Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year in northstate writing

Memoirs were abundant in 2009. This column reviewed "We Suffered in Silence: How a Pastor's Family Lived in Shame while Hiding Dark Spots on the Clerical Collar" (Virginia and Bob Coombs); "Parking Meter Blues" (Debra Moon); "Bound For Africa: Cold War Fight Along the Zambezi" (Douglass H. Hubbard Jr.); "Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest To Find Zen On the Sea" (Jaimal Yogis); "Dreaming Of Wolves" (Anthony David Nicosia); "Hunters and the Dogs of Hunters I Have Known" (Dennis Lindberg).

Also: "Dancing Boots and Pigs' Feet: Memoir of a Refugee from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956" (Miklos Sajben); "Single Abroad: Tales of the Boyish Man" (Brian Ward); "I Played Too! Six-Man Football: A Collection of Memories From Those Who Played the Game and Lived In Rural America" (Dick Cory and friends); "Lift" (Rebecca K. O'Connor); and "The Pursuit of Happiness In Retirement: Outrunning the Reaper" (Harry and Norma Jean Pendery).

Novels included "DeLancey's Stapler: Love, Lust, Duty, Doom, Rage, Revelation and Pizza" (Dave Veith); "From Hell to Breakfast" (John Henry Lyons); "Newsman" (Bruce Lang); "The Mysterious Furies of the God In a Tent" (David Anton); "Table Manners" (Mia King); "What If You Hadn't?" (Sherry Long); "Smoking Jimi" (Chad Peery); "War Star Rising! The Legend of Toucan Moon" (ZooDoc); "Walking the Way: A Medieval Quest" (Neal Wiegman); "Heart of the Sky" (Miranda Pope); and "The Crystal Angel" (Olivia Claire High); the graphic novel "Spirit Armageddon" (Zacheas Hertz) and two collections of short stories: "Down In The Valley" (Clark Brown) and "Private Roads In Autumn" (Charles Rough).

Books to educate and inspire: "Say Yes To No: Using the Power of NO to Create the Best in Life, Work, and Love" (Greg Cootsona); "Millionaire Babies or Bankrupt Brats?" (Kristan Leatherman, co-author); "I Want To Learn" (Nancy Marie Barnes); "Diagnosis Mercury: Money, Politics & Poison" (Jane M. Hightower); and "Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain" (Patt Lind-Kyle).

On the history front: "Black Bart: The Poet Bandit" (Gail L. Jenner and Lou Legerton); "The Look of the Elephant: The Westering Experience In the Words of Those Who Lived It 1841-1861" (Andrew and Joanne Hammond); and two books from Rian Farley, "Durham Honor Roll (Volume II): Military Service From 1946 - 2009" and "Nonpareils of Durham."

Children's books? "Billy the Pig: The Stinkiest Cowboy in Town" (Natividad Osa) and "Saving Li'l Smokey" (Adam and Celeste Deem).

Poetry? Try "After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events" (Tom Lombardo) with local entries by Joy Harold Helsing, Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Gail Rudd Entrekin; "Paper Dolls" (Bob Garner); "Days Between Dancing" (Lara Gularte); and "Saying Goodbye to Babylon" (Sanford Dorbin).

Onward to 2010!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Durham's gift


The Rev. James Patterson, who pastored the Durham Community United Methodist Church from 1972 until 2003, was instrumental in starting the first Durham community Christmas party. The 1973 celebration featured a live tree and a nativity donated by businesses, clubs and residents. As Karen S. Read notes in her article for the Friends of the Library Forum in 2007, "the baby Jesus was stolen two or three times and each time returned, but then several years ago the baby was set on fire and destroyed by vandals. A doll was used for several years, but a replacement lighted baby Jesus was procured in 2006." And so, in the midst of a world of woe, the Christmas story is told again.

The celebration is a gift of the Durham community, but those like James Patterson are gifts to Durham. He and 170 others are recognized for their exemplary contributions to the town in "Nonpareils of Durham," compiled by longtime Durham resident Adriana "Rian" Langerwerf Farley. (The spiral-bound paperback is available for $25 from Tozier's Hardware Store in Durham or directly from Farley at

Farley writes that her friend Norma Willadsen Munson came up with the title "for this book of biographies, as she said: 'Some 38% of almonds grown in California are the nonpareil variety.' At first I groaned, and then the name caught a life of its own. I muttered to all and sundry: 'Oh, Lord, they're going to think I wrote a book about nuts!'" ("Nonpareil" means "peerless.") Though Farley writes that the accounts cover only a sample of the town's role models, she notes that "many were named Parade Marshall, Woman of the Year, or were recognized by the Durham Friends of the Library Honors."

The alphabetical entries include Samuel Neal, the first settler in the area. He was involved in the Donner Party rescue in 1847; "Neal Road," contributor Larry Nagel writes, "was blazed as a route to summer pasture for his cattle." Farley herself is here, with her deep love of local history, as is her father, Mel Langerwerf, who, his eulogy says, gave Rian her "perfectionism." There's musician Sam Lasell and Durham High teacher Linda Sundquist Nassie. And many more.

The book is a tapestry of small-town America, a reminder that grace is still alive.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

From a Chico area writer: A tale of love and politics in Guatemala


"There's something about Guatemala," Miranda Pope writes, "absolute beauty, and human warmth and dignity, along with poverty and trash, and the arduous, still-remaining vestiges of Guatemala's past." This is the setting of "Heart Of The Sky" ($15.99 in paperback from, a land of contradictions against which a love story of contradictions plays itself out.

The author (aka Mira Talbott-Pope) writes me a quick note that she's been a "Chico/Cohasset resident for 30+ years and worked in social work and psychotherapy. Have been living in Guatemala for 3 years, currently at Lago Atitlan, volunteering in education. I have several projects (traditional murals, a preschool classroom) that I support there, and have given several benefits for same in Chico over the past number of years." The novel's central figure is really the country itself.

But there's a human story, too. Marilyn has come to Guatemala to volunteer in the schools; the trip was "a gift for her 50th birthday" from her son, something to pull "her out of the grieving period following her husband's sudden death." (She had divorced her first husband.) Marilyn falls in love with the place and, as a former therapist from California, finds her heart deeply moved by the needs of the poor and the continuing effects of the Guatemalan civil war; she laments the part played by U.S. intervention.

Then Marilyn meets Juan Carlos, muscular, perhaps in his mid-thirties, "a traditional Mayan farmer, yet knowledgeable about the outside world--a sensitive, thoughtful person. She senses the physical attraction she has felt all along expanding to something deeper. Embarrassed by the length of their gaze, her eyes drop."

The spark is kindled, and soon Marilyn is living with Juan Carlos and his family (his wife has left him) on his farm. Though the story weaves together the little joys of daily life and the affections of Juan Carlos, both Marilyn's feminism and Juan Carlos' traditionalism are constantly tested. "Certainly women have a right to enjoy sex and to have some say when it occurs," she tells her friend Natalie. "But I think there needs to be some balance between individuality and common goals."

Juan Carlos must open to a hidden past. And Marilyn? "Guatemala opened her heart."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Magalia couple fulfills their "bucket list"


At first glance the book looks like some kind of financial planning guide. But "The Pursuit of Happiness In Retirement: Outrunning the Reaper" ($12.95 in paperback from Cold Tree Press) by Harry and Norma Jean Pendery is something else entirely. "This book," writes Harry, "is about our choices to spend our free retirement time with as many memories as we can amass until the bell tolls." (The volume is available at Lyon Books in Chico and directly from the authors at

Retirement came somewhat abruptly. "Norma Jean and I had a comfortable family medical practice," Harry says, where he was the attending physician. Then Harry found he had "cardiomyopathy with congestive heart failure. The arteries were normal, but much of the muscle was irreparably damaged. . . . Yes, there is treatment, but the prognosis (natural history) was grim--50 percent mortality in five years."

So Harry began to formulate his "bucket list." He wanted to see old friends and say goodbye. He is also a history aficionado, so "my second goal was to visit the landmarks and feel the pain of the War between the States to try to grasp for myself how such tragedy could occur." Finally, with fishing in his blood, "my goal was to fish for, and catch, every species of fish in the North American continent and in the adjacent seas."

Eight years later the couple has returned home, "our missions completed!" The book is a chronicle of those years, told mostly by Harry (with some insightful asides by Norma Jean) in an easy, conversational style.

