Daddy's Christmas Angel

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Weather Touches Us All

"What Kind of Weather?"  MM Sikes
When I looked out from the deck of our condo located near the top of Sugar Mountain in North Carolina, I was awed by the scene at sunset. This was Tuesday evening following the horrific tornado that struck Joplin, MO Sunday evening. The weather pattern passing over us was part of that storm system. How beautiful the light and clouds appeared in the western North Carolina skies. Although it was windy and there were weather warnings, the storm clouds brought only heavy rains. At one point, we drove through a downpour of large hail. We were a little surprised the noisy nuggets of ice did no damage to the surface of our vehicle.

Although the weather touches all of us, we have no control over where 200 mile tornado winds will strike. When a tornado hit the Lambert International Airport in St. Louis last month, it swept through the terminal building with full force but did no damage to cars in the lot where our daughter's vehicle was parked. The St. Louis Cardinals baseball game was played at the same time that night.

The sweeping clouds in the late evening light were like a piece of art to us. How savage and ugly they were earlier.

We are little people on a large planet moving through space. We have no control.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What About the Mentalist?

I've been a fan of the Mentalist for a couple of years now. Last week, I stumbled upon the season finale by accident and was caught completely by surprise with what happened.

Patrick Jane has been a pretty off-beat character from the beginning. He tends to say strange things to people but usually what he says turns out to be an insightful device to get at the truth. However, meeting the infamous Red John in the middle of a shopping mall and then shooting him in cold blood was shocking to me. This terrifying killer has been the subject of Jane's search since the first episode. Red John deserved what he got, but is Patrick the kind of person to shoot a man in cold blood, then sit down near the body and finish a cup of tea? I didn't think so.

What will happen to Patrick next season? Will we have a season filled with a long, drawn-out murder trial? I hope not. What have the writers accomplished?

What did you think about the season finale of the Mentalist.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting Lost in the Setting

When you're writing a book, do you ever get lost in the setting you've created? I do.

Right now, I'm writing an adventure novel, Jungle Jeopardy, that's set in the jungles of Central America. I have a wonderful National Geographic map of Mexico and Central America spread out across a third of my desk. As I write about my characters' experiences in lost Maya ruins, I am captivated by the subject. When I leave to proceed with my own daily life, I think about my characters as though they were real living people.

Sometimes for past books, I've made a big chart and stuck post-it notes all over it as things happen. That can be pretty helpful when you want to check on the timing for some event. For this book, I have a little black spiral notebook that's 4 x 6 inches in size. So far, I've almost completely filled it with research notes about the Maya, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. It's amazing what you can find on the Internet, even including the sounds certain animals make.

Since Jungle Jeopardy is a sequel to Secrets by the Sea, I keep a copy of that novel close at hand as well. I also make little notes on sheets of paper scattered about my desk on both sides of the computer. And there are photographs torn from magazines from some of the destinations in my setting.

Getting lost in the setting is a lot of fun. Now, I can hardly wait to see how it all turns out because my characters have taken over. I truly won't know how this book ends until almost the last page. It definitely will not end the way I originally planned.

I'd love to know what happens when you're writing a book. Do you ever get lost in your setting?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reincarnation Conventions and More

"Road Once Traveled" MM Sikes
Reincarnation conventions have become popular in our country, according to a segment on CBS Sunday morning. Dr. Brian Weiss, a specialist in hypnotic regression, was one of the speakers at a recent convention in New York. I have read about Dr. Weiss and learned that he was skeptical about reincarnation when he regressed one of his patients who instead of going back to an earlier age went back to a previous lifetime. He is said to have lost his skepticism when the patient began channeling about the space between lives.

According to the CBS segment, 18% of Americans believe in reincarnation. Those who believe in reincarnation think we are spiritual beings having a human experience. The theory dates back nearly 4000 years.

 Dr. Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia doesn't trust past-life regression. He believes the results of that therapy are unreliable. However, his research at the university is on reincarnation and focuses on children. Many of the children he has interviewed remember past lives that ended violently. These children often have scars or birth defects featuring an injury from the prior life they recall. Photographs of these children's scars were part of the program.

