Thursday, May 24, 2007

Eureka newspaper columnist turns novelist, tells tale of a famous railroad dog


Tim Martin normally writes a column about running for the Eureka Times-Standard. But he was so entranced by tales of a black Labrador that rode the lumber trains in the early 1900s he decided to write a children's book.

"The Legend of Boomer Jack" ($16.95 in paperback from PublishAmerica) is aimed at readers from 9 to 12 years of age, and it's a fast-paced story sure to draw reader interest with its account of old steam locomotives, a little girl who longs to be Boomer's owner and a mean-hearted drunken dog catcher named Fisk.

"Boomer was no ordinary dog," the narrator tells us. "He loved trains, and more than anything he wanted to be a railroad dog. But he belonged to Mrs. Warren Palmer, whose husband was a very influential man, and she wanted Boomer to be a house dog. Boomer was just a pup when he climbed aboard his first locomotive. It happened on October 23, 1914. That was the day Mr. Palmer officially opened the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line at a place called Cain Rock, California."

The story Martin tells really gets started a year later at the Willits Station, about 70 miles away from Cain Rock. Old Number 12 arrives on time, carrying a load of lumber. "The brakeman grabbed a club, stuck it through a hand wheel and gave it a wrench. The brakes of the car clamped tight on the resisting wheel, slowing the big train." Paddy the engineer is inside with Jonsey the fireman, who is "absentmindedly stuffing wood into the firebox."

Then: "The safely valve lifted, singing a high pitched wail against the full pressure. A column of steam shot high into the air. Nearby, a horse reared, throwing its rider into the mud. Jonsey glanced sheepishly at his partner. 'Pressure's down,' he said."

That's when Boomer shows up, obviously escaping from the confines of Mrs. Palmer's perfumed drawing room. Mr. Tilley, the station manager, tells Paddy: "He's just like those railroad workers who pass through town. He's a boomer, a drifter."

But Boomer has a part to play, especially some while later when Number 12 has to high-tail it to San Francisco. Boomer proves especially adept at scaring elk, bulls and cows off the tracks, and much later at saving 10-year-old Sara Parsons.

Before the end, Sara has a lesson to learn, "that true happiness is not to possess, but to love." The story is cinematic (Martin has written a screenplay of the book), full of humor, danger, sadness and new beginnings.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Chico guest to speak on radical politics, Asian spirituality, hash smuggling


Jerry Beisler is in the midst of chronicling his eventful life, decade by decade, in a series of books called "As the Prayer Wheel Turns." The 1970s is covered in "The Bandit of Kabul" ($29.95 in paperback from Regent Press), studded with black and white photographs of the times and the people -- from Rebecca, whom he marries in 1971 in Goa, India, to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, to "Dutch Bob," who "tried to recruit anyone of worth he met in the Kathmandu Valley to assist him in his Hash-to-Amsterdam deals." The author signed up.

He will also be signing copies of his book tonight at 7 at Lyon Books in Chico. The public is invited to attend what is likely to be a freewheeling discussion.

An author's note sets the tone: "This book is set in some of the world's most remote and exotic locations, but you will not be reading poetic or minute descriptions of the sights, sounds or smells of those places. & There is no time for dwelling on these things during this era of endless war that produces murderous national leaders, idiotic economic policies and draconian, tyrannical laws. But the historical facts, the action and adventure, the spirit and spirituality of human beings are here; this story beings and ends in love."

It's also the story of Beisler's entrepreneurial spirit. Gravitating away from the "false-bottom suitcase parade" smuggling contraband into Amsterdam, he and Rebecca would return periodically to their ranch in Northern California where Jerry would sell museum-quality Tibetan carpets and tend his marijuana garden (now long gone, of course, replaced by "ecologically perfect nut trees").

He also helped produce music shows "for the local college crowd & about 8,000 party-hungry students." It sounds like the unnamed "state university" was Chico State University, described as somewhere between the Bay Area and Oregon, 157 miles from San Francisco, just outside the radius promoter Bill Graham insisted on when he booked his acts so as not to dilute the potential audience. For Beisler that meant "Fleetwood Mac, Santana and Taj Mahal, came through town on their coastal swings to or from San Francisco."

During a time of estrangement from Rebecca, Jerry had met a woman in San Francisco. Later, once again united with Rebecca, he received a letter from "that 'hot-house flower.'" Almost matter-of-factly she wrote: "I am going to have your baby in a few months & and someday, if the child asks about the father, I'll just say he was the Bandit of Kabul."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Chico pilot's first novel is adventure tale of drug running and government corruption


Dean O. Talley is one busy flier. This month it's agricultural aviation, where he's spending a dozen hours a day "flying rice"; by the end of May he'll join air crews for fire season. According to an author's note, Talley has worked seasonal fire contracts for almost 30 years and has flown "O2, S2, DC-4, SP2H, and P3 aircraft."

