Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Monti's Muse - Exotic Destinations

Exotic Destinations – Sedona

Mary Montague Sikes

Exotic destinations inspire the creative spirit. As a child I dreamed of travel to far away places, and I read everything I could find with picturesque settings. As an adult I crave the discovery of magic destinations to use as points of departure for my novels and for my paintings.

In the early 1990s we made our first trip to Sedona in the glorious Red Rock country of Arizona. It was amazing to drive through the awesome scenery I had viewed only in movies as a child. With my 35 mm Minolta dangling from my neck, I trudged over dusty trails looking for medicine wheels along the way. Those I found were viewed with reverence. I watched, entranced, as a few fellow wanderers chanted softly into the quiet calm of vortex sites.

The rock formations such as Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Rock and other fascinating views rose high against a clear blue sky, and my husband and I took amazing photographs for me to use later in creating paintings. Just being in the midst of the vortexes and on the sacred land was a spiritual experience. Although we did not see the flying saucers others have claimed to see over Bell Rock, the sight of that magic formation did inspire a fantasy print I created of saucer images above a rocky landscape.

The jeep ride we took through the Red Rock country wilderness revealed Devil's Bridge near Chimney Rock and Coffee Pot Rock. Later, I used a photograph of our guide straddling the chasm in my coffee table book, Hotels to Remember. So much of that book was inspired by journeys such as our trip to Sedona.

I could not resist using much of what we discovered on our first trip and many later visits to Sedona in my novel, Eagle Rising. Like I did, my heroine wanders into the wilderness where she finds medicine wheels and a crystal that leads her through the adventures of this book. The gorgeous library in Sedona intrigued me, so my book begins there. The cover is part of one of the acrylic paintings that resulted from some of the photographs taken.

Prior to publication of Eagle Rising late last year, we took another trip to Sedona where I found a gorgeous bronze eagle so like the eagle in my book. With the convenience of my digital camera, we took dozens of new Sedona photographs, one of which is on the back cover of Eagle Rising.

Exotic destinations offer inspiration. Eagle Rising and Hotels to Remember resulted from our Sedona trips. So did countless pastel drawings, acrylic paintings on canvas, and the print, "Night Visitors."

To learn more, please visit my Web site,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Newbie

Thanks so much for the invite to post on the Oak Tree Press Blog. This is my first time blogging, my fist book, Lake Meade, is about to be published by Oak Tree Press and I'm just learning the ropes on how to market a many new happenings!

Lake Meade won Oak Trees Timeless Love romance contest and should be making its debut in the near future. Lake Meade is set in a rural town on the eastern shore of Maryland and opens with the two main characters rediscovering each other after fifteen years apart. Now in their early thirties, Maggie is a single mother who has turned her family's once struggling farm into a profitable B&B and Jack is a dissolusioned architect who has been living in New York City and returns to the lake with the intention of selling his parent's vacation home there. Jack is surprised to find that the charming lake house still has a hold over him, and that Maggie does as well.

But Jack isn't back in Lake Meade long before the bones of long dead boy emerge from the drought ravaged lake and the clues to his death lead right to Maggie's door. Maggie must discover who the real killer is before she, or one of her family, is arrested for the murder - or her own son becomes the next victim.

The setting for Lake Meade was inspired by my own childhood visits to my aunt and uncle's farm in Chestertown, Maryland, and the plot weaves around my observations of how gossip and inuendo in a small town can affect a person's life...and of course how love can redeam all.

Thanks for the opportunity to write my fist blog, looking forward to whatever new firsts are around the corner. Heather Mosko

Exciting Experience

I'm honored to be part of Billie Johnson's Oak Tree Press blog!

Last week I was in Boone, NC to participate in a collage workshop at Cheap Joe's amazing workshop center, adjacent to his art supply showroom. Cathy Taylor was the very funny fabulous instructor. From the moment we met, I felt connected with her on many levels.

