Daddy's Christmas Angel

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Recalling Freelance Journalism Before the Digital Camera

My first freelance journalist job was with the Richmond News Leader as a reporter and feature writer covering events and meetings in three Virginia counties. When John Gunn, the state editor at the time, interviewed me, he explained that while he didn't want me chasing fire trucks, he did expect me to carry a camera and report any breaking news. John taught me so much about journalism--training I cherish to this day.

The job was exciting. I got to keep up with everything in our town and in the surrounding three counties. I found that one of the hardest duties was covering county boards of supervisors meetings where cigarette smoke swirled from inside the rooms in heavy, thick clouds. Talk about second-hand smoke!

During nine years of reporting for that paper, I got to meet and photograph many of the most important people in the area. I dined with all kinds of groups from woodcutters to General Assembly members. It was an exciting time, especially for a young woman who never planned to be a part-time writer/reporter and who stumbled accidentally into the job.

So many memories came back earlier this week when someone asked me about using photos I took as a News Leader freelancer in a book a local group is putting together. When the News Leader ceased publication, I thought all my photographs and articles were lost. I am thrilled to discover they are not and am wondering if it will be possible for me to create a book using some of the published feature articles I wrote on my typewriter after extensive research.

In those days before the Internet, I dictated news stories over the telephone to meet a mid-morning deadline for the afternoon newspaper. Feature articles went by way of the postal service. I mailed rolls of film Special Delivery or, if urgent, sent them by someone who worked in the city near the newspaper offices.

It's amazing how much everything changed from the last years of the 20th century to now. Because of digital pictures, the change in photography is especially profound.

I look back on those freelance writing and photography days with nostalgia. The big newspapers are almost all gone now, replaced in many cases with what look like pamphlets. While I love my digital camera, I'm glad I have memories of opening the pages of those city papers and finding my byline and photographs with the credit, "Sikes photo".

Friday, January 20, 2012

Turn On Your Creative Self

Milwaukee Art Museum  MMSikes
How many creative people do you know? How many are super creative? I'm talking about folks who never seem to lack for ideas--those who are forever inventive.

This morning I watched Charlie Rose interview George Lucas. We first knew him as the Star Wars genius, and, of course, he's gone on from there to ever-escalating success. No doubt, Lucas has more projects in mind than he has years left to create them. It was enlightening to hear him talk.

Who does not marvel at the genius of the artist who created the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum? This masterpiece spreads its glorious wings at certain times each day, and crowds gather to photograph this magnificent spectacle. Santiago Calatrava is the artist behind the creation of this amazing structure.

Like these brilliant men, each of us has creative potential, but how do we turn it on? We have only to use our imaginations, and everyone of us can do that.

Here are my tips to turn on your creative self:

1. Close your eyes and focus on an object or a shape that intrigues you. Perhaps it's a star or a circle. Take a deep breath and see what else comes to mind. Focus once again on your star.

2. Now, open your eyes, and take a piece of paper. Let new ideas flow through your pen. Perhaps a poem will come to you or the beginning thoughts for an essay. Write them down.

3. If you are an artist, stand before a blank canvas and visualize the new image you want there. Imagine the colors and the flow of the brush. Make a thumbnail sketch.

4. Keep a book filled with the new ideas that come to you, the poems, the story ideas, the paintings, even visions of new inventions. Each week turn one of your ideas into realization. It can be another chapter in your book or a new addition to your portfolio.

You can become the next creative genius. Just allow the ideas to flow...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pan Am TV Show Is Great Period Drama

Sometimes television gets it right and produces great period drama that reminds us of times past we want to remember. Pan Am on ABC Sunday nights does just that. When I Googled the program name, I was disappointed to see that the show may be cancelled. That's despite the fact that the first episode garnered as many as 11 million viewers. Later shows attracted "only" 5 or 6 million viewers. That sounds like a lot of people watching to me. There is a petition you can sign requesting that ABC keep Pan Am on the air for next season.

Pan Am reminds me of those wonderful days when designers created the uniforms flight attendants wore. They called them stewardesses during the times the ABC show depicts. It must have been a fun job for those women who got to travel all over the world to exotic destinations, especially with an air line like Pan Am. I always enjoyed seeing Pan Am planes with their distinctive logos in the air or parked on the airport tarmacs prior to the demise of the airline. We flew Pan Am more than once on trips to St. Martin back in the 90s.

