Daddy's Christmas Angel

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Where Are the World's Best Crab Cakes?

For many years, crab cakes have been my favorite entree. My mother made the most delicious crab cakes using back fin crab meat and no filler except egg to bind the meat together. Once when I was about 12, Mother was called away for an emergency, and I was left with crab meat to create cakes on my own. Since I didn't know what to do, they were a disaster and my father took me to a restaurant for dinner.

In recent years, I've tried crab cakes in a lot of restaurants. Often, they are made with too much filler and are more like bread or stuffing cakes. Since I've gotten used to the blue crabs found in the rivers off the Chesapeake Bay, it's hard to travel far and find good crab cakes. Early in the summer, when we were at Lake Tahoe, I ordered the crab and found it had a completely different flavor there. Once, I ordered the crab cakes in an Irish pub in Hilton Head, SC only to discover they weren't at all what I expected.

Back Fin of Williamsburg, VA usually has good crab cakes especially in the summer when back fin crab is abundant. Last week, I dined in Amuse Restaurant at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and discovered the best crab cake entree I've had in a long time.

I've never learned to cook crab cakes myself, but wherever we travel, I'll continue to try to find the world's best crab cakes.

What about your area? Do you have the world's best crab cakes?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Deciding How to Label Your Books

How do you decide what label to put on your book? Is it sweet romance, romance, mystery/suspense, contemporary, Gothic, or even a combination that makes it more difficult to tag or label? Any of those categories may be easier to label than a book with paranormal elements like I often write.

My first novel, Hearts Across Forever, has a reincarnation theme, so I labeled it paranormal. That seemed to work out fine. Secrets by the Sea has ghosts, so paranormal works okay for it as well. Then along came Night Watch, and things got a little sticky. You see, my main character may or may not be a "walk-in". Readers may or may not like the concept of a "walk-in". What's that? you ask.

A walk-in is someone who has agreed to come into the body of a soul who for some reason wants to leave. The two souls make an agreement, and the second takes the place of the first. The "walk-in" has memories of the previous soul but also has some of his or her own. It's a little like reincarnation except on a more immediate level.

Night Watch is more difficult for me to label as paranormal because so many readers think of paranormal books as ones having vampires, shape shifters, or werewolves. Anyone looking for these elements probably won't like Night Watch. A contest judge may not understand the walk-in concept and will find this book hard to judge. Someone suggested that it should be labeled occult/supernatural. That label doesn't seem right to me either.

What to do? I don't know what label to give my book. For the future, I think it might be best to write a book that doesn't have elements that lie in the gray area. I need to write books that are easier to define.

But that may be easier said than done.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Are You a Professional Writer?

Writing is hard work. I don't do it for fun nor do I do it for the satisfaction of seeing my name in print.

The exhilaration of viewing my byline on an article vanished long ago after my name had appeared many times on feature articles published in a major city newspaper. Those articles often took weeks to compile after numerous phone calls and research in old books, magazines, and newspapers. I spent hours digging up information for the stories I wrote about people, locations, and events in my rural location in Virginia before I would even start writing. Then I would go to the site and take the photographs necessary to go with the story. My outstanding editor taught me to how to edit, a skill that has aided me in all the writing I have created since that time.

For breaking news and for coverage of local governing bodies, I had to call in and dictate my articles to someone on the state news desk in the city. All of this was done using an electric typewriter without the luxury of instant correction we have now on our computers. Because I wrote for one of those afternoon newspapers that no longer exist, I submitted my stories early in the morning before I left home for my job teaching school.

Although the pay was meager, my writing provided extra funds to enhance our family income. It provided money for trips our family of five might not have taken otherwise.

In addition to the hundreds of stories written for newspapers, I also have written many travel articles including my favorite ones about journeys to the Caribbean islands. Some of these stories have appeared in magazines for airlines and other places. Because I love to relive these often exotic experiences, stories about the islands don't seem quite as hard to write.

Some of my adventures are now turning up between the covers of books. My publisher has labeled these novels, "Passenger to Paradise." A couple of years ago, she designed a logo for them which is the same image I use for my Notes Along the Way blog. I love the logo because I learned long ago to travel light and am often seen pulling my roller bag through the concourses of airports.

Writing novels is a job. I consider myself a professional writer.

If you are an author, don't you consider yourself a professional?

(Passenger to Paradise novels by Mary Montague Sikes include: Hearts Across Forever, Eagle Rising, Secrets by the Sea, Night Watch, and Jungle Jeopardy.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writers and A Writer's Conference in Las Vegas

Las Vegas seems an unlikely site for a writer's conference. At least it does to me. As you enter the city, the buildings shimmer with reflective walls and some of them lean with peculiar tilts that make you wonder what you've been drinking. Then, later as you pull your bags through the "lobby" you wonder even more. After all there are slot machines every place you look. There's an area with TVs displaying every horse race in the country, and there are TVs with every baseball game going on at the time. That's in case you want to bet on one of these events. Within the same complex you find more than a dozen movie theaters, a bowling alley, and another theater featuring the Poynter sisters for weekend shows. Las Vegas is truly amazing.

Still, for four straight days last week, members of the Public Safety Writer's Association were able to forget all the glitz and concentrate on some wonderful talks, presentations, and panels. We learned about dialog, editing, promotion, forensic evidence, writing with a partner, changes in publishing, setting, movie writing, police psychology, and much more. And we heard it from the experts. All the while we wandered through the unique sights and sounds that make Las Vegas special. 

