It’s how I learned to write

Writer’s Craft was hands-down my favourite class in high school. The class taught me what English didn’t: how to write, and how to put heart into it. But now, it seems the popular course has come under “a bit of an attack,” as my beloved teacher has said. She asked for letters explaining how the class has helped former students in real life. This was my response.

I’m sorry to hear that Writer’s Craft is coming under fire. There are so many practical ways that class has helped me in my career. As a reporter, I write every day. Writer’s Craft was my first introduction to writing daily. It encouraged me to write often – creatively or otherwise – as a way to practice and improve. Writing and sharing creatively also boosted my confidence. This is integral for a reporter whose work is read every day by thousands of people. Learning to take feedback and criticism is also important.

Other practical ways: learning to write concisely, descriptively, actively are all so important in journalism. “Show, don’t tell” echos in my head almost every time I sit down to write. Better grammar and vocabulary are givens.

But most of all, writer’s craft taught me to feel what I write – to look deeply inside and write from the heart. That may sound cheesy but whenever I feel passionate about what I am writing, that feeling seeps into the words on the page. This has practical ramifications for anyone who needs to reach and resonate with their audience.

And I must say, writing is a skill that not just a journalist must master. Language and text and information are ubiquitous. Effective communication is a must in our digital world.

Please feel free to use my name or submit any of this if it helps keep Writer’s Craft around! That course gave me such a love of writing that has never gone away. I think I have the best job in the world. Writing is such a gift.

I could go on….

April

Graceful Germain

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With tree-lined, quiet streets, brownstone buildings and ornate details, I live on one of the best streets in the world. Germain Street emerged in the 1880s as Saint John’s residential area for the upper class, and now I’m lucky enough to live  here today. It’s a five minute walk to anywhere uptown, and the Saint John Harbour is within sight. In no other city could I afford to live in such a beautiful, historic neighbourhood.

This week I wrote about the possible demise of the Gothic Arches, a late 19th century church which once held 1,500 people for Sunday services. Since 1999, it’s been a performing arts venue, but it has fallen in disrepair, and the business isn’t profitable. The private owner of the church now says he may have to tear the building down if it isn’t soon sold.

Living in a city as old as Saint John – 226 years – you’re surrounded by heritage. So much so, that I think residents here sometimes take it for granted.

There is a constant struggle here to modernize while preserving the city’s historic character. Tourists and cruise ship passengers travel from all over to “see what we have left,” as one heritage official told me this week. But as the buildings age, the price tag of repairs go up, leaving mounting bills for owners. To live in a heritage building, it seems you need to value history a bit more than cheap convenience, or you’d be better off building a cookie-cutter sub-division in the suburbs. The challenge is to find these investors, especially in a city and a province more depressed than many other places in Canada.

My apartment is located in the R. B. Emerson residence, built in 1883 and named after the manufacturing businessman who lived here in the 1890s. While most of Germain Street was constructed in brick after the Great Fire of 1877, my house was built with stone, giving it the distinctive, almost spooky look from the outside. Inside, we have high ceilings and windows, big rooms, and a marble fireplace. We only live on half of the second floor. Hard to imagine this was once a single family home.

Maybe it’s because I’m still pretty fresh in Saint John – I just passed the two-year mark of N.B. residence status – but I still find the heritage here fascinating and beautiful. It would be a shame to lose such historic character to the wrecking ball. Because as one historian said this week, once it’s gone, it’s far too easy to forget.

In their pain, they find a way

Kylee Wallace

Can you imagine the utter pain of losing a loved one to a senseless act? I often struggle to wrap my head around this when writing about victims of crime, or loved ones of people who die in car crashes.

Most recently, I sat down with Raylene Wallace, the impassioned mother of Kylee, a 15-year-old who died in a crash on June 26, 2010. I’ve written many stories about Kylee, but yesterday I was writing about Raylene’s plan to offer a safe ride home program in her daughter’s memory. Volunteers will drive to parties in the Saint John area and make sure kids get a safe ride home for free.

Raylene has been through hell and back. She’s still going through hell as she wades through the court process, awaiting the fate of the 20-year-old driver who crashed the car Kylee was riding in when she died.

