Thursday, August 09, 2018

"Positive Thoughts Will Change Your Life: A Handbook For Personal Transformation"

"I grew up in Corning," writes Tony Palermo. "Everyone there, including my own family, are good, hardworking loving people." But after "a very tough break-up" at 19 he was plunged into sadness and depression and didn't ask his family for help. Perhaps, he thought, they wouldn't understand. 

He studied business at Butte College and moved up the ladder to a managerial position with Media News Group (the parent of this newspaper) but lasting happiness proved elusive. By age 36 it seemed clear that nothing would stop the emotional roller coaster. "As far as I was concerned, all my energy for the last 16 years had been expended in a continual effort to keep the darkness at bay."

Things began to change when he "decided to work with a life coach." Palermo learned "how to productively manage my negative thoughts … learning how to turn my negative thoughts into positive thoughts." The affirmations of self-love he practiced began to have an effect. 

Palermo himself became a life coach ( and what he teaches is embodied in "Positive Thoughts Will Change Your Life: A Handbook For Personal Transformation"($9.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle).

Central chapters focus on changing negative thoughts to positive ones. "One of the most commonly-used healing methodologies of this New Age are affirmations … something you say to yourself repeatedly." The affirmation "validates the precise role that thoughts and emotions play in creating our lives." 

The idea is to avoid negative affirmations ("I hate school") and embrace positive ones ("I'm a good student"). "If we focus on positive thoughts," Palermo writes, "the universe rallies round us, ushering in our deepest dreams."

In line with New Age teaching, affirmations are seen as a creative force. They require one to "consciously do what aligns with and supports the manifestation of your affirmations" knowing that "the universe will support me in every way." Separate chapters are devoted to forgiveness, relationships, and health.

Those who do not subscribe to New Age metaphysics can nevertheless affirm with Palermo the importance of cultivating appropriate habits of life and, as he has learned, to let others help. 

"The heart is built for sharing."

Thursday, August 02, 2018

"Heart Of The Poppy: From War To Amor"

When the Evangelical Free Church of Chico partnered with Amor ministries ( to build homes in Mexico, Amor's founders, Scott and Gayla Congdon, little knew of a historical connection with World War I. 

Now, after seven years of research, church member Dan Irving tells the story in vivid detail. "Heart Of The Poppy: From War To Amor" ($10 in paperback, self-published, available at ABC Books in Chico; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with "The War to End All Wars" and a Christian hospitality ministry that arose near Ypres, in Belgium, during the height of the conflict.

Trench warfare is unimaginable. "Your senses are numb, you are surrounded by death. Its lifeless stare bores right through you…. The stench of death is everywhere, and it will never leave you. Never! You cannot escape death’s objective: to hunt you down and destroy you, anyway possible. You would prefer a merciless bullet to the brain. … For now, this is your home, where the mud and blood flow together in the trenches on the Western Front."

In 1915, a man named Philip Thomas Byard Clayton, ordained by the Anglican Church, was sent to the Western Front, to Poperinge, Belgium, in West Flanders, a small town near Ypres. "He was short and pudgy," Irving notes, and his nickname, "Tubby," stuck with him.

Tubby performed services on the front lines and saw the need for respite. He turned a damaged mansion in Poperinge into "Talbot House," named for one of the war dead, a place of hospitality known by its initials, Toc H (the "toc" sound a way for Army Signal Code to distinguish t from p).

The Toc H movement grew worldwide, later including a ministry in Mexico building homes, which influenced the Congdons and, years later, led to the formation of Amor. 

It is an extraordinary history, involving 800,000 dead at the Third Battle of Ypres ("for the Allies it represented a gain of two inches for every dead soldier"), and, astonishingly, a field of dark red poppies "sprouting up in life" in Flanders fields, a memorial to death--yet one day, a hundred years hence, yielding life and hope for Mexico.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Shadows Of War: The King's Frog Hunter, Book 2"

Paradise novelist Ken Young continues his magisterial "frog hunter" epic fantasy with Book 2, "Shadows Of War" ($16.95 in paperback from North Point Publishing). In the Kingdom of Ameram, where fierce frogs are as big as humans, Thalmus, the King's Frog Hunter, must defend Ameram against a new incursion of evil.

