It’s a Zen philosophy that teaches us to try softer. That is, when we try hard to achieve something, it will evade us; that when we go looking for something we'll never find it. We have to look elsewhere. That sort of thing.
I'd have to agree that there's some truth in that, at least in my experiences as an author of children's books. You see, I'd illustrated several books for other authors, and in doing so always marveled at how simple the stories appeared to be. If I could only conceive of my own storyline, I thought, I could be the illustrator as well as the author, and the millions in royalties would be all mine to keep. There were two flaws in that line of thinking: First, there are no millions to be had in such a proposition; and secondly, setting out on a deliberate quest for a suitable storyline proved futile. The harder I searched for an idea that would make for a good children's story, the farther I got from ever finding it. Nothing I knew enough about–that I was passionate about–provided me the inspiration for such a story. And so I gave up on the idea of ever being an author and went about my role as an illustrator of other peoples’ stories. A satisfying vocation for sure, or so I tried to convince myself.
It was several years after I’d abandoned hopes of ever writing a children’s book that I found myself seated atop my riding lawn mower, mindless engaged in the weekly task of cutting the grass. There was nothing special about this particular day until IT hit me: IT was an idea for a children’s book, and IT came to me with freakish clarity. Without finishing my task at hand (cutting the grass), I hastily parked the lawnmower and literally ran into the house, where I proceeded to sit down in front of my computer and pound out the story. To this day I recall vividly just how easily the story flowed from my mind through the keyboard, and for hours I typed furiously, refusing to come out for dinner. My wife didn’t understand my insistence on remaining exiled in my office, and I didn’t fully understand what was happening either. But I worried that if I took even a short break for nutrition I’d lose my creative rhythm. There was no denying that I was on a roll, and I dared not interfere with that. Go with the flow…
The result was the story of “Olive the Little Woolly Bugger” and “Olive and The Big Stream”, the first two in what would become a series of three (to date) books that feature the central character of Olive, who is in fact a Woolly Bugger. For those not indoctrinated in the ways of fly fishing, a Woolly Bugger is one of the most widely known and most effective fly fishing patterns (lures, if you will). This may accurately lead you to conclude that my stories are about fly fishing, although there’s much more to the stories than that, just as there is more to fishing than catching fish.
While there is certainly a great deal about fly fishing in the books, it is merely a vehicle for telling stories and teaching valuable life lessons about perseverance, treating others with kindness, and believing in oneself. Through Olive's challenges we learn that being different is good, and that we all have our own special talents. Young readers are also taught the importance of conservation-minded angling, such as practicing catch and release. They also learn about the importance of a healthy river to all manner of insects and wildlife, besides just the fish that live beneath the surface.
In the angling community, it’s paramount that we instill a sense of stewardship for the resources that bring us such pleasure. Unless we teach kids to respect the environment, who will take care of it in the future? Fishing has always been a wonderful activity for youngsters, but now, perhaps more than ever before, fishing has even greater importance. In our modern world of computer/video games and less physical activity, too many children are not being introduced to the outdoor world and all the wonder that it holds. Fishing has been proven to be the #1 “gateway activity” by the Outdoor Foundation, meaning that kids who go fishing are more likely to engage in other outdoor forms of recreation (such as boating, camping, hiking, etc) than kids who do not go fishing. Olive the Woolly Bugger exists solely to spark the imagination and curiosity of kids, whether or not they hail from a fishing family or not. Who knows, if a child reads Olive and then begs their parents to take them fishing, who’s to say that that child won’t become a passionate, lifelong angler and champion of conservation? From the acorn grows the mighty oak…
Not content to have simply written and had the Olive books published, my next goal is an even loftier one. I know, in my gut, that the story of Olive has all the elements to make for a great screenplay and a truly unique, engaging film. It is with that conviction that I have embarked on my quest to get the story of Olive the Woolly Bugger made into an animated feature film. Trying to crack the Hollywood nut, if you will, is a daunting task, but if I’ve learned one thing from Olive, it’s that perseverance pays off. Never mind that old Zen teaching mentioned in the first paragraph–I am going after this deliberately. I am actively seeking out as many ways to reach a film producer or animation studio executive as I can, to bring the story of Olive to them.
One of the ways I am doing this is by sharing my story. The writer never knows who might be reading, just as the angler never knows what big fish might be lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right fly–perhaps the Woolly Bugger. After all, the Woolly Bugger truly is one of the best patterns in the world.
Thanks for reading,