The television production depicts a era when traveling was fun. People dressed up and enjoyed getting pampered with good meals aboard the flight. First class often meant dinner service with filet mignon and other goumet foods and a variety of wines. Like on Pan Am, they were met with the offer of a glass of champagne.

If an airline, like American, would bring back TWA as part of its fleet, I suspect some of the public would relish the opportunity to fly pampered once more. Pan Am has helped us remember and long for a time past.

Consider signing the petition to keep the show on. It is drama at its best.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Exciting News!

I just learned from my publisher that A Rainbow for Christmas is now available as a Kindle book from Amazon. That's exciting news for me because I made five resolutions for 2012, and the first one is about marketing e-books. Here's my list:

1. Study the market for e-books. Look at results for Kindle, Nook Books, and more.
    I now have seven books available on Kindle, so the e-book market is growing ever more important for me in my marketing plans.

2. Make a plan and follow it. Spend 30 minutes a day, twice a week, checking out leads for marketing.  
    I wonder how many of you are doing that. An hour a week is not a lot of time. I suspect most of you are spending more time than that.

3. Keep a book with records of marketing leads. Record what works.
    Having a little book I can pick up, hold in my hands and check out what I've done or plan to do, contact names and numbers, and much more is extremely important. Each book needs its own section separated with colored Post-its. It doesn't hurt if the record book is red or another bright color that stands out. I haven't started that book yet, but I plan to begin later this week.

4. Blog about marketing and promotion one day a week.
    This is a worthy goal because what you learn can help others. Networking is essential in a good marketing plan.

5. Work on a new book with the e-book market in mind.
    So many of the folks I follow are self-publishing new e-books. I'm watching and learning from them. Since e-books can be any length, they don't take forever to write. For those, like me, who are technically challenged, this may not be as easy as it sounds.

Do you have New Year's resolutions that involve marketing? If you do, please post links to your plans. It's exciting to consider all the possibilities!

Art Show

I'll be one of the Virginia artists in a group show hosted by John Paxton of Claris Financial for their Third Anniversary Open House Party, Thursday, January 12, 2012 from 4-7 p.m. If you're in the area, please come by for hors d' oeuvres, music, and socializing at 4551 Cox Road, Suite 220 Glen Allen, VA.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How Brave Were Those Who Crossed by Wagon Train?

"Stormy Midwest" MM Sikes
As I researched wagon trains for my novel, A Rainbow for Christmas, I started to wonder how these brave people managed to cross the plains and rugged mountains to reach destinations in the far west. Getting over the mountains to California must have been an unbelievable journey. Looking down from the window of an airplane always convinces me how brave these people must have been. Or perhaps, they had no idea what they actually were facing as they crossed the amazingly beautiful yet sometimes terribly rough terrain.

As in my story, many of the wagons were filled with supplies in Independence, Missouri. I learned it cost about $1,000 (a lot of money then) for a man to cross with his family from the Mid-West to Oregon or California. The journey took about six months, traveling at two miles an hour with wagons that were most often pulled by oxen.

The canvas tops of the wagons had to be waterproofed with linseed oil. The wagons also were reinforced with iron at strategic points. However, they couldn't use too much iron or the wagons would be way too heavy for the oxen to pull. Those traveling sometimes brought along furniture and other items from their previous homes, but these were often discarded along the way. The travelers had to carry many pounds of flour, lard, beans, bacon, salt, and more and thus had little room for extras. They also needed cooking utensils and a shovel.

Although mules and horses were also used by the pioneers, I chose oxen for Meg to use to drive her wagon. These animals were the most popular because Native Americans were less likely to try to steal them. They were also less likely to stray away from the night encampment.

The new settlers continued on despite storms, attacks by Native Americans, sometimes savagery and trickery by their own people. They crossed raging rivers and much more. I admire their bravery and endurance. Those are the kinds of people who make America strong.

Thanks again to Diana Cosby for being a guest on my blog. Congratulations to Ashley, the winner of a copy of His Destiny.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Diana Cosby, My First Ever Guest Blogger

"A New Year’s Guide To Achieving Your Goals!"
By Diana Cosby ©2012

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too can become great.” - Mark Twain

Dreams are visions of what we can become.  But, dreams are also an invitation to doubt, to wonder if you’re good enough, or if you have what it takes.   When I retired from the Navy, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a published author.  After 100 rejections, I quit counting as I figured I knew how to achieve a rejection.  Then, after 9 ½ years, I finally sold.  The journey taught me many things, which I’d like to share with you.

