Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Through The Red Door"

Chico State University's Men's Division II Basketball is helmed by coach Greg Clink. The coach, in his mid-forties, came to Chico in 2008, taking the 8-19 Wildcats in the 2008-2009 season to an 22-8 record in 2014-2015, winning the California Collegiate Athletics Association conference title.

Could the Wildcats repeat in the 2015-2016 season? Writer Carson Medley spent that year with coach Clink and the team, chronicling the games and exploring Clink's life and leadership that shaped an extraordinary basketball program. The Clink ethos is symbolized by a painted door to Acker Gym. "Take as much time as you need," Clink will tell a player, "but when you walk through that Red Door, you better be ready to get after it."

The story reads like a novel. "Through The Red Door" ($22.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) tracks the season in masterful prose and page-turning energy.

Clink wants his players to have the right mental set: “We talk about walking the line that borders on being composed and doing something crazy. I like it when our guys teeter on that line. I never want them to cross it and do something stupid, but I want them foaming at the mouth." Yet Clink's focus is not just on winning, but winning right. "Clink’s mission," Medley notes, "is for his young men to transcend basketball."

Defining leadership, "Clink doesn’t have to think more than three seconds. … 'It’s the consistent example of the behavior you want, you expect, you demand your people to follow.' He points out that he must always practice what he preaches."

Many contributed to Medley's project, including Sports Information Director Luke Reid (who took the cover photograph), Athletic Director Anita Barker, and broadcaster Mike Baca.

And the season? "Pace and stillness. A blood moon. Unscripted drama despite the relentless practice and preparation and choreography. Agony and ecstasy and the thrill of victory and the desolation of defeat. Miracles. Fortune. Misfortune. Laughter and tears. Shoves and hugs. Jazz, rap, and country music. Organic. Unedited. Pure spur of the moment-dang-good-old fashioned fun." And three words at the end, from a player's grandmother, that changed everything.

Three other words: Read the book.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Thoughts To Ponder: From Little Mouse The Mouse"

Little Mouse the mouse lives near Paradise Lake, which, not coincidentally, is where longtime educators Jim and Nancy Barnes reside. Jim has been chronicling Little Mouse's adventures in a series of books for kids of all ages ( and has made it possible for Little Mouse to post weekly "thoughts."

These wise sayings have now been collected in a full-color book, paired with gorgeous photographs of the Paradise Lake area, including lakeviews in abundance and even fox tracks in the snow. "Thoughts To Ponder: From Little Mouse The Mouse" ($17.99 in paperback from CreateSpace Independent Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is written by James Albert Barnes (who took most of the pictures) and compiled by Nancy Marie Barnes.

The dedication provides the purpose of the Little Mouse series: "To bring out the innate goodness within each of us for self, family and society." As the introductory poem ("Listen To The Footprints In The Snow") puts it: "It's a fact that we were gifted the tools we need/ to become whomever/ we were born to be.// That's why it's important/ to seek out The Real You inside/ for that's where the secret really lies.// So next time you walk in the quiet snow,/ let your footprints uncover/ what's inside of you to know."

As Little Mouse says, "You can become whatever you were born to be, if you try T.R.Y." T.R.Y. stands for "The Real You." Little Mouse's thoughts are designed to encourage that "real you" to blossom. There are plenty of challenges. "Unwanted red or yellow zone thoughts may come our way," LM says, "but, thank goodness, we're only responsible for how we behave."

"What are the boulders or roadblocks in your life?" he asks. "Do what I did: Write down what is the problem, what should be, and form a plan and execute it. If you solve it, good. If you don't, try a different plan. Don't give up until you've given it your best effort."

Good behavior should help develop appropriate responses to life. "Developing good habits in things mundane leads to habits of notable acclaim." 

The book is a creative discussion starter from Little Mouse himself.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

"We Inherit Eden"

Less than half a century from now interstellar travel is necessary if humanity is to survive. Orion Space Industries has established a colony on Proxima Centauri b, a little more than four light years from earth, and now has employed a pilot, the only human on board, to deliver some kind of cargo to the planet. It will be a long and lonely journey, full of strange dreams and assurances by the ship's Artificial Intelligence that the pilot is not really alone after all.

