Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Outdoor Writing and You.

Outdoor activities and writing go hand in hand for me. I don’t know where I acquired the passion for writing, but I have it. Many people I run across have the same passion and ask me for direction, so I thought I would share my thoughts on seeking success through writing.

Many anglers post fishing reports in online forums. If you do this, you are already an outdoor writer. You can see the difference in styles very clearly from the anglers who post short “this is what I caught” posts and those who weave a tale complete with photos of the rising sun and vivid descriptions of fish fights. This is where many writers start. If you post on forums and frequently receive positive comments on your story, you are doing well. Sometimes, the website that the forum is on will feature forum posts on the front page of the site. Having your forum post featured in this manner is another good sign you are on the right track.
Putting in the hours is a must

From forum posts to article writing is a big leap. Fortunately for the outdoor writer, there are many sites willing to post your content. There are some pitfalls, however. The vast majority will not pay for your content, but it’s not always about the money. What you have to look for is a website that appreciates the writer. What this means is if you are a writer providing free content to a website, you can certainly expect a little cross promotion. You are letting people know where to find your articles through social media, thereby providing traffic to the website; you should expect them to promote your articles as well. If you are not getting that, it’s time to move on. Keep in mind that you are investing a lot of your time, so don’t get taken advantage of.
Attending seminars and conferences give you ideas for new stories

Another thing to look for are good editors. A sign of a good outdoor oriented website is having the people who run the site recognizing their roles as editors. You should feel comfortable sending an article to your editor and getting feedback in a timely manner. Even if they are not interested in the story, they should offer feedback. Beware the folks who will blindly publish online whatever you send them, no questions asked, or the people who don’t offer feedback, no matter what you send them. You will learn nothing and eventually will lose interest.

After writing a few articles and honing your style, there are a few websites that actually pay real money for your content. This is when you learn if you have been headed in the right direction. Because they are investing in your story or article, they expect more out of your writing. Always research and never write about something you don’t know about. The fact that these sites pay for their content is a reflection of how much real traffic they are getting on their site. Their readership is vast and you don’t want to submit something only to find out you didn’t know enough about the subject to begin with.
Winning awards lets you know you are on the right track

You are going to want to be published. If you are already writing for a magazine’s website, like Kayak Fish Magazine, you may already have a good relationship with that magazine’s editor. This is very good as you will have an idea of what they are looking for. Editors are busy so it’s not a great idea to constantly email article queries or ask questions, but do ask questions from time to time. Find out what they are looking for and seek “assignments”. Eventually, you will find the right combination that works for you and your editor, and you will be published.

Lastly, but arguably most important, is network with other writers. There are very good professional associations out there that want to help you. Being based in Florida, I am a member of the Florida Outdoor Writer’s Association. There are similar organizations based in most states. I am also a member of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. All of these groups provide valuable tools and advice on how to become successful outdoor writers and hold annual conferences and seminars. Don’t be afraid to submit your work to these groups for review and entry into the Excellence in Craft awards. These are peer reviewed contests that will recognize the best submissions in a series of categories. Although these groups are professional writers groups whose members are paid for their work, many also offer memberships levels even if you are not yet paid for your work.
Join a writers association

As a disclaimer, I would like to add that I support all writers being compensated for their work. Most publishers, whether online or printed, sell advertising and have some sort of income. If you are putting in time to write an article that someone wants to print, they should buy it from you. I stated earlier that it’s not always about the money, and it’s not, but don’t get caught up in providing content for someone who is making money from your work, but not passing that along. We all share a passion for outdoor activities and some of us like to put that passion to words. It’s not for everyone, but it provides rewards for those who want to pursue it. Know that there will be frustrations and setbacks, but with time and effort, you will eventually be successful.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The New Everglades Wonder Gardens

The Everglades Wonder Gardens was established in 1936 in Bonita Springs, Florida. Two brothers, Bill and Les Piper, originally set up as a wildlife rehabilitation center, and it quickly developed into a popular original old Florida roadside attraction. Over the years, the gardens were home to panthers, bears, otters, alligators and “Big Joe” who at over 14ft long was, for a while, the largest American crocodile in existence. The attraction remained in the Piper family for many years until mid-2013 when the park closed briefly for the first time ever, leaving the fate of the Everglades Wonder Gardens in question. Instead of closing, however, local photographer John Brady took over management of the gardens and is determined not to let it become another extinct attraction.
I have been a resident of Bonita Springs for over 20 years, and have raised three children here. The gardens were at least a monthly trip. The old growth tropical banyan trees shaded us as we viewed Florida mammals and birds in a quiet setting. I was sad to see the gardens close and a little apprehensive to see someone else take over this longtime family attraction, but recently I visited the historic landmark to see the changes myself.
The first change I noticed as I stepped through the door was a major rebuilding of the lobby. Gone was the outdated shop selling plush animals and cheap baubles. In its place is a beautiful gallery featuring Brady’s Florida Everglades art photography. There are large, well lit pieces highlighting his award winning color and black and white work. Some of these photos easily rival Clyde Butcher’s work in scale and composition. Just down the hallway, and over the resident hound, is what remains of Les Piper’s natural history collection, various reptile and aquatic skeletons and native artifacts.
Entering the gardens I noticed that all of the old growth banyans, tropical plumbs, kapoks and scheffleras remain, providing a beautiful canopy over the entire 3 ½ acre area. As I walked around the grounds I noticed several familiar sites. The alligator pond is still there as are most of the old cage areas that once housed the black bears and Florida panthers.
The mammals have been replaced with local rescue birds and exotic species ranging from parakeets to large parrots. A flock of beautiful pink Florida flamingos still grace the gardens as do a variety of reptiles. Some of the square concrete ponds that once housed injured alligators are now empty. Presumably, and hopefully they will eventually hold fish and other aquatic life. A collection of tortoises round out the animal collection of the park.
After spending an hour or so roaming the gardens and snapping pictures, I left feeling very satisfied. The gardens looked fresher and newer than ever. New displays of bromeliads and orchids, some of them rare, are placed throughout the park. A new butterfly garden is full of colorful blooming milkweed and shrimp plants. Large staghorn ferns hang from the giant branches of the banyan and kapok trees.

I left feeling that this jewel of Bonita Springs was placed in good hands. John Brady’s vision is to restore one of the last vestiges of a bygone era of roadside attractions while updating it as well. More information about Everglades Wonder Gardens can be found at and you can visit the park yourself, it’s located in the heart of historic downtown Bonita Springs on the Imperial River on Old U.S. 41.