On a lark, they bought at auction a "twenty-eight-foot, twin-engine Bayliner, with galley and sleeping for six" for $700. Little did they know why the craft went so cheaply. A friend noted, "a boat is a hole in the water, into which you pour money." The couple formed plenty of new friendships along the way in travels from coast to coast and into Mexico and Canada. They learned to eat soft-shell crabs whole ("body, legs, all") and survived a three-hour lightning and hail storm in Texas.

Throughout the years the couple's motto is to "care about and cherish others." "We are still outrunning the grim reaper," Harry writes, and their journeys are not yet finished.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A tale "romantic suspense" from an Oroville author


The heroine of Olivia Claire High's "The Crystal Angel" ($13.95 in paperback from Fireside Publications, is petite and stunningly beautiful. An interior designer based in Miami, Kemble Morgan might be called a "house whisperer": "I like to spend time in a house," she tells Archer Griffith, "to get the feel of each of the rooms before I know what they need."

Griffith is a 37-year-old millionaire who has hired Morgan to redecorate his modest vacation home in Barbados. But there's nothing modest in what happens; from their first unexpected encounter, their relationship is suffused with erotic tension. It isn't only a house that gets redecorated. High keeps the pages turning as the two strong-willed (read: "pigheaded") principals alternately find themselves in each other's face and then in each other's arms.

The Oroville author will be signing copies of her book during a gathering of local writers at Lyon Books in Chico this Saturday from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

A few years before meeting Archer, Kemble had surprised a thief in her apartment. And now "an anxiety . . . crippled her emotions whenever a man tried to touch her"; but did she even want to respond to his advances? Well, yes: "He was a study in pure animal magnetism; all lean hard muscle. . . . She stood staring at him like a hungry piranha ready for a feast." But, no: Wasn't Griffith a "narcissistic womanizer," a high-flying businessman used to throwing away things and people when he became bored with them?

Throughout the novel misunderstanding begets misunderstanding until Kemble and Archer have no idea who is friend or foe. Kemble's widowed mother, Ginger, and Archer's business associates play key roles in the story that involves an expensive crystal angel, mysterious goings-on at the house, a kidnaping, a romantic rival, desperate escapes, and even murder.

But what about love? "Their hearts beat against each other with a madness born of desperation amid a mounting excitement that carried them to passion's zenith and back again. . . ." Careful: "I'll admit you made me want you," Kemble tells Archer moments later, "but it was strictly physical and had nothing to do with my mind."

But the reader's instincts know the story is not yet over.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Chico author's thanksgiving for six-man football


You don't have to be from Nebraska to appreciate Dick Cory's latest, "I Played Too! Six-Man Football: A Collection of Memories From Those Who Played the Game and Lived In Rural America" ($20 in paperback from the author at

Anyone with small-town sensibilities will resonate with "those Friday nights when six did the work of eleven. . . . // farm boys and town boys finding common ground / in August heat and two hundred pounders plowing into / tender flesh and bone . . . seniors teaching freshmen not to whine. . . . " These are the words of Larsen Bowker, one of thirty-six contributors who, writes Cory, "played, cheerled, refereed and were fans of six-man football."

Cory will be signing "I Played Too!" this Saturday from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at Chico's ABC Books, 868 East Avenue (Walgreens Center).

In an email, the author writes me that "six-man football was the brainchild of Stephen Epler, who designed football for schools too small, too poor, or too distant to be consolidated to provide eleven-man. While teaching at Chester, Nebraska high school, he staged the first high school game on September 26, 1934."

Cory remembers his own high school days. "Community spirit and pride were wrapped up in the game," he tells me. "This spirit has all but vanished in these mid-America communities, which now resemble ghost towns. . . . Al Darby, who starred at Durham, represents California and Duane Falk played at Stanton, Iowa. All the rest came from Nebraska at a time where participation peaked at 189 teams in 1953, my senior year."

Cory includes a chapter on the rules of the game, one of which says that "When one team is 45 or more points ahead at the end of the first half . . . the game is ended immediately." These were the days before plastic helmets and faceguards.

As Falk notes in his chapter, "My wife tells me that our sports exploits have gotten better with the years. We seem to win more games by wider margins as the years pass by and of course we are instrumental in our team's success." Replete with old black-and-white photographs, "I Played Too!" lets the reader in on some of those stories.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Northstate author on how the mind can heal the mind


The premise of Patt Lind-Kyle's new book, "Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain" ($26.95 in hardcover from Energy Psychology Press) is simple: "The brain's inherent transformational process can serve as a model or guide for how we can train our mind to be less intense and busy, and free from chaos, fear, pain, and inner wounds."

For the Nevada County therapist, effective training blends Buddhist meditation; the results of research on brain waves and neurotransmitters; and the use of the "enneagram" (a chart showing nine areas of personality structure popularized in the West by the Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff).

Lind-Kyle will be discussing her techniques this Saturday at the Chico Barnes & Noble from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

"Heal Your Mind" is subtitled "Applying the Exciting New Science of Brain Synchrony for Creativity, Peace and Presence." "Synchrony," Lind-Kyle writes, "is what integrates the neural pathways. When you are in stress, your emotional responses stop the Flow."

She identifies "four brain-wave frequencies--beta, alpha, theta, and delta," each associated with a neurotransmitter, such as serotonin with delta waves or dopamine with beta. The first half of the book investigates these relationships; the second part is a practical guide to deep meditation aimed specifically at each of the four frequencies. (A series of guided meditations, voiced by the author, is available on CD or in mp3 format from

The author writes that human brains evolved, adding "new brain centers" to the original "reptilian or old brain." These centers ought to work in harmony, directed by the prefrontal neocortex, the newest part of the brain, but there is "a fundamental flaw: The brain has not been redesigned after the addition of new brain centers at each stage of its evolutionary development, leaving us with a somewhat inelegant design. The result is that there are communication flaws that affect the natural energy flow circulating within the brain." That makes it hard to switch off the old fight reflex in stressful situations even though it's counterproductive.

Lind-Kyle believes that intentional mind training can help the brain rewire neuronal pathways, thus making it possible for all the brain centers to act in harmony and for various personality types to find "peace, kindness and happiness." It's food for thought.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sacramento author on falconry and life: Who is the predator? Who is the prey?


When Rebecca K. O'Connor was eight, her grandfather pointed out a peregrine falcon on a rooftop in Riverside. "She's a falconry bird," he said. "Hear the bells? Look at the leather straps on her legs. They're called 'jesses.'"

Decades later, having endured an absentee mother and abusive stepfather, O'Connor ( has a peregrine of her own. Though she has flown other birds, "falconry is different. Hunting with a bird is harder, more dangerous," and many fly away or are killed.

Her story is told in "Lift" ($18.95 in paperback from Red Hen Press). Like the talons of a raptor, the deeply felt words of the memoir dig into the reader and won't let go.

The author's multi-media presentation, "Winging It: Living a Life Shaped by Birds and Words," will be featured Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

She calls her bird "Anakin." As in Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader. He "is so light on my glove. We weigh them in grams, because ounces aren't precise enough to judge the incremental changes in their airy bodies. He is slightly smaller than a crow. . . . I've bought him to hunt desert doves."

O'Connor deftly weaves flashbacks with her sometimes fumbling attempts to train Anakin. "Predator worship is an odd thing, " she writes, "but perhaps not so odd for a woman. I am aware that I am more prey than predator. . . . I am no stranger to being stalked."

It is early on in training (and who, precisely, is being trained?) "The falcon and I look at each other, both startled. Then he bows his head slightly over the bird in his feet, snaps the neck and looks back up. He allows me to meet his gaze, seeing deep into his falcon's eyes and I understand that I could keep this predator on a line forever, but he will never be my pet. Over that shared look our relationship changes just a bit, because suddenly, we both grasp an obvious truth. I am looking into the eyes of a wild peregrine. It's so soon, only ten days, but it's time to let him fly free."

There's a lesson here, and it's not just about falcons.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Chicoan's graphic novel asks tough questions


Graphic novels are comic books for grown-ups. Full length, immersive, complex, they meld a particular (or peculiar) illustrative style with words that take on the big issues of life. Thus it is with "Spirit Armageddon" ($20.95 in paperback from by Zacheas Hertz, the pen name of twenty-year-old Chico writer Travis Henderson. Coupled with the manga-influenced design and black-and-white illustration of Serpentwitch, the story is the first in a planned series exploring a terrible human paradox: Is it the case that one must become violent to stop violence?

Henderson writes in a news release that he is a civilian pilot, recently enlisted in the Air Force, whose "true calling is with flight, but I find my pen has the strange ability to fly over paper" as well. "In both endeavors I lose myself to the awe and wonder of the grand scheme." The author will be signing copies of "Spirit Armageddon" at Lyon Books in Chico on Thursday, November 19 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. as part of the bookstore's gathering of local writers, dozens of whom will be honored at the store through early December.

