AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
Copywriter Slays Fire-Breathing Dragon
I moved to the country for a slower pace of life.
I fell in love with the crisp, clean, fresh air … the pine tree scent everywhere … and the wildlife, like deer and wild turkey … that often come to visit us in our backyard.
As a former native Miami girl … this was a new kind of paradise to savor with all five senses.
And just when I thought I had found my little piece of country heaven …
My neighbor installed a wood-burning furnace in his backyard. He did it in the fall to save money on natural gas for heating his home and water supply during winter and all year round.
At first, we thought it quite “neighborly” of him to explain how it would work … he made it sound like there wouldn’t be any problems for us.
But we never anticipated the vast amount of black smoke and fumes we’d be subjected to 24/7 – 365. Plus, the most toxic part of it was, he was illegally burning chemically treated wood inside his furnace, too!
As a former firefighter, I knew what a dangerous respiratory health risk that posed – especially for people who already had respiratory problems, like my son did … with his asthma.
Our neighbor obviously didn’t consider the impact his furnace would have on his neighbor’s health or quality of life. Nor … the potential health risks he was creating for us … and the surrounding community.
Just the simple act of stepping outside would cause our clothes and hair to reek of smoke! And our once cherished activity of barbequing outdoors was now impossible to enjoy.
We pleaded with our neighbor to correct the situation, but his response was simply “live with it – or move!”
I knew I had to do something about that “fire-breathing dragon” to protect my family and restore our fresh-air quality of life. So I filed a nuisance complaint with the city and called the Environmental Protection Department (EPD).
In addition to filing both complaints …
I wrote and presented a compelling persuasive documented case in city court, of how the toxic smoke affected our lives on a daily basis, and the lives of our adjacent neighbors.
With my words, I painted a very vivid picture “to put them in our shoes,” and utilized a survey plat map of our properties to show how far this smoke encroached upon neighboring lands.
Using visuals can be very persuasive too – (picture).
The properties impacted included a head-start pre-school – directly to the west of my home – where children played outdoors in their playground every day, and my husband’s aunt – two homes east of us – who was recovering from brain cancer – (picture).
I specifically emphasized details on how the children at the pre-school were negatively being affected, by showing an exact number of students: 40 – (picture).
I also showed that some of those students were handicapped and had pre-existing respiratory conditions. By interviewing the teachers, I got all my facts, and was able to get them on the bandwagon with me to fix this problem. This was my promise to them – “to slay that fire-breathing dragon!” – (picture – promise).
I also took pictures of the expansive and evasive smoke from a window inside my home – this was my additional visual proof. I then had all my family members seen by a doctor and written documentation by him showing how this kind of smoke was affecting their existing respiratory conditions – (again, more proof).
I also obtained a handwritten letter by my husband’s aunt stating how the smoke from her neighbor was not allowing her to recover fully from her cancer, by her need to breathe clean, fresh air. We also had a statement from her doctor showing how smoke would be impeding her recovery – (additional proof).
As a requirement of filing a city nuisance complaint, I had to obtain five signatures from city residents who were impacted by the nuisance. I had three signatures from my household, and my husband’s aunt and uncle were the remaining two.
But because I wanted to show the pre-school was also being affected, I had six more signatures from the teachers of the school – (final proof).
Long story short, our neighbor was cited by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) for illegally burning toxic wood, causing air pollution within city limits, and creating a nuisance for his neighbors and community. He was ordered to shut down that fire-breathing dragon furnace once and for all – (proof – push).
The mayor and city council members were so impressed with my copywriting skills that some of them asked if I was a lawyer. I proudly told them I was a copywriter and handed them my business cards.
Now that this copywriter’s words have finally slayed that nasty, fire-breathing dragon, our community is breathing clean country air again. My neighbor is doing well, in spite of having to shut down his furnace … and since then, we’ve installed a privacy fence.
We’re all much better neighbors now, too.
[Ed. Note: The above essay by Laurie Cauthen is the winning entry in the AWAI Writing Challenge for April 23, 2009. Theme: In 1,000 words or less, tell us how you’ve used the persuasion skills you’re learning from AWAI to accomplish something important to you. Laurie will receive a $50 gift certificate.]