When I heard of a new book on shelves involving a group of women fly anglers, I just had to read it. While the book itself is well worth the read, the story behind the story is the true inspiration. Join me as we discover dreams, inspiration, tragedy, and lessons well-learned. by Jen Ripple
Jen: Where do you live?
I grew up on a farm in Norton, Kansas and currently live in Littleton, Colorado with my husband and two boys.
Jen: Writing a book is a big undertaking. What made you want to write a book in the first place?
I’m in a book club where eight of us get together once a month and discuss a novel, drink wine, and support each other through life’s ups and downs. One month we read the book The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. One of our members went onto Kate’s website a few days prior to our get together to download discussion questions. Once there, she saw a button that said, ‘Click here if you want Kate to call into your book club.’ Naturally she did, and Kate happened to have our date and time open on her calendar. We put her on speaker phone, and we got to interview her about the characters, the process, the storyline, and anything else that came to mind. It was so inspiring! Here was this New York Times bestselling author calling US! During the call, I read through her bio and the last line read, ‘This is her first novel …’ In that moment, it became attainable to me. As soon as we hung up the call I announced, ‘I think I could do this. I’m going to write a novel.’ If you ask any of my friends, they’d probably tell you I’m a pretty good storyteller. And truth be told, I’m a successful author in my professional career, so I know I’m a pretty good writer also. But I had never written fiction or had to create characters and storylines, and somehow make it all come together. I knew it would challenge my traditional writing style, tap into my creative brain, and push me outside my comfort zone. Game on!
Jen: Can people schedule you to join their book clubs now?
Absolutely! Since that was the spark that planted the seed, it’s an emphatic Yes! I love connecting with readers and hearing the personal connections they make with the story. There’s a button on The Reel Sisters Facebook page and on the website as well. Last summer I was actually flown out to a book club group in Austin, Texas, where we sat on the side of the river bank for a live author chat. It was so fun! After the discussion we had a few local fly fishing guides show up and teach everyone to fly fish. Some of these women even went on to continue fly fishing!
Jen: Rumor has it you didn’t fly fish before the writing of The Reel Sisters. Why fly fishing as a theme?
When I got home from book club that night and told my husband I was going to write a novel, he initially rolled his eyes at me. I have one of those creative, entrepreneurial brains and I swear I’ve created 47 new businesses in my mind. Only three of them have come to fruition, so he’s used to me brainstorming new ideas out loud knowing that some of them stick and most of them don’t. This one however, I just couldn’t get my mind off of. My husband and I have a code phrase that we use whenever I need to get something out of my head and into the world. I ask him, “Will you go into inquiry with me?” What that means is, he asks me question after question after question about whatever topic is at hand. He doesn’t offer his opinion or add to the topic, he just asks a multitude of questions. “Why do you want to write a novel?” “Who is the intended audience?” “What do you want the book to do in the world?”
When it came down to it, I wanted to craft a story that would encourage women to step outside of their day to day routines and try something new in the outdoors. I firmly believe that the outdoors is the best teacher, and that many people do not take advantage of the wonderful life lessons we can learn by stepping outside our comfort zones and trying something new. So if I was going to ask other women to do it, I had to do it first. I narrowed down the outdoor sports to my top three that I had always wanted to try. We sat for three hours that night for this inquiry session, and by the end I chose fly fishing as my central theme, picked my five characters and named them, and I hadn’t even picked up a fly rod yet.
Jen: Why did you think fly fishing would make a good premise for your book?
Before I started fly fishing, the words I would have used to describe the sport would have been: beautiful, graceful, fun, challenging, serene, and adventurous. Now that I am a fly angler, those are still the words I would use. Coincidentally, those are also the words I would use to describe women. I have been blessed with amazing women friendships in my life, so crafting characters that support each other through thick and thin was not a stretch for me. Marrying the topics of fishing and friends together was a dream! Little did I know the impact fly fishing would have on my life, and the amazing women I would meet along the way as I wrote the novel.
