Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, November 30, 2012

Goodbye to Another Independent Bookstore - Do We Blame Amazon?

Yesterday, I was saddened to learn that Twice Told Tales, an independent bookstore in Gloucester VA, is going out of business. Stores like this have been supportive of local authors who are not well-known like the New York Times bestsellers or those published by the large New York publishing houses. They have been good places for friendly book signings where authors become known to local readers. However, these stores have struggled for a long time now.

Monti (left) at Nov. 2011 book signing, Twice Told Tales
Do we blame Amazon for these struggles? Is it because of the Kindles?

Probably, yes and no.

Since my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, was released by Oak Tree in 2001, the publishing world has been changing. Maybe I noticed it more because soon after my book came out, 9/11 happened. That caused the cancellation of one of my first signings.

From that time on, the presence of independent bookstores appeared to decline. For a while, Twice Told Tales had stores in three communities, then it shrunk to one. The Waldenbooks I especially liked went from many locations to just a few. My favorite in Hilton Head, SC closed. The story of the many closings goes on and on.

In the meantime, was growing. Then, it really took off. Last night, I watched the Brian Williams Rock Center TV program and was amazed by the enormous size of the Amazon fulfillment center they were visiting. The size of 28 football fields, the reporter Harry Smith said. That's big enough, but it's also three stories high. That's mind-boggling. There are 40 of these fulfillment centers throughout the country. That's even more mind-boggling. Amazon tries to stock everything they can get their hands on, Smith said.

The Amazon giant is overwhelming. No little store can compete.

We all like sitting in front of our computers where it's comfortable and ordering whatever we need or want. But it's also comfortable being in a neighborhood bookstore meeting the people who read your books.

Sorry to see you leave us, Twice Told Tales. Thank you, Nancy Halstead, for bringing your smile to Gloucester.

(Santa will be at Twice Told Tales on Saturday, December 1 in celebration of the Christmas parade.)

--Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, November 26, 2012

Falling in Love with Encaustic Painting--Where Will It Lead?

I must confess. I have a love affair with encaustic painting and have no idea where this may lead.

When artist Karen Eide first came to West Point to present an encaustics workshop for Arts Alive, I took the day-long class out of curiosity. But then something happened. I made lots of little 5" x 7" paintings. The way the paint and wax moved around beneath the heat gun absolutely intrigued me. I know of no other way to create the sparkling luminous effects with the acrylic paint I normally use. Sadly, acrylic paints are not compatible with the beautiful encaustics and bee's wax. However, with experimentation, I might figure out a way to combine the two if I don't try to overlap them.
Molten wax heating on hot plate

Representing the Virginia Museum, Karen has come back to West Point several times since my first dramatic encounter with encaustic paints. I've enrolled in her class each time and have created more small paintings that I love. She's been a wonderful teacher who demonstrates technique and materials and then allows her students to explore on their own.

In September, when she returned to present yet another workshop, I decided I wanted to work in a larger format. Karen paled when she saw the two 24" x 18" encauticbords I had ordered. Because the paints are so expensive, I couldn't work on anything that large, she told me. I was surprised and disappointed. Of course, if I had done the math, I would have realized that one 24 x 18 panel has 432 square inches of space to cover. A dozen of the 5 x7 mat board pieces would still have fewer square inches of space. Obviously, math is not my strong subject!

That day, Karen did have a 12" x 12" cradled board that I bought and used to make a painting. Moving the paint around with a heat gun on that sturdy surface was even more appealing.

Now, I really longed to paint with encaustics on the larger cradled boards I had purchased. When I learned Karen was presenting an advanced workshop in Virginia Beach in November, I was determined to attend. So matter that I was just returning from the Jan Sitts workshop in Sedona, I would somehow work in the time.

