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.


Tuesday, September 01, 2020

"History, Memories And Stories"


Kim Wacker Thompson writes me about her father, George Wacker. He "was a lifetime resident of Yreka. He was mayor, county supervisor, and businessman, and was known for his stories." Now, after many requests, she has gathered his writing into book form. It's a labor of love that shows George's penchant for the whimsical side of Siskiyou County history, and it's a delight to read.


"History, Memories And Stories" ($9.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle), by George Wacker, edited by Kim Thompson, begins with an account of the short life of the State of Jefferson in 1941 and ends with the short story (presumably based in reality) of meeting the great Babe Ruth on October 23, 1921, when the Bambino visited young Wacker's 6th grade class in Yreka.


Wacker was fascinated by the effect the Gold Rush and subsequent mining operations had on his beloved town. "When gold was discovered at Yreka in 1851," he writes in the "Memories" section, in a piece called "The Tunnels Under Yreka And The Little Men," "Yreka Flats was dubbed the 'Richest Square Mile' on the face of the earth. And rightly so, for the precious metal did lie on top of the ground and down through the gravel to bedrock."


A few years later, though, with the earth scoured of surface gold, mining turned to tunnel-making so the underground quartz veins could be extracted and crushed to release the gold, and it turns out Yreka is criss-crossed with tunnels. And: "It is thought by some 'believers' that after the extensive labyrinth of drifts had been completed and abandoned it was at this time that the Little Men moved in and began to inhabit the tunnels."


There were other Yrekan denizens: chickens. Those raising backyard chickens destined for Sunday dinner would carefully examine the gizzards for the shiny metal. "And the gizzards did yield a small nugget often enough to excite every housewife around."


There are accounts of the last train robbery in Siskiyou County, miners' practical jokes, invading bears, tragic murders, the high school rivalry against Dunsmuir, the Chinese in Yreka, and "The Great Watermelon Heist."


These nuggets of history and memory shine brightly.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Cultural Traditions Of Ancient Mesoamerica"

Retired Butte College and Chico State anthropology instructor Mike Findlay has long held a fascination with, and love of, Mesoamerica, "central southern Mexico and the northern portions of Central America, including the Yucatan Peninsula." It's the home of ancient traditions like the Maya, Olmec, Zapotec, Aztecs, and others. Now, in a new book, Findlay brings a scientist's eye to examine the long history of growth and decline of these storied cultures, from ten thousand years ago to Spanish colonization beginning in the fifteenth century.


"Cultural Traditions Of Ancient Mesoamerica" ($89.95 in paperback from Cognella Academic Publishing), by Michael Shaw Findlay, is a textbook; but its clear prose, pictures of artifacts drawn by the author, and an extensive glossary, make the book highly accessible to a general audience. It's a mostly chronological guide to cultures too often shrouded in myth.


By AD 250 in Mesoamerica "the centers of power were controlled by small cadres of elite nobility who managed state affairs and regulated trade to some extent." It was the time of what is called the "Classic period" (which lasted to around 900), and which produced "monumental architecture," writing, dynasties, and "institutionalized warfare."


What were these cultures like? Findlay brings in his own research as well as that of others from a variety of disciplines to provide a nuanced account. Religious life evidenced an interest in "spiritual sojourns": "In central Mexico and the Maya area," Findlay writes, art forms show "fantastic otherworldly scenes possibly aided by the use of psychotropic drugs (such as peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms....)" and even "intoxicating enemas."


A cultural "collapse" came at the end of the Classic period, and Findlay unpacks the many reasons, including "cultural fatigue," before he charts the coming of the Spanish.


In the sixteenth century Aztec king Moctezuma practiced human sacrifices of those captured in war "to maintain the cycles of the sun." Findlay observes that "If we are going to judge the ancient Aztecs ... for their 'inhumane' behavior, we must be willing to also look closer to home to find analogous practices" in which nation-states demand sacrifices of their own citizens.


Just like the avocado (which originated in Mesoamerica), this is food for thought.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"What Now, Little Mouse, Rocky, Wolfy And Flea?"

Longtime educators Jim and Nancy Barnes live near Paradise Lake, and over the years Jim has been telling the story of wise Little Mouse the Mouse (who also happens to live near Paradise Lake) in a series of children's books. Little Mouse's thoughtfulness is no accident; even as a youngster his problem-solving skills are quite evident.


