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Madam Mayo

By literary journalist and novelist C.M. Mayo. Mainly Mexico, oftentimes Texas and well yonder. Author of METAPHYSICAL ODYSSEY INTO THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION, FRANCISCO I. MADERO AND HIS SECRET BOOK, as well as THE LAST PRINCE OF THE MEXICAN EMPIRE, the nove

Updated: 2017-04-26T09:49:05.207-04:00


Dispatch from Palo Alto: A Joy in this Intensely Multivariate World: Edward Tufte's "Presenting Data and Information"


C'est moi in Palo Alto,After the ET Presenting Data and Information workshopYonder back, about a decade ago, on the rave recommendation of a graphic designer friend, I took Edward Tufte's one day workshop, Presenting Data and Information, and it was such a joy of an inspiration that ever since I had wanted to take the class a second time. Finally, in Palo Alto this Monday, it was possible. Herewith a few notes and links:Beautiful Evidence, one of several books by ETWebsite: www.tufte.comIncludes more than 200 essaysBooks by Edward TufteTwitter: @EdwardTufteLinks from the handout:+ The Future of Data Analysis, video of Edward Tufte's keynote talk, September 2016+ Ingre Druckrey: Teaching to See, docfilm produced by Edward Tufte and directed by Andrei Severny+ "The Parable of Google Flu: Traps in Big Data Analysis" David Lazer, Ryan Kennedy, Gary King, Alessandro Vespignani  [PDF]+ "The Quartz Guide to Bad Data: An Exhaustive Reference" From Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte:"clutter and confusion are failure of design, not attributes of information" (p. 51)"What we seek... is a rich texture of data, a comparative context, an understanding of complexity" (p.51)Visual Explanations by Edward TuftePractical advice for presentations on p. 68.From this workshop, random E.T. quotes of note:"the world is intensely mutlivariate""respect your audience, endlessly""I'm not going to dumb things down, I'm going to make everyone smarter""How do I know that? How do they know that?""Start with a document, not a deck""Keep architecture simple, content rich" "A visualization should provide reasons to believe""If you have any reason to bring in a three dimensional object, do so""Find successful things in the wild. Where is the ceiling of excellence?""Keep an open mind, not an empty head""The point of an information presentation is to explain something with credibility and to help viewers understand the content, help them reason. Show causality.""Separate the sheep from the goats""Sculpture is a work of art that casts shadows""When things are spacially adjacent this lets the audience be in charge"I eagerly await ET's forthcoming book, Meaning and Space. > Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.On Seeing as an Artist or, Five Steps for a Journey to EinfuhlungFive Super Simple Tips for Better Book DesignThe Chocolate-Boxy Yum of Small Multiples[...]

Bitter Waters: The Struggles of the Pecos River by Patrick Dearen


(image) When I closed the cover of Patrick Dearen's Bitter Waters: The Struggles of the Pecos River it was with both gratitude and the unsettling sense of having arrived into new territory— raw, rich, appalling—in my understanding of Far West Texas. This is no minor thing to acknowledge; for some years now I have been at work on a book about that very region.

But first, for those who don't have a jones for, shall we say, Wild Westerie, why bring Far West Texas into the cross hairs? And why give a hoededo about its skinny river so salty, to quote one of Dearen's informants, that "a snake wouldn't drink it"?

Texas is one of the most powerful economic and political entities in not only the United States but the Americas. At the same time, "Texas" is so hammered out into tinfoil-thin clichés of popular culture (and many of those informed by warmed-over 19th century war propaganda and Madison Avenue-concocted boosterism), that we have the illusion we know Texas, when in fact it enfolds concatenations of undeservedly obscure histories, stupendenous beauty, and the lumpiest of paradoxes. If Texas—and I mean the real one, not the confection of Marion Morrison aka John Wayne, et al—is still in many ways terra incognita, its "iconic" far west, profoundly moreso. What delineates Far West Texas from the rest of Texas is precisely that skinny, salty river. And a most peculiar body of water it is. CONTINUE READING

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

Spring Break


Traditional Mexican candies from the Dulcería CelayaI'm off this week to do more research for the book in-progress on Far West Texas. In case you missed them, herewith a batch of yummy posts from springtimes of yore:Mexico City Lit: Agustin Cadena, Patricia Dubrava, and Yours Truly, Plus a Note on the Past and Future of the Literary MagazineApril 27, 2016Q & A with Independent Publisher Michele Orwin, Founding Editor of Bacon Press BooksApril 15, 2015The Memoirs of Maximilian's Gardener,Wilhelm Knechtel, Translated by Susanne IglerApril 8, 2013Little Walls Against the TechniumMarch 14, 2011From The Writer's Carousel: Literary Travel WritingMarch 17, 2009Next post next Monday, April 17. P.P.S. Stay tuned for more Marfa Mondays podcasts. Twenty have been posted to date. Listen in anytime here.One Simple Yet Powerful Practice for Reading as a WriterDesert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West by Rubén MartínezOn Seeing as an Artist or, Five Techniques for a Journey to Einfuhlung[...]

A Visit to the Casa de la Primera Imprenta de América in Mexico City


This is an excerpt from my long essay, of creative nonfiction, "Dispatch from the Sister Republic or, Papelito Habla," which  is forthcoming in Kindle.In the shadow of the National Palace: La Casa de la Primera Imprenta de América, the House of the First Printing Press in the Americas, Mexico City. Photo by C.M. Mayo, 2017....There is one more a pearl of a place that cannot go unmentioned in any discussion of our sister republic’s literary landscape. From the Claustro de Sor Juana, in less than twenty minutes’ walk north and slightly east—weaving your way through the shoppers, touts, tourists, beggars, businessmen—honking cars and buses and motorbikes—and a skate-boarder or two—blaring music, freighters with their trolleys piled to toppling with boxes—don’t get run over by the pedicabs—and once at the Zócalo, wending around the Aztec dancers in feathers and ankle-rattles, the toothless shouter pumping his orange sign about SODOM Y GOMORRA MARIGUANA BODAS GAY, and an organ grinder, and to-ers and fro-ers of every age and size, you arrive, out of breath, at a squat, terracotta-colored three-story high building. This is where the first book was printed in—no, not just in Mexico—then New Spain—but in the Americas. La Casa de la Primera Imprenta de América.To step into the foyer of its museum and bookstore is to relax into an oasis of peace. The uniformed guard hands me a pen to sign the guest book. It’s late afternoon; I am the third visitor for the day. I take a gander at the exhibition of contemporary textile art—a few pieces reference one of Frida Kahlo’s drawings in the Casa Azul of a tentacled monster of paranoia, each limb tipped with a staring eye. In the second gallery I find the replica of our continent’s first printing press soaking in sun from the window. The wooden contraption is taller than I am, but so spare, it occurs to me that it might serve to juice apples.How my Mexican amigos scoffed at the auction of the Bay Psalm Book in 2013. Not about the record sum—14.2 million US dollars—for which that little book, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1640, went to a private collector, but about the report in the international media that the Bay Psalm Book was “the first book printed in America.”To Mexicans, America is the continent, not their sister republic. Mexico is part of the same continent, of course, and so the first book printed in America—or, as we estadounidenses prefer to say, the Americas—was Breve y más compendiosa doctrina Cristiana en lengua Mexicana y Castellana (Brief and Most Comprehensive Christian Doctrine in Nahuátl and Spanish), printed right here, in Mexico City, in this building, in 1539.Mexico beats out Massachusetts by 101 years! But this sinks to silliness. That printer in Cambridge, Massachussetts, was English, and the one in colonial Mexico City, a native of Lombardy named Giovanni Paoli, Hispanicized to “Juan Pablos.” The technology that found its way to the Americas with these printing pioneers—to the north, Protestants, to the south, Catholics, separated by religious schism and the whirlwinds of European politics, and that century, and moreover, by the staggering distance of desert, swamplands, oceanic buffalo-filled prairies, and sunless and unmapped forests—had one and the same root: the fifteenth-century workshop of a German goldsmith by the name of Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg was inking his little pieces of movable type more than half a century before Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” and the indigenous on this continent chanced to hear the first stirrings of vaguest rumors and weird omens.Still, 1539 is an early date indeed for that first book printed in the Americas: only eighteen years after the fall of Tenochitlán. Three years after Cabeza de Vaca’s miraculous arrival in Mexico City. Fray Sahagún was still a year away from launching the research that would result in the Histo[...]

