Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chico's troublemaker


"He was a little worried that he was sometimes more naughty than he should be, but his heart was nice. Surely Santa wouldn't punish him for his love of adventure." Thus the thinking of a rather rambunctious young man named Theodore Tribble (better known as "Terrible Tribble Ted"). He may not actually live in Chico, but his creator, Chico orthodontist Greg Tribble, certainly does. And therein lies a tale. Several, in fact.

The Fall 2013 issue of Chico Statements (produced by Chico State University) notes that Tribble's adult children remembered the stories he told about Terrible Tribble Ted and suggested a book. So, "Tribble approached journalism and public relations chair Susan Wiesinger with the rough stories in 2011, and they began working together on their development. In 2013, communication design faculty Carole Montgomery and recent communication design graduate Ashley Lee joined the project. Together, they created a book appropriate for fourth through sixth graders."

The nine stories in "The Adventures of Terrible Tribble Ted" ($7.99 in paperback from Tribble T Press, available locally including Lyon Books in Chico or from the author at emphasize kids playing outside. As Wiesinger noted in an email to me, you won't find video games or texting, though there is one tech mention when Terrible Tribble Ted hears his mom: "'Theodore Tribble! Get home NOW!' she hollered. Other kids had cell phones that would ring or buzz when it was time to come home, but Ted's mom preferred to yell."

Chapters in the book suggest that young Ted's life is not without its challenges, so for example: "Problems from Playing with Keys" (we're talking keys to a moving van); "Complications with the Clown Car" (when Ted tries to sneak into the circus without buying a ticket); "Trouble with Tractors" (they can run over bicycles if driven by a kid named Terrible Tribble Ted); and "Perils with Being a Popper Pirate" (mixing Halloween and fireworks).

Most chapters end the same way: "Terrible Tribble Ted was exhausted and went straight to bed. His terrific sense of adventure had again gotten him in trouble." The whimsical line drawings add just the right flavor. These are growing-up hijinks, and Ted one day will become an adult. Still with a twinkle in his eye, he might even become an orthodontist.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A small-town Christmas


Darien Gee, who lives with her family in the fiftieth state, is a novelist who also has a weekly column on writing in North Hawaii News (archives available at Her husband, Darrin, grew up in Chico and attended Pleasant Valley High School (class of 1985); his parents have lived in Chico since 1977.

Darien has been inviting readers, in a series of novels, to visit the small town of Avalon, Illinois (population 4200, more or less). In tracing the lives of some of the residents she mingles a contemporary focus on women in business while evoking, or awakening, a sense of how neighbors helped neighbors in the good old days. And what breaks down barriers is food--delicious treats and substantial meals that make a human connection.

Now, after "Friendship Bread" and "The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society" comes "An Avalon Christmas," a set of twelve intertwined stories that begins and ends with the residents of Harmony Homes, a care facility in Avalon. These are tales of quiet transformation in the lives of those "of a certain age," and others, who are lonely or ill or just disgusted with people (especially ex-spouses).

"An Avalon Christmas" ($5.99 in Amazon Kindle format from Gee & Co.) also has a companion audio version from, beautifully read by Carin Gilfry.

Food is lovingly described in the stories. In "And We're Wassailing," "Bartholomew Solomon slips on his worn oven mitts, then cracks the oven door and take a peek. The breadcrumbs are crisp and golden. Underneath the crust Bartholomew knows the thyme, garlic and cloves have mingled with juicy red tomatoes, bacon, kielbasa sausages, pork and white beans resulting in a scent so enticing that Bartholomew has to resist grabbing a spoon and taking a bite right there." (A half dozen recipes are included at the end of the book, including the one for Bartholomew's cassoulet.)

In "Room At The Tea Salon," there are "cranberry orange Amish Friendship Bread scones," and in "Cookie Exchange" "lemon icebox cookies, chocolate-dipped shortbread, candied stained-glass wreath cookies"--you get the idea. Along the way we meet a young woman who helps save a failing bookstore, a mysterious stranger who insists on gift-wrapping in the snow, and a surprise Santa. Welcome to Avalon!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A literary taste of Chico and beyond


Dan O'Brien bills himself as a "Northern California independent author and literary consultant," and his Amalgam Publishing ( is a small press that has begun publishing a series of regional anthologies of fiction, poetry and nonfiction.

The first offering is "The Northern California Perspective" ($12.95 in paperback from Amalgam; also in Amazon Kindle format), available locally at Lyon Books in Chico. Intended as a quarterly literary journal, the debut issue contains a good amount of reprinted material with some new pieces as well. The goal, O'Brien wrote in an email, is to focus on original submissions for future issues.

Deeply affecting short stories from Chico State University creative writing and American literature professor Rob Davidson bookend the journal's other pieces, with an additional story in the middle, all from Davidson's "The Farther Shore" collection. "What You Don't Know" begins simply enough: "Beau's house was one of my first sales in Chico, a crucial early commission that gave this new realtor ground to stand on." That ground begins to slip away soon enough, and perhaps that's one of the subtle themes pervading many of the pieces by the 19 authors represented. Something lost in the small towns of Northern California, and maybe something to be found, as in Butte College writing instructor Joe Abbott's contribution, "Burl Cutters (Spring 1979)."

"Disrobing Chico" is an excerpt from Timothy O'Neill's memoir of a Chico long past, and a boyhood long outgrown. "If you kept your sight low so as not to see the hills of the Sierras rising golden to the east of town, glanced left where the brick Presbyterian Church bell tower closed the horizon ... , and if you then quickly turned to the right where Broadway curled before the band of huge chestnut ... then you would think you were in some eastern college town--maybe Williams or Princeton."

Poetry abounds, too. Lara Gularte writes of "Living Above Paradise": "I have come to live here,/ neighbor with skunk, bear,/ mountains with discerning faces. ..." In "The Great Free State of Northern California," by Alec Binyon, the poet writes: "We are children of the West,/ sons of restless madness and daughters of/ destitute dreamers,/ born from the survivors of faithful mountain crossings. ..." Much to be savored here.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Chico writer's autistic preschooler


When Ian was just three, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. What that meant in reality is told in "Strangers Together: How My Son's Autism Changed My Life" ($5.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also in Amazon Kindle format and available locally at Lyon Books in Chico) by Joan Goodreau ( It's an account of the year following Ian's diagnosis by a single mom trying to raise Ian, Monica (seven) and Jennifer (ten). It's a poignant, laugh-out-loud tragi-comedy that begins with an expletive from mom (the first word Ian learns to repeat, of course) and ends with a birthday candle (and Ian putting on his pajamas, all by himself).

In between those events Goodreau charts her own journey. She is living in Canada, and few people understand Ian's outbursts on shopping trips (which are few) or his penchant for pouring things on the floor (like wine or flour) when the family is invited to visit friends (and the friends become fewer). She tries to fend for herself, and yet is amazed at what Ian's Special Education preschool teacher is able to do. Attending a parents' meeting, watching a video of the children, she wonders: "Who is this kid? I didn't know my son could sign and follow directions."

In fact, "he looks like a different boy than the Ian we live with at home. We are strangers who live together. We look at each other, but he doesn't see our family. ... Silence and screams are his language, and we can't understand."

Much later, a compassionate presenter tells another assembly of parents "about the secret child we dream about when we're expecting a baby. We fasten our dreams and hopes on this baby. When our child has disabilities, we have to accept our child is different from the one we dreamed about. We need to grieve in our own ways for the child we thought we had, and for the death of our dream." And Goodreau learns that others can help.

