San Miguel de Allende, VRBO and the Lovely Woman . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Jan 27, 2011 Under Uncategorized

. . . I met on the plane going to Mexico City.

I went to Mexico for three days last week to attend the memorial service for George Miller, the photographer I’ve written about. It was a beautiful ceremony, and the church was packed, not a dry eye in the crowd. He was much loved by the expatriate crowd.

On the flight down, I sat next to a lovely woman who was on her way to spend a month in San Miguel de Allende—something I’ve always wanted to do. Sometimes I go to VRBO and look up the wonderful houses you can rent in San Miguel through them. Just take a look!

“Did all your friends freak out that you were going to Mexico?” I asked. “Did they tell you how dangerous it was?”

She laughed. Apparently, they had already done that when she went to Cuernavaca last fall with some girlfriends to take a cooking class. I’m glad to report a great time was had by all.

‘”Well, “I said, “At least, we’re not going someplace really dangerous like Arizona.”

After a while, she pulled out her Kindle, I grabbed my i pad, and we began to compare notes on what our book groups were reading. That’s when it hit me. I have to make business cards! Here was a woman who fit my demographic perfectly, as they say, in terms of age, education (she was a music teacher) and whatever else goes into the market research publishing houses do. Besides, she loved Mexico AND she had an e-reader. And she was a really, really nice person.

Okay, so add to the New Year’s resolution list…make business cards (if you can call what I do a business. It seems just like life or fun—something like that.)

So now I’m thinking about what kind of graphics to have on the card, what kind of font to use. (Any suggestions y’all? Anyone know an on-line business card company that’s really good?)

This is the thing I really like about self-publishing. It’s so creative. I get to blog, pod-cast, think about cover art. In fact, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to complete the steps in The Artist’s Way. I have a hard time figuring out when I’m NOT doing things in that book, which says something great about country life (plus cool technology) out here on the ranch.

It’s true I would love to spend a month in San Miguel. I mean take a look at one of the places Dave and I dined when we were there—Hotel Sierra Nevada.

But really, I’m loathe to leave the ranch, especially now that I can feel spring in the air. I’ve been cutting back all the plants in the patio, the sun warm on my back and the balmiest of breezes all around me. The tulips are sending up little green points and the daffodils are starting to show in the meadows where I’ve planted a thousand—really! I’m about to take a walk around the property—so green and lush this time of year. Soon I will see the first spring flowers on this walk—the little Baby Blue Eyes I love so much. Hard to leave.

Anyway, if the lovely woman I met on the plane to Mexico City sees this, maybe she’ll tune into my podcast, or maybe —when the book is in e-book format—she and her book group will read it. She should know she was the inspiration for my making business cards. I hope she’s having a great time in San Miguel.

As we say out here in California, I’m expressing my intention to the universe. We’ll see what happens.

Oh BTW. I was going to give you all an update on my podcasting progress. Episode Two is recorded and edited. This time it only took about three hours. Tomorrow I’m recording Episode Three. I’m getting there.

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Author Boot Camp at Stanford: Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood

Posted by admin on Thursday Jan 20, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Seth HarwoodWhen the student is ready, as the Buddhists say, the teacher will appear. Who knew my teacher(s) would be these two guys?

If you are thinking about self-publishing a book or you live anywhere near San Francisco, you probably know about them. Well, if you’re my age, maybe not. Scott and Seth are two publishing phenoms who got book contracts through their podcasting endeavors. They are adorable, charming and sooooo smart. So smart. (See the mother hen in me appear!) They also happen to be very good writers.

But so are a lot of unpublished writers. Including me. And that’s not just my humble opinion. That’s what editors at Bantam and Little Brown, Mysterious Press, and St. Martin’s said about my first novel—Mexican Book of the Dead. “Sophisticated and stylish writer!” “Strong original voice!” “I can see why you are excited about this writer!” they wrote my agent, and so on . . .


Sorry. They just didn’t know what shelf to put the book on, and besides, the setting—Mexico— would not reach a large enough audience to meet their marketing goals.

Scott SiglerUndaunted, I wrote another novel—Palace of the Blue Butterfly— which I’ve talked about on my blogs. Got another agent. Edited, re-edited and re-re-edited the book, and then the economy fell off a cliff. AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bank of America remember them? Trust me, there was no debut novel in America, mine included, that was TOO BIG TO FAIL.

At least I had already moved to the ranch, at least I was growing my own food, and my water came from my own well. There were horses in the meadow, cattle in the pasture, and fragrant Winter Daphne bloomed by my porch. Life was good. I put the books in boxes and told myself, ”You can’t always do everything you hope to in life.” Basically, I tried to forget about it. But I couldn’t.

