Category Archives: Writer and poet

Want to write a book?

Is there an idea for a story that’s been floating around in your head for a couple of years? Or perhaps you’ve been in the middle of reading a novel, and thought to yourself I could do this. I could write a book as good as this one. An article published in the New York Times cited a survey that had an astounding 81% of Americans who feel they have a book in them that they’re dying to write. If you’re one of them, why not consider following through?

How to write Jane Rosenthal

You no longer have to work deep into the night, tapping on an old-fashioned typewriter and ripping out the page if you decide to cut a passage. For the most part, all computers and laptops come equipped with a word processing program that makes it easy to type, edit and store your work. Below are some more tips from professional writers on how to turn that idea for the next Great American Novel into a reality.

How to be a writer
  • Think about a story that you simply must tell. Instead of shooting for whatever is trending in the market (IE: a book about a mortal girl falling in love with a handsome vampire), stick with a story that comes from your own creative mind. Doing so will make your work stand out among the competition rather than appearing like of a copycat version of someone else’s original idea.
  • Become a sponge. Good character development in your novel requires you to get into the mindset of the people you’re writing about. And you need to understand their lifestyles as well. So don’t be shy about trying out new experiences and asking lots of questions of new people you meet. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about others by simply becoming an excellent observer and listener.
  • Write for the right reasons. The most successful writers are driven to write, often for the pleasure of the process itself. If every time you sit down at the computer is an exercise in discipline and the whole thing feels like a chore, you may not be suited for the profession. Not to mention that it is damned hard to get published, so patience is key. Looking for instant results in the form of accolades or money is not realistic.
  • Set aside a specific time in an environment conducive to creating. Dedicate a span of time during the day that is devoted just to writing, and try to make it during the time of day you feel most motivated, energetic and clear-headed. I don’t know about you, but for me, that time is not morning. My energy level peaks in the late afternoon and evening hours, so that’s when I sit down at the computer to create. Your surroundings are important too. I’m someone who needs to be in a home office, instrumental jazz music on the stereo and no people around to interrupt my train of thought. But I have seen authors typing furiously away right in the middle of a loud, busy Starbucks.
  • Write, write, write. When I looked into becoming a writer, I thought I should take classes, maybe even seek a second degree in creative writing. It turns out that the only way to become a better writer is to practice as much and as often as you can. You’d be surprised at how your first attempt compares to your second or third. No amount of classroom instruction can be a substitute for honing your skills through repetition.
Learn to write a book

I encourage anyone who has the desire to try sitting down and putting their story on paper. To me, it is food for the soul, whether or not anyone else ever reads my material or not. And who knows? You may be an undiscovered talent, just waiting to be heard.

Political Privilege

Do you ever get frustrated with the political situation in America, and wonder if you’d be better off somewhere else? From climate to culture to cost of living and politics, every country in the world is different and each has its own unique set of pros and cons. One of the very things that most attracts immigrants to the United States is the political freedom we have here – something many of us tend to take for granted. In contrast, consider Mexico, where citizens have had to fight for their independence both from foreign powers as well as in-country military regimes, and yet still do not have a completely functioning democracy.

In the later part of the 19th century, Mexico officially shook off the last of invading foreign powers, the final one being Austria in 1867. However, the political scene didn’t improve too much over the next 35 years during the dictatorship and military rule of Porfirio Diaz. Can you imagine a U.S. president staying in office for what amounts to just over nine terms? It wasn’t until the Mexican Revolution, that began in 1910 and continued for ten long years, that Diaz was finally forced to give up control.

The Mexican constitution that provided the framework for democracy was written in 1917. However, many people would argue that Mexico did not actually come close to a democracy until recent times. This is underscored by the fact that there was a single political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for nearly the entirety of the 20th century. Furthermore, even though there has technically been a multiparty system in place since 2000, the PRI still retains the great majority of power. Violence, oppression and corruption continue to plague the very institutions that are supposed to provide fair and equal representation to all Mexicans.

