Friday, February 27, 2009

Poetic Voices Without Borders 2, edited by Robert L. Giron (Gival Press, 2009)

New from Gival Press, Poetic Voices Without Borders 2, edited by Robert L. Giron, which includes "Man High," a poem by Yours Truly, as well as work by more than 150 other poets in English, French and Spanish, among them, Karren LaLonde Alenier, Grace Cavalieri, Alfred Corn, Rita Dove, Colette Inez, Claire Joysmith, Alexandra Van de Kamp, E. Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Kim Roberts. Writes editor Giron:
The voices are passionate and enlightening while echoing a desire in their own way to transform, to change, to transcend borders, be they personal, cultural or national, in a poetic manner as if to say that within literature there isn't a border for the human spirit, for it is that energy that keeps us going.

More anon.

To All the Many People Who Ask Me to Read Their Manuscripts

Since I cannot read your mind, I have to guess why you have asked me to look at your manuscript. After some years of experience with this, my guesses, be they right or wrong, generally fall one of the following four categories:

#1. You say you're looking for a critique, but perhaps what you're really looking for is validation.
If so, please be careful: you're making yourself vulnerable to people who may say very damaging things out of their own ignorance, fear or envy. Don't let any one else pretend to tell you whether you have "talent" or "what it takes." Some spectacularly clumsy writers, after years of honing their craft, have gone on to deserved literary fame; while many of the most promising young writers end up wasting decades front of the television. All I know is, for an artist validation needs to come from within.

#2. You say you're looking for a critique, but perhaps what you're really looking for, if you can't get validation, is some encouragement.
If so, I'll let you in on the secret: though there are joys, a lot of days this business is about as pleasurable as crawling over broken glass. So if you feel the need for encouragement from me or anyone else, not only you but society as a whole would probably be better off if you were to spend your time doing something else. Think about it! You could keep bees, go to law school, run for Congress, plant tomatoes, save the whales, become a movie producer...

That said, if you are determined to write, help yourself to "Giant Golden Buddha" & 364 More Daily 5 Minute Writing Exercises. And while you're at it, why not take a writing workshop, join a writers association, or sign up for a writers conference? Attend a reading at a local bookstore (how about one of mine?), peruse a bookfair, go hang out at your local library. Read books about the craft of writing and the writing life. And write on.

#3. You really are looking for an honest, expert critique.
If so, I might be available. Click here to read about my rates and policies. Also, there are a number of freelance editors I recommend, all of whom are listed on my resources for writers webpage. You can click on their webpages to read about their experience, philosophy, and how they charge.

#4. You've taken one of my workshops, and you want to share with me how your writing has improved.
If so, I appreciate your open-heartedness, and know that I am grateful to you and indeed, to all my students, because in teaching I also learn.

Adapted from the Irish blessing:

May your Muse give you...
For every block, a sledge-hammer of inspiration
For every tear, a bouquet of giggles
For every care, the laser-like ability to focus on the writing at hand
And a blessing in each draft.
For every conundrum a manuscript presents,
Le mot juste
For every sigh, a sharpened pencil,
And in the end, a string of words, beads of a narrative to enchant your readers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Delicate Balance: Ellen McLaughlin & Kathleen Chalfant at the Writers Center

Message from both the Writers Center and my amiga novelist Ann McLaughlin, whose daughter is the actress Ellen McLaughlin:

On Monday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 P.M. join us as we host award-winning Broadway performers Ellen McLaughlin & Kathleen Chalfant, actresses in the Arena Stage performance of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance.

General admission is $5, but there is free admission for those who bought discounted Writer's Center tickets to the February 22 production. To register for this event, click here: https://www.writer.org/events/details.asp?id=409

Literary Travel Writing Workshop at the Writers Center with C.M. Mayo April 18th

Some news: I'll be giving a special one day only workshop on Literary Travel Writing at the Bethesda MD Writers Center on Saturday April 18th.
Take your travel writing to another level: the literary, which is to say, giving the reader the novelistic experience of actually traveling there with you. For both beginning and advanced writers, this workshop covers the techniques from fiction and poetry that you can apply to this specialized form of creative nonfiction for deliciously vivid effects. Mayo does not critique manuscripts but rather offers a series of mini-lectures interspersed with exercises, readings, and discussion. The goal is that by the end of the workshop, your writing will be of notably higher quality.

