Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, August 30, 2013

Longing to Travel

On a recent trip, I met a young lady who confided, "I've never been out of the state of Arizona." I felt a little heart tug because she reminded me of myself when I was about her age. During my childhood we would visit aunts and uncles who lived in towns and in the country not too far away. While I enjoyed playing with my cousins, I still longed to go somewhere--to journey far away.

"Sunset Anywhere" ©Mary Montague Sikes
I remember a little book named Journeys Near and Far. It told stories of places with exotic towers and buildings. Those tales took me to distant places I could only dream of visiting. They made me create little stories about my adventures inside my imagination.

Sometimes on nice summer days, I would lie on my back in the grass and stare up at the clouds. I would imagine what it would be like to travel above those clouds in one of the shiny aircraft that sometimes flew overhead. I wondered what might lie hidden inside those clouds. I wondered if people inside those airplanes could see things drifting in the clouds. After all, I saw those fluffy puffs of cotton only from below and their shapes were forever changing. I made up little stories about the clouds.

"Storm Clouds" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Even now the clouds intrigue me. When I have a window seat in an airplane, I keep a camera close by and take many pictures of the ever-changing cloud formations. It surprises me how many people pull down the window shades and never look out.

I still long to travel and usually have a special destination as a setting for a novel.

What about you? Do you long to travel places you've never been? Where?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Finding Kindred Spirits--Artists and Writers

While I was visiting the Sedona Arts Center recently, I was drawn to two unique and beautiful glass tables created by artist Joanne Hiscox. A notation next to the tables told how this artist was working on these creations when the 19 Arizona fire fighters died in the recent tragic fire. Hiscox is donating all proceeds from the sales of the two tables to the families of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew.

"Sedona Vision" Copyright Mary Montague Sikes
I was impressed by the art and by the concern and generosity of the artist. I was also impressed by the volunteer at the Center, Mary Heyborne.A poet and a ceramic artist, Heyborne has some of the most beautifully-crafted pottery I have seen anywhere on display at the Center. Her sculptural background is evident in her work. Also, her love of poetry glows from within the forms of her pieces.

As we chatted, I learned that Heyborne is the author of three books of poetry. Although I don't usually purchase poetry, I was drawn to buy one of her books, and I'm glad I did. Words and Other Lovers is filled with emotional words and poetic visions that left tears streaming down my cheeks. The cover on her book features one of Heyborne's unique pieces of pottery that was formed from castings of her own face.

I found that as often happens, I discover kindred spirits in unexpected ways. Artists and writers are kindred spirits. Often creative people possess both talents. Discovering one of them is indeed special.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Great Vacation Destinations for the Artist

Sedona Arts Center Classroom ©Mary Montague Sikes
If creative folks can't live where they would like, then they should at least vacation at places they will love. Professional Artist magazine has an article by Ora Sorensen about five fabulous places for art vacations. I was pleased to see that the Sedona Arts Center in Sedona, Arizona was one of the selected destinations.

"Stormy Skies over Sedona" ©Mary Montague Sikes
I've been visiting Sedona for many years, and last November I took a class at the Arts Center for the first time. Of course, I loved it. The big drawback for me was I had to ship my many art supplies needed for the class all the way across the country. Still, the glorious scenery of the Red Rock Country is worth all the other problems and disadvantages. All sorts of art classes are taught at the Center. This month there will be many artists giving demonstrations in drawing, painting, jewelry making, and much more.

Two of the other locations in the Sorensen article, the Bath area of Maine and the Aspen, Colorado area, are places I've visited and enjoyed for many reasons including the scenery.

The Hudson River Valley Art Workshops in Greenville, New York and Il Chiostro at the Tuscan Renaissance Center in Sienna, Italy both sound like wonderful artist destinations. They were the other two locations mentioned in the article. Both are places I've never been, but I know artists who adore the Tuscany area of Italy. The old Hudson River paintings are among my favorites.

As an artist or as a writer, do you have a special vacation destination? Have you been there more than once?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Where Are the Best Places for Creative People to Live?

Each year, Money Magazine puts out a list of the best places to live in the United States. In making their determinations, they consider communities that are good places to raise families by offering "plenty of green space, good schools, and a strong sense of community." This year Sharon, MA, Louisville, CO, and Vienna, VA topped the list. All the places listed in the top 50 have populations below 50,000 and above 10,000.

Looking over their 2013 list started me thinking about the best places for creative people to live. Artists might want to live in a huge place like New York City. That used to be a goal for many who were attending art schools.

Both writers and artists might like to settle in a community like Sedona, AZ. The scenery is inspiring, calming, and inviting. The atmosphere is spiritual.

What about communities along the coast of California? The vistas are glorious with photo ops in all directions. Those places attract writers and artists.

Kalispell, MT street ©Mary Montague Sikes
And we have the National Parks areas that long ago brought in creatives such as Ansel Adams. Montana has Glacier and Yellowstone. Kalispell or Boseman, both towns in Montana, might fit the needs of creative people.