Zacheas imagines an earth in which falling asteroids are having a strange effect. As one character explains, "Random people from all over the world have been gaining powers. . . . The power we receive has an unfortunate side effect in many people, insanity fed by their own hate, fear, greed or what is most commonly called evil."

These "medians" ("it is what the media called the first ones and the name kinda stuck") wreak violence everywhere, and the government's Armageddon Project must stop it. Some medians can be rehabilitated, relocated, but others must be killed. "No therapist can fix them, no jail can hold them, all we have left is to consider the well being of the people around them." And so young Mino, herself imbued with the asteroid's powers, despised by others from her childhood, must now consider saving the very people who hate her.

There are lighter moments in the story, but many panels depict stylized violence, and the sounds--zziing, dharr, sett, sett, sett, srakh--rattle in the reader's head as power confronts power. The final question continues to resonate: "What have we all gotten ourselves into?"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Something in the fish: Chico State University alumna writes on the dangers of mercury


"When I began investigating my patients' elevated blood mercury," writes Jane Hightower, "I sought to gain a clear understanding of how mercury affects one's health. When information was not at my fingertips, I wondered why. What began as an investigation to help me diagnose mercury-related symptoms in my patients grew into another diagnosis--that of a broken, misused, and abused regulatory system."

Hightower, a Chico State University graduate, is a board certified San Francisco-based physician specializing in internal medicine. Her quest began with a patient in 2000 who exhibited fainting spells, "intermittent stomach upset, headache, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and hair loss." Other patients had similar complaints, and one other similarity: They all seemed to be fish lovers. Hightower, "who had a penchant for sorting out unusual or difficult cases," found herself embroiled in controversy beyond what she might have imagined.

The story is told in "Diagnosis Mercury: Money, Politics & Poison" ($24.95 in hardcover from Island Press) by Jane M. Hightower, MD. The author, recently in Chico for a book signing at Barnes and Noble and a talk at the university, became suspicious when she found that the various agencies charged with protecting public health disagreed among themselves about the dangers of mercury.

"Why did the EPA say that less than 5 mcg/l (micrograms per liter) of mercury in blood was our protective level, while the authorities in the California Public Health Department told me that you could have a level of up to 200 mcg/l will no ill effects? As for the FDA," there apparently was no "standard for human blood levels on its Web site. That was particularly disturbing because . . . the FDA had jurisdiction over all of commercial fishing." Some of the numbers were based on mercury poisoning incidents in Iraq decades ago, some on judicial fiat, and all on very little science.

Elevated levels of methylmercury (the organic form of the element) were finding their way into the human population. "Bodybuilders and dieters who consumed large quantities of canned albacore tuna and other large fish were also on top of the mercury gauge among patients in my practice."

The book is measured, data-driven, careful in its recommendations, and scarier than any Halloween goblin.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Paradise Town Manager find his muse in poetry and story


Chuck Rough, Paradise Town Manager for more than a dozen years now, is also a creative artist. His first published book, a collection of poems, short stories and the first ten chapters of a new novel, will be christened tonight at a book launch party in Paradise, and then sent out into the world. (For more information, contact the author at

"Private Roads in Autumn" by Charles Rough ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris Corporation, www., available at Lyon Books in Chico, is about perspectives. The story that ends the collection, "Sitting At the Bus Stop (In the Sun)," offers a coda of sorts for the rest. Somewhere, "on the corner of Fifth and Broadway," a man from "the old country," recently homeless but now a dishwasher living in a shared flat, waits for the crowded bus.

Others gather at the corner; "most kept to themselves and waited, staring blankly into the day ahead. . . . Each person had their own story to tell, to hide, or to change as the mood, situation, or years dictated--a story that was unfolding with the ending still in doubt, or more certain than any other truth in their lives."

In "Journey's End," the poet picks up the theme, making it more personal, at a "weather-beaten pier" somewhere near the Pacific Coast: "Looking upward, / the first glimpse of a new day's sky / struggles to break through the darkness; / its fate in this part of the world / presiding over an ocean, / whose calm surface betrays / a relentless undercurrent. // And all the while, / the restless heart of a poet / finds itself struggling, / to navigate a course / that holds itself in check."

The stories feature restless hearts suffused with loss. In Honorable Intentions, set in 1962, Sergeant Jefferson must deliver devastating news to a soldier's family. There is another soldier in "Journeys," though he is not what he seems to be. In "Second Chance," a man knows where the bodies are buried. Literally. In "Conversation with a Troubadour," the narrator gets his groove back. By turns meditative and suspenseful, Rough's work takes the reader down twisty autumn roads, multiplying delight as the leaves--and pages--turn.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Upcoming radio interview to discuss "Book in Common"


This year's Book in Common project, which officially began last month with a presentation at Chico City Plaza, continues through the spring with book club discussions and a variety of other community activities.

The featured book, "The Soloist" ($15 paperback from Berkley Books) is by Steve Lopez, a columnist with the L.A. Times. It recounts Lopez' growing friendship over a two year period with a paranoid schizophrenic street musician, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who had played classical bass at Julliard thirty years before. (A film of the same name stars Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.)

This coming Wednesday, Oct. 21, your humble columnist is scheduled to co-host a discussion of the book with Nancy Wiegman in a special edition of her "Nancy's Bookshelf" program on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM) from 10:00 - 11:00 a.m. Guests include Book in Common representatives from Butte College and Chico State University, though many other organizations are participating this year. (Updates are available at

Much has been made of the themes of homelessness and mental illness that pervade the book, but readers should know that it is also about self discovery. As Lopez says, "one reason I write a column is for the privilege of vicariously sampling other worlds, dropping in with my passport, my notebook and my curiosity." Fair enough, but the musician gets under his skin: "Nathaniel turns my gaze inward. He has me examining what I do for a living and how I relate to the world as a journalist and as a citizen."

There is more: "I experienced the simple joy of investing in someone’s life, and the many frustrations have made the experience all the more rewarding and meaningful. I might not have always made the right choices in trying to help, but I came by each one honestly. I worked through the arguments for and against commitment. I wrestled with definitions of freedom and happiness, and wondered at times who was crazier—the man in the tunnel who paid no bills and played the music of the gods, or the wrung-out columnist who raced past him on the way home from sweaty deadlines to melt away the stress with a bottle of wine."

A haunting question, and not just for columnists.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Orland novelist's tale of Mayan intrigue has a contemporary moral


In 1990 Orland resident Ronald Petty explored the Mayan temple Xunantunich, "in Belize, near Guatemala," he writes, pronounced "SHOO-nahn-TOO-neech." Later, as an encouragement to his daughter, facing an illness that would take her life, Petty wrote a story about a Mayan princess, also afflicted, who must find the meaning of her days.

That story has become "War Star Rising! The Legend of Toucan Moon" ($15.95 in paperback from Star Publish LLC), a young adult novel set in the year 850, in the Yucatan Peninsula, with a decidedly contemporary sensibility. Petty, writing under the name ZooDoc (, tells of a peasant girl named Honeybee chosen, with her widowed mother, as the new family of the great emperor Kamenkamen. Honeybee is renamed Toucan Moon after the moon goddess provides another sacrifice in place of the child. The young princess, approaching her teenage years, is about to change Mayan civilization.

The author will be signing books this Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at the Chico Barnes and Noble store; the public is invited.

"War Star Rising!" (the reference is to the ascendency of Venus and an impending attack from a nearby Mayan kingdom) is billed as a "historical fantasy adventure." In ZooDoc's imagined world the great beasts, the jaguar and the condor, watch over the affairs of humans. It is a world in which Toucan Moon, who has gained the love of her adoptive father, can convince him that the will of the gods is for a "new law."

"I think human sacrificing is barbaric!" she tells her nursemaid. "That is why we constantly have wars, do you not know? To enrich the plundering victors and to gather slaves for hard word and sacrifices. . . . I remember how awful it was to find out that the father of my best friend was killed in some stupid war, or the mother of someone was sacrificed to appease the sun god, and everyone said it was . . . so stinking honorable."

Honeybee herself is subject to terrible seizures, and must journey to the Cave of the Wise One to find the meaning of her remaining days. The legend ever after tells of a brave princess who found "lasting peace for the chosen ones who show love."

