Tuesday, January 19, 2021

"After The Virus: A Surviralist's Journal"

Chico City Council member Scott Huber is now a novelist (with one less item on his bucket list). He imagines a future dystopia where the Ebola virus has mutated so that catching it "was a death sentence ... and a messy one." 

Most of earth's human population has been wiped out, but maybe 1% is "VNC," Viral Non-Compromised, immune (but maybe carriers). And so it is with Will, who begins a journal on April 15, 2033, recounting his challenges day to day just trying to remain hidden in the Ishi Wilderness area from militias intent on wiping out the VNC. Will becomes, not a survivalist, but a "surviralist." And thus the title: "After The Virus: A Surviralist's Journal" ($9.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle).

Huber emails: "I first started formulating the story in 2012, when I made the daily commute from Chico to Forest Ranch for my job at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. There is a large cave that can be seen from Highway 32 on the east facing slope of Musty Buck Ridge. After visiting that cave and seeing the evidence of the indigenous people who had occupied it, I began to develop the plot."

Will must fend for himself: "Returning to my snares I was delighted to find two good-sized gray squirrels dangling by their necks from the tree. I skinned both and started a small fire, spitted them and had one for late breakfast, salted the other and wrapped it in a bandana to have later for an afternoon snack."

Eventually Will meets other VNC; some prove to be allies, like the young girl named Hope, but others are malicious and worse. The story is grim and violent and gory, aimed at, Huber emails, fans of The Walking Dead, not the Hallmark Channel (cannibals, anyone?). 

Later, word comes that the VNC must head to Oakland where a United Nations ship will take them to safety in March 2034. There is a horrendous price as small VNC cells press toward the goal; others continue journaling when Will cannot. 

Huber's descriptive skill and edge-of-your-seat pacing lead readers through a nightmare landscape not soon to be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"From The Dark Domain: Novel Number One In The Luke Thomas Series"

Keith Potter served Paradise Alliance Church as lead pastor during the 1990s. Now living with his wife, Sue, in Eugene, Oregon, he is Vice President for Advancement at Bushnell University (formerly Northwest Christian College) in Eugene.

In Potter's new novel, Arthur Gilliam, comatose in a care facility, is visited by a younger pastor, Luke Thomas, making his rounds.

"From The Dark Domain: Novel Number One In The Luke Thomas Series" ($18 in paperback from Resource Publications; also for Amazon Kindle) is a story within a story. Thomas, "District pastor" in San Diego, finds a manuscript Gilliam has written, a long letter to his estranged son, Donnie, recounting a life broken, yet redeemed by God, which forms the crux of the novel.

Ever attracted to beautiful women, Gilliam falls hard for Alice. Donnie is conceived on their wedding night, but Alice is sexually cold and physically brutal. "As a protector, I failed beyond measure," he writes his son.

She kicks Donnie out at sixteen. Later, after Alice dies, Arthur is alone, preaching but not much believing that stuff about Jesus. He moves to Tahuya, Washington. His neighbor, Lisa, is wondrous to look at, and she is attracted to the wimpy Arthur. Yet Lisa abruptly leaves and Arthur ponders what God is doing.

In the early 1990s he takes a job teaching English in Rwanda at a Christian school. The headmistress, Prudence Nayinzira ("a woman who could have been Miss Universe"), is a Tutsi. One of the older students, Faustin Bizimana, a Hutu, becomes spiritual mentor to Arthur, and together they challenge each other in following Jesus.

"My own becoming," Arthur writes, "presented hand-in-hand with that obscure little country; both of us crowded with regrets and unrealized impulses for the good, and yet capable of harm...." Soon, they all must face the Rwandan genocide as attackers come again and again. If by God's grace Arthur finds courage at last, what form will it take?

And how can Luke Thomas communicate this to those who have loved Arthur?

Potter's novel is masterful--and the searing Rwandan events will leave readers breathless in the face of a God-haunted world.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

"Calm: How To Thrive In Challenging Times" and "Calm Parents And Children: A Guidebook"

Life coach Gayle Kimball, Chico State Department of Sociology professor emerita, has distilled her experiences in helping others cope with stress into two new books. 

"Calm: How To Thrive In Challenging Times" ($9.99 in paperback) and "Calm Parents And Children: A Guidebook" ($14.99 in paperback, with both available for Amazon Kindle) are published by Equality Press (see gaylekimball.info).

"Calm" lays out the principles Kimball uses while "Calm Parents And Children" draws on her surveys of kids around the world, the questions they have for parents, and applications of the principles to parenting.

