Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Important Are Women in History?

Roundtable Discussion Participants
How important are women in history? The recognition of their importance is not as great as we would expect.

The panel I was part of last Saturday expressed concern that March Women's History month was not well-promoted in local libraries and businesses. Some libraries had no displays. Was it promoted in schools?

Women on the panel discussed a number of questions prepared by organizer Brenda Seward of Simple Pleasures Books and Gifts. The panel talked about books we first read growing up, authors we wished to emulate as writers, personal writing heroines, and mentors who helped in our careers as authors.

The event was enlightening about the roles of women in the world and in our own lives. For the future, we need to do what we can to raise awareness of Women's History month.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Women's History Month - What Woman Most Influenced Your Writing?

March is Women's History Month. Thinking about women and history, what woman in your life most influenced your writing?

Since I am part of a roundtable discussion on this subject, I've been thinking about the women who have greatly influenced my writing. The one with the most profound inspiration for me was the late Jane Deringer.

When our daughter Amy was 14 years old, we received a telephone call from Rappahannock Community College inviting her to participate in a creative writing class they were offering. Amy had been in gifted programs for young writers since she was in the sixth grade, and I was happy for the opportunity for her to further develop her talents. However, since she wasn't old enough to drive, I drove the ten miles to the college and decided to take the evening class with her.

Jane was the instructor, and I loved her and I loved being in the class. With her encouragement and guidance, I started writing a romance novel. The class fascinated me. I enjoyed listening to others read what they were writing. Amy wrote as well, but she was growing up and didn't continue taking Jane's classes in the following years like I did.

When Jane encouraged me to become a member of the Richmond Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, I joined as an arts member. Since I was not published at the time, I did not qualify in letters. I learned about travel writing from Jane and from other members of Pen Women. With their helpful tips, I submitted travel articles and photographs to newspapers and magazines that published them. I was thrilled to actually get paid for my writing!

Jane was a huge advocate for writers. She encouraged everyone and actually started the Chesapeake Bay Writers Club. I was a charter member of that group. Roger Fulton was one of Jane's writing students. A retired police officer, he started the Police Writer's Club with Jane's help. That group is now the Public Safety Writers Association with members who are among my writing friends now. Jane also started the Chesapeake Bay Branch National League of American Pen Women. Since she needed six members to have a branch, I transferred my membership from Richmond and became a charter member of the new group.

Jane also planned an annual writer's conference at the community college that continued for at least 16 years. In the beginning the college served an outdoor barbeque as part of the event which became quite popular and drew people from several states. Each year she invited me to help with it, and on several occasions I was one of the speakers.

Because of her dedication to others, Jane didn't publish many books herself. She encouraged Dr. George Ritchie in his writing about his near-death experience. She was instrumental in many authors getting published, including me.

As writers and creative people of all types, we need mentors. These are people we will never forget. I will certainly always remember Jane Deringer and the influence she had on my writing life.

Simple Pleasures Books and Gifts is sponsoring the roundtable discussion March 26, 1 to 4 p.m. at Ashland Coffee and Tea in Ashland, VA about the women who influenced the lives of  authors Ruth Doumlele, Sylvia Wright, Pamela Kinney, and Mary Montague Sikes. Due to a death in her family, Joanne Liggan is unable to participate.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hang on to Your Dreams and Write, Write, Write

"Veil of Dreams" (detail) MM Sikes
If you have a dream, hold on to it and write, write, write. I recently read an article about best-selling author Cathy Maxwell, and it made me remember how important it is to hang onto your dreams, especially if you are a writer.

I've known Cathy for over 20 years, from the time before she was a published author. She joined Virginia Romance Writers a few years after it was founded and soon undertook the role of a vivacious leader in the organization.Cathy has an amazing smile, and long after she leaves a room you remember her smile. That beautiful, happy attitude has helped Cathy become and remain an outstanding, successful author in historical romance. The article I read said that it took Cathy two years to sell the first novel she wrote. She now has 22 published novels and has been part of five anthologies.

Cathy had a dream, and despite adversity when she lost her husband in a tragic accident, she hung on and continued to write. Romance novels account for nearly 50% of mass market paperback sales. Her books are part of that popular market.

