Author interview: Bill Herrington pens a tribute to city leaders

contraflow-cover-mockup-frontEleven years ago today, Bill Herrington’s world turned upside down. That was the day that Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic storms in U.S. history, whirled into New Orleans, Louisiana. The tropical storm breached the protective levee system that surrounded the city, flooding 80% of the city and killing about 1,400 people.

In his new release, Contraflow, corporate banker and first-time author Bill Herrington tells about the lives, businesses, and entire cities that were temporarily reversed and permanently altered by the storm – and of the unforgettable humanitarian response that emerged in Houston, Texas. The book is packed with 70 photos and several endorsements from former mayors, senators, and other leaders who have rallied around his story. It is the winner of the 2017 IPPY bronze for Best Regional Nonfiction (South U.S.).

On this 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Bill tells us why and how he wrote the book.

Q: Bill, several books have been written about Hurricane Katrina. Why did you want to tell your particular story?

Yes, there are worthy books out there about Hurricane Katrina. But I knew that I had witnessed extraordinary leadership on a scale that most people will never see. I couldn’t get it out of my head – I kept mentioning to others that a book should be written about it. As I thought about my unique experience, I realized that I wanted to write the book myself.

Mostly, I felt strongly about paying tribute to people in both Louisiana and Texas who went far beyond any reasonable expectation of helping total strangers in need, people like Father Dan Lahart of Strake Jesuit and former mayor Bill White in Houston. I don’t want their efforts to be forgotten.

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Bill (left) and his son, Chris (right), pose with Father Dan Lahart (middle) at Strake Jesuit in Houston, Texas.

In the Preface of the book, I go into more detail about the other reasons I wrote the book. One was telling about the impact of the storm on the entire community. Rich, poor, young, old, all skin colors, ethnicities, and religions – every economic and social sector of the community were all suddenly thrust into a new, non-exclusive class of people who were vulnerable in ways we had never even imagined.

Another reason was to recognize the social and educational institutions that served as temporary pillars in our life. I now realize the importance of educational resources in times of crisis, especially for disadvantaged youth.

In a way, I almost felt a sense of obligation to write the book.

Q: Our graphic designer, Jamie, collaborated with you to produce a beautiful cover. Tell us about the significance of your design.

I chose the title because readers who are familiar with the term “contraflow” will understand that it’s about a hurricane, and readers who are unfamiliar may be curious enough to find out more. I also included the map of New Orleans and Houston with Interstate 10 to immediately convey the important connections between the two cities.

Q: Your book touches on historical, social, and economic dynamics of New Orleans and Houston, but you also tell about the personal experiences of your family. Some of them are meaningful and intimate, like the first glance of your flooded home. And some are quite amusing, like the morning your wife insisted on driving back to New Orleans with you despite your protests. How does she and your family feel about the book?

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Bill and his wife, Frances

I’m glad to hear that you think parts of it were amusing. Frances and our children are happy that I recorded these events for history and for our family. We’re also relieved that it’s finished! Frances and I are very private people, and the book exposes us in ways that make us uncomfortable. But I wanted the reader to make a personal connection to our family and other real people who endured the storm so that the significance of the leadership witnessed was obvious and memorable. So even though the storm was such a catastrophic event, the book isn’t only about tragic loss. I tell the uplifting stories, the absurd circumstances, and yes, even the humorous events that occurred.

Q: How did you determine what to include and what not to include in the book?

When I started, I actually did not intend to write a complete book. I only wanted to record, as precisely as possible, certain key events. So, in terms of what I included, I initially only wanted to record several events for my family so that I wouldn’t forget them later in my life. But in writing the story, I realized that the only way I could convey the importance of these key events was to provide the history, timeline and context leading up to them.  So, the book is a collection of significant pre- and post-storm stories and the context around them that makes the sections relevant.

