Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, September 28, 2012

Looking at Blog Stats -- Who Visits, What Brings Them

Do you really study and use the blog stats available to you?

Recently, I took a closer look at the Stat Counter I have linked at the bottom of my blog. There's a lot more information there than I realized. The recent page load activity link is interesting because it shows where visitors are located. There's a way to check recent visitor activity and the key words that brought them to your site. You can see the time and how long they stayed.

A colored pie chart pops up to show the percentage of visit lengths. Sadly, most visitors seem to stay less than 5 seconds. Does that mean the visitor got there by accident?

There's a link to popular pages, so you can find out which pages get the most hits. You can also find out the key words that bring people to your blog. In January 2011, I wrote a little blog about the "Medium" television show and my dismay that they allowed Joe Dubois to die when actually, in real life, he was still very much alive. Almost every day, I still get the most hits from key words relating to Joe Dubois and the story I wrote a year and a half ago.

A couple of weeks ago, I started examining the stats available in the Blogger overview. It gives a nice chart of daily visits. If you click on stats, you can see the most popular posts and how many hits you've had on them in recent days. Again, Joe Dubois tops my list every day.

I'm looking to find another popular topic. Maybe I can discover some other key words people often search.

I'm heading to Google right now...

"Grove Park Inn" pastel from Hotels to Remember MMSikes

Paintings from Hotels to Remember

Sometimes I like to go back and revisit the original pastels from my coffee table book, Hotels to Remember. I did that today and decided to post one of the hotel paintings. This is the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. I think of serenity when I see this painting.

Quiet serenity--a good thought for the day.

Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, September 24, 2012

Authors' Book Fair Features Civil War Theme

At West Point Authors' Book Fair 2012
This year's West Point Authors' Book Fair featured a Civil War theme, probably because several of the featured writers have books set during that tragic point in time. I don't. However, I do have two books that relate to the Civil War era. During the authors' presentation talks, I spoke briefly about those books.

A Rainbow for Christmas is set in 1869 on a wagon train heading west. Cade Russell, the wagon master lost both his wife and young daughter to illness caused by conditions in the South following the war. To overcome the pain and guilt about his loss, he now travels back and forth across the plains, leading the western pioneers to their destinations.

Hilltop House: A Snapshot in Time features a once-popular hotel in historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Site of a battle in September 1862, the town is not far from Antietam, where the "bloodiest day in American history took place." Not long after the war, Harpers Ferry was a component of the counties removed from Virginia and made part of the state of West Virginia.

"Civil War, A Nation Divided" by MMSikes
I note in the Hilltop House book that the Civil War had a big impact on my childhood. Not only did I attend an elementary school with floors bloodstained from use as a hospital during the war, but I lived about a block from Sunken Road and Marye's Heights where a furious and deadly battle took place in 1862.

"Even today, I still recall the terrible depressing sensation I felt while walking along old Sunken Road," I read from my book to those attending the talk.

My mixed media painting, "Civil War, A Nation Divided," is among the illustrations in the book. This painting is part of my "Will There Be Peace Anywhere?" series of work.

We always seem to be a world at war. Why that is I do not know. I suppose the Civil War is a very suitable, yet sad theme for an authors' book fair.

--Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, September 21, 2012

Making a Business of Art Works for Writing As Well

PRAC features local entertainment during monthly art openings --MMSikes

Putting on your business hat is too often uncomfortable for both artists and writers.

It shouldn't be.

"Right brain people can train their left brains to take over when necessary," according to Marc Wilson.

A retail and restaurant industry consultant, Wilson presented his seminar, "Art as a Business" to an audience of about 50 artists at  Petersburg Regional Arts Center. He works with small businesses all over the country, including artists at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia.

Listening to Wilson speak, I was struck with the close similarities between his advice for artists and talks I have heard and given for writers about the use of social media for promotion.  He even talked about elevator pitches for artists who should have a five-word tag line planned to tell about their work. I knew about elevator pitches for authors but had never thought about using them for my paintings.

Here is one thing Wilson said that surprised me. "One peer recommendation is worth 200 TV ads." Is that possible? It's not the media, but the reviews of friends and relatives that sell your work, according to this veteran consultant.

For the artist's studio, he recommends "curb appeal" with good lighting, focusing on the work and not diffused all over the place. He also suggests placing work with similar colors in groups together. Actually, he is promoting good design for the look of your studio. Branding for you and for your work. Certainly, that's a good idea for book covers as well as for studio designs.

The business needs of artists and writers are similar in many ways. I'll be writing more on this subject during the next several weeks. I would love to hear some of your thoughts about good and productive business practices.

