An Interview with Andrew Weiner, Award-Winning author, “Down by the River”
Podcast Episode 3
“Children’s Fly-Fishing Book Hatched” with award-winning author, Andrew (Andy) Weiner, is dedicated to my outdoors-oriented travelers and my readers and listeners who want to get their hands on a phenomenal book for kids and adults of all ages.
“Down by the River” offers an opportunity to teach kids about fly-fishing, conservation, and the lessons we can all learn through family activities. Whether you want to motivate your child or grandchild to get outdoors or you’re a fly-fishing fanatic, you’ll want to stick around to hear my guest talk about his travels.
Andrew is a long-time publishing professional and an avid fly fisherman from Albany, California.
He’s the winner of the IFTD/AFFTA (International Fly Tackler Dealer/American Fly Fishing Trade Association) 2018 Best New Entertainment/Education Product Award for his book, “Down by the River.”
Joan: Anyone who knows me understands I take fly fishing seriously. I also
love fly-fishing books and particularly picture books that engage
children with heartwarming stories. Children’s Fly-Fishing Book Hatched gives my listeners a chance to get to know Andy and his around-the-globe appreciation for fishing, nature, and environmental education.
Please welcome Andrew Weiner.
Interview – Children’s Fly-Fishing Book Hatched with Andrew Weiner
Joan: Hello Andrew, how are you?
Do you prefer to be called Andy or Andrew?
Andy: I prefer to be called Andy, which is funny because the book is published under the name Andrew and I guess I thought if you’re going to have a book published, you should appear serious or something like that. So I went with Andrew but Andy is what most people call me. Let’s set a relaxing tone and we’ll just say Andy.
Joan: Okay. When I opened your book I was in awe of the illustrations. Down by the River is an extraordinary story about fly fishing and a particular trip and the illustrations are beautiful. When you open the book, the inside and the outside covers are all different types of flies that people use for fly fishing and I think they’re just absolutely gorgeous. I love the book and I wish my kids were young enough that I could lay down at night on the bed next to them and read your book to them. It’s just absolutely gorgeous.
Andy: Should I tell people about the illustrations.
Andy: I always say that I think it’s the most beautiful children’s
fly-fishing book ever published and it’s okay to say that because I didn’t do the illustrations. They were done by April Chu who is a really talented artist I met at a party and actually here in Berkeley. That was a gathering of children’s book authors and illustrators and she had her portfolio with her and I could see how talented she was. When my book was accepted for publication, I reached out to her to see if she would be interested and was really gratified that she agreed to do it. And then the editor of the book saw the potential for April’s art in the book and accepted her as the illustrator.
A funny story about the book…the flies you mentioned at the beginning and at the end of the book, I thought it was important to have some illustrations of flies and I went to a fly shop and bought 24 kinds of essential flies for her to illustrate for the book and she got so engaged in that process of doing those illustrations that she went out and bought an additional 60 flies or so. She just found them so fascinating and so beautiful and now there are approximately 80 unique flies in the endpapers. There are no duplications, and I know that from what I’ve heard from parents who share the book with their children, it’s often the absolute favorite part of the book for kids. They just love to go through those illustrations and point out their favorite flies and learn about them and in some cases learn how to tie them themselves.
Joan: The other thing about it that I love is I’m relatively new to fly fishing and when I’m fishing and there’s a fellow fly fisherman next to me, I’ll ask, what (flies) are you using today? And he’ll rattle off a particular name. (At that point) The wheels are turning in my head trying to think about what that particular fly looks like. I wish I had your book with me when I’m out fly fishing so if so I can refer to one and say, oh, okay, you’re talking about this particular one. They (the illustrations) are so well done that you could (actually) use it (as a guide).
Andy: The nice thing would be if you were to ask a fellow angler what they’re using on the water that they would say I’m using whatever fly it is and then reach into their fly box and slip you one, right? A couple of times I’ve asked somebody and they’ve told me what they’re using and then they turn away and don’t share their fly and I just feel like it would have been nice if you’d given me one or shown me one. Most of the time people are very nice.
