Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, November 25, 2013

Writers Learn from Readers at Book Signings

Key West Sailboat - ©Mary Montague Sikes
As I reflect on a recent book signing, I realize writers can always learn at least one new thing as they talk with readers. I like to promote the exotic destinations that many of my novels feature.

"Do you like to travel in the Caribbean?" I ask, hopeful I'll learn that he or she has been to one of the islands my books feature and loved the trip.

"No. I've never been to the Caribbean."

"I haven't been to Antigua."

"I don't want to go to Jamaica."

"Where is Trinidad?"

These are the answers I often get. My publisher created the "Passenger to Paradise" series for my books, so those responses disappoint me. I wrote Secrets by the Sea  because a museum director on the island of Antigua intrigued me with his stories about the rich history of this tropical paradise. I hope to find readers who relate to the island's history or to the fact it was settled by the British. I want to find people who have gone to Jamaica and appreciate a fantasy story related to the legend of the white witch of Rose Hall (Hearts Across Forever). I want to discover those who have visited Mexico or Central America and have studied the Maya ruins because of those visits (Jungle Jeopardy).

Perhaps I am approaching potential readers the wrong way. Should I ask, "Are you an armchair traveler who fantasizes about visiting the tropics?"

With the unusual cold weather we have now in Virginia, a warm destination like Key West, Florida sounds perfect. I could curl up with a book set in a nice tropical place where warm breezes blow and sweet floral scents fill the air.

As a writer, what do you do for a positive response from readers? How do you you draw them into your settings? Do you learn from readers at your book signings?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What Inspires a Writer Years Down the Road?

Phoenix Gold Mine
First western romanceA few years ago, we were exploring an area of Colorado we had not visited before. In Idaho Springs, we came across the Phoenix Gold Mine and met the co-owner, Al Mosch, who gave us a tour we will never forget. Besides sharing his story of an eye-to-eye encounter with a mountain lion, Mosch related other mining tales and gave me a piece of gold-flecked ore from the mine. Because of this unusual character, I will never forget our mine visit. Not only did I include the Phoenix Gold Mine as a side trip for the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver when I wrote Hotels to Remember, but I also used some of what I learned that day in my novel, A Rainbow for Christmas.

That novel was also inspired by books I found on that same Colorado trip that were written by women who crossed the plains from Missouri traveling by wagon train. In museums, I saw items from some of those journeys. I also viewed actual wagons from those trains and stared in wonderment, amazed at how small they actually were.

Using inspiration years down the road is one of the things that especially excites me as a writer. I keep notebooks, take photos everywhere, and put everything together in my "gathering books". You never know when you'll have a chance to use some of that information.

What inspires you?

A Rainbow for Christmas and Daddy's Christmas Angel are two of the books I'll be signing on Friday, November 22 at the William and Mary Barnes and Noble on Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, Virginia from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. I will also feature A Rainbow for Christmas on the Neal Steele radio show, 8:15 a.m., Monday, December 9.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sedona, Arizona is a Place to Love

Sedona Red Rocks October 2013 ©Mary Montague Sikes
Whenever I see the red rock formations of Sedona, Arizona come into view, I marvel at the sight. These amazing rocks have inspired artists and writers forever, I suspect. As the lighting shifts across the rocks, so does the impact of the red rock images.

Within the last 12 months, we have made the trip to Sedona from the East Coast three times. We have stayed in three different locations, Ridge on Sedona Golf Resort, Hyatt Pinon Point, and Poco Diablo Resort. All three resorts are outstanding for different reasons.

The Ridge is located at the Village of Oak
Sedona Red Rocks 2007 ©Mary Montague Sikes
Creek and is near the Red Rock Cafe, an exceptional restaurant for breakfast that features 99-cent mimosas on the weekend. Several art galleries are located in the area, including Cielo Bella. Of course, it is near the famous Bell Rock formation. For sports lovers, PJ's sports bar is nearby.

The Hyatt is situated conveniently close to uptown Sedona with lots of rock shops in the area. The Sedona Art Center is within easy walking distance. The resort is not far from Tlaquepaque which is well-known for arts and crafts shopping and has several attractive art galleries. Sports fans will enjoy the TV screens and the convenience of the Steaks and Sticks restaurant that is next to Tlaquepaque.

Poco Diablo is in a quiet setting next to Oak Creek. The Best Western restaurant on the site is excellent for breakfast. Our room faced the golf course which gave us a nice view from a little patio. The location is convenient for several rock formations, including Bell Rock and is situated between Oak Creek and Sedona.

The Golden Goose Cafe has become one of our favorite places for breakfast dining in Sedona. The Little Mermaid omelette is outstanding. Featuring shrimp, crab meat, jack cheese, and an hollandaise
Little Mermaid ©MMSikes
sauce topping, it's a meal worth a return trip to the city. Their roasted potato medley is delicious as well.

Recently, I watched "Drum Beat", a 1954 movie featuring Alan Ladd. With its setting in Sedona, I was captivated. I was also amazed at the beautiful red rocks rising up from a remote wilderness. Now, the Village of Oak Creek has expanded almost to the edge of Bell Rock. It was nostalgic to see the earlier movie setting. I'm glad so many old movies were set there. I'll be on the lookout for them because Sedona, Arizona, then and now, is a place to love.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Watching an Artist Explain His Painting Process

One of the things I like best about belonging to art and writing groups is the excellent programs they
Artist Christopher Wynn discusses paints ©Mary Montague Sikes
offer for members almost every month. The Virginia Romance Writers has an outstanding hands-on-event the second Saturday, and the Metropolitan Richmond Artists Association has a program on the second Saturday of each month as well. I belong to both groups, and, unfortunately,  the meetings are at the same time and usually on opposite sides of the city of Richmond. On a couple of occasions, I've talked my husband into attending the meeting of the artist group for me while I attended the writers event. However, in 2013 my personal pendulum has swung in the direction of art, so last Saturday I chose to attend the demonstration by watercolor artist Christopher Wynn at the MRAA meeting.