I thought about self-publishing a paperback book, but well . . .no. If whole publishing houses in New York were collapsing, what chance did I have?

And then I read about Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood in Pat Holt’s blog— Holt Uncensored— in the San Francisco Chronicle. The very same day, I walked down to my mailbox across from the horse pasture, and there was my catalogue for Stanford University’s Continuing Education courses.

I made myself some tea—an afternoon ritual—and sat down on the porch to check out the online courses. (Picture of my rocking chair on the porch in spring. With the daphne blooming— OMG heaven!)


Not on-line, but so what? I signed up with Dave, and the adventure began.

Seth or Scott actually posted a picture of Dave and me, sitting there in the first row of their class. In the photo, I look studious while Dave stares hard at the laptop. Had there been a little caption bubble over our heads, it would have read “What the @#&* is Feedburner?” Also Garageband, itunes, Mp3, GoDaddy, RSS, LybSyn. I mean, I didn’t even know what E-Blogger was or WordPress. How far I’ve come. And these two young men helped get me there.

If you’re looking for an eye-opening experience, take the Author Boot Camp class with them. Even if you are not a writer, your life will be richer knowing all the possibilities out there. Don’t be scared of how techno-savvy and sci-fi or crime-writerly they are if that’s not your thing. These are really, really talented people, and they are changing the world as we know it. Do yourself a favor. Go along for the ride.

Anyway, as you all know, one of my goals for the year is to self-publish my book. I’m going to follow Seth and Scott’s path. I’m going to put Palace of the Blue Butterfly up on my website as a free audio book for you.

My progress so far? Episode one is recorded and edited. With all the other chores around here, the first episode took about a week to complete. I made a recording of the first chapter, but when I played it back, there was too much echo. (Ah, the old NPR days came back to me.) Still, I practiced editing on Garageband. Woo-hoo. Garageband! ME!

Palace of the Blue Butterfly on Garage Band

Next, I turned the guest bedroom into a Recording Studio. I piled quilts and blankets on the hard surfaces, put my H2Zoom microphone on the bed with the duvet, built big mounds of pillows around me and read my first chapter. It sounded great.

Chapter One is now edited. The next step is to put it up on itunes and compress it into an Mp3 version. After that, I upload it into Lybsyn, get a URL and post that on my website. That way all YOU have to do is CLICK AND LISTEN. At least, that’s what I think I have to do. I’ll update you next week, so check in to see how I’m doing. (AND BTW—if I can do this, YOU can do this. Think about it.)

According to Scott and Seth, I should have at least four to seven episodes recorded and stored on Lybsyn before I post them on my blog. That way, if there are any snafus, it doesn’t spoil the story for you all.

Wish me luck. I’d love to hear from others who are doing this. Really. I’m stepping into uncharted waters for me. But remember what I said about taking leaps and risks and having faith last time? Well, here I go.

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Oaxaca: A Celebration with New Friends

Posted by admin on Thursday Jan 13, 2011 Under Uncategorized

All I’d expected was a photograph.

I’d written the following e-mail to the Museo Archivo de Fotografia: “Estimado Senor o Senora: En un articulo sobre el fotogrofo George Miller, vi . . .” Dear Sir or Madam: I recently saw a photograph in an interview . . .

Within a day, I received a reply. Yes, I could purchase a print. What size would I like? Did I want matte or glossy? The price for a certain size print was such and such amount.

A simple transaction.

And then the bank got involved.

All I had to do was send a check to the photographer’s account. Okay. Very simple. Except the money never got there. I called the bank. The bank called me back. I wrote the photographer’s daughter who handled his affairs. She checked with the bank in Mexico. No check. Where did it go? This went on daily for weeks. I’m not kidding.

But as the Mexicans say, “ No hay ningun mal que por bien no venga.” Basically—every cloud has a silver lining. And in this case, the silver lining was a growing friendship.

After a month of all this to-ing and fro-ing with the banks, I opened an e-mail from Mexico and there was an invitation to a gala retrospective of George Miller’s work. The Millers would be honored if my husband and I would join them at the Centro Fotografia Manuel Alvarez Bravo in Oaxaca.

“Dave,” I said. “We’re going.”

He looked at me like I was nuts. These people were complete strangers. I NEVER do things like this. Besides I’m terrified of flying.

I’d rather DIE than not go,” I told him.

I knew I had found friends for life. (I don’t know how I knew, but I knew.) I couldn’t let this pass me by.

