And not ashamed to tell you so!
LOWA, the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, recruited me for membership back in 2005 based on my book, Before the Saltwater Came. I didn’t see how such a book qualified me for membership, but it did. Among the handful of women members at that time was Susan Gros, an international fishing champion, and I was starry eyed and a wee bit intimidated!
If memory serves, in 2006, my first magazine full feature was called “Cajun Sleigh Ride”, about kayak fishing down at Grand Isle. The article was written after my first kayak fishing trip with Calmwater Kayaker, the guide who comments here as “Choupiquer”. That article did not, however, net me any prizes in LOWA’s annual “Excellence in Craft” competition that year.
However, the next year, when my book was being considered for an award from this organization, I was nearly blown off my chair when the announcement came that an article I had written called “Terrebonne Defenses Nearly Gone” had been chosen as First Place in the Coastal Restoration Category. I was so surprised you could have knocked me over with a feather, after which you would have thought I had imbibed a whole bottle of champagne, I was so bubbly!
Once you’ve scored a First Place prize, anything less is sort of a letdown. That may sound less than humble and border on egotism, but it’s just the plain truth. Being recognized for “excellence in craft” means you must strive to always do better–to go above and beyond in your writing skills. That is exactly what the awards are designed to do: challenge us to be better outdoor writers, journalists, broadcasters, and photographers.
“Women and Fishing” and “Tenacity over Tears” have both placed in recent years, but I’ve not had another first prize article since 2007.
Currently, there are three active female members in the organization. One of them, Paula Ouder, works for the state, and I don’t know her or her work very well. The other one, Deb Burst, was a member before me, and has taken a wetland tour with me, which culminated in her writing a prize-winning story about that tour. The three of us made LOWA history Saturday night when they announced us, one by one, as having swept the board in the Magazine Short Feature category. Paula placed first, Deb placed second, and my article “Bands of Gold” published in Ascension Gumbo Magazine ranked third. Thanks to Lyle Johnson of the Gonzales Weekly Citizen and current president of LOWA (Tar Baby to my readers), for passing that assignment down to me! (Note: Tar Baby took home his own share of awards Saturday night.)
Again, though, third place is just not good enough. I made a mental note to myself that I really need to step up my writing and spread my wings beyond this state. But there were still a few categories left in which I had contributions: Electronic (meaning something published on the web) Coastal Restoration, and Color Photography.
I was really disappointed when none of my bird photos placed in the Color Photography category. Again, I mentally reminded myself that I have a lot to learn about wildlife photography and those who won understand things that give me nightmares–shutter speed, aperture settings, depth of field–all things necessary to turn out prize-winnings photos.
As the Electronic category was being announced, I happily clapped for each recipient, third place, second place, and then I could not believe my ears when I heard the words of the title being announced: “Something’s Fishy” followed by my name. Do you know what that means? That fishing story had netted a First Place. I was elated!
The last category in which I had a contribution was, of course, Coastal Restoration. I unashamedly found myself almost dancing up to the front to get the certificate when “Rantings of a Restoration Junkie” was announced in First Place. I was just about as happy as a girl can be, but I will be quick to tell you it was not an “ego” thing as much as it was an “arrival” of sorts.
However, there’s only one problem with winning three prizes in one night: Next year! I would really have to ramp it up this year if I wanted to do that well again at next year. I’m competing against myself, as it were, and not so much competing against any other organization members.
The conference was relaxing, informative, entertaining and rewarding. Part of that reward was meeting the young people whose essays I judged in the Senior Essay contest and seeing them receive their awards and later encouraging them to keep up the good work.
LOWA is a great organization full of very talented and generous people. I consider it an honor that Gordon Hutchinson, who writes a monthly column for Louisiana Sportsman, recruited me for membership when I had no clue there was anything I could contribute to such an auspicious group of accomplished outdoor journalists. They inspire me by their example and challenge me with their accomplishments, and I thank them for that.