But you don't have to be a romance writer to be a selling author. If you dream about writing mystery or even non-fiction paranormal books, hang on to those dreams and keep writing. Write, write, write until you sell. That is a real key to success.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Presenting a Workshop on a College Campus

Earlier this week, when I arrived at the campus of the University of Mary Washington to present a writer's workshop, one thing I did not have to worry about was finding a place to park. Barbara Quann, trade book specialist for the university bookstore, had arranged a parking spot for me as well as many other special accommodations. That made for a pleasant and positive experience at the university from which I received my undergraduate degree in psychology.

So much of the campus has changed since I was there, but as I was preparing one of my talks for the day on creating a gathering book I began to realize how much I owe my university.Years ago, I took my first art class ever while attending Mary Washington. Drawing and Design was offered in a wing of duPont Hall. In that class, we created a portfolio for the art work we made as well as for the sources of some of our creative ideas. That was indeed my first gathering book. Many more gathering books and portfolios have been created in the years that followed, but, as with many other things, the first one was very special.

I wanted to major in art there, but my father did not approve. After all, art wasn't a good way to earn a living. He was right, but in my heart of hearts I've always yearned to create art.

And I've always had to write.

That was another place where the University of Mary Washington played a large part. While I was working as a student assistant in the English department, a retired professor emeritus hired me to type his novel written out in his sometimes difficult to discern handwriting. I typed the manuscript, and I learned a great deal from the experience.

As I think back, my four years gave me a lot more than I realized at the time. And I am still using what I learned in my art, in my writing, and also in my teaching.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Encaustic Artist Workshop - Loving Art

Because I love art, artist workshops intrigue me--especially those close to home. Arts Alive!, our local support group for the arts, has a marvelous schedule of artist workshops. One of my favorites is the Encaustic Painting Workshop, sponsored by the Virginia Museum and taught by Karen Eide.

Karen drives her giant van into town and sets up an array of heating ensembles, trays of molten wax (both bees and paraffin), lumps of wax colored pigments, piles of paint brushes, heat guns, mat board pieces, books, and much more. She demonstrates some of the techniques for painting with this beautiful hot colored wax, then for five hours her students get to experiment with the process.

Molten wax heats on hot plate
Projects in progress
Heat gun fuses wax
Some students may choose to use a collage technique incorporating photographs, drawings, beads, sequins, and many found items. Others just enjoy discovering what happens as colors mix in transparent overlays. Whatever techniques are chosen, the entire process is a lot of fun!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Nook Vs. Kindle - What's the Story?

My mystery/suspense novel, Night Watch is available as both a Nook and a Kindle book as well as a trade paperback. Ever since my publisher released the Nookbooks version, I have wondered what the difference is in sales between the two e-book formats for other authors.

I've watched the ads for both. Kindle looks like a good e-reader, and Nook looks great for the visual folks among us who like to see color whenever we can.

So far, I hate to admit it, but I do not own an e-reader. If I had one, I don't know when I would use it. Life just gets in the way.

Still, I find the technology fascinating, and I long to try one out. But I don't want anything else I don't have time to use right away.

What about you? What's the story between Kindle and Nook? Or does each have its own place in our ballooning technological society? I'd love to hear your story...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Travel, Florida, and Embassy Suites

We love to travel to Palm Beach, Florida each year for St. Louis Cardinals spring training in their beautiful Jupiter facility. Over the past several years, while trying out different hotel facilities, we discovered the Palm Beach Gardens Embassy Suites.

Bach and Beethoven, the resident swans, add a peaceful ambiance to the lobby. While we were there, a wedding took place in front of the bridge that is part of the swan sanctuary. Last year, the manager explained to us that this is the nation's number one Embassy Suites property.

We look forward to breakfast that is included each day. Eggs are cooked to order and served with a variety of breakfast meats. Almost anything you could want is on the breakfast buffet, and I imagine if it is not, they will try to get it for you.

An added bonus, each evening at the manager's reception, you may run into one of the baseball players staying at the hotel. If not, there are plenty of other enthusiastic fans to talk with you.

If I were writing another Hotels to Remember , I would definitely consider including this property in my book. It's a place I like to visit again and again.

Orchids in the lobby - MM Sikes