Speaking Truth to Power

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 26, 2013 Under Uncategorized

For the next three months, I’m going to be blogging over at my novel’s website MexicoTrilogy.com, which I set up to market my book. I should probably be Tweeting, and Facebooking, and sticking pictures up on Pinterest, too, but since there are only 24 hours in a day, I’m hoping SEO will get readers to my site and to my book. I’d actually like to be, you know, writing novels. Anyway, visit me over at MexicoTrilogy.com, and let’s see if I can meet my goal of selling 500 books.

gabbyThroughout this whole process of putting a book out, I’ve been thinking a lot about what women must do to be part of the cultural and political discourse. Unlike me, some risk their lives.

In January 2011, Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a supermarket parking lot. Her crime? Holding a constituents’ meeting in a public place in a country so addicted to violence and guns it can’t think straight.

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban terrorists on the way to school. Her crime? She wanted an education, to be able to read and write. For this, she was shot by a patriarchal group addicted to violence and women-hating.

wendy_davis_memeLast year when the Texas legislature held a special session to deny women access to reproductive medical care, Wendy Davis, at one time a poor, single mother herself, stood and filibustered for eleven hours so that other women might have the same opportunities and choices she has had. The Texas law that later passed is a legal shot in the head for women.

That Gabby Giffords lived to be a beautiful, bright voice of reason is nothing short of a miracle. That Malala lived to speak so eloquently for the rights of girls is a miracle, as well. That Wendy Davis had the strength to stand up to the whole male establishment in the state of Texas is awe-inspiring. They are speaking truth to power.

This phrase—Speak Truth to Power— comes from a document created by The Society of Friends, the Quakers, in response to the arms race.

They identified a country’s worst enemy as not something external to that country, but something internal. They concluded the enemy within was:

1.) The Lust for Power
2.) The Addiction to Violence
3.) The Denial of Human Dignity

boehner092013Nowhere did we see that enemy better illustrated than by Republican members of the House of Representatives at the victory party they held after cutting funds to the SNAP program, funds that go disproportionately to children, the elderly and, increasingly to military families. That many of the members who voted to take food from the hungry also personally receive millions of dollars in farm subsidies, which they all voted to renew, is beyond hypocritical and power-lusting. It’s vicious. It’s venal. Words fail, really.

If you count these congressmen’s addiction to the NRA, you’re pretty much looking at what Quakers consider to be our worst enemy. It’s us. We voted for this. And if we didn’t vote for it, we didn’t speak truth to power loudly or often enough.

So where does that leave a Romantic Suspense fiction writer, a self-published one at that? Where does that leave me?

Jimmy Carter SayingIf I don’t speak truth to power in all ways available to me, in my blog, in my books and at the scariest of all — family gatherings, I will have aligned myself with cowards, hypocrites and Machiavellian ideologues.

Self-publishing my novel Palace of the Blue Butterfly was one little way of speaking truth to power. The novel tells the story of an older woman who longs for some kind of transformation. There is romance but not on the man’s terms. It explores the terrible period of McCarthyism in this country. It does not glorify the very rich, and it refutes the lie that Americans are comfortable perpetuating—that Mexico is a backward country full of desperately poor campesinos and drug lords.

When the powerful in my little world said that the Mexican setting wouldn’t sell, that the love interest couldn’t be Mexican, that my protagonist was too old, I could have remained silent. I did not. While there was no gun to my head nor was I in anyone’s crosshairs, it took a certain bit of courage to demand to be heard. It was a small step, nothing as huge as the women above, but it was a step.

It’s interesting that at last year’s Romance Writers of America annual conference, the largest workshop— standing room only—- was on self-publishing. Women storytellers are no longer allowing themselves to be silenced.

What if the writers—the actual workers in the 1.5 billion dollar a year industry that is romance novel writing— organized, demanded better contracts, created more publishing houses than three media conglomerates? Think about it. That’s close to a million women writers. If they started speaking truth to power, our whole collective narrative could change. No longer would women feel they had to be thrilled by heavily armed Navy Seals or whip-wielding plutocrats like in Fifty Shades of Grey. They could fall in love with bumbling guys you wouldn’t even want carrying a leaf-blower. You know men who are kind, gentle, soulful and who aren’t addicted to violence or lusting for power.