And young Little Mouse the Mouse does have a big problem. "A flying boulder/ With speed and glee/ Had landed on top/ Of a teeny golf tee.// As bad as that was/ As you can see/ It cuddled up to Little Mouse's home/ Within a width of a flea."


The whimsical story is told with Jim's pen and pencil drawings in "What Now, Little Mouse, Rocky, Wolfy And Flea?" ($7.99 in paperback, self-published; the Amazon link is available through littlemousethemouse.com/index.html.) The same book, without any shading in the illustrations, is available in "The 'What Now?' Coloring Book" ($7.99 in paperback).


We've already met Flea. Enter neighbor Wolf, who thinks it's child's play to blow the boulder away. But then Rocky awakens: "'Huff and puff all you want./ I'm not going anywhere!'" Rocky is not exactly accommodating. "'It's so relaxing and airy,/ This tee hits the spot.'"


But young Little Mouse suspects there's more going on, something bugging Rocky, "problems that we can't see." Indeed so; Rocky admits that "'Before I landed on this tee/ ... I was mostly underground/ And feeling quite blue.'"


When the backhoe came and dug Rocky out of the ground, he tells Little Mouse, Wolf, and Flea, he realized "'We rocks get no respect. We only catch a lot of heck.'// 'We're dug up, pushed around, and shoved aside....'"


But, says Little Mouse, rocks are actually very important. "'Take for instance Butte Creek,/ Over the cliff and to your right./ Your boulder kin have played/ Their part in a special delight.'// 'For if it weren't for rocks and boulders,/ There'd be no sounds and sites--/ Ripples, rainbow-waterfalls, bridges,/ And the deep holes that fish like."


Does that, uh, turn the tide?


Well, the moral of the story may well be: When in doubt, communicate. Be a little boulder.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"Solstice Shadows: A VanOps Thriller"

Grass Valley novelist Avanti Centrae is back with another world-spanning adventure featuring thirty-something twins Maddy Marshall and her brother Will Argones. It's a follow-up to Centrae's debut, "VanOps: The Lost Power," which should be read first (though readers of the new work are brought up to speed).


"Solstice Shadows: A VanOps Thriller" ($16.49 in paperback from Thunder Creek Press; also for Amazon Kindle) chronicles the work of Vanguard Operations, a shadowy unit of the CIA. Chartered "to keep an eye out for any sort of advanced ... technology that threatened the security of the United States," the organization learns that the Russians are developing a quantum computer capable of hacking even the most sophisticated protections. 


In order to run properly, the computer needs superconducting materials, precisely what Maddy wielded in the form of small obelisks, strange shards that helped her channel ball lightning and defeat the Russians--for a time--some sixteen months earlier. But now the race is on to find the origin of those shards, likely contained in a meteor buried somewhere 3300 years ago.


The only clue as to its whereabouts is a "star chart" ripped from an ancient codex.


Centrae's depiction of what could happen if that super-computer hacked its way into U.S. "critical infrastructure" sent shivers down my spine: "How would truck drivers deliver food to stores with no gasoline? If dams didn't work, how would the farmers and firefighters have water to use? ... With no food, water, power, cash, or gasoline, there would be chaos. Armed fighting for basic survival. It would make the COVID-19 pandemic look like child's play."


And if the military's own communications were scrambled, the country would be open to, well, invasion.


Making matters worse, the Spaniards (under the direction of the evil King Carlos, to whom Maddy and Will are related) want in on the action.


The VanOps team (Maddy's boyfriend Bear Thorenson, who tries to get Maddy to join VanOps officially; Will; and group leader "Jags," an "intriguing" woman to whom Will is attracted) has only days to find the secret of the superconducting meteor. 


From Mexico to Jordan, the action never stops until the nail-biter of a conclusion.


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'"

Burned out by the Camp Fire, Paradise illustrator Steve Ferchaud fills his latest creation with Paradise memories in a children's book for all ages--and for the ages.


The book came about when the Executive Director of Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation, Debbie LaPlant Moseley, had the idea of raising funds by auctioning off names and characters to be put into a book. The winning bid came from the Hartleys, owners of Joy Lyn's Candies, and so their granddaughter, Haley, is the one who tells the story, a kind of diary of Paradise before, during, and after the fire.


