John Larison's first novel, "Northwest of Normal," captures some of the best fish stories in western Oregon. While he was writing the book, the Oregon State University English instructor drew on his experiences working as a fly-fishing guide on the McKenzie River. He was living in the Eugene area, which he said is filled with larger-than-life characters.
"A core part of the story is this group of people who have decided to drop out," buy a piece of land and start an intentional community on a river, Larison said.
Larison also tried to incorporate crazier things he witnessed at the Oregon Country Fair. A section about such a gathering takes up about a third of the book.
"Northwest of Normal" focuses on a young fly-fishing guide who returns to his hometown to discover that it and its beautiful river are caught up in wrenching environmental and social changes. Nature and natural resources issues figure prominently.
Larison, 29, grew up in Philomath and attended school in Corvallis through his sophomore year. He then moved to Ithica, N.Y., with his family.
Larison enrolled at the University of Oregon to return to the Northwest, with its cleaner environment and diverse ecosystems.
"It's a place of secrets, which I really like," Larison said. "If you're an angler, there are secret fishing spots."
After teaching high school for three years in Eugene, Larison enrolled in the creative writing program at OSU. Ted Leeson, the author of several books and a fly-fisherman, served as a mentor, and showed Larison that you could be in both academics and the fishing world.
Larison said his own writing is charged by teaching students at OSU, and seeing the craft catch their interest.
"Thinking about writing makes me more creative about writing," he added.
Larison already is working on his second novel, "Finding Bigfoot," which will tackle political attacks on science and eco-terrorism in the Pacific Northwest. He also has written a book on fishing, "The Complete Steelheader," and is a frequent contributor to outdoor publications such as Gray's Sporting Journal and Fly Fisherman.