Joan: Yes, they are. Typically, the people I run into are very very nice. One thing I’ve wanted to know is I’ve never been to Albany. In the event that someone would like to visit or connect with you, give us, you know, a little bit of a description of Albany and whether you grew up there or what you love about it.
Andy: Albany actually is a town in the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s just north of Berkeley and just across the San Francisco Bay from San Francisco. In the immediate area, there isn’t access to fly fishing. The closest places are a couple of hours away, which is not a long way to go to get some good fishing. I actually moved up to the bay area back in 1975 from Southern California. I came up here to go to UC Berkeley and have stayed in the area since then. It’s such a great place to live. So with fishing a couple of hours away and then really excellent fishing maybe three to four hours away, it’s a great location to get to experience the world of fly fishing. Just the general outdoor recreation that we have here in the Bay Area with beautiful trails and the bay and the ocean not too far away. So anybody who comes to the bay area I would invite them to get in touch with me and I can share some insights. I actually was sharing some information with somebody on Instagram just yesterday who lives in Montana and will be coming down to Northern California this summer. I’m always happy to share anything that I might happen to know or to be able to guess about if I don’t know.
Joan: Well, on that note, one question I was going to ask you after, you know, at the end of our episode, where can people get in touch with you or where can they connect with you? …If they’d like to know more about your book or if they would like to get together and fly fish.
Andy: I do have a website for the book. It’s just www.downbytherivebook.com and I can be contacted through that. I’m on Instagram and my Instagram handle is @weinerandy and also on LinkedIn as I think I’m Andrew Winer on LinkedIn, which is how you and I got to know each other. I’ve found LinkedIn to be a really great way to connect with people and I would love to be connected with people through social media or through my website.
Joan: Well, so now we know where to get in touch with you. One of the questions I wanted to ask you about is how did your book and the characters evolve and what led you to write Down by the River?
Andy: As you mentioned in my biography, I’m a long time bookseller. I’ve worked in publishing actually since high school. I worked in the public library and then ended up working in bookstores and have worked for publishers for many years. I love books and I love children’s books and also obviously love fishing and fly fishing. And some years ago, I had the thought that with the experience that I have, I hoped that I’d be able to write a good children’s book and since fly fishing is the thing that I truly loved the most as recreation, that would be the theme of the story. A lot of people have asked if the family in the story is specifically my family and honestly, it’s not. It’s a story that I thought would appeal to families, in particular, with the boy and his mother and his grandfather spending the day fly fishing together as a family activity that the grandfather and mother had shared when the mother was a child and it’s just a longtime family tradition.
And I think that’s the case for many fly fishing families. It’s something that connects generations and that there are places that people return to year after year and generation after generation that are really special to a family. I did fish as a kid with my family and particularly with my father and we started when I was about six-years-old and continued to fish until just before he passed away in 2017. It was something that was a really special connection between him and me and it’s great to have so many pictures of the two of us together on trips sharing that and it’s something that will never fade away. I also have family pictures with my mother fishing and my sisters fishing. I think it’s something that we all enjoyed very much. And just in terms of the origins of the story, when I first started writing it, I was part of a community online called the Northern California Fly Fishers board, which was an interesting gathering of people who could be very curmudgeonly. We shared a love of fishing and quite often a general animosity towards each other because of different political feelings and when I wrote my first couple of drafts, I shared it with the board. Some people were willing to take a look at it and got some really great feedback in terms of some of the things that I’d written and things that can be improved.
Over the course of honestly, almost 15 years, I continued to work on the book and showed it to various publishers through a couple of different literary agents and it didn’t get accepted for publication. Working for a publisher, Abrams Books, I thought maybe I could show it to an editor at the company. The first one who did wasn’t sure that we could, as a company, publish a book by somebody who worked at the company. He found out that he could but then he decided he didn’t want to do it. But there was another agent or another editor rather, who as a child and now as an adult, fished with her family and the story appealed to her and she wanted to work with me on it. Over the course of about a year and a half, we worked together on the story and she had a tremendous impact on it and really turned it into something that could be published. I’m really, really grateful that she took the time to work with me and to make it what I hope is a really good book that people enjoy.