Thank You, Dear Readers: On the Occasion of Madam Mayo Blog's Eleventh Anniversary


Images courtesy of Pulp-o-MizerMethuselah of Blogdom here. Why am I still blogging? I am heartened to say, dear readers, that I know you're there, more of you each year, and I appreciate your visits and your comments (as always, I welcome comments via email.) As for the granular whys and wherefores of this blog, I wouldn't say much that I didn't say last year, on its tenth anniversary, which echoed much of what I had to say on its eighth anniversary. The latter link goes to my talk for the 2014 AWP Conference panel on "Homesteading on the Digital Frontier: Writer's Blogs." To quote from that:"Madam Mayo" is not so much my so-called "platform," but rather, a net that catches certain special fish— the readers who care about the things I care to write about. As ever, I aim to provide posts on a variety of topics that might be, in turn, of use and/or interest for my writing workshop students, and/or for Mexicophiles, and/or for Far West Texasphiles (is that a word?), adventurous readers, and myself. One of my many motivations for blogging is to iron out my own thoughts, especially on subjects that tend to come up in my correspondence with other writers and in my writing workshops, for example:(What do you mean, "reading as a writer"?)One Simple Yet Powerful Practice in Reading as a Writer(How do you keep up with email?)Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time(Where do you find the time to write?)Thirty Deadly-Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing(What do you think about social media?)Adios Facebook!Six Reasons Why I Deactivated My AccountYou will also find posts on my work in-progress and anything relevant to it (at present, a book about Far West Texas):A Visit to El Paso's "The Equestrian"Book review: Pekka Hamalainen's The Comanche EmpireThe Strangely Beautiful Sierra Madera Astrobleme (What's an Astrobleme?)Peyote and the Perfect YouTop 13 Trailers for Movies with with Extra-Astral TexinessThe Harrowingly Romantic Adventure of Trade with Mexicoin the Pre-pre-pre-NAFA EraNotes on Artist Xavier González (1898-1993)Once in a zera-striped-chartreuse moon of Pluto I touch on nonwriterly topics:12 Tips for Summer Day Hiking in the Desert (How to Stay Cool, Avoid Actinic Keratosis, Blood, and Killer Bees)Yet one more reason to check in with this blog is for announcements about my publications and interviews:Catamaran and Tiferet: Two Very Fine Independent Literary JournalsBiographers International Interview: Strange Spark of the Mexican RevolutionNew Thinking Allowed Interview by Jeffrey Mishloveand a Review by Michael TymnAx of Apocalypse: Strieber and Kripal's Super NaturalTo share my talks and podcasts:For the 2016 Women Writing the West Conference: On Seeing as an Artist or, Five Steps to a Journey to EinfuhlungFor the American Literary Translators Association Conference: Translating Across the Border> More talks here.> All Marfa Mondays Podcasts here.> All podcasts here.And, something I especially relish, to learn about and celebrate the work of other writers:Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub on Translating Blume Lempel's  Oedipus in Brooklyn from the YiddishShelley Armitage on Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place> More interviews here.P.S. For those of you who are writers / bloggers, herewith the top five things I would have done differently back in 2006 had I known what I know now:1. Use WordPress2. Post once per week, something verily crunchy, otherwise take a vacation;3. Post interviews with other writers more often;4. Maybe tweet the link to a post once or twice; otherwise do not waste time with social media;5. When possible and when there is substantive content, upload the bulk of that content to the webpage, not the blog itself (because of those scaper sites).(Your comments are especially welcome on this subject. Write to me here.)P.P.S. Yep, one o[...]

What the Muse Sent Me About the Tenth Muse, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz


Door to the quarters of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, "the Tenth Muse." Photo by C.M. Mayo, 2017.Late last year my amiga the brilliant short story writer Paula Whyman invited me to send a "Dispatch from Mexico City" for her new magazine, Scoundrel Time. So I dialed in to Muse HQ... As I told Paula, woefully past the deadline, I had asked the Muse for a slider, a yummy little note about books in Mexico, but she delivered the whole ox. In other words, my "Dispatch from the Sister Republic or, Papelito Habla" is a novela-length essay about the Mexican literary landscape, from prehispanic codices to contemporary writers. It is what it is, I don't want start chopping (there would be blood!!), but of course, a 30 page essay is too long for a magazine. Scoundrel Time will be publishing an excerpt about Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación-- a nearly 500 year-old memoir little known outside of Mexico and Texas, yet that stands as one of the most astonishing and important books ever written. (As soon that goes on-line, I will be sure to link to it from here.) As for my full-length essay, "Dispatch from the Sister Republic," look for it as a Kindle under my own imprint, Dancing Chiva, ASAP.  Herewith my other favorite excerpt, about the Tenth Muse, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz:Excerpt from "DISPATCH FROM THE SISTER REPUBLIC OR, PAPELITO HABLA"by C.M. MAYO For rare book collectors, Mecca is Mexico City’s Colonia Centro, and for such aficionados of mexicana as myself, its sanctum sanctorum, the Librería Madero—by the way, recently relocated from the Avenida Madero to the Avenida Isabela La Católica, facing the the formidable wedding cake-white corner of the 16th century ex-convent of San Jerónimo, known today as the Claustro de Sor Juana, that is, the Convent of Sister Juana.And if you would not know Sor Juana from a poinsettia, gentle reader, with all respect, you must crowbar out that boulder of ignorance, for which you will be rewarded by a glimpse of the diamond of the Mexico’s Baroque period, the first great Latin American poet and playwright, “the Tenth Muse,” a cloistered nun.Texan poet John Campion was the first to translate Sor Juana’s magnum opus, “Primero sueño,” as “The Dream,” in 1983. (Alas, that date is not a typo.) Campion’s translation is out of print, but he offers a free PDF download of the text on his website, The first lines of Campion’s translation beautifully capture Sor Juana’s uncanny power:Pyramidaldeath-born shadow of earthaimed at heavena proud point of vain obeliskspretending to scale the StarsIn her time Sor Juana was one of the most learned individuals, man or woman, in the New World, and her prodigious oeuvre, from love poems to polemics, comedies to enigmas to plays to villancicos, was exceptionally sophisticated, so much so that its interpretation is today the province of a small army of sorjuanistas. As Mexico’s Nobel laureate poet Octavio Paz writes in Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden), “A work survives its readers; after a hundred or two hundred years it is read by new readers who impose on it new modes of reading and interpretation. The work survives because of these  interpretations, which are in fact resurrections.”And perchance startling discoveries. In his 2011 El eclipse del Sueño de Sor Juana, Américo Larralde Rangel makes a radiant case that her “Primero Sueño” describes the dawn over Mexico City after a lunar eclipse on the solstice of the winter of 1684.In the Librería Madero I find on the first shelf, facing out, two new books by sorjuanistas: one about Sor Juana’s family, another, just published by a Legionario de Cristo, that purports to decipher her twenty enigmas. The latter work incorporates a series of contemporary paintings of Sor Juana in the baroque style—dim backgrounds, crowns and scepters of flowers,[...]

One Simple Yet Powerful Practice in Reading as a Writer


I'll be giving my annual one day only workshop on Literary Travel Memoir at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland this April 22. [Learn more and register online here.] New in ye olde packet  of handouts for this workshop is "Words I Like," my name for a powerful yet simple practice that you might think of as Feldenkrais for your vocabulary.  "WORDS I LIKE"As writers, albeit human creatures of habit, we tend to use only a woefully limited portion of our vocabularies. Hence our first drafts may be stiff, dull, and vague. To add verve, freshness, and focus, it helps to loosen up our mental joints, as it were, and reach for a greater variety of words.The challenge is not necessarily to expand your vocabulary --I am not talking about trying to sound fancy-- though perhaps you or one of your characters may want to do that-- but to bring more of your writerly attention to words you know but do not normally use.Towards that end reading is vital-- but not reading passively, as a consumer of entertainment, nor reading for facts and concepts, as would a scholar. Instead, read as a writer, with a pencil or pen in hand, noting down any words that strike you as especially apt or somehow, for whatever reason, attractive to you. These might be simple words such as, say, brood; caprice; crackpot; pall; nougat; persimmon. When I read I keep a notebook, PostIt, or index card handy so I can jot down any words and phrases that I like. I used to worry about keeping all these notebooks and bits of paper in some semblance of order, but I now believe that most of the benefit is in simply noticing what it is that I like; and second, writing it down. (In other words, when it comes time to declutter, I will, as I have, and so what?) Of late I toss these index cards in a recipe box that I keep on a shelf behind my desk. When one of my drafts needs an infusion of energy, I pluck out a random batch of cards, shuffle though them, and see if anything might be of use. Often it is. From another card plucked out at random:shrewd; sagacious; "intrigue and shifting loyalties"; surmise; astute; console; relentless; do not relent; never relent; pout; nuanced; verdict; deadly; banal; banalities; dejected; munificence; fail to grasp; thieving toadThieving toad! I don't know why, that makes me laugh. And it makes me want to start (or perhaps end?) a short story thus:She failed to grasp that he would never relent, he was a thieving toad.I also note phrases and sayings I like, e.g.:"Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.""Birds of prey don't sing""the apostles of -- " "camarón que se duerme amanece de botana" (the shrimp that sleeps wakes up as an appetizer-- that's a variation on the old Mexican saying, "the shrimp that sleeps is carried off by the current.")Bonhomie! I love it! Why? 'Cuz!From that second index card pictured above: bonhomie; obviate; banal; decrepitude; penumbra; chronic; salient; pieties; vim; dour; bouyancy; bouyant; circumlocutions.Why these words? Because I like them. You might not. The point is, as you read, write down whatever words you like.Well now, I hear Henry James' Muse yelling! So many salient pieties... In the penumbra of his chronic bonhomie, she felt at once dour and bouyant.>> Workshop Page >> Resources for Writers(Includes Tips & Tools; On Craft; On Editing; On Publishing; On Digital Media & more) >> Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More Free 5 Minute Writing Exercises>> For more on reading as a writer, see my archived blog, Reading Tolstoy's War and Peace.>> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.P.S. Still working on Marfa Mondays Podcast 21. Twenty podcasts have been posted so far; listen in anytime here. Language Overlay: A Technique of FictionOn Seeing as an[...]