Karen shows class a custom-made board/canvas for encaustics
I'm glad that I did. The event took place at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art which I had no idea even existed before I signed up for this workshop. I was delighted to explore this lovely new facility.  Everyone in the class was experienced in encaustic painting and, except for me, worked with it on their own. That Saturday, I painted the two larger boards I'd bought and fell in love with encaustics all over again.

"Reflections in a Bright Galaxy" - encaustic painting -copyright Mary Montague Sikes
Although I have a home studio and a drawing room annex equipped for my pastels, watercolors, acrylics, and experimental mixed media art, I don't want to bring an encaustic painting setup in there. Instead, I'm thinking of working in our garage where there will be plenty of ventilation for the more toxic painting situation the heated bee's wax will bring. I also might consider working in my studio/gallery space at Petersburg Regional Arts Center.

Painting with a heat gun is a mesmerizing experience. Where will this lead with my art? That's an intriguing question.

Thank you, Karen Eide, for showing me the way to this beautiful art medium. Thank you, Arts Alive in West Point, for offering so many outstanding opportunities in creativity.

--Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, November 23, 2012

Daddy's Christmas Angel -- Released Today

Buy from Amazon
Today is the release date for Daddy's Christmas Angel. It is up on Amazon now, so please check it out.

For my new book, I was delighted with these endorsements from early readers:

"The holidays are all about possibilities and magic and Mary Montague Sikes weaves a tale of grief, finding your way in new surroundings, and a little girl's wish to Santa for a mother. Toss in a Christmas play, a blue angel and soft bunny. I wanted a book for relaxing. What a gift I received with characters I cheered for from the little girl's letter in the prologue until the final page. I wanted to savor and instead I couldn't put it down. It made me believe in miracles again and now I can't wait for my own piece of Christmas magic. If you want a read to put you in the spirit of the holidays, this one is the perfect present." –W. S. Gager, author of the Mitch Malone Mystery series.

 "Daddy's Christmas Angel is a treat for every reader and not just for the holidays. This charming book is for everyone who believes love is the ultimate gift." --Lorna Collins, author of Ghost Writer and other titles.

F. M. Meredith, author of No Bells, calls Daddy's Christmas Angel an "enchanting romance kindled by a daughter for her father and her teacher."

Here is a link to an article in The Tidewater Review about my new book that I was excited to see on the Internet.

Daddy's Christmas Angel is a book of my heart. What gift is more important than love, no matter what the season?

--Mary Montague Sikes



Monday, November 19, 2012

Daddy's Christmas Angel and Its Book Cover

Daddy's Christmas Angel, my new novel, is set for release later this week. Inspired by the "Sleepless in Seattle" movie in which the little boy wants to find a new wife for his father, my book features Kathleen, a little girl who conspires to connect her father with her second grade teacher. From the moment I began to develop the story idea, I had the vision of a little girl on the cover printing "Dear Daddy" on a piece of school paper. I wanted the child to be a composite image that represented my three daughters as well as all the many little children I've taught in my elementary school classes over the years.

Here is the cover that my publisher' designer created using my art image. I am thrilled to see my story and the cover about which I've dreamed come to fruition. It is a story for all seasons.

--Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, November 16, 2012

Living a Crazy Week and Being Thankful for It

Colorado River - Grand Canyon   MMSikes
Revisiting the Grand Canyon last week was a wonderful, memorable experience. Now, with the crazy week since returning home, that special time seems like eons ago.

We flew back home on Saturday and, along the way in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, we met two of our daughters who were returning from Australia/Tasmania. To see them there was exciting!

This week has presented amazing and memorable opportunities. Tuesday I made a talk about the life of a writer to the Christopher Wren Society at the College of William and Mary and enjoyed meeting some new, interesting people there. The next day, I read my short story, "A Face in the Window" from The Corner Cafe at the Chesapeake Bay Writers Club. That was a part of a showcase of readings by many members of the group. Happily, my story was exactly the eight minutes time limit each participating member was given. The meeting took place in Yorktown where outside stands a sculpture commemorating the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in 1781.