Jen: It is my understanding that you wrote the book and then realized the similarities between your characters and the fly rod. What do you think the importance of that is?
Once I started fly fishing and realized there were five main components to a complete fly fishing setup, I knew I had to tweak my characters’ personalities to reflect these same components. It was just too metaphorically rich to ignore! I wanted to create relatable characters that readers could either find similarities to in themselves or in someone they know in real life. Once I started seeing common traits between the fly fishing components and my characters, I just couldn’t help myself. Here’s a glimpse into the characters:
Rod: Rose — Rose is an older character in the book, and acts much like the rod in a fly fishing outfit. The rod is the traditional symbol of the sport. The long, slender and graceful fly rod is second only to the fly line in importance. The fly rod transfers energy and control from the fly angler to the line, leader, and the fly. Rose is the support system for The Reel Sisters, much like the rod supports all the other working parts. She owns the cabin in the mountains right on the river where the girls often have their fly fishing adventures.
Reel: Sophie — Sophie is well-versed in taking care of everyone else’s needs but her own. She is metaphorically represented by the eel in the story. The primary function of a fly reel is to contain the backing, the fly line, and to retrieve line and aid in fighting fish. While you are fighting a fish, the reel provides a variable degree of resistance (called drag) that helps tire a strong-swimming fish as it pulls line off the reel. Sophie does a lot to help Amanda and Veronica in their fishing skills and life in general. She is a great angler and passes down her knowledge to these two in particular.
Leader: Veronica — Veronica is a leader in her daily life, and is represented by the leader in the fly fishing outfit. The leader is a light, nearly invisible extension of the heavy, highly visible fly line, which aids in presenting and manipulating the fly. The leader also assists the fly line’s front taper in casting and presenting the fly and letting the fly float, swim, or sink in the most natural manner. Veronica, in her profession, is a definite leader. She will have a distinct role in helping Melody—hence, letting the fly float, sink or swim.
Fly Line: Amanda — Amanda is bright on the outside with a level, braided core on the inside. This perfectly describes who Amanda is in the story. The fly line, with its linear casting weight, is the key component of the fly-tackle system. The core gives the fly line most of its strength. The fly line appears to the user of other casting methods to be unusually thick. Amanda is beautiful on the outside and courageous and tough to her core.
Flies: Melody — Melody will, no doubt, be our most colorful character in the book. Fly fishing flies can be very colorful and barbed. Melody is covered with piercings and tattoos, and has a colorful lifestyle. She is a little rough around the edges, much like a fly.
Jen: Some of my favorite people belong to the group Sisters on the Fly. I know you’re a member of the group. Tell me how that came about and why.
When I started doing my research on women in fly fishing, two groups initially emerged: The Colorado Women Flyfishers club and Sisters On the Fly. I immediately joined both groups hoping to connect with other women that loved this sport. It was through CWF that I took my first fly fishing clinic and caught my first fish. I have learned so much by attending the monthly meetings and clinics put on by these passionate women fly anglers.
Sisters On the Fly has been such a fun group to belong to. I’m Sister #2204, am now the proud owner of a vintage travel trailer I named Fly Girl (a 1968 Red Dale), and a new tribe of women that have quickly become some of the best friends I have in life. I have hosted several trips myself, and I love this group of sassy, adventurous women. Maurrie Sussman, Sister #1 and Becky Clarke, Sister #2 are real-life sisters who grew up camping with their mom Mazie, Sister #0. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to become friends with them, and I love the vision they have for providing an opportunity for women to do adventurous things together. Not all of the members are fly anglers, but there are many who are and there are multiple fly fishing trips you can sign up for each year. After joining, I wrote most of The Reel Sisters in Fly Girl nestled right next to the river. If I ever got stuck in the writing process, I would wader up and let the river tell me what would happen next in the story.