"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'" ($14.99 in paperback, published by Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation; printed by Digital Print & Design in Chico) is available at ABC Books in Chico and through the website of the Foundation's Paradise Chocolate Fest (chocolatefest.us/getting-involved/my-name-is-haley). Proceeds go to the Foundation.


As writer and illustrator, Ferchaud tells a hopeful story. But it's hope that knows full well what has been lost. 


"I have to tell you about Noble Orchards," Haley writes. "I think I have a special talent for picking apples because I have always picked the best, juiciest, sweetest apples in the whole orchard. ... I wonder what the going rate is for an apple expert?"


Haley and her friends Lucia Violet and Sam spend time at Joy Lyn's ("I always choose the brittle"). There's Gold Nugget Days (readers may know some of the folks in the crowd), the Chocolate Fest, Gold Nugget Museum, Darlene's Ice Cream dreams, and Johnny Appleseed Days. 


Then one morning the phone rings. Haley and her mom must evacuate, try to make it to Chico to meet her dad. Booming sounds are all around. For five pages Ferchaud's palette turns red. 


"Then suddenly, there was blue sky."


Days pass, and the Skyway reopens. The two-page spread of a devastated Paradise, "empty and burned away," is heart-rending.


Months pass, and the family rebuilds. "There is still so much I want to say ... but do you know what I love saying the most...? 'Hi! My Name is Haley, and I live in Paradise.'"


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous"

"How could she possibly relay what thousands of square miles are like to callers who think San Francisco is Northern California?" That's the question fictional real estate agent Ingrid Fromm asks herself about the glory of Siskiyou County in the short story collection that depicts her encounters with interesting (read: quirky) clients.


The county, Fromm muses, is "the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined.... You can get lost here, stake out your territory, and retreat to a lifestyle reminiscent of rugged individualism and grit...." And there are pretty good views of Mt. Shasta.


Author Ursula Bendix, Peace Corps volunteer and Spanish teacher, was born in Germany in 1945 and with her family immigrated to Oregon when she was ten. Now the owner/broker of Bendix Real Estate in Yreka, she has crafted a series of deceptively simple stories about her counterpart Fromm (also in real estate in Yreka). 


"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous" ($13.95 in paperback from Memoir Books, an imprint of Chico's Heidelberg Graphics; also for Amazon Kindle) presents ten vignettes, tales of clients narrated from Fromm's point of view, that in quiet ways begin to expose the soul of a woman in her sixties, divorced after thirty-four years of marriage, with a son and daughter, living a "conventional" life.


Fromm's work makes her almost a voyeur into the lives of her clients. "Voyeurism, she knew, was a means by which she tried to discover and comprehend the nature of intimacy. She was sure that once she understood this feeling, she would understand the essence of living.... Selling real estate gave her the opportunity to meet all types of personalities and, for a short while, become intensely involved in their lives."


Zola Poe wants to build a "spiritual and holistic retreat" near the town of Hilt. A couple is interested in a strange house with a trapdoor in Dunsmuir. Foul-smelling Patrick meets a sad end. Ingrid imagines a fling with her client, Russian Boris Volkov. ("We're all in our sixties after all--what difference did it make?")


A conventional life? Perhaps--but one that will draw readers into its gentle passion.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown"

As a longtime Chico resident, former high school science teacher Dick Cory remains active as an essayist (writing a monthly column for Today's Senior Magazine) and environmentalist (advocating Teichert Ponds in Chico be designated "Peace Park Nature Preserve").

When he read about a controversy over prairie dogs in New Mexico, how they might be wiped out of existence by "changing farming practices and development," he created a story for young people told from the perspective of Percival the prairie dog. Percival falls in love with Ida Mae, and together they realize that "both of our families (coteries) may soon have to move if two-legs standing (people) have their way."

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown" ($15 in paperback, self-published, available at Made In Chico and through the author at ubangarang@yahoo.com) is not a story about the old upper Ridge area, but one about a very different "dogtown," captivatingly illustrated by Steve Ferchaud.

A brief glossary notes that a "coterie" is "a family group of prairie dogs made up of a male, one to four females, and their young, up to two years." They aren't really dogs, Cory explains, but "are most closely related to squirrels" and now range over only two percent of the land they did in 1900. Bottom line: "Studies show that the prairie dogs really don't compete for grass with cattle and bison."

