ENTERPRISE — It has been almost 20 years in the making, but Michael Tevlin’s book, “Sockeye,” has finally made it home to Wallowa County.
“Sockeye” recounts the story of a Wallowa County youngster who left home for a life of fishing in Alaska, and returns after his father’s death, only to fall in love with a Nez Perce woman and work with her to restore a sockeye run to Wallowa Lake.
“It’s really a book about coming home,” Tevlin said.
Tevlin, a journalist and freelance writer, lives in Portland but spends his summers in Wallowa County. An avid fly fisherman, his favorite stream to drop a line in has long been the Wallowa River. His favorite quarry are steelhead and their brethren, rainbow trout.
“At some point, I began to think about writing a novel,” he said. “I’d been coming out here with my family for years. And I also had a passion for salmon.”
In Portland, Tevlin volunteered as an educator for the nonprofit, Oregon Trout, taking kids on trips to watch salmon spawn and teaching about the different species.
“I decided to combine my interests and write a book set in the Wallowas about an attempt to restore a sockeye salmon run,” he said.
Tevlin began his novel in 2002. His inspiration came from his knowledge of the landscape, his love of fish and the workshops and writing retreats he engaged in through Fishtrap. He said he attended the first Outpost writing workshop with Kim Stafford and Pamela Royes.
“They helped me think about this landscape, helped me focus and really made me a better writer,” he said.
When Tevlin’s novel was in its first draft, Tevlin spent a week at the Fishtrap Writer’s retreat on the Imnaha River.
“The quiet and the other writers were really important in refining the work,” he said.
The book went through 11 drafts and a revision that slimmed it from 150,000 words to less than 100,000 and polished the plot and characters. Sockeye was published by Black Rose Writing based in Castroville, Texas, on March 12.
That was just when the pandemic shutdowns and restrictions really hit.
“I was going to do some readings and sort of a book tour,” Tevlin said. “But all that changed.”
Tevlin’s research for the book included “lots and lots of reading,” including the entirety of Alvin Josephy’s “The Nez Perce and the Opening of the West,” visiting with a biologist at Nez Perce Fisheries in Joseph, and multiple conversations with locals, he said.
“There’s a fish biologist in the book,” he said. “He’s kind of a minor character, but he talks about how the restoration might be done, what the impacts might be and some of the problems that might arise.”
In his novel, Tevlin changed the name of the town of Joseph to “Sockeye” because it is a work of fiction, and he didn’t want to be held to being absolutely factual.
“I didn’t want someone to say, ‘Well that place isn’t there.’ It’s a fictional town,” he said.
The book’s characters deal with many real-world problems including alcoholism, racism and family dysfunction.
In the 20 years since he started writing his book, Tevlin said that he’s seen changes in some attitudes towards salmon restoration.
“There’s been a much wider acceptance of the need to take down dams, especially on the Snake River,” he said. “The scientific consensus now is that the best thing you could do for Idaho salmon and salmon here, is to breach those dams. And in the time that I’ve been writing this, there have been some noteworthy dams removed. It’s not just ‘pie-in-the-sky’ that some crazy environmentalist wants to do any more.”