For Kimball, the keys to calm involve "cognitive restructuring" ("we can rewrite our brains with our thought patterns") and healing through redirecting the deep energies of the body (she is a graduate of the Chico Psychic Institute, a Reiki 3 master, and is trained in using acupressure for "emotional clearing").

"Hard times," she writes, "can be our best teachers and a catalyst for change.... Of course, it's difficult to find any silver lining in being unemployed or ill," especially in the pandemic. But harmful emotions produced by isolation can drain the very energy needed to move forward. So "be aware of the feeling, focus on it, listen to it. Don't try to stuff it or ignore it. Then let it go into an imaginary container that you blow up, or down from you into the earth to recycle, or you can release feelings through physical exercise."

She notes that "visualizing images serves as a powerful way to harness the power of thoughts. We attract what we focus on; we program ourselves like computer software, so we need to examine our core beliefs, such as about our self-worth."

Her study of Generation Z (those born in the late nineties to around 2010) found "different norms from previous generations" (they tend to be progressive, spiritual but not religious, and accepting of gender fluidity). "Calm Parents And Children" suggests ways parents can respond to this generation in dealing with their strong-willed child, gender stereotyping, teenage addiction to social media, and young people who won't listen to authority.

Discerning readers will find much to ponder.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

"From Port Wine Stain To Angel Kisses"

"Hello," the children's book begins, "my name is Leonardo Joshua, but you can call me Leo. I was born with a rare birthmark on my face called Port Wine Stain. Do you have a birthmark anywhere?"

Leo is a real little boy, the son of former Chicoan Shawntel Newton and her husband, orthodontist Paolo Poidmore. As People Magazine notes, "Newton--a former funeral director, who placed fourth on Brad Womack's season of The Bachelor in 2011--gave birth" to Leo, their second child, in October 2018. (For more about the challenges--and moments of grace--see shawntelnewton.com.)

Leo's grandmother, Chicoan Colene Newton, realized that Leo's narrative, which she had written for her grandson as a gift of love, might well be shared with a larger audience. "For some children," she writes, "things that make them unique might also make them look different." Teaming with Chico artist Penny Poole Oster, Colene presents Leo's own experiences (as well as more detailed information for parents) in "From Port Wine Stain To Angel Kisses" ($9.95 in softcover from Memoir Books, available on Amazon).

In the book Leo explains that his "Port Wine Stain covers half of my face including one eye and over my brain, which means I also have something called Sturge-Weber Syndrome. This makes me even more rare. There are not that many people born with this. ... I think that makes me really special. Is there something that makes you special too?"

The real Leo has had dozens of laser treatments "to help get rid of the redness. The lasers feel like someone is taking a rubber band and snapping it on my face; it hurts, but only for a second. ... Afterwards I have polka dots on my face; my mom and my brother call them my Angel Kisses. Have you ever had to be really brave?"

Oster's full-page watercolors illustrate Leo's journey. Sturge-Weber Syndrome can affect the eyes, so there are regular visits to glaucoma specialist James Brandt, M.D., at UC Davis. "He and I," Leo says, "like to make faces at each other, which makes us both giggle." Oster captures the moment beautifully.

This is what love does.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

"The Art Of Stretching"

Twelve-year-old David Janzen is a wonderer at heart. Short of stature, he is tormented at Central Elementary School (where his dad is a science teacher) with a different epithet, that of "shrimp." It is the early 1960s in Del Rio Vista, "a small, central California farming community." 

He wonders if he can build a balloon that can soar into the sky and parachute its payload unharmed to the ground. He wonders if, one day, he can build a rocket to reach into orbit.

"At home," he observes, "I was a 'shrimp'--but I wasn't excluded from life because of it. At home, in my experiments, I could be someone. As long as Mom didn't know the details."

David tells his story in "The Art Of Stretching" ($8.99 in paper, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) by David H. Dirks, Chico State grad, now a Livermore resident. Sketches throughout the book are by Benjamin Pacheco and help readers visualize what David is up to.

Dirks draws on his own memories for his quietly loving account of the fictional Janzen family. There are seven of them, two brothers, three sisters and a fair amount of squabbling. Young David has an eye for engineering but his initial balloon experiments end up terrorizing the neighbors (explosions, anyone?). 

While his father gently encourages his explorations, his mom is wary. "I was a scientist and I needed room," David remembers. "Mom was always pulling me back, making me do my homework and insisting I go to church instead of sleeping in Sunday mornings. Mom did not understand science." Will she ever see the light?