The first morning of class, I was surprised to have a manager at Cheap Joe's pull out and pass around an article from a local newspaper, The Watauga Mountain Times, about my upcoming booksigning at the Boone Waldenbooks. (I hadn't seen it until then.) They were pleased to have a published author in their midst, and the folks in the showroom even set up a table to show off my books published by Oak Tree. During the week I sold and signed many books for classmates and store customers.

It was awesome to spend five full days doing nothing but art! Joe Miller does so much for the art community nationwide, including sponsoring artist workshops with well-known instructors every week from April through October. We are fortunate to have someone like him to share his love for art and artist materials with all of us.

I'm back home now with some new ideas about how I might incorporate collage into my book promotion. Cathy Taylor was wonderful, and I met a lot of new artist friends. I hope our paths will cross again soon.

I'm Honored

I was excited and honored to receive the invitation to post on the Oak Tree Press Blog. Oak Tree plans to publish my new mystery novel, Vegas Vixen, in September or October. I'm looking forward to working with Billie and being a part of the Oak Tree family.

Denny Griffin

Monday, July 21, 2008

Accepting the Invitation

I'm thrilled to accept the invitation to post on the Oak Tree Press blog. I'm not an OTP author, but I am a good friend of the publisher. We've shared some wonderful conversations together.

Today I once again went through my soon-to-be published book, Kindred Spirits, and even though I paid someone to edit it, going through it one last time I found a few more errors. On Saturday, I gave a presentation to a writers group at a bookstore on self-editing. After talking about all the errors I've seen writers make (including myself), even though my book is already with the publisher I decided I'd better check it one last time. Good thing I did because I found repeated words, missing words, and unidentified pronouns. Not a lot--but enough to make me glad I went through it one last time.

This particular book is important to me because though it's a mystery there's a lot about the Tolowa people in it. This is a tribe situated in the the very north-western corner of California--a tribe that was very nearly wiped out. It's also a tribe that is not recognized because according to President Eisenhower, there weren't enough of them.

My book launching will be in Crescent City where I met my first Tolowa woman, Junie Mattice. She has such a dynamic spirit, she is represented by two female characters in my book. While listening to her talk about her people and the injustices that they suffer, I knew I had to write a book about them.

While we were visiting, I felt she was a kindred spirit. When I met Billie Johnson, I knew right away she was another.

Though Kindred Spirits
is a Deputy Tempe Crabtree murder mystery, I hope that it will cause people to wonder about the Tolowa.


Let's Meet Joe Nowlan!

Joe gives us a rundown on how Media Blitz came to be...and a few insights into his writing processes...

In my mystery novel, “Media Blitz,” someone has reached the point where a real angry letter to the editor doesn’t work anymore—and instead is going around killing media figures in Boston. Reaction from Bostonians ranges from shock and horror to a little bit of “why hasn’t someone done this before?” from the media’s harsher critics.

Why is the Athens of America turning into Shootout at the Faneuil Hall?

Hopefully, that sort of plot and setting will help sell a copy or three. But actually, “Media Blitz” started out, many drafts ago, as a satire of the media in America today. However, an early problem developed: Just what is the definition of “the media” today? If you’re among those who still read newspapers and magazines (print or online), does “the media” mean The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Guns & Ammo and Hustler magazine—not necessarily in that order? (Well, OK, more or less in that order). How to satirize a concept that takes in such disparate personalities and images as Bill O’Reilly; Matt Drudge; Keith Olbermann; Katie Couric and the Posts (NY and Washington)?

Then there are the various entertainment-focused magazines and programs where the state of Britney’s on-again/off-again underwear is of paramount importance? And of course, lest we forget, the myriad talk radio hosts and hostesses nationwide and their sycophantic callers? It might be a bit like trying to satirize professional wrestling. How can you top the real thing? Oh, if only Paddy Chayefsky was still alive to write a sequel to “Network.” How would he approach TV news of today; the land of snow white teeth, perfect hair and gravity defying boob jobs?