I can almost see a collective sneer. Romance Writers. Who are they? A bunch of fluff ball girls. Alas, there are so many ways to extinguish women’s voices, and this isn’t the worst.

malalaTo the Taliban, Malala was an infidel, Gabby Giffords was in the NRA’s cross-hairs, and Texas Republicans have tried to slut-shame Wendy Davis by calling her Abortion Barbie.

Really, doing almost anything that isn’t sanctioned by a male institution is subversive. I would add now after Citizen’s United that doing anything not sanctioned by an extremely wealthy white male institution is subversive.

Of course if we care about democracy, this is exactly why you, we, I have to speak truth to power every chance we get.

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Bird of Paradise: Romantic Suspense Novel Set on the . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 15, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . West coast of Mexico!

Finally! After all the proofreading and all the formatting and all the figuring out how to get Palace of the Blue Butterfly on Amazon Books and Goodreads, I‘m starting to revise my second romantic suspense novel Bird of Paradise.

This is sort of what I look like these days—only no fishbowl, no fish, no green branches, just me staring out into space.

Any normal person would wonder what I’m doing.

Well just FYI: Yesterday, my imagination took me to a beach on Mexico’s Pacific coast. I felt the sand on the soles of my feet, the wind in my hair, heard the waves, the shells being pulled out to sea, and in this trance, characters emerged from nowhere, for example, the French guy— Francois Richter. Where did he come from? He wasn’t in my first draft. But Bee, my main character, opened the door of the van, and there he was in the front passenger seat. I’ve spent my insomniac hours between 2 and 4 am trying to figure out who he is, what he’ll do.

I suppose the rest of you have real jobs, right?

Bird of Paradise started a long time ago when Dave and I took a trip to the west coast of Mexico. Our plan was to hit the funky beach towns around the Bay of Melaque for a few days and then luxe it up at Costa Careyes before heading east to Oaxaca, San Cristobal and Palenque.

Unfortunately, the first night in Barra de Navidad, I came down with a horrible flu—fever, coughing, absolute misery. In desperation, Dave went to the local pharmacy in search of some Mexican version of Nyquil and returned bearing a brown glass bottle, retrieved, it appeared, from some sorcerer’s den. “I don’t know about this,” he said, holding the bottle up to the light to see if it had congealed. “The guy got it from the back of the store. It was covered in dust.”

Since the bottle came with no instructions, I figured two tablespoons would do it. Boy did they. I think I hallucinated for a week; everything I heard or saw—the vacationing pot growers from Humbolt County, the surfer dude expats, the beautiful Europeans at Costa Careyes, swathed in gauzy, white pareos, who punctuated everything they said with the words “tu sais, tu sais” regardless of what language they happened to be speaking — charmed me.

It — the place, them — all seemed larger than life, mythic, iconic. Wow was I stoned!

Tropical beach in Mexico

Anyway, I never forgot them. Neither have I forgotten the stunning woman —an American travelling alone— writing in a notebook as she lay on her chaise lounge in front of the small cove of Playa Rosa, lifting her binoculars every now and then to look at birds.

Who was she? I wondered. What was she doing there alone?

Bird of Paradise is my answer.

Mexican Beach

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A Self-Publishing Writer’s Role Model. Introducing . . .

Posted by admin on Saturday Sep 22, 2012 Under Uncategorized

. . . Erika Robuck.

Three years ago when I was fishing around for what to do with my novels now that I was living so far from anything that could in any way resemble a publishing metropolis, I came across a few brave souls, pioneers, pushing forward on the vast prairies of self-publishing.

One of those very brave souls was the lovely young woman you see on the left. I read her very first blogs about her self-published women’s fiction novel Receive me Falling and ideas started percolating in my head. A voice started whispering, You can do this, Jane.

In those days before e-books, the perils of self-publishing were really daunting. Along with worrying about whether you were kamikaze-ing any future career you might wish to have or whether your book would ever be permitted to go onto the shelves of brick and mortar stores, you had to make several other decisions. Should you create your own publishing house? Should you go with one of the self-publishing firms? There were not a lot of people out there to help, and besides, you had to deal with utter contempt from anyone remotely associated with traditional publishing. And it cost big bucks.

My, how times have changed.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write about the women who inspired me, who still inspire me. Today, it’s Erika.

After the birth of her first son, Erika’s life-long desire to write surfaced, and during her son’s naptimes, she completed Receive Me Falling , set on a haunted Caribbean sugar plantation.

