(Here are the pitches)
In these calls, I coached writers and helped them rework their pitches, landing them bylines in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and more.
Seattle’s last stand of old-growth forest is losing its ferns.
Seward Park, on the shores of Lake Washington about 20 minutes from downtown Seattle by car, contains 120 acres of old-growth with many 500-year-old trees. The park is the epicenter of mysterious die-off affecting sword ferns in the Puget Sound region. A local woman walking in Seward Park first noticed it in 2013: a forest slope with a brown, denuded understory that had once been green with ferns. Nothing grows on the bare ground left behind – not even weeds.
A group of community-members-turned-amateur-biology-sleuths, aided by ecologists and plant pathologists from local universities, soon coalesced to investigate. They’ve tracked the die-off’s spread within Seward Park; identified other patches of dying ferns elsewhere around the Puget Sound region; developed criteria for recognizing a die-off event; and conducted soil tests in an attempt to identify the cause.
I’d like to write a piece of 800-1,000 words focusing on the Puget Sound sword fern die-off and efforts to understand it. The loss of sword ferns is a concern in itself: They’re a key component of the understory in Douglas-fir forests, and their disappearance could permanently change the ecology of Seward Park and other affected sites.
But, far from being just of local interest, the story also hints at bigger issues. How have recent die-offs affecting other taxonomic groups – frogs, bats, bees, sea stars – influenced how people interpreted and reacted to the sword fern mortality? In addition, because the fern die-off was first noticed in a city park, this is also a story about the importance of urban fragments of natural ecosystems. Because urban natural areas are unusually accessible, they can garner a critical mass of eyes on nature and serve as sentinels for problems affecting surrounding ecosystems.
Thanks so much for considering this pitch. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
I’m a freelance science journalist based in Seattle covering biology, medicine, and the environment. My work has appeared in publications including Newsweek, New Scientist, Nature Outlooks, Spectrum, Nautilus, and WorldWatch. I also write weekly for Anthropocene magazine’s Daily Science blog.
Query #2 (to a literary agent)
I read about you on C.M. McCoy’s North of Normal blog and I loved the way you expressed compassion for and love of books and authors in spite of the fact that you have to reject so many of both. Your responses were warm and genuine and made me feel like I would love to work with you if you find my novel one that you want to take on (every author’s hope of course!).
I have recently completed a mystery, Below the Fall Line (word count 74,476). The novel is set on the campus of Wilson College in the fictional town of Wilson, Georgia during an unusually hot and humid September where even the dogs are too lethargic to chase the trucks and the ice machines are emptied as fast as they are filled. Wandering down to the local lake, Sue Gordon, the secretary of the Fine Arts Department, discovers the body of a young woman floating in the reeds, a plastic doll with an alligator head tied around her neck. The doll has been stolen from a controversial senior exhibit where sketches of pubescent girls, tied up to dis-membered plastic limbs and exhibited in conjunction with animal-headed dolls has scandalized members of the community and antagonized many of the art students. When a second young woman is found, also with a doll from the exhibit, the artist becomes the focus of the police until the artist’s body is also discovered, his head bashed in, caught, in eerie similarity to the girl, in the reeds at the edge of Bailey’s Lake.
This novel combines my love of mysteries with my passion for Contemporary art. I write frequently about the art world, and my work can be found in Art Papers, Art Core Journal, and Fiber Arts among other publications. My book on Dutch painter and sculptor Rik van Iersel explores the abstract figurative imagery dominated by the artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. I currently live in Sacramento but I grew up in Atlanta and—like my protagonist—worked for two years in a small college in south Georgia.
I appreciate your consideration of Below the Fall Line and I hope you find it worth pursuing. I am including a synopsis and the first three chapters as stipulated on the agency website.
While boarding a flight, retired engineer from Assam (India), Mahesh Bora chanced to read about an enterprise in Rajasthan that makes paper from elephant dung. It struck Mahesh that Rajasthan isn’t a place where there are a lot of elephants; and yet someone was trying to set up an enterprise which manufactures eco friendly paper from elephant dung. Soon, Bora travelled to Rajasthan to learn about how this enterprise works. After his return he experimented blending rhino dung and forest waste with a kitchen blender which he says he stole from his wife.
Bora’s home state Assam is world famous for the endangered one horned rhino and the Asian elephant.Moreover, the forest cover in India is 24.16% (2015) of the total geographical area; while 33% is the usually recommended percentage.
In spite of a ban, rhinos and elephants in Assam are being ruthlessly poached for their horns and tusks. According to the website of the Kaziranga National Park, no more than 2000 one horned rhinos remain in the wild with only two populations containing more than 100 rhinos: Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India (1,200) and Chitwan National Park (CNP), Nepal (600). Since 2001, 239 rhinos have been killed by poachers in Assam.
After some initial experimentation, Bora set up Elrhino, a social business which makes hand crafted paper from forest waste, rhino and elephant dung. Rhinos and elephants are herbivores and have weak digestive systems, thus retaining most of the fiber in their food in the dung they eliminate.
The raw material of the paper also has pineapple leaves, jute, cotton, grass, banana bark, and bits of the traditional Assamese silks Eri and Muga. The hand crafted paper is then made into notebooks, lampshades, playing cards and bags. Apart from being eco friendly and 100% biodegradable, Elrhino paper is wood free, has a unique texture and helps save forests, conserves wildlife indirectly while providing employment to local people in Assam.