The writers learned a lot and came away ready to tackle anew the world of often not so glamorous publishing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Going Full Circle

Last year, when the Public Safety Writers Conference in Las Vegas opened  with a brief history of the organization, I was delighted to hear about its beginning as the Police Writers Association with Roger Fulton serving as the founder. Roger was a member of the Chesapeake Bay Writers Club (in Virginia) at the time. Jane Deringer was his mentor. Roger, Jane, and I were all founding members of the CBW. In fact, Roger came up with the name--Chesapeake Bay Writers--which was selected as the winner of a contest. Jane was also instrumental in the founding of the Police Writers Association. I remember her advising Roger, judging contests, and attending some of the earliest conventions, at least one of which took place in Williamsburg, VA near my home town.

Roger moved away from the area, and I lost track of him. Jane died a few years ago--a tremendous loss to the Tidewater Virginia writing community.

As I attended the excellent conference presentations, I thought about how things have a tendency to come full circle and how pleased my friend and writing teacher extraordinaire, Jane Deringer, would be to see the evolution of PSWA. 
Earlier this week, I asked my publisher, Billie Johnson, to take a look at the blog I had written about book promotion. She was pleased with it, and I pointed out that this was another case of things going full circle. This time last year, I knew nothing about writing and promoting blogs. Billie turned me in the direction of Dani Greer and urged me to take her blog book tour class. I did and learned so much from her and from the other members of the class. That was another case of going full circle.

In writing, and in life, it's amazing and rewarding when things go full circle.

Monday, July 11, 2011

One Hot Day in July and Book Promotion

It's hot today here in Virginia, and I am thinking about book promotion for the fall. My publisher has my new novel Jungle Jeopardy on the fast track for release at a writer's conference in Las Vegas later this week, so I need to get on the fast track for promotion.

What is best--focus on one type of promotion, or do everything?

Unless you're topping the New York Bestseller List week after week, you'd better think about doing everything and more. This is the list I'm making for myself right now:

1. Create or update a media kit.
2. Write press releases for the new book and get them out.
3. Send out a newsletter about the new book.
4. Look for reviewers. (This should be done much earlier but the book wasn't ready.)
5. Plan a launch event.
6. Contact bookstores.
7. Contact college alumni groups. Also, other groups that may relate to the book and its content.
8. Contact libraries about the new release. Do they have book clubs? Do they need speakers for any events?
9. Search for travel organizations and travel groups. Other niche markets. Contact them
10. Set up a schedule for promotion. Set aside time each day for promotion on the Internet.
11. Write a blog. Schedule guests on the blog and become a guest on the blogs of others.
12. Tweet and write on Facebook about the new book, but don't be rude.
13. Make brochures, business cards, and posters for the new book.
14. Follow the marketing plan outline from my publisher, Oak Tree Press.
Much more!

"Jungle Beat" Copyright MM Sikes
One hot day in July has made me think hard about some cool book promotion. I'll keep on working until I have an organized plan, then I'll follow it.

(Take a peek at my painting that will be part of the book cover.)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Are Romance Novels Really to Blame?

An article by Anita Singh "Mills and Boon 'cause marital breakdown" created a little stir yesterday on one of the writer's lists to which I belong. I was interested that the article said the British Medical Journal had published a warning that these romance books are a cause of adultery and unwanted pregnancies.

Wow! Amazing to know how influential we authors are.

While I haven't read any Mills and Boon romances for quite some time, I was a little surprised to learn all the problems they may be causing. Years ago, the ones I read were simply sweet romances, nice little straightforward stories with happy endings. Those would hardly be books I would believe could lead to problems causing marital breakdowns.

Perhaps the books have changed with the times. Perhaps they are no longer innocent little romances. I don't know, and I don't plan to research the Mills and Boon books. (Looking at the titles, they do sound rather spicy.) However, I do like the idea that we can influence our readers. Only, I want to influence them for the better. I want my books to give them a few hours lost in a fantasy story. Hopefully, readers know it is fantasy and won't, because of what they read, make unfortunate choices they may later regret.

What do you think about blaming romance novels? If they are to blame, there are no more happy endings. That would be sad.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Fun and Creative Way to Promote a Book

Recently, I've gotten way behind in scanning the couple hundred e-mails I get each day. When I started looking over and picking out the ones I needed to read, I discovered one from Tammy Kaehler in Murder Must Advertise, a group that I joined a while back. Although I don't know Tammy, I was intrigued by the promotion she is doing for her first novel, Dead Man's Switch, coming out in August. She has two videos, one about her and another about her book. Her reasoning is that since she wants to get speaking engagements, she would like people to see what kind of speaker she will be. The video about her book is a little more along the lines of some of the book trailers I've viewed.

Tammy has been a writer for a number of years, but she never wrote fiction until six years ago. The book she decided to write is about auto racing, so she approached this subject like a good news reporter. She visited tracks and interviewed the race car drivers. She became an expert on the subject of auto racing.

Now, a bookseller in Connecticut is partnering with the race track about which she wrote her novel to have a book launch party for her on July 9. Since Tammy lives all the way across the country in California, this is quite a special event.

I'm fascinated that she became a car-racing expert. I'm impressed that she took plenty of photos and video along the way, so that she had material handy for the videos. This is a fun and creative way to promote her book.

Those of you with books to promote, what unusual things can you do to promote them? Make a list. Even the craziest ideas could have merit. Be creative and have fun!