Click here for more information.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Midday with Buñuel: Memories and Sketches, 1973-1983 by Claudio Isaac (Translated by Bryan T. Scoular)

I was both charmed and moved by Midday with Buñuel, Mexican filmmaker and writer Claudio Isaac's personal and very poetic recollection of his friendship with his mentor, the Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, who died in Mexico City in 1983. I do not have the original Spanish for a comparison, but the English is so vivid and smoothly elegant, I am sure this must be a superb translation. This slender volume, published by the remarkable Swan Isle Press, goes on my top 10 list for 2009, sin duda. More anon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Guest-blogger Thomas C. Hilde on Torture: 5 Recommendations for Further Reading

This week's guest-blog post is by Professor Thomas C. Hilde of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy, editor of the important new collection On Torture (Johns Hopkins University Press).
There is no good moral argument for torture. There is no good political argument for torture. There are not even good "national security" or information-gathering arguments for torture. This is not to say, however, that such arguments haven't been attempted. So why does torture persist? It persists because in each of these cases - moral, political, practical - justifications for the practice can be found only if we step outside of our liberal democratic skins into different sets of assumptions, moral and political principles, values, and attitudes regarding human rights, the liberal principles of dignity and autonomy, the nature of political systems, and what we are willing to give up in the name of the ambiguous notion of "security."

If we stand outside of the liberal democratic state, our humanistic selves, and a basic sense of decency, we might appreciate how torture works quite well as an instrument of oppression or punishment, how it tears the social fabric and instils fear in a population, and how it can be used alongside other forms of violence to achieve various political and economic goals (such as ethnic cleansing or displacing people from desirable lands). But note that, in order to find such methods and goals justifiable, we have to take on an entirely different perspective about who we are. We have to, for instance, transform ourselves into beings who believe that anything goes in the name of "national security." This is part of the reason why torture is a radical institution (and it always becomes an institution), especially when used by liberal democratic governments. Apart from the damage torture does to individual victims and torturers, it is - in the American case - an assault on the very foundational principles of liberal democratic society and a moral transformation of ourselves. This slippery slope is not a logical abstraction or a misused hypothetical. It is quite real.

In the American case, the instrumentality of torture - stated as information-gathering - remains perplexing. Although it's too lengthy a discussion to go into here, torture does a really poor job as an information-gathering tool. Or at least it does a poor job if we are not prepared to torture many many people, including many innocents, to seek the supposedly valuable information. Furthermore, many professional interrogators insist that they have much better means of gaining information than through torture and other physical and psychological violence. Has torture been used by the US as an instrument of oppression? In the post-Bush US, we now need to unravel the complexities of accountability and complicity, a possible truth commission and/or prosecutions, and the ugly reality of political feasibility. But I think that a critical question remains: why has the US tortured?

If you would like to read more regarding the American case in particular, here are some recommendations.

1. The initial debates: Two collections of essays in particular sum up the basic arguments of the early days after the Abu Ghraib photographs went public: Sanford Levinson, ed. Torture: A Collection and Karen Greenberg, ed. The Torture Papers.

2. Understanding torture: Darius Rejali has written the masterwork on torture. If you're interested in the subject, you absolutely must have Rejali's 700-page Torture and Democracy. I also recommend (how could I not?) my own edited volume, On Torture. It's a different work than Levinson's and Greenberg's in that On Torture seeks to move beyond the polarized framework of ticking bomb utilitarians on one side and human rights absolutists on the other. Both are highly problematic views. It also collects writers from other countries, takes a more humanistic view of torture, and cracks open the problems with the basic framework in the US for discussing torture. Also check out a recent interview with me at Subtopia.