Mostly narrated by the pilot, unnamed until the very end, "We Inherit Eden" ($9.99 in paperback from CreateSpace) is a science-fictional exploration of the engineering needed to achieve 5% light speed, but also, and more importantly, a singular meditation on what human science has birthed--the A.I. that guides the Orthrus mission.

Written by Paradise High School grad Ryan Montoya, who went on to pursue an engineering degree (and a mountain climbing avocation), this mesmerizing novel hurtles the reader into deep space and the horrific consequences of a life-threatening accident. 

The Orthrus sports two huge "sails" cabled to the ship, one in front and one in back, and uses "nuclear pulse propulsion" behind each sail to provide deceleration from the rear or acceleration from the front. 

But that kind of engineering is easy compared to the challenge of delivering a human alive to his destination. The solution is the stasis chamber with drug-induced sleep. "I knew, when I awoke, that my body would have experienced a solar month and my mind a solar day. But for the ship, an epoch would pass." It takes a long time to go 24 trillion miles, but what is more important than saving humankind?

When catastrophe strikes, it's unclear that the mission can be completed. The ship's A.I. talks to the pilot not only through a voice but as the "pale man" in his dreams. "I don't want to be afraid," the pilot cries out, and the answer is terrifying: "Fear not for humanity, for it is doomed. Fear not for your own life, for its time is numbered."

There is an alternative to fear, the ship says. And it all depends on Eden.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"The Organ Shortage Crisis In America: Incentives, Civic Duty, And Closing The Gap"

Kidney disease "is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States." Yet, according to Andy Flescher, former Religious Studies professor at Chico State University and now Core Public Health Faculty for the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the problem has a solution.

"Other than a lobe of the liver," Flescher writes, "the kidney is the only transplantable organ one can donate while still alive. … Roughly between 5,000 and 6,000 people annually are living donors, which on average amounts to between 20 and 30 percent of all organ transplantations carried out in a year."

Flescher's proposals at first seem counterintuitive, but they get at the very nature of human altruism. "The Organ Shortage Crisis In America: Incentives, Civic Duty, And Closing The Gap" ($29.95 in paperback from Georgetown University Press; also for Amazon Kindle), by Andrew Michael Flescher, is an extraordinary exploration of what "giving the gift of life" actually means to donors.

Flescher is a "living donor advocate" working directly with those considering giving a kidney, such as a man planning to donate to his ex-wife; a woman wanting to donate to a person she met on Facebook; and a woman ready to donate to her girlfriend. Flescher's reports show the care taken to ensure informed consent.

One would think that such altruistic behaviors could be encouraged by changing laws to allow for the buying and selling of organs. It turns out that there is good reason to believe such incentives would actually have the opposite effect. 

Human altruism is mischaracterized as a rare and saintly gift with no return expected. The reality is that the altruism of the donor is about establishing community, "furthering the relationship between the giver and the recipient." A payment would only muddy the waters.

The book addresses better ways of making the path easier for living donors. A key prescription is for readers to devote "two to four hours … to visit someone currently undergoing dialysis." One will be forever changed in the encounter; "the limits of what is possible versus what isn't are redrawn, for ourselves individually and for society together."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"The Disappearing Theatre"

Heather Altfeld ( teaches in the Honors Program and for the Humanities Department at Chico State University. Her book of poetry, which won the Poets at Work Prize, draws on childhood memories within the context of a world hellbent on brutalizing itself.

In a blog post she writes: "Like many Jewish children of the post-war era, I was instructed in Holocaust studies at a very young age, and learned that nearly any amount of suffering could be endured so long as you were not on the train."

And yet we must not "disqualify any sorrow or grief that cannot measure up to the death camps." Thus, poetry: "Poetry attempts to weaken the despair of loss and to document it with beauty and presence in a kind of archive that does not simply disseminate information."

In "The Disappearing Theatre" ($12.95 in paperback from Poets @ Work Press) the poet notes that "I learned as a child not to speak much of happiness.// … What good is it, after all,/ to gather treasures in each room of childhood when all our pockets/ are filled with holes? What good is it to swing/ from a rope up into the trees when somewhere children/ are swinging from ropes beneath trees?"

The poet takes readers into the "country of fallen things" where "the dybbuks climbed out/ from under all the beds/ of all the little children/ to kiss their dreaming foreheads…." (The dybbuk, we're told, "is a disembodied Jewish ghost wandering among the living and thought to have some unfinished business in the world.")

