Friday, October 29, 2010

A Ghostly Halloween Experience

Sky Light Copyright MM Sikes
In our little town, for as long as I can remember, I've heard tales of the light at Cohoke. Over the years, people have come from miles around to visit the railroad tracks back in the remote countryside about 10 miles outside our community.

The story goes that many years ago a railroad worker was decapitated in an accident, and he now walks the tracks carrying a lantern in search of his head. That's the light that many people claim to have seen. This light that appears for only a few seconds then disappears again is said to sway back and forth. It even moves up and down the track illuminating the rails.

Another explanation for this light is it is the ghostly appearance of a train of wounded Confederate soldiers that disappeared during the war. The train vanished whether from destruction by Federal soldiers or from another more mysterious means.

It takes a very dark night to see this light, so the story goes. The light is explained away by some people as caused by marsh gases.

I've never been to look. A railroad track on a dark and eerie night would not be a welcoming sight for me. But it might be perfect for some on a gloomy Halloween eve.


          Please check out the shy writer at Once Written Twice Shy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are You a Shy Writer?

Are you a shy writer? Many of us are. Can we overcome our introversion? Should we even try?

I don't know the answer, but tomorrow I'll be blogging on  Once Written, Twice Shy with Rebecca J. Clark. Hope you'll take a look and leave a comment.

Being a guest there started me thinking about, how shy is too shy? Are most writers naturally a little shy about promotion? Are the best-known writers actually extroverts at heart?

These are all intriguing questions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How Do You Promote Kindle and Other e-books?

Since I now have four novels and a novella out as Kindle books, I am wondering what the best ways are to promote them. When Hearts Across Forever came out on Kindle, I joined Kindle Boards and posted on the Book Corner and the Book Bazaar and got good results from sales. Now that so many more books are out on Kindle, there are more rules making it more difficult to post there about your books.

Is there a strategy or plan to follow that will work for Kindle book authors. I would love to hear about yours.

How do you promote Kindle and other e-books?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fascination with a Touch of the Supernatural

For as long as I can remember, I've had a fascination with the supernatural. That's probably why I like to include a little of it in some of my books. Night Watch hints at the possibility the heroine is a "walk-in." Secrets by the Sea has a few ghosts inside (and outside) a gothic-like old mansion, and Eagle Rising moves along with action sparked by the heroine's dreams.

Because of these interests, I am drawn to learn more about the subject of channeling. Writing the Divine for Soul Growth and Channeling by Sara Wiseman explores that intriguing subject. I suspect her book will captivate other writers as well.

In her book, Wiseman explains that when you channel, you are asking for a "direct connection with the Divine," that you are requesting specific guidance. This is unlike praying which is asking God's help in solving a problem or meditation which locks you into the hum of the universe, she observes.

A strong writer will find channeled writing gives a clearer "direction than simple channeling," she says. She also urges those who are channeling to "write down what you hear even if you don't like it."

This book contains 33 lessons, one of which is on the illusion of time and death as transformation. If you want to channel easily, come with a clear mind, the author says.

Writing the Divine tells about another avenue a writer may wish to explore as he or she investigates and researches new books.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Secrets By the Sea - A Ghost Story for Halloween

Folks who like stories with a ghost or two attached may enjoy the tale of a spirit that has lingered for several hundred years in an old house overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Molly Dansey has hung around Edgewater Manor in Antigua since the late 1700s waiting for someone to discover a cache of gold coins she hid before her death. She appears from time to time holding her lantern, then disappears up the staircase in the center of the ancient house that Dana Sinclair has inherited.

Secrets by the Sea is the story of the mysterious death of Dana's grandfather and Dana's quest to uncover the murderer even if it turns out to be Clifton Wilder, the enigmatic neighbor who might steal her heart. Her grandfather's diary holds many secrets--some she wishes she had not discovered.

As I was writing this story, many of the characters took over to create an unexpected outcome. And the ghosts played their own part...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Characters Are Everything

Characters are everything. Although I can't find the book I purchased long ago by Dwight Swain, I recall a title similar to that by the renowned teacher.

When I first started writing, I didn't realize how very important characters are to story. I do have a book, Characters Make the Story, by another author on my book shelves, but I must confess I haven't read these books very carefully.

