Wednesday, September 19, 2012

20 Questions: Christine Johnston Warren, aka, The Fly Fish Chick

Christine Johnston Warren
OK, time for full disclosure. I started this 20 Questions franchise for purely selfish reasons--I was too busy with the day job to really pay very much attention to the blog, but I wanted to build a solid readership so folks would visit frequently and hopefully enjoy my little creative outlet when I could find time to craft a "real" blog post now and then. Frankly put, 20 Questions was a way for me to generate interesting content without doing a hell of a lot of work--I would simply e-mail a list of edgy, off-the-wall questions to folks who move water in the fly fishing industry, wait for their kind reply and then paste their answers into the Blogger in Draft box on the computer. Very little human interaction is required (a blessing for a closet introvert who can occasionally fake it). 

For the first time in a year or so of doing this feature, I regret not conducting an interview in person. Christine Johnston Warren--known by many as The Fly Fish Chick--nailed the questionnaire. Nailed it.

A couple months back, I noticed Christine was marketing a new book, "Paddlefish," about her journey in the renowned (and maybe not in the best of ways) Texas Water Safari. I'd heard of the event, and the horrors its participants endured as they paddled canoes and kayaks from the crystal-clear headwaters of the San Marcos River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, stopping at deadlined checkpoints and generally trying to pull off Texas' answer to the Iditarod. There are tales of 10-foot alligators tipping small boats over, military-like mosquito sortees that never really relent and snakes. And mud. And it's in south Texas in June--'nuff said. 

I was intrigued by the notion of the book, and by a woman who, I've since come to learn, wasn't a supremely qualified paddler when she committed to the race in order to raise money for a charity. Christine is something of a mix between Sex in the City's Carrie Bradshaw and a young Ouiser Boudreax from Steel Magnolia's--not exactly the type you'd expect to see slumming with the grunts through knee-deep, muddy river portages or skipping a shower for 100 straight hours.

But Christine undergoes something of a metamorphosis in the pages of "Paddlefish." She'd already taken the leap and gone into corporate exile in hopes of actually becoming the writer she'd always dreamed of. And she'd always been an accomplished angler--her parents raised her right and she grew up casting a fly rod from the banks of Montana's finest water to the surprisingly fishy south Texas savannah. But she questioned her perhaps-too-hasty decision to commit to the TWS (and rightly so, frankly--her tale of the race compares the experience to nothing short of a visit to a hot, sticky version of Hades), and I think it's the doubt, mixed with her nervous excitement over trying something so completely absurd that drew me into the pages of this fine story. 

And at the end, what does Christine discover? (Because these books are all about self-discovery, right?). She'd probably be able to give you a laundry list of epiphanies. I'm only going to spoil one of them. Christine Johnston Warren, it turns out, is one tough chick.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I hope one day to share a beer with this amazing broad--she's the real deal. On with the questions: 

What is your greatest fear? Ending back up in the corporate world. At this stage in my life, after every risk I have taken to break away and follow my dream of writing, to get sucked back in would be a grave personal disappointment. But the allure of being able to pay bills more comfortably always lingers. Of course it’s a rather pompous assumption that the corporate world would even have me at this point.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Heavy question. Janis Joplin? No, just kidding! Obviously it’s Princess Diana.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Wasting time on reality television. No wait, using foul language. Oh hell, it’s probably the reality television thing.

I'd forgotten this film... thanks, Christine, for the reminder.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Mendacity. Paul Newman sounded so tortured fighting against it in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” when everything was hitting the fan with Big Daddy. I was thoroughly mesmerized by the movie when I first saw it in high school so I’ve always believed mendacity is the thing against which we should all rail. But can I cite some more bad traits? Like pettiness, social climbing, bad grammar, bad driving, narcissism, being a chameleon, or challenging stream access laws in Montana. All of which get my blood boiling. And I think we can agree they are all somehow related to mendacity.

What is your favorite journey? Hands down The Texas Water Safari. I doubt if I will ever have another adventure like it in my lifetime.

On what occasion do you lie? It’s not so much a lie as a strict privacy policy. Under no circumstances should a woman ever tell anyone her weight, SAT scores or salary. Always let them think the best, and never confirm anything less than that.

Ah, what cheese looks like in a windbreaker.
Which living person do you most despise? Ooh, ‘despise’ is such a harsh word. Now I do like to poke a little fun at Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel. I mean, really…the too-tight muscle tees, the on-air melodrama, the airbrushed straw cowboy hat that looks like it came from a kiosk at the mall. But it’s all good fun, I don’t despise anyone. Or maybe you just caught me on a good day.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“You Know?”
“Are you even listening to me?”
“No, I swear I’m not making this up.”
“Seriously, finish your homework.”

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Surviving divorce. Being a good mother. Being a good wife. Publishing a book. Keeping my faith throughout.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? A hummingbird. I deserve a decent metabolism next go round.
Where would you like to live? Can I say Austin even though I live here? I know you were probably looking for an answer with more longing and aspiration, but Austin’s such a damn cool spot.