After introducing Percival's family, the story takes an ominous turn as he watches the "grass grabbers" (humans) "bury poison seeds that smell like burnt nuts and cause us to die when we eat them.... Some take shots as us with their hollow tube shooters (guns)."

Even worse, "the grass is drying without water, too many four-legged milk-making gas-belching animals are eating what grass is left. Pups are being orphaned by this war on us. What can we do?" Ida Mae adds: "Doesn't anyone care for us? Do the legislators in our capitol not hear our barks?"

In the end Percival and Ida Mae make their choice. "We will stay and fight for our homeland. One day the two-legged standings will realize that our bark is better than their blight."

Doggone if it's not a small tale that needs watching.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)"

Technology is crucial in bringing a worship experience to those sheltering in place. Yet technology can also be a barrier to "authentic worship." That's the claim made in a new book directed especially to conservative evangelicals. 

The author, Livermore resident David Dirks, is a Chico State University grad who helped pioneer KCHO-FM as Chief Engineer. Now retired as a video producer for Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories, he leads the sound/media team at Brentwood Bible Fellowship.

Designed to be read by church leadership, "The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)" (self-published and available on Amazon Kindle) offers a "theology of sound" for churches with around 100 or so in attendance. 

Can those who sing or speak be heard clearly? Is the sound in the room too loud or too soft? The book provides basic technical advice on setting up sound systems, creating the right mix for band members and the congregation, and the importance of the FOH--the "front of house," "the person who mixes the sound for the congregation...."

But here's the key question, Dirks writes: "Are the sounds that you make, whether as a musician or an engineer, consistent with sounds that honor and glorify Christ? ... When we exalt our talents and abilities and elevate our technology as the source of the power in worship, we turn worship on its head. We practice 'the cult of sound.'"

Instead, "sound should seamlessly reinforce the worship time.... All glory should go to God." Beware "the deceptive emphasis on the worshiper as a consumer." Authentic worship is from the heart, in a spirit of joy.

The last part of the book is a jeremiad, a lament over how technology consumes our attention. Is a tech sabbath needed? 

The balance is difficult: "My life’s work is based ... on the use of technology.... At the same time, it is incumbent on me and each believer in the all-sufficient work of Christ and His resurrection to place boundaries on the use and influence technology has on day-to-day living and ... within the time of worship that we share together."

Dirks' book seeks to be a companion in that challenge.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

"An Education In Ruin"

Chico novelist Alexis Bass (alexisbassbooks.com) exposes scandalous family secrets in "An Education In Ruin" ($19.99 in hardcover from Tor Teen; also for Amazon Kindle). 

The Rutherford Institute welcomes high schoolers from the moneyed class, those "with bright futures and lush lives." But for new third-year student Collins Pruitt, who tells the story, her arrival at the boarding school is the start of a mission having little to do with learning.

She focuses on the Mahoney boys, Theo and Jasper. Especially Jasper. He's a fourth-year, the school's lacrosse champion, "accepted early to Dartmouth after being lauded into academic stardom last year when he won the national academic decathlon. ... He spent last summer interning at Robames Inc., a world-popular company because their founder is a twenty-year-old Yale dropout and a Rutherford graduate herself."

If Collins can get Jasper to fall in love with her (and she is convinced by her aunt Rosie that she can), Collins can leverage the relationship to force his married mother, Marilyn, who dotes on her sons, to stop her affair with Collins' divorced father, Jacob, on whom she dotes. Simple.

Except not so simple. As the deliciously dishy tale unfolds, it turns out no one is who they seem to be. Take Rob (Roberta) James, head of Robames, plagued by a personal lawsuit that threatens to bring down the company. She's invented a medical device that quickly analyzes DNA (or something), but she's a total fraud. (The parallels with Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos are quite clear.) 

Jasper knows yet refuses to blow the whistle on Rob. Why? Collins is falling in love with him and in searching for the answers with her group of friends, Anastasia, Stewart, Sebastian, and, yes, Theo and Jasper, secrets inside secrets are revealed. Can love flourish when all the truths come out? 

In the end, Collins writes, "there are some things that are too complicated to understand unless you know the whole of it. The entirety. What came before what comes comes after. The broken-down parts, each piece making both the foundation and the destruction. A moment-by-moment recount until the abhorrent conclusion."