Characters make TV shows. That's for sure. I keep watching "House" because of the main character's harsh and unusual behavior traits. He is endearing in his own way. "The Mentalist" features another character with unusual traits I want to keep following. And I have fallen in love with many of the characters in "Friday Night Lights" and am looking forward to the first episode of the final season tomorrow evening.

How do you feel about the characters in your books? How about characters in the books you enjoy? Who is your favorite book character?

From now on, I plan to concentrate more on each character in my books. I want to create a character that readers want to continue to follow--a character who will make a series possible!

Now that's a big dream because I know now that characters are everything!

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Franklin's House, A Review of a novel by Beverly Lauderdale

Yesterday, author Beverly Lauderdale contacted me to tell about an internet blog post that included my review of her book, In Franklin's House. I loved her novel which features many of the paranormal elements that always intrigue me. The surprise for both of us regarding the blog post was that it was on an accident attorney's site located in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Lauderdale must be the connecting element. No matter, it's always good to have publicity for our books!

Here is my review of Beverly Lauderdale's book:

In Franklin's House by Beverly Lauderdale is a poignant story filled with rich descriptions that depict the anguish of a wife whose husband cheated on her with the wife of his business partner. Because of his indiscretions, the family is uprooted, moving from Iowa to California. However, the couple's only child, Molly, refuses to move with them, choosing instead to complete her senior year in high school in her hometown.

From the moment of her arrival in the old house they purchased in California, Kate begins to make discoveries. She finds a necklace and a diary that once belonged to Amy Elliott, an owner of the home in the early 1900s. When Kate puts on the ceramic necklace, to her disbelief, a man appears and tells her that by wearing the jewelry she will summon him. Not frightened by the ghost, Kate develops a friendship with him, even agreeing to help him get his poetry published. At the town library, she learns what she can about Franklin who built the house for his wife, Amy, and who died soon after in a tragic horse riding accident. Kate develops an unlikely friendship with Lorraine, a part-time librarian and hippy who enjoys cheap red wine and sailing.

Whether or not the reader believes in ghosts, In Franklin's House is a hard book to put down, and it's difficult to let go of the compelling characters. I look forward to reading more of Lauderdale's work.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, An Exhibition of Art


 Prince George Gallery Art and Frame in Williamsburg, VA has an exhibition of gallery artists called, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation." When the gallery owner, Fred Miller, suggested the show, I was excited. After all, we had a crazy summer schedule that included five weeks on the road with a variety of destinations. I had a lot of resource materials, but most of my work is in photographs, not completed paintings.

I have dozens of photos taken in Key West, in the Mid-West, and in Wisconsin. They will make excellent resources for future paintings and provide background for more articles and even a book. Perhaps a Gothic novel will arise from the ghost tour we took in Key West. I have lots of photos taken along the way during that dark and spooky night event.

Although I completed some art work to include in the show, I am envious of Edwin Green who paints en plein air. His oil paintings from a trip to Maine are glorious and tell the story of days spent midst luscious seascapes along the coast of that picturesque state.

William Crute has a new series of paintings very different from the landscapes I've come to recognize. His lively foliage paintings in this show are remindful of Rousseau's jungle scenes. One painting with a shadowy garden figure hovering in the background especially intrigues me.

And who wouldn't envy Fred Miller who spent two weeks in France--one of them in Paris? All the artists have a story to tell about each painting or photograph in the show.

In all, there are eleven artists in the "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" show. It's a fun show to visit and imagine what the artists saw and thought as they painted or took photographs. This exhibition that stirs the imagination runs until November 27.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

World-Building

When I read a book review for Alex Cavanaugh's new book, CassaStar, I realized what a great platform he has not only to launch his first book but to begin a whole new series that he can expand any way he decides. After all, he is world-building, and the entire universe is his playground!

I love the idea of world-building, but that's for the sci-fi and the fantasy folks, not for a romance author who likes to add just a bit of mystery/suspense. Alex is on a virtual book tour, and from the number of comments he is getting it's looks like a sure success.

As a artist, as well as a writer, I love to create paintings that might be considered the settings for a fantasy universe. Now, if I can just figure out how to tie them in with a new book.

That idea intrigues me.