She will be signing her book at the Rowell Family Empowerment Center, 3075 Cohasset Road in Chico, Friday, December 13, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Call (530) 899-8801 for details. All proceeds from the book sale will go to the organization, which offers "support, education and advocacy to parents."

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A provocative study of evil from a former Chico State University professor


"Moral Evil" ($32.95 in paperback from Georgetown University Press; also in Amazon Kindle format), by Andrew Michael Flescher, might seem a strange holiday topic. Yet, ultimately, while fully recognizing the sometimes horrifying nature of human existence, it is a book of measured hope.

Andy Flescher taught in the Religious Studies department at Chico State University and is now, according an author's note, "a member of the Core Faculty, Program in Public Health, associate professor of preventive medicine, and associate professor of English at Stony Brook University" in New York. But put all that aside. His probing study of moral evil (and natural evil, too, such as a devastating tsunami) is brilliantly clear and mostly jargon free, well worth pondering.

The core of the book is a description of four (sometimes overlapping) ways of looking at moral evil, each put in conversation with the others. In the last chapter Flescher moves from description to prescription, suggesting the most satisfying (and hopeful) understanding of moral evil involves combining Augustine's evil-as-privation view with Aristotle's virtue ethics view of character development.

Augustine's view sees "evil as the absence of goodness," a lack of being what we should be when we do what we shouldn't or fail to do what we ought. We are no stranger to this evil--it seems part of the human condition.

A second view of moral evil envisions it in Manichean terms, evil as a substantial opposing force "radically separate from the good." This is "evil as the presence of badness"; the battle against evil may never be won. A third view proposes a theodicy, a justification of the ways of God to man, suggesting that evil is really a kind of good if we could only understand the larger picture. It is"evil as the presence of goodness." Finally, evil is only in the eye of the beholder, just a label some people slap on the actions of those they don't like. It is "evil as the absence of badness."

For Flescher, evil is a privation; in response we must "introduce goodness" with "actions that reveal a commitment to the building and rebuilding of human community and connection" and "go out of our way to choose the good." There is Hope.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Boozy 90s remembrances of Chico State University


"I have so many fond memories of attending Chico State," writes Michele Schlueter "Shleets" Smith. "From sorority socials, to road trips, to hanging out a Riley's and deciding if I wanted a burrito or piece of pizza at 2 a.m. when the bars closed. The only responsibility I had was to get my butt to class--I did however work part-time, volunteer and ended up being President of my romper room sorority. Not exactly the real world, especially when you can schedule your classes around Days of our Lives and the bars (Tuesday nights were 'Buck Nights' at Riley's and Thursdays were beer specials at the Bear)."

Smith and eight other sorority sisters contributed anonymous chapters to a new book she edited, "One Too Many: College Secrets As Told By Many Anonymous Past Chico State Sorority Girls" (from, the Website address of Smith's independent publishing company). The writers, says the publisher, have produced "a funny, raunchy, enlightening and nostalgic book for those who have walked the walk."

Eleven chapters look back at Chico State University in its party-school heyday, full of a host of embarrassing moments, crazy roommates, and frat boys too full of themselves. Along the way there is some "I was there" advice, about "Boys, Bong Loads and Booze" (Chapter 1) and "Sleeping with a Stripper is Never a Good Idea" (Chapter 9).

Several activities show up throughout the chapters, including "barf" (5 times), "throw up" (twice) and "puke" (once), thanks mostly to beverage overindulgence. There's also a lot of hot sex, and even a few short-lived marriages out of the deal, but mostly sex is mentioned but not pursued. It's the girl bonding that takes the limelight here, and frat boys are mostly bad news.

"Attending Chico State," one contributor says, "was a moment in my life I wouldn't trade for anything. You are away from home, in the middle of nowhere and there isn't much to do except party with your friends and occasionally open a book and study. I am conflicted because as a parent, I would never, ever want my children to attend Chico. However, I really want my kids to build those memories in their young adult years at such an amazing college."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Chico author on coming to terms with the loss of a son


In her first book, "The Third Floor," Chico businesswoman Judi Loren Grace told her own heart-wrenching story, "forced to relinquish an infant as a teen mom." Her new book is about loss as well. "Dreamscape in A minor" ($19.95 in paperback from Jetstream Publishing,; also available in Amazon Kindle format) is the story of Jeff, "my second son, the oldest of the three children whom I had the privilege to raise. This is about a lost life, one that fell through the cracks."

The book is written to Jeff, a long letter of love from a mother who didn't understand, or wouldn't accept, the warning signs. "I'm bringing my son back to life," Loren Grace writes, "for you to get to know and love as we, his family, did. Jeff died too soon, far too young, leaving an unfinished life."

"He left no note," she continues, "but as I look back I realize that in his own way, he did say a proper goodbye. Here is the story of our family--the joy and grief, the anger and love, the frustration and pride, the comedy and tragedy, the laughs and tears, and the coincidences and memories that follow. The conflicting emotions and apparent inconsistencies in this story are the twenty-four year aftermath of living with Jeff's suicide and my father's connected death."

A section of family photographs suggests nothing amiss, adding to the poignancy of the story, recounted in sometimes searing detail as the author attempts to make sense of Jeff's death at twenty-one.

"My son," she writes, "you seemed so hostile and explosive, whether with anger or laughter, that you'd think any mother would know their child is losing their grip on sanity. Your highs and the lows began to get closer together as the rest of us went about our daily lives, expecting and waiting for you to do the same; waiting for you to snap out of it and get on with your life." It was not to be.

A presentation and book signing will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 21 at Lyon Books in Chico. There will also be a signing Saturday, December 7 at 1:00 p.m. at Satori Color and Hair Design, Broadway and 7th St. in Chico.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Doug Keister's "kidhood"


"I was born," writes Chico author and photographer Doug Keister, "in a working class neighborhood in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 14th, 1948 and remained there for the first two decades of my life." His parents had three children, all boys.

"I'm a child of the heartland. The middle kid, born in the middle of the country, in the middle of the century." Thus the title of his forty-first book: "Heart-Land: Growing Up In The Middle Of Everything" ($8.99 in paperback from Doublewide Productions; also in Amazon Kindle format).

In nearly two dozen deftly-written chapters Keister recalls his life in "kiddom." By turns witty and poignant (and embellished just a bit here and there), the book highlights young Doug's unceasing curiosity (except for girls--ugh!) and will rekindle fond memories of that long-ago time when "Father Knows Best" reigned supreme.

The TV show "featured a Midwestern household composed of Jim and Margaret Anderson and their three children with pet names: Princess, Bud and Kitten. With the possible exception of Bud, everyone in the program was PERFECT. Our parents would sit us in front of the television hoping that somehow we'd absorb at least a smidgen of the Anderson family's aura, but alas, we did not." Good thing, though; otherwise young Doug wouldn't have explored explosives with his Gilbert Chemistry Set.

To this day Keister, the self-described "effervescent eccentric," loves "the smell of gasoline" because it meant getting away. "Nebraska is one of those states that is memorable for how long it takes to get through. There are few significant changes for its entire length, unless you count the different colors of grasshoppers splattered on your windshield."

Don't forget Jell-O, "the universal solvent. Midwest mothers fabricated a number of congealed concoctions using Jell-O as the base. These creations were used to surreptitiously transport vegetables into our developing bodies."

Chapters toward the end of the book introduce a sober reality--JFK's assassination was "the end of our childhood"--but also the "obsession with weather. ... Nebraska has real weather, often two or three seasons in the same day." Doug weathered his kidhood, and his book is a delightful look back.

Keister will be signing copies of "Heart-Land," and many of his other books, this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Book In Common: War's aftermath


An author's note says Kevin Powers "served in the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar." A Virginia native, he was the Michener Fellow in Poetry at the University of Texas at Austin.

