Tuesday, August 04, 2020

"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'"

Burned out by the Camp Fire, Paradise illustrator Steve Ferchaud fills his latest creation with Paradise memories in a children's book for all ages--and for the ages.


The book came about when the Executive Director of Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation, Debbie LaPlant Moseley, had the idea of raising funds by auctioning off names and characters to be put into a book. The winning bid came from the Hartleys, owners of Joy Lyn's Candies, and so their granddaughter, Haley, is the one who tells the story, a kind of diary of Paradise before, during, and after the fire.


"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'" ($14.99 in paperback, published by Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation; printed by Digital Print & Design in Chico) is available at ABC Books in Chico and through the website of the Foundation's Paradise Chocolate Fest (chocolatefest.us/getting-involved/my-name-is-haley). Proceeds go to the Foundation.


As writer and illustrator, Ferchaud tells a hopeful story. But it's hope that knows full well what has been lost. 


"I have to tell you about Noble Orchards," Haley writes. "I think I have a special talent for picking apples because I have always picked the best, juiciest, sweetest apples in the whole orchard. ... I wonder what the going rate is for an apple expert?"


Haley and her friends Lucia Violet and Sam spend time at Joy Lyn's ("I always choose the brittle"). There's Gold Nugget Days (readers may know some of the folks in the crowd), the Chocolate Fest, Gold Nugget Museum, Darlene's Ice Cream dreams, and Johnny Appleseed Days. 


Then one morning the phone rings. Haley and her mom must evacuate, try to make it to Chico to meet her dad. Booming sounds are all around. For five pages Ferchaud's palette turns red. 


"Then suddenly, there was blue sky."


Days pass, and the Skyway reopens. The two-page spread of a devastated Paradise, "empty and burned away," is heart-rending.


Months pass, and the family rebuilds. "There is still so much I want to say ... but do you know what I love saying the most...? 'Hi! My Name is Haley, and I live in Paradise.'"


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous"

"How could she possibly relay what thousands of square miles are like to callers who think San Francisco is Northern California?" That's the question fictional real estate agent Ingrid Fromm asks herself about the glory of Siskiyou County in the short story collection that depicts her encounters with interesting (read: quirky) clients.


The county, Fromm muses, is "the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined.... You can get lost here, stake out your territory, and retreat to a lifestyle reminiscent of rugged individualism and grit...." And there are pretty good views of Mt. Shasta.


Author Ursula Bendix, Peace Corps volunteer and Spanish teacher, was born in Germany in 1945 and with her family immigrated to Oregon when she was ten. Now the owner/broker of Bendix Real Estate in Yreka, she has crafted a series of deceptively simple stories about her counterpart Fromm (also in real estate in Yreka). 


"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous" ($13.95 in paperback from Memoir Books, an imprint of Chico's Heidelberg Graphics; also for Amazon Kindle) presents ten vignettes, tales of clients narrated from Fromm's point of view, that in quiet ways begin to expose the soul of a woman in her sixties, divorced after thirty-four years of marriage, with a son and daughter, living a "conventional" life.


Fromm's work makes her almost a voyeur into the lives of her clients. "Voyeurism, she knew, was a means by which she tried to discover and comprehend the nature of intimacy. She was sure that once she understood this feeling, she would understand the essence of living.... Selling real estate gave her the opportunity to meet all types of personalities and, for a short while, become intensely involved in their lives."


Zola Poe wants to build a "spiritual and holistic retreat" near the town of Hilt. A couple is interested in a strange house with a trapdoor in Dunsmuir. Foul-smelling Patrick meets a sad end. Ingrid imagines a fling with her client, Russian Boris Volkov. ("We're all in our sixties after all--what difference did it make?")


A conventional life? Perhaps--but one that will draw readers into its gentle passion.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown"

As a longtime Chico resident, former high school science teacher Dick Cory remains active as an essayist (writing a monthly column for Today's Senior Magazine) and environmentalist (advocating Teichert Ponds in Chico be designated "Peace Park Nature Preserve").

When he read about a controversy over prairie dogs in New Mexico, how they might be wiped out of existence by "changing farming practices and development," he created a story for young people told from the perspective of Percival the prairie dog. Percival falls in love with Ida Mae, and together they realize that "both of our families (coteries) may soon have to move if two-legs standing (people) have their way."