Readers may be so engrossed in "Ruin" it will ruin their dinner plans.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Consider: Somewhere out there in space, humans have come to a planet they call "Home World," fleeing the military-industrial complex on their "previous planetary home," a place in which war seemed to be the answer to every question. The colonists "resolved to bring with them only the technology that rewarded the peaceful solution of differences of opinion." 

Over the next five hundred years only one war flares up. "When it was over, everyone ... agreed that killing each other was stupid." That was long ago; now, though, some of the countries on Home World are again amassing technological power with an eye toward the wealth of a planet known as E47. The "healthy technological and moral environment for human evolution" is about to be shattered.

For Chicoan Andrew Hanson, retired Professor of Education at Chico State University, and now a first-time novelist, the solution comes in the form of what might be called a "conspiracy for peace," led by Mark Sturgis, a rich and mysterious figure recently returned from E47. 

He convinces Adrian Prescott Museum Director Eric Harris, and Assistant Director Rachel Johnson (who fall for each other), that he is indeed the late Adrian Prescott in a transplanted body. Can they convince Adrian's grandson, Jerold Prescott, Chairman of Prescott Industries, before Jerold makes a decision "that will jeopardize the future of our planet"?

"Revelation" ($14 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses in the first part on Mark's (cinematic) E47 experiences involving friendly Hill People, the unfriendly "People of God" tribe, five orphans (the "Sherpas"), telepathic wolves, the Witness Tree (which is a kind of space and time transport), and a People Mover machine which allows Sturgis to escape.

The second part details a series of meetings among the conspirators reporting on peace movements they are encouraging. Will humans get another chance to be welcomed into a peaceful galactic community?

As Mark reports, "It's becoming increasingly clear that advocates for peace must do more than sponsor initiatives and rallies. Warmongering politicians with financial interests in arms industries must be exposed, and colluding arms manufacturers put out of business."

Questions of war and peace continue to resonate as the United States celebrates its own founding.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"The Last Lead Holders: Quest For Fulfillment"

Construction Superintendent and architect Richard Deatherage of Citrus Heights retired his lead pencil in 2009. Drawing by hand he became "the youngest Project Coordinator/Architectural Draftsman in the State of California's history by the age of 20."

He offered to pick up his pencil once again after he learned his friends Andy and Barb Pilgram of Paradise, and their twin daughters' families in Magalia, had lost their homes in the Camp Fire. He ended up designing a home for one of the twins, Jessica Anderson and her husband Elijah, and it's now being built in Magalia.

Deatherage tells his own story, through 2009, in a rollicking memoir, an homage to his parents, especially his late father who "showed us how to live our lives to the fullest and to dream, as we each grew into manhood." "I had no sisters," he adds, "only brothers, and we just beat each other up for entertainment."

"The Last Lead Holders: Quest For Fulfillment" ($19.76 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) details his "adventures growing up in the 1960s and 1970s throughout America as an official United States Air Force Brat (USAFB)." Before he developed much of a conscience, he writes, he was not exactly an angel. (He set up a bootlegging operation to make extra cash when he was underage.)

The book is replete with "now it can be told" hijinks, but they are laid out against a somber experience of "racism in Mississippi in the late 1960s as a young white child; ... being involved in the bussing of all-white children to an all-black school in second grade; ... my parents' unknown struggles at home while my father was being transferred overseas and while he was in the war in Vietnam."

The turning point comes in 1979 when Richard's San Juan High School mechanical drafting teacher puts him on detention and challenges him to design a custom home. At 16 his plans are accepted by the building department. And so a career is born.

Lessons learned? We all need erasers, the "Last Lead Holder" puts it, and we all need to recognize "until the end of racism" that "we were always one." 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Spooky And The Gargoyle"

Chico State University English Professor Teresa Traver says the idea started with her preschool son who hugged the family gargoyle statue on his way to school. Traver specializes in British literature and literature of the child, and together with illustrator Ariana Dahlenberg she has published a little tale of courage and friendship.