"I was present at these events," one poem says, "and now I tell them to those who listen./ If they had not happened, dreamers,/ this news would not have to be told."

Heather Altfeld is scheduled to lead a poetry workshop at the WordSpring creative writing conference on Saturday, April 28, on the Butte College main campus. It's entitled "The Beginning Of Terror: The Question Of Beauty In Modern And Contemporary Poetry."

WordSpring is sponsored by the Butte College English Department with help from a number of local businesses. Registration is $45 for students and educators and $75 for community members. For details, visit

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Rudy's Rules For Travel: Life Lessons From Around The Globe"

Mary Jensen ( describes herself as a "recovering grants writer"; after retiring as Professor Emerita from Chico State University she kept a promise to her late husband, Rudy, to tell the story of their marriage.

The memoir, beautifully and sensitively written, is a self-deprecating account of what happens when an uptight adventurer marries a frugal World War II vet who, as a new American citizen, flew US Air Force missions over his German homeland and who now can hardly wait to explore the world. On the cheap.

"Rudy's Rules For Travel: Life Lessons From Around The Globe" ($16.95 in paper from She Writes Press; also for Amazon Kindle) shows how a "marriage of opposites" can have its hilarious moments. Mary's own rules ("Expect the worst"; "Remain alert. Always") contrast mightily with Rudy's spontaneous approach.

Late in his life Rudy tells neophyte travelers: "You may wonder about going to politically unstable places. Well, there are two ways of looking at them: one, they are dangerous now. Two, they may be more dangerous later. … You have to remember that you'll never be younger. And you'll probably never be healthier. You've just got to grab that brass ring when it comes by."

And therein lies a tale, many of them, from Mexico City in 1976 to France in 1994. "Adapt," says Rudy's very first rule. "Never shower alone" ("position the day's dirty clothes under your feet, add soap, stomp, as in crushing grapes"). And: "Relax. Some kind stranger will appear."

Indeed so. From Rudy showing up at someone's house (he thought it was a bar) to a poignant quest to connect with his German roots (with the "wounds of war" still fresh in memories), this is a book of laughter and tears. 

And very small suitcases.

"Rudy's Rules" will appeal to readers of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love"; Kirkus reviews selected it as an Indie Best Book of the Month. 

The author is hosting a book launch event on Saturday, April 28 from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. at ABC Books in Chico. Proceeds from event sales will go toward the local American Association of University Women scholarship fund.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

"The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel"

It's 2016 and the first day at the coffeehouse job for twenty-something Brooke. "She's adjusted her speech and her clothing to look like the illegal immigrant she's posing as, so she can be paid under the table. This is what she's had to do to avoid being tracked: she changes her name every few years, moves, and finds a job where an employer is happy to look the other direction in exchange for paying a pittance."

Her mother had been murdered and she fears for her own life. But is Brooke, a devotee of true-crime stories, simply being paranoid? Her psychology and unsettling family history are explored in a cracking-good yarn by Erika Mailman. 

"The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel" ($25 in hardcover from Bonhomie Press; also for Amazon Kindle), as the title suggests, also intertwines the death (by hatchet) of Lizzie's father Andrew and her stepmother Abby on August 4, 1892. 

At trial Lizzie was acquitted, perhaps because the jury didn't think her strong enough to twice wield the murder weapon. Yet doubts remain. Did her maid know more than she's telling?

The novel begins, in fact, in 1889, with the Irish maid, Bridget, newly hired by the Bordens. The story hopscotches between Bridget's time and Brooke's, as Brooke and her friend, Anthony, make plans to stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (a real place) in Fall River, Massachusetts. She has discovered Lizzie is a relative. And now Brooke's life is really at risk. 

An author's note explains what's real and a novelist's invention in Lizzie's puzzling case. 

Mailman (who has also written a neo-Gothic trilogy under the name of Lynn Carthage), is scheduled to lead two workshops for WordSpring 2018 on Saturday, April 28, at Butte College. 

One is on writing young adult fiction; the second recounts the research process into the Borden family and how the novelist can "create a character that bends known history but still adheres to historical authenticity." 

Registration for the creative writing conference is $45 for students and educators, and $80 for community members. 

It's sponsored by the college's English Department, Associated Students, and local businesses; details are at