Daddy's Christmas Angel

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Traveling Along the Mississippi

Mississippi River bridge at La Crosse, Wisconsin - MMSikes

The mighty Mississippi. I can understand why Mark Twain was beguiled by this river.

American Lotus and duck weed - MMSikes
We recently visited a few towns in Wisconsin and Minnesota that stand along its banks and have long histories with the river. While in La Crosse, we took a riverboat tour on the "Mississippi Explorer." This is the only one of the riverboats located there that leaves the main channel to navigate some of the inlets. The nation's first interstate highway, the Mississippi is a working river as well as a wild river, the naturalist guide on board told us.

The American lotus was in full bloom all along the river. The boat captain guided the vessel in so we could get close up views of this showy water plant that is the largest wildflower in the United States, blooming in July and August.

Barges under the bridge - MMSikes

The river is forever changing. Great lines of barges passed by as we dined along the river bank. How very important this river is and always has been. Paddle wheel boats, steamers, timber floats... So much history lies along the mighty Mississippi--the nation's first interstate highway.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Creating the Right Logline for Your Work

What is a logline?

A logline can be defined as a brief summary of your story that provides a synopsis of the plot and offers a hook for interest. It can be a tool to attract readers to your book. If you are in the market for an agent or publisher, the logline can be an essential selling device.

Writing a logline sounds easy, but it's not. At least, it's not easy for me!

Recently, one of the lists I follow has worked on creating the perfect logline for some authors' books. That project started me thinking about what words would work best in loglines for mine.

Here is a logline I developed for Eagle Rising, the book I discussed on my blog earlier this week: "Recovering from the tragic death of her fiance, a young woman travels to Sedona, Arizona where New Age adventures, dangerous plots, and a frightening new love evolve among the mystic Red Rocks."
The logline should be 25 words or under. Mine is 32 words, so obviously it needs some work.

 What about a logline for another book, Night Watch? "Death on the high seas--how is the murder of a NPR reporter on the English Channel connected to a young woman kidnapped by gunrunners in Trinidad?" This is 27 words--better, but still not 25 or under.
Here's one for Secrets by the Sea: "Diaries, ghosts, and a house by the sea confound a young woman seeking to uncover her grandfather's murderer. Is her unconventional neighbor the dark killer or her true love?" This one is 29 words, so it, too, needs some work to make it shorter.

Working on these loglines might be more fun than I thought. Do you have loglines for each of your books? Do you find them difficult to write? Do you consider them an essential selling tool?

Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, August 20, 2012

Touching an Eagle in Sedona Inspires a Novel, Eagle Rising

Author touches a bronze eagle created by sculptor Lloyd Pinay

 From the moment I first saw those dramatic red rocks rising from the arid land that surrounds Sedona, Arizona, I was hooked. No wonder so many artists and writers have come for a visit and never wanted to leave. I first traveled to Sedona in the mid-1990s and since have returned again and again.

Onyx obelisk centers medicine wheel --MM Sikes
 Not only the terrain intrigues me but so does the spirituality that embraces the town and its inhabitants. Many of the shops are dedicated to New Age materials. One store, located across from the entrance to the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village in Sedona, features a garden in the back complete with medicine wheel and onyx obelisk. The little garden overlooks picturesque Oak Creek.

An artist workshop and New Age seminars gave even more inspiration for my book, Eagle Rising. What if my heroine, Rachael Barker, witnesses the tragic death of her fiance in an airshow crash and comes to Sedona hoping to find recovery? My own jeep ride through the desert inspired some of the scenes in the book. The medicine wheels I found on journeys to the vortexes are part of the story. And then there is the eagle...

Here are reviews of Eagle Rising:

 Journalist Rachael Barker is sent to Sedona, Arizona by her editor in North Carolina to interview enigmatic novelist Arch Adamson and cover a lecture series he is conducting there in the red rock country. With little enthusiasm for the assignment and facing difficulties with Adamson, she does find stories to write and subjects to photograph while there. Former businessman Derek Ryder is in the area in search of a gold mine left him by his deceased grandfather and looking for a new life after a failed family relationship. As their paths cross after a chance meeting, emotions and responses of these seemingly regular people to extraordinary circumstances fascinate and hold the reader. Dreams, danger and adventure combine to keep the pages turning. Even though neither had been looking for a relationship, Barker or Derek become characters in this love story for the 21st century. This is a book not to miss by Mary Montague Sikes. -- --Jane Gerring, Richmond, Va. Author

"What delightful fun to pick up local writer and artist Mary "Monti" Montague Sikes's book, "Eagle Rising" and partake in  what I call a "good read." This prolific Tidewater, Virginia writer not only has written five books and many interesting articles that have appeared in local periodicals and magazines on the interesting lives of regional people, but she is also a very fine painter. The "eagle rising" thus becomes not only just the new title for her satisfying romantic mystery set in the American southwest, but symbolizes the creative spirit that rushes forth so naturally and in so many forms from this highly diversified artist."
Mary Wakefield Buxton

  Eagle Rising - Bargain Purchase from Oak Tree Books - Please scroll down. Books are listed alphabetically by title.
Available in print and e-book versions.