By the same token, I also remembered the words of playwright, George S. Kaufman: “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” George never lived long enough to read some of Christopher Buckley’s witty books, but I can see his point. Still the notion of writing a novel involving “the media” gnawed at me. I thought the general topic had some potential as a book—one that, if nothing else, would potentially hold readers’ interest based on the notion that, like restaurants and architecture, everyone’s a critic on this. We are a nation of media bashers, eh? Then I realized one day the phrase “media bashing” had become as clich├ęd a conversational banality as “There you go!” or “Have a nice day.” What would happen if the media bashing progressed, if that’s the word, to something worse? The answer, it occurred to me, was to forget satirizing the media. And never mind mere bashing. Let’s kill ‘em! Solely for literary and entertainment purposes, of course.

Be candid: who hasn’t thought about at least the vague, philosophical concept of committing mayhem on some right wing talking head with the IQ of a Fig Newton who wants anyone whose name ends in a vowel, or features “Abdul” in their name, to be deported first thing today? Or how about throttling some bow-tie wearing, Hillary-hugging, Streisand-smoking liberal pundit who wants to build a maximum security prison in your backyard? (I guess that covers the gamut here, more or less?) So from there, the book became much less of an attempt at satire and more of a murder mystery. That, in a wordy nutshell, is “Media Blitz.”

In my day job, I write for a business magazine. But writing fiction is obviously different than interviewing the CEO of John Smith Inc. about his company’s fiscal year. There, somebody is answering questions and providing information I can shape into a reasonably coherent article. With fiction, I have a blank piece of paper, a cheap Bic pen and ... me. Yeah, OK, once you get going you have a character or two that “talks” to you. But that takes a while. So then there’s dreaded M word—motivation. How do you get going?

Well, I don’t know what works for you, but a little hostility helps me, in a sort of counter-cultural, going-against-the-grain way. For instance, how many people talk about writing a book, but never do? So saying I’ll be the one to at least try—that helped some days. I’ve also heard it said that if you don’t try to be a writer, you’re the only one who’ll ever know that you never tried. Does that make any sense? Well, it got me going on a few rainy mornings. What can I tell you? I do know that whenever I sat down and, in the case of “Media Blitz,” added to it or, sometimes more importantly, subtracted from it—I felt better about myself and the book.

Another occasional motivation was—and I broach this as nicely as possible here—bad books. I will name names only under waterboarding-levels of torture. But sometimes I’d derive a twisted form of “inspiration” from reading mystery novels that were just not particularly good. The realization that “Cripes, if this thing finds a publisher, I’ve got a shot someday” did come over me now and then. I’m sure I’m not alone here and it’s not a drum I want to pound too much, ladies and gents. No authors names, please. My least favorite might be your very favorite, if you will. And besides, I’m not the national exemplar of taste, so if you’re happy with a particular author, then go back to your reading and I’ll leave quietly. (God forbid, but for all I know, my book will serve as reverse inspiration for some neophyte writer someday, throwing it against the wall and sprinting to their notebook/computer with that same sort of “Cripes, if this thing….” Gulp!)

And so we have “Media Blitz,” a murder mystery where the dead bodies include a yappy talk radio host, a TV sports anchor and … well, maybe I’ll leave it at that, for now. But my brethren in the print sector don’t come off entirely unscathed either. I hope people will A) buy it and, B) enjoy it. Beyond that, I recall the words of a dear departed Englishman, John Winston Lennon. Lennon used to write some short stories in his spare time (Anyone out there have a copy of “John Lennon: In His Own Write”?) They once asked him about his next volume of musings and writings and he replied, as only someone from Liverpool could, “Well, folks, it’ll be the usual rubbish, but it won’t cost much.” Like me and most first-time novelists, Lennon had a day job to fall back on. I understand he was rather good at it, too. And one that was more lucrative than mine—something I hope many of you will keep in mind the next time you go book shopping.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stories to Share

The story's the thing, whether you're writing a mystery, romance or even a memoir. Sometimes the story behind the story is just as fascinating. That's what we will be showcasing here. OTP authors and friends will take turns sharing insights and their writer's journeys.

Check back and see who pops up!