Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Roads Not Taken"

Chicoan Emily Gallo is exploring the lives of a group of unlikely friends who frequent the famous Venice Beach boardwalk in Southern California.

Her first novel, "Venice Beach," introduces writer Finn McGee who comes to stay with his daughter, Kate, and who befriends the mysterious Jedidiah Gibbons, an escapee from the Jonestown massacre; in San Francisco Jed becomes caretaker of the Columbarium (the title of the second book).

"Kate And Ruby" takes up the story of McGee's daughter whose marriage to Martin breaks up when he comes out to her. Ruby, Martin's mother, resents the interracial couple and then "practically disowned Martin for being gay." Unexpectedly, Kate becomes Ruby's caregiver, and life's dailyness changes them both.

The theme of sexual identity is foregrounded in Gallo's newest story, "Roads Not Taken" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle; an audio version is narrated by the author).

Kate had taught a young man named Malcolm Washington in high school. Malcolm now waits tables at Café Gratitude in Venice but everything changes when he applies for a second job at Marie Moss Senior Housing.

Savali, a Samoan, is on staff, and Malcolm is smitten. Though the novel intertwines the stories of the residents, the focus is on Malcolm's coming to terms with Savali's "non-binary" gender identification. Savali is Fa'afafine, a third gender in Samoan society.

Malcolm is straight and prefers to call Savali "she." Savali was born male, telling him that "I realized that I was, in fact, comfortable in my body and my mind in both genders. I also realized that I could wake up on any given day and prefer to dress or behave in one or the other. In other words, I identify as both and I identify as neither."

What does it mean for Malcolm to love Savali, and how does one navigate the "gender spectrum" and the desires that may be incompatible with being a couple? Though not explicit, the story delves deeply and respectfully into what is for Malcolm a new world of sexuality.

Gallo ( is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, December 1 on (KCHO 91.7 FM) at 10:00 a.m.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865

"Incomplete accounts," writes historian and retired Political Science professor Michele Shover,  "are a common problem in local history. For example, Butte County's violent clashes between settlers and Indians were treated as random 'one-off' events--intermittent atrocities sprinkled among accounts of Victorian-era 'happy talk.'" John Bidwell himself "suggested the effects of such events were peripheral distractions, not core experiences."

Over the last two decades Shover has worked with original sources in an attempt to tell a more nuanced story, analyzing "underlying causes, political issues, conflicts of interest, cultural assumptions. …" The result is a magisterial work of scholarship that is also immensely readable. "California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865" ($24.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) challenges assumptions and develops new historical understanding.

Meticulously detailed, with fifty pages of endnotes, the book's dozen chapters provide a riveting picture of the competing interests swirling around the community Bidwell founded. As Shover notes, "Politics was personal in nineteenth-century Chico, influencing social life and where residents spent their money." There are contemporary resonances everywhere.

Shover disputes what she calls Theodora Kroeber's "misanalysis of Maidu culture" and historical "distortions" all of which have implications for Kroeber's "Ishi In Two Worlds."

Shover also concludes that the Mountain Maidu raided the Mechoopdas working on Bidwell's ranch in the mid-1850s because they likely considered this "collusion."

Shover's research shows that many more Indians than the standard account of 32 died as they were resettled to Round Valley in 1863. "Primary documents disclose that close to 200 … died on the climb up the Coastal range mountain to the reservation." The record, she says, was "manipulated to shield the Army from its failure to deliver the Indians."

For the first time, Shover explains that these Indian deaths were not caused by the Army, but by "the most mortally dangerous type of malaria" that infected the group "while camped near Big Chico Creek in the summer of 1863."

The story Shover tells is one of violence since there were "no effective institutions in place that protected … against abuses." Her study, giving all sides their due, breaks new ground. It is indispensable.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Shane The Shamrock Tries To Find Luck"

Retired teacher Cynthia Hutchinson lives with her husband in Bieber, about fifty-five miles north-northwest of Susanville. She has begun writing a series of children's books, filled with colorful sketches, aimed at the younger set.

The first is "Shane The Shamrock Tries To Find Luck" ($16 in paperback from Dorrance Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). The sixteen-page tale is followed by fourteen questions about events in the story ("What was the first thing he tried to do that the ladybug suggested?"; "What did Shane hope to try someday?").

It all begins "with this little shamrock named Shane who only had three leaves. And he thought to bring luck to anybody that he must be a four leaf clover. He decided to set out on a journey to see if anybody could help him find luck."

The plants and animals in the forest try to help, and near as they can figure Shane had to become more like them in order to find luck. That ladybug? Well, she said, "You don't need four leaves to bring luck to anyone. You just need to be able to fly like me to have luck. Why don't you climb up on that tree branch and try to fly?"

That doesn't quite work, and Shane hits the ground, only to hear laughter from a nearby rose bush. The rose advises Shane he doesn't have to fly to be lucky; he just has to look beautiful. But decorating himself with fallen rose petals doesn't make much difference. He's still Shane, the three-leaved shamrock, only now covered with rose petals.

A butterfly explains that Shane can grow another leaf if we wraps himself up in a leaf cocoon, but that doesn't work, and a daisy has him stand near her by a stream in a windstorm.

Nothing changes until he meets his four-leaf-clover friend Sissy, and though Shane doesn't grow another leaf he gains something more valuable: an understanding that even a four-leaf-clover can't actually bring luck to anyone. Instead, he learns, what counts is standing by one's friends, especially when they are in need.

As luck would have it, the next story may give Shane that opportunity.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

"Jake And The Hot-Air Balloon"

Paradise resident Maurice "Big Mo" Huffman is known in the music scene for his melding of blues, Southern rock and funk with his award-winning Big Mo And The Full Moon Band ( After he and his wife Robin moved to California in 1989 he began telling their son Miles a bedtime story featuring a ten-year-old orphan named Jake Foster and a talking mouse named Milton.

"Jake And The Hot-Air Balloon" ($11.95 in paperback from Page Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is the first in a planned series featuring the intrepid adventurers.

Jake's parents had drowned in a Caribbean storm. His only relative, aunt Hilde, died when he was five, and Jake wound up in a Colorado orphanage.

He "was a tough boy and knew that this was what life had dealt him, but even the toughest boy can face moments that are too hard and where he needs somebody. Jake was alone though, left with his dream of being high up in a hot-air balloon."

Word comes of a nearby hot-air balloon race, and Jake desperately wants to go, but an older bully and his minion at the orphanage get Jake into trouble. He's forced to make the biggest decision of his young life, disobeying those in charge and sneaking off to the races and right into the area where the balloons are set to lift off.

You just know something will happen and, sure enough, Jake finds himself aloft in one of the balloons where he meets Milton the talking mouse, a resident of the balloon basket. It's Milton's job to keep Jake safe, and, it turns out, that's a tall order.

Along the way, sailing over the world, the balloon is shot down by a group of very odd and friendly people on a floating mountain whose job it is to shoot holes in Swiss cheese but who aren't very accurate. Their balloon eventually repaired, Jake and Milton travel to the Caribbean, rescue a girl named Lilly, search for her scientist parents, and fight off a some bad guys.

The action-packed story ends with a few threads hanging, a big yellow bird, and a hint of the adventures to come.