Sunday, February 28, 2016

“At The Corner Of Fleeheart And Pig Turd Alley”

Something strange about Dave Kilbourne, the former longtime Executive Director of the Downtown Chico Business Association. The back cover of his new book says he was “raised up on historic Pawleys Island, which is only loosely attached to the South Carolina low country by the scenic Fiddler Crab Bridge. In his early teens his family relocated upstate to beautiful Aiken where he spent his formative years growing up as a free-range child.”

What’s strange is that the hero of his new novel, Dante Valentime Delancy, a totally fictional creation, shares exactly the same pedigree. He also shares the same penchant as his author for free-range behavior and a love of jokes that one might hear at a drinking establishment. Kilbourne frequents the Sierra Nevada Taproom where much of the book was written; and Dante might show up there yet.

Speaking of devil-may-care Dante, the tone of his life’s story is ably captured by the title of Kilbourne’s novel, “At The Corner Of Fleeheart And Pig Turd Alley” ($14.95 in paperback from Flying Pig Press; available locally at Made In Chico). The cover signpost is a real place, “an actual address in ‘downtown’ Amador City over there by Jackson and Sutter Creek.” In the story the signs are moved to Aiken, and there at the corner sits the Palace Flophouse Pub and Casino RoyalĂ© Grille where reside “happy young bachelors all in their mid-twenties,” including Dante and his brother, Mather Lee Delancy.

The book is subtitled “Twenty-Five Acts Of Literary Mischief” and recounts not only Dante’s life but that of his mother, Miss Monsarrat Feliciana Delancy and his father, Clancy “Boomer” Delancy, a “self-certified soothsayer and pyramidologist. … While residing under the same roof, and watching the same I Love Lucy and Ed Sullivan Variety Hour shows, Dante lived with someone who firmly believed the Egyptian pyramids were constructed by beneficent aliens from outer space.”

Dante would go on to serve his country in many ways, from becoming a Clemson (“Go Tigers!”) forestry student to “wrangling various reptiles and serpents in the Savannah River Swamp,” becoming a tenured “Associate Professor of Crocodilian Studies.”

When it comes to pouring out the stories, Kilbourne is no half-pint.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

“Mattie Celi”

What does it feel like to be a foster kid? Stirling City writer M. Elizabeth Schaefer knows first-hand; according to her website ( she spent most of her teen years in foster care. It was a world of uncertainty, one also experienced by the heroine of her first novel.

“Mattie Celi” ($12.95 in paperback from Outskirts Press) is a 14-year-old growing up in Simi Valley, California in 2006 with three brothers and a younger sister. Her stepfather is an alcoholic, physically battering his wife and children and sexually abusing her, and her mother fails to protect her family from what Mattie calls “the old man” (never dignifying him with a name).

The story is told by Mattie herself (whose last name is pronounced “Chellie”). She is befriended by her neighbor, Mrs. Outen, and by Mrs. Astor from Social Services. They remain her lifeline.

Mattie finds herself in a series of foster homes. Though statistically at high risk, something inside her aspires to surmount the odds. Leaving the Savoys, she reflects:

“I’m headed to foster home number four. I wondered what it was going to be like to be the only kid in a big house. I wanted to talk to Mrs. Astor about my feelings of depression. I wanted to tell her that I blew up at the Savoys, but she was in a hurry, as usual. I felt numb. I hoped Mrs. McNeedy wouldn’t be as weird as she looked.” But she is.

Eventually Mattie is fostered by the Changs, and she and their daughter become fast friends. By her eighteenth birthday, when Mattie is ready to move out on her own, she realizes her intense “anger waned after forgiving the old man, my real father, and most of all, my mother.” Rather than feel “there’s goes another piece of my life” as she leaves each foster home, now there is hope, the “start to a new piece of my life!”

The author will be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy’s Bookshelf this Friday, February 26, at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio, 91.7 FM or She will be signing books at Barnes and Noble in Chico this Saturday at 2:00 p.m.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

“A Survey Of Language And Culture: Linguistic Anthropology And Cross-Cultural Communication”

Mike Findlay, longtime Butte College anthropology instructor (and my colleague), is a man full of liver. As he points out in his new textbook, while the reference doesn’t make sense to most English speakers, for many in Asia “the liver is associated metaphorically with life because it filters harmful substances.” Those in the US might instead refer to the heart. Such “lexical choice” is made within a cultural context. And that’s what Findlay explores.

“A Survey Of Language And Culture: Linguistic Anthropology And Cross-Cultural Communication” ($64.95 in paperback from Cognella Academic Publishing,; also at select libraries) is accessible to the general reader. (Disclosure: I formatted an earlier version of the book.) Linguistic anthropology looks not only at physical aspects of human language (fricatives and palatals and plosives, oh my!), but also language and the development of writing and how language and culture interact.

It’s clear, Findlay writes, that there is no “primitive” language, one that lacks complexity or subtlety. The book is replete with case studies, not only about the complexity of language, but the challenges one culture faces in “decoding” another.

“On one occasion I observed a student teacher working with four Hmong girls” who were learning English. At one point the teacher decided to introduce a math question and asked the girls which they’d rather have, one-third of a dozen cookies or two-thirds. The students, who didn’t realize it was a math question, said they wanted one-third. The teacher was perplexed. Did the students not understand that two-thirds is bigger than one-third? Of course they did, but “the original question had asked the girls for their preference…. For the Hmong, taking the larger amount is considered rude.”

Another example: Languages that depend on “pitch, tone, stress, sound duration, pause, and silence can cause misinterpretations. For instance, in some parts of China a mere conversation can be loud—even boisterous—to a point where outsiders might think that an argument is taking place.”

The upshot for Findlay is that “the importance of recognizing that language is culturally patterned brings us to the heart (or liver) of this overall discussion.” Findlay is an illuminating guide.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

“The Liberty Club”

Marianne Aleck, born and raised in Oroville and now living in Rio Vista, realized that recordings of her parents made in the 1980s could form the basis of an extraordinary story. Coupled with diligent research and a long delayed desire to write, Aleck has produced a family history in which the central characters come alive.

“The Liberty Club” ($25 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle; spans a century. “Much of it,” she writes, “takes place in Oroville … with the immigration of my Greek ancestors, while I weave throughout my French ancestors still living in France during the same era.  I cover the true life stories of my family during WWI, The Great Depression” and WWII.

Marianne’s grandfather, Konstantinos Alexiou, came to the U.S. and changed his name to Gus Aleck. Arriving in Oroville in 1906, he found a bustling town and, with a business partner, eventually bought a bar on Montgomery Street.

“My grandpa named their new venture, ‘The Liberty Club’ which provided an escape from the woes of the Depression. … It was a time to hoist your pints and cheer to the smallest of good fortunes.”

Johnny, Marianne’s father, was born to Gus and his wife Angelica in 1924. He became a paratrooper in World War II and met his future wife, Monique, in France. Love blossomed; as Monique tells it, “he wanted to kiss me. And naturally, being raised the way I was Catholic, I thought I’d go to hell if I kissed a soldier or anyone else. You don’t kiss a boy unless you are going to get married. So, I told him. I’m sure he thought I was nuts. But he said, ‘Oh, okay then we’ll get married.’ And he kissed me. And that’s the way we were engaged.”

There were incredible strains to the marriage, yet life continued when the couple settled in Oroville. Later a great tragedy would befall the family, one covered by the Oroville Mercury.

As a tribute to her mother, in 2012 Marianne “became a card carrying French citizen” and now holds dual citizenship. Rich in detail, the book reveals historic Oroville and revels in the imperfect lives that energized it.