Her son’s naptimes? Dear Lord. That in itself is inspiring, don’t you think?

After many revisions, she began the agent-query, request-for-partial, dead-silence-plus-rejection level of Dante’s Inferno that all writers are required to go through.

Her problem she began to realize from agent responses had less to do with the book than with the fact that she had no publishing credentials, no platform.

When her husband suggested she self-publish the book, she hesitated. That old stigma thing, again.

Long story short: she DID self-publish (see book cover on right). She did create a platform for herself by blogging and getting book clubs to read her novel and so on. She did create a path for other writers far away from the center of the publishing universe, so they could move forward. Thank you, Erika.

And it’s not just writers who benefit, it’s readers. There are stories you might never have heard, set in places that have never seen the light of day or the dark of printer’s ink—like my story set in Mexico, in the Condesa/ Roma neighborhood— had writers like Erika Robuck not done all this hard, scary work.

To tell you the truth, I have only recently started thinking about these women who’d inspired me. I’ve been caught up in learning to pod-cast and blog and completing all the tasks necessary to get an e-book on AMAZON. It wasn’t until I started to get close to the end that I began to remember that distant past before e-books, before iPads and Kindles, before all the wonderful writing sites and book reviewing sites.

In fact, I was reading one of my favorite book reviewing sites—Goodreads— when the book cover you see on the left popped up.

Well, I’ll be darned if it wasn’t Erika Robuck. The novel-in-progress she’d been blogging about when I last checked in had found a traditional publisher—Penguin/NAL. It was something she always wanted, and she made it happen.

If this sounds like an OPRAH moment, it is.

Anyway, you can Google Erika Robuck and read about her books and her story on her own blog. She also has lots of book reviews on that blog and interviews with writers, so if you’re looking for something to read you can get a recommendation that way.

There are going to be many, many new ways for writers and readers to connect in the future. This is especially important for voices that tend to be marginalized—women, minorities, people in rural and even suburban areas and even older people. Maybe ESPECIALLY older people. See next week’s blog about Elle Newmark who was 60 when she first published. You see, everything is changing, and I feel thrilled to be a part of this change. One small step for Jane . . .

What’s that dictum? Be the change you want to see in the world.

Okay, so what are you going to change?

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. . . common?

You’d have to wonder, right?

Well, I’m up to my eyeballs in eggplants these days—eggplants and proofreading my novel Palace of the Blue Butterfly to put up on Amazon. It’s going slowly—the novel proofing—because it’s harvest season, and well, there are all these . . .

EGGPLANTS to deal with.

I’ve soaked, salted, grilled, fried, roasted, and ratatouilled them ’til I’m blue in the face. Every time I go into the garden these days Dave hears me howling,” Nooo! Not another one!”

I’ve cooked them Italian style, French style, Turkish style, Indian style and I thought I’d exhausted all possibilities. But, I was wrong.

Folks, I give you Berenjena al la Veracruzana .That’s Eggplant Veracruz Style in Spanish.

It’s funny because I’m just getting to the point in my proofreading where Lily has taken off for Veracruz for reasons which are revealed when you read the novel. I had that wonderful part of Mexico in mind . . . plus eggplants.

Okay, even I have to admit that Veracruz is less wonderful now because of all the Zeta Drug Cartel activity, which of course adds a certain tension to the novel and to Lily’s peregrinations in that locale.

Why reading is so great. All the excitement; none of the life threatening parts.

Veracruz is such an historically rich part of the country. If you follow along on my little blog history of Mexico that I post periodically, you’ll find out why. But meanwhile, I’ll tell you that Veracruz is famous for its coffee, vanilla, food, music and dance. Does one need more?

There’s a wonderful Mexican movie called Danzon, which you might want to rent. It’ll give you a flavor of the city, its soul.

Veracruz’s most famous dish is Huachinango Veracruzana— Red Snapper Veracruz style— the ingredients of which go perfectly with eggplant.

Added benefit to making the recipe with eggplant? Its not only vegetarian, its vegan!

