Sunday, May 21, 2017

"The College Bucket List"



Kourtney Jason, an entertainment writer now living in New Jersey with her husband, received a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2007 but "also earned a degree in how to hold her liquor, thanks to the dozen-plus bars within walking distance of the California State University, Chico campus." (She wrote a sex column for The Orion during her time at the university.)

Jason (kourtneyjason.com) has teamed with Darcy Pedersen, a Northern California-based actress and editor who received a degree in theatre arts from Chico State, to produce "The College Bucket List" ($14.95 in paperback from Ulysses Press; also for Amazon Kindle).

Subtitled "101 Fun, Unforgettable, And Maybe Even Life-Changing Things To Do Before Graduation Day," the book comes "from two women with college degrees from a certified party school, so you know we know how to have a good time. And we're here to spill all we learned as coeds."

Organized under nine headings (from cultivating school spirit to "things not to tell mom or grandma"), each item is a breezy one-or-two-page chapter, with plenty of exclamation points, all with a common purpose: "We are a big proponent of getting out of your comfort zone and trying new experiences, especially during your college years."

They advocate responsible drinking and safe sex, but they don't shy away from either, including inventing "signature drinks" to having a one-night stand (after considering a short list of pros and cons).

College is also a transition: "Think of college as high school 2.0. In high school, you had to do anything and everything you could to make yourself an attractive prospective student. In college, now you must do the same to make yourself an attractive future employee." So "attempt to learn a different language" or "do a summer internship."

The book assumes readers have some measure of good judgment, especially regarding the more risky items. Graduates looking back may well be able to check many things off the list, but those who see it as a challenge to be completed might be most in need of wise counsel. In the end, the book reflects modern college life and the pains and pleasures of navigating the world of young adults.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Kiss Of The Art Gods: Memoir Of A Sculptor"



Water and fire have marked the life journey of figurative sculptor Dan Corbin. He worked out of a studio in Chico in the 90s where he began to establish himself as a living artist who could actually make a living from his art. Represented in galleries across the country, Corbin has specialized in creating life-sized sculptures of the female form.

His work is at once industrial and sensual. "An art analogy of my new sculpture style goes as follows: Rodin meets an Australian aboriginal conceptualist, and they began having kids."

There is no straight line from growing up in the 50s on a peach orchard in the Yuba City area to becoming a successful studio artist. The intriguing and passionate story is told in "Kiss Of The Art Gods: Memoir Of A Sculptor" ($15.95 in paperback from Gatekeeper Press; also for Amazon Kindle). Corbin's website (kissoftheartgods.com) features a gallery of his work.

The great flood came in 1955, inundating the ranch, drawing a line between an idyllic family life and the unraveling of that family in the years to come. After the flood ten-year-old Dan discovered an encyclopedia article on sculpture. "Looking back now, fifty years later," he writes, "I believe something mystical happened to me on that day." "Art," he adds, "is the nearest thing we have for getting it right and keeping it real."

That leads to the Art Gods. "I believe these gods reside in our bodies, in our minds, or in our DNA as agents of cultural progress, social bonding, and peaceful change." The Art Gods give short shrift to the dilettante, to the puffed-up person who dismisses his mentors. From Reno to Hawaii, San Francisco to Chico, the lesson took a long time to learn. There were brawls, booze, babes; and typhoid fever.

At long last he listened. He saw that firing clay sculptures produced incredibly fragile work, that his art demanded a different medium. The Art Gods smiled: "When the Art Gods think you can carry the torch of social change, only then do they give you their cherished blessing."

It's a heartfelt meditation on the Art Gods reclaiming a wayward son.


Sunday, May 07, 2017

"The Adventures Of Little Mouse"



Ridge-area resident Jim Barnes "spent thirty-five years as an elementary school teacher, mentor, and administrator in Palermo"; now the long-time educator is publishing a series of stories for pre-teens to cultivate "the intellectual and moral virtues that have stood the test of time in attaining a meaningful, productive, and satisfying life" (more at littlemousethemouse.com).

The inaugural tale is "The Adventures Of Little Mouse" ($11.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). The book introduces problem-solving methods in a winsome way and encourages adults to read the story to kids and talk about it.

Little Mouse lives "in his underground home up on Little Butte Creek. … Paradise Lake was as gorgeous as it could be, with its sky-blue water, fluffy snow-white clouds overhead, and green forest shorelines accompanied by meandering paths." No ordinary mouse, he believes "he should apply virtue, hope, and charity in his daily life so that he could be an instrument of good rather than bad."