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Chico author's medieval journey to Compostela Cathedral in Spain


It's called "furta sacra," holy theft, and when a warrior knight steals two thorns, relics of Jesus' Crown of Thorns, from a monastery in the Pyrenees, a young man undertakes the task of recovery. He is eighteen-year-old Xavier Elgorriaga of Pamplona, "tall, slender, and handsome with the tawny skin of a Basque," a reverent and good-hearted soul eager to test his manhood on the Way as he journeys to the fateful meeting with the knight, fighter of Moors.

The "Way" is the Way of Saint James or Camino de Santiago, "the 500-mile medieval pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees across northern Spain to the Compostela Cathedral" where pilgrims venerated the bones of Sanctus Jacobus, hoping to find "remission of sin and induce the saint to intercede with Christ or Mary on their behalf." The trek was fraught with danger from bandits, disease and inhospitable weather.

Chico writer Neal Wiegman, an expert on Spanish literature, traveled the Way with his wife, Nancy (the host of Nancy's Bookshelf on Northstate Public Radio, KCHO, who recently interviewed your humble columnist for an upcoming program). "Walking the Way: A Medieval Quest" ($17.95 in paperback from WingSpan Press) by Neal A. Wiegman uses the fictional Xavier to paint a detailed picture of life along the Way in 1160. It is travelogue filled with exalted churches and spiritual epiphanies, stork lore, true love, jousting, a disquisition on dung and, later, a pirate attack.

Wiegman will be presenting a slide show and book signing tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

The author imagines Xavier as a jongleur, "a teller of tales," gifted with a facility for languages and a prodigious memory, allowing him to recite sections of Beowulf, the Chanson de Roland, and tales of El Cid, the Spanish hero, and portions are included in the narrative.

Xavier also carries with him the Liber Sancti Jacobi, The Book of St. James, which includes a guidebook for the Way, enabling Wiegman to blend period sources with his own observations. The resulting account, each chapter of the novel devoted to one of the dozens of stops along the Way, offers a nuanced and captivating tour filled with sights, sounds and smells.

It's a tasty stew, good with wine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Chico-area poets


Lyon Books in Chico is hosting a poetry reading and book signing tonight at 7:00 p.m. featuring Chico artist Bob Garner, Magalia poet Lara Gularte, and Chicoan Sanford Dorbin.

"Paper Dolls" (from features a dozen Bob Garner poems, several of which first appeared in Watershed and the California Quarterly. The poet takes the reader to places of the mind, "deep / into the country of night" ("The Dream"), to the "kaleidoscope / of broken bottles / just below the pier" ("Memory Loss"), "when death bangs on the door / with both hands and feet, / reasonably tired and irritable / from another day of pointless conversation. . . ." ("Learning"). No pointless words here.

Lara Gularte's "Days Between Dancing" ($10 from The Poet's Corner Press) is about hard things, tragedies, people "grateful for the night, / the black hole / that swallows up the glare of the day. . . ." ("Night"). In "The Haunting," the poet writes of her mother: "Her ghost still hovers, / reminding me that I slept / and drank from her body. / I fear she will come back, / hook me with her nails, / try to pull me back inside her." There is "Aunt Louisa Amaral": "She was like skim milk, / pale and thin. . . ."

Sanford Dorbin is a "septuagenarian, mobile division" and a retired academic librarian. Dorbin's acerbic perspective is on full display in "Saying Goodbye to Babylon" ($5.00 from The Singlefooter). Here's "Nomenclature": "'You must be,' he said / mouth foaming with disgust, / 'one of those--relativists // and I reply with a smile / dazzling as ice, / 'Absolutely.'"

But there's celebration as well. The poet, hapless dad, helps deliver "Bozo Supreme," who, later, "so verbally dexterous at two-and-a half-- / this little linguist laughs, and running the changes / like the bebop king he is, laughs again and allows / 'Bozo Sucreme' to appear. And he's right, / he is the cream--the top. He'll turn sour / when it suits him. . . ."

In "Weekend Out of State" two lovers "dress and descend / to the lobby, and breakfast, fitting like silk / into the echo of other people's chatter." A fitting way to end a book, and this review.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rock novel from Paradise writer hits all the right chords


According to an author's note, Chad Peery played "bass guitarist for John Kay & Steppenwolf, and Fleetwood Mac's Bob Welch." His rock reminiscences appear on his Web site,, and it's clear that Peery has had an exceedingly full life. Now he can add "novelist."

With a rock sensibility and unbounded imagination, Peery takes his characters into uncharted territory, and back. In "Smoking Jimi" ($14.95 in paper from CreateSpace, available locally at Lyon Books and Made In Chico) former "Jammies" 70's guitarist Brad Wilson (now a photographer) is sucked back into playing by a most bizarre offer.

It's 1999. Ex-band-manager Mitch Damian shows up with a million dollar offer to get the band back together and play for an eccentric millionaire in South America. Wilson is skeptical, since thirty years ago Damian had absconded with the money from the band's record deal. Part of the fun in the first half of the novel is how ne'er-do-well Damian, with Brad's reluctant assistance, actually gets the group together--or what's left of it. One had committed suicide (no help there); another had become a monk and a third, whacked out on drugs, had joined a survivalist compound in Colorado.

Wilson picks up a guitar: "I pressed the whammy bar to dip the pitch of the strings, and it snapped back into perfect tune, unlike my old Stratocaster. . . . What a thrill to play again, and to have a reason for playing again." Later, when the band actually makes it to Pablo Lupa's estate, the music flows (Lupa has spiked the punch), and Wilson looks for words: "How I had forgotten the magic, when your body, mind and soul become the music, flowing in a beautiful ribbon. . . . Finally, I hit one last, sustained note, and then allowed it to descend slowly like a waterfall over a bridge of rainbows."

Pablo Lupa takes "smoking Jimi" literally and all seems over for the band when Lupa's real intentions are revealed, the compound is engulfed in military conflict, and Wilson mourns a lost lover. But the story is not yet over, and Peery has produced a hilarious, improbable stew of oddball personalities enmeshed in music, madness and mystery, and love that rocks the world.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paradise photographer contributes to Dashiell Hammett book


"Samuel Dashiell Hammett arrived in San Francisco summer 1921 and left in the fall of 1929. He began writing in this city, finishing . . . what stands today as his single most famous work, The Maltese Falcon." So writes Don Herron, the author of an engaging new book, "The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook" ($19.95 in hardcover from Vince Emery Productions).

Revised and expanded from the original edition, the book features maps by Paradise resident Mike Humbert as well as ten of his black-and-white photographs of present-day San Francisco, including the building at 891 Post Street where Hammett lived in apartment 401.

The book also includes a new preface from Hammett's daughter, Jo (who calls her father "Da-SHEEL" rather than "DASH-ull"); "On the Trail of Sam Spade" by detective novelist Charles Willeford, and an entertaining biography of Hammett by Herron himself. Most of the book is taken up with a leisurely look at more than thirty Hammett sites, including Burritt Street. Humbert provides a close-up of a bronze plaque at the same location that says "On Approximately This Spot, Miles Archer, Partner of Sam Spade, Was Done In By Brigid O'Shaughnessy."

Hammett, born in 1894, lived sixty-six years, long enough to consume vast quantities of alcohol, to be consumed by tuberculosis, to marry and beget two daughters, to carry on a three-decades affair with playwright Lillian Hellman, to write pulp stories about a detective known only as "Continental Op," to invent hard-boiled detective Sam Spade and the booze-guzzling team of Nick and Nora Charles, to be labeled a Communist, incarcerated and blacklisted, and to become one of the most famous writers of his time with novels such as The Thin Man and Red Harvest.

Herron writes that "the San Francisco of Spade and the Op is literally built of truths, rumors, and lies: places like John's Grill that are as real as a dime; . . . places such as the Alexandria Hotel or Eddis Street which have never appeared on any map of The City. Hammett's detectives move across this imagined grid of reality, rumor, and falsehood--a mysterious and dangerous San Francisco created in the pulp magazines of the 1920s that has not lost its fascination or its hold on our imagination."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Chico couple views westward migration through the eyes of contemporary diarists


The Englishman William Woodhams, more recently from Michigan, crossed the Missouri River on April 28, 1854, arriving in Sacramento in August. On August 6 he wrote in his diary: "We of course (ragged in the extreme, unshaven and unshorn, knives and pistols at our belts) were rather wild looking even for California."

Those who journeyed west in the mid-nineteenth century were a motley crew, but many of them kept diaries. In fact, write Chicoans Andrew and Joanne Hammond, "it has been estimated that one out of every 200 emigrants kept a diary or journal of some sort."