As it turned out, the flight to Mexico was scheduled during one of the worst storms to ever hit San Francisco—250 lightning strikes at SFO in a matter of a few hours. “The mother of all storms,” the guy on the weather channel called it. Even a Southwest flight got hit by a bolt of lightning on the approach to the San Francisco airport! Dave took one look at my stricken, petrified face and figured we were never getting on that plane.

I’d rather die, I told myself again, than not go.

But once above the clouds, the trip became magical, smooth as silk. I looked out of my window as we approached Mexico City and gasped. Framed in my tiny window, rose the snow covered volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, gleaming white in the brilliant blue sky. The pilot turned in a wide arc and flew us straight down Avenida Reforma, past Chapultepec Castle, right above the Monument to the Revolution. I could even see the gold wings of the Angle of Independence as we flew above it.

Dave and I arrived in Oaxaca at twilight, the beautiful colonial city sparkling below us, its colorful buildings just beginning to fade into dusk. We grabbed our luggage and boarded a van full of George Miller’s friends and family. We were all staying at the charming Hotel Aitana. The party had begun.

Window at Centro Cultural de San Agustin Etla

At the opening of George Miller’s retrospective, I had the eerie feeling I’d just walked into Chapter Four of my book, where Lili wanders around a gallery opening just like this. I found David in the crowd and squeezed his hand. “Thank you for this,” I whispered. If he hadn’t gone along with my plan, hadn’t gotten me on that plane, I never would have made it.

Sometimes in life you find yourself exactly where you want to be, and you have to pinch yourself and ask how it happened. This, for me, was one of those times—standing in a crowd of new friends— all art lovers— talking about— well— about everything: life, politics, art, culture, the scars of history, from the conquest of the Americas to the war in Afghanistan, surrounded by the photographs of George Miller, a man who had been a witness to so much history.

Sometimes all it takes is a leap of faith, a risk, and taking more risks and leaps and having more faith is what I want to do with the years left to me.

I’m sure George Miller would approve.

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Mexico: Through the Eyes of George Miller

Posted by admin on Thursday Jan 6, 2011 Under Uncategorized


Today I am mourning the loss of George Miller, a man I met on the internet.


Used to be, when we first moved up to the Ranch, Dave would go to the Bay Area to work three or four days a week. Sometimes, when the nights were long, I would browse around on the internet, jotting down apartment rentals in Paris, or stone cottages to let in San Vito lo Capo, Sicily—you know, basically dreaming on line, imagining a time when Dave was really retired and we could live here AND travel the world.

More often than not, I would find myself listing back towards Mexico, reading blogs like David Lida’s or Jim Johnston’s, looking at pictures of Oaxaca or San Miguel del Allende, even browsing Sotheby’s international real estate, just imagining lives other than my own. I like my life just the way it is, but I’m always curious about lives different than my own— why I write, I guess.

And that’s how I met George.

One of the browsing spots I visit on my internet tours is a wonderful on-line newspaper for expats called Inside Mexico. There I can always find lively interviews with artists, with people who are fixing up villas in the Roma, with glamorous matrons who live in exquisite homes in San Miguel, and in this case, with the photographer George Miller.

The Museo Archivo de Fotografia was having a big exhibit of Miller’s photographs and the front page of Inside Mexico featured an interview with him along with a photo— Camino a Torreon

I fell in love . . . with the photograph.

When Dave came home, I clicked on the computer and said, “You’ve got to see this. This photographer gets it, how dramatic and mysterious Mexico is. This is exactly what it was like—that first road trip!”

Seemed like every time Dave came into my office, I was staring at the photograph. In my mind, I was driving down that road in a sixties Buick the size of an ocean-liner, wind in my hair. Coming from the kudzu-covered south, I’d never seen such space, such sky!

“Why don’t you just write the museum and see if you can buy a print.”

I told him it was hopeless, that it was an old article, that no one would write me back.

“You could try,” Dave said. “Can’t hurt.”

So I did. And the next day, I received a reply.

And now I have a print of the photograph.

How I got it, how I met the Millers in Oaxaca, THAT story is my NEXT blog.

Now I just want to remember George Miller, who passed away a few days ago, a D-Day Purple Heart Vet, who used his GI Bill to study Spanish. When he got a job as a salesman in Mexico for an American company, he bought a camera and a car, and on the drive from Kansas to Mexico City down the Pan-American Highway, he began his life-long work documenting Mexico—a Mexico that now no longer exists.

Except maybe in the photographs of George Miller.

photo by Frances Miller

You can still find the Inside Mexico article by Shauna Leff on George Miller. Take a look.

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Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link