Email Ninjerie Update: Old-School Tool to Break the Ludic Loop


Behold the Zassenhaus.Back in December of 2016 I posted "Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time or, This Writer's 10 Point Protocol for Inbox 10 (ish)." As I explained, for me the game-changer was point #1, tackling email in scheduled batches using a stopwatch. To quote:I usually do 20 minutes of email processing with a stopwatch. It's not that I am trying to hurry through my email, but rather, I am respecting the limits of my brain's ability to effectively focus on it. I'm a speed-reader and I can type faster than lickety-split, but on most days I can deal with email for only about 20 minutes before my brain cells run low on glucose and I end up scrolling up and down the screen, dithering, feeling scattered— in short, procrastinating. (You might be able to do 10 minutes, or, say, an hour in one go— of course, not everyone's energy to focus on their email is the same, or the same every day and in every circumstance. One can always set the stopwatch for a different amount of time.) Don't believe me about batching? Check out the extra-crunchy research at MIT (PDF). By processing email in 20 minute batches, when the sessions all add up over the arc of the day, I find that I accomplish more in, say, one hour of three separate 20 minute sessions than I would have had I plowed on for an hour straight.When the stopwatch dings, I do not expect to have finished— "inbox zero" is a fata morgana! And that's OK, because I have another email batch session already scheduled (a few hours later, or five minutes later. It's important to take a break, at the very least stand up and stretch.)Above all, because I am focussing on email at my convenience, on my schedule, my attention is no longer so fractured... [Read the complete post here] I didn't put it this way in that post, but now that I've grokked the term ludic loop, I must say, that rrrrrring slices right through it. In other words, paradoxically, the reason I was drowning in email was that I was spending too much time on it. That is, I would get stuck in a ludic loop, checking, looking, checking, looking. Yes, indeed, gentle reader, batching with a stopwatch works. But of course, when it goes off, you have to actually stop. I added the habit of standing up. Bell rings, I stand up. Which stopwatch to use? Of course everybody and their uncle's cousin's zonkey has a smartphone with a stopwatch app, and I know, for a lot of people, especially those under the age of 30, any other option would be, like LOL, a total eye-roller. For those answering email on their laptop, such as myself, I recommended using a free on-line stopwatch (get yours here). But of late, I have switched to using a mechanical Zassenhaus kitchen timer.* I chose that particular brand because it's better quality and heavier than the average cheap-o plastic kitchen timer. Why an old-fashioned kitchen timer, pray tell? Because using something not on the computer screen but in the real world-- ye olde meatspace-- helps me stay focused on the task at-hand. It's one less reason look at the "desktop," one less thing to have to go click on (and so reduce the risk of another journey down the rabbit hole, or to put it another way, of getting caught in a ludic loop). As I quoted David Allen in my guest-blog for "Cool Tools" on why I use a paper-based organizing system, "low-tech is oftentimes better because it is in your face."Methinks Dmitry Orlov is onto something. But that's another post.*Perhaps you are wondering if I have not heard of Francesco Cerillo's The Pomodoro Technique and  his tomato-shaped kitchen timer? (Pomodoro means tomato in Italian.) Actually, I have... long, long ago... so long ago that I had entirely forgotten about it until this very moment! Well, definitely, Cerillo is onto something[...]

Catamaran and Tiferet: Two Very Fine Independent Literary Journals


While it is a joy to be able to publish without gatekeepers-- joy enough that I for one have been blogging every Monday and oftentimes more often since 2006 on this free & open-to-all platform-- a curated presentation of poetry and prose, that is, the traditionally edited literary magazine on ye olde paper, has not disappeared, nor will it, and thank goodness.I happy to report that a pair of very fine independent literary magazines has landed in my mailbox: Catamaran Literary Reader and Tiferet. I am also honored to report that the Fall 2016 issue of the former includes my translation of Mexican writer Rose Mary Salum’s short story “The Time,” and the Fall 2016 issue of the latter, an excerpt from my book, a work of creative nonfiction about a translation: Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. As an ex-literary magazine editor myself (Tameme), I have a big heart full of appreciation for such magazines. And when they are as unique, and as beautifully edited and exceptionally well-designed as these two, I want to get up on the top of the roof and toot a tuba-- or something! CATAMARAN LITERARY READERFounding editor Catherine Segurson describes Catamaran as “pages full of color, inviting images, and engrossing stories, poems and essays—all from curious and inventive minds.”  Indeed: standouts in this issue include a poem and an essay by Richard Blanco, and the several paintings by Bo Bartlett, whose “Via Mal Contenti” graces the cover.  More about artist Bo Bartlett in this brief video: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="215" src="" width="360">Catamaran makes a special effort to include literary translation in every issue. N.B.: Catamaran's contributing editors include essayist and translator Thomas Christensen and poet, teacher, and noted translator Zack Rogow.  Mexican writer, poet, editorRose Mary SalumABOUT ROSE MARY SALUM, Mexican Poet and WriterMexican writer and poet Rose Mary Salum is the editor of Literal, and editor of the anthology Delta de las arenas: Cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos. Her collection of linked short stories set in the Midde East, which includes "The Time," is El agua que mece el silencio. My translation, in-progress, is entitled The Water That Rocks the Silence. If you read Spanish, check out her interview in El Páis.>> See my previous post about her work in Origins. >> See also my in-depth interview with Salum in Conversations with Other Writers.) TIFERETTiferet is published by novelist and poet Donna Baier-Stein. I echo poet Molly Peacock's praise: “Thank you for this journal which combines spiritual issues, imaginative issues, esthetic issues. All of those, I think, need to be in the mix for the richly lived life, the richly observed life.” This Fall 2016 issue opens with a splendid essay by poet Mark Doty, “Luckier / Rowdyish, Carlacue, Wormfence and Foosfoos.” Just for that yonder-galaxy-beyond-the-Cineplex-title: Another thank you! Francisco I. MaderoABOUT FRANCISCO I. MADERO,Leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico, 1911-1913My piece in Tiferet  about Madero's 1911 Spiritist Manual did not include any of my translation, but you can read some of that here. Caveat: If you are unfamiliar with metaphysics you might find Madero's Spiritist Manual... oh, I guess I would say... wiggy-zoomy. In which case, I invite you to read my book about that book, my own wiggy-zoomy attempt to give it some cultural-historical-political context, which is available from amazon and other major sellers, and the[...]