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown" ($15 in paperback, self-published, available at Made In Chico and through the author at ubangarang@yahoo.com) is not a story about the old upper Ridge area, but one about a very different "dogtown," captivatingly illustrated by Steve Ferchaud.

A brief glossary notes that a "coterie" is "a family group of prairie dogs made up of a male, one to four females, and their young, up to two years." They aren't really dogs, Cory explains, but "are most closely related to squirrels" and now range over only two percent of the land they did in 1900. Bottom line: "Studies show that the prairie dogs really don't compete for grass with cattle and bison."

After introducing Percival's family, the story takes an ominous turn as he watches the "grass grabbers" (humans) "bury poison seeds that smell like burnt nuts and cause us to die when we eat them.... Some take shots as us with their hollow tube shooters (guns)."

Even worse, "the grass is drying without water, too many four-legged milk-making gas-belching animals are eating what grass is left. Pups are being orphaned by this war on us. What can we do?" Ida Mae adds: "Doesn't anyone care for us? Do the legislators in our capitol not hear our barks?"

In the end Percival and Ida Mae make their choice. "We will stay and fight for our homeland. One day the two-legged standings will realize that our bark is better than their blight."

Doggone if it's not a small tale that needs watching.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)"

Technology is crucial in bringing a worship experience to those sheltering in place. Yet technology can also be a barrier to "authentic worship." That's the claim made in a new book directed especially to conservative evangelicals. 

The author, Livermore resident David Dirks, is a Chico State University grad who helped pioneer KCHO-FM as Chief Engineer. Now retired as a video producer for Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories, he leads the sound/media team at Brentwood Bible Fellowship.

Designed to be read by church leadership, "The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)" (self-published and available on Amazon Kindle) offers a "theology of sound" for churches with around 100 or so in attendance. 

Can those who sing or speak be heard clearly? Is the sound in the room too loud or too soft? The book provides basic technical advice on setting up sound systems, creating the right mix for band members and the congregation, and the importance of the FOH--the "front of house," "the person who mixes the sound for the congregation...."

But here's the key question, Dirks writes: "Are the sounds that you make, whether as a musician or an engineer, consistent with sounds that honor and glorify Christ? ... When we exalt our talents and abilities and elevate our technology as the source of the power in worship, we turn worship on its head. We practice 'the cult of sound.'"

Instead, "sound should seamlessly reinforce the worship time.... All glory should go to God." Beware "the deceptive emphasis on the worshiper as a consumer." Authentic worship is from the heart, in a spirit of joy.

The last part of the book is a jeremiad, a lament over how technology consumes our attention. Is a tech sabbath needed? 

The balance is difficult: "My life’s work is based ... on the use of technology.... At the same time, it is incumbent on me and each believer in the all-sufficient work of Christ and His resurrection to place boundaries on the use and influence technology has on day-to-day living and ... within the time of worship that we share together."

Dirks' book seeks to be a companion in that challenge.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

"An Education In Ruin"

Chico novelist Alexis Bass (alexisbassbooks.com) exposes scandalous family secrets in "An Education In Ruin" ($19.99 in hardcover from Tor Teen; also for Amazon Kindle). 

The Rutherford Institute welcomes high schoolers from the moneyed class, those "with bright futures and lush lives." But for new third-year student Collins Pruitt, who tells the story, her arrival at the boarding school is the start of a mission having little to do with learning.

She focuses on the Mahoney boys, Theo and Jasper. Especially Jasper. He's a fourth-year, the school's lacrosse champion, "accepted early to Dartmouth after being lauded into academic stardom last year when he won the national academic decathlon. ... He spent last summer interning at Robames Inc., a world-popular company because their founder is a twenty-year-old Yale dropout and a Rutherford graduate herself."

If Collins can get Jasper to fall in love with her (and she is convinced by her aunt Rosie that she can), Collins can leverage the relationship to force his married mother, Marilyn, who dotes on her sons, to stop her affair with Collins' divorced father, Jacob, on whom she dotes. Simple.

Except not so simple. As the deliciously dishy tale unfolds, it turns out no one is who they seem to be. Take Rob (Roberta) James, head of Robames, plagued by a personal lawsuit that threatens to bring down the company. She's invented a medical device that quickly analyzes DNA (or something), but she's a total fraud. (The parallels with Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos are quite clear.) 

