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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Love in the Newspaper Business

My love of the written word came early in my life, I can remember my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ralph would come to visit in Mabou Harbor, and they would bring literature from the big city of Halifax.  I kid you not, when I heard they were coming, I would land at my Nanny's house as they were taking in their bags, so I could have first dibs on the bags that they would bring full of magazines, books and even newspapers.  Nanny would let me take some picks from the bags, and then when I was finished, I could bring them back and pick some more.  I was one of those kids who would sneak a flashlight into bed so I could keep reading at night, and my mother would chase me outdoors on beautiful summer days, telling me to get my nose out of the books for a while.

But growing up in rural Cape Breton, back 30 years ago, you did not meet many writers, and I certainly did not meet anyone who was a writer for a living.  I left home to go off to college never thinking I could do anything with my writing, other than to keep a journal for my own outlet.  Years went by, and I kept coming back to wondering if I could ever write and be able to share it.  My boys were about 7 and 5 when I really started spending more time writing again, and my best friend, Tammy, and my ever supportive husband kept encouraging me to send some of my work some where, any where really.  I think I finally caved when Tim asked me something like, "Why bother writing if you are never going to do anything with it?"

I sent a few column ideas to the local paper, The Reporter, and within a day or two I heard back from the editor, Jake Boudrot.  I had my first writing job, and column with the paper, and my first editor in Jake.  I will always be grateful for that job, it was the opportunity that I needed to start sharing, and receiving feedback.  And in Cape Breton, I got lots of both, lol.  If no one else ever thought I was a good writer, at least, I thought, Jake thought I was good enough to hire for his paper.  It was an ego boost, and needed!  I continued with the paper until after I moved to Fort McMurray. 

But when I moved to Fort McMurray, the thought of looking for a writing job never crossed my mind.  I had no degree, and I happily repeated that to anyone who asked why I wasn't writing.  However, to get a house out here, I needed a job for the mortgage, and I applied and landed a job with the registry office.  It was another job that I was grateful for, but I was not cut out for a customer service job where many days the customers were irate about one thing or another.  After eight months or so, I gave my notice.  Now here is where the story gets good.

On my very last day of work, just before Christmas I was helping the girls in the office work our way through another long line.  We were locking the door, and I was just going to start closing my desk when a gentlemen came in and asked if he was too late to do a registration, it would be his last day to do it before the end of the month since we were closing over the holidays.  I waved him over to my desk, and one of the girls said how he would be my last customer.  "Oh really?", he asked, "I suppose you are going to site are you? "  A few people had asked me what I was going to do next, and Tim and I had agreed that I would take something if it interested me, and otherwise we would once again adjust our lifestyles so I could be home with the kids full time again. 

No, I answered, I had no job lined up yet, and I wasn't sure what to do.  He lifted his head from signing his paper, and said, "Well, you are in Fort McMurray, if you could have any job you wanted and get paid for it, what would it be?"  I paused a second before saying, "I would be a writer."  I thought maybe he would laugh, or shake his head like so many others before had, and say something like, "Oh, why would you want to do that?"  But instead he looked intently at me, and asked if I was serious.  Well, yes, I was serious, but....I had no degree, I was not a writer. 

The man asked if I had ever written anything, and I explained about my small column back home, and that I had lots of other "pieces" that I worked on for myself.  And then I will never forget the next minute, when he took his card out of  his black 3/4 length jacket and handed it to me.  His name was Tim O'Rourke, and he was the publisher of the Fort McMurray Today, the only local daily newspaper.  He told me to send him some of my work and he would hand it onto his editors.  That was on December 21st, and it took me until December 27th to finally build enough courage to send him a few things.  On December 29th, Mike Hall, my new editor called me and offered me my first full time a paid writer!  I had two editors at the Today, Mike, and Dan MacEachern, and I can easily say five and a half years later, that it was the best job I ever had, and I loved meeting everyone in the community and writing about their stories.  And I can also say that Dan and Mike taught me more working with them that I had learned in many, many years.  I was so eager to not mess up or disappoint them that I would bring the CP style book home from the office to learn where to put my commas and how to use my quotation marks.  Mike was like a walking encyclopedia, and we had fascinating conversations about life in Alberta, politics, and his beloved Fort McMurray.  Dan took the time when I needed it to talk about an idea for a story, or advice on how to deliver a story in the best way possible.  I felt blessed, it was like I had rich resources in the room with me every day.  I am sad to say that Mike passed away, and Dan moved back East, but their influence was greater than either of them probably ever realized. 

And then we had life interrupt again, I had health issues, and then we adopted our little girl, and she had health problems, so I once again decided to be home as a full time mom.  But I worked with more wonderful editors from home for the Chronicle Herald and the Cape Breton Post, and kept writing at least a little bit every week.  But after three and a half years, I found that I had the itch to get back into the game and start writing locally again.  I sent an email to the editor at the Today, Jessica McIntosh, wondering if there was anything available at the paper.  And again, fate or timing, or whatever you want to call it was on my side.  They were changing over the website to a new format, and were looking for some community bloggers or writers, and after a meeting with the publisher, Mary-Ann Kostiuk, I was back to "work".  They have been wonderfully supportive as I find my voice again and explore issues that interest me. 

I have met others who have a love/hate relationship with their editors, but I have been blessed and give mine credit for guiding me to this point, when I am finally ready to start putting my work to an even bigger field, and finishing up my first book.  Great thanks to each and everyone of you, your support really does make a difference! 

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