Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, January 25, 2016

Is January the Longest Month of the Year?

"Cold Sunset in January" ©Mary Montague Sikes
It's still January. I don't know why, but January always seems the longest month of the year to me. Perhaps it's the short days and long nights that cause it to linger so long. Perhaps it is the lull following a hectic holiday season. However long it may seem, it is a good time to reflect about the past year.

Favorite TV Shows:

The Americans - Many changes are looming. I may not like it so much in the new season
Homeland - So fast-paced with amazing twists and turns. Although I don't like violence, I have thrown up my hands in surrender for all these shows.
Madam Secretary - Tea Leoni makes this show. The family is drawn into the story in both appealing and troubling ways.
Chicago PD - Although I disliked him at first, Hank Voight really makes this show a favorite of mine.
NCIS - This program has lots of appealing characters which leads to its success year after year. I also like NCIS Los Angeles and NCIS New Orleans.

Favorite Destinations 2015:

Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah
Key West
Jupiter, Florida for St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training 

Favorite Art Activities 2015:

Teaching "Painting Like Georgia" Workshops
Taking a Carrie Brown Workshop in Myrtle Beach SC
Having a One-Person Art Show at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg VA
Creating an Art Show for the Main Character in my novel, Evening of the Dragonfly 
Having a One-Person Art Show at Arts Alive in West Point for Evening of the Dragonfly Paintings

Thinking back on 2015, perhaps it's actually a good thing to have a long January to reflect and to recover.
"Evening of the Dragonfly Signing and Art Show"

Friday, January 15, 2016

Revisiting Hotels to Remember, The Jefferson

Over the years, I have visited many fabulous, fascinating, and often historic hotels that were unforgettable to me. In 2002, I created a book about 20 of these special destinations. That coffee table book, Hotels to Remember, became a snapshot in time because, as many of those people I interviewed for the project told me, hotels are constantly undergoing change. Recently, I realized how true that statement was when we visited the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia for lunch.

As we neared the Main Street entrance to the Jefferson, I saw lots of orange highway cones and scaffolding going
Jefferson historic staircase ©Mary Montague Sikes
up a side of the building. I worried the entry would be closed, but it wasn't. Although the historic lower lobby with its dramatic staircase was January subdued, it impressed me as it always does. The comfortable sofa and chairs were completely empty with no one waiting a turn to dine at TJs. It was quiet and a little sad. Gator's, the gift shop right off the lobby, seemed smaller than I remembered. It was no longer filled with bright stuffed alligators that reminded visitors of the live creatures that once lived in the upper lobby and sometimes lounged about on the furniture there.

Alligators in the lobby is one of my favorite stories about the old hotel that opened in 1895. The alligators first appeared around the time of the Grand Reopening of the hotel (following a terrible fire in 1901) between 1905 and 1907. Old Pompey, the last alligator, died in 1948. He is now immortalized by an impressive bronze statue situated at the hotel entrance located by the driveway off Franklin Street.
Old Pompey decked out for Christmas ©MM Sikes

As we dined in TJs, enjoying the view of the Grand Staircase, I learned from our waiter that only about 62 of the hotel's guestrooms are now open. The hotel is undergoing a renovation to create more lavish and larger rooms.

As always, hotels are changing. I am happy to see that the historic Jefferson continues to improve. Some of the other hotels I chose to include in Hotels to Remember no longer exist. I am sad about that but very proud to have the Jefferson Hotel as part of my book.

 Please contact me to order a specially-priced autographed copy of Hotels to Remember.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Writing the Romance Novel, How Things Have Changed

It seems I've been writing books forever. For a long time, I worked alone and tried to learn all I could on my own. In those days, there weren't any writer's groups in my area of the world.

Eventually, I found my long-time mentor, the late Jane Deringer, who taught me a million things about writing. However, Jane was not a romance writer, and somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to write romance.

When Silhouette Books, a very strong romance publisher at the time, sent several of their writers to Richmond, including Nora Roberts, to present talks at the Miller and Rhoads Tea Room, I was truly hooked on romance and the success of these authors. That day, my husband and I passed a pad around the room to gather the names of those interested in starting a romance writers group. And so Richmond Romance Writers, later renamed Virginia Romance Writers, was born.

The year was 1986, the year I also joined Romance Writers of America and attended my first ever RWA convention in Minneapolis MN. Being in a glamorous situation with so many published authors was an amazing experience. My husband and I even got upgraded to a lavish suite with window walls and electronic curtains. The workshops filled me with hope and promise for a rewarding and profitable career as a book author. I hung on every word, and when I returned home, I gobbled up every page of the monthly RWA magazine.

Trouble was, I probably am better suited to writing non-fiction. After all, I was a freelance writer for lots of years, covering public meetings, taking photos, writing feature stories, and more. I was given assignments; I followed the rules and loved seeing big newspaper and magazine stories with my byline on them.

But the fiction-writing bug had bitten me, and I kept on going, working on a novel along with my newspaper work.

"Get an agent," I was told. I did and was surprised to land one of the best on the RWA recommended list. I spoke with her at a conference and was impressed, but when I called I always spoke with her father. Then I discovered she was in lots of trouble and no longer on the acceptable list. My next agent went to jail for a couple of years. Another changed to a children's book publisher soon after I signed with her. The story goes on and on. I never found the right agent and eventually gave up.

Many of the writers I started out with are now successful authors on the New York Times Bestseller list. I applaud them. They had the "write" stuff and the tenacity to stick with it. I didn't. Rejection letters blew me away. I couldn't keep going. I couldn't rewrite my books to follow "the formula".

I kept on writing and have eight published novels, but they aren't romance. I recently found an article published 12 years ago by Pamela Regis in the RWR (Romance Writers Report) that defines a romance novel as "a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines." I'm uncertain if that is the definition of a romance novel today. It might be.

When trying to decide which contest category was the correct one into which to enter my latest book, Evening of the Dragonfly, I decided the best fit was "novel with strong romantic elements". All of my stories are like that. They never have and never could fit a formula. The stories form inside my head and the characters soon take over.

Over the years, they said that artists were not acceptable as heroines of romance novels. I never understood why. Farrah Ferand, the heroine of Evening of the Dragonfly is an artist. They also said, "Write what you know." I did, so maybe I got some of it right.

Have things changed for you in your writing life? How?