Mary Montague Sikes’ Passenger to Paradise series harks back to a tradition of travel and adventure that has largely disappeared for many of us. How she manages to combine her loves for travel, for art, and for writing into books proves that the spiriti of adventure isn’t dead. How does she do it? The Magic Dog caught up with her and got her to answer a few questions. If you have more of your own feel free to write them in the comments section below.
Magic Dog: Your blog bio notes that you’ve built a writing career by combining your love for travel and art with writing. Lily in Night Watch is also seeking to build a career that combines the three. Her new career is photojournalism. I hadn’t really thought about that as art, but photography is definitely an art form. Is that just coincidence?
Mary: I feel more comfortable using a career that I know. Since for many years I’ve been a journalist and have illustrated my writing with my photographs, I feel comfortable having Lily work as I would. However, what she is doing—building a career in magazine travel writing—is far more glamorous than the city newspaper work I did as a correspondent for many years. To what degree is her character autobiographical? Probably a little bit. Most authors probably put a little of themselves in the main character. Is Lily you? Much braver and more glamorous. Perhaps she’s more like I would like to be. I am tall and always make my heroines tall!
Magic Dog: Have you been to Trinidad?
Magic Dog: Is there a real-world equivalent for Sundowner Sands?
Magic Dog: How about the other locations in your novels?
Mary: Each of the major places—the caves (Gasparee Caves), Asa Wright Nature Preserve, the Chaconia Inn in Port of Spain, but not the inn in the Grenadines. That inn is based on a small hotel we visited on one of those islands but with many changes.
Magic Dog: Do each of them represent one of your own personal “Stops Along the Way?”
Mary: They do, but with great embellishments. The small island scene near the resort takes place in a completely fictitious location. Isn’t it wonderful to use keyboard magic to create just the right setting? I love having that majestic ability, don’t you?
Magic Dog: Night Watch has elements of suspense, of romance, of adventure, and even a whiff of the paranormal. How do you categorize your books when people ask?
Mary: That’s a tough question. I used to call my books paranormal because most of them have at least one paranormal element. My first novel, Hearts Across Forever, is a reincarnation story. I’ve always loved stories about reincarnation, but when I termed that book as paranormal people thought I meant it had werewolves and shape shifters in it. My books are not at all like that. If I term them romance, a lot of people seem to get turned off. Now I’ve started calling them mystery/romance or mystery/suspense. Because of the dark hero and the sprawling old house in Secrets by the Sea, I consider that book Gothic. Dangerous Hearts, my newest book (actually a novella) is Gothic. I think Night Watch is a mystery with some romance. There’s a paranormal element in Night Watch but some people may want to overlook that. What do you think?
Magic Dog: I liked it. I found myself puzzling over what had led to the twinning of Lily and Katherine’s souls.
Magic Dog: One of the things I like best about Night Watch is the clarity of the plotting. Even though there are–and should be–questions about why things are happening, there is seldom any question about what is happening, and to whom. Can you talk a little bit about your writing process, and how your plots develop?
Mary: I start out with an idea and then things just start to happen. I definitely don’t do much outlining. The characters take over and sometimes the book has its own twists and turns!
Magic Dog: Do you plan, write, plan, edit, or are you more of a write, organize, write, edit gal?
Mary: Organize is not a word in my vocabulary. I wish it were because I suspect my life and writing would be much easier. I need a deadline. Then, I’ll get busy and produce what I need to do. As I work, I do like to go back and edit the pages I wrote earlier. I think that’s a good way to start the day—read over and edit what you wrote the day before.
Magic Dog: You’re an artist. How much do you involve yourself in your book and book cover designs?
Mary: The cover of Hearts Across Forever is one of my paintings. So is the cover of Eagle Rising. The cover of Secrets by the Sea is one of my photographs. However, Night Watch has none of my work on the cover, and I love it. While my publisher, Oak Tree, has used my art (also for the covers of some of her other books) she has a very good book cover designer who puts it all together. For my Red Rose Publishing e-book, Dangerous Hearts, I worked with the cover artist, saying what was needed for the cover. The first cover had a knife on it that I didn’t want. She replaced it with the image of a couple. I like that cover a lot because it portrays the Gothic feel of the book.
I’ll do whatever is necessary to help create a nice looking book that I hope will attract buyers. If the publisher wants my help, I’m glad to offer it. I’m also happy to have my art on some of the covers.
Magic Dog: Are there other Passenger to Paradise books in the offing?
Mary: Jungle Beat, the book I’m working on one now is set in Antigua and Costa Rica. It has the characters from Secrets by the Sea. Another book, Night in Paradise, is set in Nassau and on Paradise Island.
Magic Dog: Care to talk about them a little?
Mary: Both books have bits of adventures that actually occurred but with lots of added embellishments to bring in excitement and adventure.
Thank you so much for having me as your guest, Bodie. It’s interesting to think more about the writing process. That’s something I tend to overlook as I’m working. Maybe I need to stay in the moment and enjoy what I’m doing for the sake of doing it!