The tale begins in the aftermath of Metro's defeat. The sinister magician's evil influence had seemingly been vanquished, old King Ahmbin had been spared, and now his daughter, Ekala Oleen, had become Queen. It was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy that she would become "the first woman ruler of Ameram."

The prophecy is guarded by Thalmus (one of the Order of Servants who is, mysteriously, "much older than I appear and much younger than I am") and by Larma, a female mystic who listens to the clouds ("Occasionally, the clouds, just like the wind, will speak the truth we need to hear"). That prophecy encompasses the fate of Boschina, the Stone Cutter's Daughter, whose father, Veracitas, expresses the "stone truth" in his carvings.

Ekala and her "Oleens," (mostly) female warriors, ride with Prince Bolimaz, exiled from the northern land of Toulon, to investigate strange doings at the the ford separating Toulon from Ameram. Weapons are being smuggled into Ameram; Metro's evil remains like an invisible fog.

The evil is greater and deeper than any have imagined. Larma listens to the clouds and writes out an urgent message to Thalmus, which Boschina must deliver. Boschina confronts the terrible fighting beast called the Chorgen and she, Thalmus, and Thalmus' trusted animal friends (Dallion, "the striking white and brown Paint stallion"; Bubo, the Great Horned Owl; and Thunder, the giant shell creature, "a mix between a tortoise and a snapping turtle") must battle enemies from without--and within.

Treachery abounds, and two questions haunt the book: Who can be trusted? And what is the truth?

The action never flags, and Ekala and Boschina become wiser through their trials. Though the ending is fitting, it's more of a pause, with the two women now prepared to work out their intertwined destinies in the next book. It can't come soon enough.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Rainbow: A History of The Rose In California"

To the delight of budding rose historians, master gardener Darrell g.h. Schramm has written the first account of the flower's arrival and propagation in the Golden State. In "Rainbow: A History of The Rose In California" ($24.99 in paperback from CreateSpace,, the Chico State University grad and retired University of San Francisco professor, now living in Vallejo, writes for the love of the rose.

His book "begins with the first mention of roses by explorers and missionaries and continues through the first 75 years of statehood," up until about 1924.

The first rose in California? It's the controversial "Rose of Castile," a five-petal pink rose brought from Spain to California in the late sixteenth century. Or perhaps the earliest accounts (which are ambiguous) are really about a California native species to which Spaniards affixed a generic description. The "name of the rose" continues in mystery.

Chapters also deal with native species ("California boasts nine wild roses"), cultivars, and "Early Nurseries and Nurserymen," capsule descriptions of petal-pushers extraordinaire including John Bidwell. "We have the 1887 and 1888 Rancho Chico Nursery catalogues. Of the 47 roses listed, 34 are still in commerce today. Apparently Bidwell exercised a good eye for roses." Roses such as Baltimore Belle, Gold of Ophir, and William Jesse are all still available.

Bidwell's grounds keeper, Frederick Peterson, "opened a nursery in Chico in 1907 called Lindo Nursery," which then passed on to his son, George (1903-2001). Though George specialized in Camellias, he "was fond of roses and grew over 165 different kinds. In the 1950s George Peterson proposed a rose garden for the Chico State … campus. When the garden was ready in 1957, George donated 400 rose bushes of many varieties."

The book is replete with photographs of roses and detailed early catalog information in six appendices (including the Rancho Chico list).

"A rose," Schramm writes, "even if it does not repeat its bloom, pervades the senses, the memory. It moves far beyond a show or exhibit, going on and on beyond any season. If we love the rose, it lives on in who we are, becoming a part of us. The rose lives within."

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"The Ethics Of Poker"

What are the odds that a Chico State University student would graduate with a degree in philosophy and then go on to become a philosophy professor at McNeese State University at Lake Charles, Louisiana? Maybe it was always in the cards for that to happen to Todd Furman, who seems to have a special interest in no-limit Texas Hold'em.

