olive the woolly bugger

Olive goes against the (main) stream.

I never set out to be a children’s book author – it just happened.  Had I been consciously trying to write a book, or series of books as it were, things would likely have turned out a lot differently: I would have had a specific plan in mind and probably would have adhered to the rules. Let’s examine what makes Olive a rule breaker, or perhaps more appropriately what makes Olive the woolly bugger unique.

First, the length of the Olive books sets them apart.  Typical children’s picture books, for young children who cannot read on their own or are just learning to read, are nearly always 32 pages. Why 32?  The reasons for this are physical: when you fold paper, eight pages folds smoothly into what’s called a signature, while any more results in a group of pages too thick to bind nicely. In addition, the 32 pages can all be printed on a single sheet of paper, making it cost-effective. In extremely rare cases, picture books may be 16, 24, 40 or 48 pages, all multiples of eight (a signature); but 32 pages is industry standard. The first book in the series, Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, is 48 pages.  Olive and The Big Stream is also 48 pages, and Olive Goes for a Wild Ride tops the charts at 56 pages! Woah, now! What was I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I wasn’t thinking: I wasn’t thinking about writing to a pre-determined format. I wrote as the story came to me, and that was that.  Certainly I realized that Olive didn’t fit the mold for a typical children’s picture book, but there was no way to tell the story in 32 pages. Chapter books allow for more writing, but they don’t showcase illustrations in the same manner as picture books. Being an illustrator I wanted pictures to be a big part of the books.  So what does one do when a book fits into neither a picture book format nor a that of a chapter book?  Run with scissors. Color outside the lines. Break new ground.

The result of my recklessness is a series of books that are age appropriate for a much broader range of children.  Youngsters who cannot read to the level of the story still love the illustrations. Therein lies a tremendous opportunity for the parents who love fly fishing to not only endure, but embrace story time with their children.  For the kids who can read well on their own the stories provide ample substance to challenge their reading ability, and the illustrations are a bonus for this audience.  Even kids who are well beyond the reading level of my books and who no longer need illustrations to entertain them enjoy Olive.  Heck, adults like her too. They’re fun stories with fun illustrations. Why do books have to have such stringent guidelines in order to make them appealing? They don’t, nor should they.

Very early on in my journey toward becoming an author, I hired a well-known editorial consultant to give me some feedback on my manuscripts. This particular individual has an impressive resume of having worked as an editor in the children’s book publishing industry for many years. This person even co-wrote a book on how to go about becoming a published author.  I do not discount their credentials and when I received my consultation notes from this person, there were many valid points that drove me to work further on my writing. Second in the list of rules that Olive breaks speaks to the characters in the books themselves, and when I heard this it caused me to roll my eyes a bit:  “Publishers don’t like stories about inanimate objects that go to school.”  I’ll admit, that was a problem because in the first book Olive goes off to Camp Tightloops to learn to become a fishing fly.  I decided that I would just have to disagree with this particular comment and forge ahead on my maverick journey.  The more I thought about it the more the comment made me realize that some editors/publishers are out of touch with reality. Kids are the audience for children’s books, and these people are not kids. To this day I remain fairly certain that children have wonderful, fantastic imaginations and can embrace a story of a fishing fly come to life that goes off to a learning institution to gain the knowledge needed to become successful. At least I didn’t write in rhyme, because editors really don’t like that.

Next I was told was that publishing house editors wouldn’t be interested in my book(s) because they have a niche market. I agreed about the niche market but I viewed it as a positive thing. My market was clearly defined for me, and I’d done some research and there really wasn’t much, if any competition for kids books in the fly fishing market. I also believed (and still do) that while the books are an obvious choice for the fly fishing market, they can certainly spill over into the mainstream children’s book market as well.

What we have is a 3 book series about a woolly bugger fishing fly and her many friends who go to camp and learn something. Then they set off on a series of adventures that put their schooling to the test.  The stories are fully written narratives with full page illustrations that capture the storyline and bring the words to life. The stories are engaging, whimsical and entertaining. They also teach important life lessons and impart some basic lessons in fly fishing as well as conservation-minded angling.  They are age appropriate to a broad range of kids.

So no, the Olive books don’t fit into the mold of traditional publishing industry. In the books Olive faces adversity, and yet through perseverance she discovers that she has a unique talent and ends up succeeding. The development of the books themselves parallels Olive’s journey, and while the books have yet to win any high profile awards or make the New York Times Bestseller list, I’ve visited schools and had children tell me they love Olive. I measure success is smaller increments. There is a place for the books as many have come to discover.  Kids like Olive. Parents like Olive. My publisher liked Olive enough to sign me to a contract. I must have done something right.

Judge for yourself. Go out and grab a set of books (don’t just buy one- it’s a series). I’m confident you’ll be hooked on Olive.

Woolly Buggers are everywhere.

It would seem that the infamous Woolly Bugger figures prominently beyond the fly fishing world.