Tina Fey... the "new" Nora Ephron?
Who are your favorite writers? I always come back to Hemingway. Nora Ephron is the standard many of us girls are shooting for. I recently read Tina Fey’s "Bossypants" which was hilarious and smart, she has a new fan in me. And I am quite bullish on two Austin writers these days, Ruth Pennebaker and Eileen Smith. I literally can’t get enough of their blogs, I devour their posts when I am sitting in the carpool line waiting for my daughter to get out of school.

Who are your heroes? Sophia Loren for aging so nicely and Loretta Lynn for writing many of her own songs. I’m still holding out hope that I will end up as a blend of the two.

What’s on your iPod?
Old outlaw like Willie, Walyon, Merle. Honkytonk including Loretta, Patsy, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce and Faron Young. Texas music such as Cross Canadian Ragweed and Robert Earl Keen. I’ve got lots of blues, southern rock, and soul. Some reggae and beach music. Current pop stuff for working out. Tons of 70’s…rock, disco, softrock, all the fun late nite nostalgia tunes. 

In three words, how would your closest friends describe you? Well, I would have initially guessed exhausting, flighty, and overly imaginative. But then I realized I think that’s what my husband would say. So I asked friends point blank and apparently the consensus is I’m hilarious, loyal and vivacious. At least those are the words I could re-print. I think bon vivant and tan were also mentioned? For the record, I highly recommend sending out a mass email to friends asking them to describe you favorably in three words to help with an interview. People love to be quoted and it’s a shameless way to receive a deluge of flattering emails, quite the self-esteem boost if you’re having a bad day. (PS, I have exceedingly kind friends, so that helps.)   

If there is a Heaven, and you go to Heaven, what would God say to you upon your arrival? "Welcome, Christine. The jukebox is an old Wurlitzer, it’s always free for you, and I’ve removed all the jam bands from it."

What’s the favorite of all the cars you’ve ever driven? A 1966 Carolina blue Cadillac Sedan de Ville. It used to be my primo fishing ride out in Montana. Now it’s sadly defunct in my driveway being used as storage for all my husband’s grilling supplies.

Which actor/actress would play you in the movie about your life, and why? Because I would have negotiated backend points and complete creative control on the film, I would insist on Catherine Zeta Jones to play me. But I’d settle for Sandra Bullock.

Hey... nobody's perfect.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
Bravo TV’s ‘Real Housewives’. No city in particular, I’m hooked on the whole trashy franchise.

What’s the closest you’ve ever been to dying? With friends in college in Italy, hitching a ride to the beach in the back of a milk truck. Such poor judgment. We were pretty much a breath away from being a bad CNN headline the whole summer.

BONUS QUESTION: If you could go back in time, what year would you visit first?
I was alive in the 1970s but I was just a kid. I would have liked to have been in my 20s in Austin, Texas, in the 70s, experiencing the outlaw music movement and the Armadillo World Headquarters and watching the hippies and rednecks mingle, laying the foundation for what makes this town so unique.

Or Paris in the 20s with all the artists and writers. Also hard to top.


  1. Damn, made me go and look up "mendacity". That's a first for 20Q.

    Nice to meet you, Christine.

  2. I'm proud of you Steve, for admitting what I wouldn't... Thanks for stopping by...

  3. This was actually entertainig. Usually I find these interview things kind of boring but her answers were pretty open and seemed honest.

  4. Kevin... I think this kind of thing is entertaining when the subject of the interview embraces the notion that these aren't your average profile questions--for the most part, they have actually NOTHING to do with fly fishing, but, at some point, every subject of these interviews comes back to role fishing plays in their lives. Christine is no different, but I have to say, I enjoyed her answers more than most. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. I loved it as usual. It's great to read about people some of us only have passing knowledge of...good job Chris and Christine. (Could this be the beginning of a comedy team?)

    1. Oh, I don't know... she's way funnier than I am and pretty damned savvy, judging by the answers. I think I'd have to be the straight man in that duo...

  6. well yeah Austin IS a damn cool place

    1. Indeed... tough to beat. But I'll take somewhere in the Rockies, especially come June, July and August...

  7. Chris -

    Great job. I like the interview series and Christine was a wonderful choice for this feature. Eat More Brook Trout is a nice blog with a little something for everyone. Just added you to the RSS feed and plan to follow along.

    Trout Buddha

    1. Thanks for the kind words... Glad you enjoy the blog.

  8. Ah yes, nothing like a great sense of humor to brighten the day. Thanks Christine for your wonderful take on life and the pursuit, and thanks Chris for giving her this venue from which to shine.

  9. I was lucky enough to meet this broad in a fly shop in Twin Bridges MT a few years ago. I'd been reading her blog for some time previously (honestly The Fly Fish Chick inspired me to start my own blog—sorry for that association, Christine). Although ours was only a brief personal encounter, it fulfilled my impression of her as a warm, engaging, fun angling person. She's awesome, as the 20 questions also reveal.