Has someplace especially inspired a piece of your writing? Do you have notes stashed away intending to use them for a book?

I love Sedona and am happy for the inspiration I gain with each new visit.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The "Old Days" Are Not That Long Ago

Today on one of the morning shows, a young male guest mentioned promotion of his work to his following on social media. I was late tuning in and don't know if he was a singer, writer, or whatever. It doesn't really matter because he sent me into shock when he said he didn't know what people did to promote in the "old days". They probably had a couple of posters to friends to hang up in some distant city.

Wow! The "old days" aren't that long ago, are they? Actually, I sort of still like to see a pretty poster hanging to promote an event. I hope that doesn't mean I'm too attached to the "old days" and am becoming an old fogy (fogey).

He is, of course, quite right about the immediacy of promotion on the many arms of social media including Facebook and Twitter. It is an especially wonderful tool for creative folks. The world has become a very small place. We can reach out to people and places all over the world in just a minute or two. It provides a great opportunity for promotion of all sorts, but it is a dangerous place as well. What you say cannot be taken back, so more care with our words is needed than ever before.

I love the Internet and getting to know people I would never have known existed in the "old days". The "old days" were a simpler period when we spent more time talking with the people in our own little towns.

For many years, in the "old days", I wrote on a typewriter. A young man on another recent TV show said when he first saw an old typewriter he thought it was a new invention. I was taken aback because until then I hadn't really thought about how many things we grew up with that children today have never seen.

What do you think about the "old days"? Would you want them back? Sometimes? Never?

"Hibiscus" MM Sikes
 At least the flowers I grew up loving are still around. The hibiscus bush pictured here is the prettiest one we've ever had. And, strangely, this one bush has two different colored flowers blooming on it. While most are peach, a few of the blossoms are bright red.

Maybe that's a sign of something good!

--Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thinking About What Is Going to Sell Before You Write the Book

When New York Times Bestselling Author Charles  J. Shields spoke to the Virginia Writers Club symposium recently, I was especially interested in his comments about thinking about what will sell before proceeding in writing a book. Too often, we as writers are drawn to work on the "book of our hearts". Then, we are disappointed when the finished product does not sell well.

Shields is a well-known biographer who chose author Harper Lee as the subject of his "highly acclaimed, bestselling biography" Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. He also wrote And So It Goes:Kurt Vonnegut: A Life. During his talk Shields explained how he did research for both biographies and pointed out that research is much easier now with the availability of the Internet. There are online journal sources and librarians who help out by looking in folders and making copies for authors who pay for that convenience.

A retired educator, Shields noted that writers should not overlook the school publishing market for their work. He won several awards for his young adult version of the Lee book - I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee.

These are some of the thoughts and tips Shields gave:

*Don't look for approval from other people.

*If you are a serious writer, you have to treat it as a job.

*Read your work aloud; it should just flow.

*Good writing should read like good conversation (from Virginia Woolf).

*Interviewing is a reciprocal process.

*Follow you bliss; take a chance.

The last thought seems in opposition of the idea of considering what will sell before writing a book, but perhaps it is not. After all, we as writers can first study what will sell, then follow our bliss with the right idea for today's writing market.

So much to learn in this amazing and ever more exciting world of writing...

Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, August 10, 2012

Marketing on the Internet

Getting ready for my talk at VWC Symposium August 4, 2012

When I was preparing my talk on e-book internet marketing for the Virginia Writers Club Symposium, I gathered a few tips to mention at the end. Regrettably, I ran out of time and didn't get to tell this group of writers my extra thoughts. 

Here are the tips and thoughts I didn't get to share:

1.  Hardsell doesn’t work well on the Internet. You want interaction, not marketing.   
2.  Be a genuine person on line. Make friends and enjoy knowing them and helping them when you can.
3.  Your web site should be the foundation of your promotional and marketing plans. That’s where you post:
   1.  Excerpts from your writing.
   2.  Book links with cover photos and description of your books separated by genres.
   3.  Buy links from your publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any other link that’s appropriate.
   4.  Your bio.
   5.  Contact information—how you can be reached on line.

4.  Your blog is the site you should visit and update daily, if possible. Your web site is updated periodically and is more static.

More Tips:
*Make banners for your books and find suitable places to post them.
*For book signings, write short blurbs in large fonts about your books and have covers on view if the books aren't available. That will enable readers to know more about your books and hopefully interest them in purchasing one.
*Always sign your bookmarks and your postcards (which I prefer over bookmarks). Most people won’t throw away signed stuff.
*It's important now for the author to have a goal of increasing the number who read their blogs. They may become your followers who want to buy your books.
*Write short stories or articles set in your book’s universe and give those away.
*Join blog hops. That's a good way to gain more followers.
*Get reviews for your book. Reviews can enhance the success of your book. 
*Plan blog book tours and guest blog when possible. Also invite authors to be guests on your blog. Try to leave comments whenever you can on the blogs of others. 
*Make and use book trailers. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone to do it for you. Once you have one, post the link on your webpage and tell everyone via all the online possibilities, including your newsletter and all your social networks. 