Drawing of a rusty truck on 300# Arches paper
Although I am not a big fan of watercolor paintings of old trucks and cars, I am a fan of the ones that Wynn creates. They are striking works of art that stand out in shows in a very poetic way. For his demo, Wynn brought in a photograph he took of a rusty old truck. This is a subject that fascinates him so much that he travels around looking for old vehicles to photograph and use for subjects of his future work. To save time on Saturday, Wynn had already sketched the truck on 300# Arches cold pressed paper and taped it on foam board. He also had masked a portion of the drawing.

As he worked, Wynn talked about the limited palette of colors he uses and his preference for Daniel Smith watercolors because of their more intense pigments. He also demonstrated how he creates black by mixing yellow ochre and cobalt blue, then adding "a touch" of alizarin crimson.
For Wynn, "the essence of watercolor is the fewest brushstrokes you can use."

For the audience of artists, it was a joy to watch Wynn work and explain his process.
Christopher Wynn working ©Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fill Your Lives with Winners and Doers

"Twin Angels in the Prism of Life" ©MMSikes
Creative people, perhaps more than others, need to accomplish something of importance along their journeys through life. I think of the artists and the writers in 19th Century Paris who met together and inspired one another in their creative lives.

We all need inspiration. Who provides it?

The winners, not the losers; the doers, not the talkers.

Being inspired and pushed on by others explains the popularity of NaNoWriMo. Although I don't think I've ever really participated, I believe it's a wonderful idea. Everyone who's involved is a winner and a doer. Great for the creative people of the world who might take away from the experience a published book or a new work of art.

Winners enrich your lives with inspiration and determination. Doers encourage you to reach ever higher. These are the people we want to know.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What About the New York Publishers?

For years I sought publication with some of the big publishers in New York. I submitted manuscripts to agents as well, and I got represented by several "well-respected" agents in the field. However, those agents turned out to be not what I expected. One went to jail for a couple of years; another was banished from the industry; yet another decided to start a children's book company and gave up being an agent. What a disappointment, and what a waste of time--a few years in fact.

After realizing the waiting period for manuscripts to be considered for acceptance or rejection was too long, I gave up on the New York Publishers. Looking back now, I wonder if I was wrong to give up after putting so much time into the process. Others who began at the same time I did have met with considerable success. Now I wonder.

What about you? What do you think about the importance now of being with a New York publisher? Can authors gain enough success with small publishers or by self-publishing?

Monday, November 4, 2013

From A to Z Blog Challenge to Art Exhibition

Last April when I began the A to Z Blog Challenge, I had no idea it would become an art project and an exhibition. Since I already had developed an interest in creating wild animal canvases to go with my novel, Jungle Jeopardy, I found myself painting mostly creatures from the wild for this project. Only one of the 26 Animal Alphabet paintings is not the original from the Challenge. That one is the "D" painting for "Dragonfly and Daffodils". It was the only pastel painting in the project, so I decided to use it as a reference for an acrylic painting on canvas that would better fit in with the other acrylics in the show.

Gallery owner Fred Miller did an outstanding job hanging the show which also features the two paintings I made for Jungle Jeopardy. The exhibition will be on view at Prince George Art and Frame in Williamsburg, Virginia through November 30.

"Dragonfly and Daffodils" pastel ©MMSikes
"Dragonfly and Daffodils" acrylic ©MMSikes

Viewing Animal Alphabet Show ©Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, November 1, 2013

Climbing to the Top of the Mountain

Glacier National Park Mountains ©Mary Montague Sikes

An artist whose newsletter I recently signed up to receive has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Today, Robert Genn commented, "I may not always have climbed to the top, but I'm so thankful to have been on the mountain."

I thought about us--the writers and artists who stand in the valley and look up to the top of the mountain. The climb is a struggle for most. We want so very much to reach the top, the pinnacle for which we strive. Few of us will get to that coveted high point, but those who do might discover the glory was in the journey.

Writers write because they have to. They have a gnawing need to put pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard. Inside them, the words fight to get out. Often it is a terrifying struggle to meet a deadline or to produce a product others might enjoy and wish to buy. We might or might not make a living with this continuous effort. Manuscripts pile high, rewritten again and again. Publication comes--an article, a book. The top of the mountain looms closer.

Artists paint because they must. They covet the feel of luscious thick and juicy paint beneath their brushes. They enjoy experimenting with images and materials. Sales do not come easily. They visit galleries and glory in the work of others. Their inventories build and burgeon. A big sale happens. The top is within reach, or is it?

Years later, they all look back. Writers have stories and articles hidden among their archives. Artists have paintings long forgotten. They smile. The journey was long and treacherous, but it was satisfying along the way. The mountain was tall, but being on the mountain was the important thing after all.

What about your journey up the mountain? Do you appreciate your voyage? Is the trip through creativity enough to feed happiness into your life?
"Flowers Along the Way" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Is the joy in the journey along the way?

I think it might be.