How Will You Spend Leap Day?

How often have you said, “I don’t have enough time”?

Today is your chance to fix that. It’s Leap Day, which  means you get an extra day this year. How will you spend it?

You could spend it learning about a leap year. During Leap Years, we add a Leap Day, an extra – or intercalary – day on Feb. 29. Leap Years are needed to keep our calendar in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the sun.

Okay, so now you know about Leap Year and you still have almost your full 24 hours left. How to spend the day…

Rejuvenate yourself: Finally, you have time for you. A spa day may be in order. Or perhaps lunch with a friend you seldom get to see.

Donate time to charity. You could work at a soup kitchen. Drop off supplies at a woman’s shelter. You could change the life of a child in a developing country by sponsoring a child.

Take a vacation. Visit an area attraction. If you read this early enough, board the next plane to Disney World. For the first time in its history, the theme park will be open to guests for 24 consecutive hours for what the company calls “One More Disney Day.” The park will be open for 24 hours so guests can can advantage of every extra minute.

Do something from your bucket list.

Sleep. Too many of us say we don’t get enough sleep, so why not spend the day catching up?

If you’re still short of ideas, you could –

  • Leap to conclusions
  • Take off by leaps and bounds
  • Play leap frog

Happy Leap Day!

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Author’s Eavesdropping Leads to Imperfect Characters Modeling Grace

On an evening kissed with rain and just a hint of light in the night sky, a group gathered in a large beautifully decorated auditorium at the historic Boling-Haxell House in Richmond. The group sat raptly listening to the vibrant voice of a Southern author.

The author was Joshilyn Jackson, who was in town – thanks to Fountain Bookstore – to talk about her newest book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.

Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson discusses where she finds her ideas. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

She tells the audience, “Y’all are a dying breed. You take a night and sit around and discuss literature.”

Audience members had lots of questions for the author, too.

When asked where she gets her ideas, Joshilyn first offers a facile answer. “Take a mentally ill person and a ream of paper and have them love each other very much,” she tells the audience, which erupts in laughter.

Then she turns serious – for a moment – and explains that her characters come from both the landscape and from eavesdropping.

“I find Southern landscapes evocative,” she says. She grew up on the Florida Gulf Coast, which she describes as “white, sugary and pristine.” She later moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which she describes as a deep, rich green. “It is a verdant landscape,” she says repeatedly, noting that she has been chastised for using the word “verdant” too often. She even catches herself during her talk and stops using the word.

Joshilyn admits to being a “terrible inveterate eavesdropper.” She warns her audience, ““If I’m ever sitting next to you reading, you better watch your mouth.”

An airport is a favorite place for eavesdropping. “Everyone is going somewhere, and you only get two or three sentences” of the conversation, she says. Then she simply imagines.

One such overhead conversation at an airport became the basis for the character Mosy Slocumb in her newest book, which she originally intended to be her funny book.

However her friend Lydia Netzer – author of Shine, Shine, Shine – told Joshilyn that she needed to rework the book and find a way to let Liza speak. At first, Joshilyn says with a chuckle, “I simply hated Lydia.”

She took the advice, though, and reworked the book. “It took off when I let Liza go and let her infest the book,” Joshilyn admits.

The premise of most of her books is straightforward. “How can imperfect people model the best version of grace that they can?” Joshilyn explains.

Most of her books, she says, take her between 18 months and two years to write. “I’m really blessed that I don’t sleep,” she says. “Really, I don’t.” She often is up at 4 a.m. and will write until it’s time to send her children to school. Then she heads to a coffee shop to write until her children return. Joshilyn, while supportive of her children’s activities, says she’s not above “stealing an hour” at soccer practice, track meets or ballet rehearsals to write.

She also speaks highly of her editor. Joshilyn describes an editor as “a person who shows you where your map has failed.”

So far, Joshilyn’s map has not failed.

Advice to Get Your Book Published

If you think writing your book, is the hard, part, think again.

Ellery Adams, Meredith Cole and Mary Burton offer advice on how to get your book published. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

That’s the advice of a trio of mystery authors who spoke to the Central District Sisters in Crime group earlier this year.

Mary Burton, who has written eleven historical romances for Harlequin Historicals and four short romantic suspenses for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, says writing is a business.

Meredith Cole, who lives and writes in Charlottesville, Va., advises, “Be an editor and agent’s dream.”

Her mystery series with St. Martin’s Minotaur is set in the art community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and was nominated for an Agatha Award. “You want to produce a very well written book in a genre they can sell,” she says.

A key step to getting published is securing an agent. The way to do that is through a query letter, which are not easy to write. “It’s easier to write the book,” Mary says.

Their advice:

  1. Be as brief as possible
  2. Be as relevant as possible
  3. Write it professionally
  4. Reference relevant details

For example, Mary says, if you attend a writer’s conference and met the agent – even briefly – you should note the meeting in the letter. Or if you know the agent succeeded in publishing a book, note that. “It shows you’ve done your research,” Mary says.

They also suggest making an extensive list of agents within the appropriate genre. One site to help with that is agentquery.com, says Ellery Adams, who has written several mystery series. Another useful site, she says, is BookEnds Literacy Agency, which includes helpful posts about word count and sample queries.

When querying an agent, they recommend emailing 20 and then waiting about six weeks for the responses. “If you get 20 rejections, the query is probably poor,” Mary says. They suggest using the rejections to rewrite and try again.