Berenjena a la Veracruzana

from Zarela Martinez

2 large eggplants, cut into 1.2-inch slices, heavily salted and allowed to rest for 30 minutes.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the Sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves (3 whole, 2 minced)
1 medium-sized white onion, chopped fine
4 – 5 large ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds), chopped fine, or one 28-ounce can of Italian plum tomatoes with juice,
coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon capers (about 12 – 15 large or 24 – 30 small ones)
12 small pimiento-stuffed green olives
2 – 3 pickled jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut lengthwise into thin strips
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup parsley leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
2 sprigs of fresh marjoram or 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried marjoram
2 sprigs of fresh Mexican oregano or 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dry white wine
While the eggplant rests, make the sauce. In a heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan with a well-fitting lid, heat the olive oil to rippling over medium-high heat. Add the 3 whole garlic cloves and cook, stirring, until deep golden (but not browned) on all sides; remove and discard. Add the 2 minced garlic cloves and the chopped onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes or until slightly concentrated. Add all the remaining ingredients and cook, covered, for another 15 – 20 minutes, until the flavors are richly melded and it is as thick as you like. Taste for salt and add another pinch or two if desired (the capers and olives will contribute some). If using whole fresh herbs, fish them out of the sauce and discard before serving. Rinse the eggplant and dry thoroughly. Heat the olive oil until almost smoking over medium heat in a 12-inch frying pan. Fry the eggplant in batches until golden, about 3 minutes on each side and drain on paper towels. Transfer to a platter wide a little rim and pour the veracruzana sauce over. Alternately, you can place the eggplant on top of the sauce and garnish with parsley leaves.
Number of servings (yield): 4

Now, grab a Corona and lime and just imagine you’re sitting under the fans of the Gran Hotel in Veracruz.

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Mexico: A Love Story

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 9, 2012 Under Uncategorized

It’s the Dog Days of Summer here.

I mean it’s hot.

See this picture? That’s pretty much just what 109 degrees looks like.

Lucky for me, Dave’s up in Berkeley for a few days, and girls, you know what that means.

No cooking. No nada.

And certainly, no hauling myself off this mountain—where even here it reached 97 degrees today—to go to the markets in Fresno.

Now, if I’d run out of martini olives, we might have an emergency, but I have the gin, the vermouth, the olives, the glass AND the shaker in the refrigerator. All is well.

We go through this for a couple of weeks in the summer, and its not so bad if you have about zero expectations that you’ll get anything done.

I water the garden in the morning and after that, the plants—which are looking shaggy, bedraggled and downright sad—are on their own.

Back in the shuttered darkness of my room after all the watering is done and with the little window air-conditioner purring loudly, I reach for this wonderful book I’ve been reading called Mexico: A Love Story—Women Write about the Mexican Experience, because who wouldn’t want to be at a beach like this in 100 degree weather even if only in her mind?

Well, this book—edited by Camille Cusumano— pulled me back into my youth so fast, back to a time when I was wandering around all of those places like these writers, falling in love, renting funky beach hotels, just as brave (or dumb) and full of wonder, feeling as if all this bounty had been put there just pour moi, or para mi, as the case would be.

(Oh and Lynda? If you’re reading this blog, get the book, read the story that begins on page 129 and call me! Seriously!)

In one of the memoirs by Laura Resau— Bees Born of Tears— a woman visits a Oaxacan curandera for a spiritual cleansing. As bees swarm around her and the ancient curandera, the healer’s daughter tells the author the bees are their spririts, that they have met before and have brought the two women together again.

Resau writes of that moment: “The wings inside my chest move, I can feel them. They move with a thrill, a sense of discovering layers of meaning like ribbons intermingling in the wind. They move with the sudden knowledge that the world is a strange, deep rich place.”

I swear that happens to me in Mexico, too. It’s why I keep going back.

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Romantic Suspense

Posted by admin on Thursday May 12, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 8

Okay, so I’m a romantic. I admit it. Maybe because I’m from the South, but I love the Gothic. I love crumbling buildings draped with vines, overgrown gardens with a bit of wildness in them, anything scented and sultry and dark.

The hyacinths I wrote about are now gone, but the Lilac — OMG — planted right by the (antique, of course) gate smells divine. It makes even carrying groceries from the car a romantic experience. The lilacs will fade, and in their place, the old Bourbon rose, Madame Issac Perrier, will bloom. After that, I HAVE to have gardenias.

This summer I’m going to try growing the gardenias in containers on the porch. I’m even going to get a misting fan — one of those reproductions that looks like it could have been in Havana in the twenties — to give them the humidity they need. It will be worth it, though. The scent of white gardenias on a summer evening will transform hot, hot August into something well, romantic.

