Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

C.M. Mayo < About C.M. Mayo < Interviews <
Originally at http://www2.solutionsabroad.com/c_memberofmonthmexico_mayo.asp
Recaptured with archive.org's Way Back Machine

Solutions Abroad Mexico
Expatriate of the Month - C.M. Mayo
Umair Khan interviews C.M. Mayo about living in and writing about Mexico.
June 2007.

U.S. born C.M. Mayo is the author of the widely-lauded travel memoir, Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico and Sky Over El Nido, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Currently she divides her time between Mexico City and Washington D.C., where she is on the faculty of The Writers Center.


Please tell us a little about yourself.

I'm a writer. I was born in El Paso, Texas, and I've been living (on and off, but mostly on) in Mexico City since 1986. My books are Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California the Other Mexico, which has just come out in a paperback edition, and Sky Over El Nido, a collection of short stories largely set in Mexico.

I'm also a literary translator, founder of the bilingual (English / Spanish) Tameme Chapbooks - Cuadernos www.tameme.org and editor of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, a collection of Mexican fiction and literary prose. I am really excited about this book, as it offers a portrait of Mexico's incredibly diverse regions through the voices of its own writers. Many, such as Carlos Monsivais, Rosario Castellanos, Juan Villoro, Fernnando del Paso, and Angeles Mastretta, are considered literary stars here, and yet they are almost unknown to English language readers. My website, www.cmmayo.com, has information about my books as well as many of my articles, stories, translations and book reviews.

Why Mexico?

Because my husband is Mexican, and after we got married, he wanted to live in Mexico City more than anywhere else on earth. He was persuasive, what can I say.

What makes a good travel writer?

An eye and ear for detail in other words, a practiced ability to pay deep, unwavering attention. Compassion. Languages. A deep knowledge of the literary tradition and respect for readers. Aside from that, stamina, a handy notebook and pen, thick socks, and indestructable walking shoes.

Do you go through a certain process when writing a book?

The idea comes as a spark, the outline hazily appears, the beginning is a breeze - and then the whole thing becomes obscure. Structure is a rickety mystery. Crowds of clashing metaphors. I nudge and cajole and slog. I cut dozens, maybe hundreds of pages. Weeks, months, years go by. Then, towards the end, suddenly, it all comes togetherit begins to feel like gliding.

Was there a certain incident or moment that stood out for you when you travelled through Baja California?

In the little farm town / artist colony of Todos Santos, I was interviewing Professor Nestor Agúndez, a retired schoolteacher and the founder of the town's Casa de Cultura. He told me that, in 1994, he had invited the leading presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, to visit his town.

Professor Agundez waited for a response. Finally, it came an acceptance on the very day that Colosio was assassinated, shot in the head at close range in a crowd in Tijuana. As Professor Agundez was telling me about how shocked he was, all alone in his house watching the bloody images on television, and with that letter in his handhow he had tried to control himself by drinking glasses of water, but he couldn't help it, he cried and cried I started to cry.

It was a powerful reminder: we're all connected, bajacalifornios, chilangos, Mexicans, North Americans, the living, the dead.

Are there any particular authors, Mexican or foreign, that have influenced your work?

Diaz del Castillo, whose True History of the Conquest of New Spain is one of the greatest stories ever told. Frances Calderon de la Barca, whose Life in Mexico is like a box of bonbons you can just lift the lid and dip in, anywhere.

The travel writers I have most enjoyed and learned from are V.S. Naipaul, Bruce Chatwin, Jan Morris, Bill Buford, M.F.K. Fischer, Sam Quinones, Juan Villoro, Carlos Monsivais, and Ian Frazier.

As for novelists, Manette Ansay, Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anne Patchett, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, and Thornton Wilder. It's such a long list. It's always growing, always changing.

Can you tell us a little about your latest project, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire?

It's an epic historical novel set in the 1860s, something like "Gone with the Wind a la mexicana." It's based on a true story and I've done extensive original archival research in Mexico, Washington DC, New York City, and Vienna.

I've begun posting bits and pieces about it, including an essay about a journey to Maximilian's Italian castle, on my Maximilian website, www.cmmayo.com/maximilian.html I expect the novel may be out in late 2008.

Dividing your time between the United States and Mexico do you feel you get the best of both worlds?

I am a relentless optimist.

C.M. Mayo it was a pleasure talking to you, thank you for your time.

Thank you.