His novel, "The Yellow Birds" ($14.99 in paperback from Little, Brown and Company/Back Bay Books; and in Amazon Kindle format), is the searing tale of John Bartle, fighting in Northern Iraq, pledged to help his buddy Daniel Murphy, just 18. Bartle was asked by Mrs. Murphy to keep her son safe. "I promise," he said. "I promise I'll bring him home to you."

It didn't work out that way.

Part of Bartle's story is what happened in Iraq, yet afterward, what does it mean? For him, life has only "an undetermined future, no destiny, no veined hand reaching into our lives, just what happened and our watching it."

Bartle, now in his thirties, is looking back. He was a 21-year-old going to war. Bart and Murph work closely together under the watchful eye of Sergeant Sterling, also young, and for a while, it seems, all three would survive. But it doesn't work out that way.

Bartle remembers Murph as still a kid, joking around. "I remember that part of him fondly, before he was lost, before he surrendered fully to the war, twisting through the air, perhaps one beat of his heart remaining as they threw his tortured body from the window of the minaret."

The great irony for Bartle is that he is welcomed home to high-fives from his friends. His words are laconic, but his thought-life troubled. "I feel like I'm being eaten from the inside out and I can't tell anyone what's going on because everyone is so grateful to me all the time and I'll feel like I'm ungrateful or something. Or like I'll give away that I don't deserve anyone's gratitude and really they should all hate me for what I've done but everyone loves me for it and it's driving me crazy."

Butte College ( , Chico State University (, and various community groups are scheduling Book In Common events the next several months--discussing issues that require full measures of courage and grace.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Discovery's wonder from a local poet


Marianne Werner is a retired Butte College English instructor who writes that "I have always felt more at ease sitting under a tree (or in one) than sitting in a chair made from a tree. In nature is a world far more perfect than we humans seem able to sustain, and I am continually awed by the ingenuity of its adaptation and its beauty." Long a poet, when she took up photography she realized words and images could combine in a "thematic closeness."

Her work is on vibrant display in "Simple Images: Nature Poems and Photographs" ($16 in softcover, self-published, available from or from Lyon Books in downtown Chico). The twenty poems and associated images (some taken from locations in Chico, some from Oregon, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ireland) weave together the story of a poet's delight and even astonishment at the natural world.

In "Concert of Plants," the writer is in Mexico, at the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens, where "The Plasmath Lute shivers sounds, / eerily beautiful. ..." Electrodes are connected to cacti, where "plant signals translate into music, / simple chords seeping throughout / their joined familial roots. // I don't believe this, / but I see it happening."

In "Wild Lupine," "Against the mottled snow / and green hills of Lassen, / an enormous purple shawl / of wild lupine smothers // the hillside. The switchback / trail turns us through / acres of lavender--lighter, / darker, lighter blossoms // until we are in the center / of such an explosion / that we are wordless."

"In midwinter," the poet writes in "Flight," "I hear sounds / from above, sounds of wild / geese pulsing and honking / in patterns of flight. // ... I watch, incredulous, / not at their instincts pulling / toward a particular / destination--rather, / their spacing, exact // in its precision of distance, / wing tip to wing tip. ..."

Somewhere else, a heart flower opens, "its surface posed / like dappled silk-- // while I watch and marvel." Everywhere there is something to cause wonder. In "Sanctuary," "Thousands, thousands of pure / white snow geese have arrived / on this bright November day, / feather cuddling each other, / idling so far across dark lagoons / that I could walk shore to shore / upon their soft curved backs."

The images evoke wonder as well, portraits of a world the poet longs to embrace, and does.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Verbal variety from guest author


Sometimes verbs "don't get no respect," especially when it comes to headlines. These days, writes Bay Area author and critic Constance Hale, verbs are ousted from headlines in favor of search-optimized nouns, but that can lead to some interpretive problems. Take the story of spud farmers wanting to catch the ear of a hamburger giant. The Associated Press headline: "McDonald's Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers."

Hale grew up speaking "proper" English at home in Oahu but used Hawaiian creole with friends at school. Maybe that stoked her passion for language; her obsession with verbs is on display in "Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing" ($16.95 in paperback from W.W. Norton; also in Amazon Kindle format).

The book is a salted-peanut delight for language lovers, dipping "into the highbrow and the lowbrow, the sacred and the profane, the eloquent and the cheesy. We'll unpack one aspect of verbs at a time, keeping things simple. We won't forget the fun."

Each chapter has four sections; the Vex part tackles language confusion and history (sometimes it's a history of confusion); Hex is there to "shatter myths and debunk shibboleths, and set you free to write with new confidence and zest." Speaking of zest, the Smash sections examine a plethora of bad examples (I scoured the index for my name--not there! Whew! I'm safe until the next edition). And Smooch? This section is for "writing that is so good you'll want to kiss its creator. These passages feature juicy words, sentences that rock, and subjects that startle." (You can find more at

Chapters contain little think-piece asides and carry the reader from verb dynamics and tenses to moods, participles and "odd uses." Meaty appendices consider Chomsky, dictionaries, irregular verbs, and more.

Log on is a phrasal verb and "when we're done, we log off." We don't logon, though we may be logging on. And once you've logged on, you may read some smoochable words from Toni Morrison: "Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; ... ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down their stalks."

Lyon Books in downtown Chico is hosting a presentation and signing with Constance Hale tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The business side of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.


Sierra Nevada's first brew date was November 15, 1980. Almost a quarter century and uncounted bottles of Pale Ale later, Ken Grossman, president and owner of the company, contemplated retirement. Then he read a book by "Gary Erickson, the founder of Clif Bar and Company, that chronicled his struggle with the direction of his company at a similar point in his life. His story was similar to mine, with a troubled partnership and the near sale of his company to a major industry player. He changed his mind at the absolute last minute and walked away from signing over his company and had since rededicated himself to it."

With Sierra Nevada, Grossman writes, "we built one of the best breweries in the world." Now, as he rededicated his energies, he learned the importance of a sales team, made plans to build a second operation in North Carolina, and nurtured the next generation of craft brewers. In an odd way, a Clif Bar saved the vision.

Grossman tells the story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in "Beyond The Pale" ($24.95 in hardcover from Wiley and in Amazon Kindle format). It's a business memoir, with a color photograph section included, recounting the growth of a company that by 2010 was producing 800,000 barrels and running out of room. There were financial and personal challenges, including the tragic loss of the company's first employee, Steve Harrison. His death, Grossman writes, "was the worst thing the brewery has ever been through."

But the focus of the book is on how the business navigated the ups and downs of the craft beer revolution and how Grossman, an avowed beer purist, became a beer scientist, "shunning pasteurization" and instead focusing on "the yeast and the cleanliness of your plant." As far as the hops are concerned, "we have the one of the most sophisticated gas chromatographs available for aroma analysis." He discusses management style as well, and the use of alternative energy.

It's wisdom to tap into.

Grossman will be signing copies at Sierra Nevada's "Single, Fresh, Wet and Wild Harvest Festival" this Saturday from 1:00 - 6:00 (visit for ticket information) and Lyon Books in Chico will hold a free signing event on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Activist poet Brenda Hillman returns to Chico


A fiery life force runs through everything in Brenda Hillman's latest book of poetry. "Seasonal Works With Letters On Fire" ($22.95 in hardcover from Wesleyan University Press; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format), nominated for a National Book Award, concludes a series of volumes exploring earth, air, water and, now, fire.

