Writers on the Fly

Posted on January 15, 2015


Featured image is a couple of pages from my notebook for the draft of Riversong.

Last week I got a chance to do a reading out of my someday forthcoming book of fly fishing short stories. It’s been a long strange road. It started with the blog, because “someday” was a long way away, and you know if you want to write, you should really put your butt in a chair and write, or it will get further away and not closer. And then Louis Cahill and the good folks from Gink & Gasoline linked to my blog and got me 3000 hits in a weekend. Including the editor for the Fly Fish Journal, Steve Duda, who bought The Very Cruelest Thing. And a few more. Jason Rolfe, who works at Emerald Water Anglers (and writes for FFJ), wanted to put something together on a regular basis, Writers on the Fly, remembered me somehow and brought it all together. I invited many, few could come, others have asked me if it was filmed (it was, somewhere) and what I read.  So, for that reason I’m posting my notes (which, of course did not survive the first contact with the audience).

It was a great audience and I was very impressed by the people who read. Mike McCoy lead with some insightful poems, I blabbed a bit about what I do and why, and then Steve Duda got up and read a few stories that definitely made me want to go home and sharpen pencils. Like sharpen them until they were gone and I had some kind of excuse not to write anymore. I think he got three standing ovations. Next time, we are definitely getting some chairs for the audience.

Interestingly, when I was practicing my readings at home, I kept getting choked up. I thought I might lose it in front of the audience, and in fact I did a little bit. I don’t know what that was all about, but I do know that at least one of the other writers had the same issue and I lost the bet by going down first.  At any rate, appreciate the fact that these are just notes, and also that I did edit out the joke about the horse in the fly shop (it bombed).

In closing I will say that I think this series will continue and it has gotten me to consider epublishing some of my longer short work as eNovellas (I think I just made that up).

It’s hard to tell because I just imported the formatting from the notes, but all of the titles are linked to the stories I mention.


Reading on the Fly Outline

I thought it might be interesting to talk about the stories vs. just reading for 20 minutes. If you liked my stuff that much, you’d have already read it all!

My stories all come to me in dreams. I started writing science fiction and then magic realism. Some of them are collected here: You Didn’t know me Then. And then the dreams mixed with the fishing and here we are. I eschew literary fiction. I try to tell stories. What does that mean? Well everybody has written flyfishing short stories from Steven King (whose story inspired Warden), to Annie Proulx.  Steven King writes stories. I’m not sure what Annie writes, I’m only pissed that she’s famous and I’m not.

I also wrote an article for NWFF on fishing in downtown Seattle where we caught 12 species in a 12 mile radius, for which I am much vilified, and I’m currently editing/publishing a book on Fly Fishing in the Russian Far East, which I hope to be reading from here sometime soon. I’m working on a book that will be FF short stories and novellas, interspersed with some of my “true life” adventures. Things like The Snake Between my Legs, which still gets a hit every day. I guarantee people who Google that term are not coming to read short stories, but hey, every hit counts.


My first FF story was Warden, it was a classic devil tale, with a twist: instead of the devil trying to trick a person into trading his soul, what if it’s the devil’s job to give the person one last chance for redemption? The name is actually an anagram of the woman who was mayor of Forks at the time, who was lobbying for the keeping of wild Steelhead since the loggers had pretty much taken anything else of value in the region.

THE CRUELEST THING The story that a lot of you may know (survey audience) is The Cruelest Thing. This story was based on a true event that was eating at me. Some bastard left me and Crump on an island in the middle of the night, stealing our boat as the tide came up and submerged us. I wanted to go up and get him. Then one night I went to the Cedar and thought about how would I write a story so that I could get this guy his just rewards, in a heroic way. In Cruelest Thing, the hero does every noble and heroic thing, but because you know why he does it, he is far from being a hero. If I wrote the same story with a different slant, nobody would’ve read it, but as it is, it is rather compelling. I went home an typed that up in a two-beer sitting (don’t tell Duda, he got mad at me last time I told him that). When my friend Laura read it, she said “Dude, you need therapy.” Which of course is by far the best review I ever had. Seriously, that is going on the back of the book. I’d still very much like to make a short film out of that and try to get it on the tour. Since that was in the Journal and G&G linked to it, I won’t read from that tonight.

