, my collection which will be out from Gival Press later this month:

>More about Meteor on my webpage.

>More about the Hermes Baby at the Australian blog ozTypewriter and at the Swiss Hermes Baby Page by Georg Sommeregger (in German, but Google translation available).

On the Hermes Baby I am also typing up my story (originally written on the laptop), “What Happened to the Dog?” for COLD HARD TYPE: Typewriter Tales from Post-Digtal Worlds. More about that anon.

Meanwhile, whilst strolling about the Rio Grande outside of Albuquerque, my fellow COLD HARD TYPE contributor Joe Van Cleave ponders the Typosphere, its relation to digital media, and the ultimately analog origins of the digital:

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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Q & A: Ellen Cassedy, Translator of "On the Landing," Stories by Yenta Mash, Master Chronicler of Exile

By C.M. Mayo

This blog posts on Mondays. This year the fourth Monday of the month is dedicated to a Q & A with another writer.

On the Landing: Stories by Yenta Mash,
translated by Ellen Cassedy
(Northern Illinois University Press, 2018)
Yenta Mash and her stories will be remembered because they have rare and masterful elegance, uncanny insight into vast prairie-like swaths human nature, and unusual heart. They also tell stories entirely new for many English-speaking people, that of the Jewish exiles to Siberia under Stalin during World War II, and their later migration to Israel. Translator Ellen Cassedy’s is a transcendent achievement; with Mash’s On the Landing she has brought a landmark book into English.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Using Imagery (the "Metaphor Stuff")

This blogs posts on Mondays. The second Monday of the month is dedicated to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing. 

The study of English Literature has its pleasures and virtues, and much to do with learning the craft of creative writing; nonetheless, these are not one and the same endeavor. You can earn a PhD in race, class, gender, or fill-in-the-blank in the novel, yet still not have the wherewithal to actually write one. 


Monday, February 04, 2019

Migrating to Self-Hosted WordPress

Oops, I needed to have packed more trail mix and the glamping equipment!
 A few elephants to carry it all would have been fun, too.
Well, dangit, I meant to spend the month of January writing about Texas.
 (Photo: Engraving by G.H. Cushman of a painting by G.P.A Healy,
 Library of Congress, in the public domain.

Finally, after more than a decade, I took my own advice to get this blog off the free Google blogger platform and onto self-hosted WordPress at It was one part 2019 new year’s resolution and another part yikes-my-book-Meteor-is-about-to-come-out-and-I-should-have-already-taken-care-of-this. For the past few weeks I’ve been huffing and puffing up a steeper learning curve, and one with quite a few more scenic (and not-so-scenic) detours, than I had anticipated.


I do not aim, by the way, to import the entire archive of Madam Mayo blog posts going back to 2006. Archaeologists of Ur-litblogdom are hereby invited to dig around in the archives right where they always were and shall remain for as long as Googledom, for whatever reasons known only to itself, deems apt. What I am importing to, with selected links updated, are those posts that I believe best hold up over time: some transcripts of my talks, and other items related to my books (including the one in-progress) and podcasts; book reviews and the richer notes on recommended reading; articles for my writing workshop; and the now substantial collection of Q & As with other writers.

If you’re new to this blog, a few of last year’s posts that I would consider representative of what you can expect here going into 2019 include:

Working with a Working Library: Kuddelmuddel
September 24, 2018

Diction Drops and Spikes
(Workshop Post)
August 13, 2018
(In 2019 workshop posts are on the second Monday of the month)

Top 10+ Books Read 2018
December 17, 2018

Q & A: Leslie Pietrzyk on Writers Groups,
the Siren Song of the Online World, and on Writing Silver Girl
February 26, 2018
(In 2019 look for Q & A’s on the fourth Monday of the month)

As of today, February 4, 2019, the top “Madam Mayo” posts for 2018–some thirty in all– plus a wee batch (mainly workshop posts) from a sprinkling of earlier years, are now live at So I have more to do.

I also need to figure out the email sign-up thing…

In case you are also thinking of migrating a blog to WordPress, or starting a new blog on WordPress, herewith a few resources that I have found especially helpful:

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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.

Monday, January 28, 2019


By C.M. Mayo

This blog posts on Mondays. This year the fourth Monday of the month is dedicated to a Q & A with a fellow writer.

CORK WARS by David A. Taylor
I was excited to see David A. Taylor’s Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II, firstly because I know from his previous works that this promises to be a thoroughly researched and superbly written history; and secondly because I have some tangentially related family history with another strategic material during World War II. My grandfather, organic chemist Frank R. Mayo, was then a research chemist at U.S. Rubber Company working on the crucial task of creating a synthetic rubber that could be mass-produced in a dangerously narrowing window of time; sources of natural rubber –-essential for making automobile and airplane tires as well as tank caterpillar tracks–-had been cut off when the Japanese invaded southeast Asia. Moreover, these days I am not the only one nervously aware that as we become increasingly dependent on our computers, smartphones, and electric vehicles, we are becoming  increasingly beholden to a supply of “rare earths,” many found nowhere near the United States, for the batteries (as David mentions in this interview).

Cork, a strategic material: Who’dathunkit? 