In terms of what I didn’t include, a number of tales did not make it into the final version because they were either too sad, or too controversial, or even risqué. In fact, Frances and I had a couple of disagreements in that regard.  In the end, though, I think we came to the right conclusions about the content.

Q: One of the most compelling parts for us was the “Lost Children of Katrina.” The difficult experiences of these children really impacted us. Why was it important for you to tell about them?

It’s hard to convey just how difficult this period was for families impacted by the storm.  As I explain in the book, even families with resources, like mine, experienced extreme difficulties. To this day, I’m still haunted by the memories and stories of other families who were not as fortunate as we were, especially in terms of avoiding a disruption in their children’s education. For this reason, Frances and I intend to dedicate more of our time, money and energy toward this cause, including any proceeds that may be generated from this book.

Q: How do you hope to make an impact with the book?List of institutions framed

I’d like Houstonians to have a sense of pride in what they accomplished . . . not a sense of regret that they got involved with helping after Katrina, which I sometimes hear.  And I’d be very happy if I generate some goodwill for some of the institutions that helped New Orleanians in their hour of need. I included a list of them on the last page of the book if readers want to contribute in some way.

Q: As a first-time author, what would you say has been the most surprising part of the writing and publishing process?

I had suppressed many painful memories from the storm. I learned that writing can be a very therapeutic exercise, however difficult it may be. I also learned that writing a book is a challenging undertaking, and I now have a much greater respect for authors.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about writing a book?Back cover

If you have a passion for a particular topic, pick up your pen and start writing. You will likely get discouraged along the way and maybe put down your pen for a while. But if you are thoughtful and patient, the end result is very satisfying.  Of course, a good editor is a critical piece as well!

Bill, we appreciate your hard work in paying tribute to some amazing leaders and institutions.

To find out more about Bill and his book, please check out the following:

Purchase the book

Share the press release

View photos from the book signing

Read the LinkedIn article

Ella7_croppedElla Ritchie is the founder/owner of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

David Ivester

David Ivester of Author Guide handles all media inquires for Contraflow. David is our author advocate, publicist, and marketing consultant.

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A Simple Lesson from Obama’s Speechwriter

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Courtesy of http://www.freeflagicons.com

It all comes down to one thing: emotion.

That’s what Cody Keenan told the Today show this morning. He said that communication comes down to simply creating emotion. And as President Obama’s speechwriter, he should know.

Keenan is the one who stirred laughter in the 2009 White House Correspondents’ Dinner remarks — and then stirred sobering respect in Ted Kennedy’s eulogy. He was the one who called for national unity in Tucson in 2011 when Gabby Giffords was shot.

And he is the one who stayed up this morning until the wee hours, putting the finishing touches on the State of the Union address that Obama will deliver tonight. Keenan has been applauded for creating the right emotion for each circumstance, and he’s worked hard with Obama in hopes that they’ve created it again for the nation.

So what does this mean for business leaders?

As you face 2016, consider the primary emotion that you want to inspire in your people. Peace, security, clarity, gratitude . . . . Think about the one thing they need most from you this year.

With this emotion in mind, rethink the ways you communicate in your personal and professional life. What’s working? What can be changed to create this emotion?

Here are just a few ways you can change your communication to inspire change in others:

  • Create peace by boldly talking about the elephant in the room, forming and documenting a resolution plan, and regularly checking progress.
  • Create security by keeping promises, regularly updating clients on projects, accepting ultimate accountability, and requesting online endorsements to prove your track record.
  • Create clarity by forming a mission statement, writing clear job descriptions and expectations, posting answers to FAQs, and providing a clear plan of action.
  • Create gratitude by steadily expressing appreciation for others in every situation.

When you focus on emotion, every form of communication becomes an opportunity to motivate and inspire others.

What emotion will drive your communication in 2016?

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based publishing company that delivers quality editing, writing, and publishing services on time to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

The Most Dangerous Leadership Myth

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Scholar Warren Bennis once said, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” Bennis’ insight is what made him a pioneer in the contemporary field of Leadership studies, and his truth still holds today.

