Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"Behind Picketwire"

In 2008 businessman and former Paradise mayor Howard Johnson, who died in 2014, published an account of his hunting experiences with a strange title, "Picketwire." Paradise area writer M. Day Hampton had struck up an unlikely friendship with Johnson and it became clear there there was more to the story. And so, with Johnson's encouragement, a novel took shape. "I traveled the country," Hampton writes in an author's note, "in the footsteps of my protagonist Red, ending in southern Colorado at the end of the Picketwire River."

The just-published story is dedicated to Johnson and his wife Maurine. "Howard considered himself a simple man," Hampton adds, and the novel, inspired by his life, faith, love for his blended family and especially for his wife, "is a story about how significant and precious a seemingly ordinary life can be."

"Behind Picketwire" ($15.95 in paperback from HuckleberryBlue Press; also for Amazon Kindle, with more at mdayhampton.com) is a flat-out terrific novel, a can't-put-it-down, edge-of-your-seat tale that will drive readers to laughter and to tears.

Red Johnson, married for three decades to Addy, is a cranky 68-year-old man who has a difficult time expressing his deep love for his wife. After a freak accident he finds himself alone in his house, off Coutolenc Road in Magalia, save for his dog, Jake. Really alone. Out past his door there is no sign of civilization, no roads, no other humans. 

Eventually he embarks on a walking journey to Colorado where his family had vacationed years ago, convinced that Addy will be there. He leaves a note which says in part: "If someone else finds this letter, use this home with care. Know that it was here, where I loved my wife and raised my family."

What follows is more than a survivalist story (though it is that as well, including encounters with mountain lions, bears and more). Red's dreams are so real. "Everything seemed to remind Red of his past life. Memories he hadn't thought of in years all felt like pieces of the puzzle connecting one with another.... He was being allowed to see his life as others had."

Behind the mystery is the key to a man's heart.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"Book Marks"

Mark McKinnon (the other one--not the singer and retired Butte College instructor) also has strong Chico ties. Now living in Carmel Valley, McKinnon worked for Merrill Lynch in New York but, he writes me, "I still consider Chico my hometown. ... My mother taught in the business department at Butte College until around 1998 or so ... and my father opened the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream store in Chico." He played many sports, becoming "Chico High School athlete of the year in 1973."

Later came graduate work at Chico State for an MBA and, more recently, an MA in Psychology. "I then did a job I loved as Program Director of Dorothy's Place - House of Peace in Chinatown, Salinas helping homeless people." 

A voracious reader, along the way he collected thousands of quotations, from aphorisms to poetry, and wrote some of his own. Now he's published his trove as "Book Marks" ($20 in paperback, self-published, available through Amazon).

Not intended as a scholarly work (just the names of the authors are given), the book invites dipping into. Certain writers appear often, including Friedrich Nietzsche ("Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders"); Marianne Williamson ("According to A Course in Miracles, the purpose the mind ascribes to a thing is what determines its holiness or lack thereof. Any activity is holy if it is used for purposes of love and healing...."); and Mark Twain ("When angry, count four; when very angry, swear").

McKinnon includes many of his own observations. "We can be our best and highest self by simply combining the magic elixir of compassion and gratitude." "Racism, sexism/misogyny, gay hatred/homophobia, religious hatred, arrogance--they all boil down to valuing one's own group and perspective over another group's...." "It is easy to be wise about other people's lives."

Striking quotes abound, including this Turkish proverb: "When the axe came into the woods, many of the trees said: 'At least the handle is one of us.'"

And again Mark Twain: "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." McKinnon aims to help readers think about the "why."

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

"Fishing For Something"

Cottonwood writer Andrew Scott Bassett (andrewscottbassett.com) writes that "my personal history goes way back with the Chico area as my father worked in Chico when I was a small child and I managed a small, family-owned business there for almost five years." But, he adds, "I also am an abandoned son from the same father, dealing with what that implies."

Those implications are worked out in Bassett's debut novel "Fishing For Something" ($15.95 in paperback from Luminare Press; also for Amazon Kindle). Its language is mostly soft-spoken, gently risqué in places, funny, heart-warming, all contained in a wonderfully-plotted story. 

In Grants Pass, Oregon John Barrett works too many hours. So "his wife, Darlene, has separated from him and asked him to move out."