Some of the research I studied for my novel, Hearts Across Forever, was done by the late Dr. Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Writer's Conferences, Artist's Workshops

This is the time of year when I begin thinking about attending both writer's conferences and artist's workshops. Actually, I'm really thinking about what I will take and what I'll wear because I've chosen and paid for my workshops well ahead of time.

After I first joined Romance Writers of America, I attended the annual conference every year. I loved visiting new places that often were the sites for the conferences. Seattle was one of the most interesting destinations, and prior to the conference my husband and I took the ferryboat over to Victoria, British Columbia. We visited San Francisco for another conference and also attended one in Anaheim, California. We went to St. Louis during one of the flood years in downtown which added a bit of adventure to the richness of the experience. In New York, a travel writing editor took me to lunch at the Waldorf Astoria which created a wonderful memory.

The RWA conferences always provided for me an amazing array of workshops about every aspect of writing. I learned so much during those years of attending conferences, and I got to meet and talk with many of the stars and the rising stars of the industry.

More recently, I've attended the Public Safety Writers Conference in Las Vegas--not because I'm a public safety writer but because my publisher and many of her authors attend that conference. We are part of the panels, and it's fun to visit with and get to know other authors in our group.

My artist's workshops are yet another story I'll share another time. What conferences do you attend? What have you found most helpful?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

"Daffodils" 3-panel glass MM Sikes
"Happiness is a journey, not a destination." That topic was the subject of the CBS Sunday show yesterday.

The program began with a brief discussion of Jim Axelrod's new book on the pursuit of happiness. The book is due for release on May 10.

Unfortunately, I was left uncertain whether the rest of the segment was information from his book or from other sources. According to the program, Boulder, Colorado is the happiest community in our country. People in that city have the highest feeling of well-being. Obesity there and smoking are found in only 13% of the population. Good health means happiness is high and stress is low.

Hawaii is the happiest state. The top 10 in happy states include mostly states in the northwest including South Dakota. No southern states are included in the top 10.

Huntington, West Virginia was at the bottom of happiness for cities. A struggling economy, unemployment, aging population, and poor health were cited as the major reasons for unhappiness there.

Getting enough sleep and getting exercise are two happiness factors, according to the Sunday program. Being happier starts with taking the first small step in the right direction.

Happiness for me is often found in the color yellow. I feel happier wearing yellow clothing. Yellow flowers attract me. What can be nicer than the beautiful yellow forsythia that heralds the coming of spring?

What makes you happy?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Google Changes Everything for a Novelist

Parking Lot at Sunset - MMSikes
How quickly things change. An ordinary parking lot turns into magic at sunset. And a novel you think is going one way suddenly takes a U-turn in the opposite direction. That change in my novel happened because of Google.

When I first started writing books, as the Passenger to Paradise, I spent a lot of time at the local library using various reference materials to enhance what I already knew about the destination I was visiting. For my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, set in Jamaica, I not only researched that island nation, but I learned more about subjects such as hypnotic regression and reincarnation because my characters were involved in both.

For my current project, Jungle Jeopardy, I planned to have my characters get involved in a kidnapping and much more in Costa Rica. But then Google and my characters took over. I remembered my own adventures in the Maya ruins and started reading and Googling the ruins of Central America. What I've learned has been compelling, and my characters are out of control having a wild adventure in the jungles of Guatemala. While in the past the Passenger to Paradise has always written from personal experience, now I've discovered a journey so dangerous only Google can handle it for me.

Because so much is available at the touch of a key, Google changes everything for the novelist. Have you changed the way you research and write. Do you still spend hours at the library researching? Or do you have your own system.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tennis and Writing

March 2011
The A to Z Blog Challenge is over. I learned so much and met so many wonderful bloggers during the month of April. I hope I'll be able to keep up with posting often, maybe not everyday, but often.

Since I have a book deadline that means I need to write seven pages or more each day, so I'll keep busy. Besides writing, teaching, and creating art, I need to give some time each week to another addiction--playing tennis. Exercise is a good thing, especially for writers who spend so much time sitting! My times for exercise are set ahead of time into my weekly schedule, and I do my best not to change or cancel those activities.

What cuts into your writing time?

Thanks again to everyone who made the Blog Challenge possible. And a special thanks to Alex Cavanaugh who encouraged so many to participate!

Thanks also to all my followers. It was exciting to go over 100 last week!