More events this week include delivery of wreath entries for the upcoming exhibition at the Glen Allen Center for the Cultural Arts. "Ring in the Season" will be on display December 1 - 31 at the Center. I'm looking forward to seeing what the wreath show is all about because I've never made this type of work before. Gallery One at Crossroads Arts Center has an opening of an exhibition of work by Metropolitan Richmond Artists Association which includes two of my mixed media paintings on Yupo. An all-day workshop, Advanced Encaustics, will end my week. No time for jet lag!

Tiring, exhilarating. Tennis, yoga, zumba, and tabata classes were part of the week as well. How can the Grand Canyon seem so long ago and far away?

I am thankful for the opportunities being an American and living in this beautiful land offer to me!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Taking an Artist Workshop in Sedona, Arizona

At the Sedona Arts Center - MMSikes
We just returned from an awesome and intense 10 days in Sedona, Arizona. I traveled there because I have long admired the work of artist Jan Sitts, and I wanted to take one of her workshops.

After her class at Cheap Joe's in Boone, NC was cancelled last summer, I found that Jan teaches workshops at the Sedona Arts Center in Sedona, the beguiling destination that is the setting for my novel, Eagle Rising. After much consideration, I decided to sign up for the workshop. Since we needed to fly, I would be unable to carry all the supplies I normally take in our car. Therefore, I ordered a limited amount of materials from Utrecht and got them shipped to the Art Center.

The full class of 16 students watched Jan demonstrate her method of working with experimental water media. Using multiple materials, intense color, and lots of layers, she inspired an amazing number of outstanding art pieces created during four days of passionate, concentrated work.

Jan Sitts introduction the first day - MMSikes
Jan winding down the final day - MMSikes

It's always sad to reach the end of a workshop, but, along with everyone else, I headed home inspired and grateful for the opportunity to learn and expand my painting horizons. Although I missed having all the acrylic colors, watercolors, and inks I enjoy using, I survived with my limited palette!

Thank you, Jan!

--Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, November 2, 2012

Let Travel Memories Surpass Reality

"Sailing at Sunset"  Copyright MM Sikes
Even as we see the recent terrible hurricane destruction, I still dream of travel. I wonder how many of the people with housing devastation had plans to travel they now have to cancel to care about concerns very close to their own homes. Things change in an instant, and in weather matters we have no control.

Long ago, I dreamed of traveling to Australia. It would be exciting to visit "down under" far into the southern hemisphere below the equator. But in those days, I lacked time, and with a growing family, the money to travel so far. Still, the thought of a journey there intrigued me, and I kept on dreaming.

Then we had our first opportunity to travel to Hawaii. First, we flew from Richmond to St. Louis and then took a nine-hour flight from there to Honolulu. Being on an airplane for that long a time was awful. Although it was beautiful on the island of Oahu and even more gorgeous on Kauai, I dreaded the flight home. I was happy we planned our visit for two weeks because a shorter stay would not have been worth the long trip. We have visited the Hawaiian islands twice since then and found that the shorter flight from Dallas is less stressful. But, my desire to visit Australia is no longer there, especially if it involves a long journey by air.

However, I would love to return to one of the Caribbean islands, especially Jamaica or St. Martin. Key West is the closest we've been recently to a tropical island.

Sometimes dreams are more fun than reality. I dream of returning to Paris and perusing as many art galleries as possible along the quaint streets. I would love to go back to Switzerland. My travel dreams never have included countries of the Far East. I don't want to travel to Indonesia or to the Philippines. I'm too claustrophobic to take a cruise aboard a ship.

As an author, sometimes it's more fun to write about journeys past. Sometimes it's more fun to imagine a romance on a tropical island than it is to travel there.

"Fantasy Skies"   Copyright MMSikes
How many travel dreams have you had come true? Have you written about some of them?

May all your journeys be warm and unforgettable. May your memories surpass reality.

Mary Montague Sikes