Sunday, September 17, 2017

"First Blush: North State Writers 2017 Anthology"




North State Writers (northstatewriters.com), a chartered member of the California Writers Club, has published "First Blush: North State Writers 2017 Anthology" ($13.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). Twenty writers contributed thirty-eight short pieces and poems, with the cover by master illustrator Steve Ferchaud.

The book begins with T.B. O'Neill's "The Court Martial of Darren Sweet," an unsettling tale of the Vietnam War. "Now, understand," the narrator says, "I'm completely out of my comfort zone here." Part of the delight of the anthology is watching writers stretch, exploring new themes or coming at familiar ones from different directions. Cathy Chase offers a Hmong narrator in "The Flight To The Mekong River"; Joan Goodreau characterizes her son's diagnosis of autism as a tornado in "The Eye Of The Storm"; in "The Parade," William Douglas writes, "Late Sunday night, Billy and Allen stole an elephant."

In "Stroke Of A Pen" N.J. Hanson types a twisted tale of horror, and Mary Jensen offers a vehicular confession; Thatcher C. Nalley explores mental illness in "Pray Tell," and Steven J. Thompson poetizes in "White Or Red, Darling?" Michael Richards writes of home, and Vietnam.

Gail Stone has a racing tale featuring a 1970 split bumper orange Super Sport Camaro; her mother, Carol J. Gray, remembers "The Glass Roof" and her Rose Marie Reid bathing suit; Andrea Lavoy Wagner, in the poem "Fists," observes "Violence creates victims/ but it also creates conquerors." Linda Sue Forrister has an "October Epiphany," Margie Yee Webb writes of "Cat Mulan," N.L. Brumbaugh explores the King Tut Exhibit; and Eric Miller tells us "Wife Trumps Husband At Christmas" (if you want a new weed-eater, read this first).

Cara Gubbins writes of manatees in "The Release," Dan Irving offers a non-fiction biography of Yukon explorer James Foster Scott; Kathleen T. Hiatt tells the tale of a horrible car accident in "Sibling Rivalry"; Ken Young provides the first chapter of the second book in his "King's Frog Hunter" high fantasy trilogy.

"In the gloom of the Dudoon Bog," Young writes, "a lone rider weaved carefully between stagnant ponds, searching for a safe trail." In this anthology, the trails are rarely safe.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"The Birds Of Bidwell Park: Expanded Edition"



"When you try to identify birds," writes Roger Lederer, renowned ornithologist and Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Chico State University, "you have to look at them in a new way. There is typically no one characteristic that distinguishes one bird from another; it's a set of characteristics. … All birds have feathers, beaks, scaled legs, tails, and wings. But the variation in those parts, plus the coloration and patterning of the feathers, makes each species unique and most are easy to identify."

What better place to practice this "new way of seeing" than within Chico's jewel, an enduring legacy of John and Annie Bidwell. To that end, Lederer and artist-wife Carol Burr, Professor Emerita of English at Chico State, have updated their classic guide. "The Birds Of Bidwell Park: Expanded Edition" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) adds five species to bring the total to 91.

The book is available locally at Bird In Hand, Made In Chico, ABC Books, Bidwell Mansion visitor's center, C Bar D Feed And Seed, and also at the Snow Goose Festival January 24-28, 2018.

The guide contains Burr's pen and colored-pencil illustrations, a map of the park, and brief tutorials on the parts of a bird and how to get the most out of birdwatching. Each page devotes itself to a species, with information on seasonal viewing and where in the park the bird is most commonly seen.

I learned of the new edition of the book through email (not a tweet), with the author noting the additions: Phainopepla ("shining robe"), Eurasian Collared Dove (their call sounds like "cuk-COO-cook"), Great Egret, Nashville Warbler (seen in the park "on their migration from Southern Texas" and elsewhere), Downy Woodpecker ("the smallest of all North American woodpeckers"). "The Eurasian Collared Dove," Lederer observes, "has become quite common even though there were none in Chico when the first edition of this book came out in 2010."

Lederer recommends beginners "go out in the field with folks who know the birds. If you don't have a friend who does, contact the local Altacal Audubon Society or Big Chico Creek Nature Center."

Get the book, then go and look.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

"Open Your Studio: Nine Steps To A Successful Art Event"



Melinda Cootsona (melindacootsona.com) is a Bay Area painter and art teacher with family in Chico. Over the years she's gained experience in hosting or participating in Open Studio events; that's where the public is invited to meet the artist, see the artist's domain, and view and purchase selected works. But there's much more to it than putting out a sign that says "the artist is in!"