The Hammonds have skillfully excerpted the diaries of "eleven women and twenty-six men who recorded their experiences while en route to Oregon, California and Utah" to form a roughly chronological account of the way west. The result is "The Look of the Elephant: The Westering Experience In the Words of Those Who Lived It 1841-1861" ($18.95 in paperback from the Oregon-California Trails Association,, or from the authors at

The authors write that "to have 'seen the elephant' meant that one had not only endured the rigors of the trail, but had survived as well. The expression still symbolizes the indomitable spirit of the emigrants and their ability to view extreme hardship with a sense of humor."

There were dangers along the way, not always external. "Less than a month after setting out, John Bidwell reported that 'a young man by the name of Shotwell while in the act of taking a gun out of the wagon, drew it, with the muzzle toward him in such a manner that it went off and shot him near the heart.'" The diarists include not only Bidwell but "querulous J. Goldsborough Bruff, considered by many to be the greatest diarist of all; the captious Joshua Variel; the upbeat but frequently ill Alonzo Delano; . . . the unfortunate Mary Rockwood Powers, whose physician husband appears to have been insane. . . ."

The Hammonds provide maps of each stage of the journey, black and white illustrations, and biographies of each diarist, along with insightful commentary. This is a treasure of a book, one that touches the heart of those long ago days before ever there were blogs.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Redding-area authors tell first-hand story of "Li'l Smokey"


The sky was studded with lightning. It was June 20, 2008. "Dry leaves and grass smoldered, then burst into flames. Fire crawled along the ground and into the brush and trees. . . . By sunrise the next morning over 2,000 fires blazed across Northern California. In the following weeks, wildfires would destroy more than one million acres, leaving at least 300 families homeless. Thousands of wild forest animals fled their homes. Many would not survive."

So begins the extraordinary story of "Saving Li'l Smokey" ($11.99 in paperback, by Adam and Celeste Deem, with full-color illustrations by Ryan M. Lamb, a freshman at Redding's Foothill High School. Adam works for Cal Fire; on July 17, 2008 he was driving "deep into the forest" past Whiskeytown Lake "up the mountains to Shoemaker Bally." Suddenly he saw a bear cub whose paws "looked melted." It was no easy task getting the frightened and injured cub into his truck, but as the story unfolded in the media Li'l Smokey melted the hearts of people around the country and across the globe. The terrible fire season had a face.

Adam and Celeste will be reading their book this Saturday at 2:00 p.m., during the All Ages Storytime, at Chico's Barnes and Noble store. Afterward they'll sign copies and talk about what happened to Li'l Smokey after his rehabilitation with Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (which will receive a portion of the book proceeds).

According to an authors' note, Celeste, raised in Alaska, first met Adam "while hiking in Northern California. Her motto was 'Love me, love my dog," and upon meeting Adam, he immediately began tossing a stick for Kody. They were married ten months later."

Back at headquarters, Li'l Smokey sat on Adam's lap "while the medical team examined the cub. Melisa gave the cub a cherry lollipop, much to his delight. He tried to eat the whole thing in one bite!" It was a sign of hope: "Maybe the cub would survive." Eventually, at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, the bear, paws wrapped in bandages, "feasted on special milk, peach nectar, and all the food he wanted, from blueberries and what grass to pieces of fresh salmon."

In the midst of destruction, these are the paws that refresh.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shy Chico writer masters world travel on the cheap


The last decade has been an eventful one for Chicoan Brian Ward. It began with his enrollment in the study abroad program at Chico State University (which took him to Queretaro, Mexico), and ends with the publication of "Single Abroad: Tales of the Boyish Man" ($18 in paperback from Well, not ends, really; he writes that "my dream is to open a hostel in Latin America or work as a travel writer." He's in no hurry to settle down.

Ward's account of living on the cheap in Europe and Latin America is self-deprecatingly funny. He is shy around girls and can hardly find the courage to pucker up when one of them leans forward "within kissing range." Yet he craves traveling to new places and meeting people (he stays at the Flying Pig Hostel in Amsterdam's Red Light District to meet his cousin, Simon, from the Canary Islands). He just has a difficult time with women people.

Ward is home for a time and will be signing books at Cafe Flo, 365 E. 6th St. in Chico on Tuesday, August 25 from 6:30 - 9:00 p.m. Those with wanderlust and a hankering for new-climes-on-a-dime are especially welcome.

For a while Ward worked at Club Med Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo in Southern Mexico. A quarter century ago Club Med was synonymous with the swinging lifestyle, but now it caters more to families. His Club Med interview is quintessentially Wardian. Each potential employee had to demonstrate a talent since Club Med staff are encouraged to mingle with the guests as "gracious organizers."

"My name was called," he writes, "and I walked up to the front of the conference room. I didn't know what to say so I stated that I had gone to Chico State; everyone started cheering and pounding on the desks. . . . The recruiter (Amy) was smiling at me the whole time and asked me what classes I had taken at Chico State. I admitted that during my last semester I had taken Tae Kwon Do, Softball, and Jujitsu. The whole room started laughing." So he did some martial arts rolls and explained he used them "whenever I was thrown off my bicycle in order to avoid breaking my back."

He got the job.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mia King's new novel debuts with book signings in Chico


"Mia King" is Darien Hsu Gee, married to Chico native Darrin Gee and mother of three. The couple lives in Hawaii where Darrin operates the Spirit of Golf Academy and Darien is working on her fourth book. The family is in Chico visiting relatives and celebrating the publication of Darien's new novel, "Table Manners" ($14 in paperback from Berkley Trade), a sequel to "Good Things."

Both Darien and Darrin (who has published several golf guides) will be signing their works at Lyon Books in Chico on Wednesday, August 19 at 7:00 p.m. and at Chico's Barnes and Noble on Saturday, August 22 at 2:00 p.m.

In "Good Things" forty-year-old Deidre McIntosh meets the man of her dreams, Kevin Johnson, the son of a very wealthy Seattle couple. At the end of the story she has received a commission from Jamison Cookies and Confections to produce a signature line of baked goods. Kevin takes her in his arms and calls her "sweet Deidre." And so a brand is born.

"Table Manners" (picked up by Rhapsody, the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club) finds the harried Deidre facing cookie meltdown. Focus groups say her creations are less than splendid, and the company is demanding new recipes--in a matter of days. Her personal life is complicated by Marla Banks,"Seattle's prominent fiftysomething socialite and star of At Home with Marla Banks," and, oh yes, Kevin's sister. Marla schemes at every turn to undermine the growing romance. The reader is transported into a world of haute couture, gourmet foods, and sophisticated cattiness, especially when Kevin's ex-fiancée, "Tabby," makes an entrance.

Did I mention food? The reader will encounter "tarte tatin--puff pastry with crystallized caramel apples and cream. . . ." and les macarons Ladurée, featuring "delicate domes of almond meringue. . . ." There's a large recipe section at the end of the book highlighting "summer beef bourguignonne skewers" and "summer tomato-olive-caper salad."

As usual in a Mia King novel there are twists and turns, especially involving Deidre's friend, Lindsey, owner of a small but popular restaurant in Jacob's Point, a rural getaway beloved by both Deidre and Kevin.

In the end it's a story about finding your passion, especially when you're about to lose your cookies.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Local novelist delivers riveting crime novel


Imagine Newton, a "college community of approximately 150,000 people, although the number drastically reduces in the summer months due to the mass exodus of the student population. . . . But for all the splendor and beauty of this Northern California city, scratch just beneath the delicate surface of superficial tranquility to discover a dark murderous evil prowling the city." It is 2004 and there is a serial killer on the loose whose gruesome calling card can hardly be described in a family newspaper.

Area author Sherry Long, a hair stylist, mother and grandmother, probes the psychological depths of the "malevolent evil" stalking Newton in a fast-paced, violent and shocking tale, "What If You Hadn't?" ($29.95 in paperback from PublishAmerica). She will be signing copies of her novel this Saturday from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Chico. The public is invited.

When reformed hooker Bianca Fugate becomes one of the victims, Homicide Lt. Brad Belser finds himself falling head over heels for her friend, Teagan Chandler, right at the start of the interview. She is deeply attractive to the twice-divorced Belser, and Teagan is equally taken with him, a Russell Crowe look-alike "with seductive Johnny Depp eyes." She, too, knows the loss of love. Her college-days romance with her current employer, Alan, ended suddenly when she discovered him to be a faithless cad. Now he wants to renew the relationship, but she has eyes only for Brad.

Love, as it so often does, complicates the proceedings until Brad and Teagan are ensnared in a web of horrendous secrets.