Jen: A lot of people have started writing a book and a lot of people never finish. How did you push yourself to complete this story?
I began writing the book in 2011 with hopes of finishing it in 2013. Then my dad passed away and it sucked the life right out of me. It was a level of grief I didn’t know was even humanly possible. I was actually on a Sisters On the Fly fishing trip when I received the call about his passing. It was snowing so hard I couldn’t leave the campground until the next day. It was the longest, coldest night of my life.
I shelved the project for several years. I didn’t have a creative spark left in me for a long time. Then in January of 2017, when my husband, boys and I were setting our personal and professional goals for the year, I decided it was time to dust off my keyboard and get the novel finished. That same week I attended the Fly Fishing Show in Denver, and it was the first year they had decided to have a Women’s Showcase that featured businesses that catered to women in fly fishing. I saw a dramatic difference from the first show I attended in 2009, and was motivated more than ever to get the story finished.
I immediately enlisted eight close girlfriends to read what I had written so far, and I invited them to a writer’s retreat at the same campground where I learned I had lost my dad. I had a few gaps in my storyline and needed some collective ideas to help get me to the finish line. Within six hours of brainstorming I had all I needed to finish the story. All I had to do was sit down and write it. That brainstorming retreat was April 25, 2017. I finished the novel on July 4, 2017 and it was published on November 3, 2017.
Jen: Do you think that having the forced hiatus created a different book than it would have had you wrote it all at one time?
I think so, although I had decided the ending early on in the process. When I figured out the storm, I wanted it to show metaphorically that we all face storms in our lives and we weather them very differently – some come out unscathed and others are leveled by them. Going through major grief for a couple years after the death of my dad gave me a perspective I may not have had before. I didn’t write that section of the book until I came back to it, so if the grief feels real, it was. I think it brought more emotion into the serious and tragic parts of the book.
Jen: where is your favorite place to fish?
I love the Arkansas River in Colorado. It will always have a very special place in my heart. My favorite time of year to fish it is in late April and early May for the caddis hatch. This is where I was when I found out my dad died. It was the first Sisters on the Fly event I had decided to host and we had hit the hatch. I got there, set everything up, heard my dad died, and had to leave. I now go every year not only to try and catch the hatch, but also to spend some good healing and reflection time by myself. The river has healing properties in so many ways. I love watching the hatch and it’s only about 2-1/2 hours away from my home.
Jen: What is the biggest piece of advice someone gave you while you were writing the book?
Since this is my first novel, I had a pretty steep learning curve. There was so much I didn’t know about the ins and outs of the publishing world. I had no idea that you had to have an agent in order to get looked at by a publisher. I submitted the manuscript to 18 different agencies and was turned down by all of them. I ended up self-publishing because it was more important for me to get the story out into the world rather than wait for someone to pave the path for me. I’m still hoping that someone will decide to represent me and get it formally published through a publisher. The advice I received late in the game was to find an agent before you finish writing the manuscript.
Jen: What advice would you give someone who is struggling to write their story?
I learned so many lessons along the way!
Create a space that is free of distractions to help you stay focused. Having my vintage travel trailer provided me with a mobile office I could pull anywhere I wanted. Try and block out time on your calendar to dedicate to writing and ask others to respect the space. Join a writer’s group or enlist a group of trusted friends to help brainstorm ideas with you. Their perspectives are so different than yours, and they are not as tied to the outcome as you are.
Jen: The ending left me curious about the future of the characters. Will there be a sequel?
I intentionally left some breadcrumbs at the end for the possibility of continuing the journey of these awesome women! I have been brainstorming the sequel, but have not yet started writing it. I’m pretty sure I know the direction I want to go with each character, but don’t have a timeline in mind just yet. It’s important to me that I richly formulate each character in the next phase of their lives, and I don’t want to rush it. I’ve had many readers beg me for a sequel, so I love that the first book has had such a great impact on people.