Opinion

Saving salmon before it’s too late

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Department of Fisheries and Oceans officer Finn Chuminski wants to restore the habitat of an endangered species of B.C. sockeye, but he’s thwarted by DFO management, and politicians.

As Chuminski tries to make sense of the road blocks, he has suspicious, life-threatening “accidents.” His hip-waders fill with water. Before he’s sucked under, his life-long friend, Billy Spirit Wolf, throws him a rope.

Another time, Chuminski grinds to a halt at the edge of a raging river. The bridge is out. Why hadn’t his supervisor warned him? Were the slashes in the boots from a knife? Could Chuminski be targeted for extinction along with the salmon he’s trying to save? By whom, and why?

It’s the premise – basic idea or dilemma – of Secret Protocol, a novel. I wrote it after listening to Denise Jaden, the presenter at last month’s Golden Ears Writers at the ACT. Her book is Fast Fiction, A Guide to Writing a First Draft Novel in Thirty Days. Jaden once wrote a novel in 21 for National Novel Writers Month (each November).

Jaden says a premise contains elements of a good screenplay. She recommends Luke’s Logline.

The main character in Secret Protocol – Chuminski – sets out to achieve a goal: restore Sacred Lake’s sockeye. But he runs into unexpected obstacles. Mundane office tasks take him from his field work – “the new DFO protocol” eliminates the agency’s role in enforcement and habitat protection.

To save the salmon before it’s too late, Chuminski must grow as an individual or face defeat and doom.

The next step is a story plan. Let ideas for setting, themes, characters, and plot flow onto a page without revising or editing, says Jaden. Do that after writing 2,000 words every day for a month.

For the setting, I need a lake with spawning area infringed upon by development.

A model? Fish Lake is out after escaping a plan to turn it a mining tailings pond, but there’s one near Chilliwack that First Nations have depended on for centuries. Habitat could be remediated here, but it’s vanishing as politicians strip rules for lakes and endangered species from legislation. I’d explain this through dialogue to hold reader interest. I’ll reread testimony of senior DFO administrators at the Cohen Commission, but remember this is fiction.

Other characters? A council of shady senior DFO guys out to eliminate Finn, who’s getting too close, and Finn’s wife, who’s threatening to leave him because of his drinking problem and frequent violent rants. For Finn to save his marriage, he must become open with his feelings; find personal peace and purpose.

Spirit Wolf will take him through a healing ceremony in a sweat lodge. When Chuminiski embraces ancient native values, he’ll find the strength to uncover the truth behind the department’s paralysis.

Themes? Pushing forward in the face of loss, government misuse of power.

To advance the plot, I’ll have a Deep Throat figure in the DFO drop clues to the secret protocol’s location. It’s a scheme to abandon the Wild Salmon Policy for engineered GM farm fish. Puppet DFO scientists say the substantial equivalent for the real thing will adapt to increasing ocean acidity, and produce six times the protein in months, not years. Think of the corporate profits. Who needs wild salmon, scallops, and oysters?

A big problem with the protocol – which leads to murder – is a gene similar to the one responsible for mad cow disease. The DFO scientist who discovered it dies suddenly in a boating accident.

I need an inciting opening incident.

Billy calls Chuminski at home. “You’ve got to see this, Finn. Dead fish, hundreds of  ’em along Davis Creek. Didn’t make it to the spawning grounds.”

“Chemical spill, or siltation? It’s important if you hope to get us there.”

“Neither. Covered with lesions. Opened a few. Hearts are mush. Asked your supervisor to investigate three days ago, take samples. Nobody. What’s going on?”

“First I’ve heard, Billy. Be there in 20 minutes.”

• March 18, Writing as Witness with poet Renee Sakika and author Annette LeBox.

 

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher,

local author and environmentalist.

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