Then John's little brother Audie, from whom he is estranged, arrives with news. Their father, Raymond Barrett, has died. John has hated their father who "abandoned the family more than fifteen years ago when John and Audie were still just teenagers." Ray was a drunkard, philanderer, gambler.

The will makes an unusual request. In order for each brother to receive money from the estate, they must travel the country together, meet with their father's old friends he has listed, and break the news personally. And they must take each fishing. 

From Beale Air Force Base to New York City, the two brothers and, later, a beautiful young hitchhiker named Kitty, find themselves bonding in unexpected ways, especially after John is shot in Texas and Audie almost gets eaten by a shark. 

Ray's friends share stories about him that give Audie and John pause. How can such a bad man have friends who think so highly of him? And more questions--John finds himself in a compromising situation and is forced to ask: Does he really love Darlene after all?

Meantime, Darlene, working as a waitress, is tempted by a handsome customer who shows more than a little interest in her. Does she really love John after all?

As Audie puts it, "Catching a break in life is like catching a fish, part skill, part perseverance, part dumb luck. Life's a lot like fishing...."

The story caught me hook, line, and sinker.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"Paradise Isn't Lost: Embracing Resilience In The Face Of Loss"

The fires have come again, and so have loss and grief. A new memoir aims to show a way forward.


Former Paradise resident Kari Carter had moved to town three months before the Camp Fire. On that fateful day, "I got out with a leather duffle bag, my little dog Reese, my car, and with a couple of neighbors ... just minutes before roads turned to gridlock. From my cousin's living room in Chico, a handful of us watched the harrowing news footage of flames ripping through neighborhoods." Her place at Vista Village, she learned later, had turned to ash.


But her memoir isn't about "the horror of the event itself." It's just one of many losses she experiences ("I thought I had lost about everything a person could possibly lose in my sixty years of living") but the fire drives her to look more deeply within at her own responses and, she writes, to find the inner resources to continue on.


"Paradise Isn't Lost: Embracing Resilience In The Face Of Loss" ($16.50 in paperback, self-published, karicarterparadise@gmail.com; also for Amazon Kindle) is a clear-eyed chronological narrative dealing with loss before the fire, the fire itself, and, in the third part, "In Search of Meaning."


"I'd been a single parent and capable householder for fourteen years before meeting Randy," whom she married in 2000. Eventually they moved to Oroville to be close to his job at Feather Falls Casino, and she felt joy attending the Center for Spiritual Living. The group met monthly in Paradise and that became her introduction to the town she would later call home.


There are losses, from family members to precious possessions, even her marriage. Yet she finds resilience.


"The more I looked at resilience, the more I could see its connection to loss and grief. It doesn't matter what type of loss. Loss is anything that leaves a hole in one's heart. And loss comes with living. But the way our losses are grieved—or avoided—is another matter. The way in which grief is experienced and processed, influences whether we get stuck, or move forward."


In this book Carter moves forward.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"Peer Through Time"


David T. Pennington (davidtpennington.com), who works as a computer data analyst in San Francisco, has deep roots in Paradise. According to correspondence received from his mother, Mikki Ashe, "(married to Terry Ashe), formerly of Paradise (yes, of the Terry Ashe Recreation Center)," their son graduated from Paradise High in 1986.


Pennington has written a mind-bending science-fiction thriller. "Peer Through Time" ($12.99 in paperback, self-published; also available as an audiobook and in Amazon Kindle format) is the first of a planned series ("Gravity's Loop" is already published). The story mixes several science-fictional plot devices (wormholes as time portals; mind transfer; the creation of synthetic humans) into a complex tale of murder and mystery.


A small Northern California town named Heaven's Highest Hill (Triple H), a couple hundred miles from San Francisco, plays a key role since, as a news announcer puts it, "the body of resident Sara Drake was found early this morning inside the local branch of Peer Therapies." It is 2079; Peer Industries provides memory simulations for clients so they can relive past moments, and Peer Therapies provides a psychotherapist android, named Kass (now accused of murder).


The town is also the source, in a nearby creek, of a wormhole and its other end that can take a person back in time or into the future. The way it works is that one does not meet one's earlier (or future) self, but displaces that person. Spencer Westmoreland (Sara's ex-husband) discovers the wormhole and, according to one Carmela Akronfleck, "Spencer said he met me in the early 1980s. I was an old woman and I lived in a house known to the neighborhood kids as the Witch's House."