One day a five-foot diameter boulder "rolled off the canyon slope and landed next to his mountain home. It was only a matter of time before it would crush his entire home." That is a problem!

Little Mouse uses TRAP (Thinking, Reflecting, Applying, and Persisting) to brainstorm ways of removing the boulder; yet even with others' help, nothing seems to work. So Little Mouse tries PST (Paradigm Shift Test), visiting human construction at the old Covered Bridge, looking for out-of-the-box ideas. (The journey downstream is itself perilous and he almost becomes "mouse mignon" for a big trout.)

Little Mouse nearly despairs until a chance encounter with men using a steel-bar-and-cylinder to lift a car and change a tire. It's a lever--"That's the paradigm shift!" He could use a plank and block of wood to leverage the boulder. (An epilogue teaches how with a lever one can lift an adult with one finger.)

When a huge storm threatens the smaller animals, Little Mouse's character is tested. He must choose between protecting his house and helping others.

The story directs the reader to an upcoming sequel where the power of the lever extends "to the emotional and mental powers as well." Stay tuned.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

"The Nearness Of You"



"Who is her mother?" That's the question that haunts "The Nearness Of You" ($27 in hardcover from Ballantine Books; also for Amazon Kindle) by Amanda Eyre Ward. The bestselling novelist, based in Austin, Texas, will speak in Chico May 6 at the Jesus Center Spring Luncheon held at California Park.

The story begins in 2000 with an unsettling revelation from Suzette Kendall's husband, Hyland. On their first date she was clear that she did not want children, mostly because her mother suffered from a genetically-based mental illness and Suzette did not want to take the risk.

She was a sufferer herself, though medication kept the darkness at bay. Over the years Suzette had become an internationally-recognized pediatric heart surgeon, exuding confidence in the operating room, enjoying friends and a loving husband. Yet now, at 39, her world was about to be profoundly shaken. After fifteen years of marriage Hyland admits he wants a child, and proposes a surrogacy.

Eventually they settle on Dorothy (Dorrie) Muscarello, "fertile, unstable, beautiful," a high school graduate who wants to use the money for college.

Frequent first-person chapters bring a searing intimacy to the novel. "Why did I do it?" Dorrie asks. "Why did I sign up to be a surrogate, to lease my body, growing a child to sell to Hyland and Suzette Kendall? The clinic tells you, by the way, that you will be compensated for your time and care … not for the baby. But it's the baby you're being paid for. Your baby. You." Who will be her mother?

The novel explores this question with an emotional intensity that will keep readers turning pages until the very end, a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

Amanda Eyre Ward is the featured speaker at the Second Annual Jesus Center Spring Luncheon, Saturday, May 6, at Lakeside Pavilion at California Park, 2565 California Park Drive in Chico. Tickets are $45 per person, with proceeds to benefit the housing programs at the Jesus Center.

Doors open at 10:30 a.m. with the program beginning at 11:00 a.m. Tickets are available online at jesuscenter.org/events or call Amber at (530) 345-2640. Books will be available for sale and signing at the event.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

"The Ninja's Daughter"



A shinobi, writes Sacramento mystery writer Susan Spann (susanspann.com), means "shadowed person" and "is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters that many Westerners pronounce 'ninja.' ('Ninja' is based on Chinese pronunciation.)" Beginning with "Claws Of The Cat" in 2013, Spann has produced a series of "shinobi mysteries" featuring Hiro Hattori, an assassin and spy.

The current volume in the connected series (though each book stands alone) is "The Ninja's Daughter" ($15.95 in paperback from Seventh Street Books; also for Amazon Kindle). It is Autumn, 1565 in Kyoto, Japan. Hiro, posing as a translator for the Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Mateo Ávila de Santos, must guard him with his life, a vow he made to a mysterious benefactor.

Hiro is a samurai, and though violence is kept to a minimum on the page, heads do roll. But the focus is on the murder of Emi ("who had dreams beyond her station"), the younger daughter of Satsu, an actor with the troupe called the Yutoku-za.

Dismissed by the Kyoto police (actors are the lowest of the low), the case cries out for justice to be done, and Father Mateo cannot resist. He and Hiro mount an investigation that takes them deep into Japanese theater culture, their only clue a golden coin found on the victim and, for Hiro, an unexpected family connection.

Set against political turmoil in Japan, with rival warlords threatening conflict, and corruption in high (and low) places, this is a fast-paced whodunit with a satisfying but unnerving reveal at the end. Mateo and especially Hiro are attractive characters in a continuing story: I never thought I'd use "samurai" and "endearing" in the same sentence.