My area in Tidewater Virginia has a lot of writers and artists. Many of the writers moved into the Chesapeake Bay area because they enjoy the solitude and the seascapes of communities like Mathews, Gloucester, Urbanna, and many other locations along the water.

Where do you believe the best places are for creative people to live? For authors? For artists? Please share your thoughts.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Using Personal Experiences in Crafting Your Book

"The Writer's Life - Using Personal Experiences in Crafting Your Book" is the topic I'll be covering in a workshop for the Hanover Book Festival on Saturday. I always seem to pull in personal experiences when I'm writing a book. Why not? After all, who can be a better expert on a happening than the person directly involved?

All of my novels have a spark of an actual experience that inspired them. That's especially true of Night Watch, my story set in Trinidad. We traveled to this nation located off of Venezuela a few years ago for a vacation at a resort located on a small off-shore island. The people who met our plane looked a little shady, and as we traveled along a dark road in the middle of the night, I became more and more convinced we were being kidnapped. More and more things happened that added to our adventure that eventually became part of the adventure of the characters in my book.

Even in my novel, Jungle Jeopardy, I found inspiration from my own experiences. We were visiting the Maya Ruins in Palenque when I found a remote temple ruin with no one else around. When I stared in wonder across the vast jungle that stretched far into Guatemala, I was inspired by all that had gone before, by all of the lost structures hidden beneath impossible foliage, by all the secrets that might lie forever lost. I thought of the possibility of one such place that might be uncovered to become a hiding place for a lost treasure.

We are writers. Our imaginations are always humming. That's why it's so much fun to use real life events as parts of the stories we write.

What about you? Do you use personal experiences in crafting your book?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What Inspires Your Writing? Something in Real Life?

All writers become a little insecure when they are not inspired to write. What can drag you out of a dismal writing funk?

Perhaps something you never considered. Perhaps your local newspaper. Or perhaps even your college alumni magazine.

Usually I give my magazine from the University of Mary Washington a casual glance through, then I cast it away. Yesterday, for some reason, I picked up the summer edition and took it with me to read in the car. (No. I wasn't driving.) Two stories grabbed my attention. One was about a doctor who didn't take up medicine until she was almost 50 years old. When she wasn't accepted to a medical school in the states, she decided to take her two youngest children and go to Dominica to study medicine at a college there. What a story and what an adventure! It could surely inspire a book. Perhaps two or three, if you consider a story from a child's point of view.

The other article that excited me was about a woman whose husband had begun building a wood-burning kiln in their yard. He died before the kiln was finished, and she wanted to complete it in his memory. Building that kiln and firing work in it became an art project for one of the college art classes. I can imagine a story built around one of the young artists who took part in the project. There are many other possibilities as well.

Ideas can find you when you least expect them. Grab hold of them; jot them down; let them inspire you now and later.

Where do you go when inspiration deserts you? What sources do you suggest?

Thanks to the co-hosts for Insecure Writer's Support Group this month - Alex CavanaughM. Pax, Karen Walker, and Melissa Maygrove.

     Saturday, August 10, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., I will participate in the Hanover Book Festival at Liberty Christian School in Mechanicsville, Virginia. My workshop will be "The Writer's Life – Using Personal Experiences in Crafting Your Book."

Monday, August 5, 2013

All Wrapped Up in a Bow - Hotel Del Coronado


"All Wrapped Up in a Bow" - ©Mary Montague Sikes
In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Hotel Del Coronado, the  famous cupola that adorns the old Victorian wooden structure is all wrapped up in a golden ribbon with a bow. What an amazing sight!

The Del is one of my favorite hotels. A few years ago, when I first viewed the charming and picturesque grounds, I was captivated. After searching for a while, I found a location on the grounds that was especially appealing and created my own painting of the Hotel Del Coronado.

"Hotel Del" pastel painting ©Mary Montague Sikes
When we revisited the Del earlier this summer, I had a little trouble finding that exact spot in the trees and gardens. Because it was summer, there were crowds everywhere which made things look a little different. Still, I loved the setting and the view. I can understand why Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, was so inspired by the fantasy building that he created the Emerald City for his book. Baum also designed the remarkable light fixtures in the Crown Room of the hotel.
"Crown Room Lights" ©Mary Montague Sikes

As I was walking along a pathway, I had the chance to photograph the Crown Room lights through the dining room window. The result is an unusual picture of the lights Baum designed with the trees behind me reflected in the glass.

What a spectacular, festive place to visit no matter what the season. I haven't been to the Hotel Del during Christmas, but I understand a visit during that holiday season is very special.

What about you? Do you have a favorite fantastic hotel?

"Hotel Del from the Beaches" ©Mary Montague Sikes

(The Hotel Del is part of the book, Hotels to Remember. Giclees on archival paper of the Hotel Del are available from the artist.)