I was talking to Laura one day about how Samurai movies are always about an Knight Errand, which is why they remake well into Westerns which have the same theme. I had never really put my finger on what FF stories were about, but they certainly fulfill their own genre. Everybody from Steven King to Annie Proulx have written them. Jessa said, “FF stories are about a man finding himself.” And I said, “How did you know that?” And she said, “From your blog.” What a relief because for a while there I suspected they were all love stories. I find that really interesting, because as the book develops I noticed that all of my stories are FF + some other Genre. I hope this makes it more entertaining and not too diverse. I’ve picked 3 vastly different readings tonight to test this out.

HEROMAKER was one of my first stories, and probably the only “true” or “straight” FF stories. It’s one of the stories that people who don’t even fish like, which is something I am for. It’s too long for a magazine, and it’s one I hope to publish soon as a novella, before the book comes out.

BLACK SUN = FF + Horror/zombie thriller. Lovecraft. I’ll read a little bit from this to see if you might relate to the main character.

Some will call me mad; I have never denied it. Rather I have embraced that flicker that separates me from other men into those special brotherhoods on the long roads which wind around. I was once a mogul, a family man. Industrious. I have been a drunkard and sought my vices like fish in the dark of night. I have been a wastrel. A trout fisherman.

I say it again: I have been a trout fisherman and other low things. Drunk on trout. They lead me here. And I beg you: do not fish. There are many black things under the bright sun which your white picket fences and honey-do lists protect you from.

F*CKING CATS = due out in the next journal is well, absolutely a true story (although it didn’t happen to me, pretty much as told to me by my soccer goalie). You can’t make that sh*t up. I won’t read it tonight in case it might possibly make you think less of me, plus you should buy the Journal and keep us all employed.

MICHAEL KILKENNY’S WAKE, AND POACHED NOT ONCE BUT TWICE = FF + Classic Poaching + Irish farce. You may have read Poached in the Journal. People still think that is a true story about my parents’ wedding.

They say that “nothing focusses the mind like a hanging,” and I really want to thank Jason for this event and this community. As a result of it, I’m going to publish Michael Kilkenny’s wake as an ebook on Amazon. I was hoping to finish it by tonight, but I still need a cover and a few other things. Coincidentally, I hope to feature Jack Devlin’s flies throughout the book. It just goes to show that if it wasn’t for people like Jack, Laura, Jason, Steve, Ryan, and anybody out there who has taken me fishing or read my scribbling, I wouldn’t be here. I hope that we all get to spend many pleasurable hours together on real and imagined adventures. I’m really nervous about not only the writing, but reading it here outloud, because it’s in dialect and although my relatives are Irish, I’ve been to Ireland, I studied Irish literature in College, and I’ve had a little Irish whiskey with Peter Moon, I am not Irish, and they always say never to write in dialect (even though all the Irish authors do). Please be patient. It’s also very hard to extract something which is complete unto itself without giving the story away.

The poacher Michael Kilkenny is in a bind: pay his fine or go to jail. But everything he does makes it worse, until death is his only option.

A mixed-up, crazy tale of poaching, fraud, and romance in Ireland during the Golden Age of fly fishing. Michael’s latest conviction will send him to jail if he and his cronies cannot con a rich American out of a small fortune. But is the American the bumpkin he appears to be? Who is conning whom, and will Michael live to see his money or will they all spend the rest of their days in jail? Read this hilarious farce and share in their predicaments, right up until the surprise ending.

