Two Simple Ways to Celebrate Leap Day

February 28, 2020

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

I don’t know why, but I love Leap Day (February 29). Maybe it’s because it’s like being given the gift of an extra day, and who doesn’t wish for one of those now and then? Maybe because Leap Day is a once-every-four-years pause. The usual 28 days of February are done, and March hasn’t started yet. 

This year’s Leap Day sort of snuck up on me while I wasn’t paying attention. I’d like to make it memorable, instead of a typical Saturday of chores and whatnot, so today I’ll have to get my backside in gear so that today’s work doesn’t bleed into tomorrow, as has been known to happen. Or I’ll have to let go of something—or both. Either way, I plan to celebrate Leap Day, but not by making it into a full-blown, drive-myself-nutty holiday, complete with its own to-do list and 10-point plan. Rather, I have two simple suggestions for how to celebrate Leap Day:

1. Be kind to yourself. Sleep in a little, take a walk in nature (if your weather allows this), spend time doing something that feeds your soul. Eat some healthy and delicious food. Give someone a hug. Even when the world feels dark and scary, most of us still have so much to appreciate and enjoy, so many people (and animals) to love. I’m going to try to fill it with simple pleasures—things like starting a jigsaw puzzle, reading (of course), and enjoying our current cooler weather.

2. Be kind to others. Smile, hold a door open, allow another driver to merge into your lane, thank someone, post an uplifting thought on social media. A little kindness sends ripples out into the world—imagine what it would feel like if everyone were kind just for this one day. Maybe at least some of them would continue to be kind the next day, and the next. (Click here to see 10 ways to spread kindness.) 

If we use the pause of Leap Day to recalibrate kindness, to ourselves and to others, we’ll all be a lot happier.

It’s just a suggestion.

How do you celebrate Leap Day?

Artist's dates

Field Trip Friday—Books and Bites with Author Lisa Unger

February 21, 2020

Lisa Unger with yours truly

It’s been far too long since I allowed myself either an artist’s date or a Field Trip Friday, so today I rolled them into one and headed to Tampa for a Friends of the Library event featuring bestselling author Lisa Unger

Unger is the author of 17 novels, her books have been published in 26 languages, and she’s been nominated for multiple awards, notably two Edgars* in 2019, an honor only a few authors can claim. She describes her work as “character-driven psychological suspense,” and I can attest that her books are hard to put down. I've only read a few of them, so I was excited to see how many I have left to enjoy. My next read will be the signed copy of her most recent book, The Stranger Inside, that came home with me! 

After we enjoyed lunch provided by local restaurant La Segunda, Unger shared some of her background and her writing process. Then she took questions. After her talk and the question and answer period, she signed books and chatted with attendees. Her husband kindly took the photo of us together that you see above. 

A few things that I found especially interesting:

Her family moved a lot and Unger was frequently the new kid. “The page was my first home,” she said. (Me, too!)

She’s been a writer all her life (“I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t define myself that way,” she said), though she didn't think she’d be able to write for a living, a belief influenced by her engineer father who didn’t think writing was a job.

She inherited her love of story from her librarian mother, who shared all types of books and movies with her daughter as she was growing up. Of her mother’s bookshelves, Unger said, “If I could reach it, I could read it.”

After attending college in New York, where she studied all kinds of writing from poetry, to screenwriting, to journalism, Unger took a job in book publishing, because it was the closest thing she could find to her dream. She worked in publicity, helping authors with book tours and planning events, and was so good at it that her time available to write kept shrinking.

Eventually, she had an epiphany. “I was in the wrong job and I was with the wrong guy. I wasn’t doing the thing I wanted to do. I’d never even tried.” She decided she could live with failure, but not a “slow fade to nothing.” She kept her job (but broke up with that guy), and started writing every day, making it a priority to work on a novel she’d started at age 19.  One and a half years later, at age 29, she finished.

When Unger completed her novel and went about trying to find an agent for it, she admits she was scared. It wasn’t just her book that was on the line, it was her identity: “Who am I if I am not this?” she said. Fortunately for all of us, that book found an agent, and that agent got Unger a two-book deal. Angel Fire, the first of four books in the Lydia Strong series, was published in 2002. (Miscione is Unger’s maiden name.)

It takes her nine months to a year to complete a first draft, followed by several more drafts, as well as “the second part of the creative process,” which she explained is the discussion and incorporation of notes she receives from her husband, editor, and agent. These help her manuscript to become the best possible book. It takes another year between when the book is first turned in until it’s ready for publishing. She never opens the finished book, because by then there’s nothing she can change about it!

She met her husband at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. It was love at first sight, at least on her part, she said. They’ve been married for 20 years, and have a 14-year-old daughter.

On writing books:

A lot of people want to write a book, even make plans to write one. It’s an accomplishment just to finish a manuscript. Whether or not it gets published.

You should do it because you cannot not do it. Getting published is beside the point. It’s always about the work, the writing.

I’ve been feeling very blah about writing lately (witness the lack of entries on this here blog), and while I’ve been making it a point to sit down to write something nearly every day, I’ve definitely been lacking a spark. I’m so glad I took the time to go to this author talk, because not only was Unger herself charming, warm, and easy to approach, she inspired me to come home and sit down in front of my laptop. It’s a start. 

*Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America

To learn more about Lisa Unger and her books, please visit lisaunger.com, or her Amazon author’s page.