I hesitated to fill out an application for days after I saw the advertisement for a public relations director with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The ideal candidate’s qualifications could have been pilfered from my resume. Yet still I hesitated before I applied.
Did I really want to move from St. Augustine to Tallahassee? I wondered as I read the job description repeatedly. Yes, I did, I decided and hit the send button on the website for the state job. Only I messed up and tried again. When I went to bed that night, I wasn’t certain if the application had gone through or not.
When my phone rang the next morning and the voice on the other end said he worked for the FWC, I was certain it was to tell me my application needed to be sent again. I started to explain, until he interrupted.
“We’d like you to come up to Tallahassee for an interview,” he said.
“Can you make it tomorrow?”
I tried not to make any assumptions about what it all meant. I’d been asked for an interview before the deadline for accepting applications. I drove the three hours from my home to the Community Relations office in Tallahassee for my interview. I was nervous, but as it turned out, the interview was the easiest one I’d done. I knew how to answer all the questions about media, writing, publishing, and news releases. I’d been on the other side for a decade, and I’d interviewed my share of state employees as an environmental writer. They hired me as soon as I passed a test to write a phony news release in thirty minutes.
I started in September 2007 and worked there for the next four years. I left when I moved to Pennsylvania.
During the first few months on the job, I read about wildlife, which included fact sheets on managing them and laws on regulating them. I listened to phone calls between my supervisor and journalists from state and national media sources. I observed during meetings with the agency’s director, biologists, and media personnel as they made decisions on sensitive issues. I began writing news releases of lesser importance about openings, closings, and campaigns for wildlife license plates. I took a few calls here and there from the media. I watched and mentally took notes during crises situations as those around me scrambled to write talking points and news releases in a few minutes time.
After a few months, I was assigned to write an article for Florida wildlife magazine featuring Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the commission. He received his appointment from Gov. Charlie Crist.
After I interviewed him, I searched for quotes from others about Barreto. My boss directed me to contact the governor’s press office and ask for a written quote. Two days after I sent the email request, my phone rang in my office.
“Hello, Pat? This is Charlie Crist,” the voice on the line said.
At first, I thought some friend was playing a trick on me, but I’d met Crist at a luncheon a few months before so I recognized the voice.
“I hear you’re writing about my buddy Rodney,” he said. “I wanted to talk to you about him.”
I was scrambling on my desk for my notes for the article. Of course, the folder was nowhere to be found.
“I’m just a little nervous, Governor, so excuse me while I find my notes,” I said.
“No need to be nervous, Pat. Let’s just chat.”
So we did. He gave me my quotes, and I took notes on the back of an old news release.
“Thank you, Governor. I know you have more important things to do, such as . . . ”
My mind went blank. What issues did he have on his mind? I started again.
“I know you’re dealing with big issues with . . . water,” I finally blurted.
Water? Really? That’s the best I could muster? Florida’s surrounded on three sides by water so of course he deals with water issues, but really that’s all I could say?
I kept my job despite my ineptitude in handling a simple call from the governor. I learned to talk to media from CNN, Time magazine, the Associated Press, Fox News, and even a representative from a Japanese reality show who wondered if manatees farted under water, and if so, could they possibly film one farting.
It became my new normal and lasted for the next four years. Stay tuned for a few of my stories to learn how some freshwater turtles made a new law and how I became known as the “python princess.”
Working in an agency that manages wildlife in a state filled with human wildlife has given me a library full of stories to tell around campfires and novels to write until my fingers cramp. My hesitation in applying was simply the quiet moment I needed before heading into one wild and wacky job.
Trails in the Sand (2013) follows environmental writer, Caroline Carlisle, on a quest to save sea turtles from the BP oil spill and to save her family after she marries her dead sister’s husband.
The idea from the story came while I was working with the FWC during the oil spill crisis. I was the media director for the sea turtle nest relocation project that occurred during the summer of 2010. During the project, thousands of sea turtle eggs were moved from Panhandle beaches to the Atlantic Coast. Thousands of sea turtle hatchlings were saved from eminent death as a result of the move.