Black River Dreams: An Interview

  • By: Fly Rod and Reel

Maximilian Werner was born in Idaho and reared in Maine and Utah. He now lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and two children. His essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, and his story "Anglers' Ball" was runner-up in the 2008 Robert Traver Fly-Fishing Writing Award contest, fly-fishing's most-prestigious writing award, co-sponsored by Fly Rod & Reel Magazine and the John D. Voelker Foundation. His first collection of essays, Black River Dreams, was published recently by Barclay Creek Press. We caught up with Maximilian at his home in Utah. The book is separated into three parts, The Haunting, Deep Water and The Afterglow. Why this structure?

Maximilian Werner: The structure of the book is intended to reflect my personal transformation or awakening. When I began writing these essays several years ago, I looked at the world very differently and without real understanding. Then I was introduced to ecology and that changed everything. I began to understand the relational logic of life's complexity, and with that understanding came a tremendous responsibility and weight. If ignorance is bliss, knowledge is something else. But my eyes had been opened, as they say, and I could not un-see what I had seen. I had to learn how to live with the implications of ecology and evolutionary theory. My indirect answer to this quandary is taken up by the third and final part of the book.


Is there a central theme? Inspiration?

The reader will detect multiple themes running throughout the book: the value of friendship, the pain of loss, the importance of love, the contemplation of death, but the central theme is how fly fishing helps me recognize the extraordinary beauty of this life of ours and how deeply we are connected to the Earth and all its inhabitants, human, piscine, and otherwise. Fly fishing is the vehicle through which I recognize and explore this connection.

What should our readers know about Black River Dreams, overall?

They should know that it will entertain them, stimulate their own thoughtfulness, and perhaps help them live better lives as anglers and people.

What are you currently writing?

I am working on a novel that takes place during the latter part of westward expansion. It is not a fly fishing novel, but the two brothers in the story do fly fish using the old technology. I also just finished an essay that uses the framework of evolutionary psychology to predict and explain why audiences fear what they fear. My interests are varied, and generally my writing reflects that variation.

What’s your day job? Your education and writing and fishing background?

I teach writing at the University of Utah, where many years ago I earned my BA in English. Then I went on to graduate school in Arizona. I wrote and studied poetry there, but I haven't written a poem since about 1998. I did moderately well as a poet in terms of publication and awards. Then I wrote my first fly-fishing essay and it was published by FR&R’s (former editor-in-chief and now editor-at-large) Jim Butler. The magazine's treatment was top-notch, and the compensation wasn't bad, either. In fact, it was quite good. At that moment I became a prose writer and I haven't looked back. I started fly fishing in 1994, so I know some things, but I am still very much a student. There is a great deal to know.

Any general comments on the writing?

I put a great deal of care into writing this book. Publishing a book is a serious thing. My priority has always been to publish a book that is well-worth the reader's time and money. I think I've done that here.

Order Black River Dreams from Barclay Creek Press Maximilian Werner writes the "My Stories from Utah" column on this site.