It’s the story of a poacher who will go to jail if he cannot pay his fines and concocts a scheme to guide wealthy Americans on the beats while the Lord is away. Of course, the whole town has to be in on it and nothing goes right. It was fun to write because it came to me in a dream in 1937 and it turns out for various reasons this is about the only exact time in history this so could happen. The lord returns before the American so they decide to tell him he’s dead. The American of course asks when the wake is. The wake scene is perhaps the funniest thing I ever wrote, but if I read that here who will by the ebook?

Here is the chapter Twice Kilt. Thinking up the chapter names was half the fun of this story. The other half was the money and the fly fishing historical aspects of it. Of course it’s always dangerous to write in dialect, but I felt it had to be done. If any good Irishmen or women would like to edit the text, I’m up for that too!

“A wake!” Wailed Michael, as if he had all of the genuine emotions of a mourning man. “I thought dying was going to save meself and here it has kilt me twice!”

“Michael, what could be easier than lying in your good suit like an after-church nap?”

“And how am I convincing the Father to go along?” All heads swung towards the bar where the good father, who clearly had been following the conversation, was chatting with Peter over a pint,.

“These are weighty matters you we are discussing. I will be adding greatly to the poor man’s sins. I can feel the heavenly scales tipping even as we speak,” says the Father.

“Surely, we have a marvelous God, who gives us the chance to balance those scales as we go, and not have the whole weight on us at the end. What do you suppose our poor dear Michael, a man who lately has contributed so much to our poor community,” and here I put my arm around him, “could do to balance the scales?”

“Well, 120d in the plate would do it,” Michael groaned. “Plus seventy Hail Marys, and seven weeks straight him sitting in a pew and not the pub as is his normal constitution.” Michael had gone as white as if he had spent the summer in gaol.

“Father,” says he.

“Eighty Hail Marys, and Eight weeks, plus I should be getting paid for the wake, in advance, say another twenty.”

Michael looked at me. “And I don’t suppose, Father, you could be sparing a wee glass of the holy spirit tonight on account of I won’t be able to partake when me final debt comes due?”

“I will even arrange for the ladies to make the casseroles.”

And so they clinked glasses of uisge, the of water of life, to seal the deal on his death.

THE MERTROUT (a title I will never forgive Annie Proulx for stealing) = FF + magic realism

DIE WITH A HUMAN HEART = FF + Golden Age science fiction, which is probably one of my best stories of any genre. Very tight and heart felt. I’ve sent this to Steve and I really hope he publishes it because you can write your whole life, but it never amounts to anything until some editor takes a chance on you and helps you make it better.

STILL FALLING, RIVERSONG = (I’m sorry) flat out romances, showing off my sensitive side. Still Falling is the title story of the book. Maybe this will encourage a wider audience? Hulking guy, flowing hair, barechested in waders?

I stopped to remove a wind knot from my line and remembered fishing with my father. Trying to impress him with my august depth, as young men around their fathers are wont to do, I said, “You know, what I love about fishing? When I’m in the right frame of mind, it doesn’t even bother me to take out a wind knot.”

My father kept fishing but tossed a few words up river to me, “A man in the right frame of mind shouldn’t be getting wind knots.” Or did I just now hear that in the wind and the water? I’m not an old man, but already the banks of the river are populated by ghosts who converse in burbling tones.

I worked the knot out, pulled the leader through the guides, gave a few water-loaded casts to get some line out, and double hauled to send the line to the far bank. And then the very strangest thing happened to me: Everything went dark and I fell forward with the momentum of my cast, facing downstream, one eye and half of my mouth in the water. The last cast fell in a pile, only half finished, and I thought, “Is this how it ends? A cast not unfurled, an unfishable fly? Is this how they will find me at the end of the glorious day?” I watched the fly spinning in the eddy, so slowly as if there was not some big metronome in the sky counting down my life.

It seemed unjust that whatever had hit me could not at least let me finish my cast. A beautiful, tight loop unfolding across a favorite stream, watching the fly descend as gently as a snowflake – that was a proper death. Instead I was disgraced by a heap of line piled in front of me in an obviously aborted cast. Grown men would talk of this and shake their heads as surely as if I’d fouled my waders. “Such a shame,” they would say over their bourbons and scotch, “poor bastard didn’t even get to finish his last cast.” Never mind that I’d had one million irreproachable tosses, each as perfect as a Paganini note. No, that one last cast that would be the measure of the man. That would be the image I took into the afterlife.