So much of marketing is commonsense for both print and e-books. We need to organize our efforts and follow our plan. The possibilities for success are endless. 

Mary Montague Sikes

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Playing Tennis, Writing Books, Creating Paintings

At the Tennis Center
For years, I spent my summers on local tennis courts. Day after day in the brutal mid-day sun, I battled opponents in mostly singles matches. That was my passion.

Yesterday, my daughter, Alicia, and I played in the 19th Annual Charity Tennis event at the College of William and Mary Tennis Center in Williamsburg, VA. Although we didn't win, we fought hard and ended with a two-hour-long match that rekindled my passion for competitive play.

Money raised from the tournament goes to the very important charities, Avalon and Casa. As a freelance writer for the Newport News Daily Press, I have written many stories about these worthy groups in past years. I congratulate the people who worked so hard to make this year's event a great success.

The tournament brought back many memories of past tennis events--local tournaments, Mother-Daughter USTA matches in Florida, etc. However, it also made me think about writing books and creating paintings as other passions. Which of these is most important? I don't know.

Is life a balancing act split between many passions? I know that my years on the tennis courts and aerobics floors have been good for my health. Writers spend far too many hours in front of a computer screen. Thankfully, painting can be more physical because I don't like to paint sitting down.

What are your passions? How do you balance them in your life?

Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, August 6, 2012

Turning Your Book Into a Movie

"From Page to Screen: Turning Your Book Into a Movie." That was the title of one of the workshops I attended during the "Navigating Your Writing Life Symposium" presented by the Virginia Writers Club. I was intrigued. What author doesn't want to see his or her book up on the silver screen?

The workshop was given by John Gilstrap, a New York Times bestselling author who sold movie rights to his first two novels, Nathan's Run and At All Costs. He talked about important points for selling rights to a movie studio. Even after you've sold the rights, there's still no guarantee a movie will be made, he explained. Here are some points he gave in the process from book to movie:

1. Write a cinematic book with compelling imagery and lots of things happening.

2. Attract a movie producer. It helps to have Hollywood contacts.

3. Sell or option the film rights. Nothing happens until the money exchanges hands. Hollywood is all about the money, he pointed out. He said that nine times out of ten, the author is out of it at this point.

4. Develop the project. This involves a treatment which presents the structure of the movie in a compelling way. The screenplay comes next, and someone--it could be the book author--is hired to write it. Then the acting talent is brought in.

5. Involve a studio.

Gilstrap explained the difference between selling an option and an actual purchase of all rights. The purchase means more money for the author. However, if that producer never makes the movie, a movie will never be made of the book. That's because the purchase deal usually involves buying all film rights to all the characters in the book.

One point Gilstrap emphasized was, "Never cut a deal in Hollywood without an agent."

Getting a movie deal for your book is an exciting dream. For my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, I visualized a romantic movie scene of women clad in glorious pastel-colored ball gowns dancing on a misty portico in old Jamaica during colonial times. So much action. Such fantastic tropical scenery. From page to scene, I can still visualize it as a movie...

Mary Montague Sikes

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Your Voice As An Author

"Angels I See Everywhere" encaustic MMSikes
When I first began writing book-length fiction, I kept hearing over and over again, "You need to develop your own voice." What that meant I did not know at the time.

Reading an article published in Professional Artist magazine, the October 2011 issue, I was captivated by the words of Matthew Daub who discusses the artist's struggle for originality in his or her work. In this article, he says that many of the watercolors he sees today resemble, both in technique and in subject matter, examples he has seen in popular "how-to" books.

I was especially drawn to this statement by Daub, "Although no one can lay claim to complete originality, once an artist has become recognized and known for a certain thing, he or she owns it--it's off limits to those who follow after."

Daub also points out that the artists who stand out are the ones who create something never seen before. His words started me thinking about several books I've tried to read lately. Perhaps the reason I found them difficult to hold my attention was because of the same thing Daub found in the art he was discussing. There was nothing new or different in the storyline nor in the way the writer told the story.

The books I enjoy most are ones unique in subject matter and the way it is presented. I appreciate the writer's voice that is different and stands out from the crowd. The writers I love to read have developed their own voices, and, for me, their books are page turners.

As authors, I believe we should all aspire to rise to a higher level by telling distinctive stories, developed from vivid imaginations, and all the while using our own unique voices. That is writing creativity in the truest sense.

Have you developed your own voice as an author? Or do you attempt to imitate the voice of another author?

Mary Montague Sikes