I was pleased that Petersburg Regional Arts Center promoted this seminar. PRAC opened in 2003, moving from Richmond where it began in 1999 as Shockoe Bottom Arts Center. The Center, one of the largest in Virginia, houses 85 artist studios. PRAC will be the site of the 2012 National Juried All Media Exhibition from October 12 to November 3.

Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, September 17, 2012

Genre Favorites Blogfest


My favorite movie genre: Romantic Comedy
Sleepless in Seattle (10th Anniversary Edition)I love movies that are fun and have happy endings, like "Sleepless in Seattle." Actually, I probably like anything with Meg Ryan starring, so I guess they are old movies in TV reruns!

My favorite genre of music: Rock from the '80s

I enjoy the Rock and Roll tunes from the '80s, especially Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, "I Love Rock and Roll." Those songs are great for workout music, especially "YMCA."

My favorite book genre: Women's Fiction

Beach House Memories
I like to read anything by Diane Chamberlain and especially enjoyed her latest book, The Good Father.  I also like books by Mary Alice Monroe, probably because they take place in the South in settings I recognize like Charleston, SC and the low country areas (Hilton Head) that I visit each year.

My guilty pleasure genre: Following baseball all season long

Wow! That really takes away time from everything else. In September, everything really heats up, especially this year when so many teams are vying for the second wild card in each league!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Loving Tropical Settings

"On the Lagoon" MMSikes
For years we have loved to travel in the Caribbean. The fragrant scents in the air, the sounds of waves stroking sandy beaches, the casual ambiance everywhere around all have inspired us to return to the islands again and again.

A few years ago, Sint Maarten became one of our favorite destinations. Although the one main highway around the half-Dutch, half-French island is often terribly congested, that island is now one of our preferred vacation spots. It's also a great base for boat trips to Anguilla or to St. Barth's.

If you don't mind the long (especially from the East Coast) airplane flight to Hawaii, that's another wonderful tropical setting to visit. Lush gardens, magnificent waterfalls, and a spectacular Grand Canyon are all part of the magic there.

Recently, during a visit to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, I sat on a deck by a palm tree watching the waters in a lagoon. The perfect temperature and the scenic setting reminded me of the Caribbean. They also reminded me of the settings I enjoy most in my books.

I love tropical settings. What about you?

--Mary Montague Sikes

 Please visit Doug Danielson's The Nautical Muse at 
I'm a guest there. Check it out.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Credit Card Fraud - How Does It Happen?

Sunset on Hilton Head Island - MMSikes
Is credit card fraud getting worse? We just had an experience with it that makes me wonder. Although we did not lose our cards, counterfeit cards were made with our information. The credit card company monitors accounts constantly. When they saw charges coming up that did not fit our profile, they immediately contacted us. There were charges for shoes at Finish Line in Columbus, Ohio that we did not make. Attempts were made three days later (after the account was closed) at Finish Line, Wal-Mart, and Shell--all in Columbus.

We haven't been in Ohio for several years. However, we were in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for a few hours in late August. Was an image of our credit card captured there? Did it happen at a service station gas pump? An associate in the credit card fraud department told me that's a place it's happening a lot now. The crooks place devices to take images of your cards at the pumps. I'd heard of that being done on ATM machines, but not at gas pumps.

He also warned of two people waiting behind you in a line. One will memorize the first half of your credit card number, the other person will remember the second half.

Counterfeit cards first became a problem for credit card companies in California and Arizona. Now the fraud is "getting really big" on the East Coast.

The credit card company is investigating what happened to enable the counterfeit cards in our situation. Still, we are left with changing card numbers for those companies that automatically receive payments through our card.

Did the fraud happen because of use on the Internet? Was it at O'Hare? Was it at some random gas pump? The investigators may discover where it happened.

They may not.

Whatever happens, I'm posting another sunset photograph. Credit card fraud can't take that away.

--Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, September 7, 2012

TV Shows and Sunsets -- Popular Subjects for Writing and Photos

Recently, I noticed a big increase in traffic to my blog. When I consulted my blog stats, I discovered a big reason. In January 2011, I wrote a post about the death of Joe DuBois in the Medium TV series that suddenly was cancelled. Joe was one of my favorite television figures. I was both shocked and disappointed to see him killed off in the last episode. After I read the real life Joe is still alive, I was even more disappointed and surprised.

I loved the show with Patricia Arquette cast in the role of Allison DuBois. Besides Joe, I even liked the portrayal of the three real life daughters in the family. When I noticed all the many daily hits on my old blog post--almost 200 one day, I decided to investigate further. To my dismay I discovered articles and comments about an appearance Allison DuBois made in December 2010 on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Apparently, what she said and did left viewers disappointed in her and disinterested in ever watching the Medium. Comments in other articles were skeptical of her psychic abilities and her claims about work with criminal investigators.