Perhaps it's the poet's responsibility to discover that life-fire, to give voice to it, or even to create it in the interplay of the physical "stuff" of words and letters and the meanings they evoke. Hers is not a humanist but an animist vision; yet humans can make a difference: "words are living." Hillman's book is dedicated in part "To women awake in the world / To people moaning at gas pumps, to the students / To protesting corporate violence ... To Love & the unsayable / To the fire in everything."

Most of her short poems end in a dash, as if there is unfinished business. Her work requires surrender to an artistic playfulness. In "Some Kinds Of Reading In Childhood," the poem ends: "The world has created a sickness / but the sickness is being / reversed ... Consonants / can be reasoned with, but vowels / start fires--now! breathing / twice: Now! Here come / the bandit occupiers: / silence & meaning--"

The poet attests all is not well. "When i read the word drone," Hillman writes in "The Body Politic Loses Her Hair," "my hair falls out in solidarity with old words. Stingless singless honey bees [Apis mellifera] or the music drones on & on, but now (at the top of Google), unmanned, where the 'un' in the 'unmanned' looks like little pinchers, the 'u' & the 'n' like the fingers on a throttle when one of our soldiers bombs a target's wedding while his family members are eating potatoes with tamarind, cardamom, onion, / & the target's family falls."

In "I Heard Flame-Folder Spring Bring Red," the poet observes "Women / in Kandahar make $2 a month; our people / tweet & sleep through the wars, / our soggy purses lie open, the eyes / of the dollar bills stare up from the / floor--"

Hillman will be speaking at Chico's 1078 Gallery, 820 Broadway, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., sponsored by the Butte College Literary Committee. The event is free; donations welcome.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Eve Ensler coming Thursday to Chico State University


Best recognized as author of "The Vagina Monologues," Eve Ensler is also an internationally known activist and the founder of V-Day (, "a global movement to end violence against women and girls."

Her heart is in the Congo, with the women brutalized beyond measure, "women with missing limbs and reproductive organs, women with machete lashes across their faces and arms and legs ... women carrying babies the color of their rapists, women who smelled like urine and feces because they had fistulas--holes between their vaginas and bladder and rectum--and now they were leaking, leaking."

Ensler's childhood was also a story of bodily abuse. "I grew up not in a home but in a kind of free fall of anger and violence that led to a life of constant movement." A father's incest, a mother's emotional distance. Ensler "drank myself mad, numbed myself with drugs at sixteen, snuck out with grown men to the Fillmore East for the late show, lived naked on communes, and stole things."

Years passed. Then, "on March 17, 2010, they discovered a huge tumor in my uterus. Cancer threw me through the window of my disassociation into the center of my body's crisis. The Congo threw me deep into the crisis of the world, and these two experiences merged as I faced the disease and what I felt was the beginning of the end."

Ensler's harrowing story--in-your-face blunt--is told in "In The Body Of The World" ($25 in hardcover from Metropolitan Books; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format, and as an audiobook read by the author).

Ensler is scheduled to speak at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Premium tickets are $40, adults $35, seniors $33, students $20, available at the University Box Office, (530) 898-6333 or online at

The story of her treatment, the effects of chemo, the doctors, nurses, friends and family and people in the Congo gripped by her pain, the death of her mother, and how she became a survivor, is a searing account that is impossible to put down. The story, ultimately, is "about showing up and not forgetting, about keeping promises, about giving everything and losing everything." It is love, "endless and generous and enveloping."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Growing up in the logging camps


Local history buffs can rejoice in the publication of "What's In The Woods?" by William "Bill" Dennison and Clifford "Blackie" Gilbert ($35 in hardcover from the Butte Meadows-Jonesville Community Association). Checks for $40 (which includes $5 in shipping), made out to BMJCA, can be sent to 20 Lakewood Way, Chico, CA 95926; reach Dennison at (530) 258-1489 or

The subtitle fills in the details: "Life Stories And Histories As Told By The Kids Who Lived In Northern California Diamond Match Company Logging Camps 1927-1944." "The Kids" are six lifelong friends, Dennison, Gilbert, Jackie Chandler Abell, Stanley "Stan" Brock, Pat Schulse Gein, and June Beavers Yount. The co-authors "were raised in simple logging cabins just across the dusty road from each other in the West Branch Camp. Their lives and friendships have been interwoven for over 79 years."

The book itself is beautifully, elegantly designed. It includes a logging glossary, 142 historic photographs, and maps by Chris Ficken. The remembrances, set within the context of Diamond's experience in Northern California, center on "The Woods." The term "is still used in the forest products industry to denote the logging operation locations. Our homes were in very remote areas and surrounded by The Woods." It was a place of danger where their fathers worked, but "as we reached the ages of eight or nine, our parents were comfortable with us exploring and hiking outside the camp borders ... one had to be there in order to feel the security and trust that many of us developed between each other and The Woods."

The larger purpose of the book, Dennison told me in an email, is "to let the reader sit back and 'feel' The Kids' stories about the logging communities which formed their basic life foundation. The sounds of steam locomotive engines and bells, the school house bell, the water running in the streams in our backyards, abundant wildlife, the smells of summer flowers, as well as the dust from the camp roads and the tragedy of severe injuries/deaths and wildfires were all part of our early lives, which we wish to share with others. ... Life was hard, but The Kids recall fondly that our lives in the logging camps were good...very good." And so is the book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Seeing Genesis through the eyes of Qabalah


Chico author Glynda-Lee Hoffmann recounts her quest for self-knowledge in "The Genesis Code: Your Key To Unlocking Hidden Genius" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format). Hers was a difficult childhood; "in my forties," she writes, looking back, "I underwent three years of therapy and finally realized that the punishment I endured from my parents and teachers most likely had nothing to do with me. ..."

Those experiences left her lonely, bereft of love; though, mysteriously, there were also moments (a Voice; a vision of being inside the mind of Jesus) that left her with a yearning for "clarity": "Clarity is salvation." She forgot these experiences (only to recover them later). Then, in her twenties, she was given given a book, by French author Carlo Suares, which used the Qabalah to interpret Genesis. She was hooked.

An author interview is scheduled for this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on Nancy's Bookshelf, on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM).

The Qabalah is an ancient mystical tradition that sees deep meaning in each Hebrew letter. The first, ALEPH, "is the undetectable pulse of life." The second, BAYT, "is the static container which forms a boundary or perimeter which contains life." ALEPH is inner, BAYT outer. Each word of Genesis is a kind of acronym embodying the qualities of its letters.

Creation in Genesis is an outer story, the past. But the garden is an inner story, the present, the story of self-awareness and the presence of light. "I can't call it God since that implies separation. I am God, so the God that saves me is the energy that is me. ... The Qabalah recognizes that life is the only truth that exists. Life, not God, is our source." For Hoffmann, this was the moment of clarity. Eden is "a portrayal of our inner, psychological and neurological world."

Adam, in this inner story, is the neocortex and Eve is "the frontal lobe" which "emerged last in the human brain, extracted from the tissue of the neocortex, yet expressing new qualities, possibilities, and opportunities for human awareness, vision, and perception." YHWH is inner and outer intercommunication, "a process, not a deity, not the Lord."

It's amazing what the human imagination can find within the text.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

A new Brett Raven adventure from a Chico author

Front cover outlines Flightof Deception-with annie

Mike Paull, pilot and retired dentist, created in Brett Raven a brainy, handsome dentist who is also a pilot. His first outing came in "Flight of Betrayal" and now, hard on its heels, we have "Flight of Deception" ($15.99 in paperback from Skyhawk Publishing; also available as an Amazon Kindle e-book), billed as "the second in the Brett Raven trilogy."

