Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chico visitor reopens divisive murder case


Terry Phillips reported for CBS and other news networks, and, according to his Web site, "Phillips was one of the first American reporters to live and work in Armenia following the 1988 earthquake." Of Greek and Armenian heritage, Phillips recalls hearing in his childhood about the assassination of the Armenian Archbishop, Ghevont Tourian, in a New York church on Sunday morning, December 24, 1933.

Nine men were eventually arrested and charged in the slaying, including Armenian immigrant Mateos Leylegian, a grocery-store owner on West Forty-ninth Street in Depression-era New York. But why would Armenians kill the representative of the Armenian Church? Or, for that matter, did they?

The questions lead to an intriguing story. "Murder at the Altar: A Historical Novel" ($14.95 in paperback, available from Lyon Books in Chico or online at interweaves the lives of historical figures with the fictional Tom Peterson, once a reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune. Alternating between Peterson's digging through archival material in the present (1975) with the events unfolding in 1933, the novel proposes a different solution to the crime than that contained in the official record.

In a letter, Phillips writes me that "this horrific killing was prompted by a dispute over Armenia's attempts at achieving independence from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Their fight led to a deep split among that ethnic group which persists today. Despite its somewhat arcane focus," he adds, the novel "is really a universal story about people facing irreconcilable differences and resorting to violence."

Phillips visited Chico recently and is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman, the host of Nancy's Bookshelf, tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. (note the new day and time) on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio), 91.7 FM.

The centerpiece of the book, the trial proceeding, is based on actual transcripts. Phillips provides a helpful list of the dozens of personages introduced in his story and gives it verisimilitude with the use of historical photographs, including those of the Archbishop and the accused assailants.

Yet the novel is less about solving a long-ago murder than capturing in historical time the complexities of human life and "answers" that are far from clear. In this terrible act of violence, for things done and not done, "we are all responsible."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chico author wants to demolish religion, make an opening for "spiritual evolution"


Rahasya Poe, the Chico-based publisher of Lotus Guide (, has written what he admits is an angry-sounding book about the dangers of religious belief. "To Believe Or Not To Believe: The Social and Neurological Consequences of Belief Systems" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris) offers a litany of what Poe characterizes as "absurd" teachings from the Western scriptural traditions.

"You will find within these pages what I believe will be the final blow to organized religions," he writes. "If we want to evolve and move on we must first release ourselves from our primitive past beliefs and superstitions. . . . The purpose is to dislodge the need to believe altogether and to get you to think for yourself."

The first section traces the social consequences of religious beliefs; the second examines how easy it is to believe absurd things (the brain creates an emotional resistance to contrary evidence); the third charts the prospects for what Poe calls "spiritual evolution." The book is replete with interviews of such figures as brain researcher Andrew Newberg and "Lucid Living" author Timothy Freke.

Poe, like Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whom he praises, wants to be a "demolition man": "If what we've been reading in our Holy Books is nothing more than plagiarized writings of older texts, then put quite simply--God did not talk to Moses on the mountain. . . . This, in essence, means the very foundation of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions are based on a false premise, which means that everything from that point on is false; the prophets, the stories, everything, because they all base their authority on the fact that Moses talked with God."

Those same ancient documents, however, do provide Poe with what he takes are descriptions of alien invasion. The Mayan calendar is an example, he says, of accuracy that must have come from another world. "Since the beings who gave this information to the Maya said they would return when the calendar runs out in 2012 it only make sense to give it some serious attention."

Poe is right about the ease humans have in believing what they want and ignoring contrary evidence, and how our minds can be most closed just when we think they are most open.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Magalia writer on bullying in the workplace


"My own experience at the hands of a bully was horrendous at best," writes Magalia resident Judith Munson, but she's not talking about the schoolyard variety. "Alligators In The Water Cooler" ($15.99 in paperback from Xlibris, with illustrations by Larry Foss of Paradise) refers to men and women in the workplace who "choose to bully others, passively or aggressively, often causing emotional pain or physical illness." Baby alligators stuffed into a water cooler might be a joke, but the alligator-like bully--"a menacing predator, opportunist, solitary and territorial"--is no joke at all. (There's more information at

Munson is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf this Saturday. The program airs at 4:30 p.m. on Northstate Public Radio, KCHO, 91.7 FM. She will also be signing copies of her book at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, June 15, from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.

"Contrary to popular belief," Munson notes, "upper management and supervisors are not always the bullies that are making your life miserable. It is often your co-workers who are the culprits. They can draw you in and gain your trust then freeze you out of the inner circle."

The heart of the book helps readers identify some of the many types of workplace bullies and offers remedies (ranging from peacemaking communication to filing documented complaints to leaving the job altogether). Aggressive personalities may use outright intimidation or threats against the worker or "jump on any mistake with negative feedback."

More passive types are especially dangerous because the abuse is often hidden. "The mental and physical damage piles up, and the source is often not known or dealt with for a long time, if ever." The "potshot taker" uses "jabs, humor, sarcasm, and verbal sparring to put others down," "eavesdrops on conference calls" and "talk behind other people's backs." The "destructive storyteller" is a rumor-monger who spreads innuendos about workplace relationships or salaries.

Then there is the "alligator mob," usually coordinated by a single person, in which "co-workers, colleagues, superiors, or subordinates malign" the dignity of the worker, calling his or her integrity or competence into question. Self-confidence shattered, the worker often leaves.

Munson offers a calm voice and sensible guidance for "climbing out of the swamp." She's been there.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

For Chico poet, rescued dogs and pain transformed


A news release notes that Jeanne E. Clark is part of the creative writing faculty at Chico State University. The Midwesterner won the Akron Poetry Prize in 1997 for her first book, "Ohio Blue Tips." Now, in her second collection, "Gorrill's Orchard" ($16 in paperback from Bear Star Press,, Clark finds solace, and sustenance, in the rescued dogs she cares for in her home near an almond orchard. (She volunteers for Border Collie Rescue of Northern California.)

In "The Story Each Day," the poet writes: "I tell you that I love bleak, fierce landscapes. / I used to grow them in my garden from seed, / named them: yellow-billed magpie, / scrub jay, ladies of leisure. Married then, / one day I told myself this story: / a door in the house opened with purpose. / It held fire behind it. Marriage / made in a furnace / is too easy to start, to put out."

But the orchard, her new home in Northern California, awakens something in the poet. The dogs begin to appear. In "Rain and Roy Orbison," "On this weekend morning I walk the dog. / The dog red and white, rail thin. It's early. . . . // Roy Orbison's 'Only the Lonely' escapes / from my neighbor's open door and windows. . . . // My voice hard like bone, strung tight as muscle. / This morning walks us back into the world."

Then comes "July": "Peggy gets up from her small-dog dream, / waddles in her patchy, blond coat / around my bed. Her tail: / slow and happy propeller." In "Shaking the Almonds," "Flint, Belle, and I walk Gorrill's orchard, / Belle's plume tail a white flag in front of our parade. / Flint's short legs drumming up dust, he stops / to pee on every third tree. . . ."

"December" now. "Belle heels beside me, perfect. No distraction / to my play of fingers counting: making / haiku as I walk, syllables like birds lifting. . . . Can I say / what I feel is joy, ice-blue joy?"

In "Killdeer," the poet writes of "The earth, packed hard, without / forgiveness." "Meanwhile," though, in the dogs, in the orchard's life, there is "Wild forgiveness."