With the contentious nature of politics today, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the U.S. federal government is a cumbersome, slow-moving, inflexible, behemoth of an institution. Before doing so, however, it’s worth taking time to consider the benefits to our system. Every citizen can give voice to their political beliefs without fear of retribution. We have a multi-party system that allows people to align themselves with a group of like-minded folks that best represents their goals, interests and values. And everyone over the age of 18 has the right to vote for the elected officials they want to represent their views in Washington D.C.

Even when the national debate becomes adversarial and the in-fighting annoying, living in a country with the kind of political rights and freedom of expression that we enjoy here in the United States is something we should all take a moment to appreciate. The best way to do that? Don’t take it for granted and go the polls to make your vote count!

The Night No One Sleeps

In the capital city Humantla, located in the East-Central part of Mexico, the largest cultural celebration of the year in the Mexican state,Tlaxcala, is underway. Feria de Huamantla runs from July 21st through August 21st, and appears to have begun originally as a festival dedicated to the worship of Xochiquetzal, the goddess of love, flowers and arts. After the Spanish invaded Mexico, however, they persuaded the local inhabitants to change the focus of the festival to the Virgin Mary.

Beginning July 31, citizens of Huamantla start decorating their churches and streets with flowers. Local artists create “carpets” that line the streets leading up to the main church in town. They make the carpets from a number of different materials, including fresh flowers and moss and most commonly, colored sawdust. A bit like the Sand Mandala, the intricate sand art that Tibetan Buddhist monks create, artists carefully sieve the sawdust through stencils to form the floral patterns on the ground.

On August 14th, although the majority of the work is completed, artists work all night long to complete the last six kilometers of the sacred path leading to the church. It is this time that is referred to as “the night that no one sleeps”. All of this preparation precedes a deeply religious ceremony on August 15, whereby a young woman selected to portray the Virgin Mary leads a procession along the carpet path and into the church; thus consecrating the work. In a sacred and ancient tradition, the image of the Virgin Mary is followed by her faithful into the church to attend mass, followed by fireworks exploding in the sky behind them.

The festivities don’t end there, however. A second big event, called Huamantlada, is held on August 19. Huamantlada is based on the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Hundreds of young men from Tlaxcala and neighboring states, test their courage and skill against some twenty-five bulls let loose in the streets of Huamantlada. The Mexican version of the tradition is far more dangerous as bulls are released from two different directions on the street, which begs the question, is August 18 is the unofficial night that no one sleeps among the mothers of the bullfighters?

Las doce uvas de la suerte: The twelve grapes of luck

Did you share a kiss with a loved one, make a toast or take a sip of champagne at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, 2017? These are all traditional ways to welcome in the new year in the United States. In Mexico, the same things may be happening, but there are a number of other rituals to be performed prior to the midnight celebration if one is to expect luck in the upcoming year.

Mexican culture is rife with traditions surrounding faith and family, as well as many involving luck and good fortune. These traditions are passed down from one generation to the next, and differ based on the region of the country. Travelling through Mexico is a great adventure as each city or township have their own local customs, and you’re in for a treat if you happen to be there as a new year is ushered in.

To begin with, many people give their homes a thorough cleaning before year-end to push out and bad vibes that may be lingering around the house. A sparkling environment is a way to attract good things in the coming months. Just like we make new year’s resolutions, Mexican people make “wishes”. And just like us, they include the desire to make improvements in certain areas of life like diet, exercise, jobs and relationships.

Photo of red and yellow underwear in Mexican shop

For some, the clothes worn to dinner on December 31st hold importance. One tradition involves wearing all white to attract good health, while another is to wear a brand new item of clothing. And perhaps most interesting is the custom of wearing red and yellow underwear on this occasion. As history tells is, the color red is associated with love and passion and yellow with happiness and prosperity.

Traditional Mexican dinner table setting

Next is the celebratory dinner, which is another chance to improve one’s good fortune. Starting with the table setting, where the best dishes are used and the arrangement of candles and flowers can bring good luck and wealth, to the colors on display, each of which have special meaning. Of course, the biggest moment of all is when the clock strikes midnight. The new year is officially announced by loudly ringing a bell; twelve tolls to be exact. During which time, people are eating twelve grapes — one to bring good luck and wishes fulfilled for each month of the upcoming year. Las doces uvas de la suerte.