Heribert von Feilitzsch on Dr. Arnold Krumm-Heller and the Mexican Revolution, Plus a Note on "El Tatwametro"


One hundred years and counting since the explosion of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, treasures are still being pulled out of the dust of various archives, and narratives refashioned accordingly. The latest contribution should spark the interest of anyone who ponders the whys, wherefores and eye-crossing chaos of that tumult-- and the history of German-Mexican relations and of metaphysical religion: The essay by Heribert von Feiltzsch entitled "Medical Doctor, Occultist, Revolutionary, Spy: Arnold Krumm-Heller and the Mexican Revolution," which is included in the anthology edited by Roberto Cantú, Equestrian Rebels: Critical Perspectives on Mariano Azuela and the Novel of the Mexican Revolution (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016).Little known as he may be at present, Dr. Krumm-Heller was a key figure in the Mexican Revolution, and in particular, for his role in the defeat of Pancho Villa. Why then have historians, with counted few exceptions, tended to overlook him? I would wager that it could be for one or more of three reasons: (1) lack of archival resources about Krumm-Heller and/or lack of access to those in German; (2) resistance to reconsidering enduring paradigms of the revolution; (3) resistance to considering the occult / metaphysical religion and anyone connected with it. Indeed, Dr. Krumm-Heller, aka "Maestro Huiracocha," was a flamboyant enthusiast and a prolific author of esoterica, a Spiritist, a Mason, a Theosophist, and a leading figure in 20th century Rosicrucianism and the Ordo Templi Orientis.For many historians, alas, it has been easier to dismiss such ideas and movements than to dig in and attempt to come to a broader understanding of their nature and context. I know from first-hand experience how challenging this can be: for my book on Manual espírita of 1911, the secret book by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, Francisco I. Madero, I had to read through a Himalaya of works that were at times for me--as I surmise they would be for most researchers of the Mexican Revolution-- discomfiting in the extreme. (I discuss this challenge at some length in my review of Strieber and Kripal's Super Natural.)In his detailed and well documented article, von Feilitzsch has made a vital contribution not only to the literature on the Mexican Revolution but also to German-Mexican relations and the history of metaphysical religion. Those interested in the latter subject will recognize names of Dr. Krumm-Heller's teachers and mentors, among them, Madame Blavatsky, Papus, Franz Hartmann, and Rudolph Steiner. I am honored that von Feilitzsch cited my work on Madero's Spiritism, as well as some of my correspondence speculating about Madero's attitude towards Theosophy and the nature of Madero's relationship with Dr. Krumm-Heller. One thing that jumped out as new to me was von Feilitzsch's mention that Krumm-Heller "had his first training in esotericism through the French spiritist León Denis." Denis was one of the leaders of the Spiritist movement after Allan Kardec. Francisco I. Madero and his father, Francisco Madero, were the sponsors of the Spanish translation of Denis's book, Après la Mort (After Death). Since some historians erroneously claim that that translation was never published, I made this little video showing my copy of that title, Después de la muerte, which was indeed published in 1906. Related posts of interest:>> Professor Roberto Cantú>> Heribert von Feilitzsch's webpage and Mexican Revolution blog.>> von Feilitzsch: "A Decision with Grave Consequences: Arnold Krumm-Heller and the Demise of Pancho Villa">> My review for Literal of von Feilitzsch's In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908-1914 (which mentions Dr Krumm-Heller)>> Some of my blog posts on Dr Krumm-Heller:[...]



Mexico has been very much on my mind these past days because I have been working on some translations of works by Mexican writers Agustín Cadena and Rose Mary Salum... more news about those soon... and also (not entirely a digression from the book in-progress about Far West Texas) I have been working on an essay about books in Mexico entitled "Dispatch from the Sister Republic." A brief excerpt from that as yet unpublished essay:The Dresden Codex was water-damaged in the firebombings of World War II. Fortunately for us, around 1825, a facsimile had been made by the Italian artist Agostino Aglio, commissioned by the Irish peer Edward King, Lord Kingsborough—the latter a believer in the theory, to become an article of faith for the Mormons, that the Mesoamericans were descendants of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. archive.orgAglio’s facsimile is included in Kingsborough’s colossal multi-volume Antiquities of Mexico. And when I say “colossal” I do not exaggerate. In those days before photography, Lord Kingsborough sent Aglio all over Europe, to the Vatican Library, the royal libraries of Berlin, Dresden, and Paris, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford, among many others, to copy their Mexican codices, painstakingly tracing the elaborate diagrams and glyphics, and then coloring them in. Aglio also made paintings of Mexican sculptures and other artifacts in European collections. The whole project, from making the fascimiles to the state-of-the-art color printing and luxury binding, was at once a visionary contribution to world culture and an extravagance beyond folly. It could be said that Antiquities of Mexico killed Lord Kingsborough; having exhausted his liquidity before paying for the paper, he was imprisoned in Dublin, where he contracted typhoid.* Lord Kingsborough never made it to Mexico, but it was in Mexico City, on a tour of the Biblioteca Vasconcelos, that I saw one of those volumes of Antiquities of Mexico up close. That particular volume was part of the personal library, then recently acquired, of Carlos Monsiváis, one of Mexico’s most esteemed journalists and leftist social critics, who died in 2010. I could not tell you which volume of Antiquities of Mexico it was nor why nor how it was separated from its fellow volumes in its set, nor why nor how Monsiváis, famous for his witty musings on Mexican popular culture, had acquired it. The librarian, wearing white gloves, strained to lift the volume off its shelf. Bound in navy-blue Morrocco leather, it was the size of a small suitcase. With the grimace of a weight-lifter, he slowly lowered it onto the table. He levered up the cover, then turned a couple of the pages. The colors of the prints of Aglio’s paintings of the leaves from a codex— red, yellow, turquoise, ochre— were as bright as if painted that morning. I later learned that that single volume weighed some 65 pounds.*Sylvia D. Whitmore, "Lord Kingsborough and His Contribution to Ancient Mesoamerican Scholarship: The Antiquities of Mexico," The PARI Journal, Spring, 2009 >> Read more about the Antiquities of Mexico at Dorothy Sloan-Rare Books, a description of a set that was auctioned for USD 61, 625.>> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.Reading Mexico: Recommendations for an English-Language Book ClubUna ventana al mundo invisible (A Window to the Invisible World):Master Amajur and the Smoking SignaturesBiographers International Interview: A Strange Spark of the Mexican Revolution[...]

Texas Institute of Letters


I am honored to announce that I have been elected to the Texas Institute of Letters. Herewith the announcement on the TIL website—new members for 2017 include a batch of very accomplished writers. On the website, whoo hoo, there's my name next to Larry McMurtry's! And there are Cormac McCarthy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sergio Troncoso... it's a long list. Funny, Larry McMurtry has been on my mind of late because first, after I caught the bug for an Hermes 3000 typewriter,  I found out that he used (uses?) one; second, for an essay I'm writing about books I read his memoir, Books— an experience I would liken to the perfect BLT on the perfect afternoon.  What's my connection with Texas? I was born in El Paso, and I am writing about that in a book in-progress on Far West Texas. Culturally I would describe myself as pre-Silicon Valley (I grew up there, but left before it became what it is today) and with the overlay of Chilangolandia, that is, Mexico City, where I have lived for most of my life.  >> About that book in-progress on Far West Texas: Listen in any time to the podcasts apropos of this project here. Twenty podcasts have been posted to date; I will do 4 more to round it off at 24 podcasts. Stay tuned. The ridiculously delayed podcast about my visit to Bracketville is taking shape....In case you missed them, here are a few of my Far West Texas podcasts:PITMASTER ISRAEL CAMPOS IN PECOSListen here.LISA FERNANDES, BARREL RACER AT THE PECOS RODEOListen here.TREMENDOUS FORMS: PAUL CHAPLO ON FINDING COMPOSITION IN THE LANDSCAPEListen here.GREG WILLIAMS ON THE ROCK ART OF THE LOWER PECOS CANYONLANDSListen here.And a few of my recent book reviews on Texas topics:The Comanche Empireby Pekka HämäläinenReviewed for Madam Mayo blogNut Country: Right-wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategyby Edward H. MillerReviewed for Washington Independent Review of BooksThe Pecan: A History of America's Native Nut by James McWilliamsReviewed for Madam Mayo blogLone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform Americaby Richard ParkerFor Madam Mayo blog> All book reviews here.P.S. If you're in the Washington DC area and find this of interest, I will be teaching a one day only workshop on literary travel writing at the Writer's Center on Saturday April 22 10 AM to 1 PM in Bethesda. More info about that workshop here.>> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.GIFs of Far West Texas: Santa Elena Canyon, Pecos High Bridge, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Guadalupe MountainsA Conversation with M.M. McAllen about Maximilian and CarlotaBlood and Salt in Borderlands Texas:Q & A with Paul Cool about Salt Warriors [...]



amazon.comThe vast stretches of the Texas-Mexico border region enfold some unusual cultural niches. The mediumnistic healer El Niño Fidencio, who died in northern Mexico in 1938, and his followers, the fidencistas, are unquestionably among the most intriguing of subjects for a history and an enthnography, and with El Niño Fidencio and the Fidencistas: Folk Religion in the US-Mexico Borderland, anthropologist Antonio Noé Zavaleta has just published precisely that.Zavaleta's El Niño Fidencio and the Fidencistas crossed my radar because I did a fair amount of reading on this very subject, including Zavaleta's fascinating book with curandero Alberto Salinas Jr., Curandero Conversations, when I was writing my book on the "secret book," Spiritist Manual of 1911, by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, Francisco I. Madero.(See my 2013 blog post on Niño Fidencio.)I cannot say for sure, but I doubt that Niño Fidencio and Madero met. Niño Fidencio did not consider himself a Spiritist, and when Madero died in the coup d'etat that ended his presidency in 1913, Fidencio was still a teenaged worker on a remote ranch. But there is an intermediating figure who appears multiple times in Zavaleta's new book: Teodoro von Wernich, a wealthy hacendado of northern Mexico, personality in the San Antonio Texas Spiritist scene, friend and supporter of Francisco I. Madero, and employer, patient of, and mentor to his worker José Fidencio Sintoro Constantino, the boy who became the folk saint revered on both sides of the border as "El Niño Fidencio." (Researchers take note: With Teodoro von Wernich and his circle there may be rich lodes still to mine, and in archives on both sides of the border.) In sum, Zavaleta's latest is a must-read for anyone interested in Niño Fidencio, shamanism, and the cross-border cultures of northern Mexico and South Texas. More anon.> Your comments are always and ever most welcome. Write to me here.Biographers International Newsletter January 2017 Q & A with C.M. Mayo: A Strange Spark of the Mexican RevolutionBook Review (Literal Magazine) of Heribert von Feilitzsch's In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908-1914Peyote and the Perfect You: Some Notes[...]

