Thursday, June 28, 2007

First novel of Chico native's wife is a captivating contemporary romance


Darrin Gee was raised in Chico but in 2000 he and his wife, Darien Gee, moved to Hawaii to tend to Darrin's Spirit of Golf Academy.

Though Darien had been a well-paid consultant, she says in her Amazon biography that "I felt the nagging call to write something other than client proposals and corporate finance reports."

And now it's happened. Writing under the name of Mia King, she has published "Good Things" ($14 in paperback from Berkley/Penguin,, which was listed on the Barnes and Noble general fiction trade bestseller list. The story is a page-turning modern romance featuring 40-year-old Seattle-based Deidre McIntosh. Her Martha Stewart-like home show is abruptly canceled when a rival TV station begins its own lifestyle show with socialite Marla Banks; on top of that, when her gay best-friend roommate moves out to join his French-doctor boyfriend, Deidre is left alone, single and unemployed. Then she loses her lease.

Deidre's life seems to be crumbling around her until she meets a man named Kevin Johnson. His gaze was "steady, attentive, intelligent. And handsome wasn't the right way to describe him; devastatingly handsome was more appropriate." It's mutual attraction, and their lives, haltingly, begin to intertwine. As King deftly plots the course, she fills her tale with the delights of hot food and hot sex (and even offers recipes for "orgasmic corn fritters" and "chocolate cherry crackle cookies" in a postscript).

Kevin is something of a corporate jet-setter but he has a retreat near the very small town of Jacob's Point four hours from Seattle, near Lake Wish, and he invites Deidre to stay there while he is away. Deidre finds a small cabin and moves in. Appalled at first by the dirt, she sets to cleaning the place. She meets Lindsey, owner of the town restaurant, The Wishbone, which refers, says Lindsey, not only to the lake but also to food, "about finishing a good meal down to the wishbone. My kids think it's about people, because you can't pull a wishbone by yourself, you need another person."

Over the next few weeks Deidre begins selling Lindsey some of her maple walnut scones in origami parchment pockets, just to raise some money. They're a hit. Deidre knows she won't stay in Jacob's Point forever, but how can she finance the pilots for her proposed new TV series?

Deidre has much to learn about the meaning of success. "Once you believe in yourself," Lindsey says, "the right people show up to help you." That's the nature of good things.

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, June 21, 2007

Chico native writes on mastering golf's inner game


The Oakmont course was tough. Angel Cabrera seemed to falter last Sunday on holes 16 and 17 in the U.S. Open, but on 18, according to Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle, "he hit the gutsiest tee shot of his life & and made the most important par of his life. He earned the trophy."

In Chico not long ago, 102-year-old Elsie McLean hit a pretty gutsy hole in one, becoming, according to National Public Radio, "the oldest golfer ever to score an ace on a regulation course." What's the secret? Former Chicoan Darrin Gee says successful golfers know how to play the inner game as well as the outer one.

Though now living on the Big Island of Hawaii with his wife, novelist Darien Hsu Gee, and their two children, Darrin wrote me that he grew up in Chico, attended Sierra View Elementary and Bidwell Junior High and graduated from Pleasant Valley High School. He added that "my parents, Arthur and Betty Gee, are longtime Chico residents and active in the community (Chico State University professor emeritus for 30 years and Enloe hospital volunteer). & I did a guest clinic at Bidwell Golf Course a few of years ago for the members and other Chico residents."

Bothered by his own lack of progress in the game, he realized he was "trying too hard." Meditation and yoga helped him let go, and in 2000 he established Darrin Gee's Spirit of Golf Academy in Hawaii. From his experiences has come "The Seven Principles of Golf: Mastering the Mental Game On and Off the Golf Course" ($16.95 in hardcover from Stewart, Tabori & Chang). The book is beautifully illustrated with line drawings of simple golf exercises.

He begins the book with a question. How long does it take to play a round of golf? Four hours is average but, since each actual shot takes just a few seconds, maybe only three minutes are really devoted to swinging the club. It follows that "a golfer only needs to concentrate for a few seconds at a time & one shot at a time." Gee calls this the "inner game" "as it implies more than just mental mastery; sometimes the best thing you can do for your game is to get out of your head and trust your body."

So "get grounded" by finding the body's balance as you prepare the swing. "Feel the shot," "visualize it," and "find your natural swing." Develop a modest "pre-shot ritual" and "play one shot at a time."

Realize "golf is a journey" -- and so is life.

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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Friday, June 15, 2007

Chico writer journeys through loss, to creativity, to play


About a decade has passed since Chicoan Susan Wooldridge published "poemcrazy," a book about the magic of words that was a longtime offering of the Quality Paperback Book Club. Words still beckon, but times have changed, and now the creative impulse is called to sustain her in the midst of loss, failure, death. In "Foolsgold: Making Something From Nothing and Freeing Your Creative Process" ($22 in hardcover from Harmony Books), Wooldridge takes the reader into her sanctuaries: Chico Creek, One-Mile, the Upper Crust Bakery.

"When I started the book," she says in her introduction, "I was grieving the death of my father, the end of my long marriage, and the breakup of a subsequent romance. & I began writing these pages when I decided to make a small collage box each day for a year with what I found on my walks -- often the most ordinary, seemingly worthless bits of nothing. That's when fool's gold became foolsgold for me, a field around us, or state of being, where everything can be transformed by our seeing and creativity.