If those designations touch a chord, Talley's novel, replete with loving attention to airframe detail, is a must. But earthbound onlookers (like your friendly columnist) also have a cause for cheer. They'll find a gritty, intertwined tale, leavened with wry humor and a touch of sexiness, of a group of misfit flyboys in the late 1970s. As the plot unfolds, these pilots find themselves deeply involved in the cocaine trade and Central American gun running after routine marijuana transport and appliance smuggling into Mexico lead to some very bad choices.

"Flyboys--Risky Business" ($14.95 in paperback from Long Palm Publishing) is available in Durham at Durham Veterinary and Crazy Crab and in Chico at ABC Books, Made in Chico, Lyon Books, Northgate Aviation and the Chico Aviation Museum, as well as the author's Web site at

Charlie Jones "liked to fly, and he'd fly just about anything. & He liked the rhythmic growl of a big round engine and feeling its pulse in the palm of his hand resting on the throttle. Charlie knew the edges of the envelope. That's where he lived. He could feel a plane straining to lift, knowing when to apply pressure with a foot or a hand, floating on the brink between chaos and flight. & He knew the acrid smell of burning wire, and the taste that a cloud of hydraulic oil leaves in your mouth when a pressure line fails and the volatile mist envelops you. & He knew the gnawing void felt when you might not make it."

Charlie was a flyboy, which Talley says is a "somewhat anachronistic term yet descriptive of a breed of airman who, facing the threat of extinction, fans the flame to keep it burning bright rather than let it flicker and die a slow death." The novel is about a strange brotherhood, even among flyboys at odds with each other: a banding together to resist the common enemies of coercion, treachery and state corruption.

The story has breathless twists and turns aplenty. In the midst of it all Charlie talks with Nancy, the deliciously beautiful sister of Woody Grant. (Grant would co-pilot a DC-6, "an old freighter," into Mexico in a daring rescue effort with a decidedly motley crew.) "It's not exactly what I had in mind for the weekend," Charlie says, "but what's a guy to do? Some Mexican general wants your airplane to go into the drug business, so he sabotages a couple of your friends. He puts them in jail and makes a deal to spring them for the airplane. That gets screwed up when he shoots one of (them) and holds him hostage. We may be just a & bunch of flyboys, but we're there for each other. That old man means more to me than a bunch of people I don't know."

Nancy is no mere decoration. Stowing away on the rescue flight, she is the book's moral compass, a "save-the-world type" who helps save the world -- or at least the flyboys' honor.

And maybe that's the riskiest business of all.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hey, before you send another e-mail, read this book!


So, which is it: Is the "hey" in the column title just a friendly attention-getter, or am I chiding you, Gentle Reader, to be more careful with what you send? It's hard to tell without some context. Imagine the title appearing as the subject line in an e-mail sent by your boss. Without further clarification, it's hard to tell whether it's a friendly note from a fellow book lover or whether your next employee evaluation will pretty much tank.

E-mail is ubiquitous. Besides that, it's everywhere. Fortunately, David Shipley (the Op-Ed page editor of the New York Times) and Will Schwalbe (editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books) have gone to bat for those adrift in a sea of electronic communications. Or something like that. The authors are most concerned about keeping e-mail simple -- not too simple since you may come across as terse -- but easily understandable. And that means avoiding angry words, attempts at sarcasm, and just plain lying. If you're going to lie, do it face to face.

"Send: The Essential Guide to e-mail for Office and Home" ($19.95 in hardcover from Knopf) is not about managing the abundance of e-mail (there are other guides for that) but about composing just the right e-mail for the occasion. Someone who missed the boat on that -- who proved in the end to be a little dinghy -- was one Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. During the height of the Katrina disaster, Brown sent the following e-mail to his staff: "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god."

Shipley and Schwalbe point out that in just about a decade e-mail has changed the way the world communicates and has led to all kinds of (unreasonable) expectations. The authors note that "a 2006 survey asked office workers if they would consider it rude not to receive a response to an e-mail within three hours. Fifty percent said they would. What's more, one in 20 expected to hear back within five minutes."

"Send" is a thoughtful, practical and witty guide to leveraging e-mail's strengths while minimizing its weaknesses. There are lots of reasons to love e-mail; it's great for conveying "essential information"; it has an amazing reach. It creates a record that can be searched (good news for us if we're looking for notes to that last phone conversation; not so good for Enron executives). It gives us time to choose our words carefully.

Often we don't, though; we are seduced by the ease of e-mail and assume the recipients will get the "tone" of what we write. Yet, "if you don't consciously insert tone into an e-mail, a kind of universal default tone won't automatically be conveyed. Instead, the message written without regard to tone becomes a blank screen onto which the reader projects his own fears, prejudices and anxieties." For instance, if your boss writes with the question "Will you be late for the meeting?" it's hard to "hear" the tone.

On the other hand, though, save overt emotional expressions for the phone or in-person conversations. Because e-mail can be forwarded in an instant, the world now knows that an executive of a certain big company forgot his keys and got upset at his secretary. The secretary forwarded the note to the press and the executive resigned.

The bottom line: "Think before you send; send e-mail you would like to receive." Hey, that's good advice!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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