A Visit to El Paso's "The Equestrian"


This finds me working on the book on Far West Texas, and about to resume the Marfa Mondays podcasts (20 podcasts posted so far, 4 more to go, listen in anytime). I just posted a brief video of my visit last November to see, among other wonders and curiosities, a most extraordinary and controversial statue at the El Paso International Airport. Because of the way it is placed, directly behind a grove of extra-fluffy trees, and at the entrance where most drivers, speeding in, are on the lookout for signs, such as rental car return, departures, arrivals or parking, I daresay few passersby would even notice the statue. I myself drove by it more times that I would like to admit before I realized it was there.Here's my 3 minute video: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="460">My video mentions "The Last Conquistador," a magnificent documentary about this statue and the controversy. Watch the trailer: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">POV Interactive offers the first clip of "The Last Conquistador" documentary: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">For "Behind the Lens POV PBS"Cristina Ibarra and John Valadez Talk about the Juan de Oñate Sculpture: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">I'll give the sculptor, John Sherrill Houser, the last word, quoting him from the documentary:"Here it is, look at this and think about it, good and bad, the whole thing. The history."> Your comments are ever and always most welcome. Write to me here.Reading Mexico:Recommendations for a Book Club of Extra-Curious & Adventurous English-Language ReadersOn Seeing as an ArtistNotes on Artist Xavier González (1898-1993)[...]

Biographers International Interview: A Strange Spark of the Mexican Revolution


I'm the featured member interview this month in the Biographers International newsletter. Herewith:BIOGRAPHERS INTERNATIONAL: What is your current project and at what stage is it?C.M. MAYO: I'm at work on World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas, not a biography properly so-called, but the narrative weaves in some history and so encompasses a number of biographical vignettes from Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the conquistador who got lost, to some of the contemporary artists working in Marfa. Stage: still banging out the first complete draft. [[ FRANCISCO I. MADERO ]]My latest publication, however, is about a major figure of the Mexican Revolution, and that certainly informs the Far West Texas book, for some of the key battles were fought along the US-Mexico border: Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. Madero was the leader of Mexico’s 1910 Revolution and President of  Mexico from 1911-1913, so the fact that he was a Spiritist medium and, albeit under a pseudonym, author of a book of Spiritism published in—yes—1911, is a dramatic twist in the paradigm of how we understand the spark of the Mexican Revolution. My book, which includes my translation of Madero’s book, was published in 2014, so I am well into the promotion stage. (I’m delighted to report that Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution won the National Indie Excellence Award for History, and to date, I've given talks about it at Mexico City’s Centro de Estudios de la Historia de México, Rice University, Stanford University, UCSD’s Center for US-Mexico Studies, and the University of Texas El Paso, among other venues.)> Listen to and/or read some of my talks about this book here.BI: What person would you most like to write about?C.M. MAYO: At the moment, because I'm writing about Far West Texas, pioneer petroleum geologist Wallace E. Pratt. I am especially intrigued that he would choose to live for many years in a such an isolated place as McKittrick Canyon, deep in the Guadalupe Mountains. It is, in large part, thanks to Pratt's visionary gift that we now have the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I am very honored to say that I will be one of the artists-in-residence in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park this spring, so I will have the chance to retrace his steps and visit his house.BI: Who is your favorite biographer or what is your favorite biography?C.M. MAYO: As far as my Far West Texas reading goes, I both admired and especially relished the biography of the 20th century bard of Texas, J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind, by Stephen L. Davis. Many of the popular ideas we take for granted about Texas and Texans have their roots in Dobie's works. My two all-time favorite biographies are Nancy Marie Brown’s The Far-Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman and Paula Kamen’s Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind.BI: What have been your most satisfying moments as a biographer?[[ Visit this book's webpage ]]C.M. MAYO: I'll answer this for my book on Francisco I. Madero, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution. After many years of reading and archival research, it was tremendously satisfying to be able to fit together the pieces of what had been a humdinger of a puzzle—how could Madero be rifle-toting revolutionary and a Spiritist, a savvy political organizer and victim of a coup d’etat?— into a narrative of high strangeness but relative sense. Suddenly Mexico itself looked very different.BI:&nb[...]

Typosphere, Ho! "Stay West" on My 1961 Hermes 3000


[[ My first attempt at typing on a typewriter in nearly thirty years ]][[ My writing assistant denies any and all responsibility for slipshod typing or head-scratching sushi poetry. ]]THANK YOU, TYPEWRITER TECHSMy refurbished 1961 Hermes 3000 typewriter has arrived in Mexico City. Typewriter Techs, the Riverside, Illinois company that refurbished it, shipped it to California in a box so well padded it could have survived a Mars landing; having discarded the packing materials and box, I then grew some new biceps carrying it on board my flight home. I'd say it weighs about the same as a wet brick. It was a loooooong way from the security screening area to the gate. Jack LaLanne, watch out.[[ No, not the French scarf company. This Hermes was of Swiss manufacture of yore. ]]The color is just as I had hoped, a foamy celadon (although it looks gray in this photo— too strong a flash). LIKE TIME TRAVELINGI'm old enough to have had nearly two decades of experience with typewriters, both manual and electric, before I started using a computer in the late 1980s. It was an eerie experience to type on a typewriter again... like time traveling. My first attempts at typing on this antique were clumsy, since I am, as are we all, so used to letting fingertips fly over a laptop's keys and making scads of corrections en medias res and whatever whenever wherever and with the benefit of, after penicillin and sliced bread, the bestest thing ever invented: CNTRL Z! But I like the deliberateness of typing on a manual typewriter— the goose-stepping linearity of it. That is the whole point, for me as a writer now. (Why? See my previous post, Consider the Typewriter. Am I kidding? No, I am not kidding.) allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="215" src="" width="360">Madam Mayo says, The Anti-Digital Revolution will be Youtubed! And blogged! And, when I get around to it, tweeted!Git yer iron-knee right here, on a spatula!But seriously, check out this fine trailer for philosopher Richard Polt's excellent and thought-provoking resource The Typewriter RevolutionWHY AN HERMES 3000?I chose the Hermes 3000 because of Richard Polt's recommendation in The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist's Companion for the 21st Century:"The 3000 model is a Swiss segment-shifted typewriter with excellent alignment, smooth carriage return, and quality manufacturing, introduced in the fifties. You’ll find it in a wonderfully bulbous body, painted in a color that some call “sea-foam green”... Not the very fastest or snappiest typewriter, but “buttery” in its smoothness, as fans like to say... Users include Larry McMurtry, Sam Shepard, Eugene Ionesco, and Stephen Fry."A tip of the Stetson to my fellow Texan Mr. McMurtry. As for Monsieur Ionesco, voila l'entrevue:[[ Watch the interview with English subtitles here. No, alas, Ionesco's Hermes 3000 does not make an appearance.Mais nous pouvons utiliser notre imagination. ]][[ My 1961 Hermes 3000  arrived in its original carrying case, along with, LOL, total yay, a packet of jellybeans!! ]][[ Under the jellybeans, a message from Typewriter Techs. ]][[ The original 1961 Hermes 3000 instruction manual (Ha! Will those websites and YouTube videos still be available and playable in 55 years?! You reeeeeeeeeally think so...?) ]][[ The warranty, yay, from Typewriter Techs. ]]I WILL NOT PANIC ABOUT TYEWRITER RIBBONS NO I WILL NOT PANICAlthough we now inhabit a consumersphere rife with such exploitative poppycock as single-serve Nespresso capsules... it is nonetheless easy-peasy t[...]

