How did you become a writer?
Ever since I knew how to write I've been a writer. Though I took a writing workshop in my early 20s, I did not take it seriously until I was about 30, by which I mean I signed up for several summer writing workshops (Iowa, Bennington and others) in fiction and creative nonfiction, started to educate myself about publishing, and got the gumption to start sending things out.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Paul Bowles, whose workshop I took in Tangiers, was my first literary writing teacher but I learned far more from reading his books than from him personally. The Canadian novelist Douglas Glover taught me more than anyone about the novel, and in a one hour session, believe it or not. Much of what I've learned is from reading and rereading, actively, pencil in hand. Some key influences: V.S. Naipaul, Bruce Chatwin, Nancy Marie Brown, Sara Mansfield Taber, Truman Capote, John McPhee, Ian Frasier, Edward Swift, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Wharton, Flannery O'Connor... it's a long and ever-growing list. I've also relied heavily on books on craft-- I read John Gardner's The Art of Fiction so many times, it fell apart and I bought another, and then that fell apart. For my workshops students-- and anyone else who surfs on in-- I maintain this list of recommended books on craft: http://www.cmmayo.com/workshop-rec-read-craft.html
When and where do you write?
At my laptop, wherever that may be. Sometimes ideas just fly into my head; I ever and always keep a notebook handy to capture those.
What are you working on now?
A travel memoir, tentatively titled World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in West Texas. Apropos of that, I'm hosting a 24 podcast series, "Marfa Mondays: Exploring Marfa, TX and the Big Bend," and I invite you to listen in anytime. www.cmmayo.com/marfa
I'm also working (very slowly) on a novel and revising and expanding my introduction to my translation of the secret book by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, that is to say, Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual. It's available on Kindle now; the updated edition and a paperback will be available soon. Read all about that here: http://www.cmmayo.com/SPIRITISTMANUAL/Spiritist-Q-AND-A/1-GENERAL-DESCRIPTION.html
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Who hasn't? Oh, Joyce Carol Oates. I always wished I could figure out her secret. Though I am not anywhere near so prolific as Ms. Oates, I have managed to write several books and I am happy to share my simple trick: just keep at it, bit by bit, always, always, speaking to yourself kindly, and keeping your focus not on the past (regrets) nor the future (wishing and hoping), but in the present. When it gets really gnarly, turn to the literature on sports psychology.
What’s your advice to new writers?
There are different kinds of writing and different kinds of writer. I am a literary writer-- poetry, literary fiction, literary memoir and I specialize in big, fat, seriously researched tomes. So, speaking to the literary writer: Truly great books are an education of the heart-- and that is not something many new writers, enchanted with notions of fame, are prepared to seriously consider. At the nitty gritty level, though this is a gloriously creative path (revel in it!), the business of publishing your books is a lot like selling life insurance. Be prepared to persist. And be open to the new, for publishing as we know it is turning into a multimedia interactive I-don't-know-what. (That's why I took up blogging and podcasting and recently published an interactive ebook based on my one day workshop, Podcasting for Writers & Other Creative Entrepreneurs.) http://www.cmmayo.com/podcasting-for-writers/index.html It's probably also a good idea to get some chickens. I am not kidding.
C.M. Mayo is the author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books), a novel based on the true story and named a Library Journal Best Book of 2009. She is also the author of Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions), and Sky Over El Nido (University of Georgia Press), which won the Flannery O'Connor Award. A long-time resident of Mexico and an avid translator, she is editor of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press), a collection of 24 Mexican writers on Mexico, and she is the first English translator of Francisco I. Madero's secret book, Spiritist Manual (Dancing Chiva). She hosts two podcast series, Conversations with Other Writers and Marfa Mondays, the latter apropos of a travel memoir-in- progress. www.cmmayo.com