Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, June 24, 2019

Please, Don't Call Me "Mary".

When I was a six-year-old and heading off to school for the first time, my mother pulled me aside and cautioned, "Don't ever let anyone call you "Mary".

I had a double first name, "Mary Montague", named for my mother and for my father. It was a long name for me to say and to write. However, my mother was "Mary", and we couldn't have the same name.

All through elementary school and high school, Mother's words rang inside my head. No one called me "Mary". However, when I got to college, my three roommates were appalled at the long name. They decided the nickname "Monti" was a much better choice. My mother was not pleased, but I reminded her that no one called me "Mary".

Now, as an author and an artist, I am concerned with branding. Many of my friends call me "Monti", but that's not the name I want to use in branding me and my work.

I like the name "Mary", but that name belonged to my mother and also to my mother-in-law. It's not my name. Whenever anyone calls me "Mary", I remember my mother's words. It's funny how what someone said so long ago can have great impact now.

Words have meaning. Sometimes we don't realize how much.

Please, don't call me "Mary".

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Branding for Promotion

A few years ago, I met with a marketing specialist who filled me with many ideas for branding. My first book was out, but nothing I had done brought together a unified image that might help me promote myself and my future books.

"Wear a hat to all your book-related events," I urged myself.

I wore several different hats and the unique look made me stand out at signings. An Aussie-style hat worked especially well when my Indiana Jones-type book came out. It helped me sell books. Branding worked, but I wasn't doing a thorough job of creating an overall image. Just the hat was not enough. I needed then and need now to tie everything together.

Since I have always loved to travel, that seemed to be the link that could bring the branding to its full potential. As a child, my only travel consisted of visiting nearby relatives. Books carried me where I wanted to go, visiting the tombs of Egypt, unknown jungles, the highest mountains, the widest seas, and much more. In college, I had the opportunity to tour Europe and to stay for a summer in Linz, Austria with a United Methodist Church work camp group. What a thrill and learning experience.

Soon after our marriage, my husband and I crossed the country and returned on a Greyhound Bus special journey that took us to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and more. Thus the stories for Hotels to Remember and my travel writing career began. Later, we traveled many miles by air to the Caribbean, Europe, Canada, Hawaii, and many other places.

The "Passenger to Paradise" was born. She loves to travel just as I do. She loves the excitement of new destinations complete with exotic scenery. She is the brand I am looking to develop and expand now. She has led me to countless new places, including the island of Jamaica and Sedona, Arizona, locations of two extraordinary novels, Hearts Across Forever and Eagle Rising.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Changing Styles as an Artist

©Mary Montague Sikes
I've been an artist and a painter for almost all of my life. In my early years, when my children were young, I painted many portraits. My work often started with pastel working drawings, then shifted to either oil or acrylics on canvas. I was influenced by the beautiful Impressionist paintings of Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Rembrandt, and more.

As children, my daughters often suffered through sessions posing for me to paint portraits of them. The painting on the left of my mother with baby Amy was done from a photograph. It hung for many years in my parents' home. I never created a painting of my father, but I did one or more of just about everyone else in our family.

Over the years, I have experimented with numerous forms of art, including marble sculpture and ceramic pots. I even tried creating a bronze sculpture but did not make the lost wax process mold in the the correct proportions. Thus I literally lost months of work when the wax melted away, leaving no mold for the bronze pouring.

Right now, in my studio, I have several acrylic paintings in process, a few cold wax paintings at various stages, and Yupo papers awaiting my special application of Robert Doak watercolors. All of this work is or will be mostly abstract.

In many ways, I long to make large realistic paintings once again. I still like to watch scenic work grow from the big, blank canvasses hanging on specially designed walls. I love the scent of acrylic paint inside my studio.

Who knows? Perhaps portraits will blossom one more time on the walls of my studio.

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.