Neighborhood kids throw dirt clods at David but secretly admire what he and his new friend, wheelchair-bound Jack, also twelve, are accomplishing. Together they create a new balloon inflated by natural gas from the science classroom's Bunsen burners, one which can theoretically climb a mile and release its occupant, a "rat-astronaut," safely to the ground.

Readers will find themselves rooting for David and Jack when launch day arrives. 

David is always stretching, even as a kid reaching for the stars. It is fitting we turn our eyes heavenward this Christmas season and become wonderers as well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"Chico History: 1905-1971 Featuring The Bartlett Drug Company"

The ordinance passed by Butte County supervisors was stark: "All persons within Butte County must wear masks.... Failure to comply with the law is punishable by a fine of $50 or imprisonment for thirty days, or by both." It was November 17, 1918 and the "Spanish Flu" had hit hard. That year at least 104 Chicoans died of the disease. 

Ironically, there was a bright side. Early in 1919 a newspaper account noted business at drug stores was booming: "Every druggist in Chico is riding along on a wave of prosperity that reached its crest last November and has not subsided yet."

Among the eight or so pharmacies operating in Chico at the time was Bartlett's, at 330 Broadway. Chicoan Kathleen Gabriel, who teaches at Chico State and has published on how to best serve underrepresented students, focuses on this downtown landmark to trace "Chico History: 1905-1971 Featuring The Bartlett Drug Company" ($55 in paperback from Memoir Books; available on Amazon). The book is beautifully designed, replete with hundreds of historical photographs, and meticulously researched. 

Gabriel has deep roots in the community. "My paternal grandparents came to the Chico area around 1909," she writes, "and in 1921 their three-year-old daughter, Janette Ruth Martin, contracted catarrhal enteritis. Without antibiotics, she, like many other children with this and similar types of diseases, did not have much of a chance for survival.... She died in my grandmother's arms on May 21, 1921."

The pharmacy began as the Waste ("pronounced Wass-tee") Drug Company in 1905, became the Smith Drug Company and then, in 1909, the Bartlett Drug Company (operated by Raymond Schaller from 1944 until his death in 1971, when the business closed).

Gabriel's essential account immerses readers in Chico history, including the development of Enloe Sanatorium in Paradise, Sycamore Pool, Chico High, and much more. But it also gives a lot of love to advertisements (Palmolive Olive Oil shampoo, Gleem Toothpaste or Little Liver Granules, anyone?), the new "penny scale," the introduction of the rotary phone (in 1953 "Chico Goes Dial... New numbers will include the prefix Fireside 2"), competing pharmacies and candy stores, and prescription slips.

My prescription: Get the book.

SPECIAL NOTE: The book is available locally from the author, kgabriel@u.arizona.edu; or call (530) 342-6936. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

"The Vault Of Adon"

After Camp Fire survivor Michael J. Orr (wordsmithmojo.com) and his family moved to southern Idaho, he began writing a series of novels under the name of T.J. Tao that have grown ever more fantastical. His first, "Burn Scar," reimagined the fire as occurring in the town of Genna (Maltese, he writes, for "Paradise"). 

Among the characters is recovering alcoholic James Augustine who, in "Stone Scar," teams with Boise State University archaeologist Stuart Angeline as they find a portal in Idaho that leads to other parts of the world and to a monk named Adon, trying through the centuries to bring humanity to its senses.

With the apparent death of their antagonist, Gavin David (pronounced "dah-veed"), James and Stuart are confronted in the third novel with his twin brother, Marcel, who has even grander ambitions: "He wants to become a god." "The Vault Of Adon" ($13.99 in paperback from WordsmithMojo Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with an earthquake and ends with an existential threat to Islam and Catholicism. 

Adon explains that the gods of mythology, such as Thor and Odin, were actually those who wielded sophisticated technology unknown to ordinary folk, but they all failed, and their weapons were buried deep in an Icelandic cavern, now revealed by the earthquake. 

There, two locals, seventeen-year-old Ásdís Axelsson and her father Kristján, discover the vault; guarding it is a shield, which turns out to be the actual shield of Odin.

Marcel is following it all; his minions kidnap and torture Kristján in an effort to snare Ásdís, who has escaped with James. Does she have the key to opening the vault? Stuart is taken to the vault as well; with threats to his family he is charged with translating the strange symbols on the shield and vault entrance. 

On the run, James finds Ásdís a quick study, accepting his bizarre story of ancient Travelers (Ava, called "Mother," is 11,000 years old) and godlike powers (through the strange metal Atlantium which tips Poseidon's trident and the spear that pierced Jesus on the cross).

If the vault is opened Marcel's quest will be fulfilled. Humanity's subjugation appears imminent, but the end, as they say, is not yet.