There are lighter moments. Early on, Long has Belser "reading a book he couldn't put down. . . . 'The Truth About Jacob' was written by a first time published author. He'd read her bio on the back cover because he'd wondered to himself, what kind of woman could think of those twists and turns in the plot?" Sherry Long is that kind of woman, and she doesn't disappoint in her new novel, either. The language is raw and it comes mixed with sex and grisly death. The reader is drawn into the story, in spite of or maybe because of its ghastly scenes, and the emotions will not rest until the killer is found.



Who are the Signmakers? Los Angeles English teacher Kathleen Kaufman creates a near-future world in which Las Vegas and other cities become ecologically self-sustaining, but only because the mysterious Signmakers "permanently remove" anyone who does not go green. "The Tree Museum" ($14.95 in paperback from The Way Things Are Publications) traces the collapsing marriage of Nate and Rosemary. The delusional Nate, convinced he is directing a "dystopic love story," trails his wife across across transformed territory from Southern California to Colorado. The tale, stocked with paranoid wanderings and f-bombs galore, asks what price we might pay for a tyrannical harmony.


Chico State University philosophy professor Troy Jollimore won a National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. "At Lake Scugog" appears in the July 27 issue of The New Yorker. At the southern Ontario lake the poet observes that "up on the bank, who I am / maintains an uneasy truce / with who I fear I am. . . . // Out in the canoe, the person I thought you were / gingerly trades spots / with the person you are // and what I believe I believe / sits uncomfortably next to / what I believe. . . ."

Cover by Gahan Wilson. Copyright The New Yorker.


Cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham teaches psychology at the University of Virginia. He writes that "People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking." That suggests an answer to his book's title, "Why Don't Students Like School?" ($24.95 in hardcover from Jossey-Bass). Teachers assume students can learn principles in the abstract and then apply them to specific situations, and that "learning styles" are important considerations. The author disputes both of those claims. His conclusion? "Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver's family tackles "living locally"


A few years ago Barbara Kingsolver, her husband, Steven Hopp, and their two daughters, Camille and Lily, moved from their home in Tucson, Arizona, to a farm in southern Appalachia. One of the reasons for the relocation was, as Kingsolver puts it, a desire "to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground."

For a year the family endeavored to grow what food they could, shop at local farmers' markets, and in general eat only what had been raised no more than, say, an hour or so away. There were exceptions: Steven had to have coffee and Barbara needed tumeric, cinnamon, and cloves, so they used fair trade channels. The result is chronicled in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" ($14.95 in paperback from Harper Perennial) by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. (Lily, Barbara notes, was too young to sign a book contract.)

Enloe Medical Center is sponsoring a brown bag lunch and discussion of the book on Monday, August 10th, from noon until 1:00 p.m. at the Enloe Health Learning Center, 1465 Esplanade at 5th Avenue in Chico. The public is invited.

Barbara writes that "we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew. We tried to wring most of the petroleum out of our food chain, even if that meant giving up some things. Our highest shopping goal was to get our food from so close to home, we'd know the person who grew it. Often that turned out to be us, as we learned to produce more of what we needed, starting with dirt, seeds, and enough knowledge to muddle through. Or starting with baby animals and enough sense to refrain from naming them."

Barbara writes the main narrative, while Steven provides sidebars dealing with social and political considerations, such as issues surrounding factory farms (which he calls "concentrated animal feeding operations") or becoming a "locavore." Camille adds a teenager's take on eating spuds or free-range animals (and Barbara makes a case against the vegan movement). There are many recipes, with more resources at

All in all, for the family, and readers, a growing experience.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A pictorial history of the Chinese experience in California


Historian Hannah Clayborn, based in Walnut Creek, writes that "Word of the 1848 gold discovery in California first spread on ships, and the people of Guangdong Province, burdened at home with political corruption, war, and floods, were some of the first to hear of it." By 1852 some 25,000 Chinese were listed on the California census. "Their countrymen called them Gam Saan Haak (guests of Gold Mountain). . . . The typical Chinese argonaut was young, single, and uneducated. He intended to return to China with his fortune made."

Clayborn tells the story of a century of immigrant experience in "Historic Photos of The Chinese in California" ($39.95 in hardcover from Turner Publishing). It features nearly 200 images drawn from such collections as the Oroville Chinese Temple and Museum, UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, and the Library of Congress.

"Despite violence and discrimination," the author writes, "the Chinese clung tenaciously to Gold Mountain, taking jobs on road crews, reclaiming marshlands in the Sacramento Delta and Central Valley, digging reservoirs and wells in new towns, and piling stones for property line fences." And they worked on the railroad, "doing the most hazardous tasks involved in laying track over the Sierra Nevada."

One photograph shows a procession of some sort down Montgomery Street in Oroville ("City of Gold") around 1890. Clayborn notes the town "was once the center for a population of Chinese miners, railroad workers, and agricultural laborers reportedly numbering above 10,000."

Another image, from 1895, shows Chun Kong You, "the most prosperous Chinese businessman in Oroville." He owned the "Fong Lee (Big Profit) store, which sold herbs and was a licensed gold purchasing agency. His descendants . . . helped preserve the Oroville Chinese Temple."

With the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, the city's "old Chinatown, home to an estimated 14,000 people" became "a muddy mash of crusted pottery, ash, twisted metal, and an untold number of charred bodies." But in a twist of historical fate, the destruction of the birth records meant that "Chinese men could now claim citizenship and therefore the right to bring their families from China." A new Chinatown was built, families began to arrive--and so did the tourists. The story doesn't end there, and Clayborn's book repays repeated visits.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chico novelist ponders how the Bible speaks


Retired Chico State University English Professor David Downes has written a series of novels reflecting on the meaning of life and love. His latest story takes up the matters of death and God, but there is no easy piety here. "The Mysterious Furies of the God In a Tent" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris), written under the name David Anton, presents the reader with an aging Aaron Steinmetz, brilliant brain scientist and secular Jew.

Steinmetz has been diagnosed with cancer and his son,David, also an agnostic, thinks his father might benefit in his last days from connecting with his Jewish heritage. It's arranged that Rabbi Calev Soloch will visit Aaron and together the two will read the Hebrew Bible. Aaron, who studies how brain neurons might produce consciousness, can hardly abide what he considers stories of a mercurial and vindictive God.

Aaron tells his son: "I have been reading the Hebrew Bible about how God chose us as His people. It was a calamity for Jews from the beginning, David, to be so chosen. The Bible is full of this racial grief and now we read it with a piety that belies its deepest meaning--punishing alienation. We were chosen to be God's sacrificial lambs to be burned in hatred ever since. We accepted God's wish and so it has been until this day."

David, meantime, has developed a deep friendship, love even, for his lab assistant, Hannah Richter, a Catholic with a German heritage. The novel is a series of dialogues as David tries to understand Jesus and why most Jews reject him as the Messiah, and Aaron and Calev wrestle with "the Jewish God" whose biography, Aaron says, "ends as a closed book . . . as if God has left his tent or is asleep in it, has finished his active adventures with the descendants of Abram." For Aaron, God is silent.

Can faith grow in Aaron, self-described as "a philosopher of neuroscience, an amateur historian, a reader of the newspaper"? Is there another kind of language, mysterious as human consciousness, through which one might come to terms with the "mysterious furies"? Anton does not give simple answers, but the hint is clear that we are more than solitary selves. The heart knows.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Memories of Hungary from a North State Voices columnist


"Hungary was not a happy country in 1956," writes Miklos Sajben. "People had had enough of being told what to do and say. They were tired of being forced to mouth party dogma. The Poles and the Czechs were stirring, and the fires of discontent spread like a forest blaze after a six-month drought. They reached Budapest and I watched the country burst into flames."

There are some eerie parallels between the recent events in Iran and the ferment in Hungary back then. The Russian occupiers "lowered the boom" by executing some members of the Hungarian cabinet and installed a new cabinet that "declared to the world that everything was under control." The revolts in the streets, Sajben writes, were at first "in the hands of students and intellectuals" but soon became disorganized. In just a few weeks, the revolution was all but crushed.

Sajben managed to escape and emigrate to the United States. His compelling story is told in "Dancing Boots and Pigs' Feet: Memoir of a Refugee from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956" ($14 in paperback from The book is available locally at Lyon Books in Chico.

