Catherine Schmitt: The President’s Salmon

Cover: The President’s Salmon by Catherine Schmitt

Cover: The President’s Salmon by Catherine Schmitt


Catherine Schmitt
Down East/Roman & Littlefield, July 30, 2015, $22.95
ISBN: 9781608934089

Schmitt reports:

This book is an environmental history of Maine’s Penobscot River and Atlantic salmon, told through the “Presidential Salmon” tradition, which for 80 years sent the first salmon caught on the fly in the Penobscot to the President of the United States.

For every fish that was given to a President, I look at what was happening to salmon and the Penobscot at the time, how each President’s policies were affecting rivers and salmon, and how the President may (or may not) have eaten his salmon.

Catherine Schmitt

Catherine Schmitt

I began writing the book ten years ago and went through three rounds of proposals. Initially, I proposed the book as a straightforward environmental history. The book evolved into a series of personal essays and narrative stories, structured geographically from the headwaters of the river to the sea. I sent out a second round of proposals, and had some interest from both local and national publishers.

I then went back to school, and all the rough drafts became my M.F.A. creative writing thesis at the University of Southern Maine. The structure changed again, thanks to my professors and mentors. “It can’t just be an essay about x + an essay about y + an essay about z = save a river,” explained professor Jaed Coffin, who helped me identify the “charismatic megafauna” of endangered Atlantic salmon, and the “Presidential Salmon” tradition as keys to an overarching narrative.

I went through another round of proposals with no success. I put the book on the back burner to work on another project. One year later, an editor at Down East Books, who had received the proposal five years earlier, during Round 2, and liked the idea, contacted me to see if I was still interested. He liked the new structure, and another year later, the manuscript was complete and in the publishing pipeline.

Lesson? Good ideas will find their way into print eventually. I’m glad this one waited so long, for the book is much better than the one I envisioned ten years ago, with national relevance (all those American Presidents), and connections between national policy and local environmental impact.

Contact info:

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The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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