That's evident in Furman's book, "The Ethics Of Poker" ($29.95 in paperback from McFarland; also for Amazon Kindle). It's a witty discussion, packed with thought experiments, of some of the issues of right and wrong raised by the game itself. (It's a reflection on sinning, not winning.)

For poker neophytes, Furman offers an extensive glossary of both poker and philosophical terms (including "Bad Beat Jackpot" and "Veil of Ignorance"), a section on the rules of Texas Hold'em, and a ranking of hands (from Royal Flush to One Pair). 

Here and there he loves to talk the talk: "With everyone's attention focused on him, Mike shuffles, cuts the cards, and deals one more hand face down. Turning over his cards, Mike has Pocket-Rockets; the next hand is Cowboys, followed by Siegfried and Roy, and so on. Mike is a mechanic."

But once you know that a "mechanic" is a slight-of-hand artist, it's clear that the other players would not exactly congratulate Mike on his no-holds-barred skill but rather insist that Mike had acted immorally and demand their money back. See? Setting the formal rules of the game aside, poker raises a host of issues, such as whether it's morally acceptable to play with someone who's drunk, or play with a compulsive gambler.

The book is divided into three sections. The first considers the morality of poker itself and how much harm it causes society (maybe a lot, but less than alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, which are also legal). The second deals with actions within the game (such as informed consent--what if the table stakes game turns out to be open stakes?). The third is how casinos ought to operate (so the taxes they pay should reflect actual costs to society, such as "additional crime and bankruptcies").

Will readers learn something? It's a safe bet.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

"The Trumpeter's New Clothes"

Paradise blogger Robyn Alana Engel's satirical retelling of "The Emperor's New Clothes" comes with a warning: "Not for those who lean Orange."

There's an intriguing personage at the center of her word play. "From Queens arose a King," we're told. "Golden towers housed his bling./ Dim of wit and rich in wealth,/ he told crazed tales about himself/ … A shameless trumpeter was he." 

Effervescently illustrated by Paradise's own Steve Ferchaud (with the cover design by Bryan Pedas), "The Trumpeter's New Clothes" ($12.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle, with more at tells the story of "a huge bellied brute ... colored orange, just like the fruit." 

Folks in the kingdom can't stand his soulless trumpeting. "He punished people with brown skin/ and those who didn't worship him./ He broke up families, taxed the poor;/ stole from the ill and old,/ and many more."

As a sign in one of the illustrations shows, he spends much time at his MeLargeEgo Country Club--and there the golfing double entendres begin: "He did work hard, I might say,/ at carving-out large times to play./ One of the King's most favored/ things of all/ was to swing/ long rods at tiny balls."

The plot thickens when, in Putinontheritz Land, "Rushing Brides strategized/ a sly get-rich plan/ to trick and deceive/ the bigly orange man," offering the King a magical "see-through orange jumpsuit" sure to improve his game and attract damsels by the dozen. Of course, there is no actual garment, but that doesn't stop the King. "He debuted his new jumpsuit/ all around town,/ like a naked parade/ of one proud circus clown."

Then, after a tragic school shooting, one courageous teenager points out that the King is not only not wearing any clothes, but he has failed to protect the kingdom. Millions of others join the school kids and the King, downcast, is no longer the center of attention. But not for long.

"'Watch me!' said the King,/ needy as could be./ 'I'm a covfefé cannot ball.'/ He squeezed into a bigly cannon./ 'Look-see! Look at me!'" But no one did.

Engel's goal? To let the chip shots fall where they may.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Reassurance In Negative Space"

Elizabyth Hiscox is Director of the Contemporary Writer Series at Western State Colorado University which "brings emerging and established literary artists to campus and community venues." A Chico State University grad, her new collection of poems uses word sounds and typography to push the boundaries of meaning. 

"Reassurance In Negative Space" ($19.95 in paperback from Word Galaxy Press; also for Amazon Kindle) takes on everything, from Camembert to her mother's fatal illness, with sly humor that challenges readers to think and rethink what she has written.