Focusing on his growing-up years in Hungary, the author, who received a doctorate from MIT and who now lives in Chico, recalls the importance of family life. His working-class father obtained pigs, and pork became a staple. "Some parts of the feet," Sajben writes, "became the main ingredients of a dish called kocsonya. Pieces of the pig's feet were boiled in spiced broth for a long time and eventually allowed to solidify into a jelly-like substance. The dish was served cold, with paprika sprinkled on top." But what was "stupendously tasty": "Cubed kidney with brain sauce."

Sajben became a talented folk dancer in eighth grade with the encouragement of a new teacher, but turned away from the stage to pursue engineering. The book includes the author's drawings and family photographs and it's replete with Sajben's dry humor: One doesn't stand in line in Hungary to get precious goods; one forms a "circular queue" to get as close as one can using one's knees and elbows. In America it's hard to tell "when the movie stops and the commercial starts."

An amazing life, well told.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Honoring Durham's military service members


The stories of 318 men and women who served, or who are now serving, in the military, are told in "Durham Honor Roll (Volume II): Military Service From 1946 - 2009" (spiral bound, available through Durham Friends of the Library, P.O. Box 505, Durham, CA 95938). Compiled by Adriana ("Rian") Farley, the mini-biographies form a companion to her "Durham's World War II Honor Roll" published in 2005.

Published as an ongoing fundraiser for the Durham Library, the two books chronicle 522 service members with some connection to Durham High.

Many of the entries in Volume II are drawn from the ongoing "Now Serving" column, which began in 2005. "Some individuals and their families were very interested in the project," she writes, "others, less so. Some individuals wanted to reflect on their time in the military, others sought to forget those days." Each page is devoted to a single name (with photographs if available) and, where biographical information is sparse or non-existent, Farley has added research information from relevant Web sites.

There are sections on the Navy SEALs, the Marine Corps values, the U.S. Army in Vietnam and hundreds of other entries connecting the military experiences of those from Durham with the larger service community.

Walter "Mark" Bender, who served in the Marine Corps from 1974 through 1979, "has been an English teacher at Durham High School since 1997." Robert Allen Cooke, who served in the Army, "died in Vietnam War action during a Tuesday night patrol" in 1969; his name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, "The Wall." Katherine Draper's Army career spanned thirty years, beginning in 1965, and she writes that "it was a great life and I loved personnel work."

Also in the Army: Sean Farley, son of Rick and Rian Farley, who served in Iraq beginning in 2004. Greg Mortell served in the Navy from 1996 through 2001, and received the NATO medal for Kosovo operations. Chris Raabe began his career in the U.S. Air Force in 2002 and has logged more than 1500 hours "in prone position at the aft of" a refueling tanker; he calls it "the tube of pain."

The "Honor Roll" is an extraordinary tribute to those whose pain, and sacrifice, help ensure our freedom from one generation to the next.



John, called "the Man" by his followers, came to the valley to escape the world's chaos, which no philosopher had been able to fix. The valley is the Kalalau on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai, in Hawaii, and John's answer is to walk the treacherous valley trail, backwards, so that he will not forget this land of spirits. Peter McDonald, the atheist hired as the official photographer, has more in store than picture-taking in this novel of self-discovery from Chico author Stephen McMillin. The title? "The Man Who Walked Backward Down the Na Pali Coast" (paperback, available from


The California Coastal Commission has just published "Beaches and Parks in Southern California" ($24.95 in paperback from University of California Press). This full-color comprehensive guide covers Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties (a guide to the North Coast was published several years ago). Edited by Steve Scholl, the book lists more than 450 sites including "beaches, public access ways, parks, campground, nature preserves, world-class aquariums, and museums." Maps show biking and hiking trails and articles provide details such as "open hours, food and beverage services, wheelchair accessibility, rules about dogs," and more. An ideal guide for the getaway season.


It's World War II, and Serge, the product of an East Prussian family that had emigrated to America, "enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps and learns the rudiments of military undercover work." He becomes an aeronautical engineer and then, ready to practice some high-level military-industrial espionage, "becomes the darling of the German High Command." In "Codename: Beowulf" ($16.95 in paperback from Dorrance), Serge escapes from the Gestapo but must return to occupied Europe to save his great love, "trapped in a ghetto in Belgium." Reno, Nevada writer Paul Hewen bases his story on family history, though "names have been changed."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Richvale's Dennis Lindberg remembers "my hunting years"


Lifelong rice farmer Dennis Lindberg, born "at home in Richvale" in 1924, was an expert hunter in his time. His experiences form the heart of "Hunters and the Dogs of Hunters I Have Known" ($30 in hardcover from The Community Foundation of Richvale). "These are my memories," he writes, "of hunting upland game birds and waterfowl in northern California and big-game species in Canada, Alaska, Utah, Oregon, and California."

The beautifully illustrated book will be available during this Saturday's Richvale Centennial Celebration at Richvale Park. A pancake breakfast begins at 8:00 a.m. followed by a presentation of Richvale history. Lindberg has lived through most of it.

The book is divided into four parts. "The Lindberg dogs" include Patsy, his favorite, an English Pointer acquired around 1950. "I will never forget the day we were hunting quail in the rock piles left by early-day gold dredgers south of Oroville. When she was a three-month-old pup, I took Patsy along with my older dog so she could experience what was going on. . . . At one point, I suddenly noticed she was carrying a quail in her mouth that apparently had fallen out of my hunting coat. The little bit of retrieve training I had done with her at home had already paid off handsomely. I remember picking her up, hugging her, and giving her words of encouragement for bringing me the quail. As a result, we bonded together unlike any other dog I've had before or since."

The second part features "the dogs of my hunting friends" and the third includes accounts of "guided hunting trips," like the 1962 Canadian adventure in which Lindberg took a wolverine, "the athletic mascot of my alma mater, Biggs Union High School. I had the head mounted and it was placed in the basketball gymnasium."

The last part features contributions from hunting friends; a picture of Greg Stephens' yellow Lab, Clyde, is shown on the cover.

At the book's writing Lindberg and his wife, Charlotte, were celebrating more than six decades of marriage. Hunting is over now, but the author notes that "there may be some truth in the saying I have heard many times: 'A man's time spent hunting and fishing does not count against his time on earth.'"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H returns to Chico


In May of 2008 activist and M*A*S*H alum Mike Farrell embarked on a month long car tour to promote his autobiography, "Just Call Me Mike." Farrell and his wife, actress Shelley Fabares, had been scheduled around the country for book signing events sponsored by local social justice organizations. But just as the tour was about to start, Fabares suffered a mishap and subsequently underwent hip replacement surgery. Rather than cancel the long-scheduled events, she urged Farrell to continue on, solo. He rented a Prius (which he nicknamed "Mule") and he was off.

Farrell's dispatches, which first appeared on the Huffington Post blog, have now become a book, "Of Mule and Man" ($15.95 in paperback from Akashic Books). The author and the Prius became fast friends. "I sometimes refer to Mule as a 'he' and sometimes as a 'she.' That's not an error. Mule is a hybrid, after all, and sometimes he seems to be a he and sometimes she seems to be a she. And I've become accustomed to both.")

Farrell, who was in Chico last September, returns for a signing and discussion at Lyon Books in Chico this coming Tuesday, June 23, at 7:00 p.m. Cosponsored by the Chico Peace and Justice Center and Death Penalty Focus, the talk will highlight some of the ups and downs of the tour and emphasize the human rights issues to which Farrell has devoted his life.

In New Mexico he spends time with former ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson. In Maryland a woman asks him to list the "three most critically important things we had to do to get this country back on track." Farrell replies: "Elect Barack Obama, elect Barack Obama, elect Barack Obama." (He calls George W. Bush a "pathetic, smirking narcissist.")

Eventually Mule had to go back to the rental lot. "But I do want her to know," Farrell writes, almost wistfully, "how grateful I am for the way she has taken care of me. How do you say thank you to a critter who carried you 8,882 miles, through twenty-nine states, through deserts and mountains, heat and cold, sunshine and downpour, dancing around tornadoes and floods, all in just under five weeks' time?"

Candid, salty, and passionate. That's Mike Farrell.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nevada County author and "Audacious Aging" contributor to appear in Chico


Patt Lind-Kyle, born in 1937, has been a dental hygienist, health science professor, and psychotherapist. Throughout her careers she has honed the art of meditation and writes that "I now have an audacious passion for working with individuals and groups in silence." Her essay, "Building Community from the Inside Out," is included in "Audacious Aging" ($29.95 in hardcover from Elite Books), an anthology edited by Stephanie Marohn.