Joan: Well, I will definitely attest that it is it’s a great, great book. One of the things I wanted to ask you is what type of work do you do at Abrams?
Andy: I am a sales rep. Over my career, I’ve been both a sales rep and a manager for different publishers and in my current position, I work with Western independent bookstores – some of the great, great bookstores in the world like Tattered Cover and Powell’s and Elliott Bay and Book Passage. But I also work with Amazon. They’re my customer, which is a seven-hour conversation about what it’s like to work with Amazon. I also work with warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Clubs and BJ’s back east and it’s a really great job that gives me the opportunity to experience all different types of retail and Abrams is a really wonderful publisher to work for. Actually, it will be 18 years in May that I’ve worked for Abrams and couldn’t be happier to work for such a good publisher.
Joan: I also think that the fact they published your book is, you know, it says a lot about that because it is a book I would recommend to anyone with the young kids.
Andy: Thank you.
Joan: And particularly somebody who’s outdoors-oriented. And that brings me to my next question. In the interview I did with you that appears on my website, you noted the value of the places we fish is important for several reasons. You specifically said preservation is one of your primary concerns. How does introducing children to fly fishing and the outdoors go hand in hand with the preservation of our resources?
Andy: I think it’s a really vital question. Obviously, with what we face as a planet, in terms of climate change and the danger to resources, rivers, streams, oceans, the air, and every aspect of life on this planet, I think the children truly are our hope for change and progress to do the things we need to do to preserve our planet. I think somebody like Greta Thunberg is a great example of that and a 16-year-old girl who shows tremendous leadership on these issues. For me, my sense is if you are experiencing the natural world and in the case of fly fishing by being in the incredibly beautiful places where we get to enjoy the sport, then you are going to be a steward of the resource. You’re going to be an advocate for improving conditions. And with a new generation getting engaged, it gives me hope that we can make changes, and centuries from now, we’ll still have a planet that we can live on.
One of the groups of people I’ve reached out to on LinkedIn is environmental educators. It’s a huge force in this country in schools and out of schools and there’s been a really great response to the book because there’s an understanding that it does give the opportunity for engagement with kids to the outdoors. I was invited to write a piece by the Arizona Association of Environmental Educators about how I feel the book connects kids to the outdoors and I’d be happy to share that with you as well. It really speaks to how important children are for the future of the planet and something that I’ve experienced both on the water and also at fly shows is how many young kids are really involved in the sport and how talented they are both in the skill of casting flies and understanding how to fish and how to appreciate the resource. It’s really heartwarming.
Joan: I think teaching children, in particular, has a lot to do with doing with them and taking them out when they’re really young and keeping them engaged. Letting them understand what the world would be like without these particular resources. And so I definitely applaud you for doing that and for getting the word out about what we need to do to keep (preserve) our environment.
Here’s a question. I know my listeners will definitely want to hear and particularly those who fly fish will understand and applaud when you answer this question. You mentioned to me that all of your vacations focused on fly fishing or have at least had a small opportunity to fish. Where are some of those places that you’ve fly-fished and the adventures… how exactly did they affect you?