And I will apologize about Riversong, I wrote it but never finished it. I return to it again and again. It’s about a woman who used to come into the bar I owned and tried to teach me to dance. Here is some of it,I was looking at things to read for tonight and I looked at this passage and I thought about Jason’s snorkeling story, so I will read this in homage to that:

I lived in water years. How far does a drop go in a year, in a river, to the sea, up to a cloud blown across a continent down to a plain, deep in the ground, percolating?  Or, maybe frozen forever in time and space, not moving.  I no longer felt water or wind; sun or rain; day or night; summer or winter. I became what trout seek. I’d stopped using barbs. I’d stopped using hooks. I’d stopped using flies. The water flowed through me, in me, cold, deep, swirling.  I spoke to myself and the fish listened:  I beckoned and they came as they should. We whispered together like lovers and satiated, drifted apart. The heart is a wave and the cast a pulse, building in the shallows of the capillaries, coursing in the veins. Where there had been a rod my arteries reached out to my ligaments vibrating, backed by sinew to exit the finger tips as a fine spray mist landing soft as fog on the water, a drop of intent.

And later on:

She picked up stones on the river, painted verses on them. I used to see the places where the stones had been, memorizing their depressions, knowing I would find them later on other shores.  I had found them on the Ur. And once, chumming with the rust of my soul,  drinking samogon in an illegal Quonset hut bar on the Usk. As I was lying on the floor and looking up, under the table, a note wedged:

Rivers run

Forever young

With age swept to the sea

Where flying done

They add

To the voids of eternity

She was a frost-glade dancer and I was a stumble-foot-crank-trout-eyed dog. Out of water everywhere I went. But I went, because you can bay at the moon in the sky, but you can only touch the moon in the water. I never did learn to dance, but in the river I still counted my steps ONE, two and three, and never stumbled.

And I have a ghost story and a couple of others I haven’t quite worked out yet including a new novel length Western I just outlined on the airplane coming home. There is another farce about albino steelhead in Magnolia with Bill Gates and Tina Turner making guest appearances. Did I mention all of my stories come from dreams?


Mark Hoffman, who wrote the biography on Howling Wolf (which you should get if you have any interest in the blues) and who is here suggested take my FF detective novellas and blow them out to novels. The mysteries themselves are pretty easy to write once you get the trick of it, but because as FFers were are primarily conservationists I want to have each novel cover a conservation-minded back story, and that has turned out to be really, really hard! I am totally open to any suggestions or plot help over necessary libations.

The main character (who still needs a good name, the whole idea started when I used to fish with Jack Cook and I thought: well there is a great hard-boiled detective name), lives in a trailer on the Sky with his loyal Rottweiler, Goblin. He might drink a little too much. He has an on again, off again girlfriend, and hangs out with Bill Gates. He’s kind of a wise ass. In The Devil Knows, he stumbles upon a smuggling operation while back country fishing and meets some very poorly adjusted people. Again, very hard to extract something relevant and self-contained.

Sorry about the language

Good sleeping weather, though, especially once the Bourbon runs out. Next thing I know, Goblin is barking at the door. I was just sitting up when I heard a tremendous crash and the whole trailer lurched. The octagonal-cut glass I favor for my bourbon came off the shelf above the bed and cut a nasty gash on my scalp. Now I was pissed. I rolled out of bed onto my feet and the trailer lurched again. There weren’t too many more of those before Goblin and I took a little bobsled run down the ridge. I stumbled to the door and just got it opened when there was a final crash that brought me to my knees. Goblin tried to break past me, but I got him by his chain collar, wincing with the force as the links cut into my finger tendons.

“Come on out Jack!”

