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."