Grapes in a champagne glass during Mexican New Year

Summertime in Mexico

It’s not uncommon in the dreary, cold winter months to start dreaming about a spending a week sunning yourself on one of the many beautiful beaches in Mexico. Destinations like Cancun, Acapulco and Cozumel are all popular resort towns where you can find white, sandy beaches, turquoise waters and palm trees swaying in the warm breeze. Savvy travellers know, however, that the summer months are also a great time to visit our southern neighbors. Because it’s considered low season, you can find great deals on flights and hotels while also avoiding the winter crowds. And there’s no shortage of interesting things to do and see.

Whale Shark being photographed by SCUBA diver

For animal lovers, summertime offers the opportunity to view the amazing wildlife that inhabit the coastal waters. If you’re brave, you can swim with the whale sharks in Cancun during the months of July through November. For those who’d prefer to admire from afar, there’s a whale shark festival in Isla Mujeres in July.

Whale shark swimming

If you’re passionate about conservation, you can be part of the effort to protect the ancient, majestic sea turtles. Female turtles emerge, nest and lay eggs every year in the month of May, and the babies are born about five-six weeks later. Because the eggs and babies are vulnerable to predators, volunteers are needed to hunt for the nests, mark or transport them to safe areas, and make sure the babies are released to the ocean.

Sea Turtle Eggs

Baby Sea Turtle Hatching

Because the Mexican people love celebrations and fiestas, every month features a different festival. One of the most colorful folk festivals, Guelaguetza, occurs in July in the the city of Oaxaca. During this celebration, people from the many different communities in Oaxaca come together to share traditions and embrace their diversity. Representatives from the many different ethnic groups converge on the city, wearing traditional clothing and performing folk dances particular to their unique heritage.

My personal favorite is the Zacatecas international Folkloric festival of chamber music in San Miguel de Allende in August. While you’re there, check out the vibrant art scene and stop in a local restaurant to sample delicious Mexican treats like Tacos al pastor, made with strips of pork off a spit or Elote (corn on the cob).

No matter what your particular interests, there is truly no “low season” in Mexico. Summer or winter, you’ll get a chance to experience local festivities, cultural events, different foods and a variety of wildlife.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

Missing in a foreign land

In chapter two of Jane Rosenthal’s novel, “Palace of the Blue Butterfly,” Lili starts the search for her missing sister, Vivienne.

Anytime someone disappears, it’s terrifying for those left behind, and time is of the essence. But the choice to set her story in a foreign country allows Rosenthal to add even more levels of complexity to her protagonist’s struggle.

Mexican architecture

The story moves quickly, and is further enhanced by the author’s impressive knowledge of the customs, history and lifestyle in Mexico City. Rosenthal deftly uses the vast cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico to deepen the mystery and present multiple theories behind Vivienne’s disappearance.

For example, while going through her sister’s personal effects, Lili discovers a wide array of painkillers and tranquilizers in various drawers and cabinets. The addresses printed on the bottles tell her the prescriptions were filled in a sketchy part of town. If this story were taking place in the U.S, this fact — along with sheer number of pills in Vivienne’s possession — might lead the reader to wonder if she is mixed up in the dangerous drug trade. But Mexico is infamous for both its loose controls regarding illicit substances and law enforcement looking the other way, so they might be legitimate. Yet if the prescriptions were legitimate, why fill them in rundown, out of the way neighborhoods?

Mexico City

Another stark difference between trying to find a missing person in the United States and Mexico, is the role of law enforcement. In the U.S., the FBI would work in coordination with local police to put together a search. Mexico has had troubles for many years with corruption within the police force. Thus it makes sense that, instead of involving law enforcement, Lili goes about the process of searching for Vivienne by herself. The burden of discovery falls to her, despite her lack of experience.

