Author Interview: Kirk Werner

9:19 AM Posted by Lori Calabrese

Kirk Werner never set out to become a children's book author. While he has always enjoyed writing, it is his love of fly-fishing and illustrating that led him to create the story of Olive the Little Woolly Bugger (Olive Flyfishing).

A homegrown product of Washington state, Kirk was born in Seattle and spent his formative years in the suburbs outside of the city. He graduated in 1985 from Washington State University where he earned a BA degree in Communications with a minor in Fine Art. His home is in Duvall, Washington where he lives with his wife and two kids and one itchy dog. He has more stories planned for Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, so stay tuned.

Tell us about your path to publication.
If there was a path, it certainly was never clear-cut, because I never set out to be a published author.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but never for any reason other than my own personal, creative outlet. On the other hand, I’ve always been an illustrator, doodling and drawing as far back as anyone in my family can remember, and I always assumed that somehow I would pursue some form of art as a career.  After having worked for many years at large companies doing graphic design and later art/animation, a few years ago I found myself amongst the ranks of the unemployed. While looking for a job, I decided to try my hand at freelancing, and slowly began to get a few clients who were willing to pay me to illustrate a variety of projects. When the job market failed to produce anything that really suited me, I got serious about my freelance business, and eventually I was hired to illustrate my first children’s book project for another author. I really enjoyed the challenge of bringing a manuscript to life with illustrations, and in the back of my mind always thought it would be really satisfying to write and illustrate my own story. But that didn’t happen right away. It was several years, and several more books for other authors before the idea for my own story came to me. I had tried unsuccessfully to conceive of a story that would work as a children’s book, and I think that was the problem:  I was trying too hard.

I recall the day vividly when I got the idea for my books: I was mowing the lawn – an activity where my mind was more or less turned off completely – when the idea  hit me.  I put the lawnmower away (without having finished the task), ran into my office, sat down at my computer and pounded on the keyboard for hours, just dumping my thoughts until I had a very rough story written. Hours of paring it down, rewriting and polishing left me with a manuscript that was too long for a typical picture book, but not quite right for a chapter book. All I knew was that I had a story, and because I was first and foremost an illustrator, it had to be fully illustrated. I really didn’t know what genre my story fit, but I didn’t worry about it too much at that point. I gathered invaluable input from colleagues who are writers and teachers, which helped me be more objective. Next, I hired an editorial consultant with a lot of experience in the children’s publishing industry to critique my idea. Suffice it to say I was a little disappointed with the results. I was told that my story targeted a niche market (fly fishing), and that publishers would likely turn me down for a variety of reasons. But in my gut I knew I had a unique story that was worth telling, and if my market was a niche, so be it. I figured it would be easier to target a clearly defined market, and there were no other books available like mine.  At the same time I also acknowledged that my story needed to be something that would appeal to a broader audience – not just kids who hailed from a fishing family – so I added some components to the story to make it more appealing on a broader basis. Then I took my original story and split it into two stories. I didn’t really look too far for a publisher, as an opportunity with a business associate who owns a small print-on-demand publishing company provided the opportunity to bring my books to market.

In 2007 Olive the Little Woolly Bugger (Olive Flyfishing) and Olive and the Big Stream (Olive Flyfishing) made their debut.  After about 8 months, the small run of books (500 of each) was mostly sold out. While the books were well-received, not enough money was made to facilitate further printing, and I was left without a publisher. I couldn’t bear to let the dream die, so I began contacting prospective publishers, hoping (and naively thinking) that it would be relatively easy to land a contract. After several rejections, I got a contract offer from Johnson Books (a Big Earth Publishing Company).  The first two books were redesigned and released in April 2009, and a third book (Olive Goes for a Wild Ride (Olive Flyfishing)) was also released at that time. So that brings me to the present.

Tell us about your illustration style--what medium do you use and where do you work?
I do all my work in my home office, or as my family likes to call it, “my room.”  I think I may be the only illustrator in the world that works in the combination of steps that I do. My style is probably best described as “cartoonish”. I use simple flat-fill colors, and my characters always seem to have “ping-pong ball eyes.” First I start with pencil sketches on paper. I’ve never found the computer to be capable of completely replacing the tangible relationship that comes with drawing by hand, and I need that freedom that I only get with a pencil in hand.