Whether or not the claims made by people who disbelieve the psychic abilities of the real Allison DuBois have merit, I'm not sure it matters as far as the television show, Medium, is concerned. After all, we know that even shows based on real life have fiction in them. I very much enjoyed the characters depicting the real people. I especially loved Joe DuBois and admired his loyalty in Allison's life. I would like to think these people are real, but, ultimately, they are not.

And that's okay.

The stats made a point for me. Writing about a popular subject can drive traffic to your blog. To my surprise, "Notes Along the Way" for January 22, 2011 is the number one link on at least one of the Google searches. It is the number four link for Joe DuBois.


"Near the Dark of Night" MMSikes
Write about popular TV shows and post photos of sunsets. Now that's a winning combination! A new lesson learned.

--Mary Montague Sikes

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Avoiding Distractions that Interfere with Writing

With the Internet, distractions are impossible to avoid. At least they are for me.

My plan for today was to answer a few of the e-mails that piled up overnight, take a look at a couple of blog sites, then get to work on the revisions of my work in progress. Since I was compelled to watch the St. Louis Cardinals baseball game this afternoon and I had a late afternoon Planning Commission meeting, avoiding distractions was a must.

It didn't happen.

One of my e-mails was about a Twitter chat at noon. Since I give programs on e-marketing and promotion, I wanted to find out how the Twitter chat works. Probably because I had never before joined in one of these sessions, I found it hard to follow. It's a quick way to ask questions and get a response. However, since different strangers were involved at the same time, I was uncertain whose questions were being answered. Also, I found some of the questions confusing and decided that perhaps you needed to be an insider to understand them.

Was it worth my time to take a look? Yes. I learned a few of the pitfalls and probably won't try to participate in another Twitter chat unless I have a very good reason to do so.

What did I learn about avoiding distractions?

1. Make a list of goals for the day.
2. Allow a short time for social interactions.
3. Go to work on the list and check off each item.
4. Any leftover items go on a sticky note in front of the computer keyboard.
5. Get to work on the WIP.

Since I lost so much time today, I'm going to work tonight on my WIP.

Shelby Miller Pitches in First Major League Game.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals lost their game. However, on a happier note, their big pitching prospect, Shelby Miller, came in to hurl two scoreless innings in relief. He struck out four of the batters he faced. At Spring Training 2010, I met Shelby who was the Cardinals no. 1 draft pick in 2009.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tides Inn Makes an Inspiring Setting for Art and Writing

Monti painting at Tides Inn
The setting at Tides Inn on the Chesapeake Bay is serene, scenic, and inspiring for both artists and writers. Throughout the year, the Inn has Art Shows three different times--Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Christmas season (usually the first Saturday of December). The Memorial Day and Labor Day events are two days each--the Saturday and Sunday preceding the Monday holiday.

During this year's Memorial Day event, I watched the many jewelry-makers who participate put their time to good use by creating bracelets and necklaces during times when few people were inside browsing. I was envious and considered becoming a jewelry-maker, not that I need something else to do.

When I got the invitation to participate in the Labor Day Art Show, I considered not going. After all I wasn't ready to make jewelry and I wanted to do something productive while I was there. Then, it struck me. I did some plein air painting in Williamsburg one day last September, enjoyed it, and produced two paintings that I really like. So I suggested painting at Tides Inn. However, they were concerned that I wanted to use water media including acrylic paints. Then I thought about my pastels, a dry medium I love and have used for years. To my delight, pastel painting met with approval.

Since I like to stand and work on an easel, I gessoed two canvas panels ahead of time and experimented from there. Over the weekend, people stopped to watch me work. Some of the jewelry-makers and other artisans watched, too. It was fun and productive. I wound up with two virtually completed paintings.

Boats at Tides Inn - MMSikes
As a writer and photographer as well as an artist, two days at Tides Inn is time well spent. People come in from their boats. I love to chat with them and tell them about my books, many of which are set on islands they may have visited. Although I hoped for some book sales, I didn't make many. I was encouraged when I learned from a manager that jewelry sales were the first to go down when the recession hit. Now those sales have been the first to come back. The jewelry-makers did well at the show. I learned a lot, enjoyed the delicious free ice cream on Sunday afternoon, and I created two new works of art.

As an added bonus, I used a photograph I took at Tides Inn on Memorial Day weekend as the source material for one of the paintings. The dramatic setting on the Chesapeake Bay is indeed inspiring for both art and writing.

Mary Montague Sikes