Would you be interested in a 2000 word feature article on Elrhino for American Forests magazine?
I’ll visit the enterprise to report on it as I’m based in Assam. I’m a full time freelance journalist with bylines in Al Jazeera English, The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, National Geographic Traveler India, and several others. My clips and testimonials are on my website. I do have photography skills but can also hire a local photographer, if necessary.
Looking forward to working with you, Lea. Thank you for your time.
My friend and photojournalist David Burden was featured in your latest edition, and he suggested I contact you.
I’m currently exploring the various social projects conducted in Bali and thought you might be interested in my story idea. I have outlined it below for your consideration.
A few words about me: I’m a freelance journalist and content marketing writer from Berlin. As a bilingual native speaker, my work has been published in both German and English. Most of my journalistic work can be found in the staff magazine of a leading science institute, the GFZ German Research Centre for Geoscience. I’ve also produced English content for a variety of blogs and websites such as betahaus, Berlin’s first coworking space. Feel free to browse my full portfolio at [LINK].
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Bali has a waste problem. Plastic is a popular choice, and there are only three landfills on the island. As a result, much of the waste ends up in water courses and travels to the ocean. While recycling initiatives have been around for some years, it shows little to no effect, and waste management is generally not well organised. So much unsorted waste means that 70% of the landfill are made up of organic material – a potentially huge compost resource for Bali’s many rice fields.
But the government is slow, complex, and waste is not on the top of its list. To address this issue, Balinese locals and long-term expats have come together to develop a sustainable solution – driven by village communities and volunteer organisations.
Their project Merah Putih Hijau (MPH) kicked off successfully in 2016. The name literally means “red white green” – the colour coding used to separate organic, plastic, and paper waste. MPH aims to let villages take control of the waste themselves, by developing a low-cost, low-tech, low-risk, and fully community-owned waste management. In order to reach this goal, the community needs to see the benefits of such an endeavour with their own eyes: That a household separation strategy and local collection system can lead to an increase in the village budget, by selling back recyclable material, and by using a composting system for an increased yield from the rice fields.
Recently, one village has agreed to be the “guinea pig”: A model community which, if successful, will serve as an example to other villages that the strategy is working. Thanks to the help of generous donors and continuous fundraising efforts, the Mengwi village of Pererenan, with around 1000 households, is currently being fitted with a complete functioning recycling, composting, and collection facility. The village itself has donated 400 sqm of land and a pickup vehicle. MPH will be raising funds for one year. After that, the program is to be self-sustainable – and fully replicable for the rest of Bali.
The problem of air pollution in Beijing makes headlines every year.
A little over 700 miles north of Beijing sits a little known world capital with air pollution levels 5-times higher than that of Beijing.
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is the coldest and most polluted capital city in the world. In the winter, air pollution levels are 80 times higher than the recommended safety levels of the WHO.
And this poisonous air is literally killing the people who live here. A 2011 study found that 1 out of 10 deaths in Ulaanbaatar can be directly attributed to air pollution. Pollution related pneumonia among children overflows local hospitals every winter and is the cause 15% of all deaths among children in the city.
And conditions are not improving.
I know this firsthand, because my wife and I lived there for eight years. During our final winter in Ulaanbaatar, my wife came down with pneumonia, after years of chronic respiratory problems. It was then we knew it was time to leave. Three years later after leaving Ulaanbaatar’s toxic smog, we feel her respiratory health is somewhat back to normal.
This past winter, the people of Mongolia rightly took to the streets with signs reading “We are slowly choking to death”. And elected officials in central Asia’s only democracy have listened. A little. There have been some government incentives for using more expensive, but cleaner coal and electric heat, as well as mask distributions — but nothing scaleable or sustainable. In the end, the problem continues to grow.
Today, air pollution is Ulaanbaatar’s largest dilemma.
Or is it?
According to the WHO, the source of 80% of Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution comes from the 180,000+ gers or yurts (circular tents), burning anything necessary to stay warm during winter’s consistent sub-0F temperatures. People from the countryside flood into Ulaanbaatar every year because of the growing difficulties involved with making a living herding livestock — the traditional Mongolian vocation.
There are heated apartments available in Ulaanbaatar. And more being built every day. However, the average cost for a one bedroom apartment is close to $500 USD per month, with many of the more livable apartments going for much higher than that. Newer apartments tend to be “luxury apartments,” priced at levels comparable to New York City. When the average monthly wage is less than $400 USD per month — those living on the margins of urban Ulaanbaatar are left with burning cheap coal, tires, plastics, and other rubbish as their only option to freezing to death.
Could Ulaanbaatar’s toxic air be resolved with the development of affordable housing?
This is the question I’d like to explore with a 2000-3000 word article.
I love this city because I’ve spent a portion of my life in this city, and still have many good friends living there. I have access to first hand viewpoints of both folks living in gers, as well as folks connected to local government. I plan to explore my question through the eyes of those on the ground, trying to simply live life without “choking to death”.
May I write this article for you? I also have access to some interesting photographs, which would go well with this piece.
I look forward to hearing from you.