Once I have a rough sketch, I scan the drawing and import the file into my primary drawing program:  Adobe Flash.  I learned Flash as an animation tool many years ago, but always really liked the drawing tools because they’re very flexible and allow me to work in a manner that is as close to drawing by hand as possible. Flash is also a “vector” program, which makes it easier to edit and change compared to a “raster” program, like Photoshop. I also do all my coloring in Flash, but because Flash doesn’t support a CMYK color palette (required for offset printing), I convert the Flash files to Adobe Illustrator, which is a tool for creating CMYK files. Once the conversion is done, I have to go into each illustration and replace all the colors, because they don’t translate from one program to the other very well. This is the most cumbersome task of the whole process, and while it’s not a very efficient method it works for me and gives me the results I want.  That’s probably more than any of your readers wanted to know ; )

No, that's absolutely fascinating! What was your inspiration for your stories of Olive the Woolly Bugger?
If there’s one thing I enjoy as much as drawing it’s fly fishing. When I’m not able to fish, I spend an inordinate amount of time reading about fly fishing, amassing more gear than I probably should admit to, and thinking about the next opportunity I’ll have to go fishing. Combine that with the fact that I’ve always loved tales (fictional and otherwise) of the underdog who ends up championing the day, and you have the basis for my series of books.

I know where you got the name Woolly Bugger from reading the books, but for those who haven't, please share how you came up with this unique name.
In the world of fly fishing, there are literally countless fly patterns (lures, if you will) used around the world. The woolly bugger is a very well known pattern that is widely regarded as being one of the most overall effective flies in deceiving a wide variety of game fish. To that end, it made perfect sense to choose a central character who is a woolly bugger, because I can take her on a variety of adventures, fishing for different types of fish, without stretching the imagination too far. While my books are certainly  whimsical, fantasy stories told from the point of view of the flies, I introduce a lot of factual information about fly fishing, and didn’t want to stray too far from the truth when presenting certain information. The main character, Olive the woolly bugger, succeeds when other flies fail, and that’s often a reflection of the truth in real life. There are several color variations of the woolly bugger and olive, as a color, is a very popular, effective choice. In addition, the name “woolly bugger” is quite curious so I thought it lent itself perfectly to the title of a children’s book as well.

What do you think is the perfect age range for your books and why?
Because my books don’t fit a traditional genre, I think my age range is quite broad as well.  My books are fully written narratives that tell a complete story, so they will appeal to the child who is a confident reader, but they’re also fully illustrated so they’ll delight the younger audience as well. I would say that the reading level is appropriate for ages 6-8, though I’ve had older kids really enjoy the stories as well.  They’re also perfect read-along stories for parents to share with their younger children.  Adults really seem to enjoy the stories as well, and not just those who are fly fishing fanatics. So, anyone who is young, or young at heart is the perfect age range.
How difficult was it to explain flyfishing for young readers in such an entertaining way?
In the same way that the overall idea for my story came to me with amazing ease, telling specific aspects of the story was similarly easy. In many ways, fly fishing is a very simple means of trying to catch fish. The flies are hand-tied using largely natural fibers, and the hardware (rods and reels) used is very basic in it’s function.  The techniques used can be a bit complicated and take a while to learn, but overall it’s a very simple endeavor, which is it’s beauty. In writing my stories, it was almost effortless to present the information because the terminology and explanation of actual fishing information is woven into the story in such a manner that it’s not being presented in an educational or “how-to” manner. I keep it very basic so it’s just part of the story – kids don’t even realize they’re learning something.  I couldn’t write an instructional book on the topic of fly fishing if I tried!

Do you have more stories about Olive up your sleeve and what can you tell us about them?
I do have more adventures for Olive.  In fact, before I had even completed the third book (Olive Goes for a Wild Ride), I was getting ideas for a sequel to that story.  However, the sequel had to take place after a certain amount of time had passed since the end of Wild Ride. So the actual sequel to book #3 is story #5, which I wrote last year. Then I wrote story #4 to fill the gap. Writing out of sequence was an interesting challenge, and because of that, the fourth story was perhaps the most difficult of all. I don’t want to give away too much information about the future stories, but it’s safe to assume that Olive goes on some new and exciting fishing adventures. I don’t know what the future holds for Olive. How well the first 3 books do will determine whether or not future Olives will make it to market, but right now having a 5 book series is my goal. But there’s no reason her adventures won’t continue beyond that.  I may need to do a lot more field research and go on a variety of fishing adventures myself in order to harvest enough creative fodder for more books.

For more info:
Visit Olive the Woolly Bugger Official Website

Read more on each book:
Olive the Little Woolly Bugger (Olive Flyfishing)
Olive and the Big Stream (Olive Flyfishing)
Olive Goes for a Wild Ride (Olive Flyfishing)
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