"Universe and Beyond" Copyright MM Sikes
I'm looking forward to reading about the new worlds Alex will create in his imagination. How do some of you who develop fantasy worlds go about creating them?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Favorite Halloween Show is a Scary Topic

When I signed up for the Small Packages Blogfest, I didn't know what a scary event I was in for. After all, the topic of my favorite Halloween TV program is full of fear for me because I never watch regular TV programs until after the baseball season and World Series are over!

Now how scary is that?

I've taken a look at several other blogs about Halloween TV and have discovered I'm over my head with this subject. The event is sponsored by Cerebral Lunchbox which has a good post on the subject.

I'm still watching baseball--the Rays and the Rangers tonight--although my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are out of it!

So, if you want to know about scary TV, take a look at some of the hangouts listed at Cerebral Lunchbox.

Play ball and "boo" do go together, so scary may find me as I watch more baseball...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Praise Goes a Long Way

Monti at PRAC studio
When the shadows get longer and the air turns cooler, I feel a little down. After all, baseball season is over for my team and daylight savings time soon will be over as well.

That's the way I felt as I headed to October opening night at Petersburg Regional Arts Center where I maintain two art studio spaces. But, when I arrived, the wife of the artist in the studio next to mine met me with praise for my novel, Night Watch, which she had bought from my display table. She also had purchased Secrets by the Sea which she enjoyed as well. By the end of the evening she had a copy of Hearts Across Forever already reading it!

My spirits lifted right away! Next, I had some visitors interested in my paintings who exclaimed over my work. Then a college art student found me who said he'd been wanting to meet me for some time because he liked my work so much. And then an old friend, a former pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, appeared with more great enthusiasm.

Needless to say, I left Petersburg with a warm feeling! At a time when I needed validation for my work, I found it for both my writing and my painting. Praise goes a long way! We all need to remember that...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where Are You Selling Your Books in the Changing Market?

With all the changes taking place with the speed of light in the book-selling business, I wonder what kinds of books are selling best and where? Is there a place now for books from small publishers in the brick and mortar stores?

When my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, was released in 2001, I lined up book signings at Barnes and Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and Waldenbooks. I had signings at major locations in Richmond, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hilton Head, SC, Savannah, GA, Jacksonville, FL and more. These stores made beautiful signs advertising my signings and welcomed me with royal treatments that sometimes even included lunch.

Now, the Waldenbooks where I signed are closed. The Barnes and Nobles no longer welcome authors with small publishing houses. And many of the independent bookstores in my area have gone out of business or are just limping along.

Some of the authors I know are selling at outdoor festivals. Where are you selling your books? Is your best market online? Are you selling e-books?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Excerpt from Dangerous Hearts

This is part of the story from Dangerous Hearts that tells about a bittersweet romance and how a priceless diamond and emerald necklace came to belong to Caroline Dupris’s great-grandmother. In this scene Caroline is explaining to Rob events that happened nearly a hundred years earlier near the turn of the twentieth century:

"According to Daddy, the crown prince of a small European country came to the United States on a visit and somehow met my great-grandmother, Maria LaFitte. As young women of her day often did, Maria would go to meet her friends in the ladies area of the Jefferson Hotel near her home in Richmond."
"Yes. I have heard the prince sometimes stayed there."
"The young women would dress up in their finest clothing and visit over an elegant lunch," she explained.
"Legend held that during one of those lunches, Maria, who was supposed to have been a real beauty, encountered the prince. During the rest of the prince’s stay, Maria, without telling her parents, returned to the hotel where the young couple fell in love.
The prince vowed to take Maria back to his country where he planned to marry her," Caroline continued. "But when he told his family of these plans, they refused to approve his marriage to a commoner and ordered their son to return home immediately."
"Did he go?" Rob asked.
"Because he honored his parents, he had no choice but to obey them," Caroline said. "But the last night the prince was in Richmond, he reserved a portion of the Jefferson Hotel. In front of the splendid staircase, he dined with Maria while nearby a group of musicians serenaded them."
"What an amazing scene that must have been," Rob said.
"Yes. I have stood many times by the huge stairway that many people still believe was part of the "Gone with the Wind" movie. I always think about my great-grandmother and her bitter-sweet romance."
Caroline sighed. "That night the prince presented Maria with the priceless diamond and emerald cross."
"According to the story, he said, ’With this cross we shall be together always. Leaving you will haunt me forever.’"
"I had no idea so much romance was connected to the cross." Rob appeared visibly moved by the story.
Caroline shrugged. "The prince returned to his family, and years later, Maria LaFitte heard of his suicide. Maria married my great-grandfather and raised a family, but she never got over her first love. All her life, she kept the box with the necklace in it close to her, but no one ever saw her open it.
Then shortly before her death she put on her best Sunday clothes, placed the royal cross around her neck, and went to the Jefferson for one last visit."
Tears came to Caroline’s eyes as she remembered the look of wonder on her father’s face when he repeated the story to her. 
"Daddy was with her that day. He watched her shuffle slowly to the bottom of the grand staircase where she stood as if waiting for an invisible partner to take her hand for a dance."