3. Documentation: There are two very good collections of documentation regarding US torture, including legal memos, CIA torture documents, independent reports, and so on: Mark Danner's Torture and Truth, and Jaffer and Singh's ACLU-produced Administration of Torture.

4. Bush administration torture: These are well-known books which are well worth a read: Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, Jane Mayer's The Dark Side, and Philippe Sands' Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.

5. What to do next: Prosecutions? A truth commission? Nothing at all because it's too politically difficult and we ought to "look forward rather than backwards"? Big questions remain regarding what to do about Bush administration torture. I have some forthcoming work on this. But, as things develop, I highly recommend following the work of newly-appointed Office of Legal Counsel Assistant Attorney General Marty Lederman, formerly of Balkinization; Scott Horton at Harper's; and one of my favorite legal philosophers, David Luban at Georgetown Law.

--- Thomas C. Hilde

--->For the archive of Madam Mayo guest blog posts, click here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Book Women Visit Mexico City / Two Books on Mexican History

Recently I had the honor and pleasure of being the guest-speaker for the Book Women's Readers on the Road group that came down to Mexico City. I talked about the true story behind my forthcoming novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, about Tameme, and the anthology Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. Over the guacamole and "chanclas" vegetarianas, questions abounded, mostly about Mexican women writers, literary translation, and Mexican history, and one of the most pressing questions for these avid readers was, where to begin reading about Mexican history? My two top recommendations:
---> Mexico: Biography of Power (A History of Modern Mexico, 1810-1996) by Enrique Krauze
---> La Capital: The Biography of Mexico City by Jonathan Kandell.
(Alas, both by men. But I won't hold that against them!) More anon.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Before Saying Any of the Great Words: Selected Poetry by David Huerta, Translated by Mark Schafer

New from Copper Canyon Press, an important collection of work by a leading Mexican poet. Two Washington DC events:

Friday, April 17: Washington D.C

Library of Congress (Pickford Theater, Thomas Jefferson Building, third floor) 12 pm: Bilingual reading, sponsored by The Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington D.C

Georgetown University 4:00 pm: Bilingual reading (reception afterward)


P.S. Mark Schafer's translation of Jesus Gardea's haunting short story "According to Evaristo" appears in my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Josiah Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies or Journal of a Santa Fe Trader


Read the whole book on-line here.
http://www.kancoll.org/books/gregg/
I was charmed to find this... this book's editor was none other than John Bigelow, the newspaperman, lawyer, U.S. Minister to France, and the inspiration for a character in my novel. More anon.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Following the Bloom: Across America with the Migratory Beekeepers by Douglas Whynott

They say beekeepers are the last cowboys. But bees are so very different from cattle. Writes Whynott, "Bees inspire, they make people imagine and dream." His Following the Bloom: Across America with the Migratory Beekepers is a delightful read about a world-- I would assume-- that has since changed dramatically with rampant suburban development and colony collapse disorder, among a multitude of challenges for the bees. Back in the 1980s, Whynott, an avid beekeeper and one-time state inspector, dropped everything to follow the migratory beekeepers, an eccentric bunch who, for the honey produced and hefty pollination fees, hauled thousands of hives across the country, from California's almond groves to North Dakota's clover to Maine's blueberry barrens, Cape Cod's cranberry bogs and Florida's orange groves. The book is deeply researched, the portraits of both the bees and their keepers vivid, and the writing poetic. More anon.

Solveig Eggerz at the Kensington Row Bookshop Reading Series Feb 5

If you're in the Washington DC area, don't miss this: Solveig Eggerz will be reading from her novel of Iceland, Seal Woman, at the Kensington Row Bookshop (3786 Howard Avenue, Kensington MD) on Feb 5th @ 7:30 pm

P.S. Check out her guest-blog post for Madam Mayo, 5 Works of Historical Fiction. More anon.