And The Winner Is….

IMG_0006Did you watch the Academy Awards last night? I was on an airplane from Florida after spending nearly a week at a trade show, but I got my update on the morning news. Those who win always claim to be surprised. And those who don’t win always claim to be thrilled anyway, just to be in the running. I always think of the people who weren’t even nominated. Artists pour their hearts and souls into their projects; and even though the public may not agree with the award presenters, it is wonderful to be recognized.

This past week I was honored to receive a “Liebster” award from a fellow blogger, Susan Bahr. Liebsters are an informal way of encouraging fellow bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. It is an encouragement designed to be passed on to others. No, it’s not an academy award. And no, I didn’t walk down the red carpet in a designer dress. Good thing. Jennifer Lawrence tripped–I would have fallen flat on my face. But it is wonderful to be recognized, especially as a newbie. Thank you Susan!

Part of the fun is answering questions that your nominator poses. So here are my slightly expanded answers to Susan’s questions (I posted my answers on her website just before dropping into bed, exhausted):

1. Define your perfect day
It is early May, and I wake up in an historic inn in rural Suffolk, smelling the cool dampness of an English spring. In my purse is my National Trust Pass, which I use to visit a nearby country estate where time came to a screeching halt in the mid-19th century. In the afternoon I take the amazing Bluebell Walk in Brede High Wood, followed by dinner in a local gastro-pub (my table near a blazing log fire, of course). And oh yes, at the next table are a pair of authentic English eccentrics whom I observe closely and who will show up in my next novel, The Curse of Finchley Hall.

2. Tell me about someone you love
The obvious choice is my husband, but I will tell you about my grandmother, Christina Geraldson, who emigrated from Denmark as a child, speaking no English. Her fellow classmates called her “Little Danish Christine.” Grandma’s house was sparkling clean, and every Friday she made a heavenly cardamon bread called Systekage. She loved the color lavender and wore an old-fashioned corset with laces. She smiled a lot and had a way of making me feel that I was her favorite grandchild (I’ve learned since that all her grandchildren felt the same way). She answered my questions like they were really important. My dog Sunny loved her so much, she would run to Grandma’s house and bark at the door. Grandma was always home. She never learned to drive. And there was always something tasty for a hungry dog–or grandchild.

3. Tell me about someone you hate
Honestly, I don’t hate anyone I know.

4. Tell me why you blog.
I love to write. I love to tell stories. Some of the stories will become novels, but most are simply brief reflections that people who share my interests might find worth reading.

5. What is your favorite joke?
I told it tonight to my Norwegian cousin Ellen and her friend Mina. Six sailors were shipwrecked on a deserted island. Two were Germans, two were Italians, and two were Norwegian. Six years later they were rescued. Their rescuers found the two Germans putting the finishing touches on a rescue craft they had fashioned from local materials. The two Italians, having disagreed over the shape of a passing cloud, were feuding. And the two Norwegians were just getting acquainted.

6. Do you like lists?
I make lists of things I’ve already done so I can cross them off.

7. Where would you travel if funds and time were unlimited?
I would travel to Regency England where I would engineer an introduction to Miss Jane Austen. We would become friends, and we would discuss her novels over tea. She would ask my opinion, and I would offer a modest idea from time to time.

8. Who do you wish you could meet (living or dead)?
Miss Jane, of course. Or perhaps Agatha Christie. I would gain Dame Agatha’s confidence, and she would tell me the real story behind her mysterious disappearance and purported amnesia.

9. and 10. Write a poem about Susan

I really don’t know Susan Bahr, except through our websites;

But her heart is generous, and we share similar interests.

And now we are connected (to paraphrase the English poet—was it Pope?),

Not by joining hands, but blogs.

11. (Insert your own question) Connie, what is your unfulfilled dream?
My as yet unfulfilled dream is to be a published author with at least three novels in The Antique Mystery series. You can help me fulfill that dream by clicking on the “Books” tab, where the first 10 pages are now posted at the bottom of the page. Please comment honestly. Flattery isn’t helpful. Would you keep reading?

Check out Susan’s two blogs and the other bloggers whom she nominated at www.susanbahr.com.

 

 

 

What’s Next in Social Media?

Have you ever wondered where social media is taking us as a culture? Can you imagine what the next step in instant connectivity might be? 

In the past people connected face to face. You walked or you took a horse and cart to the nearest village where you learned the news face to face. Most people spent their entire lives within a twenty-mile radius of home. That’s still true in some parts of the world, although even isolated communities are linked in to the outside world. A few years ago my husband and I visited a Roma settlement deep in rural Slovakia. The homes were no more than wood and corrugated metal shacks, but there was a cell phone tower nearby and a generous sprinkling of satellite dishes. This near-universal electronic connectedness is something quite new. 

From ancient times, messages were sent and received by hand-written letters carried overland or across oceans by couriers—or sometimes just a willing traveler. Until the early 17th century, for example, letters from Boston to England (and vice versa) were sent with the captain of a ship about to sail the Atlantic. Then in 1639, “regular” mail service was established when the city of Boston arranged for letters to be dropped off and picked up at Richard Fairbank’s tavern. It wasn’t until the 1890s that most people in the U.S. had home mail delivery. Even then, by the time a letter was received, the news was old.  

Advances in technology changed the speed of communication.  By the end of the 19th century, messages could be sent by telegraph, winging their way across continents and around the world at previously undreamt-of speeds. On June 28, 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo—“the shot heard round the world”—was communicated almost instantly to far-flung capitals by telegraph. A few years later, the telephone was the next new thing. The first coast-to-coast telephone call in the U.S. was made in 1912, but it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that telephones became a fixture in most households. But no matter how urgent the call, someone had to be home to receive it.   