Andy: Being out here in California? Most of my fly fishing over the last 20 years or so have been in the Western United States or Western Canada. I’ve had the opportunity to fish up in Alaska, down in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana. I would have to say that my favorite places to travel to are Montana and New Mexico for fly-fishing. I think a lot of people are surprised that New Mexico is a fly fishing destination, but it has some of the most incredible water to access for fly fishing and some of it is very small streams and in some cases somewhat isolated. When you’re in those places and you’re surrounded by incredible nature and beautiful wildlife, it’s a really extraordinary situation. For instance, in New Mexico, northwest of Santa Fe, there’s an area called the Valles Caldera and it’s a big volcanic area that has several very small streams that can be five or six feet wide and you drive out on bumpy dirt roads and fish in these tiny streams and the fish are very shy and you have to approach on your knees in many instances so they don’t see you and swim off. I have seen coyotes and elk and deer and eagles and hawks while I’m out fishing and it’s just it’s the greatest feeling in the world. When my book was published, I did quite a bit of outreach to anglers primarily on Instagram and over the last two years since the book was published, I’ve met or had become acquainted with so many anglers around the world – people in the United States and Canada and Finland and Scandinavia and so many different places. It’s given me the opportunity to learn about new places and I’m really looking forward to some future trips where I get to fish in person with some of these people who are extraordinary anglers and have so much knowledge of their local watersheds. I say especially in Canada, both in places like Fernie and Calgary and over in Nova Scotia. I just can’t wait to get to some of these places. I’m going to try and take a trip to Fernie and the Calgary area this fall.
Joan: I was just going to ask. Where is your next trip going to be?
Andy: My next trip that I have planned is actually Montana and it’s the end of July. The organization, Fly Fishers International, which is one of the major groups that support fly-fishing both in terms of knowledge about the sport but also conservation and education has an annual gathering. This is the second year that it’s in Bozeman and it’s running from July 20 through July 24. I’ll be there signing books and was there last year signing books and also have been at their shows in Boise and Albany, Oregon. It’s a pleasure to be there and meet lots of anglers. So I’ll be there signing for a couple of days and of course, we’ll take advantage of the opportunity to fish in the Bozeman area and also go down to Yellowstone Park and fish the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley near Livingston. They’re just some of the most beautiful places to fish in the world.
And then just to tell you a funny story about doing signings, a lot of times, I’ve been sitting in a booth signing my book and anglers will come and sit with me and they will just riddle me with questions because they want me to prove to them that I’m not just a writer who’s made up a story that I want to sell as a book. They want to make sure that I’m actually an angler, that I have the experience and that I can prove to them that I know what I’m talking about and I can talk about New Mexico or Montana and my favorite places to fish. And you know, I haven’t failed yet. They have given me lots of tough questions and in the end they buy a book, they shake my hand, they thanked me and it feels pretty good.
Joan: I think we’re definitely going to have to get you to send us a photograph of you fly fishing that we can use with the show notes so that people believe you do fly fish.
Andy: I think I can do that.
Joan: Okay, one of the things that I’m curious about is what advice do you give readers who want to get the most out of what I refer to as nature travel, whether there are fly fishing or hiking or any other outdoor-oriented type of travel. What do you tell them? What is your advice?
Andy: I think my advice would be to reach out to the community that
already engages in those activities for fly fishing and I mentioned Fly Fishers International. There’s also Trout Unlimited and both of those organizations have clubs all over the country and the members are extremely willing to share information to involve people who are new to the sport give some great guidance for fly fishing there. I think the greatest resource is fly shops, local fly shops. There is so much willingness on the part of fly shop staff to give good advice and ideas for destinations that can be a combination of purely angling or places where a family can go if somebody is fishing and somebody would prefer to go bike riding or to go hiking. I think that’s the same for hiking organizations and biking organizations. There’s just so much information out there and a sense of community and a sense of wanting to engage new people in the sport and it goes back to what we were talking about in terms of educating people about the importance of the resource and getting out into nature. That’s always going to be the best way for somebody to understand how important that resource is and these communities really want new people out there who are going to be advocates and stewards for the resources. So I think those are probably the best ways to find the best places to go.