But in 2079 Carmela (whose real name is Carrie Dolphin) is twenty-eight. Yet to come is a long trip back to the late 1930s where she falls in love and receives a series of cryptic messages, the killer's hit list which now targets her mother and sister in 2079. When Carmela discovers who the real killer is, she is able to track down a woman pregnant with his ancestor. What should she do? Can she absolve Kass?


It's a wild ride, and it's not finished yet.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

"Aftercare Instructions"

Genesis Johnson, the narrator of the emotionally searing debut novel from Chico writer Bonnie Pipkin, will grab readers and not let them go. Johnson is almost eighteen, a student at Point Shelley High in New Jersey, and she is pregnant. Her boyfriend, Peter Sage, has driven her to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Manhattan for an abortion, a choice, she feels, both of them have made together. But once it's over, Peter is gone.

"I found out by walking into the waiting room, scanning a sea of hopeful eyes, and finding absolutely nowhere safe or familiar to land. In that moment, I was thrown into the deep, deep water. And in the deep, deep water, there is no way to breathe. Yet somehow, something propels you forward. Survival mode, I think it’s called."

"Aftercare Instructions" ($10.99 in paperback from Flatiron Books; also for Amazon Kindle) takes its chapter titles from the materials Genesis is given, including "Monitor Bleeding," "Recovery Times May Vary," and "You May Experience a Wide Range of Emotions." Each chapter ends with scenes from a play that provide the back story, how Genesis comes to connect with Peter, a conservative Christian, son of a prominent prolife mother.

Genesis' family? She cares now for her mentally unstable mother; her playwright father killed himself through a drug overdose (though her relatives will not admit it) and rumors abound at the high school. 

As the novel charts the course of the most significant week in Genesis' life, she feels she is in someone else's play.

She confronts Peter. "This is the moment where the whole stage is dark and a weak spotlight focuses on these two people who fell in love with each other, who made promises to each other, who don't know which direction to turn, who lost the last pages of their scripts and have to improvise now."

Wither their relationship? Matters are complicated after Genesis' chance encounter at a party with an attractive young actor named Seth who invites her to an off-Broadway audition. Just whose play is she in, anyway?

"There's so much that will hurt us," Genesis recognizes. "It's how we take care of ourselves afterward that matters. The aftercare."

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

"Coming Home Whole: A Draftee's Foretold Journey To And From Vietnam"

Don Graham retired from Chico State in 2007 as the university's Associate Vice President for Student Affairs (he and wife MaryAnne now live in Sonoma County) but his Chico State connection goes back decades.


In the summer of 1968, he writes in his well-crafted memoir, Chico State had accepted him into the master's program in psychology, and he and MaryAnne "would be renting a very small house at something-and-a-half Cherry Street" near campus.


Though his draft board had been hounding him even as the U.S. War in Vietnam raged he was confident he'd be safe. As MaryAnne continued packing at their Napa home, Graham drove north on Highway 99 toward his destiny. It did not go as planned.


The story is told in "Coming Home Whole: A Draftee's Foretold Journey To And From Vietnam" ($13.99 in paperback from Valley of the Moon Press). A car accident sends Graham back home; that same day he receives a draft notice. Alice at the draft board tells him: "'Don ... if the quota for Napa County next month is one person, you're it.'"


His choices are few. Canada was unappealing; he didn't have a history of conscientious objection (though years later he and MaryAnne would work in the peace movement); he didn't really want to maim himself to get 4F status; he didn't want to go to prison. So, he writes, he gave up, was drafted on election day in 1968, and promptly ushered into the Army.


What follows is not a gruesome tale of war but rather a series of meaningful "coincidences." Graham had sensed a kind of spirituality ("some immensely powerful force") watching over him, mediated by his mother, her spiritual mentor David (who had died), and a psychic who predicted he would return whole from the war.


He is assigned artillery duty in Vietnam, but he and his friends survive. R&R is in Hawaii where a kidney stone attack brings him to Tripler Hospital in Honolulu and a military job away from the war.


"How is this possible?" he asks himself in this story of a grateful young man amidst the twists and turns of life.