Jasper knows yet refuses to blow the whistle on Rob. Why? Collins is falling in love with him and in searching for the answers with her group of friends, Anastasia, Stewart, Sebastian, and, yes, Theo and Jasper, secrets inside secrets are revealed. Can love flourish when all the truths come out? 

In the end, Collins writes, "there are some things that are too complicated to understand unless you know the whole of it. The entirety. What came before what comes comes after. The broken-down parts, each piece making both the foundation and the destruction. A moment-by-moment recount until the abhorrent conclusion."

Readers may be so engrossed in "Ruin" it will ruin their dinner plans.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Consider: Somewhere out there in space, humans have come to a planet they call "Home World," fleeing the military-industrial complex on their "previous planetary home," a place in which war seemed to be the answer to every question. The colonists "resolved to bring with them only the technology that rewarded the peaceful solution of differences of opinion." 

Over the next five hundred years only one war flares up. "When it was over, everyone ... agreed that killing each other was stupid." That was long ago; now, though, some of the countries on Home World are again amassing technological power with an eye toward the wealth of a planet known as E47. The "healthy technological and moral environment for human evolution" is about to be shattered.

For Chicoan Andrew Hanson, retired Professor of Education at Chico State University, and now a first-time novelist, the solution comes in the form of what might be called a "conspiracy for peace," led by Mark Sturgis, a rich and mysterious figure recently returned from E47. 

He convinces Adrian Prescott Museum Director Eric Harris, and Assistant Director Rachel Johnson (who fall for each other), that he is indeed the late Adrian Prescott in a transplanted body. Can they convince Adrian's grandson, Jerold Prescott, Chairman of Prescott Industries, before Jerold makes a decision "that will jeopardize the future of our planet"?

"Revelation" ($14 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses in the first part on Mark's (cinematic) E47 experiences involving friendly Hill People, the unfriendly "People of God" tribe, five orphans (the "Sherpas"), telepathic wolves, the Witness Tree (which is a kind of space and time transport), and a People Mover machine which allows Sturgis to escape.

The second part details a series of meetings among the conspirators reporting on peace movements they are encouraging. Will humans get another chance to be welcomed into a peaceful galactic community?

As Mark reports, "It's becoming increasingly clear that advocates for peace must do more than sponsor initiatives and rallies. Warmongering politicians with financial interests in arms industries must be exposed, and colluding arms manufacturers put out of business."

Questions of war and peace continue to resonate as the United States celebrates its own founding.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"The Last Lead Holders: Quest For Fulfillment"

Construction Superintendent and architect Richard Deatherage of Citrus Heights retired his lead pencil in 2009. Drawing by hand he became "the youngest Project Coordinator/Architectural Draftsman in the State of California's history by the age of 20."

He offered to pick up his pencil once again after he learned his friends Andy and Barb Pilgram of Paradise, and their twin daughters' families in Magalia, had lost their homes in the Camp Fire. He ended up designing a home for one of the twins, Jessica Anderson and her husband Elijah, and it's now being built in Magalia.

Deatherage tells his own story, through 2009, in a rollicking memoir, an homage to his parents, especially his late father who "showed us how to live our lives to the fullest and to dream, as we each grew into manhood." "I had no sisters," he adds, "only brothers, and we just beat each other up for entertainment."

"The Last Lead Holders: Quest For Fulfillment" ($19.76 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) details his "adventures growing up in the 1960s and 1970s throughout America as an official United States Air Force Brat (USAFB)." Before he developed much of a conscience, he writes, he was not exactly an angel. (He set up a bootlegging operation to make extra cash when he was underage.)

The book is replete with "now it can be told" hijinks, but they are laid out against a somber experience of "racism in Mississippi in the late 1960s as a young white child; ... being involved in the bussing of all-white children to an all-black school in second grade; ... my parents' unknown struggles at home while my father was being transferred overseas and while he was in the war in Vietnam."

The turning point comes in 1979 when Richard's San Juan High School mechanical drafting teacher puts him on detention and challenges him to design a custom home. At 16 his plans are accepted by the building department. And so a career is born.

Lessons learned? We all need erasers, the "Last Lead Holder" puts it, and we all need to recognize "until the end of racism" that "we were always one."