An Unlikely Leader

The unlikely rise to leadership of an executive I admire proves Bennis’ theory. As a young man, he said, “I didn’t like my body — I felt ugly and fat — and had zero confidence. I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was in college because I was too shy to approach anyone. Nobody knew who I was.”

He began to systematically challenge his beliefs and change his reality. He read the classics, became involved in his community, practiced speaking, surrounded himself with people he admired, and developed his faith. His desire to learn and grow was — and still is — insatiable. Today, he is an eloquent speaker and successful businessman who is well-loved by his family and employees. He has been made into a leader. And the best part is that he knows he always has room to improve. (He overcame his shyness around women, by the way, because he married this writer.)

Inner Circle Leaders

We can improve our capacity for great leadership of our companies, communities, and homes by surrounding ourselves with others who have paved the way before us. For example, my writing mentor, Tracey, is a shark with nearly 20 years of experience who has helped me handle my largest contracts and find reliable team members. And monthly meetings and quarterly business retreats with my business coach, Glenn Smith, has provided solid structure and accountability to my personal and professional vision. In fact, you’re invited to attend his upcoming May 21 seminar, which is perfect for you if you’re an executive or owner of a business for more than three years and have three or more employees. Industry leaders like Tracey and Glenn can help us pinpoint our blind spots and fill our personal and professional gaps.

Recommended Books

We can also reach beyond our community to learn from others through fantastic books. The top choices of my corporate friends include Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, as well as the classics: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey) and How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie).

Professional Events

Seminars and speakers are other great resources for raising our leadership capacity. Check out Leadercast 2015 in Tomball, Texas, this Friday, May 8, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The leadership event, which is sponsored in part my friends at Duolos Wealth Management, has assembled speakers across industries, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, NFL MVP Peyton Manning, best-selling author Seth Godin, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, and more.

With the help of “inner circle” leaders, good books, and leadership events, we can bust through the myth — and raise our capacity for incredible leadership!

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based freelance editing and writing company for business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to find out more.

How to Get Your Writer to Write Like You Talk

talkingheads“This sounds nothing like me,” a client recently confided about his content from another writer. “It’s not what I wanted.”

His disappointment was evident–and not uncommon.

What do you do when you read your first draft of content from your writer in high hopes . . . and feel disappointment instead?

Some people give up on their writer and return to cobbling together their own words. Some seek another writer, hoping to find The One that will magically breathe life into their content.

To be sure, not all writers are equal. Some are better than others at certain forms of writing, such as blogging, business, or advertising. And some are simply just better writers.

But before you ditch your writer, consider this: Have you provided her with enough guidance? Have you taken the time to tell her about you and what you want? Writers are a bit like hairstylists: Provide little instruction, and you’re likely to get a mohawk instead of that simple trim you wanted.

My clients are usually sure about one thing: They want a writer who can write like they talk. And a good writer changes her tone to accommodate each client as easily as she changes her wardrobe.

But what clients aren’t always certain of is how to communicate what they want to their writers.

To get your writer on board with your expectations, consider these four simple ideas:

  1. Compile a style guide, which is simply a list of what you want in your written communication. The most well-developed guide I’ve seen so far is that of Explore God, a nonprofit organization that invests deeply in its team of writers. In addition to six instructions dedicated to tone alone, the organization provides 15 more parameters as guidance—down to the ideal number of words to include in a sentence.
  2. Provide your writer with any existing corporate materials that help her get a feel for the way you’ve been presenting your company, including your online materials such as your website and social media forums as well as print materials such as article, brochures, and flyers.
  3. Provide direct, specific feedback. You’d be surprised how many people hesitate to tell their writer they’re unhappy with their content in an effort to avoid an awkward conversation. Experienced writers, however, already know that their writing will not satisfy every client, particularly a first draft. They appreciate clients who are honest and specific about what they want to change.
  4. Perhaps the most critical—and most overlooked—piece of information is the published version of your content. Don’t let your busyness or fear of an awkward conversation get in the way of this step. In addition to providing specific guidance to your writer, she can begin compiling a study guide based on the final product. That way, you both win.