Some lines are playful: "Tabs on beer are canned laughter here" (from "Cheval de Frise and Gone-Sweetness at the All-Inclusive"); "I've begun to notice the infidelities/ of drainage ditches at dusk" (from "The Complex of the Yolk Base"); and "no one sees the mime holding the banana until it is peeled" (from "A Poem with Three Lines from One Night in Portland").

A prose poem, "Fourteen Minutes Too Late for the Cheese Counter," starts this way: "And though I've loved many, each in their turn, the fact of a man is not the same as a really good Camembert and never will be."

In "To Older Cold," the poet evokes a memory: "Snow covers half my childhood./ It arrived in haste. It sank school days/ on battery-operated radios,/ storm shadows huddled electricity,/ and windowsills succumbed often, and at speed." 

The "Sonnet to Room 411b" turns poignant and may evoke a memory of our own: "Hummingbird through the pane, sucking the Spanish roses/ and my eyes are the girl passing me in the hall.// 'Mother.' It makes your mouth call/ in the saying.// The ceiling fan becomes a turnstile for the anxious air/ and a well-intentioned bedside: crepe-paper flowers fading to/ fading, too."

Readers who have written poems or prose of their own, but who would like some guidance on self-publishing--from selecting covers to writing introductions--may be interested in an upcoming Chico workshop presented by the North State Writers Club. The workshop, facilitated by local author Thatcher Nalley, will be held July 15 from 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at Oxford Suites. Advance registration is $95 for non-members, $65 for members, with more information at

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Chico State University grad Robert Grindy now teaches creative writing courses at Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois. He has crafted a wonderfully convoluted murder mystery set in 1999 and centered on the fictional Kickapoo Community College located in a town sort of like Decatur. The story takes the central character, a cynical creative writing instructor at Kickapoo named Henry Streator, into a droll world of mayhem and murder.

In "Iced" ($15.95 in paperback from Livingston Press; also for Amazon Kindle) the not-very-likable Streator is on the verge of being fired, despite his tenured status. 

He's perpetually late to class, rude to colleagues and students alike, and now, "facing down the end of a decade, the end of the century, the end of his thirties just weeks away with his September birthday, what had he to show for the nineties? Ten years of shoveling … out … the Aegean stables of freshman composition. A failed marriage. No book."

Then one of his down-on-his-luck students, Tarvis Conner, brings him a plot idea for a story that features the murder of the town's prominent ethanol factory owner Frederick Gunther, head down in the thin ice of a nearby lake, skis up, legs in a V. A spark of interest kindles in Streator, especially since his Dean friend, Loren Locke, makes it clear that unless Streator gets a novel published, he is toast.

Conner dies in a freak car accident, and Streator, desperate, takes Conner's idea for his own. In a fit of creativity (and a change of "Gunther" to "Geddes"), he finishes the manuscript, gets an agent, and lands the book (and a big promised advance) with a small publisher. 

Streator quits his job at Kickapoo and prepares to fly to New York to sign the contract, when Gunther himself is found head down in the ice, with his skis on and legs in a V. It seems clear Conner knew beforehand this would happen, and Streator becomes detective, piecing together clues into a tapestry of deceit and destruction (he's almost killed in a freak car accident himself). And then he gets the surprise of his life.

Maybe the world is not as screwed up as he thought.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Ward Of The Court"

In 1989 Christopher Hall began his studies at the Northwestern University School of Dentistry in Chicago. He was twenty-two when he received his acceptance packet as he was completing four challenging years as a chemistry major at Chico State University ("I was happy to be done with all those meticulous labs").

He reminded himself that at Chico "I had received an excellent education. I had put myself on firm ground by earning my Bachelor of Science degree. I would always be able to take care of myself." Hall's memoir makes it clear that this was not a boast but rather a realization that such inner confidence had saved his life. 