One of the first real fly fishing trips I took was probably back in about 1990 and at this point, I was married at the time and my wife didn’t fly fish. But I had been to Montana (Missoula) on a previous trip and returned. We actually went to a bookstore and it was an interesting bookstore that had food and beer. It was “Freddy’s Feed and Read” in Missoula. It sadly closed some time ago and I was speaking to one of the folks who worked in the store. I said we want to go out somewhere where we can fly fish and where my wife can bike and he said, well the lucky thing is that the best place to do both is right here outside of Missoula. It’s a place called Rock Creek and the fishing is phenomenal and mountain biking is phenomenal and I think that’s the case for a lot of destinations…that you can enjoy a lot of different activities in the same place and I still go back to Rock Creek as often as I can. It’s a beautiful place.
Children’s book author, Andrew Weiner’s message is a call to action to teach your children to appreciate and conserve our resources.
Joan: It is definitely. That’s one of the ways that I’ve tried to get my own children outdoors is that I will sometimes, you know, tell them I’ll fish for an hour or so and you can walk around and look or you can ride a bike. Or you can do something like that because that just gets them out there with me, watching me, and maybe I might even catch a fish which you know, obviously makes it a lot more attractive to them.
You said that all of your vacations for the last 20 years have either been fully focused on fly fishing or at least portion of your vacation is dedicated to fishing. How have those adventures affected you?
Andy: As I look forward to further fly fishing trips, I, and as I have gotten to a certain age, where retirement isn’t too far in the distance, there are a lot of bucket list destinations that are on my agenda. Surprisingly, one of the places is Slovenia, which has become a destination for fly anglers who travel over the last probably five years or so. A lot of people know that New Zealand is one of the great fly fishing destinations. It just happens to be pretty expensive in a lot of instances to get there. Slovenia is known as kind of the New Zealand of Europe with incredible mountains, beautiful rivers, and a particular type of trout called the Marble Trout that is particular to that area. So that’s somewhere I definitely would like to go. But yes, New Zealand at some point and even Tasmania has great fly fishing. Argentina and Chile and different parts of Europe that we don’t necessarily associate with fly fishing and other places in the United States that I’ve not fished or it’s been many many years since I fished.
I know that you’re in Pennsylvania.
Andy: I know there is incredible fly fishing in Pennsylvania.
Joan: I actually live right by the Lackawanna River, which is where I do, lately, at least 60 percent of the fly fishing I do is in that river. It’s an incredible river and we’ve got the Delaware (River) and we’ve got a bunch of other rivers. And yes, you definitely need to come up to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Andy: Sounds good. Many, many years ago, when I worked for Penguin Books, and I was a regional manager based actually in Manhattan, as I would travel out to work with the reps I managed, I would always have fishing rods in the trunk of my car. And I was down in Pennsylvania working with one of my reps and had the chance to go over to Yellow Breeches Creek, which is one of the very, very famous streams in Pennsylvania and just had a wonderful afternoon fishing out there. I want to allow my memory to say that I caught at least one fish even though I’m not sure that’s true. But I have fished the Delaware as well and there are just so many different places to hit at some point over the next 25 to 30 years.
Joan: Definitely let us know when you’re going to be up in the area and then maybe we can sit down and do another interview and talk to you about your fishing locally and what you think of it.
Andy: That would be great. I would love that.
Joan: All right. Well, I really appreciate your joining us and I wish you the best and have a wonderful year fly fishing.
Andy: Thank you. And I would just add if people are looking to find the book, basically any bookstore in the country can get the book very easily if they don’t have it in stock. It’s of course available online through Amazon.com. We do love to support our independent bookstores, though. And the same is true of fly shops. There are quite a few that carry it but it’s easy for them to buy copies as well for resale. And I think that our local independent fly shops are such a great resource and anything that we can do to support them, we should absolutely do it.
Joan: Wonderful. I thank you again. Thank you.
Andy: Thanks, Joan. Take care.
Connect with Andy Weiner.
Many thanks to my partner, Transcribe Wreally, for transcribing this podcast. Transcribe has saved me hours of time with its fast and accurate transcriptions.
This podcast was recorded at Keystone College and produced by Ryan Evans.
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