With a little effort and communication, you can align your writer with your expectations – and you might get a better haircut to boot. What other strategies have you used to communicate with your writer?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for companies, publishers, and organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to continue the conversation.

Upgrade Your Genius

Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com
Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com

“Successful people simply practice successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Successful business leaders are more than great visionaries. Their success is in their everyday habits — the small choices that build an empire over time.

One notable empire is the basketball career of Michael Jordan. Houston business coach Glenn Smith recently shared Jordan’s incredible story of successful habits with me.

“Michael Jordan without a doubt was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA,” he said. “But Jordan was not born a star basketball player. He was actually cut from his high school varsity team.

However, he didn’t let that stop him. He worked hard to play high school ball and even earn a shot at playing in college. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for — North Carolina State — and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.

But Jordan never let any of this get in his way. At college, his coaches were taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, his coach called him ‘a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.'”

Michael Jordan’s story is a fantastic example of successful habits. Most notable is his daily investment of time and energy toward his vision in spite of obstacles and rejection.

Another notable habit was Jordan’s decision to resist distractions. Surely he was tempted at times to steer his attention toward other promising activities, people, or purposes, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused solely on doing one thing very well — “upgrading his genius.”

Like Jordan, successful business leaders define their vision and practice successful habits daily in spite of obstacles and rejections. But they also resist promising distractions. Even a worthy task, such as blogging, can prove to be an ineffective, distracting effort if a leader doesn’t have the time to maintain it properly. Business success includes tapping into resources and delegating tasks in order to remain focused on your primary genius.

What daily investments will you make — and what distractions will you delegate — to upgrade your genius this year?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.

The Surprising Choice for Your Next Project Manager

Photo source: www.rosiemade.com.
Photo source: http://www.rosiemade.com.

Business leaders depend on writers for great words. But did you know that a great writer can also be a great leader? The next time you’re looking for a leader in initiatives related to corporate communications, human resources, or public relations, consider your writer at the top of the list. Here are the reasons why:

1. A great writer will make sense of your vision.

The sole purpose of a writer is to communicate your thoughts to an audience. So, a great writer can quickly grab hold of your vision and provide an easy translation for your people. This means your writer will draw on your strengths — your clearly defined goals — and use them to motivate your team.

But a writer also offers a fresh perspective that can pinpoint your weaknesses — the areas of your message that are vague and need development. With this honest feedback, your vision can be presented to your team in a powerful way that sets a clear direction.

2. A great writer will provide better documentation.

A writer clearly understands her role within your project: to create order for your people the same way she creates order for your words. While your people — the subject matter experts — to do their job, she can plan a schedule, maintain deadlines, and document processes. Her excellent documentation will complement your existing people and processes.

3. A great writer will be more productive.

This is especially true if you hire a freelancer with whom you’ve agreed upon a flat project fee. Her time is her currency, so she will be motivated to get the job done as efficiently as possible. Regardless, without the distractions of office politics and competing job duties, she’ll remain committed to a schedule and will hold people accountable to deadlines.

4. A great writer will provide more resources.

Many freelancers network with other providers across industries. So, tapping into the knowledge of a freelance writer also means tapping into her network of resources. Through her, you’ll be able to get connected to other writers, graphic designers, website developers, and cartoonists, for example. And with more resources, your vision can move in more creative directions.

Not all writers have the skills to lead all projects, so find out about their experience in project management. You’ll likely find a writer who has the experience and insight to lead through a clearly defined vision, better documentation, more productivity, and more resources.

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie or check out her website at http://www.stellarwriter.com.