Mexican decorations

To add to the level of complexity, setting a story in Mexico means dealing with a different set of cultural norms. Lili meets a local politician living directly next door who may have clues as to her sister’s situation, but Lili is wary of sharing information with him. The neighbor is an elected official and from all appearances seems to be well-heeled, which leads her to question his motive for living in Vivienne’s ramshackle building. Powerful men in Mexico are given certain allowances that differ from those in the U.S. Lili wonders if he’s married, and this a secret love nest where he comes to conduct an illicit affair out of the public eye. If so, could that mistress be her sister — and is he somehow involved in her disappearance?

mexican-religion

With all of the cultural, political, historical and religious differences between the two countries, nothing can be taken at face value. There are questions and mystery everywhere Rosenthal’s protagonist looks, which entrances the reader and makes them not want to put “Palace of the Blue Butterfly” down.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong, avid reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband and two dogs.

How Jane Rosenthal hooks her readers in the first chapter of Palace of the Blue Butterfly

The story opens with the reader being plunked down into the exotic land of Mexico. Rosenthal engages all the senses with vivid descriptions that pull the reader into the scene as the main character, Lili, takes a taxi ride from the airport to her sister Vivienne’s home in Mexico City. Lili is here because she’s received a cryptic email alerting her of her sister’s disappearance. As she enters the city, you hear intermittent wailing of emergency vehicles and sound of traffic congestion and smell the dust and dry leaves that punctuate the air. Despite the blackout, you see the once grand and now shabby French Chateau where Vivienne lives, along with the distinct cast of characters who reside there along with her.

Catedral Metropolitana de la Asuncion de Maria

These supporting characters are each unique and hint of potential mysteries of their own.The business manager who relies on Tarot cards, the aging screen actress who keeps him company, and the loyal family housekeeper, who is the one most visibly upset at her employer’s disappearance. Rosenthal cleverly gives just enough of an introduction to leave you wanting to learn more about the inhabitants of Vivienne’s home and life.

Santa Maria La Ribera in Mexico City

The reader is introduced to both Lili and Vivienne through Lili’s thoughts and begins to see the stark difference not only in their personalities but the way they’ve chosen to live their lives. Vivienne emerges as beautiful, emotional and lacking in boundaries as she charges through life. Whereas Lili has chosen to play it safe, working as a teacher and keeping her world intentionally small. However, despite her aversion to risk, Lili has flown thousands of miles away into a foreign country to try to find her sister. It speaks of a strong bond between sisters and the strength that one finds when the other is in danger.

Le Meridien Mexico City, Ciudad de México

By the end of the chapter, the reader is hooked. There are so many questions that make you want to keep reading. What has happened to Vivienne? Rosenthal hints that this is not her first disappearance, but could this time be different? Is foul play involved? What is the role of the other characters living in Vivienne’s house? Do they know more than they’re letting on? And finally, how will the outcome of the story change Lili and her play-it-safe approach to life? With so many interesting aspects to the plot, the reader has no choice but to read further to see how the mysteries will be solved.

Mexico City centro historico

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong, avid reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband and two dogs.

Alameda Park, Casa de Azulejos

Mexico Series: Part 10Mexican Flag

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We’ll turn around now and head toward Alameda Park on the Western side of the Centro Historico, looking at two important buildings — Palace of Iturbide and Casa de Azulejos-before crossing Alameda Park and heading to the Franz Meyer Museum to see the collection of Viceregal art. That cup I showed you is from that collection.

Palace of Iturbide

The Palace of Iturbide, built in the 18th century ,belonged first to the Count of San Mateo Valpariso, an incredibly wealthy silver mine and cattle baron. Story goes the count gave this palace as his daughter’s dowry. She was marrying a spendthrift son of the Sicilian nobility — the Marquise of Moncada. In order to protect his money, the Count of Valparaiso sank 100,000 pesos (sort of like building a 15-20 million dollar home now) into this piece of real estate. On the request of his future son-in-law, the most famous architect at the time — Francisco Guerro y Torres — was hired and instructed to build the future home as a replica of the Palace of Palermo in Sicily. The interior courtyards are Renaissance with Tuscan columns, and it was the first four- story building in the New World.

You know you’re in trouble when your son in law requests a replica of a famous palace for a home. After the Count of Valparaiso died, the Sicilian son-in-law entered into countless legal battles with his mother-in-law over money and finally fled Mexico for Sicily under mysterious circumstances. He was never seen again the New World.