The first two books form a continuous story, and though new readers can start with book two (the shenanigans in book one are recounted within the first forty pages), it's best to start with "Flight of Betrayal" for the full effect. "Flight of Deception" is a story of sweet revenge, with Raven and former wife Annie going to great lengths to recover millions of dollars and put things right.

Paull will be signing copies of his books at a wine and cheese reception at Canyon Oaks Country Club in Chico on Thursday, September 19, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

The story takes place in 2000, and Raven and his ex-wife Annie are seeing a lot of each other. Brett is in love and wants to marry Annie, but the relationship is "complicated." "Are the issues you're dealing with still related to when I talked you into the abortion?" Brett asks.

Annie: "Brett, I've already forgiven you for that. I just have to be sure I've forgiven myself. I keep thinking about the plans we made twenty years ago when we were in college ... but now that I'm in my forties and living with the realization I can never have children. ... I want to solve my own problems. Our relationship will never be right if I let you solve all the problems, make all the decisions, and I just come along for the ride."

And it's quite a ride, as Brett enlists the help of some key acquaintances to spin a web to catch a bad guy. Brett rarely makes a mistake, and part of the fun of the book is watching his elaborate plot unfold like clockwork (though Annie may have upset the best laid plans). No dental forensics this time, but plenty of fawning over a "twin engine Beechcraft Baron." Or, in Brett's words: "Pretty sweet."

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A Chicoan in Paris


Prolific Chico writer and photographer Doug Keister went to Paris--to study its cemeteries. He got an Eiffel! (Gustave Eiffel is buried in the Levallois-Perret Cemetery, a towering figure indeed--whose mausoleum is “out of alignment with the other tombs in the cemetery” so Gustave could face his masterpiece.)

The result of Keister’s study, aided by a number of dedicated taphophiles (“lovers of cemeteries”), is rather, shall we say, monumental. “Stories In Stone Paris: A Field Guide To Paris Cemeteries and Their Residents” ($24.99 in hardcover from Gibbs Smith, Publisher) includes hundreds of color photographs detailing cemetery symbolism, architecture, and cemeteries themselves.

Though designed as a guidebook (including GPS coordinates) for those touring the monuments, Keister’s eye for detail and the telling tale will keep armchair travelers engrossed as well. Tidbits abound. “A word,” he writes, “about the permanence of burial in Paris--Americans are often shocked to find that, unlike in America, where burial is permanent, burial in much of Europe is often a temporary affair.” In fact, “many graves are essentially rented for various periods of time.”

Jim Morrison’s grave in Père-Lachaise (he the “lead singer for the late 1960s/early 1970s rock group the Doors” who “visited Paris in March 1971 and never left”) was almost given to someone else in 2001 after the rental period expired but, fortunately for fans, he’s still there.

Marcel Proust is there as well, but Napoléon is in Les Invalides (“a rambling complex of buildings relating to France’s military history”), born “in Corsica, the second of eight children of noble Genoese parents.” Asked if he could conquer Europe, he was said to have said, Corsican! (Well, not really, but I couldn’t resist.)

From dogged puns to a true dog cemetery: “The Paris Dog Cemetery, which bills itself as the world’s oldest public pet cemetery,” was established in 1899. Know who’s there? Rin Tin Tin. Rinty died in 1932 but helped popularize “the German shepherd breed in the United States.”

Then there’s Saint-Denis, where lies Marie-Antoinette, who didn’t quite say “let them eat cake.” The word was actually “brioche,” “a type of egg and butter bread," still unkind words to starving citizens. Only, "there is no evidence whatsoever that Marie-Antoinette ever uttered those now infamous words."

See? Keister leaves no stoned unturned.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The printed version of "Nancy's Bookshelf"


Nancy Wiegman has been interviewing authors on Nancy's Bookshelf, aired on Northstate Public Radio (KCHO, 91.7 FM), since July 2007. The half-hour weekly program features local writers as well as visitors with a bit more notoriety, including Maya Angelou, Mike Farrell, Steve Lopez, Paula Poundstone, and Scott Simon. For each interview, it's clear to listeners that the host has done her homework, including the requisite reading. Her questions help the author tell the story of the book; they offer gentle nudges, astute reflections, compassionate understanding.

And now, with the help of husband Neal (book designer and transcriptionist extraordinaire), thirty-one of the interviews, including those above, are appearing in printed form. Reading "Conversations With Writers" ($14.95 in paperback from Yellow Arrow Press) is like sitting down to eat with some of the most interesting people; their words, which sometimes pass us by in audio form, become something different on the page: They are there to savor, to ponder, to read again. (Audio archives of the interviews are available on the site.)

Lyon Books in downtown Chico will be hosting a signing and discussion with Nancy and Neal Wiegman, Wednesday, August 28 at 7:00 p.m.

Nancy volunteers for the broadcast, directs the yoga program at Chico Sports Club, has a Master's in French linguistics, and was named Outstanding Woman of Chico in 1999. Neal has a Ph.D. in Spanish and is himself the author of several books, including the novel "Walking the Way: A Medieval Quest." (His interview by Nancy is included in the book, which also contains several photographs, additional notes by Neal, a list of the guests on each program through July 2013, and--full disclosure--several excerpts from this column and some kind mentions.)

Interviews range from Rob Burton, on the history of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in "Hops and Dreams," to Troy Jollimore, Chico State University philosopher and award-winning poet, whose "Love Poem" is just this: "I ache for you / with all of the teeth / that fell out of my mouth / when I was a child."

There's the story of Janis Joplin, from her sister Laura; Robb Wolf on "The Paleo Solution," Laird Easton on Harry Kessler ("The Red Count"), who knew Nietzsche; and more. The table is set. The book is the feast.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chico author on reclaiming the art of conversation


"I live with my husband and a pair of yellow labs in Northern California," writes Peggy Jennings-Severe, "and am currently a student services administrator" at Butte College. And, oh yes: "I want to meet Oprah."

While Oprah can talk to anyone about anything, it seems, striking up a conversation is for many people something of a lost art. Over the years Jennings-Severe "watched older couples at restaurants, seated across from each other, eating in silence, which felt incredibly sad and lonely to me." Going out on a dinner date with husband Rhys was awkward: "It was if I had nothing to say that didn't begin with or include our children."

Yet people yearn for meaningful contact. What if they had a fun way to start the conversation? "Although my family, friends, and colleagues chuckle, roll their eyes, and mildly moan when I tell them it's time for verbal cards or begin an activity designed to break the ice, I think they secretly look forward to it--well, maybe not all, but most."

What changed the author's family is now available in book form. "Life Talks: A Guide To Bringing Back Conversation" ($15 in paperback from CreateSpace; also in Amazon Kindle e-book format) offers key questions and activities for baby showers, reunions, long car rides, retirement, Valentine's Day, and many more (see

Lyon Books in downtown Chico will be hosting a book signing (and conversation!) Monday, August 26 at 7:00 p.m.

For birthday parties, the group gets in a circle and someone begins by saying "'What I appreciate about __ is...' (No sarcasm is allowed.)" Such verbal cards last far longer than Hallmark. The birthday person joins in, too: "What is the most valuable lesson you learned last year?" "What questions about your life do you want answered in the coming year?" At family gatherings, members sort cards each with a quality written on it, like "creativity," "religion" "winning." Which are the most important, or least important? Surprises abound as the conversation gets going.

Thanksgiving gatherings are a great place to start. "What five things remain on your bucket list?" "You have been given unlimited resources to create a totally new and unique theme park. What would it be?"

