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

C.M. Mayo < About C.M. Mayo < Interviews <

Creative Nonfiction Interviews C.M. Mayo
by Phil Maciak

C.M. Mayo's essay, "The Essential Francisco Sosa or, Picadou's Mexico City" appears in issue no. 23 "Mexican Voices" edited by Ilan Stavans.
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What pleases you about the way your essay turned out? Are there ways in which it fell short of your original goals?

It was fun to write. Having fun is seriously under-rated, you know.

How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process? What happened in the writing that you didn't expect would happen?

I had been reading James Howard Kunstler's Geography of Nowhere, a brilliant rant ‘n rave about "the tragic sprawlscape of cartoon architecture, junked cities, and ravaged countryside" that so much of the U.S. has become. (And Mexico, I would add.) And I was thinking about how I live in an older Mexico City neighborhood where houses and shops are packed tightly together, and people tend to walk a lot. So, I thought, what is, actually, a typical walk for me now? And why do I prefer this to living in a automobile-oriented suburb? So I went for a walk — my typical walk, one I've made more times than I could even estimate— but for the first time, really, deeply paying attention. I took a notebook with me, and when I came home I made more notes. The biggest surprise was the trees, how many there are, and how different from one another they are along Francisco Sosa, their different leaves and blossoms, the shadows they cast, the silhouettes they make, and how the light shines through them onto the walls and the sidewalk.

How does your experience writing creative nonfiction depend upon or depart from your work in other genres?

It depends, rather than departs from my fiction and poetry above all because I rely so much on imagery and dialogue. To write nonfiction— at least the nonfiction I've written to date— I need to first get out into the world, look, take notes, interview people, check facts, and so on, whereas with fiction and poetry, I can stay completely within my own dreaming. But I don't have to.

Speculate about creative nonfiction as an emerging genre in American literature. Where do you see it going?

While the term "creative nonfiction" may be new, this type of writing is not. To give one of scads of examples: Frances Calderón de la Barca's Life in Mexico, published in 1843. If that is not a superb example of creative nonfiction, I don't know what is.

But certainly, there is more "creative nonfiction" being published today, and Creative Nonfiction and other literary journals are bringing out highly innovative and interesting work. This is wonderful. As for where I see "creative nonfiction" going, I think it will go in as many directions as there are people who want it write it and people who want to publish it.

The megaphenomenon of our time is that the cost of publishing has plummeted. And now that there is print-on-demand and above all, the web, publishing is wide open to almost anyone with access to a computer. Whether a given piece of writing can attract readers is another question.

What advice do you offer new writers?

Listen to your own heart. That said, for craft, I found Philip Gerard's Creative Nonfiction helpful, and for a sense of perspective, Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life and Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees. (More recommendations here.)

Why was Picadou such an effective or appropriate guide to Mexico City? How does Picadou change the narrative? What does her presence add? What does that say about the city?

If Picadou is as you put it, "an effective or appropriate guide," I think it is to the degree that her point of view is unexpected. And she's such a fun little dog! She's such a darling, and I'm telling you, I cannot walk her without at least one person — and oftentimes several— coming up to pat her, admire her, give her treats, scratch her, even try to pick her up. On two occasions a stranger has actually knelt down on the sidewalk to kiss her on the head. Children have mobbed her. One man stopped his car, rolled down the window, and shouted at me, "THAT IS THE CUTEST DOG I HAVE EVER SEEN!"

OK, I am a pug nut, and I may be biased about my own pug, but you should know that there were more "admiration events" while walking down Francisco Sosa that were edited out of this essay.

Well, reluctantly moving on... Second, Picadou is (though I sometimes forget) a dog, and dogs live "in the now"— they are not trotting down the street ruminating about who said what ten minutes ago, or what might happen in six months from now if the real estate market takes a dip. So, to "see" my daily walk with fresh and full attention, it seemed to me that my dog could help provide that experience.

Third, as I pointed out in the essay, she's not the only pampered pooch in Mexico City— and the world of the people who are (ahem) owned by the pampered pooches, is, to me, highly interesting and, indeed, a very vibrant part of the city.

Speak a little about why Picadou, and, thus, the whole narrative perspective of the piece, is often concerned with or situated in the context of other dogs (past and present) of Mexico City?

One of my points is that the Avenida Francisco Sosa, unlike much of the "modern sprawlscape," has an evident past. This can be heartbreaking, but it can also make the present richer and more beautiful. And so it is for me in remembering past dogs, as well.

For much of your piece, the narration is that of an observer, a sharp, yet subjective, recorder of details— a Nick Carraway to Mexico City's Gatsby. However, toward the end, it becomes clear that you are inescapably bound to all that has been described. If Mexico City is, as you say it, "hurtling toward disaster," what role do you and Picadou play alongside the Bohemians, the tourists and the other inhabitants of Francisco Sosa?

We are here now, part of Mexico City. We may not be here later. Certainly, we will not be here forever. This is true, of course, of everyone and everything everywhere.