In 1820, Agustin Iturbide, emperor of the brief First Mexican Empire after the War of Independence, claimed this building as his palace. Hence the name Palace of Iturbide. There is a fascinating story of Iturbide’s son who married an American diplomat’s daughter, which is the subject of a wonderful novel — the “Last Prince of Mexico”, by C.M Mayo. I’ll tell you more of the story in the next part of our tour. But just to finish up, the Palace of Iturbide is now owned by our own version of nobility –the bank. In this case, Banamex, where they hold fabulous art exhibits.

And last, The Casa de Azulejos.

Casa de Azulejos

Built by the Count of Orizaba in 1737 and completely covered on three sides with tiles, it shows again the wealth of the Mexican upper classes, the blending of architectural styles, the Moorish from the mudejar — the tiles themselves are from the moors through Spain and were made in Puebla, a town an hour or so southeast of Mexico City. You can also see the Baroque decorative elements around the doors and windows.

In this building what you are also witnessing is the rise of the Creole class’s identity as Mexican as opposed to Spanish, a rising awareness of their own power and wealth. This awareness combined with legal discrimination against the Creole class erupts in the War of Independence in 1810.

Casa de Azulejos Restaurant

Anyway, this is where my mother and I would often have lunch, and I still love it to this day. So we’ll stop here for a limonada just to imagine all the history of the building.

The street at the time the Casa de Azulejos was built was called Calle Plateada because of all the silversmiths and silver merchants on the street. Later during the late 19th century the building was the location of the most exclusive men’s club in the capital—the Jockey Club. If Mexican television ever made its own version of Dawnton Abbey, scenes would have to be shot here. We’ll also look at a famous Orozco mural in the patio dining area.

We’ll leave the Casa de Azulejos, now owed by the fourth richest man in the world — Carlos Slim of TelMex. How he became so wealthy could be the subject of yet another novel, this time by Carlos Fuentes or even Roberto Bolano. We’ll wander through Alameda Park to the Franz Meyer Museum to look at the household furnishings and get a sense of the lifestyle of the rich and famous in 17th 18th century Mexico.

Alameda Park Fountain

A bit about Franz Meyer and his collection. Franz Meyer was a wealthy Jewish financier who came to Mexico in 1920. At that time no art collectors were interested in art of Colonial Mexico, so he picked up all these remnants of the Viceregal Period and donated them and the Colonial building to the City of Mexico.

Palacio Nacional in Mexico City

Mexican Flag

Mexico Series: Part 9

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Palacio Nacional

We can look in front of us now at the Palacio Nacional, built by Cortes as his personal palace and government offices in the fifteen hundreds.The red stones used to build the Palacio Nacional are called tezontle, and they came from the buildings of Moctezuma—the private dwellings and pyramids of the Aztecs. Tezontle is a light weight volcanic rock and rather easy to chisel into bricks. The sober structure is embellished with Baroque touches in the Churrigueresque style, a particular kind of Baroque façade developed in Spain that reached its height in Mexico. Inside the Palace itself you will find yourself skipping ahead to the 20th century the magnificent murals of Diego Rivera depicting the history of Mexico. Just one thing, notice the window in front of the Palacio. The trim is Baroque, the bell is from the war of Independence and the little face above the awning — the face of the Aztec god Tlaloc — layers of Mexican history.

We’re going to leave the Majestic and walk around, over to the Cathedral, where we’ll notice the types of architectural styles employed during the 200 years it took to complete this cathedral — Gothic, Baroque, And Neo-Classical. We’ll look at two particularly exhuberant Baroque elements — the front of the Tabernacle and the Altar of the kings. This is what the wealthy merchant class spent money on — massive amounts of gold leaf.

Mexico City Cathedral

As we walk, you’ll notice how uneven the stairs and so on are, that’s because the whole city is built on what was formerly a lake. After a big flood in 1630, the Spaniards had the whole lake drained, but needless to say the 17th century engineering feat was less than successful, which is why Mexico city to this day deals with sinking and flooding.

After that we’ll wander down a side street to the former 16th palace of one of Cortez right hand men, now the Museum of the City of Mexico. We’ll pass the giant serpent head used as a cornerstone of the building that came from the great pyramid itself, and then we’ll head down another street to the Cloister of Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. No trip to Mexico City with a writer would be complete without a pilgrimage to her study.