This book will get people talking.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"The Bard of Butte and the poet of Helltown"

Pres Longley, born in 1824, dreamed that one day his poems would be made into a book. Now, more than a century later, his dream has come true. "The Miner Poet: Poems of Pres Longley" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing), edited by John Rudderow and Nancy Leek, presents more than a hundred of his poems, along with a substantial dose of Longley's witty and self-deprecating prose, in a handsome volume that is simply a must read.
Lyon Books in downtown Chico will be hosting a book signing Tuesday, September 24 at 7:00 p.m.
The editors's introduction highlights the themes that captured the poet's heart, including Democratic politics, women's suffrage and the miners' plight; he "stood with them in their struggles against natural disasters, corporate greed, and ever-passing time."
He also wrote of his single status (he was almost 60 before he married) and "the effect that the gradual arrival of women had on the giant bachelor party that was gold rush California." For years he lived in a cabin "on Boneyard Flat, halfway between Centerville and Helltown, in Butte Creek Canyon. Helltown was a boom town in the 1850s, but by the time Pres settled there in 1866 most of the miners had moved on to the Comstock Lode and the Fraser River."
"I hold that true poets are prophets," he once wrote, "Whose voices are echoes sublime, / Whose songs are the anthems of nations / That float down the river of time." But he wasn't averse to writing about the small things, like bumping into a "Girl I Saw On L Street": "I've been in stormy battle's fray, / And heard the bullets whistle, / But never have been wounded with / So dear a little miss-ile."
"The rarest treasures of the tropic land," the poet observed, "On 'Rancho Chico' have been brought to stand. ..." He longed "for the good old days of yore, / When statesmanship was pure; / When men would scorn monopolies / Who tempted them with lure." He wrote for the Democratic Butte Record and skewered the Republican newspaper in "The Critic": "All must admit the man's a cheat / Who slobbers out the damndest lies, / Then hides himself behind a sheet / He calls the Chico Enterprise."
This is Pres Longley, the Bard of Butte.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

A children's book about friendship and reunion


The new children's story from Marcia Sbarbaro-Pezzella and her brother, Vic Sbarbaro, is a tale of separation and reunion. Illustrated by Josh Smith, "Penelope the Lonesome Pillow" ($12.95 in paperback from North State Children's Books) begins with a little cottage in the Swiss Alps. An aging and lonely widow, Gretene Fritzl, has only two friends, "a rocking chair and matching pillow that she had stuffed and covered. She called the rocking chair Roxie and the matching pillow Penelope."

Vic Sbarbaro, a Certified Health Education Specialist who teaches at Butte College and Chico State University, edited the story from one his sister wrote. Marcia, born in Weed, worked as "a special education teacher for disabled children" and now helps with her husband's restaurant, Pezzella's.

Mrs. Fritzl loved Roxie and Penelope ("Penny") and in turn they talked with her. "Mrs. Fritzl was always afraid to tell anyone for fear that they would think her crazy. Mrs. Fritzl was a religious woman; she actually felt that God sent down special blessings to this particular rocking chair and pillow. Why they even had cloth eyes, ears, and voices to keep her company."

But together-time was not to last. Mrs. Fritzl died. "It was a rainy day in the small Swiss village. The little Fritzl cottage was dark with grief. Roxie and Penelope both shed a thread of a tear for their beloved mistress. They would never forget her or her kindliness to them. They also realized they would never speak to another human being for a long time until they proved worthy of their special gift to talk."

What follows is is a long journey as Roxie and Penelope are put in separate boxes and shipped to America. Roxie's box gets an address, but somehow Penelope slips through the cracks and her box ends up at the Lost and Found. Then she gets passed from person to person, finally ending up with the Barnes family. Billy, the teenager, uses Penny as a cushion when he changes his car's oil. But his sister, Kathy Sue, who happens to be blind, takes a special liking to Penny. And when Kathy Sue's dad builds her a playhouse and brings home an old rocking chair for her to sit in--a little magic happens.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How "Wings of Eagles" came to be


"Wings of Eagles: The Joseph Alvarez Organization for Seriously Ill Children," founded in 1993, seeks "to relieve the financial burden of families" faced with life-threatening illness. "There is an 85 percent divorce rate," writes Georgia Alvarez, "among families with seriously ill children. If we could relieve the financial burden of families, help pay the costs that insurance, that Medi-Cal don't begin to cover, maybe the family could weather the emotional storm they would be faced with."

Georgia Alvarez is intimately acquainted with that "emotional storm." Born and raised in Princeton, she lived "on a two-thousand-acre walnut ranch in which my husband, Alberto, is the shop supervisor." With housing provided (even in their moves "from Butte City, to Chico, and then to Nord") the couple and their children had few real worries--until the doctor's phone call in 1989.

Joseph, then eight, was diagnosed with "acute lymphocytic leukemia with a Philadelphia chromosome ... so rare, that only ten children are diagnosed with it a year," all males. Joseph was terminal, one of his doctors said, and "even with a bone marrow transplant, he only had less than 20 percent chance for survival."

What happened next, the family strains, the tears, Joseph's care for others in the midst of his own pain, Georgia's "spiritual dreams" and a new relationship with God, are all recounted in "The Simple Plan: A Book Of Hope/A Book Of Dreams" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format). There's a section of family photographs, too: This happened to a real family, and it nearly tore them apart.

Despair and hope played tag. Before the bone marrow transplant (his younger sister Mary was the donor), Joseph underwent repeated full-body radiation and harsh chemotherapy. The transplant seemed to help, but then Joseph relapsed. His mother described him as wise beyond his years. At one point Joseph said to her, "I'm an angel, and God sent me down to earth to teach, but now my job is done." He died early in 1991.

Thanks to an article in this newspaper, strangers began to make donations to help the family. Two years later, Georgia, with other volunteers, established Wings of Eagles, an ongoing memorial to a little boy whose life touched so many.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Chico novelist explores the secrets of the asylum

Something happened at the Emerson Rose Asylum in the late 1970s. Everyone left, suddenly; "patients, doctors, and staff completely vanished and were never seen again." Later, as the asylum falls to the wrecking ball, someone finds a series of letters stuffed in a bed, addressed to a "Dr. Quill." The brutal and heartbreaking letters, all from patients, are fictional; but they serve to illuminate not only the abuses one might imagine go on at certain mental institutions, but also the individual lives, where getting inside their heads is hardly imaginable at all.
Though "Letters From The Looney Bin" (self-published, $2.99 in Amazon Kindle e-book format) is not about Thatcher C. Nalley's actual experience doing intake work at Butte County Behavioral Health, it's clear her time there reaffirmed a commitment to help tell stories of mental illness from the inside out. The dozen letters all speak of something brewing at the asylum--maybe a mass escape--in the wake of the terror of Dr. V., the new man in charge.
With compassionate and wise care, those in the asylum can make at least a little progress in stilling the demons. Such compassion was represented by Dr. Huxley, but now he's dead of a heart attack. For one patient, Juliette, the demons are startlingly real. "I don't talk about the demons that come to my room at night," she writes in her letter to Dr. Quill. "I've seen what this place does to others who tell about the things they see. The orderlies come and take them away in the middle of the night. I think sometimes they take their brain, because their minds are gone by morning."
The letters tell of horrendous childhood abuse and neglect, and it's clear from the stories that those in the asylum could not very well be walking the street. Sabel screams, loudly, and yearns for control. The "white coats" allow one of the doctors to alter "my throat to where I cannot make any sounds, no sounds at all." Perhaps it is no wonder that Sabel runs to the nurse's station, picks up a typewriter, and smashes the head of one of those "white coats."
One can say, with full awareness of many meanings here, that this is strong medicine.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How a Chico man helped Ronald Reagan become Governor


"We had him for three days," writes Chicoan Ken Holden of Ronald Reagan, "in a tiny beach cottage near Malibu. This was in early 1966. Just three of us in a small beach cottage. An unlikely candidate for governor of California, he'd already goofed up a few public appearances. He couldn't seem to get his footing, he looked unprepared, he mangled details." Even his friends were ready to give up. But behavioral psychologist Ken Holden, and his business associate and friend Stan Plog, saw that he just needed a little training.