"Spooky And The Gargoyle" ($7.99 in paperback from Thousand Acre Wood Books; also for Amazon Kindle) is an endearing story for ages 4-8 (with discussion questions and activities at teresatraver.com/spooky). It begins with a kitten adjusting to her family's new home which just happens to have a gargoyle statue outside. "The old Maxwell place was full of shadows that spooked her, so her family called her 'Spooky.'"

The full-page illustrations, in greens, browns, and purples, paint a world of mystery, one that needs exploring. Warily Spooky reaches out and touches the gargoyle who promptly admonishes her. "'Go away!' the gargoyle grumbled. 'I'm busy. My job is to guard the house. And I guard it best when I'm alone.'"

But Spooky keeps coming back to talk with Eben (for that is his name), though Eben isn't much of a conversationalist. Then there's the front gate. "Each day, Spooky drew a little closer to the gate so that she could see, hear, and smell more of the big world that frightened and fascinated her. One day a stray dog wandered by. Spooky took one look and ran. The dog chased her..."

Then: "Eben spoke. 'This is private property! No dogs allowed!"' Dog abruptly exits.

Spooky feels safe now. "Eben grumbled less. Sometimes he gave her pointers on how to guard a house. 'The trick is to LOOK confident, even if you're scared. Try it.'"

Another day and--there's another dog, a big one, who heads straight for Eben, jumping up and rocking him back and forth so hard Eben might fall from his pedestal. He shouts for help. "Spooky's heart hammered with fear, but she had to do something!" 

Could a little white kitten who resembles a ghost actually frighten a big dog?

Just you watch!

Traver's book received a 2020 Indie Reader's Discovery Award in the Children's (Board Books and Pre-Reading) category.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

"How To Be An Antiracist"

The 2020-2021 "Book In Common" for Butte College, Chico State University (csuchico.edu/bic), and other local organizations is an autobiographical exploration of the deep roots of racism in America, ideas which infect even people of color themselves. Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington, DC, explores his deepening understanding of the pervasiveness of racist policies and invites readers to make the same journey.

"How To Be An Antiracist" ($27 in hardcover from One World; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with definitions, as Kendi realizes how racist policies affect every aspect of a person's existence--from biology (think "eugenics movement") to behavior (where well-meaning abolitionists "argue that oppression has degraded the behaviors of oppressed people").

Two types of racism intertwine in American history, segregation and assimilation. The segregationist declares he is "not racist" in promoting "separate but equal" institutions; more subtly, the assimilationist, also claiming not to be racist, promotes "equality" within a White standard.

Calling oneself "not racist" is, Kendi writes, "a claim that signifies neutrality: 'I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.' But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of 'racist' isn’t 'not racist.' It is 'antiracist.' What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist."

Racist policies, Kendi says, flow from self-interest. "Racism" he defines as "a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities. ... Race and racism are power constructs of the modern world. ... Racism is not even six hundred years old. It's a cancer that we've caught early."

Drawing a metaphor from his experience with colon cancer, Kendi's antiracist response focuses on policy: "Remove any remaining racist policies, the way surgeons remove the tumors. Ensure there are clear margins, meaning no cancer cells of inequity left in the body politic, only the healthy cells of equity. Encourage the consumption of healthy foods for thought...."

And breathe.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

"After Trump: Achieving A New Social Gospel"

Donald Heinz, Lutheran minister and Chico State University emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, offers in his new book "an invitation and a manifesto." He calls for a revitalized Progressive Christianity "that mimics the liberating God of the Bible." 

He wants the voice of the church to be heard once again in the public square (rather than a watered-down political liberalism too embarrassed to talk about Jesus). He wants to draw on "Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, evangelical, and neo-Anabaptist" teachings to restore the prophetic mission of the church in proclaiming God's "preferential option for the poor."

In "After Trump: Achieving A New Social Gospel" ($28 in paperback from Cascade Books; also for Amazon Kindle), Heinz says "what society most needs from the church" is "the prophetic imagination of alternative realities"--a vision of justice and the common good--brought into the public square. 

We must, he says, take sin (personal and corporate) seriously, but reject what he calls "freeze-dried biblical literalism." "In the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims, love stretches law and custom towards new forms of social justice. Arms full of antipathy to gays cannot carry the Gospel too." The church is a "parade" as it marches into the public square with this new prophetic vision; and it is "pilgrimage."