Then we got answering machines. And fax machines. And computers. Email became the fastest way to connect. How quaint. Today email has been eclipsed by newer, faster methods of communication. We now text. We connect via Facebook, Linked In, and Twitter (to name just the “Big Three”). We no longer talk; we blog and micro-blog. A whole new vocabulary is emerging to turn words and ideas into sound bites. This is changing the culture. We don’t have friends. We have “followers” or “peeps.”  

I had lunch with a friend, an administrator with a large community service provider. Her biggest problem in hiring people today, she says, is a lack of social skills. They can text, but they can’t speak clearly. They can tweet, but they can’t write a coherent paragraph. They can tell the world where they are at any given moment of the day, but they lack the skills necessary to work with others or to interact with the public. In response, my friend has developed an in-house program to teach such novel concepts as kindness, integrity, team work, and service. They love it.

So what’s next on the social-networking horizon? Can you imagine a way to connect with others even more quickly and with even less depth? Don’t get me wrong—I love social media, and I use it (although not with the savvy of some). But I’m wondering if we’re headed for something really new. Like spending time with people. Like having a conversation. Like substituting an actual for a virtual relationship. LOL

I Say Dig ‘Em Up

lostcitiesofgold

I love a mystery. But even more than a mystery, I love the solving of a mystery—especially an ancient mystery.  

As a child, my imagination was fired by the tales of Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and the three nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) undertaking expeditions to find fabled lost civilizations and treasures. My favorite story was the discovery of the Seven Lost Cities of Cibola. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Years later the comic adventure would inspire the blockbuster movie Raiders of the Lost Ark 

Unlike the gold-hungry Scrooge McDuck, however, it wasn’t the finding of treasure that fueled my imagination but rather the discovery of places and people lost to history. I longed one day to know the fate of the crew of the ghost ship Mary Celeste, the spot where Captain Kidd buried his fabled treasure chest, the location of the lost continent of Atlantis, and the identify of Jack the Ripper. I still do! 

Recently two of my favorite historical mysteries may have been solved.  

First is the possible identification of a previously unidentified mummy in KV55 (a burial cave in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings) as the so-called “Heretic King,” the Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV). Akhenaten’s brief experiment in monotheism so enraged the powerful priestly class that, after his death, evidence of his life and reign was thoroughly expunged. Many archaeologists feared that his mummy had been destroyed, an almost unthinkable desecration among the ancient Egyptians, taking with it possible physical evidence of the pharaoh’s rather unusual androgynous appearance. But recent tests on the unidentified mummy, including a CAT scan and blood typing, have revealed close familial ties with the mummy of Tutahkamen, Akhenaten’s son and successor. “The jury is still out,” says Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s ebullient Minister of Antiquities, “but it is certainly tempting to think that Akhenaten has finally been found (http://tinyurl.com/aovwved).” DNA tests, scheduled for this year, may finally put this mystery to rest. And solve the mystery of his odd appearance. 

Then, just last week, the world received news that the skeletal remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, were found buried under a parking lot in Leicester, England. History tells us that Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, making Henry VII the first of the Tudor kings to rule England. Shakespeare, in his play Richard III, portrayed the king as a Machiavellian figure—a hunchback, “rudely stamp’d”, “deformed, unfinish’d”—who rose to power over the bodies of his rivals, including his young nephews, Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York (“the little princes”). Interestingly, the king’s skeleton showed severe trauma to the head, consistent with his reported war wounds, and a pronounced curvature of the spine (http://tinyurl.com/b6bfgpn). Whether Richard’s character was as bad as the Tudors claimed may never be known.  

Some mysteries will remain forever hidden. At least until the day when all secrets are revealed and the contents of men’s hearts are made plain. Until then I say let’s keep digging ’em up. Let’s put the newest technology to use. And let’s keep writing about mysteries that will fire the imaginations of the next generation.

It’s All About Motivation

SnowYesterday afternoon I was on my way to the basement for a rousing 30 minutes on the elliptical when it occurred to me that I could postpone the workout by shoveling the snow off our walkway first.

Two and a half hours later, I had shoveled not only the walk but our entire 3/8-mile driveway. And I really enjoyed it. Honest. In fact, I discovered that I like shoveling snow a lot better than I like working out on the elliptical. I’m a northern girl at heart, having grown up where the snow comes in November and stays until March (at least that’s the way I remember it). I like cold weather. I don’t like to sweat.

Shoveling snow—unlike working out on the elliptical, where I distract myself by watching TV— promotes thoughtful self-evaluation. Halfway down the driveway I realized that I was enjoying myself. Three quarters of the way down the driveway it occurred to me that the reason I was enjoying myself was that it was my choice. If someone required me to shovel the driveway, I would perceive it as burdensome labor and probably an unrealistic expectation. Now, does that make me: a) incredibly self-willed, b) delusional, c) human, or d) all of the above? Probably “all of the above.” What is clear is that my motivation was conditioned by my perception.

The current revision of my novel is all about motivation. Why do the characters do what they do? How do they perceive what is happening to them? What is their hidden motivation—something they may not fully comprehend themselves? Someone (I don’t know who) said, “We do what we do because we believe what we believe.” Each of my main characters—and even the minor ones—must have a clear internal motivation that informs their perceptions and determines their actions.

The same is true of me. Does what I believe determine how I think and what I do? Would people know what I believe about myself, about others, and about life by how I behave? Show, don’t tell.