Holden tells the story of what happened in "The Making of the Great Communicator: Ronald Reagan's Transformation From Actor To Governor" ($26.95 in hardcover from Lyons Press; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format).

"Only three people on earth knew the full story of what happened in Malibu over those seventy-two hours, how we helped transform a B-move actor into a political giant. ... Ronald Reagan died in 2004, and Stan Plog is just gone, in 2010, so only I'm left standing. I know the full story. I'm the only one left to bear witness."

As conservatives, Holden and Plog found liberal academia little to their liking. So they started a consulting firm and eventually found themselves connected to the Reagan for Governor campaign. Part of what makes the book a delightful read is Holden's keen observations of California politics. "By late '65," he writes, "California Republicans were waging a nasty civil war. As in all such wars, it pitted the old against the new, the moderate Establishment Republicans versus the fiery conservative Young Turks." Who would win?

Set against the backdrop of the Free Speech Movement (Reagan called it the "filthy speech movement") and the Watts riots, the story of Ronald Reagan's ascension is simply fascinating, especially the central chapters detailing how Holden and Plog helped the candidate focus on California issues and articulate clear and concise positions. For Holden, Reagan was the real deal--well read, thoughtful, charming and charismatic. But he needed honing.

Holden and Plog insisted that the campaign stop for three days, and that they and Reagan meet privately, without a word to the press. "None of this was negotiable. Take it or leave it." They took it.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Local novelist's tale of fantasy


Chico novelist Blair Palmerlee has a penchant for creating alternate worlds with subtle, and not so subtle, connections with our own. "The Universe of Malcolm" begins in Chico but opens up a sci-fi universe in a human hand. Now, with "The Plotseer" (in paperback from CreateSpace; for pricing and availability, contact the author at or at, he ably realizes an entire civilization.

Palmerlee will be signing copies of his books Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in downtown Chico.

Before publishing, the prolific twenty-something writer mounted a campaign to raise funds for editorial work. He created a video book trailer, gained 27 backers and exceeded his goal of a thousand dollars. The finished novel reads smoothly and carries the reader into a quasi-medieval fantasy world. Here the people of Cambrian are governed by a heavy-handed church speaking for the Author.

Everyone is part of the Author's story, though only the exalted Plotseer knows the Author's intentions, communicated in an ancient document. The Plotseer's companion is The Teller, "the highest and most holy voice in the Church. ... This man knew so much of the Author's will, his word was almost infallible."

Or was it? The story focuses on young Byron Tanner and the mysterious girl Lucy Prior, and when a new Plotseer is discovered, the church is threatened and Byron finds himself under suspicion, part of a story bigger than his journey from his home town of Chastegate to Redkeep's ecclesiastical headquarters. He and Lucy must contend with the vyce, "the children of evil," at least according to Doctor Ellis in Patriarchal Studies. "They attack innocent people on the open roads, burn churches, and kill our faithful protectors. ... Very commonly, they will be attracted to partners of the same sex. They know nothing of love."

Then there's the Author's Creed, "the written meaning of life," locked in Redkeep. "This single document was the cornerstone of all faith in Cambrian." But what did it actually say? And are the vyce really the enemy? The Hierarchy is intent on preserving its power and economic oppression at all costs, but as lives hang in the balance Byron discovers who the story is actually about--and the Creed's true meaning. It's worth pondering in the real world.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ever feel that someone is watching you?


Olivia Claire High's new romantic suspense novel introduces Samantha (Sam) Farris, a young school teacher soon to be married to Dr. Ryan Wade. All is bliss for the Southern California lovers until--the visions.

"I've been having strange vibes that I'm being watched," she tells her friend Catherine, "and I get this vision inside my head of a person. I think it's a person because all I can make out is a vague form, but I'm convinced a presence of some kind is there." There is indeed a presence--an obsessed woman driven by a voice in her head she claims is Ryan's late wife.

There will be a book launch signing for the Oroville author tomorrow from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. at Curves, 2190 Myers Street in Oroville.

The story of obsession leads the couple to Hawaii and the far reaches of Northern California. Lives are at stake in "A Stranger's Eyes" ($13.95 in paperback from Fireside Publications; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format), a sequel of sorts to "Dreams--Shadows of the Night" which featured Sam's friend Catherine Ashley. She was now married to Josh Dallas after his kidnaping in the Amazon. As Catherine listens to Sam, she tell her that "I've had prophetic nightmares. You believe you're being watched by unseen eyes. Both are occurrences not easily explained. They bring out intense emotions that cause feelings of helplessness and fear."

Samantha fears not only for Ryan's life, but that of his daughter, and makes the fateful decision to do as her accuser demands--leave them. She finds solace in a small California mountain town whose residents' lives become intertwined with her own. One might expect Ryan to come to the rescue, and festivities to break out, but there are surprises in store. Even as obsession is dealt with there is another sinister visitation. "An unrecognizable figure," Sam tells Ryan, "came inside my head watching like before."

There is a madman on the loose, and this time the target is Ryan himself. He finds a crushed rose under his windshield wiper, a box of broken cookies, and Sam sees the spray painted words: "You're next, Mrs. Wade." The couple must make a fateful choice and the action never slows until the end.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Anthology features Chico writer's prize-winning science fiction story


For almost thirty years L. Ron Hubbard's "Writers of the Future" contest has honored up-and-coming science-fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction authors (and illustrators) with a black tie awards ceremony and an anthology of the best entries. Judges are sci-fi luminaries, and the judges, writers and illustrators have gone on to win some of the most prestigious awards in the science-fiction and fantasy communities (including Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

This year's contest honored Tina Gower of Chico and Stephen Sottong of Eureka as quarterly winners, and Gower's story, "Twelve Seconds," went on to win the international grand prize of $5000. (More information, and a video of the awards ceremony, can be found at Winning stories and illustrations appear in "L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Vol. 29" ($7.99 in paperback from Galaxy Press; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook ebook formats), edited by Coordinating Judge Dave Wolverton.

Both Gower and Sottong will be speaking and signing copies of the book tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books, 135 Main Street in downtown Chico.

Born in Kokomo, Indiana, Sottong's jobs included radio repair for the Navy and a career as an engineering librarian. His "Planetary Scouts" is a gritty tale of Aidan Pastor and his new Scout partner, Aloysius Lester. "We're supposed to make sure humanity doesn't destroy other intelligent creatures," Aidan tells him, "or pick up something nasty enough to kill us off." That's not quite how things work out. ...

Gower was born in Siskiyou County, married her high school sweetheart, and lives with her family in Chico. She became a school psychologist, trained guide dogs for the blind, and now focuses on raising her family and writing ( "Twelve Seconds" is the harrowing and sensitive story of Howard, an autistic man who works with Eddie to "process memory siphons. I clean and sort. Eddie approves for archival. We are cogs, endlessly pinching, prodding, and polishing homicide victims' last memories on aging holodesks in a dark room."