But in all her pain, she wants to do something good. She wants to stop another parent from losing a child.

It amazes me when I think about it. I don’t have kids so I could never understand the depth of her loss. But I have, unfortunately, written about quite a few people who have died before their time, and I’ve spoken to a lot of bereaved families. The loss is horrible, the pain indescribable, and the only way to keep living, as Raylene told me, is to imagine Kylee is just in the other room.

So how does she find the strength to organize a ride home program? In her grief, she is making a difference.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed this.

Take the Higgins family. When 46-year-old Caroline Higgins died after being struck by an inexperienced motorcyclist while jogging near the Reversing Falls bridge, her brother and sisters – smart and practical as they are – starting researching the laws. They found that New Brunswick is utterly behind the times. We’re one of the only provinces to not have a graduated licensing system for new motorcycle drivers. There is also no mandatory inspection program for motorcycles. Both rules, they believe, would reduce another senseless death from happening.

Now, the provincial chief coroner has made recommendations to this effect, and New Brunswick politicians have promised to run public consultations on changing the rules.

Instead of wallowing in misery, as I believe I would do, they are acting, and making the world safer for the rest of us.

For families who have been needlessly victimized by tragedy, the public benefits. How selfless of them, and how grateful we should be.

Fundy Trail

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The Fundy Trail, a few kilometres east of St. Martins, is one of my favourite places. When the sun poked out on Sunday, we drove down to the tiny fishing village, followed a few bends in the road, and parked the car for a long hike beside the Fundy coastline. Hiking on this trail, you get a real sense of place. You remember where you are, smell it, see it, feel it. Here are a few photos I snapped, trying to use the new techniques I learned from Noel on Saturday.

On a side note, apparently plans to extend the Fundy Parkway, a winding, scenic road that hugs the coastline beside the trail, have been stalled this year. A staff member told us no new funding was approved for this year. Instead, the road abruptly ends where construction ended in June 2010, with an orange barrier blocking traffic from the unfinished road. Eventually, the road will follow the coast all the way to Fundy National Park. This is the last undeveloped stretch of land along the eastern seaboard.

Snap happy

I have always thought I was pretty good at photography. That was, until I had to take photos for all my stories in Yellowknife with my own SLR camera. Then, it dawned on me that shooting on auto is not in fact good photography. Anyone can do it. I didn’t even know how to take a photo without the flash popping up.

Ever since then, I have been very timid taking photos, though I still love it. I suppose I felt a little embarrassed that it wasn’t a skill I had picked up along the way.

Well this afternoon, I am heaving a sigh of relief. I made an oath to Noel Chenier today that I will never shoot on auto again. “It’s crap,” as he says, and I believe him. All the good photos I have taken up to this point were pretty much by luck.

Today I took Noel’s beginner SLR course, and for $60, it’s an amazing investment for anyone who wants to brush up on their technical photography skills. I now properly understand how to get the effects I love, by adjusting the aperture, shutter speeds or ISO. I have a much better understanding of how to shoot without a flash, how to do manual metering, and some other neat tricks.

Here’s one I took of my kitty, Ginger, as soon as I got home (trying to take advantage of the natural light from the window):

A newborn blog, even if blogs are dead

I was an early adopter of blogging, setting up Sink or Swim in June 2004, a whopping seven years ago. As much as I hated to see the old blog go, I decided it was time for a change.

But it wasn’t without some thought. With Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media, is a blog really necessary?

I can see both sides to this. Why write prose when you can get it across in 140 characters or less? Who will really read the blog anyway?

After playing around with the format for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that a blog without focus is quite useless. That’s why I’ve decided to make this blog more professional, less personal, but still personal enough to make it interesting.

This is the place where I’ll share the stories that didn’t make the paper and the inspirations I meet along the way. It’s a place where I hope to share photos, videos and stories about the people I meet (both on and off the clock). It’s both resume and Facebook friendly.

So if you want a peek into the life of a young journalist, someone who just broke into the industry three years ago after pining for a reporting job for years, someone who loves her new Maritime home and still has so much to explore, please bookmark me and read on!

– April