"My dad had died when I was fourteen years old," he writes in "Ward Of The Court" ($5.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). "Sometime during the first four years of my life, my father was imprisoned for killing a man. … My mother is a tragic figure; when my father was imprisoned … she turned to alcohol. …"

Born in Watts, at four Hall "was declared a ward of the court." He was placed in a foster home, "the beginning of a journey that would include two more foster homes, four boys’ homes, and multiple stints in three different Juvenile Hall facilities."

Something began growing inside Hall, some sense of future prospects. "I knew that to have a fighting chance I would have to attend college and get an education." His going to Chico State "lifted a huge burden off my shoulders. I had kept all this anxiety inside about the future beginning at about the age of fourteen."

Hall's story is told in matter-of-fact language. There are many schools, a failed marriage, a stint in the Army, and a move away from dentistry to his true love, family medicine. A poignant letter from his brother Wayne (serving life in prison), provides a startling contrast. Hall was thirty before his long-held goal began to come true. But it happened. It happened.

"I hope," he writes, "that at least one young person sitting out there in foster care, the juvenile justice system, or a boys’ or girls’ home will be inspired."

Thursday, June 07, 2018

"Broken: Tales Of A Titanium Cowgirl"

"We can all identify our own moment," writes Michelle Scully, "that blink of an eye drawing an indelible black Sharpie line between 'before' and what comes 'after." Her moment came in 2011 in a horse riding accident that broke her back and nearly crushed her spirit.

Scully, who has a Master's in Biology from Chico State University, lives with her family in Northern California where they are "part of a multi-generational family farming operation." Her harrowing story is recounted with grace, wit, and deep insight in "Broken: Tales Of A Titanium Cowgirl" ($18.95 in paperback from Spinning Sevens Press; also for Amazon Kindle). For more, visit

Taking her horse, "Wish," for an outing, "the wild backyard riding kid in me overwhelmed the budding horseman in me" and they began to lope, too fast. When a rabbit "bolted right through her legs," Wish shot "up into the air like a rocket and sideways, simultaneously." 

Scully flipped onto her back and hit hard. "I had heard a loud 'pop' when I hit the ground," she remembers, "and a wave of pain hit me like a hammer."

The pop? An "imploded first lumbar or L1 vertebrae which had disintegrated upon impact." It meant "removing one of my ribs and using it as the basis for a bone graft in a titanium bone cage which would be placed in the gap where my L1 used to be."

"I've been training myself to love my hardware, because without the technology and audacity that ever caused someone to try out such a complicated fix, I'd be screwed. Now I'm actually screwed together, but in a good way."

Would she ever ride again? "Could I accept my brokenness without raging against it?" There is, she learns, "a beauty in broken things." She senses God's sustaining love and also finds "hope through my abiding love for the majestic horse."

"It's easy to feel overcome and heavily burdened by the weight of our struggles, and I've found that having a stash of joy (and Cheetos) can help keep you afloat."

Dogs and frogs also have much to teach us, as does Scully's own story of courage, faith, and gratitude.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Melville Among The Philosophers"

A quarter century after Herman Melville published "Moby-Dick" he published a whale of a poem, some 18,000 lines, called "Clarel: A Poem And A Pilgrimage." It draws its inspiration in part on a trip Melville had made to Palestine which turned out to be wholly uninspiring.

Chico State University philosophy professor Troy Jollimore, a nationally-acclaimed poet himself, takes up "Clarel" as the first essay in "Melville Among The Philosophers" ($100 in hardcover from Lexington Books; also for Amazon Kindle), edited by Corey McCall and Tom Nurmi, with an afterword by Cornel West. 

Melville frames philosophic questions in literary form, and the philosophers contributing to the volume view his work through the lenses of feminism, race, beauty, religious studies, and more.

Jollimore's study of Melville's epic is a model of clarity. "The poem," he writes, "describes a journey undertaken by its title character, a young divinity student who is attempting to find grounds for faith, in the company of a group of pilgrims who seem to represent diverse outlooks one might take on various disputed topics." 

The primary topic is the possibility of religious faith in the midst of nineteenth-century science, especially the work of Charles Darwin, which seemed to "disenchant" the universe, reducing it to mere mechanism.

