Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, January 26, 2018

What Would I Do If I Couldn't Be a Writer?

In My Studio ©Mary Montague Sikes
This year, I am participating in a Blog Challenge for Marketing by Romance Writers, and this week's topic is what I would do if I couldn't write. That one is easy for me because I have always been both a writer and an artist. Without writing, which I can't imagine, I would devote full-time to painting.

The images inside my head would dance out triumphantly onto canvasses everywhere. My studio is full of blank and unfinished canvasses. That would be the case no more. I would experiment to my heart's content and sometimes race out into the world to paint en plein air.

Some days, I would pull out my hammer and chisel and sculpt away. After all, sculpture was one of my first loves in art. Channeling Henry Moore, I built up large sculptures with Keene's cement, soon finding they were too heavy to move without help. I thrived in the College of William and Mary studio setting under the instruction of my teacher and mentor, Carl Roseburg.

"Mother and Child" ©Mary Montague Sikes
My sculptures ©Mary Montague Sikes

Because of the difficulty of transporting my work and the length of time it took to create each piece, I gave up sculpture in favor of painting. I still love the three-dimensional, so many of my paintings are mixed-media with surface texture added.

Studio Paintings Unfinished ©Mary Montague Sikes
Like written stories, the images always dance through my mind. I long to fill the blank canvasses and the empty cradled boards with more of my fantasies and journeys of the imagination.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How Much of Me Is In My Writing?

How much of me is in my writing? That's a good question for Week 3 of, a blog challenge by Marketing for Romance Writers.

Since I am a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, I must first consider this from two angles. A good non-fiction writer will try not to put her own considerations and biases into a news story or feature article. Obviously, she must want the news to be the truth. A travel article, often written in the first person, will be different, and an author can give her opinion, which is expected.

However, as an author, I am most concerned now with fiction-writing. As I work on a novel, I know a great deal comes from my own personal experiences, embellished by my imagination when I think, "what if?" In my novel, Night Watch, much of what happens in the story actually happened to me when we arrived late at night in the airport in Trinidad. Our journey became an adventure when I thought we might actually be in danger as we were transported by strangers to an offshore island. Much of the story I tell through the eyes of my heroine occurred as we traveled in remote areas of the island nation where in many places I did not even speak their language.

When I write fiction, I use settings where I have been. Some are fictitious locations such as Jefferson City or Jefferson Point in Virginia where I set my novels, Daddy's Christmas Angel and Evening of the Dragonfly. Others, like Hearts Across Forever, are set in places we have visited, often many times.

"Rose Hall Great House" pastel painting ©Mary Montague Sikes
Jamaica, the setting for Hearts Across Forever, is an island we have visited more than a dozen times. It is a place where I have painted many beautiful scenes. Rose Hall Great House is part of the setting for my reincarnation story. My visits to Rose Hall where I learned about the "White Witch of Rose Hall" inspired this story.

I suppose the novel, Jungle Beat, an Indiana Jones-type adventure, has less of me in it than some of my other books. Even so, my visits to Mayan ruins in Central America, had great influence on the story.

How much of me is in my writing? I guess I have to say, " a lot".

What about you? Do you feel sometimes you are writing about yourself?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

My Earliest Memory - MFRW 52 Week Blog Challenge

I decided to enter this Blog Challenge because it is writing-related and will require me to create a new blog every week, each with a pre-determined subject. Recently, I've found I need this extra push to get more blogs written.

Kenmore Inn (located near Kenmore) ©Mary Montague Sikes
This week's subject is my earliest memory. It's a little hard to know for certain what my earliest memory is. After all, sometimes photographs in an old album will stir and revive memories (or what we believe are memories). Is it possible that sometimes the "memories" that come to us are merely our imaginations building a story? After all, writers are impossibly creative, aren't they?

Among my first memories are those from the grounds of Kenmore, the historic home of Fielding Lewis, brother-in-law to George Washington, that is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. My mother was friends with the founders of the Kenmore Association and she loved being a volunteer at the old restored mansion. I was about four years old and Mother always took me with her. It was nice to visit the kitchen that was separate from the house. Wearing a stylish black hat and dark suit, Mother used the silver service to pour tea for visitors to go with the traditional gingerbread made there from a colonial recipe. Perhaps I was jealous of the attention she gave others, but to this day I dislike gingerbread.