"Merged into one word, foolsgold describes a paradox, the value in what may seem to be worthless. Foolsgold reminds us to look beyond appearances, even in ourselves. What seems to loom in us most darkly may finally be what brings the most light. Everything can be transmuted by attention, play, love." Wooldridge's maiden name is "Goldsmith."

The book contains almost 50 short meditations on life, loss and creativity. Wooldridge wonders how best to celebrate the life of her Poppa Julien, "the renegade bright-star atheist scientist who fled the Jewish fold. ... Sifting through small pebbles as Chico Creek rushes past, playing with juxtaposition, I feel as if I'm engaged in a kind of primitive and almost unconscious creekside alchemy. I search for a way to contain, classify, make sense. & I suspect this is what Poppa, a geochemist, was up to when he was studying mineral & structures in a high-pressure lab with ominous warnings on the door." Poppa is honored by the family with a telephone Kaddish from cousin Harold -- an embrace of ritual -- and, a year later, a scattering of his ashes in Chicago, the day the author's divorce is final.

The spontaneity of creativity, Wooldridge realizes, must be given form by ritual. The chapters of her book "help me wrestle emotions into shape. Frame them." The community she has built, with her two children and the 30 families where she now lives in Valley Oaks Village, has freed her to dance.

It is enough.

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, June 07, 2007

Caring for a spouse at the end of his life: north state poet's words are simple, poignant


"For thirty years," writes the poet, "they have sat together / as day fades into evening // Lifted glasses in toasts / smiled over triumphs / raged or wiped tears / over plans and people that sank &" And now he himself is sinking; that strong man who nailed and planted and "cradled / an armful of kittens": "Today, as he tries to rise / from his crouch, his legs tremble. / His foot slips on a damp / patch of earth and he spills / like an overturned flower pot."

Poet and publisher Patricia Wellingham-Jones captures the sheer physicality of caring for her husband, Roy.

"End-Cycle: Poems About Caregiving" ($8 in paper postpaid from PWJ Publishing, won the Palabra Productions Chapbook Contest for 2006. The book is also available in Chico for $6 from Lyon Books as well as the Vagabond Rose, "the downtown art gallery where Bob Garner also exhibits his work on occasion (and where I bought the original painting which became the cover art)."

The 31 poems in "End-Cycle" are self-reflective but not self-indulgent.

There is the "First Night": "Like an anxious mama / I tiptoe through the house / check on you and your new bed / in the office turned bedroom & I want to cry / in what little sleep I get / for the change from marriage bed / to hospital bed at the end of a very long hall &"
There is the effort to hold on: "I want you / to remain part / of our decision making. & Your hearing aids / muddle the message / before it even hits / your poor tangled brain. // I realize my effort / to keep you involved / is one more / small cruelty."

There is the downward cycle: "When you fret about jobs you think you didn't do / or worry about Smudge the cat / outside in dark rain // I'm thankful I can soothe your spirit / and you remember the cat's name / (though not mine) and care & When you praise me and the other two women / taking good care of you // I'm thankful you know you're in good hands / though all those women are me."

Then, in "Vigil": "The hospice nurse whispers / in your abandoned ear, / It's all right to go, / Pat will be okay." And then it is over.

Later, in "Rainstorm Room," "I weather the end of winter, / know spring will come."

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, June 02, 2007

Sassy novel puts hospital volunteering at center stage


Why was novelist Jane Heller invited to appear earlier this month at Chico's Enloe Conference Center to celebrate hospital volunteerism?
It turns out her 13th novel, "Some Nerve" ($24.95 in hardcover from William Morrow), does exactly that. After life as a publicist (working with the likes of Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark), Heller turned to her own writing, producing a series of satirical, breezy romances that People magazine called ideal beach reading.

In "Some Nerve," Ann Roth, a reporter for Famous magazine, is assigned the "get" of a lifetime -- an interview with reclusive Hollywood hunk Malcolm Goddard. But Roth has to get the get, and Goddard is notoriously unavailable to celebrity mag "parasites." When Roth's bravado proves no match for Goddard's egocentricity, Roth begins to suffer from panic attacks and finds herself back home with her dysfunctional family in Middletown, Mo., as phobic and washed up as they are.

Until she begins volunteering at the local hospital. And wouldn't you know it: Guess which actor shows up incognito for heart tests?

On her Web site, Heller writes that "the idea for 'Some Nerve' was triggered by a conversation I had with the agent who handles the movie rights to my books. It had been widely publicized that Julia Roberts was flat on her back at a local L.A. hospital while she was awaiting the birth of her twins. My agent and I were dying for her to read 'An Ex to Grind' and play the part of the heroine, Melanie Banks, so she said, 'Why don't you sneak into the hospital as a volunteer and hand her the manuscript? She has plenty of time to read.' She was kidding, of course, but my imagination took off. I came up with the story of a celebrity reporter who becomes a hospital volunteer in order to get the story on an ailing actor.

"And then I went straight to my local hospital in L.A. to speak to the head of volunteers. I asked her if I could observe for a few days, to research my novel. She said no. 'We don't allow access to our patients for "material,"' she said. 'But if you'd like to become a volunteer, we'd love to have you.'"

According to Enloe Medical Center Director of Volunteer Services Roseanna Galindo-Kuhn, Heller, now based in Santa Barbara, fell in love with hospital volunteering. The lives she touched changed her own. That's Roth's experience, too, and it's pretty clear how things will turn out romantically. But, oh what fun getting there.

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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