Well hallelujah, and who could that be? I was a bit fuzzy, but coming around fast. I stood up and walked out the door, only to fall flat on my face since my stoop was about ten feet to my left. Fortunately, I was too dazed to let go of the dog. I got up slowly, high beams in my eyes. Some fuckers had been ramming my trailer with a big old Dodge four-by.

“What the fuck?” Goblin was going ballistic. “Sitz!” I barked in German, and he sat right down next to me, although I could tell he didn’t like it.

“Where’s our dope, dirt bag.”


A man walked into the light and dropped me with the stock of a shotgun, just like that. There was no holding Goblin back after that. He hit him in the inner thigh, near the femoral artery and the guy went down screaming. “Shoot him! Shoot him!” But there was too much confusion and the dog was between us. “Aus!” I screamed, although it was against my best instincts, as it seemed that Goblin had the better handle on the situation. I was finally able to pull him off, and put him behind me. “Platz!” He laid down, providing what I hoped was an impossible target, his muddy coloring blending him in with the shadows.

“Shoot that fucking dog!” The guy was screaming over and over again.

“If you do, you better shoot me, too.”

He had crab-walked back to his partner.

“Shut the fuck up, both of you.” This voice was way too rational and cold for the situation. He stepped forward. “Where. Is. My. Fucking. Dope.”

I was wiping blood out of my mouth.

“I don’t…” I started to say, when in the worlds of Arlo Guthrie, he dropped an 8 x10 glossy  color photo down on the ground in front of me. There was my truck, and my license plate broad as day.

“I know you took it. You were there three times and now it’s gone. I’m going to ask one more time, then I am going to shoot the dog, and then blow your arms and legs off one at a time until you tell me where it is.”

Did I mention I love that dog? My gears were pretty rusty but most of them were still there. “I’ll get it for you.” By now, I was on my feet. Goblin was still behind me. With his mouth hanging open and his tongue out, he actually looked kind of jolly.  He loves this shit. “But it’s not here. I’ll have to get it tomorrow.”

“Can you believe this guy?” He looked back to his friend with the shotgun. “I’m not fooling around, I want my shit.”

“I told you I would get it for you!”

“Okay, I warned you.” He shrugged his shoulders. His buddy pumped the gun and blew a whole in my boat parked just to the right of me.

“Jesus!” I screamed as a piece of shrapnel caught me in the thigh.

I hobbled over to the boat. I heard the gun pump again.

“Easy Tony Soprano,” I said, and pulled the brick out from the compartment. “Like I said, it’s not here. It’s on an island in the river. And now it looks like it’s going to be a while before I can get it.”

The smart guy’s eyebrows when up. “Now we’re getting somewhere. He handed me a card. Tomorrow. Get it, call us.”

“Whoa. Not so easy. First there is this.” I waved vaguely at the boat. “Second, there is this,” I held my hand out to the rain. “First flood of the winter. The river is impassable.”

He looked daggers. “Hey,” I shrugged, you don’t want to go through all of this and dump it in the river do you?”


“When the river falls.”

“You got two days.”

“I’ll call God and get him right on it.”

He walked right up to me, nose-to- nose and grabbed the wound on my thigh.


“Two days.” He turned and walked back towards the truck. I was bent double but kind of pissed.

“I don’t suppose there is a finder’s fee?”

“I don’t like wiseasses,” He pointed at Goblin, “and I don’t like your dog.”

His buddy limped over to the driver’s side and got in, wincing. They backed out and I stood there watching. Then I turned to Goblin said “Break!” and passed out.

P.S. Who Are You and Where are You From?

This month I’ve published over 15,000 words and hundreds of images.  I’m always interested in knowing if people find the work relevant. Please take time to leave comments, and definitely to share.

Who is visiting me from the Ukraine?

WordPress gives me these awesome reports and I can see how people find me, where they live, how they found the blog, what pages they visited. I see people from Europe, Asia, South America, and I always wonder who they are. I would love to get comments from  you!


Posted in: Fiction, Writing