Daddy's Christmas Angel

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Hearts Across Forever, Different Times, Changing Dreams

Publishing is hard work. Losing a publisher you've had for many years is difficult. Retrieving and re-releasing the lost books is a challenge. That is why I am so excited to have my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, available once again with a new publisher, High Tide Publications.

This is a book I began long ago and revised several times on its way to publication. It was right before the 21st Century began, and cell phones were not all around us. I still used my 35 mm Minolta with real film inside.

As I wrote this first book, I was traveling to Jamaica several times a year. I fell in love with the beauty of the tropics and tried to overlook the poverty through which we drove en route to lush settings and glorious beaches. These dramatic locations were the subjects of my painting as well as my writing. It was a magical time.

In the midst of inventing my story, I discovered Dr. Ian Stevenson and the fascinating work he was doing at the University of Virginia as he discovered and interviewed children with past-life memories. I also met and became good friends with Dr. George Ritchie who detailed his riveting after-death experiences in his book, My Life After Dying. I was compelled to draw imagined past-life events into my story.

Because I was as an artist, studying at Virginia Commonwealth University who had to visit New York City and follow the work of artists there, I tied my heroine's job to that city. However, Kathryn wasn't completely sold on living in the big city. Although she didn't realize it at first, she was falling in love with the tropical setting of Jamaica with so many memories. Her dreams were changing as the story evolved.

Revising my book for re-release, I wondered if I should make changes to take it into the 21st Century. I decided not to. After all, the story is about people from a different time, the late 20th Century. Hearts Across Forever has a beautiful new cover, created by Jeanne Johansen, but the characters still live in an earlier century. It doesn't seem right to change them.

If you buy a copy of Hearts Across Forever, I will be happy to send you an autographed book plate. Send a SSAE to me at P.O. Box 182, West Point VA 23181.

Please let me know what you think about my book.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Rose Hall, Jamaica and the White Witch

"Rose Hall Great House" Acrylic Painting ©Mary Montague Sikes
Stories of haunted houses have always fascinated me. Rose Hall Great House, overlooking the Caribbean Sea on the island of Jamaica, is an eerie old mansion that is haunted by the "white witch". Years ago, when I first visited Rose Hall and heard the legend of Annie Palmer, I was captivated and, of course, needed to know more.

Standing on the grounds of the historic old building, one can easily imagine Annie peering from behind the curtain of her bedroom window on the upper floor. Climbing up the entrance steps to the main level, visitors cross the open portico and enter the famous location where even today the presence of Annie Palmer is felt. According to stories related there, she viciously beat the slaves who cared for the plantation and murdered three of her husbands as well.

No wonder visits to Rose Hall encouraged me to learn the history of the land and house that dates back to 1746. That's when Henry Fanning discovered the property featuring 300 acres of sugarcane fields that bordered a long stretch of the Caribbean coastline. Earlier that year, Fanning married Rosa Kelly, for whom the mansion was named. However, building his dream home was not to be for Fanning who died before the project was started.

In 1750, it was Annie's second husband, George Ash, who began construction of the white stone mansion. He died two years later. After that, Rosa suffered through 13 years of an unhappy marriage with a man named Norwood Witter. It was John Palmer, Rosa's fourth husband, who finally completed the Rose Hall project between 1770 and 1780. Palmer who was King George III's representative to Jamaica owned Palmyra, a neighboring estate.

Palmer outlived Rosa as well as another wife and, at his death in 1797, left both Rose Hall and Palmyra to John Rose Palmer, his nephew. When John Rose Palmer sailed from England to Jamaica, he was disappointed to find both estates needing repair. He started restoration and refurnishing the Great House.

In 1820, Palmer met 18-year-old Annie May Paterson in Kingston and later married her. The beautiful Annie was born in England, but reportedly was raised in Haiti under the care of a voodoo priestess who taught her unusual black magic practices.

According to legend, John Rose Palmer was most likely a drunk who beat and mistreated Annie. His mistreatment of her might have led to Annie's later cruelty. It probably led to Annie poisoning Palmer three years into their marriage. She is said to have ordered that the slave, who helped her in his murder, be flogged to death. Annie strangled her second husband and stabbed to death her third, all according to legend.

Fearing Annie's power, the village obeahman tried to have her killed, but that effort failed and she continued her torturous practices. She was often seen at night, dressed in man's dark clothing and riding a black horse. Her own slaves despised her. They believed Rose Hall held an evil spirit.

According to tales, Annie took many of her slaves for lovers, then murdered them when she developed a new interest. Eventually, following a slave uprising when cane fields were burned, Annie herself was murdered.

So many years later, the ghostly tales persist. Annie was buried in the garden by the east wing of Rose Hall. No one lived in the Great House after her death. It is said that until Rose Hall fell into ruin, a large bloodstain from one of the murdered men could be seen clearly on the wooden floor.

What a story. No wonder I was compelled to write a book featuring Annie and those long-ago times that somehow relate to present day characters and a love that crosses the centuries. Hearts Across Forever is that magical story of forever love. It will be available starting April 18.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Being an Artist and a Writer is Hard, So Let's Make it Harder

Being both an artist and a writer is hard work. In addition to writing books and making art, you need to promote both as well as create a brand image for yourself.

Getting Manager Mike Shildt's autograph
Although I understand all of the challenges a creative life involves, I've decided to make it even harder. That's because I'm a baseball fan. I'm not just a casual, follow your team, look at the scores fan. No, I am a crazy watch every pitch of every game on satellite TV fan. It's possible that sometimes I might know almost as much about the games as some of the coaches do.