Cootsona has distilled her advice into a no-nonsense manual that guides the artist into the business side of things. "Open Your Studio: Nine Steps To A Successful Art Event" ($14.95 in paperback from RedDot Press; also for Amazon Kindle) "is a step-by-step guide written to encourage artists to participate in Open Studios."

It's timely help--and motivation--for those preparing for the 30th annual Chico Art Center Open Studios Art Tour (OSAT) October 21-22 and October 28-29. There's a preview exhibition October 6-29, a reception, and more (see facebook.com/CACOSAT2017).

What Cootsona wants to do is demystify the "commerce" side of art. "Selling your own art," she writes, "can be done successfully without 'selling out' or compromising your integrity."

What should the artist show? "Put your best/favorite pieces at one end and arrange them down to your least favorite. Try to be objective in looking at the quality" and then "show only your best work."

"It will hang on someone's wall and they will remember you when they see it. How much they like the art determines if they'll return. So, if you need to eliminate some of your pieces because you don't feel they are as strong, do it!" Make sure the presentation is "cohesive"; eliminate those works that don't seem to "fit" with the others.

The chapters on pricing are worth the cost of admission. Key ideas: "Never price a work according to your own emotional attachment to it"; "always be consistent with your pricing, no matter what your medium"; and "discounting your work cheapens it."

Cootsona gets into some nitty-gritty details but reminds artists to "create what you want to create and what speaks to you … people will see passion in your work."

And they will be moved.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life"



"True happiness," write Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, "comes from designing a life that works for you." The two Stanford professors paired up years ago to offer a Designing Your Life workshop through the university's Program in Design, and now they've distilled the workshop into a book.

In "Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life" ($24.95 in hardcover from Knopf; also for Amazon Kindle) the authors want readers to move away from a "steps-to-success" cookie-cutter approach and instead work to cultivate the skill of "reframing." "A reframe is when we take new information about the problem, restate our point of view, and start thinking and prototyping again."

So, for instance, the "dysfunctional belief" that "my dream job is out there waiting" can be reframed: "You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it." Find people whose job interests you and then ask questions--not to get a foot in the door but out of sheer curiosity: What sort of person does this job day after day and finds great meaning in the work?

Prototyping is about trying things out. One of the most intriguing chapters is about "being" the person with that job, adopting the mindset, aided by the interviews, of someone who is already doing the work. The key mindsets for this experiment, and for designing one's life, are "curiosity, bias to action (try stuff), reframing, awareness (life design is a journey; let go of the end goal and focus on the process of what happens next), and radical collaboration (ask for help)."

The authors debunk the idea that if you know your passion, "everything else will somehow magically fall into place." On the contrary, studies show that "for most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery--not before. To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause."

The authors offer wise counsel (not advice) about getting "unstuck." "Since life is a wicked problem that we never 'solve,' we just focus on getting better at living our lives by building our way forward."


Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Divine Beings: The Spiritual Lives And Lessons Of Animals"



"When I was a kid," Chicoan Cara Gubbins writes on her website (caragubbins.com), "I dreamed of being Dr. Doolittle when I grew up. … In 2010, my dream came true when I started doing Animal Intuitive and Pet Medium Readings … bridging the communication gap between pets and people. …"

Her story is told in "Divine Beings: The Spiritual Lives And Lessons Of Animals" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). In a conversational tone Gubbins describes her quest to reconcile her scientific training as a biologist (with a doctorate in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology from the University of Nevada Reno) with her growing awareness of the spirituality of non-human animals.

Comparing notes with her friend Ellery, a nurse who "also happens to be a psychic that is able to talk to animals," they found when they each independently "talked to dozens of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles … asking our own questions of the animals or focusing in on our own intuitive information and awareness," there was almost complete agreement.

Ten chapters are devoted to spiritual messages shared by animals, from dogs and cats to a gray whale, snake, a bottlenose dolphin, and, perhaps most interestingly, a little brown bat. Gubbins asks the animals three questions: "What is your spiritual lesson? What is your spiritual gift? What message do you have for humans?" Each chapter presents biological information, how the animals have been portrayed in mythology, and, in some cases, a myth-busting message.