And because I’m southern and grew up with a lot of storytellers, I listened to many ghost stories out on the porch at night. I can still hear them in my head along with the moths batting against the screens and the frogs croaking in the creek. Well, put all that together, and, I guess, I’m a natural for Romantic Suspense.

As I was growing up, the south was modernizing fast, so by the time I got to Mexico, that country seemed more southern to me than the south, more gothic, more brooding and, yes, more romantic, like this hacienda on the left.

Doesn’t this ruin sort of remind you of what the setting might have looked like if Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca had been set in Mexico?

A confession. I’m working on a novel set in one of these crumbling old hennequin plantations in the Yucatan. Like Rebecca this as-yet-untitled-book has ALL the gothic elements of my kind of Romantic Suspense: the independent woman of little means, the brooding mansion, the secrets, the malevolent presence, the wounded hero. And the Yucatan? That, too. Just imagine the colonial ruins, the cenotes, the howler monkeys, a naive protagonist, a wealthy, jaded expat. Hey, I’m there!

You see, I envision writing a series of novels, each one set in a different location in Mexico. Bird of Paradise (my first novel) is set on the west coast of Mexico, and even though the drug lords roam the streets and highways, there’s still the feisty protagonist of little means, the secrets, the brooding… well you get the picture. Of course, Palace of the Blue Butterfly , set in Mexico City, has, as you know, all those things and more, and now . . . Well, you just have to click and listen to find out.

[wpaudio url=”http://www.allaboutjanesranch.com/pods/POBB8.mp3″ text=”Episode 8 – click and listen” dl=”0″]


Download instructions


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Morelia, Michoacan or Goals are Dreams with Deadlines

Posted by admin on Thursday Mar 17, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Next week I will complete one of my New Year’s Resolutions — to self-publish my novel Palace of the Blue Butterfly, to put it out to the universe, so to speak.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see exactly where I was when I wrote the first words of what would become that book. Really, they were more like questions than anything else.

I was sitting on my private terrace in the Villa Montana in Morelia, Michoacan The waiter had taken away my lunch dishes — a lovely fruit platter, a sopa Tarasca, and a basket of warm bolillos. I picked up my black leather-bound notebook, and with the thin point pen I always use, I wrote Who is Vivienne? Why does she live in Mexico City? What has happened to her?

When I started this whole process, I never imagined being able to create an audio book. In the end, it’s funny how much the audio medium has impacted my life — first, by working for Public Radio, second, by teaching inner city kids in Oakland to record and produce radio documentaries and plays, and now finally this, my own audio version of my book. (Thank you Seth Harwood and Scott Sigler!)

I always thought I’d play by the rules and stick with the traditional route: write queries, wait patiently, get an agent if I’m lucky (I was), submit it to a publishing house and so on and so on and so on.

And then, I reached a certain age (Ladies, can I hear an AMEN!?!) when playing by the rules didn’t interest me so much. Ditto people’s approval. Enough already. It was one advantage of the economy tanking. I was forced to be more courageous. Weren’t we all?

Look, I figure everything I have in life comes from the fact that some woman somewhere did something untraditional, something she wasn’t supposed to do: fight for the vote, form a Union, demand the right to own property, sit in the front of the bus, play male sports and even insist that her husband do half the blipping housework.

I guess this blog, this audio version of Palace of the Blue Butterfly is what freedom looks like.

If you think I’m not the least bit scared, you’d be wrong. But if being scared is stopping you from doing something you really want to do, don’t let it.

I’ll tell you a little story about the next picture . . .

This beautiful city — sort of like a hill town in Italy — is Morelia, Michoacan. Anyone have any idea what’s going on there? Actually, many friends of mine live there, and they see nothing of the drug violence. Still, much of Michaocan is in the grips of a Drug Cartel called La Familia.

Well, my first novel — Bird of Paradise — which I intend to podcast here as well, was rejected by a big publishing house with these words to my then agent . . . “Tell your client drugs are over in Mexico.”

Gentle readers, I listened to that advice as if it came from on high.

The good thing is I wrote my second novel, which you will hear next week.

The bad thing? Well, I don’t know if there was a bad thing. Why? Because I learned, and I’m passing that knowledge off to you.

I don’t know how that cautionary tale of yielding too quickly to authority may apply to your life, but if it does, you’ll know what I mean.

Listen to your own truth.

Love, Jane

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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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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