When I was about 10 years old, I fell in love with the St. Louis Cardinals. Through the magic of KMOX radio, their games resounded across the country, and while listening I got to know all of their players and became a fan of each one. How exciting when, years later, I got to meet one of those players, Red Schoendienst, on the Spring Training fields in Jupiter FL.

Every year, we go down to Florida for two weeks to watch the Cardinals train on both the back fields
Jim Edmonds, my all-time favorite player, signing
and in regular games at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. For me, it is the most exciting time of the year. Every team has a chance, and excitement fills the air. I like seats located behind the bullpen where the action involves watching the pitchers who will play that day warm up. These are box seats and are the same price as seats behind the catcher that are actually better locations for seeing the game. However, games in the spring are just exhibition events, so I enjoy the bullpen location much more. This year, it was especially fun to see fire-baller Jordan Hicks practice for some of his many 100+ mph throws from the picher's mound after he entered the game.

Tyler O'Neill signs in the dugout.
Another place I really like to be for spring training, is next to the Cardinals dugout before the game. That's when I feel like a "groupie" edging into the crowd, standing there and leaning into the dugout for player autographs. It's also a good place to get the signatures of TV
broadcasters, Dan MacLaughlin and Ricky Horton. Although I'm not a big autograph-collector, it is fun to be in the mix and to listen to the conversations there.

We are back home now, and I am looking forward to next spring. In the meantime, I will watch every pitch of every game this spring, summer, and fall. And somewhere along the way, I will write books, promotional material and press releases. I will also paint paintings and hang them wherever possible.

Still, it would be so much easier if I weren't a crazy, fanatical fan. I shouldn't add to the difficulties of the creative life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Good Health is a Writer Asset

"Tennis Match" acrylic/canvas ©Mary Montague Sikes
"If you have your health, you have everything."

That's what my mother told me many times through the years. As I've grown older, I've learned to appreciate her philosophical commentary more and more. For writers, no words could be more true. After all, writing can be a sedentary occupation, sitting before a computer, often slouched or hunched forward.

"Valerie's Star"
I probably am fortunate that for many years I was a tennis fanatic. During the summer, I played singles tennis every day, sometimes all day long. Jerry Horner (in my painting) was our instructor for a number of years. He also was athletic director at Rappahannock Community College, so that's where we sometimes went to play matches. I loved it, and the play in summer heat definitely conditioned me. It also gave me a need to continue physical fitness when winter cold prevented outdoor play.

Twenty-three years ago, I was delighted to discover Riverside Fitness & Wellness Center in Gloucester, Virginia. Valerie Morgan had a great aerobics/ fitness program in place, and I learned that indoor tennis at the Denbigh Riverside Center was included with my membership. Over the years, Valerie has created many year-long fitness challenges. The most recent was completing 130 classes in celebration of the 30 years the Center has been open. Valerie made a special star Christmas decoration for everyone who completed the challenge. I did and will treasure my star. Over the years, I have kept up my fitness which was needed for my art as well as writing.

The Varidesk is another important fitness element that I discovered about three years ago. This is a wonderful desk for writers that can be adjusted for both seated and standing work. Since my husband purchased a Varidesk for me, I have always used it standing.

Beside physical fitness, the writer also needs to eat healthy and rest well to set the tone for great plots and energetic writing sessions.

"If you have your health, you have everything."

Mother was right.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Who Is the "Passenger to Paradise"?

A few years ago, my publisher, the late Billie Johnson, decided to create the "Passenger to Paradise" series for my novels. Because the books were set in exotic locations such as the tropical island of Jamaica and the red rock landscape of Sedona, Arizona, Billie thought they deserved a special imprint for the series. So, together she and I designed the "Passenger to Paradise" logo.

Like me, the shadow in the logo image loves to travel. Her carry-on bag is always packed, allowing her to leave at a moment's notice for whatever outlandish or glamorous destination calls. She races through airports, roller bag in tow. She never checks her suitcase because the extra time retrieving luggage might be just what she needs to grab the last cab or catch a ride on a horse-drawn wagon in some faraway place. 

One day, a package arrived with a surprise in it. Tearing open the box, I discovered that Billie had sent me a T-shirt featuring the "Passenger to Paradise" logo. That T-shirt is a treasure for me now.

Hearts Across Forever was the first book of the series. With Billie gone, I have a new publisher for that one as well as the rest of the "Passenger to Paradise" novels.

Dunns River Falls forever beckons to me, calling me back to Jamaica and the perfect temperatures for romantic tropical nights. Reggae music reminds me of the adventures of Kathryn Calder and Flynt Kincade, the mysterious man from beyond all her possible memories. Throughout this story and the haunting images of old Jamaica, the mystic picture of Rose Hall Great House rises into my thoughts.

So many imposing paintings evolved on canvas, created from photos and memories of the falls. One hung for many years at the Richmond Marriott Hotel. The four by six-foot canvas had an impressive linen mat and a wide gold frame. Where it is now, I do not know because it disappeared a few years ago in the redecorating and refurbishing of the hotel structure. Four of the magical Jamaican paintings are now hanging at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg. A Rose Hall acrylic on canvas became part of my coffee table book, Hotels to Remember. 

Over the years, the "Passenger to Paradise" has had an amazing time as she followed her dreams, met new people, and placed the most interesting and appealing ones between the covers of her books. The new cover for Hearts Across Forever will be revealed soon. All the "Passenger to Paradise" books will be republished one by one throughout the year.

Who is the mysterious "Passenger to Paradise"? You can find out for yourself through the pages of her books and in the brushstrokes of her paintings.