Q & A with Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub on Translating Blume Lempel's OEDIPUS IN BROOKLYN from the Yiddish


Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Storiesby Blume LempelTranslated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taubamazon.comindiebound.orgStrange, muscled, riven with grief, Blume Lempel's short stories, many set in the U.S., are for the ages. Yet because Lempel wrote in Yiddish, few aficionados of the form have had the chance to read her— until now, with the translation by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories. Excerpts from the catalog copy of the publishers, Dryad Press and Mandel Vilar:Lempel (1907–1999) was one of a small number of writers in the United States who wrote in Yiddish into the 1990s. Though many of her stories opened a window on the Old World and the Holocaust, she did not confine herself to these landscapes or themes. She often wrote about the margins of society, and about subjects considered untouchable. Her prize-winning fiction is remarkable for its psychological acuity, its unflinching examination of erotic themes and gender relations, and its technical virtuosity. Mirroring the dislocation of mostly women protagonists, her stories move between present and past, Old World and New, dream and reality...Immigrating to New York when Hitler rose to power, Blume Lempel began publishing her short stories in 1945. By the 1970s her work had become known throughout the Yiddish literary world. When she died in 1999, the Yiddish paper Forverts wrote: "Yiddish literature has lost one of its most remarkable women writers."Ellen Cassedy, translator, is author of the award-winning study "We Are Here", about the Lithuanian Holocaust. With her colleague Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, they received the Yiddish Book Center 2012 Translation Prize for translating Blume Lempel. Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of several books of poetry, including "Prayers of a Heretic/Tfiles fun an apikoyres" (2013),"Uncle Feygele"(2011), and "What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn (2008)."[[ Translators Yermiyahu Ahron Taub and Ellen Cassedy ]]C.M. MAYO: Can you tell us more about Yiddish as a language, and specifically, its roots and connections with other languages, including German and Ladino?ELLEN CASSEDY & YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: Yiddish is a Germanic language written in the Hebrew alphabet.  For hundreds of years, it was the everyday vernacular spoken by Jews in Eastern Europe. While Ladino became the Spanish-inflected language of Jews in the Mediterranean region, Yiddish was the everyday language among Jews living farther north, in Germany, Russia, and Eastern Europe.   YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB:  There is an alternative theory that Yiddish is essentially a Slavic language, but most scholars believe it’s a Germanic language.  ELLEN CASSEDY: For me, Yiddish is a holy tongue. Translating Yiddish connects me to a history, an enduring cultural legacy. Yiddish is precious to me for its outsider point of view, its irony, its humor, its solidarity with the little guy, its honoring of the everyday.  YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: The Yiddish language has been a crucial tool for my literary work. As a bridge to the past and an enhancement of my literary and social present, Yiddish opens a vibrant linguistic plane, full of texture, play, and reference. Yiddish is for me a place of primal connection and, for all its and my "baggage," a source of strange comfort. Writing, reading, and translating Yiddish also allows me to learn new Yiddish words and re-learn forgotten ones.  [[ BLUME LEMPEL ]]C.M. MAYO: You write in the introduction that for Blume Lempel the "decision to write in Yiddis[...]

Top Posts of 2016


Warmest wishes for the holidays and a most excellently bodacious new year! In case you missed any of them, here is the annual wrap-up of top posts. This blog, and the Marfa Mondays podcasts, will resume in the new year.Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Timeor,  This Writer's 10 Point Protocol for Inbox 10 (ish)December 12, 2016~ * ~Top 10+ Books Read in 2016December 7, 2016~ * ~Willard Spiegelman's Senior Moments, Guilt Management, and the Magic Wand of an EmailDecember 5, 2016~ * ~Consider the Typewriter(Am I kidding? No, I am not kidding)November 28, 2016~ * ~Reading Mexico: Recommendations for a Book Club of Extra-Curious & Adventurous English-language ReadersNovember 21, 2016~ * ~Santa Fe 2016: Women Writing the West and AlláOctober 31, 2016~ * ~On Seeing as an Artist or, Five Techniques for a Journey to EinfühlingOctober 24, 2016~ * ~Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion and the Whereabouts Press SeriesOctober 3, 2016~ * ~Cal Newport's Deep Work / Study Hacks Blog / On Quitting Social MediaSeptember 26, 2016~ * ~Literary Travel Writing: Notes on process and the Digital RevolutionSeptember 19, 2016~ * ~Cymru & Comanche: CyberflanerieAugust 29, 2016~ * ~Q & A with Shelley Armitage on Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of PlaceAugust 21, 2016~ * ~The Strangely Beautiful Sierra Madera AstroblemeAugust 16, 2016~ * ~Roundup by RobotAugust 15, 2016~ * ~The Harrowingly Romantic Adventure of US Trade with Mexico in the Pre-Pre-Pre-NAFTA Era: Notes on Susan Shelby Magoffin and her Diary of 1846-1847, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into MexicoJuly 11, 2014~ * ~Another One Hundred Foreigners in Morelos: José Iturriaga (and Yours Truly) in Cuernavaca's Historic Jardín BordaJuly 4, 2016~ * ~ Peyote and the Perfect YouMay 23, 2016~ * ~Top 13 Trailers for Movies with Extra-Astral TexinessMay 9, 2016~ * ~Notes on Xavier González (1898-1993), "Moonlight Over the Chisos" and a Visit to Mexico City's Antigua Academia de San CarlosMay 2, 2016~ * ~Mexico City Lit: Agustín Cadena, Patricia Dubrava and Yours Truly(Plus a Note on the Past and Future of the Literary Magazine)April 27, 2016~ * ~Cyberflanerie: Carnyx EditionApril 25, 2016~ * ~GIFs of Far West TexasApril 21, 2016~ * ~Global Migration: People and Their StoriesIntroduction to the Panel at the San Miguel Writers Conference April 18, 2016~ * ~With a Ker-Thunking Clash of Gamelan Puggy Hooha: On 10 (TEN!) Years of BloggingApril 11, 2016~ * ~Q & A with Historian Carolina Castillo Crimm, author of De Leon: A Tejano Family HistoryMarch 28, 2016~ * ~Grokking the GIFMarch 15, 2016~ * ~Blood Over Salt in Borderlands Texas: Q & A with Paul Cool about Salt WarriorsFebruary 15, 2016~ * ~Five Super Simple Tips for Better Book DesignFebruary 4, 2016~ * ~Q & A with John Kachuba, author of The Savage ApostleFebruary 3, 2016~ * ~Podcasting for Writers: To Commit or Not (or Vaguely?)January 13, 2016~ * ~Top Posts of 2015Top Posts of 2014Top Posts of 2013Top Posts of 2012Top Posts of 2011Top Posts of 2010Top Posts of 2009Top Posts of 2008Top Posts of 2007Top Posts of 2006[...]

Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time, or This Writer's 10 Point Protocol for Inbox 10 (ish)


BIG FAT CAVEAT: If you have a job and/or family situation that oblige you to use your smartphone like a bodily appendage, dear reader, a shower of metaphorical lotus petals upon you, but this post is not for you. Perhaps you might enjoy reading this post from 2012 instead. See you next Monday.The challenge in a pistachio shell: How to maximize the quality of one's email, both incoming and outgoing, while minimizing the time and effort required to dispatch it— all the while maintaining the blocks of uninterrupted time necessary for one's own writing. What works for me may not work for you, dear reader, but I know that many of you are also writers, and a few of you are artists and/or scholars, so perhaps—and here's hoping— my time-tested 10 point protocol for dealing with email will be of as much help to you as it has been to me. A PRELIMINARY NOTE ON CONTEXT: EMAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!RRRRRRRHow is a writer to cope with this snake-headed conundrum-o-rama that just about everyone everywhere has been wrestling with since it first emerged out of the DARPA-depths of this rapacious fabulosity we call the Internet?I've been slogging it out with email for more years than I care to count. It was sometime in the mid-1990s when I logged on to my first account; I but fuzzily recall the roboty-dialup-and-connection sounds and an inky screen with neon-green text. A few years after that, I was using this cutting-edge thing called an AOL account. (Whew, AOL, Paleolithic!) Now I use a nearly-as-ancient yahoo account plus a pair of gmail accounts all funneled into ye olde Outlook Express inbox, into which pour... pick your metaphor... (a) Rains!  (b) Niagaras! (c) Avalanches! (d) Gigazoodles of emails!As anyone who remembers the late 1990s will attest, it seemed that overnight email blossomed into a hot-house monster—or, I should say, a Macy's Parade of monsters— and for me, by 2009-2010, when I was on tour for my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire at the same time that my father was in his last days, trying to cope with email, both professional and personal, had become a nightmare. In 2011-2012 I was tempted to follow the example of "Swiss Miss" blogger Tina Roth Eisenberg after her three months of maternity leave: Declare email bankruptcy. Many a time I was also tempted to remove my email address from my website. Neither of those strategies appealed to me, however; I appreciated so many of those messages, and I also appreciated that, apart from spam and the occasional bit of nonsense, behind those messages were relationships that I sincerely valued, even cherished.I also realized—and this is something I am writing about in my book Far West Texas— that hyper-connectivity along with endless carousels of hyper-palatable distractions are now woven into the very fabric of modern life. As long as the electric grid continues functioning, I doubt these forces impinging on one's experience of work, family, social life, politics, and travel, will diminish; on the contrary.Over the past several years, chip by chip, I managed to whittle down that ghastly backlog (not to zero, but on some days it gets razor-close). More importantly, by trial, error, research, and mental muscle, I formulated a more workable strategy for dispatching the ongoing flow. Again, that caveat: this post is not for those who need to be continually available to a boss, colleagues, clients, friends, or family.IT STARTED WITH SOME ILLUMINATING READING...THEN T[...]