Susan Spann is scheduled to lead two workshops at the sixth annual WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Saturday, April 29 from 8:00 a.m. until 2:10 p.m. at the Learning Resource Center on the Butte College main campus. The workshops are called "Writing A Killer Mystery" and "Putting The History In Your Mystery."

The event includes a continental breakfast, catered lunch, keynote, and breakout sessions in poetry, fiction, and cross-genre (including songwriting). Registration for the conference is $45 for students and educators; $75 for community members. For more information visit buttewordspring.org.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

"The Stone Thrower"



By the time Chuck Ealey was 21, in 1971, "he had won more games than any other quarterback in college football history. … But even though he was undefeated," writes his daughter, Jael Ealey Richardson, "my father would never play professional football in America."

Chuck Ealey is African American, and "the National Football League didn't believe that he could be a great quarterback because of the color of his skin. So my father moved to Canada to play quarterback in the Canadian Football League" where he became the CFL's Rookie of the Year.

The story was first published by Richardson as "The Stone Thrower: A Daughter's Lessons, A Father's Life." She has now adapted it as a children's book with extraordinary illustrations, exuberant and deeply moving, by Matt James.

"The Stone Thrower" ($18.95 in hardcover from Groundwood Books, groundwoodbooks.com) begins with young Chuck in Portsmouth, Ohio, growing up in a segregated community. His was the North End, "a neighborhood that was separated from the rest of town by a set of long, stony railroad tracks."

The turning point came one fall day when "Chuck walked towards the train tracks. He scuffed his shoes against the pavement as the wind whispered gently, as leaves tumbled and danced and cracked beneath his footsteps."

He picked up a stone and aimed at the N on one of the Norfolk & Western coal cars. He threw and threw, and missed and missed, until he didn't miss anymore. When he started playing football, Chuck never forgot. Eventually his coach at school made him quarterback, and the rest is an amazing tale of persistence, practice, and focus. And victory.

Jael Richardson, who lives in Brampton, Ontario, is scheduled to present the keynote address at the sixth annual WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Saturday, April 29 from 8:00 a.m. until 2:10 p.m. at the Learning Resource Center on the Butte College main campus. She will also lead a workshop on writing creative nonfiction.

The event includes a continental breakfast, catered lunch, the keynote, and breakout sessions in poetry, fiction, and cross-genre (including songwriting). Registration for the conference is $45 for students and educators; $75 for community members. For more information visit buttewordspring.org.


Sunday, April 09, 2017

"Professor Witchey's Miracle Mood Cure"






Oregon-based author Eric Witchey (ericwitchey.com), a presenter at the WordSpring Creative Writing Conference at Butte College on April 29, describes "story" as "unfettered magic happening in the heart and mind of the reader."

He has collected some of his oddball yarns and creative experiments in a wondrous stew called "Professor Witchey's Miracle Mood Cure" ($17.95 in paperback from IFD Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). The twenty-three short stories and two novelettes range from the surreal to science fiction.

The reader is quickly oriented but just as quickly disoriented as "Ezekiel, Prophet To Bones," cries out to the LORD (who turns out to be the Logistics Operations Restoration and Data system); or Aunt Linda whips up a batch of her incredible eggnog while displaying her "famous twisted mystery smile." Then there's a father and son fishing outing complete with chaos theory and "quantum synchronicity."

The two longer tales well represent Witchey's reader-pleasing prowess. "To Build A Boat, Listen To Trees" is an evocative tale of the quiet wizardry of Venerré, Master Shipwright of Port Corwald. Not everything can be said in words, it turns out, in this sweet and satisfying tale.

"The Tao of Flynn" traces the remarkable sales approach of a certain insurance salesman who tells his friend and fellow employee that "the truth is the most powerful lie there is. Before you met me, you thought you were a liar taking people's money. Have you ever seen me lie to anyone?"

The story builds delight as Flynn's success secret is revealed; the reader can hardly wait for the boss' inevitable comeuppance. It comes in a surprising sort of way--as one might expect of Witchey.

Eric Witchey is scheduled to lead two workshops, "Levers, Ratchets, and Buttons" and "How The Reader Breaks Your Writing" at the sixth annual WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Saturday, April 29 from 8:00 a.m. until 2:10 p.m. at the Learning Resource Center on the Butte College main campus.

The event includes a continental breakfast, catered lunch, keynote address and breakout sessions in poetry, fiction, and cross-genre (including songwriting). Registration for the conference is $45 for students and educators; $75 for community members. For more information visit buttewordspring.org.