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Lyndsie Bourgon grew up in Milk River, Alberta, a town of about 800 people. She studied Journalism in Halifax, at the University of King’s College, and graduated in 2008. Since then she has travelled around the world, including Scotland, Italy, Cuba and more, before moving back to Canada and freelancing. Her features have been published in the Guardian, The Walrus, Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail and more. I caught up with her in Calgary to ask about her feature about wild horses and the cull in The Wildies of Alberta, which appeared in Roads & Kingdoms in June 2014. It follows the story of the only two ranchers in the province with the permits to catch wild horses.


Megan Lacelle: What’s your style normally?


Lyndsie Bourgon: I went to freelance in 2009 and I kind of wrote about everything and anything people would pay me for. But I do magazine stories, that’s what I like to do. As I kept going I tried really hard to not do as much straight up news reporting and I wanted to do more features and longer narrative stuff. But I don’t have a beat.


ML: Why are you drawn to feature writing and magazine writing?


LB: Personally, I didn’t entirely enjoy news reporting, but I still wanted to tell and write true stories. I like nonfiction, but I don’t like writing memoirs. So it was kind of like, well this is what I’m going to do. I’m so picky about what I don’t like to do that this, narrative nonfiction, is what I do like to do. I like a lot of stuff about it. I like hanging out with people. I like that you kind of sometimes get to play with structure and I like the aspects of journalism that are still there.


ML: How did you go about writing that story in particular?


LB: What I had done there actually was I read kind of everything that had been written about it already, and I looked up, that must of been 2014, when the announcement was made it 2013 that they would be doing to cull again and then I waited and got in touch with the ESRD (Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) people and asked them to let me know when the announcement would come out again. I knew that I didn’t want, that for it to be a magazine story or a longer online story, that it needed to have more of a narrative to it so I really wanted to talk to the two ranchers because I thought they were relatively underrepresented in the news stories, probably just simply due to deadlines or just the way the news cycle works – you need to file stories right away – so they probably couldn’t get a hold of these ranchers because they were out in their trucks somewhere. So they mostly got the side of the people who were protesting it which they had a point, but for a majority of the stories they couldn’t get ahold of these two guys who had the permits for 2014. I knew I wanted the time to stake them out and that took a while, I sent them e-mails. To find out who they were I looked at a map and the ranches around there, I kind of found which ranchers were where in the area and then phoned and asked if they were the people. The one guy I asked said he wasn’t but gave me the guy I needed to talk to so that was good. So I called them up and they agreed to talk to me. I spoke with one of them and said if I wanted to come out and hang out with you when would be a good time, because I don’t really want to do it on the phone, and so he suggested a weekend and we went up and hung out with him.


ML: What were the reactions from readers when you write the piece from the ranchers’ perspective?


LB: I haven’t heard from the ranchers, but if you see the comments on that story, I’ve never had comments like that on any other story that I’ve done. I got lots of e-mails and lots of feedback from the Wild Horses of Alberta Society, who I had actually called for comment and they declined, and they were quite pissed off when the story came out.


ML: What was it like to deal with comments like that?


LB: I feel the story was fair and true and that I had been setting up to do something that I knew probably wouldn’t be liked. I kind of expected to get comments, but I feel like, in the past, I’ve written stories that were more controversial that I have been girding myself for. This was not one of those stories and I did get a lot of e-mails. I don’t respond or anything. I think in some instances it’s valuable to respond and create a dialogue, but the e-mails I was getting weren’t about having a discussion – they were just about why people thought I was dumb.


ML: Do you remember why you started writing or what got you interested in writing?


LB: I guess from the beginning I was from a small town and I liked to write, it’s what I’m good at and what I like writing in my spare time. I was writing poetry and stuff like that. I used to go to the Writer’s Guild of Alberta writing camp so that was a really important part of my life. Then I decided to go to journalism school, mainly because I also enjoyed history classes and current events and at the time I knew I would graduate and have a degree, unlike English, which I love, where I would have a degree and not know what I would do after so it was a good compromise. It was also the more tangible degree – which is also kind of ironic because I graduated in 2008 when things arguably got very bad for journalism.


ML: Do you have any advice for those of us that are just starting out?


LB: I think it depends what you want to do. I started freelancing in 2009 and I did it for five years full-time, but right now I have a day job. There’s nothing wrong with that. Freelancing is really hard, it can be really hard but you still need to live and eat. So my first piece of advice is that if you need to take a day job don’t be ashamed, for sure. If you’re into magazine writing, read a ton of magazines and start thinking very critically about what they like. Make a list and try to see what they all have in common - if you have an idea, pitch with authority. Once you do well on that they’ll trust you to do other stories. I feel like in journalism the best advice is to not give up and to go about things in a creative way and that’s just what you have to do and you have to not get discouraged. Definitely read very widely, that really helped me. Editors will understand that this is your degree and that right after graduation that you couldn’t get that job right away. I know the pressure feels high, but I think if you keep at it you won’t make the wrong choice.


ML: You did a lot of travelling too; do you think that helped you as a writer?


LB: I think it helped me as a writer, I don’t know if it helped me in terms of employment, but personally, which is the important thing, I think I’m a better writer for it. That’s why I do it. I find it really fulfilling, it gives you a lot of observational tools, it makes you really confident in yourself, and gives you perspective which is good.


ML: So you’re in Alberta now, where are you working?


LB: I work at Venture Publishing as an editor there. I help out with their contract magazines and that means I also sometimes get to write for their business magazines which is nice. It’s freed me up, so far I have worked on a personal essay in my free time which is something I couldn’t do before because it wouldn’t make any money. It’s good in that sense, but you don’t pump out the same volume. I can’t complain because four years is a pretty good record for being self-employed, but if you go that route you have to have the stomach for not having any money.


ML: Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve ever written?


LB: No, I think my best work is still inside me so that’s kind of good – it gives me a reason to keep going. I wrote a story in 2011 that ran in the Globe and Mail. It was kind of a tumultuous experience for me but it also changed the way I write. It was a profile of a guy in Toronto who was an art and antiquity dealer who lived a crazy life, he traveled the world and bought stuff and sold it at auction and his apartment was so weird; it had three levels of just bizarre stuff. So I started writing it in January and shadowed him until May or June and then while I was shadowing him, he died. So the magazine I was writing for didn’t want it anymore because he died, which was fine. So I quickly had to replace it and it ran in the Globe as a kind of long obituary. Entering his world gave me a ton of other story ideas and things that I’m interested in that I didn’t know I was interested in. It was nutty, I probably still think about Bill Jamieson every day. One last piece of advice is just to keep writing and don’t forget what you like about it.


This interview has been edited and condensed.