Babylonian mythology said "bats represented the souls of the dead." For bats, though, the story is about selfless "surrender to the group." "My personal message from the bats (my interpretation of their message to my own life) is to stop isolating myself, to share myself openly with friends, family and community."

The final chapter is on Gubbins' own message. "We are love," she writes. "We are all connected. We are one."

The author will have a booth at the Walk, Woof, Wag fundraiser for the Chico Animal Shelter Medical Fund, Saturday, September 16 at One Mile in Lower Park. She'll offer "intuitive pet readings" for a $10 donation to the fund.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Hook's Tale: Being The Account Of An Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written By Himself"



His biography is impressive. "John Pielmeier is a three-time Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated playwright and screenwriter"; he wrote both play and screenplay for "Agnes Of God." Based in upstate New York, he has cousins in Chico.

Pielmeier keeps thinking of another, very troubled, biography, at least as presented by the Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie, in "Peter Pan," the first book Pielmeier learned to read. Barrie's Captain Hook, the pirate with the severed hand, pursued by a ticking crocodile, is Peter's arch-nemesis.

Barrie does note that "Hook" is "not his true name," which, it turns out, is James Cook, and before he died in 1940 he wrote a memoir. Serendipitously, Pielmeier finds the manuscript in an American library. It has now been restored and published as "Hook's Tale: Being The Account Of An Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written By Himself" ($25 in hardcover from Scribner; also for Amazon Kindle; see johnpielmeier.com). It's not quite a kid's story.

Cook is born in 1860, his father lost at sea. His mother drowns in a bathtub while he is away at Eton, and he is involuntarily "pressed into service" for Her Majesty's Royal Navy. Cook insists that the "sorry Scotsman" got it wrong about most everything, from the "jolly" Roger (named after the un-jolly captain, Roger Starkey) to Daisy the croc, Tink the fairy, Tiger Lily the princess, and Peter himself.

"Why, dear reader," Cook asks, "do you always insist on believing that sad little Scotsman, who only heard the story third-hand, instead of believing one who lived it? … I, on the other hand--which other hand, by the way, I am forced to use now to write, since my right one was underhandedly removed, leaving me but my sinister side to express my feelings--I on the other hand am writing a memoir, and cannot use the conveniences of fiction to paint a nicer, cleaner, simpler picture of how things happened."

Cook is a sympathetic character, driven by revenge, faced with the great question: Do you really want to grow up? The story is mischievous, rollicking, wryly funny, weirdly fantastic, and, yes, entirely true.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

"The Legacy Of Little Mouse The Mouse"



A deep blanket of snow envelops the Upper Ridge and the animals "underneath, in, above, beside, around, and near Paradise Lake" as the new year of 1999 is about to break upon them. Little Mouse is deep in thought.

A few months earlier, as recounted in "The Adventures Of Little Mouse," he and his animal friends used a lever to move a boulder, preventing it from crushing his house. Little Mouse realizes that the "lever principle" can apply metaphorically to nothing less than developing a full and successful life of good character.

At the same time, down Pentz Road in Paradise, Jim Barnes and his wife Nancy "were having their New Year's breakfast with their visiting niece, Shauna" (a fifth-grader), and Uncle Jim is wondering how he can convince her to join him in visiting Little Mouse (which requires the use of imaginative powers to shrink in size) so Little Mouse can present his lever idea to a real student.

The story is told by Jim Barnes himself, a retired elementary school teacher and administrator, in "The Legacy Of Little Mouse The Mouse" ($14.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). The book is intended to be shared and discussed with youngsters, and the fanciful story, Shauna's inquisitive nature, Uncle Jim's encouragement, and the puzzle of Little Mouse's "contraption," will make for rich conversations.

Through sketches and diagrams by the author, what Little Mouse unveils to his two guests in his cozy mouse house is a plan for using "the human fulcrum" (health, environment, society, family, great-souled friends, and "the universal Origin and Source") to help discover TRY: "The Real You." Little Mouse's lever is easy for kids to learn but deep enough for adults to ponder.

Barnes has also created an associated coloring book as well as templates for charts and posters (littlemousethemouse.com).

The author is skilled in motivating kids to learn more. When Uncle Jim and Shauna realize that Little Mouse's insights are expressed in a child's teeter-totter, Little Mouse "looked at two of the most astonished faces he'd seen since Bear had mistakenly sat down on a red ant's nest." A teeter-totter? Who would have guessed?