The idea of combining travel and writing is not confined to travel writers. Traveler and novelist Mary Montague-Sikes, known to many of us as Monti, is able to use her wanderlust adventures in her fiction. That seems like the best of everything to me.
In 1980, when Mary and her husband first visited Jamaica, they were enchanted by their tropical surroundings. A series of vacations to Caribbean destinations included two trips to Antigua where Monti grew enthralled with the island’s history and fascinated with the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. She began to think and dream about an ancient mansion that might sit on a hillside overlooking the sea. Thus, Edgewater Manor was born and so was the beginning of Secrets by the Sea.
Just a Little Bit of Paradise in Every Book by Mary Montague Sikes
Since I have long been enchanted with tropical locations you can imagine my excitement when my publisher, Oak Tree Press, created the “Passenger to Paradise” series for my novels because they all feature exotic destinations. Then, later she designed the shadow logo of the traveler with the roller bag which I use as part of my Notes Along the Way blog title line.
For years, I wrote travel articles freelance and was thrilled to see them published in newspapers and magazines. The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio was one of the newspapers that bought and published every story I sent. These articles filled the front page of the travel section and were in color. The editor usually used two or three of my photos as well which was even more exciting as I was paid not only for the story but also extra for the pictures. When the Miami Herald bought and published a story I wrote about a trip to Heidelberg, Germany and used photographs as well, I was mega thrilled. Some of my stories were award-winners in the National Federation of Press Women’s annual communications contest and that encouraged my travel writing. Several years ago, one of my photographs, taken of a waterfall near the Mayan ruins at Palenque, won second place in the NFPW contest. That gave me confidence in my photography.
I’ve always loved to write and was selected to serve as editor of my high school newspaper. When I went to college I hoped to study journalism but that didn’t work out. I majored instead in psychology and elementary education. However, I fell by accident into a freelance writing job for the Richmond News Leader, an afternoon city newspaper that no longer exists. That was an awesome learning experience for me because I got to interview people from all walks of life and write feature stories about them. Those features taught me a lot about character development which has served me well in my novel writing. I also learned a great deal about characters from the many I met at the government meetings I covered for my newspaper.
Path to Publication – The publication of my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, came about because of my travel writing. While attending a writer’s conference out in California, I was pitching my novel to an agent and happened to mention that I also was working on a non-fiction book putting together my travel, art, and photography interests. Several weeks later, she called me and encouraged me to write the coffee table book which became Hotels to Remember. My publisher thought it would be a good idea to get my name out with a novel prior to publication of the travel/art book. That resulted in Hearts Across Forever getting published first. Set in Jamaica and linked to the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall, it became the first of the Passenger to Paradise books.
Night Watch is the latest in the Passenger to Paradise mystery/romance novels. We took a wonderful and adventurous trip to Trinidad, and soon after we returned I started a story about our experiences. As other trips came along to different exotic tropical islands, I almost forgot about the visit to Trinidad. Then a couple of years ago, I pulled out the beginnings of the old manuscript and began working on it in earnest. As always, I managed to tie a touch of paranormal to my story as I wondered what would happen if the spirit of the woman who died in the beginning of the book became a “walk-in” spirit of my heroine. Did that happen? I’m not quite sure. The reader will have to decide.
And whatever my setting, I want my readers to experience just a little bit of paradise as they follow the story.
From her trips to the Caribbean, Monti has written many feature articles that have been published in newspapers and magazines. Some of her thousands of photographs and slides were source materials for the Tropical Fantasies series of large acrylic paintings. In the mid-1980s, thirteen paintings from this series were purchased by the Marriott Hotel in Richmond, Virginia for display in public areas. One of these paintings was “Antiguan Morning.”
Her love of travel and tropical destinations continues with new books underway including a sequel to Secrets by the Sea. Part of the setting of the new book, Jungle Beat, will be in the jungles of Costa Rica. This will be Monti’s next book in the Passenger to Paradise series.