Sor Juana Inez DeLaCruz

So who was Sor Juana? Only one of the most important poets in the western hemisphere. She lived in the mid-16 century, achieved great heights of learning at a time when even well born women could barely read. She was the very beautiful illegitimate daughter of a wealthy creole woman. At age 13 or so she was sent to live in the court of the Viceroy in Mexico where she became the Vicereine’s favorite companion.

At 16 she entered a convent, where, because of her close relationship with the Vicereine, she was granted incredible privileges. Her study walls were lined with hundreds of books and she spent her time studying and writing poetry — many of them it is believed — were love poems to the vicereine herself veiled in formal verse and with religious allusions. The brooch at Sor Juana’s neck carried an image of the Vicereine and when the viceroy was commanded back to Spain, Sor Juana lost her protection was forced to confess her sins and to give away her books and live in a simple cell until she died a few years later.

Sor-Juanas University

Books, plays movies etc. have been made of her story, whole university departments are devoted to the study of her life and work. Perhaps the best way to get a feel for viceregal Mexico is to read some of these accounts.

Or you could do what I’m doing and read a trashy romance published last year by a California writer, a Harvard grad no less and another student of Sor Juana. The book is called the “Sins of Josefina.”

Manila Acapulco Galleon Trade Route

Mexico Series: Part 8Mexican Flag

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Manila Acapulco Galleon Trade RouteThe accounts of travels on the Chinese Galleon, the Manila Galleon, the Nao de China — the ships were called many things — were harrowing. It was a six month journey to cross over from the Phillipines to the coast of southern California always with the threat of running out of water or being caught in a typhoon. From California, the vessels sailed down the coast of Mexico to Acapulco where they stayed for many months until the winds were right for the three month voyage back.

Once anchored in Acapulco bay, the trading companies set up markets, and all the wealthy merchants from Mexico City descended on Acapulco to barter and haggle for goods to fill their shops.

And those shops were right here below us in the first floors of all the buildings you see here in the Zocolo in this painting of the Zocolo in the 1600s.

Marquesas and CondesasJust imagine wealthy silver mine barons and merchants and Spanish Lords wandering in and out of these arcades on their way to the Palacio Nacional of us, past all the overflowing shops. Imagine Marquesas, and Condesas — because royal titles were also something that could be bought by pure Spanish blood creoles — dressed in gowns made of these opulent silk brocades purchased in the Port of Acapulco. Here’s a a description from a visitor to Mexico in 1625.

“I am astounded by the thousands of horse drawn carriages that do exceed in cost the best of the Court of Madrid, for they spare no silver of gold, nor the best silks of China to enrich them. Both men and women are excessive in their apparel, using more silk than stuffs and cloth. A hat band of pearls is ordinary in a tradesman. And in the hat of a merchant you will find rosettes of diamonds.”

Remember this was at a time in our own country when the pilgrims were stomping around in the mud of Plymouth Colony.

Daughter of a CaciqueThe women would be wearing collars of convent-made lace from France purchased in Veracruz, their hair studded with pearls and quetzal feathers, as they were carried by liveried Indian servants on silk canopied sedans. Here’s one such young woman — Daughter of a Cacique. In their hands they would hold a coconut shell chocolate cup like this. These cups were part of every well-established household, a sign of status, and even bringing them to mass was such a common practice that the bishops complained about it to Rome! What I love about this little household object is that it is absolutely Mexican — the silver, the coconut and the chocolate. It is little details like that which begin to show a rising sense of a national identity apart from Spain. This would, of course, erupt later.

These ladies would have left homes that cost 300,000 pesos to build — at a time when a good living in Mexico could be had for 300 pesos a year — homes where each family member had between 2-4 servants to attend to their every need. Is it any wonder as Spain mired itself more deeply in debt that industrious young Spaniards found their way to the New world?

Many came as newly graduated law students and government bureaucrats. Along with the elegant ladies, these young men would be seen rushing across the plaza on their way to the Palacio Nacional, hurrying to court or to attend to the endless duties of running the Spanish empire in the new world.