For Clarel, coming upon a group of lepers, human nature expressed itself "In voiceless visagelessness" (the title of Jollimore's essay) waiting for a God who is all too silent.

Melville's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne said that Melville "will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief." Clarel finds the land of Palestine desolate, an expression of Melville's own sense of God's hiddenness. What can one believe, and why?

Jollimore reads the poem through the lens of American pragmatist William James. For Melville belief must not be theoretical, dreamed up in the captain's cabin, but practical, connecting with life out on deck. Jollimore suggests that for Clarel, and Melville, "the notion of evidence ought itself to be understood not abstractly but in terms of lived experience: one discovers what can and ought to be believed not abstractly, but by living a human life."

Can intellect and spirit be reconciled? Clarel, and Melville, find no easy answers.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Breaking In: A Smart, Quirky Heist Novel Set In The New York City Art Scene"

James Ibedson is an aspiring New York City artist whose middling-quality work can't catch a break. The critics ruthlessly hammer his latest gallery showing. The adult son of a wealthy art collector, he's filthy rich and resentful that the Art Establishment can't see beyond his money to the talent he actually has.

He is convinced that if his paintings received the attention they deserved he could hold his own against his contemporaries, artists the critics seem to fawn over simply because they have some dramatic family history. But how to get the needed notoriety? All his efforts to make a splash seem fruitless until, waking up one morning, it hits him. "For the first time in days, in weeks, in years, James Ibedson has a vision. He knows what he's going to do."

What turns out to be a tangled tale is told with aplomb by Ridge-area novelist Brian T. Marshall. "Breaking In" (available in an Amazon Kindle edition from missppelled press in Magalia; is subtitled "A Smart, Quirky Heist Novel Set In The New York City Art Scene." It makes James' audacious scheme almost seem plausible.

The novel at its heart is about character, what it means to run risks not in theory but in the thick of things, when one's wealth no longer substitutes for the abandonment one feels. James' "mother had died when he was nine. He had no sister, no aunts. Just a couple of older cousins living in Ohio, or Iowa, one of those states with the vowels, who were nothing but a once-a-year photo, names on a Christmas card." As for James' father, Simon, the relationship is decidedly chilly. Marshall masterfully probes the inner workings of James' psyche.

For James' plot to succeed, he needs the help of others. Like Harry Lange, whose work in the art world is not always on the books; a guy named Raymond, no stranger to prison; and Ray's ex-girlfriend Cheryl, or "Shard," whose own talent fundamentally changes James' life. 

"Breaking In" is a funny, wise, and poignant portrait of an artist looking for acclaimwho  "discovers his soul instead."

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Cross Roads"

The startling success of "The Shack," by Wm. Paul Young, sparked discussions about forgiveness and the nature of God. The central human character in the novel was Mackenzie Allen Phillips. True to his initials, he helped "map" in story form how God's love might work itself out in the midst of tragedy.

Now, in a subsequent novel no less imaginative, Young takes on the self-centeredness of one Anthony Sebastian Spencer. In "Cross Roads" ($15 in paperback from FaithWords; also for Amazon Kindle), readers learn that Tony Spencer wants control.

When Loree, his wife, "bowed out gracefully" after Tony's inattention, he wooed her back, married her again, threw a big celebration, and then promptly divorced her. A product of a failed foster care system, disbelieving the "God stuff" he had heard as a child, he "had quit crying about it. He had made mistakes and hurt people, but who hadn't?"

Then Tony is hit by a medical trauma that puts him in a coma, and as he lies dying at an Oregon hospital he "awakens" to an outdoor setting with hiking paths and a number of oddly caring strangers.

Jack makes clear the difference between real and true: Not believing God's love for Tony "becomes what is real to you, and you then create a world that holds not believing the word of this God, or the love of this God, or even in this God at all, as a fundamental cornerstone of your life's construction…. Does your inability to believe the word of this God make what this God has said not true?"