"Pilgrimaging towards a new social gospel is the task the times require if we are not to continue our descent into Trumpism--white racism, resentment, selfishness, a rapacious free market, and government in the interest of the 1 percent." The church is (or should be) on the move, collaborating with other institutions but never dissolving into them. 

Heinz situates this liberation within a historical and cultural context. He writes that "the crisis of secular modernity (begun with the Enlightenment) is that it created a thought world in which the Bible simply was no longer allowed to speak." But it must: The "canon within the canon"--"God as liberator, played out in the exodus, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul"--provides the key to what the Bible can say in the public square.

The two Donalds (Heinz and Trump) present starkly different worldviews. The book calls readers to "think on these things."

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"Fulfilled: The Passion And Provision Strategy For Building A Business With Profit, Purpose And Legacy"

Owners of local businesses will be making crucial decisions in the coming weeks. Can their doors reopen? And, if so, will the customers be there? A new book by a Chico couple, the founders and owners of the marketing and consulting firm Half a Bubble Out, is a superb guide to rethinking one's business in a time of crisis.

Drawing on lessons from their own early missteps, Kathryn and Michael Redman propose a holistic approach to build or rebuild a business that attracts customers and keeps employees motivated. It's called "Fulfilled: The Passion And Provision Strategy For Building A Business With Profit, Purpose And Legacy" ($19.99 in paperback from Lioncrest Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). An associated website, fulfilledthebook.com, provides special offers and worksheets.

For the Redmans, "Our Passion & Provision concept ... is about living into the 'more' of what life is supposed to be. When we talk about Passion & Provision, we’re talking about fighting a battle against despair, against the status quo, against fear and failure and loss."

Passion is "conviction, values, and commitment ... the willingness to endure pain and suffering to reach a desired destination...." But purpose must be balanced with Provision, "having the resources you need to achieve your goals." This is not, the Redmans say, about just "breaking even" (and for them that includes paying oneself).

Start with core values, like trust and integrity. Create a vision of how to realize what the authors call BHAG, "our Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal." To do that, become minimally competent in leadership; management and operations; marketing and sales; money; and culture (helping everyone reach their potential through the work they do).

It's not easy, but the book includes key real-world insights from other business writers that will help light the way.

As Kathryn writes, "Many times I have looked at Michael and said, 'I knew this would be hard, but I didn't know.' ... The challenge of walking through failures as well as triumphs. Of days when the future looks bright and days when you are convinced the end is imminent."

"Fulfilled" is a must read for business leaders. Anchored in reality, it will encourage and inspire in the uncertain days ahead.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"The Germ Who Got Tired Of Waiting"

"On a morning in March," writes Chicoan Emily Hajec in her new children's book, "A warm, bright, sunny day/ When the flowers were blooming/ In a spring kind of way// Something started to happen...."

Hajec is a copywriter for the Chico marketing company MC2 Design Group. She writes me that she's also a "mom to one very special seven-year-old. ... Her voice is featured in the book as the narrator. When the isolation and social distancing requirements began, children everywhere were faced with a very difficult and challenging new normal. ... Yet through the power of story, I wanted children to find comfort in knowing that there is a greater message of hope."

With MC2 colleague and graphic designer Alycia Jones, who provided the colorful illustrations, the message came to life. "The Germ Who Got Tired Of Waiting" ($20 in paperback, available at thegermwhogottiredofwaiting.com) explains that in the midst of March a "bad guy" showed up. "He was tiny and mean/ And he made people sick/ Although hand washing did/ Seem to be a good trick."

He was relentless, and that changed everything: "No more school, no more stores/ No more going out to eat/ No more play dates, no more parties/ No more people on the street." The message for kids, for everyone, was "Stay away and stay in." "That mean ol' bad germ/ Really ruined the fun/ I don't like that mean germ/ I don't like him a ton."

Then something begins to dawn on the narrator. "But ya see, what did happen/ When we all stayed away/ We actually spent more time/ Doing fun things to play// We made crafts and played cards/ We rode bikes and took walks/ We built forts and read books/ And had lots of fun talks."

And the germ? "He got tired of waiting// That mean ol' bad germ/ Couldn't get us no more/ When we all stayed away/ The bad germ was done for."

The power of a family. Together.

In email correspondence, Hajec notes that profits from the book go to local charitable organizations such as the North Valley Community Foundation's Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund and the Chico Children's Museum.