When you do get to meet with an agent, they recommend having three good questions to ask and also having a paragraph about your book ready to share.

When it comes to getting published, Mary says, “Persistence is just as important as talent.”

25 People Who Helped My Career

In Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he recommends making a list of the 25 people most responsible for your career. But he doesn’t stop there. He then wants us to write a thank you note “to confront the humbling fact that you have not achieved your success alone.”

To reach the top you had help along the way. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on my list. Making the list wasn’t too difficult but I wanted to go the extra step and annotate it to include how the individuals helped my career. It’s been a great exercise.

Almost everyone who has helped my career is still a part of my life, for which I’m thankful. In reading my annotations I was reminded to not settle for “good enough,” to push past my comfort zone and to listen.

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to write the thank you notes but I suspect throughout the year, I will. In the meantime, I thought I’d thank a few people on my blog (I didn’t include last names since I did not ask for permission to include them):

Roger: My high school journalism teacher taught me that journalism was a noble profession, one in which I could make a difference. He also encouraged me to enjoy life.

Meg: Because of her I learned to take a big chance – to do something I never thought I would do:  lead a national organization. Once I committed I never once doubted that I could do it. I just needed someone – Meg – to push me to do it.

Hugh: Our lunch conversations imbued me with many leadership lessons. Hugh, who is a fellow lover of fountain pens, provided me with my first opportunity to speak on leadership. He also helped my collection grow.

Marilyn: She is the ultimate teacher and the ultimate learner, and that’s what she taught me.

Pauli: While she frustrated me as an editor, in hindsight she was making my writing stronger. I sometimes hear her voice when I’m working on a project so I push myself to improve the project.

Jerry: He gave me an opportunity to grow. I evolved from journalism to media and community relations. I learned to work in a para-military environment and hold my own as a civilian. I learned to assess a situation quickly and make a decision.

Who would your list include? You may not have time to write a thank-you note, but you could acknowledge them by posting a comment to this post about how they helped you.

Pinterest Lets You Share the Things You Love

Do you remember having a bulletin board? It was a great way to post photos, reminders and mementos. But, unless someone was in the room with you, you couldn’t share your interests with your friends. Now you can, thanks to Pinterest, a virtual pinboard to organize and share the things you love.

Users must request an invitation to Pinterest, which usually takes a few days. Once you have a Pinterest account, you can create your own pinboards and repin from others. You download a toolbar that can be used to pin items from any website. The photo and information then appear on your Pinterest board, and users who follow you can see your collection of photos and even re-pin them if they like them.

The best part is that you can have multiple boards. One of my friends has a board that she uses to track books she wants to read. It’s helpful because others will share what they thought of the book. You can save your favorite recipes or restaurants. You can plan a wedding or restore your home.

At my company we’re using it as an interactive scrapbook to visually depict our mission. You may want to use it to share products. It’s also great for driving traffic to your blog.

Although Pinterest has been around for a year or two, it has become the social media network to watch after growing more than 4,000 percent in the last six months. It now ranks behind Facebook and Tumblr in terms of engagement.

What will you pin?

Is It Time to Recalibrate?

The topic was branding. I had already sent in my registration fee. But the meeting was at 7:30 a.m. and the day before was a long work day. This day was promising more of the same. I should skip the meeting.

Then I decided the topic and the networking were probably just what I needed to recalibrate so I went. I networked and made a few key contacts. The speakers were great. I might hire them for some work. I may also reach out to them to see if they will speak to another group with which I’m involved.

I returned to the office rejuvenated and recalibrated. The day’s challenges no longer seemed so daunting. I looked at my assignments with a fresh eye.

What do you do to recalibrate and get back into your groove?

Do you whine? Do you overeat? Do you shop? Most of us do at times, but the important thing is to stop and check your roadmap so you don’t get lost.

For me attending a morning networking meeting was just the ticket. What keeps you on the path to success?

4 Steps to Running a Successful Meeting

When you hear the word “meeting” do you groan?

Many people do, and they shouldn’t. Meetings are intended to allow a group to do something that couldn’t be done alone. Meetings allow for communicating, administering and deciding.

The problem is often in the structure and length of the meeting. I attend many meetings. The most successful ones have five key elements in common:

1)      They have an agenda

2)      They start on time and end on time

3)      They stay on point

4)      They have action items for follow-up with identified due dates and responsible parties.

Agenda An agenda provides purpose and structure to the meeting. Distributing the agenda in advance of the meeting enables participants to prepare. For the meeting organizer, it provides focus and direction.

Time Meetings should start on time. It’s disrespectful to those who do arrive on time. If you are known for starting your meetings on time (and not repeating what you already said to the late arrivals), people will show up on time. Why should you start on time? So you can end on time. People have busy schedules. It’s important to respect that they have other commitments. I serve on several boards. I’ve met some great people and enjoy catching up with them. The time to do that, though, is before or after the meeting. Not during.

Stay on point It’s easy for meetings to derail if the discussion goes off point. Use the agenda to stay on track. Summarize key points and ask for agreement. Acknowledge constructive contributions.

Action items Most meetings are intended to bring about a decision. If it does, the next step is to determine a due date and who is responsible for implementing the decision or next step. Too often, that piece gets left undone and the next thing you know, you’re having another meeting to figure out.

Bonus Here is a bonus tip for running a successful meeting: Be sure to thank members for their participation and contributions.