Top 10+ Books Read in 2016


This was a year of marathons of reading. A few books I read for pleasure, but most as research for my book in-progress on Far West Texas. May you find the works listed here as remarkable and illuminating as I did. 2016 has been a blessed year in the reading department.1. The Super Natural: A New Vision of the UnexplainedBy Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey J. KripalA flying ax of apocalypse.> Read my review of this book for Literal magazine.2. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West By Rebecca SolnitI grew up walking distance from the Stanford University campus, heart of what is now known as Silicon Valley, so for me this was especially compelling history. But for anyone interested in technology and cultural change the beautifully written and deeply researched River of Shadows is a must read. 3. The Comanche EmpireBy Pekka HämäläinenA brilliantly argued and supremely important contribution to the history of North America. This book made me rethink everything I thought I knew about US-Mexico history.> Read my review of this book here.> This title also appears on my post, "Reading Mexico".4. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American WestBy Patricia Nelson LimerickMagnificently masterful. What a treasure of a book.5. The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American IdentityBy Jill LeporeFew Americans know anything about this long-ago conflict between the colonists of New England and indigenous peoples that was nonetheless foundational to modern American culture. I found this work spell-binding and, for its verve and elegance, a great pleasure to read.6. Tie: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our FutureBy Kevin Kelly andWhat Technology WantsBy Kevin KellyHumanity has arrived at a lynchpin of a moment with technology; Kevin Kelly's books explain the whys and wherefores and what to expect. Vitally perceptive and original as these two books are, I am not so optimistic as to assume, as Kelly apparently does, that we will always and everywhere be able to plug into a well-functioning electric grid. We shall see. It is a strange moment in the US and in the world. That said, Kelly's books are tremendous contributions towards grokking this wild, ravenous thing he dubs "the technium." My mind is still doing pretzels.7. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American HistoryBy S.C. GwynneA real life epic tragedy, and a crucial story for everyone with any interest in North America. An engrossing read, too, by the way.8. Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of PlaceBy Shelley ArmitageThis wistful, knowledgable, and lyric memoir may be one of the best books ever to come out of the Texas Panhandle. > Read my Q & A with Shelley Armitage for this blog.9. Tie:Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio GrandeBy Paul CoolThis meticulously researched and expertly told history of the El Paso Salt War of 1877 is essential reading for anyone interested in US-Mexico and Texas history, and indeed, anyone interested in US history per se.> Read my Q & A with the author for this blog.De León: A Tejano Family HistoryBy Carolina Castillo CrimmWe often hear about the Tejanos (Mexican Texans or, as you please, Texan Mexicans) in Mexican and Texas history, but who were they? Crimm's De León provides an at once scholarly and intimate glimpse of one of the first and most influential Tejano fa[...]

Willard Spiegelman's SENIOR MOMENTS, Guilt Management, and the Magic Wand of an Email


[[ SENIOR MOMENTS ]]Straight to the meat, two slices worth:(1) Willard Spiegelman's improbably titled Senior Moments is a delicious read. Viva!(2) Ye olde email, and of course I mean non-spammy email, can serve a book splendidly. Double viva!GUILT MANAGEMENTThere is a reason a literary magazine marketing expert, whose name now escapes me, dubbed her workshop for litmags "Guilt Management 101." Because I founded and used to edit a literary magazine and chapbook press, I used to worry about and overthink and feel guilty about all the woulda coulda shouldas of marketing. And although I no longer edit anyone other than myself, because I write books, I still worry about and overthink and feel guilty about all the woulda coulda shouldas of marketing. (Why didn't I write an article for the Washingtonian? Why I didn't I send an op-ed to the New York Times? Why didn't I enter my book in that contest?! etc.) To one degree or another the same could probably be said by every living writer I know. (Re: Focus on book PR, see, for example, novelist Leslie Pietrzyk's resource-rich blog post about her recent Associated Writing Programs conference panel "Should I Know Who You Are? Book PR for the Modern Age." So near-universal is this concern among writers that I have yet to see the schedule of a writers conference that does not include at least one panel and/or break-out session on book PR / marketing.)SOCIAL MEDIA, MEH.Back in 2009, when my novel came out, I appreciated working with Unbridled Books' crackerjack marketing staff. I had already published several books, so I knew the drill, the ever-expanding list of an author's "to dos" for a book launch; thus it was with a sense of duty mixed with relish for adventure that I took up the then-shiny new tools of Facebook and Twitter, aka "social media."I like to think that my publisher appreciated my little flurries of status updates and tweets-- I'm reading here; I'm signing there; So-and-So reviewed it on her blog. But what a bore! What an unholy bore of a chore! Surely I would be better at starting up a dog grooming business. Or maybe selling vegetable powders. I am not kidding. (Dear Dr. Cowan, I totally heart your vegetable powders.) I mean no disrespect to marketers or anyone else. Marketing can be a noble profession, and if you don't believe me, just follow Seth Godin's blog for a few days. What I mean to say is, I am not cut out for marketing, and that's OK. Neither am I meant to be a nurse or an architect or a candidate for Sheriff in Brewster County, Texas! Last I checked, I am, as are we all, living one lifetime at a time. And writing books, never mind any attempt to market them, consumes a whopper of a chunk of time.So I have been reconsidering the utility, for me, of social media. I still post on Twitter on occasion, but because I found it such a distraction, I deactivated my Facebook account-- that was over a year ago, and I breathe a shoulder-melting sigh of relief about it every day. (Note to Mr. Quibble: Don't count this blog as social media because I do not publish comments. Nonetheless, dear reader, and that includes you, Mr. Q., your comments are always welcome via email.)All that said, most of the writers I know-- and to be sure, publishers' marketing staffs and freelance publicists-- remain enthusiastic about social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, and LinkedIn, among many [...]

Consider the Typewriter (Am I kidding? No, I am not kidding)


Perhaps, dear reader, you have heard of Freedom, the app that blocks the Internet so you can focus on your writing (or whatever offline task). It is not cheap; prices have gone up more than a smidge (ayyyy!) since I purchased it some years ago for a mere USD 10. Nope, I don't use it. End of review.Of course, a more economical alternative for those who work at home would be to simply switch off the wi-fi signal. But never mind, there you are, glued to your computer, same screen, same keyboard, same desk, same chair, and whether you're using the Freedom app or you've turned off the wi-fi signal, either can be reversed (that is, the Freedom app turned off, or the wi-fi switched back on) in a matter of the slight inconvenience of a moment. Staying off-line when you're working on a computer is akin to trying to diet with an open box of chocolates within reach! As they say, Don't think about the pink elephant. Or, elephant-shaped chocolates with a cherry in the middle! Or, for a more au courant Internetesque analogy, Don't think about cats! And certainly not cats wearing hats!YE OLDE NONELECTRIC TYPEWRITER Yet another strategy for diminishing the pull of the Internet, at least for some writers some of the time, would be to get up from the computer, aka the distraction machine, and hie thee over to ye olde typewriter.My typewriter went to Goodwill years ago. But now, with a book to complete, I am seriously considering going back to using a typewriter. I am old enough to remember typing up my papers for school and college, that satisfying clackety-clack and the little ding at the end of the right margin... The calm. The focus.Speaking of analogerie, I am also, as those of you who follow this blog well know, massively, as in an-entire-parade-ground-filled-with-dancing-pink-elephants-and-cats-in-hats-all- under-a-rain-of-chocolates, massively, relieved to have deactivated my Facebook account. That was back in August of 2015. Yes indeed, having eliminated that particular bungee-pull to the Internet, I have gotten a lot more writing done, and I am answering my email in a more consistently timely manner. So, typewriters. I spent an afternoon of the Thanksgiving weekend doing some Internet research. Herewith:Five Reasons to Still Use a Typewriter By Gerry Holt, BBC News MagazineThe Hidden World of the TypewriterBy James Joiner, The AtlanticThe Typewriter Revolution: A Typist's Companion for the 21st CenturyBy Richard PoltA superb reference written by a professor of philosophy.His blog is The Typewriter RevolutionWHERE TO FIND A GOOD OLD (AND MAYBE REALLY OLD) NONELECTRIC TYPEWRITERWhy nonelectric? It might be nice to type in the tipi! But also, it seems that some of the best workhorse typewriters are nonelectrics made back in the mid-20th century. The only nonelectric typewriters currently being manufactured are from China and although cheap, they're crap, so if a nonelectric typewriter is what you want, think vintage. For a rundown on vintage brands and models, both nonelectric and electric, Polt's The Typewriter Revolution is an excellent resource. On his website Polt also maintains a list of typewriter repair shops.You could start combing through the cheapie listings on EBay and Goodwill, and if you have the time and can stand the skanky vibes, peruse the stalls in your local flea market. You might even grab a typewriter for free-- perhaps the one gathering cobwebs in your parents' garage... But it seems [...]