-Take yourself seriously:  If YOU don’t, no one else will. 

-Associate with people who inspire you, and encourage you to achieve your dreams.  Encourage and inspire others as you grow in your own writing.

-Set a clear goal:  Once you know exactly what you want, break down steps to achieve it.  If you’re unsure how to start, read biographies of people who have achieved a dream similar to yours.   What steps did they take?  Are there comparable avenues you can pursue?

-Success is a compilation of small steps toward one focused goal.   

-Affiliate yourself with professional organizations:  Join accredited groups to educate yourself about the industry you’ve chosen.  In addition to net-working, you will have opportunities to learn from on-line or local sources.

-Self affirmation:  Each morning reaffirm that you are good enough and clarify your goal of the day.  Then, move forward with positive, focused steps.

-Inspirational quotes:  I’m a huge fan of inspirational quotes, they ground and remind me that each of us struggle as we pursue our dreams.  Each day, I find a quote that touches me and post it on my Facebook page in hopes others find inspiration in the message as well.

-Permission to fail:  Success is not a moment, but a journey.  As we grow within our craft, there will be times when we fail at certain steps.  Focus not on the failure, but on the lessons learned.  What worked, what didn’t?  Move forward and make wiser decisions with the knowledge learned. 

-The way we act, and talk about our goals reflects our commitment to them:  What are you telling yourself?  “I WILL do this!”  Or, are you assuring yourself that one day you’ll really try?

-Give the gift of example:  When you make the choice to follow your dream, you are doing more than commitment to self, but teaching your children an important life lesson dare to dream, and follow through.  So, be bold.  Believe in yourself. 

            I hope you’ve found inspiration from my comments.  Remember, there is no right path, but the steps right for you.  Believe in yourself, YOU have what it takes!

*How do you encourage others to go after their dreams?
**One person will be drawn from all posts today.  The winner receives a signed copy of His Destiny!

Bio for Diana Cosby

After retiring at 36 from my job as a Navy Chief Meteorologist/Oceanographer, I dove into my passion – writing romance novels. With 33 moves behind me, I was anxious to create characters who reflected the amazing cultures and people I’ve met throughout the world. Nine and a half years later, I received “The Call” from Kensington and sold the first two books in the MacGruder brother’s series.
I have many passions, but one that resonates most in my life is that of giving. I firmly believe that each of us can make a positive difference in another person’s life.  With each book I sell, I tithe 10% of my royalties to a charity of my choice.  I’m currently working on the next book in the award-winning MacGruder brother’s series, and look forward to the years of writing ahead and meeting the amazing people who will share this journey.

Diana Cosby, International Best-Selling Author
His Captive-Alexander MacGruder/ His Woman-Duncan MacGruder
His Conquest-Seathan MacGruder / His Destiny-Patrik
(Updates on the MacGruder brothers series coming soon!)
Highland vampire anthology:  Title/Release date TBA

Thank you, Diana, for being my guest today! I first met Diana several years ago at a meeting of the Virginia Romance Writers. I was impressed with her poise and charming personality. Since then, I've been amazed at the interest she shows in all the writers in our VRW group. Although she moved to Texas soon after we met, she has continued her connection with Virginia Writers. I very much admire her interest in a variety of charities and her dedication to giving a portion of her royalties to those of her choice.

Please comment on this post. I will leave it up though Saturday, and a winner will then be chosen to receive a copy of His Destiny.

Diana is my first ever guest author. I hope to make this a new feature on Notes Along the Way for 2012 with a guest once or twice a month.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

An Author's Dream--Having a Reader Love All Your Books

Customer awaits signing at bookstore event

At one of my last book signings for 2011, I had a wonderful reader come up and buy a copy of each of my novels and more than one copy of a couple of them. What a delight! Isn't that every author's dream--to have readers love your books? It makes me wonder what will happen if everyone gets an e-reader. Will some people still want a "real" book to hold in their hands?

I hope so.

My wish for 2012 is more readers who love my books. It makes life as a writer feel worthwhile!

On Friday, January 6, Diana Cosby, International best-selling author, will be my first ever blog guest. She will give away a copy of her latest novel, His Destiny, to one of the folks who comment on her post. Please stop by for a visit.