From time to time I’ll employ either Google or Bing to explore the depths the interweb using the search phrase “woolly bugger”, mainly to see where my fly fishing books show up in the search results.  It’s sort of like using an actual woolly bugger pattern to search the depths of a particularly fishy looking hole, prospecting for a hungry fish.  As one would expect, the search results produce nearly countless sites for the actual woolly bugger pattern: retailers selling flies, tiers offering recipes for creating the pattern, tips on how to fish the woolly bugger, etc.  Occasionally an interesting result turns up that has nothing directly to do with fly fishing.

Take, for example, the Woolly Bugger Roaster of Fine Coffee.  This site caught my attention because I do like a good cuppa joe, and obviously the name was intriguing. One has to assume that the owners are fly anglers because your average non-angling person wouldn’t know what a woolly bugger is, let alone name their company after the heralded streamer pattern. There is no direct declaration of the founders being fly fishing folks, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and wager that the assumption is a safe one.  A quote from their website says it all:

“More than half the enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings.”

-Charles Orvis


Another interesting find in the world of the woolly bugger is the Blackfoot River Brewing Company‘s Woolly Bugger Ale. Their offerings are “Real Good Beer, Made by Real Good People.”  I’ve not met the people, or sampled their beer, but anyone willing to name a product after the woolly bugger is top notch in my book. Since the brewery is located in Helena, Montana, it’s another safe bet that the founders have been known to angle with a fly. Montana is, afterall, mecca for trout fishing. The Missouri River, as it flows near Helena, is reported to have a few fish in it.

Boise, Idaho is home to the Sockeye Grill and Brewery, where one of their offerings is…(drumroll please)…Woolybugger Wheat Ale, which they have this to say about: “This American style wheat ale has a light grain flavor with a low hop profile. It’s light bodied and very thirst quenching!”  Sounds worthy of the name, Woolly Bugger, or rather, Woolybugger.  So many variations on the name it can get confusing!

It would seem that beer makers seem to appreciate fly fishing, or perhaps vice versa, because we have another brewery who produces a malt beverage named for the woolly bugger. The Grand Lake Brewing Company of Grand Lake, Colorado, offers their Wooley Booger Nut Brown Ale.  Again we see a disparity in how the name should be spelled, which was discussed in the previous entry here. No matter how you spell it, a wooly bugger is a wooley booger is a woolly bugger. Not sure about the “booger” spelling though.  In Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, our favorite streamer fly is taunted and teased by a group of snobby dry flies. One such fly, Randal the Royal Coachman, insults Olive by calling her a Woolly Booger.  Not nice, Randal, and that’ll come back to haunt you. At any rate, I’m sure the Wooley Booger Nut Brown Ale is excellent.  Unfortunately their website needs some help.  Perhaps the owners of Grand Lake Brewing Company should hook up with the next woolly buggerish company…

Wooly Booger’s Web Design. It would seem not all afficionados of the woolly bugger are coffee and beer makers.  Again we see the curious reference to “booger”, which always conjures up interesting images.

Woolly Bugger Studios is home to a couple of creative folks who also had the good sense to name their business after the ubiquitous woolly bugger. Photographer Lark Gilmer Smothermon and editor Charles Smothermon set up shop near Sheridan, Montana and they even got the spelling right ; )

Wooly Bugger Productions of Medford, Oregon, offers creative audio recording services for a wide variety of needs. If I ever land a deal to produce an animated TV show featuring Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, I’m going to contact these folks first! On their website they make it clear that they’re fly anglers:

“Depending on what part of the country you live in and your recreational hobbies, a Wooly Bugger could mean a few things. For us, it’s a “fly” that fly-fishermen use to fish for Steelhead and Trout. That’s where our logo comes from! Our second passion, after production, is fishing! We wanted to give the business a name that people would remember and that would reflect a bit of our lifestyle here in the great Pacific Northwest. We had a great time creating our cool mascot!”

Cool indeed- your business sounds great, folks!

I wasn’t able to find an actual website for Woolly Bugger Farm in Wartburg, Tennessee, but they do have a Facebook page. I decided to “like” the page so I can find out more about this curious farming operation, which apparently grows soap (or rather, they make soap and sell it under their Woolly Bugger Farm label). I doubt they grow woolly buggers, but perhaps they have a stream running through their property filled with hungry trout? Looks like a cool operation nestled in a beautiful setting.

Another interesting find is Wooly Bugger Media, a company offering media planning and buying services. If I ever have an advertising budget, I’ll have to inquire with them about a media blitz.

Thankfully another result that shows up (on the first page of results) when searching for “woolly bugger” is my own website, olivethewoollybugger.com. I hope you’ll check it out some time.

If you’re the proprietor of a business or organization that makes use of the Woolly Bugger (or some variation of the spelling) in your name, leave a comment here. I’ll shout you out in a future blog entry.  After all, we woolly buggers have to stick together- there’s a lot of water to cover out there.