Thursday, January 28, 2010

Berry Creek novelist explores the world of werewolves and vampires


First-time novelist Shannon A. Hiner was convinced that "not all vampire fictions had to be exactly the same." The Butte College student and Berry Creek resident set out to create stories of what she calls "The Immortal World," in which ordinary humans become aware of another kind of existence interpenetrating their own. The first novel in the series is "Submerged in Darkness" ($12.99 in paperback from AuthorHouse,

Alexandra Rees works at a little store called the Lakeside Pull-In. Nothing out of the ordinary except that Alex is different somehow from other women. "Her hair was deep chestnut brown and grew just past her shoulders, neither flowing straight or curling. When people saw her eyes for the first time they did a double take. On first blush they were light blue, but the longer you looked the more you saw lavender in them."

Then, after a scary incident in her apartment--was she being watched?--Alex is asked by her friend Corri if she believes in immortals. "Like many of her friends, Alex had read the cutesy stories of impossibly handsome vampires sucking the blood out of helpless humans. She believed in supernatural forces, but vampires and werewolves?" What Corri is talking about is something very different indeed, and before long Alex is swept up in a centuries-long battle centering on the faeries, the Fae folk whose princess had died.

But she had not been killed by werewolves despite the rumors. Some of them were allied with the vampires in the service of the Great One and the awful battle against the dark lord and his servant vampire, Melchior. The dark lord coveted the power of the Fae princess, Elizabeth, who longed for the freedom of the woods. Her protectors were Liam the angelic and Damon Reine, "the last living member of the Black Ten," powerful vampires shrouded in mystery.

Alex plays a key role in Damon's quest to put an end to Melchior as she begins to unravel the dangerous truth about the voice inside her head. People aren't what they seem. It's hard to know whom to trust.

And what happens when love blooms? As the reader might guess, things get even more complicated--especially in the world of the Immortals.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kids and money: A Chico author provides guidance


Is it Wall Street bonus season again? If so, I can hardly wait to see the examples of restraint and responsibility coming from the big money houses. Perhaps a little book can help set things straight, at least for the next generation. It's called "Love and Logic Money-isms: Wise Words About Raising Money-Smart Kids" ($6.95 in paperback from The Love and Logic Press) by Jim Fay and Kristan Leatherman, with a cover illustration by Steve Ferchaud of Paradise.

Fay is a founder of Love and Logic, described in the book as "a menu of practical techniques designed to develop responsibility and increase the parent-child bond while preparing kids to make the decisions they will encounter in their adults lives." Leatherman, based in Chico, conducts Love and Logic workshops using a volume she co-authored with Fay, "Millionaire Babies or Bankrupt Brats? Love and Logic Solutions to Teaching Kids About Money" (available from or from "Money-isms" adapts some pithy sayings from the bigger book and provides selected page references for further reading.

Here's a money-ism: "Love and Logic parents know that rescuing kids by loaning them money is rarely a good idea. Rescue teaches entitlement. Repayment teaches character." Or this: "No pay, no play. No fund, no fun. Until the child repays the loan in full, wise parents keep their kids' toys unopened in the box as collateral."

The Love and Logic process includes "the four C's": Control ("gain control by giving away the control you don't need"); Choices (give kids a chance to make decisions); Consequences (be empathetic but allow kids to "learn from their mistakes"); and self-concept (help kids build a good self-concept which pays dividends in motivation). These C's are reflected in many of the money-isms:

"When allowance gets lost or squandered, wise parents remember to say with empathy, 'This is so sad. I give allowance once a week. You'll get more on Saturday.'" "Wise parents don't pay their kids for completing chores." "Wise parents never pay their kids to do a job when the neighbor kids are willing to do it better . . . and for less."

And then there's this: "Never expect that giving concessions will bring gratitude." Maybe a money-ism for Main Street--and Wall Street--to ponder.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chico therapist on achieving freedom from shyness


Steven H. Flowers directs the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at Enloe Medical Center in Chico. He is no stranger to "social anxiety" but now considers it a gift: "Without shyness I may never have found compassion and loving-kindness. My feelings of shyness led me to meditation. . . . Shyness has become the source of empathy and compassion in my heart for others who feel frightened and alone, because I can see that their suffering is no different from my own."

Flowers is convinced that one can move beyond shyness; his practical prescription is given in "The Mindful Path Through Shyness: How Mindfulness & Compassion Can Help Free You From Social Anxiety, Fear & Avoidance" ($17.95 in paperback from New Harbinger Publications). Drawing on a Buddhist form of meditation called "insight" or "vipassana," Flowers writes that "mindfulness meditation can be described as creating a space in your mind in which you can witness thoughts and emotions enter and leave."

None of them is permanent. By observing this, he writes, "you may find that even emotions as difficult as fear and anxiety are more manageable. . . . You acknowledge or note 'anxiety,' give it some space, and feel into it with gentle curiosity. You stay. You breathe. You let the feeling of anxiety just be there. You acknowledge your anxiety with acceptance: 'Ah, my old companion anxiety.'"

Rather than give way to "reactionary emotions" and thoughts of "future calamity," the shy person can attend to his or her bodily state at the moment, shifting "from self-blame to compassionate presence, from avoidance to acceptance," challenging "the thoughts that are creating such an emotional uproar and inquire to see if they're absolutely true and whether it's necessary to heed them or even believe them." With continued practice, Flowers writes, habitual patterns can be broken. The shy person may then be able to use the freedom of the moment to interact socially rather than seek to escape.

The book contains a series of guided meditations, exercises and case studies that illustrate the author's approach, which is called "Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy" ( Flowers, who recently held a book signing at the Chico Barnes and Noble store, concludes that freedom from debilitating shyness promotes loving-kindness toward others--who may well reciprocate.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

An end-of-the-world suspense novel from a local archeologist


Move over Dan Brown.

Lisa Westwood, who teaches in the anthropology departments at both Chico State University and Butte College, has produced her own symbol-filled page-turner in "The Last Baktun" ($19.95 in paperback from Westwood is also a working archeologist and uses her knowledge of the profession in crafting an answer to her students' question: "But what if it's true?"

The "it" is the supposed end of the world predicted by ancient Mayan inscriptions. The thirteenth baktun (a period of 394 solar years) may end on December 23, 2012, though links Westwood presents on her Web site ( show that scholars find calendar calculations and interpretation far from simple. Some of that is shown in the words of the novel's Alastair Haddleton, a retired expert on the Maya, as he speaks to the CIA:

"Some people have interpreted the end of this baktun as Armageddon. . . . Some say the end of this baktun and the start of a new creation--a new baktun--will be marked by a change of consciousness among humans. . . . Others say that the changing of the baktun will pass without incident."

Further, what will happen depends on whether a Mayan "day keeper" (the Ah K'in) can perform the appropriate ritual. Legend has it that the Ah K'in will receive great power from the gods to decide the fate of humanity. Thus the interest of the CIA--and terrorists.

But that's mere background. Westwood's novel is really about a group of nine college students who are working in Mexico as part of an archeological study program through "Sierra State" in Chico. It is 2012. Guided by Professor Alexandra (Alex) Förstemann, the group is digging at Chichén Itzá and finds not only glyphs and artifacts but much more than they bargained for. The suspense builds as it becomes clear that Alex is hiding something, and the team of Dylan, Jenna and Jake discover that weather catastrophes worldwide are not the result of global warming but the gods themselves waiting for the Ah K'in to restart the calendar. The clock is running out; the trio must unlock the mysteries and save the world.

Suitable for young adults and above, "The Last Baktun" is a gripping "what if" tale.