Copyright 2010 Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jefferson Hotel Staircase Makes Dramatic Statement



 Anyone who has ever seen the staircase at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia knows it makes a dramatic statement. For a long time, many people believed it was the staircase where a segment from Gone with the Wind was filmed. It wasn't, but that staircase was modeled after the one at the Jefferson.

Ever since I was a child visiting the Jefferson with my parents, I've been fascinated by that long, wide staircase. It's such an amazing attraction that it eventually became part of the storyline in my new book, Dangerous Hearts. Here are some of my thoughts as the story developed:

What if a pretty young woman in the early 1900s meets a charming young prince while visiting the Jefferson? 

What if he is forbidden to marry her but gives her a gorgeous diamond and emerald necklace as a symbol of their forever love?

What if my heroine inherits the priceless necklace that once belonged to a European royal family?

Suppose two murders are committed that may be connected to a quest for the necklace.

Suppose my heroine is the intended victim in the latest murder.

Suppose she is on the run and fears for her life.

Suppose the man she is depending on is after the necklace as well.
 
Who can she trust?

These thoughts eventually grew into the plot of my mystery/suspense novella.

And my story is linked to the awesome staircase at the Jefferson.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

End of Baseball Season Marks a Sad Day

As some of you already know, I am a fanatical baseball fan. Today is the last day of the regular baseball season, and I feel very sad to have the season end.

The St. Louis Cardinals are my team and they didn't even make the playoffs--which would prolong the season for me. On paper, they were a great team. They have two of the game's greatest hitters--Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. They had three of the game's best pitchers--Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia. Wainwright is up for consideration for the Cy Young Award. Garcia might get consideration for Rookie of the Year.

Still, that was not enough. The team had injuries--lots of them, to their pitchers, and to their third baseman, David Freese who was eventually out for the season.

The Cardinals were expected to win their division championship. Instead, team members are headed back home. As in other things in life, if you are going to be a champion, you have to play the games and you have to win them.

Fate got in the way. I'm counting the days until the start of spring training!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Travel - How to Avoid Checked Baggage Fees

Fall weather always inspires me to make travel plans. Between now and the first part of December, there are quite a few weeks when you can visit excellent destinations at economy prices and also avoid heavy crowds in the airports. Unfortunately, that travel is now marred by the hefty fees people have to pay to check their luggage with most airlines.

Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue are making a lot of friends with their policies of letting bags fly free. That's two free bags on Southwest and one on Jet Blue. Southwest is making the most of its policy with an ad I've seen run over and over the past few days on TV.

According to a segment on the CBS Early Show this morning, frequent fliers who travel with some of the major airlines can qualify for free checked baggage. I believe they mentioned fliers with 25,000 miles. However, when I spoke to someone in the airline industry she thought the frequent flier would need to be at a higher mileage level than that to qualify. It's worth checking into.

I still believe that traveling light with one carry-on bag and a personal item is the best way to go. It's still free (except for Spirit Airlines) and you know where to find your luggage!

 Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, October 1, 2010

Making a Positive Difference for Others

Diana Cosby wrote a significant comment on my last blog post. She has as a life goal, making a positive difference in the lives of others. She has even combined that goal with her writing life by using a percentage of her royalties to start a scholarship in a high school in her area.

We, as writers, have an opportunity to make important differences in the world. We are capable of using words in many diverse and wonderful ways to influence people. We have the opportunity for positive thinking and writing.

Do you have a goal to make a positive difference with your life and with your writing? How do you plan to go about making this difference?

I would love to know more about the thoughts and actions of other writers.

Monti