Howard dreams of being "Howie," the cool guy who saves the day and gets the girl. But then a strange turn of events leads Howard deep into a sinister plot. It's a brilliant and poignant voyage of self-discovery.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chico visitor conjures a fantastical tale


Toward the end of "The Accidental Snake Thief" ($14.99 in paperback from Don't Forget The Magic Publishing; also available in Amazon Kindle ebook format), British-born author Matheu DeSilva has a character explain the "why" of things. There is a sinister 300-year-old plot afoot, guided by the strange, psychically powerful preacher named Carl Jacobi.

"Everything from medicines and foods to consumer culture and social networks had been specifically designed by Jacobi to keep the 'developed' masses numb, dumb, distracted and under strictly monitored control. ... Carl Jacobi and his friends, whoever they were, were also the real masterminds behind the terrorist attacks that prompted western governments to re-write their laws, terrifying the general public into voting away their freedoms in return for a little phony security. These new laws had been Carl Jacobi's final experiment. He wanted to see if the people were ready and willing to be fully enslaved. They were."

There is little to stand against Jacobi except a fifteen-year-old girl named Hazel and her older brother Caleb. Hazel attends a Jacobi church service and winds up freeing the magical snake Aviveri, one of the ancient Maninkari. "We Maninkari were sent here to bring forth life," he tells Hazel and Caleb telepathically. "From bacteria and plants, to the creatures of the land and water, including, eventually, mankind. All were created from us. ... We provide the building blocks but we do not know the designs. That is for the Architect alone to know."

But greedy men planted stories about evil serpents, "legends that tell people not to question or search for alternatives to the 'truths' they are fed by those in power." Now, when most Maninkari are dead, Carl Jacobi is about to take over the world.

What follows in this first book of the Maninkari Trilogy ( is, as the Website suggests, a combination of "The Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter." Hazel and Caleb are given special powers by Aviveri, and together, with a few friends, they must search for their father in South America and fight the Snakekiller minions of Jacobi. There's sometimes gruesome action. Be warned: the novel ends with a cliffhanger.

DeSilva was a recent visitor to The Bookstore in downtown Chico, and signed copies of his book may still be available.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

True tales from a retired Shasta County game warden


In 1960 young Steven Callan and his family moved to Orland; a decade later he graduated from Chico State University. He was hired by the California Department of Fish and Game, became a patrol lieutenant, and transferred to Shasta County in 1981. His career in enforcement spans thirty years; along the way he became active in a host of environmental groups and now lives with his wife in Palo Cedro. His biography establishes his bona fides as a street-smart warden with a tale to tell.

Make that twenty-three tales. "Badges, Bears, and Eagles: The True-Life Adventures of a California Fish and Game Warden" ($13.95 in paperback from Coffeetown Press,; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook ebook formats) is a thrilling ride into the heart of bad guy country. Which is pretty much anywhere in the state, any place that people can abuse wildlife and habitats for a profit.

Callan will be signing copies at the Chico Costco this Friday, June 14, from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. A recorded interview is set to air that Friday morning at 10:00 a.m. on Nancy's Bookshelf, with host Nancy Wiegman, on KCHO, 91.7 FM (Northstate Public Radio). The following month, on Thursday, July 25 at 7:00 p.m. look for a signing and presentation at Lyon Books in Chico.

The author has reconstructed his and other cases from memory, interviews and court documents. The result is a series of suspenseful, well-written procedurals in which good triumphs, but not without a lot of foot work and tense dealings with well armed scofflaws.

"The Eagle Case" opens the collection, telling the story out of the Redding regional Fish and Game office in 1985 involving threats to a warden; the killing and possession of a bald eagle, mountain lion, and ring-tailed cat--and that was for starters. The final story, "Bears and Bad Guys," is the longest and most complex, taking up the last quarter of the book. A note summarizes the tale: "In 1995, Lieutenant Steve Callan and Warden Dave Szody conducted a three-year undercover investigation into the unlawful killing of California black bears for their gallbladders, possibly the most successful wildlife related criminal investigation in California history."

It's compelling reading about true public service.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Walking Paradise Flumes


Roger Ekins, who retired from Butte College in 2009, is a longtime Paradise resident fascinated by local history. He and his wife, Helen, have hiked and biked in the area almost daily and now, in a beautifully designed guidebook, the couple share much of what they've learned.

"The Flumes And Trails Of Paradise: Hiking Through History On The Ridge" ($19.95 in paperback from Happy Trails Press) features trailhead maps, hiking tips, the history of Paradise flumes, a section on local wildflowers, and dozens of hikes with detailed commentary and color photographs. Here is a book that will help readers, walkers and mountain bikers see Paradise and surroundings with new appreciation. It's an indispensable good-humored guide, with hikes set out in minutes, and vistas for points of interest at every turn.

The authors will sign copies of the book and present a slide show on "mysteries of the flumes" at Lyon Books in Chico this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. They'll be the interview guests of Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO, 91.7 FM (Northstate Public Radio). For details about additional signings, and a list the places the book can be purchased locally, go to

Readers will be rewarded with information on old telephone poles ("the first telephone call in Butte County was made from Cherokee to Oroville in 1878"); empty houses; water pipes ("beware of any 'modern' hoses carrying water off, as these may well lead to an illicit marijuana grow. ... Just keep on hiking"); and "curious equipment."

For instance, the "Double Incline Loop" hike near Lovelock yields a view of a "huge concrete pad that at one time housed the 900 horsepower Westinghouse motor that operated a winch with some 4,400 feet of 1¾ inch cable. ... You are standing on the easternmost end of Diamond Match's amazing double incline" which "operated from 1928 as long as the trees lasted, until 1935." Flatbed cars full of logs were let down on one side of the canyon and empty cars winched up on the other.

"Regardless of how much faith you bring to your flume treks," the authors note, "you won't always find yourself walking on water" (which is sometimes diverted). Regardless, find a store and get the book. It's worth the hike.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Butte Valley novelist romances reincarnation


Aris Whittier writes about her first name on her website ( "I was born in the seventies to a pair of hippies, real hippies. Having said that, I think I got off lucky with the name Aris. It could have been much worse, Fruit Stand or something like that. So, Aris it is." The Butte Valley resident is also a prolific romance writer ("Secrets," "Fatal Embrace," "Foolish Notions") as well as a chronicler of her own life ("The Truth About Being a Bass Fisherman's Wife").

With "Across Eternity" ($3.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats), Whittier explores reincarnation. When handsome, self-made businessman Logan Richards, 37, sees Amber Lewis, a young waitress at his five-star restaurant in Dana Point, a deep sense of knowing washes over him. "She drew you in with so much more," he reflects. "Her vibrant blue eyes, with unusually dark rims and thick lashes, reflected kindness and deep emotion. ... Her warm, casual disposition made you feel appreciated and accepted. She was magnetic in the most earnest way. ... Merely watching her took him back to the earlier childhood times when he had initially begun to see her."

Back then, when Logan was just three, she had come to him in his sandbox, an invisible and inseparable friend, a spirit that one day had to depart. He had dreamed of her for many years, and now here she was, in the flesh, a twenty-seven-year-old raven-haired beauty. Something clicks in Amber as well when she first waits on Logan, but it is something just beyond memory.

Logan wants Amber to remember on her own, so though he is honest with her in many things, the conversations they have--on the beach, at his home, memorable places around the world as the two again become inseparable--leave something unspoken. She meets Logan's family, his mother and sister and his sister's young son, and they embrace Amber with open arms. Logan is gentle, kind, and thoughtful, and a passionate kisser. All would seem perfect. But as sexual tension increases the consummation Amber craves, the lovemaking she yearns for, eludes her. Why? What secret is Logan harboring?

The story is an engaging exploration of the boundaries of love in a world of life and death.