Somewhere, I have a photograph of Mother serving tea, but I can't find it now. I, also, have photos taken by a professional photographer of Mother and me in colonial costumes, standing on the steps of Kenmore. He took of picture of me alone on the Kenmore grounds and made a large print of it for display in his downtown business window. I don't know what eventually happened to it. I suppose all those pictures helped the Kenmore memory live on for me.

Several months ago, we visited Fredericksburg for a college class reunion. I didn't get to Kenmore, but I did take photos of the nearby Kenmore Inn, a bed and breakfast and restaurant, that also holds many memories for me.

What about you? When were your first memories?

Friday, January 5, 2018

My Favorite Writing - Jungle Jeopardy

Marketing for Romance Writers has a 52-week blog writing challenge, and I've decided to join. The first week is "What is your favorite piece of writing and why?"

Jungle Jeopardy, my Indiana Jones kind of novel, has to be the most exciting, fun piece of writing I've ever done. It starts on the island of Antigua where my heroine lives, then heads to Costa Rica and goes up to Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Our first trip to Antigua a few years ago was the real inspiration for this book. It all began with a visit to the director of the history museum on the island. He shared so much with me that I was immediately hooked on writing a book that would include some of the things I learned.  

Secrets by the Sea was my first book with Antigua as the setting, but it didn't tell the whole story so I wrote Jungle Jeopardy. Billy, the jaguar, became a character in that book. If you love animals, casting an animal in an important role in the story will intrigue you.

Costa Rica is the only one of the four Central American countries we have visited, but I had developed strong interest in the Mayan Ruins of Mexico. I pulled that knowledge into my new story that I set in the jungle. The fictitious ruins in my book rely a lot on what I learned while visiting the Mayan sites at Palenque, Chichen Itza, and Cozumel. I had already created a series of large Mayan Ruins paintings, so writing a story that included ruins was a perfect follow-up.

In my imagination, I see Jungle Jeopardy as a magical movie. It is a true adventure story and romance with an actor who is a young version of Harrison Ford. Who might that be?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year and Thinking Big Art

Happy New Year, All! On New Year's Eve, I was fascinated reading the television crawlers featuring tweets from viewers. Many of them commented on watching the new year come in with the "love of my life".

I thought, "Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that the reason authors write a romance novel? How nice to be with the "love of my life" on the first day of the new year.

Happy wishes, happy days for the year 2018. Hoping you have good memories from 2017 and that the new year will meet your expectations and fulfill your hopes and dreams.


"Amy Sleeping" oil on canvas ©Mary Montague Sikes
   Recently, I received a notice for an art show, "Think Big" that will be a featured event at Art Speaks on the Bay in Mathews in the spring. Thinking big excites me. While I was earning my MFA in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University, everything I painted (except for my pastel working drawings) was big. I loved the feel of the oversized stretched canvasses beneath my paint brush. I enjoyed seeing the way the pieces filled the walls of my large university studio while I painted them. It was wonderful to have a master's thesis show of large work that gleamed on the walls of Anderson Gallery at VCU.

In most exhibitions now, the work is limited in size--usually no larger that 40 inches on the longest size. Those pieces are nice, especially the watercolors, but they lack the excitement of the big pieces that thunder from the walls. Although I enjoy experimenting with texture and color on the smaller canvasses and the wooden supports, I still long to work on the larger pieces again. However, storage becomes an issue as well as the transportation of the work to galleries and shows. Also, most galleries simply don't have the space for sizeable art work.

My VCU thesis show featured work painted with both oil and acrylics. I have many of those pieces stored in my home now. One oil painting, "Rocky Mountain High", 60" x 96", is too big to carry with me in a van as a stretched canvas. Another painting that is six-feet square has never been shown in a public gallery.

When I was working with figures, I did many paintings of our children on large canvasses. I'm glad I did because they provide special family memories for me.

I love big art. Thank you, Bay School, for an opportunity to "Think Big" once more.