A Jesus-figure enters, giving Tony the ability to physically heal one person. A woman called Grandmother helps Tony see himself for what he truly is.

Who will he choose to heal at the hospital? On that hangs the fantastical tale, by turns funny and full of tears, of what it means for selfishness to be transformed into self-giving love. There is hope, the novel says, for us all.

Wm. Paul Young is the scheduled guest at the Jesus Center's third annual spring luncheon fundraiser on Saturday, April 21 at the Lakeside Pavilion in Chico. Tickets are $55 with more information at

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Jason Bayani (, now headquartered in the Bay Area, has been a National Poetry Slam finalist and is one of the founders of the Filipino American spoken word troupe Proletariat Bronze.

His printed collection of poems, "Amulet" ($15 in paperback from Write Bloody Publishing), cries out to be read aloud. Sometimes it just cries out as the poet attempts to make sense of the power of words and the seeming powerlessness of his lived experience (especially in Texas).

In "Pulling Threads," "Everything in my head is the sound, word/ without shape. …/ I'm not dreaming this. Poems are what happens/ when you close your eyes. Stars are fathomable.// Yesterday she asked what must 'happy' look like for me? I gave her/ the answer I thought should go on my epitaph. This is why, she tells/ me, I can only speak in front of a microphone. … I owe something more than poems. Maybe a really good/ chili recipe, or a second word for thunder…."

In a series of sonnets the last line becomes the first, expansive, line of the following poem, encountering bar fights, hip-hop, and turntablist DJ Qbert: "The thump is the beat, the beat is a wild zephyr,/ that must be why the creation of Art/ feels like caging the wind. …"

"I hold every unruly poem inside my skin," the writer says in "Continuum," and in "God of Misplacements," the question becomes: "What is the speed of living? Too much/ wanting lining over the base. The difference between/ needing to know, and knowing my place. The line/ keeps moving over us. You can't see it. The line keeps/ moving over us and every time we push, the push back/ comes harder. We can say it shouldn't be there anyway./ All I got is to work with what is until it isn't anymore."

Bayani is the scheduled keynote speaker for WordSpring 2018 on Saturday, April 28, at Butte College. Registration for the creative writing conference, which features workshops in poetry, fiction, and more, is $45 for students and educators, and $80 for community members.

The conference is sponsored by the college's English Department, Associated Students, and several local businesses. More details are at

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults"

Greg Cootsona, who pastored for many years at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico, has a deep concern for "emerging adults," those between the ages of eighteen and thirty. They marry later and often don't fit in to church activities geared to couples or families.

Many also feel estranged from what evangelical churches say about science (if science is even addressed) and withdraw from Christianity, becoming the "nones" and "dones." This is especially acute in Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose, but also in the Chico-Redding area.

Cootsona, now teaching at Chico State University, is also administering a grant project through Fuller Theological Seminary that seeks not only to find out what this group thinks about science and religion but to develop guidance for churches seeking to engage emerging adults.

"Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults" ($17 in paperback from InterVarsity Press) is, writes Cootsona, "both a manifesto and a field guide. As a manifesto, it's designed to convince you that the church must embrace mainstream science for its future."

As a guide, it shows how churches can enter with emerging adults into the conversation about human origins, climate change, the findings of cognitive science, the meaning of technology, and questions about sexuality and gender.

"Emerging adults," Cootsona writes, "hear about conflict, but they seek collaboration or independence." He focuses on integrating science and faith, where possible. "This means that no discovery can dictate our theology or ethics, but also that no form of human insight and knowledge is outside of Christ. Put simply, God knows far more about science that Albert Einstein."

Accessibly written, personal and even poignant at times, the book is essential to any who are interested in emerging adults. It goes a long way toward achieving the goal of weaving "together mainstream science and the good news of mere Christianity into a narrative that's truly beautiful and beautifully true."

Cootsona is scheduled to present a "Mere Science" seminar, based on his book, on Saturday, April 7 from 8:30 - 10:30 a.m. at Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Cost is $10 per person with childcare and a continental breakfast provided. To register, visit