I am pleased to introduce my guest today on the blog, C.M. Mayo. C.M. is an
accomplished travel writer, novelist and translator. She is also the producer and host of the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project, exploring Marfa, Texas and the greater Big Bend region in 24 podcasts. You can learn more about her at www.cmmayo.com and read her blog at www.madammayo.blogspot.com.
Thanks for joining us today. What prompted you to create the podcast Marfa Mondays?
Ever since I brought out my travel memoir of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, Miraculous Air, I had wanted to do a book about Far West Texas. I was raised in California, but born in Far West Texas—El Paso— so that was a pull. What first prompted me to think about it seriously, though, was a visit to the little town of Marfa—this was back in the late 90s, before many people outside the region, apart from aficionados of Donald Judd and the movie “Giant,” had heard of it. What struck me was how similar Marfa appeared to be to Todos Santos, a remote desert farm town on Baja California Sur’s Pacific coast, with artists moving in… Of course, Marfa as art-mecca is a story many have reported on since (of late, stories on Marfa have even appeared in Vanity Fair and Martha Stewart’s Living.) But the bigger story—the history, nature of, and changes in Far West Texas— and its connections with Mexico—that’s also something I want to write about. And I’m coming from Mexico City, where I’ve been living for over two decades, so my approach is very different from that of most American writers. In short, I‘d like to explore and learn about Far West Texas and then, in writing about it, find out what I think.
The podcasting project came about for two reasons. First, in 2009, I had given a lecture at the Library of Congress about The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, my novel based on the true story, and darned if I wasn’t going to find a way to get that recording onto the Internet! That’s how I learned—and it isn’t rocket science— to make podcasts using Apple’s GarageBand program. Second, for my travel memoir of Baja California, I did many interviews, not recording them but taking notes, and of course, because I needed to shape the narrative— in plain English, the book couldn’t ramble on—I had to select chunks and snippets; much of this material remains in my files. So for the Far West Texas book, I determined to record the interviews and, after some very basic editing (mainly of things like coughing or dogs barking, and in one case, shotguns going off), share them in-full, both while the book is in-progress and post-publication, as an on-line resource.
How is the book on the Big Bend region coming along? Can we expect it soon?
World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas is the tentative title, and it’s coming along—I have now posted 17 of the projected 24 podcasts and written a few essays—but more slowly than I had originally anticipated. But that’s been true for all my books— they always take an eon longer than I anticipated. But in this case, I had already started, in January 2012, when I up and wrote a completely different book! That was Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual.
Madero, Mexico’s “Apostle of Democracy,” was the leader of the 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico from 1911-1913, so the fact that he was a Spiritist medium and in 1910 wrote a book about Spiritism, which he published under a pseudonym when president-elect in 1911, is not only astonishing but crucially important for understanding his thinking and, therefore, the initial phase of the Mexican Revolution itself. I dropped everything to write it because I had a Mexican publisher who wanted to bring it out in 2013 in a deluxe edition for the centennial of Madero’s assasination. That deluxe edition didn’t happen but, long story short, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution is now out in both English and Spanish, in both paperback and Kindle, and I am now back at work on World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas, aiming for an advanced draft by the end of next year 2016. In the meantime, the Marfa Mondays podcasts will be posted, one by one.
The latest podcast, #17, is an interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor. Listen in anytime to all the podcasts, including the interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, here: www.cmmayo.com/marfa.
Sometimes setting in a book almost seems like it doesn’t matter. What makes setting, or place, fascinating to you?
For me, it’s moving through the majesty of vast spaces and so retrieving a relationship with both
the earth and the sky, and always, a burning curiosity about the people of its past and its present. That is certainly true for me about the rock art, especially that of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands.
Speaking of rock art, that was one of the things that made me want to write about Baja California. I had often visited Los Cabos, at the bottom of the peninsula, where my parents had a beach house, but there was never time to drive two days north to San Ignacio and venture into the mysterious canyons of the Sierra de San Francisco where, so I heard, and so it turned out to be true, there were people living on goat ranches and speaking an antique Spanish, and guarding the most spectacular cave art.
There have also been specific buildings that fascinated me, for example, the Archduke Maximilian von Habsburg’s Miramar, an ivory castle perched on the Adriatic in Trieste, Italy, which he was still working on via correspondence with his architects and designers, when he was Emperor of Mexico. I felt that if I could see Miramar, walk up its steps and in and around its salons—most are still intact as he left them in 1864— I could find a deeper understanding of why Maximilian accepted the Mexico throne and why, in the face of doom, he refused to abdicate. And indeed, it was a richly rewarding visit; it informed my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, and I wrote about it in a long essay, “From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion.”
Do you have any suggestions for other writers about place?
Oh, scads! I teach a workshop on literary travel writing. Here’s a brief article about that, from the Writer’s Center’s Writer’s Carousel http://madammayo.blogspot.mx/2009/03/from-writers-carousel-literary-travel.html
Tell us about some of your other books.
I’ve mentioned the historical novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire and Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico. My first book was a collection of short stories, Sky Over El Nido, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award, and I also edited a collection of 24 Mexican writers, Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion.
You also write poetry. How has poetry shaped your other writing?
It’s all poetry, though some goes on for a while with more complex strands and interweavings of thought and we can call that a “novel” or a “travel memoir” or whatever.
This one I’m working on now because I love being prompted to read about things I probably wouldn’t otherwise (e.g., volcanoes, J. Frank Dobie, the US-Mexican War); visiting places I probably wouldn’t otherwise (Swan House, the salt flats east of El Paso, the Solitario Dome, Marfa’s Moonlight Gemstones) and above all, the privilege of being able to talk to all sorts of people. It’s like stepping onto some wiggy mind-stretching amusement ride. Come to think of it, I could say that about all my books.
What’s next for you?
This year, audiobooks—I will be recording Miraculous Air and Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Empire, among other works. Then there’s a novel in-progress; another book of short stories; and way, waaaay out on the horizon, maybe a book about the US-Mexican War.
Many thanks for being with us today!
Thank you, Mary, it is an honor and a delight.