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.


Sunday, April 02, 2017

"China Caper"



Here's the setup: "Valuable artifacts are getting out of China into markets in Europe, South America, and the U.S. The Chinese authorities, with help from London's Scotland Yard, have decided it must be via an innocent-seeming tourist or a small team of so-called tourists." Who better to join a tour group herself and ferret out the bad guys than Briana Fraser, owner of Let's Travel in Ashland, Oregon? Did I mention that she's "a former courier for a U.S. spy agency"?

So begins "China Caper" ($17 in paperback from Dorrance Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle), a diverting tale by Redding author Chloe Ryan Winston (chloeryanwinston.com).

It's the third travel adventure novel featuring Bri Fraser (after "Argentine Assignment" and "Belize Barter"). "China Caper" takes readers to London, Moscow, Beijing, and Hong Kong. And sure enough, some mysterious goings-on within the group have Bri convinced that an artifact-thief is among them. But who?

At one point the group is gathered in their London hotel's public room during a heavy storm and Bri, who narrates the story, looks around. "As I gazed at the faces of my new friends, I mentally ticked off what I knew about each one as a possible thief. But for each possibility, I cancelled the silent accusation with a heartfelt 'it can't be so.'"

Bri is joined by Derry Lloyd, the tall, self-described "Montana cowboy" who works, as did Bri, for Phillips, "a popular professor at a prestigious eastern university" who sought "people who were smart and somewhat daring to join his team of government couriers."

Ron, a member of the tour group, quips to Bri and Derry, "You guys look like a bunch of folks gathered to hear Miss Marple reveal the guilty one in some cozy murder mystery." A good characterization of the present novel, though a bit more complicated than that.

Bri's investigative work is not without peril. Her own touristy purchase of a jade camel seems harmless until Bri learns the old woman who sold it to her met an untimely end soon after. The novel is made even more intriguing when the flirtatious banter with Derry becomes something more. Their story continues in the next adventure, "Peru Paradox."