A resident of Nevada County, Lind-Kyle will be appearing at the Chico Barnes & Noble store Saturday, June 27, from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

She writes in her contribution that two decades ago she was hit with chronic fatigue syndrome. Doctors were of little help; "I had to discover how to heal myself. Through many starts and stops, I discovered how to do so by focusing on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of my life . . . using meditation to remove the negative thoughts about myself and help bring my body back into a natural balance." "Mind," she writes, "heals the mind."

"Audacious Aging" features more than three dozen chapters, some drawn on previously published sources, some from well-known figures, to help readers, in the words of the editor, "rise to the challenge of transforming our society from a youth/appearance-worshiping culture into one that fosters the values of the heart, supports the evolution of consciousness, and leaves to future generations a legacy of which we can be wildly proud." Contributors include Deepak Chopra, Helen Gurley Brown, George McGovern, Andrew Weil, Gloria Steinem, and Patch Adams (described as "a political activist for ending capitalism and creating a value system based on compassion and generosity.")

Lind-Kyle writes that meditation can help "change habitual patterns, reduce stress reactions" and enable those "sitting together in silence" to create trust and "build a community of heart from the inside out." (Her forthcoming book is called "Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain.")

Though I'm less sanguine than the editor about the transformative potential of the approaches chronicled in the book, I imagine readers will agree with Marohn when she writes that "many baby boomers thought the revolution would take place in the Sixties. Now they are awakening to the reality that it may take place in their sixties!"

Thursday, June 04, 2009

New novel from former local television news director


Bruce Lang's long career in television and radio news includes a stint at KHSL-TV, Channel 12 in Chico, where (according to Wikipedia) he was news director from 1986 until 2003. So when Geoff Mann, the central character in Lang's new novel, "Newsman" ($18 in paperback from Klamath Press), takes a job as news director for a similar station in Northern California, it's tempting to play the match game. Which fictional characters are based on real-life persons?

Indeed, in some cases the correspondence is apparent even to outsider observers. The fictional KTBK's Chief Meteorologist is one Wendell Lumpus, "an excellent weatherman. . . . He was very knowledgeable about computers, long before it was fashionable, and devised computerized weather graphics for many television stations around the country." But "Lumpus seemed to have no sense at all how his comments might affect fellow workers or members of the public, and would be genuinely surprised at their reaction." There are other characters of similar wattage, and Chico insiders may revel in the snarky references.

Readers can be forgiven this diversion since the book reads like a memoir disguised as a novel, replete with Mann's dark thoughts about egos in journalism; young, attractive reporters and why they're so abundant in television; penny-pinching owners; and the triumph of quantity over quality in broadcast news. "It used to be people were valued for what they knew," Mann muses; "now they were valued for what they thought. Opinion became more important than knowledge."

The story traces Mann's career, beginning with work at a weekly tabloid sometime in the mid-1970s in the coastal town of Founders. Mann eventually moves to radio news, then to a Founders television station, and finally to the valley town of San Ide (home of San Ide State University) and KTBK.

Along the way Mann is manifestly unlucky in love, married for a time, going through a succession of girlfriends, haunted by a mysterious female voice asking for help. Stress produces heart palpitations, an old friend takes his own life, and he is forced out as KTBK news director when the station merges with another in San Ide. The mood is bleak, the sex oral, the language foul. For the author, it is the story of America in decline.



"One Hell of a Ride: The Life and Times of Lou Federico" ($24.95 in paperback from Adventure Publishing) is replete with black and white photographs. In a letter he writes that "I lived in the Chico area for many years during the waterfowl seasons, starting in 1967. . . . I am an outdoorsman and entrepreneur who pioneered Baja, California, in the 1960s and 70s in order to build resort hotels." He became friends with John Wayne in the last days of his life and remembers that in 1961 his Club Aero Mulege fly-in hotel was popular with influential Chicoans.


Marysville-Yuba City resident David Hobbs became a Christian in 1974 after quite an extraordinary pilgrimage, told in "Out of the Fire" ($15 in paperback from 4L Press). According to a news release, Hobbs worked for the U.S. Forest Service fighting fires starting in his college years. He "spent four years on helicopter crews, two years on tanker crews, and two years on the elite Rogue River Hotshots. He was also in the first group of college students busted for drugs at Humboldt State University . . . and spent the 'Summer of Love' (1967) in the drug scene in Berkeley."


UC Berkeley anthropologist Kent Lightfoot, and Otis Parrish, a member of the Kashaya Pomo Tribe, have just published "California Indians and Their Environment: An Introduction" ($19.95 in paperback from University of California Press). New research suggests "California Indians lived in vibrant polities" practicing prescribed burning. Not all was paradise. The authors note that "we have good evidence that in some times and places Native peoples experienced poor health and hardships brought about by periodic food shortages, parasites, endemic diseases, violence, warfare, and political manipulations." Lavishly illustrated with detailed accounts of how the Konkow, Maidu and others used plants and animals.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Former Yuba City resident finds freedom in Zen surfing


As a high schooler, Jaimal Yogis traded suburban Sacramento life for the call of surfing. He upped and ran away to Hawaii. Here today, gone to Maui.

Perhaps his "New Age-y" parents understood Jaimal's intense boredom and his growing spiritual need. His Air Force dad had been a gourmet chef, a "hippie trapped in a colonel's body," and "he and my mom lived in an ashram in the '70s." Jaimal and his sister Ciel practiced meditation and "I was even named after an Indian saint: Baba Jaimal Singh. And it couldn't have been just coincidence (I thought) that my Lithuanian grandparents' name was shortened to Yogis. I figured I was destined, like Siddhartha, for spiritual greatness." Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha. Jaimal became a writer for San Francisco Magazine. From a Zen perspective, pretty much the same thing.

Yogis' lighthearted yet serious-minded memoir is called "Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest To Find Zen On the Sea" ($15.95 in paperback from Wisdom Publications). In self-deprecating fashion the author (who lived for a time in Yuba City with his father and his stepmom) comes to understand that the quest for the perfect, blissful surfing experience serves only to stoke the illusion of an independent self. "Just as a wave cannot exist apart from water, what we mistake as 'our' minds are dependent on the one true mind, the Buddha mind."

Yogis quotes surfing hero Barton Lynch observing that surfers are "more cocky and judgmental than any group of people in the world." The Santa Cruz surf Nazis are maybe the worst, yet Yogis comes to realize that even surf Nazis "have Buddha-nature." Himself included.

Life is like catching a breaker. "The take-off is arguably the most scary and difficult part of riding a wave. Too far forward or back can be the difference between a smooth glide down the face or being pitched--what surfers call 'going over the falls.' . . . the surfer, like the Zen student, must constantly find the middle way."

Yogis' water color portrait of a young man who accepts "who I am," that he is not "the things I do" (though they, too, are), uses language that is by turns funny, reflective and salty. That was Zen. This is now.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Local writer delivers fast-paced Western novel


The American Civil War is over. In Texas, changes are coming even to the communities spared the smell of battle. Strangers are passing through: "Poor folks fleeing the destruction, avaricious Northerners and men with criminal intent, adventurers, and returnees hoping to find something of the homes they'd left." The little town of Three Corners, near the Big Thicket area in the southeast, is one such place. Elias Trace has come to settle here. He is "in his early twenties, of average height and somewhat lean" and, as Crabby Janes, his friend and unofficial town mayor, says, Trace is formerly "of Mosby's Raiders, late of the Confederate States of America."

Not far from Three Corners a group of emigrants has been massacred by a "gang of deserters, Mexicans, and renegade Indians" led by Gilbert Clayton. Farm wagons were burnt, bodies scattered. "Men's trouser pockets had been pulled out; women's fingers bent awkwardly or were cut off for the rings." Some of the bodies were desecrated; some of the women were missing. A burial detail from town finds devastation, and they return with guns ready. "All who lived on the frontier were familiar with death as a part of life, but the details of what lay buried behind them would have unnerved even the most hardened of men."

That's the setup of "From Hell to Breakfast" ($12.95 in paperback from by Chico area writer John Henry Lyons.

Lyons introduces quite a cast of characters, including a love interest in the young widow Emma Mann. The story is one of courage, but also of leadership. Trace's plan to surprise Clayton's gang draws on skills honed with Mosby, and though Trace had wanted to put battle aside it had come to him. Trace wavers, but Crabby puts it bluntly: "It's leadership here that makes for victory, that and some luck and dirty tricks."

Trace remembers what a compatriot had told him: "Men that believed in a leader . . . would follow such a man if only to reach down inside their souls and see if they really had the courage to match what they had come to expect of themselves."

It's a crackling good yarn, a page-turner leading inexorably to the final confrontation in scenes of intense, cinematic violence.