Reading Mexico: Recommendations for a Book Club of Extra-Curious & Adventurous English-Language Readers


[[ Just a few selections from the chocolate boxof English language books on Mexico ]]In recent days, I am delighted to report, more than one American has asked me for a list of recommended reading on Mexico for their book clubs. Before I present my correspondents, and you, dear reader, with my list, herewith a big fat flashing neon-lime caveat: This list is unlikely to coincide with most English language writers' and readers' ideas of what might be most appropriate. Nope, no Graham Greene. No D.H. Lawrence, no Malcolm Lowry, nor John Steinbeck. Most of the usual suspects have gone missing from my list. I packed the bunch of them off, as it were, to Puerto Vallarta for margaritas (a drink invented by a Texan, by the way) and a purgatory of reading juicy crime-novels. About crime novels, I am not your go-to gal.[[ MEXICO:  A TRAVELER'S LITERARY COMPANION24 Mexican writers on Mexico, many in English translation for the first time. ]]For those of you new to this blog, let me introduce myself. I am a US citizen who has been living in Mexico City on and off for over three decades, and not in an expat community, but as a part of a Mexican family. Over these many years I have written several books about Mexico, most recently, the novel based on the true story of Mexico's Second Empire, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, and Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. I have also translated a long list of Mexican writers and poets, and am the editor of an anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, which is not a guidebook but a selection of 24 Mexican writers on Mexico, many in translation for the first time. All of which is say that although I have not read each and every last thing ever published on Mexico (a feat for a bot!) I am very familiar with both the Spanish and the English language literature on Mexico, fiction and nonfiction. TWO CHALLENGES: SAD! VERY SAD!But to make a list of recommendations for an English-language book club there are challenges. First, a number of Mexican works have been translated into English, but this amounts to only a tiny percentage of what has been published in Mexico over the centuries. To quote DJT completely out of context, "Sad!"Second, also sadly, many of the best-known and easily available originally-in-English works on Mexico strike me as superb examples of a south-of-the-border species of what Edward W. Said termed "orientalism." Translation: toe-curling. Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, to take but one example, while a deserved classic for its lyric beauty (count me a fan), will tell you little about Mexico, never mind the Baja California peninsula that stretches for nearly a thousand miles along the Sea of Cortez; much of what Steinbeck says about it is either flat wrong or rendered through a filter of commonplace prejudice and presumption.Much of the best of contemporary English language literature on Mexico covers the border, mainly focusing on illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violence. There are several excellent works under that voluminous tent, but I'd like to get to those last. I submit that for a deeper sense of Mexico, one has to dig past the sorts of stories one can easily encounter in the mainstream news, television, and cinema, to go both deeper into the country and deeper into its past.For a deeper sense of Mexi[...]

The Mexican Revolution at the Center for Big Bend Studies Annual Conference at Sul Ross State University


[[ WASHI & ULI, stop those suitcases! ]]I have been visiting Alpine, Texas for the annual Center for Big Bend Studies conference to talk about Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. Check out the conference, which is rich with archaeology and history and more on the Big Bend but also the wider region of West Texas and encompassing parts of the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila, here. The keynote speaker was my amiga, M.M. McAllen, author of the extraordinary narrative history Maximilian and Carlota: Europe's Last Empire in Mexico. (Listen to our extra-bacon-on-top-crunchy conversation about the whole enchilada of Mexico's Second Empire / French Intervention for my "Conversations with Other Writers" occasional podcast series here.)Funny, my Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution has zip to do with the Big Bend of Far West Texas. But the Mexican Revolution is a topic of perennial interest in this region; many battles and other incidents of the Mexican Revolution took place along the border in the Big Bend region, especially in the years after President Francisco I. Madero's assassination in 1913. UPDATE: Biographers International January 2017 Newsletter Q & A with Yours Truly about Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. Read it here.Moreover, it so happens that I am at work on a book about Far West Texas. It won't be a book of straight history, however, but an interweaving of personal narrative, history and reporting, and maybe the kitchen sink, too, in the style of my book about Mexico's Baja California peninsula, Miraculous Air. Herewith a batch of posts on this blog about the Big Bend:The Strangely Beautiful Sierra Madre Astrobleme (What's an Astrobleme?)Cyberflanerie: Solitario Dome EditionA Visit to Swan HouseWe Have Seen the LightsOver Burro MesaGIFs of Far West TexasXavier González (1898-1993), "Moonlight Over the Chisos," and a Visit to Mexico City's Antigua Academia de San CarlosOn the Trail of the Rock Art in the Lower PecosPlus you will find 20 of a projected 24 "Marfa Mondays" podcasts, mainly interviews, posted to date, including Charles Angell in the Big Bend; Lisa Fernandes at the Pecos Rodeo; Mary Baxter on Painting the Big Bend; Avram Dumitrescu, and Artist in Alpine; and Cowboy Songs by Cowboys and an Interview with Michael Stevens. >>> Listen in anytime.More anon.> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here. Book review: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908-1914 by Heribert von FeilitzschBook Review: The Comanche Empire by Pekka HamalainenMarfa Mondays #13Looking an Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with John TutinoMarfa Mondays #17Under Sleeping Lion: Lonn Taylor in Fort Davis[...]

A Banquet of Literary Translations for Travelers & ALTA Fabulosity


This post is dedicated to two of my favorite Spanish language translators, both ever and always the very souls of kindness and dedication and generosity, who could not be at ALTA this year: Cola Franzen and Margaret Sayers Peden. Dear reader, if you are at all interested in literary translation, whether you are the shyest of maybe-might-want-to-try-its or, shall we say, the Grand Poo-Bah of Literary Translation Theory Crunchiness, if you haven't already, take a look at the excellent work of ALTA, the American Literary Translators Association and their annual conference. For greater national coverage, the annual fall conference changes venue from year to year. In 2014 it was held in Milwaukee, last year, Tucson; this year, Oakland, California; next year (brrrrr) Minneapolis. Herewith, my recap of ALTA Oakland 2016:[[ WHEREABOUTSPRESS.COM ]]Voila, the historic Whereabouts Press editors photo taken on October 7, 2016 in Oakland, after the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) Conference panel celebrating the Literary Travel Companion series-- and a dangerously caloric lunch of fried chicken and waffles at Miss Ollie's. From left: Jill Gibian, editor of Argentina; Alexis Levitin, editor of Brazil; William Rodarmor, editor of France and French Feast; our guru, visionary founding publisher of the Whereabouts Press Travelers Literary Companion series, David Peattie; and, far right, Yours Truly, editor of Mexico. The Travelers Literary Companions paperbacks are not guidebooks, but carefully curated collections of writing about a country by writers from that country, many in English translation for the first time. If you are planning any travels, for real or via armchair, to any of these countries or, say, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Israel, Italy, Vietnam and so many more... any of one of these "travelers literary companions" deserves space-- and it won't take up much-- in your hand luggage.> Listen in to my interview with NPR about Mexico: A Literary Traveler's Companion, and read some of the stories by Araceli Ardón's "It Is Nothing of Mine";  Mónica Lavín's "Day and Night" (both my translations) and Geoff Hargreaves' translation of Ricardo Elizondo Elizondo's "The Green Bottle" at ALTA FABULOSITY[[ JESSE LEE KERCHEVAL'S LATEST TRANSLATIONS OF URUGUAYAN POETRY ]]The other highlight for me was the chance to see my amigas Patricia Dubrava and Clare Sullivan, among so many others, old friends and new:Pamela Carmel; Ellen Cassedy, who has a new book out of translations from the Yiddish (more about that anon); Barbara Goldberg; Susan Harris of Words Without Borders; Jesse Lee Kercheval, who continues doing wonders for Uruguayan poetry; Dennis Maloney of White Pine Press; Amanda Powell; Jessica Powell; Mahmud Rahman; Carolina de Robertis;Zack Rogow, co-author of the play Colette Uncensored and blogger extraordinaire at Advice for Writers (see his take on the Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan) ;Alberto Ruy Sánchez;Mark Statman; and, surely having left aside a football team's worth of excellent people, I must now conclude with the deftly brilliant translator of Mexican poetry Mark Weiss.One especially memora[...]