Taylor’s Cork Wars has been garnering rich praise. Meredith Hindley, author of Destination Casablanca, calls Cork Wars “fascinating;” Mary Otto, author of Teeth, says: “Cork Wars captures the drama of three families whose lives are bound up with a precious forest product—and the urgency of war;” and noted biographer Douglas Brinkley calls Cork Wars “a landmark achievement!”

C.M. MAYO: How might you describe the ideal reader for Cork Wars?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: The story is narrative nonfiction, so really the ideal reader is anyone who loves a good story. Because it involves espionage and World War II, that tends toward a male reader but the focus on families and how they respond to a crisis will make it interesting to a wider audience. I’ve been pleased that a wide range of readers have responded warmly to the book.

C.M. MAYO: An unsung commodity turns out to be crucial for national defense. It seems to me there are many parallels to this, both in the past and the present. Can you talk about this a bit?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: That’s long been an interest of mine, especially commodities that come from nature. We’ve come to know that water can be a flashpoint for conflict and security. And many of us grew up hearing “Blood for oil!” as a shorthand describing the motivation for wars fought over petroleum reserves.

But other parallels today are less well known. One is an obscure ingredient in electronics like our cellphones: minerals called “rare earths.” Your cellphone contains just a tiny amount of rare earths, but they’re irreplaceable – and China holds practically a monopoly on them. That’s why the Pentagon recently issued a report saying rare earths are a matter of U.S. national security.

That’s a factor in the current trade conflict. It helps to know these things as world citizens. And for writers, I think that holds dramatic possibilities as well.

C.M. MAYO: Can you talk about which writers have been the most important influences for your writing in general and for Cork Wars in particular?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: My reading taste has been shaped by so many wonderful writers of both fiction and nonfiction. It’s hard to keep to just a few. In fiction I’ve loved the works of Alice Munro, Grace Paley, Amy Bloom, George Saunders, Kate Wheeler, Chekhov, Tagore (stories), Borges, and Machado de Assis, the Brazilian master who combines wit and poignancy. In nonfiction I’ve been influenced by John McPhee, Rebecca Skloot, Isabel Wilkerson and others.

For Cork Wars, I was very impressed by a novel by Alan Furst called Dark Voyage, set during World War II and in the Mediterranean, in which the crew of a freighter (hauling a cargo of cork for part of the voyage) figures prominently. Furst evoked a world that’s noir and world-wise with vital characters, a combination I wanted for my book.

The other novel that I admired recently – it didn’t influence me because of when it came out – was Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, which has beautiful writing and characters in that wartime atmosphere of New York harbor.

C.M. MAYO: You have been a consistently productive writer for many years. How has the Digital Revolution affected your writing? Specifically, has it become more challenging to stay focused with the siren calls of email, texting, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, social media, and such? If so, do you have some tips and tricks you might be able to share?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: Thanks, so have you! The digital revolution has had a huge affect on my process. Yes, the distractions – and even the requirements – of email and social media have cut a chunk out of my writing time. I still write in the mornings, right after I get up, and that helps. And at some point in the day I like to write on paper, for a different neural connection to work. But I wish I had more tricks for staying focused (apart from self-imposed deadlines).

C.M. MAYO: Another question apropos of the digital revolution. At what point, if any, were you working on paper? Was working on paper necessary for you, or problematic?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: Yes, I started writing on computers but printing out to review and revise. I’ve seen research findings that reading hardcopy can help foster focus on longform reading (and revising). So as much as I write and revise onscreen, I do also edit on paper. The visceral circling of passages to move around can be satisfying.
I also read my work aloud to get my ear involved in hearing points for improvement.

C.M. MAYO: Organization… Keeping the research and working library all in order is a titantic task in writing a book of this nature. What were some of the things you did for this book that worked especially well for you?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: It’s interesting – have you found your own process has changed with each book? Mine has. For my first book, I used index cards to map out scenes, chapter by chapter. Later books relied on folders on the computer.

This one was challenging in terms of structure – it took a while to find the braided structure woven in three strands, with three families. As the structure evolved, the way I sorted my text, interview transcripts and images shifted.

One strength in this story’s evolution was the rhythm of research and interviews, writing and revision. The research led me to people to talk with – including Frank DiCara at his home in Baltimore, and Gloria Marsa, the daughter of a man recruited for spying by the OSS. I spoke with her often by phone in Mexico City, where she lives.

Those conversations in turn pointed me forward with search terms for more documentary research, which often yielded details that would be hard to recall, but that help the narrative.

C.M. MAYO: What’s next for you as a writer? 
DAVID A. TAYLOR: I’ve been encouraged by the response to Cork Wars and I think there are other formats in which the story and its characters can speak to us. In earlier work, I was fortunate to have partners for adapting my book about the WPA writers of the 1930s, Soul of a People, as a documentary and later as a feature screenplay (not yet produced, but it did get some nice WGA recognition). So I’d like to explore something like that with this story.

I also have several new projects. I’m in awe of the vision of August Wilson, whose Twentieth Century Cycle is so monumental. I love the idea of imagining a vast canvas, and carving it up by decade! On my own much smaller scale, I have my Thirties story with the WPA writers, and now Cork Wars in the 1940s. So I have a few more to go.

>>Visit David A. Taylor here, and check out this excellent trailer for Cork Wars:

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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.