Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Reassurance In Negative Space"

Elizabyth Hiscox is Director of the Contemporary Writer Series at Western State Colorado University which "brings emerging and established literary artists to campus and community venues." A Chico State University grad, her new collection of poems uses word sounds and typography to push the boundaries of meaning. 

"Reassurance In Negative Space" ($19.95 in paperback from Word Galaxy Press; also for Amazon Kindle) takes on everything, from Camembert to her mother's fatal illness, with sly humor that challenges readers to think and rethink what she has written.

Some lines are playful: "Tabs on beer are canned laughter here" (from "Cheval de Frise and Gone-Sweetness at the All-Inclusive"); "I've begun to notice the infidelities/ of drainage ditches at dusk" (from "The Complex of the Yolk Base"); and "no one sees the mime holding the banana until it is peeled" (from "A Poem with Three Lines from One Night in Portland").

A prose poem, "Fourteen Minutes Too Late for the Cheese Counter," starts this way: "And though I've loved many, each in their turn, the fact of a man is not the same as a really good Camembert and never will be."

In "To Older Cold," the poet evokes a memory: "Snow covers half my childhood./ It arrived in haste. It sank school days/ on battery-operated radios,/ storm shadows huddled electricity,/ and windowsills succumbed often, and at speed." 

The "Sonnet to Room 411b" turns poignant and may evoke a memory of our own: "Hummingbird through the pane, sucking the Spanish roses/ and my eyes are the girl passing me in the hall.// 'Mother.' It makes your mouth call/ in the saying.// The ceiling fan becomes a turnstile for the anxious air/ and a well-intentioned bedside: crepe-paper flowers fading to/ fading, too."

Readers who have written poems or prose of their own, but who would like some guidance on self-publishing--from selecting covers to writing introductions--may be interested in an upcoming Chico workshop presented by the North State Writers Club. The workshop, facilitated by local author Thatcher Nalley, will be held July 15 from 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at Oxford Suites. Advance registration is $95 for non-members, $65 for members, with more information at

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Chico State University grad Robert Grindy now teaches creative writing courses at Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois. He has crafted a wonderfully convoluted murder mystery set in 1999 and centered on the fictional Kickapoo Community College located in a town sort of like Decatur. The story takes the central character, a cynical creative writing instructor at Kickapoo named Henry Streator, into a droll world of mayhem and murder.

In "Iced" ($15.95 in paperback from Livingston Press; also for Amazon Kindle) the not-very-likable Streator is on the verge of being fired, despite his tenured status. 

He's perpetually late to class, rude to colleagues and students alike, and now, "facing down the end of a decade, the end of the century, the end of his thirties just weeks away with his September birthday, what had he to show for the nineties? Ten years of shoveling … out … the Aegean stables of freshman composition. A failed marriage. No book."

Then one of his down-on-his-luck students, Tarvis Conner, brings him a plot idea for a story that features the murder of the town's prominent ethanol factory owner Frederick Gunther, head down in the thin ice of a nearby lake, skis up, legs in a V. A spark of interest kindles in Streator, especially since his Dean friend, Loren Locke, makes it clear that unless Streator gets a novel published, he is toast.

Conner dies in a freak car accident, and Streator, desperate, takes Conner's idea for his own. In a fit of creativity (and a change of "Gunther" to "Geddes"), he finishes the manuscript, gets an agent, and lands the book (and a big promised advance) with a small publisher. 

Streator quits his job at Kickapoo and prepares to fly to New York to sign the contract, when Gunther himself is found head down in the ice, with his skis on and legs in a V. It seems clear Conner knew beforehand this would happen, and Streator becomes detective, piecing together clues into a tapestry of deceit and destruction (he's almost killed in a freak car accident himself). And then he gets the surprise of his life.

Maybe the world is not as screwed up as he thought.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Ward Of The Court"

In 1989 Christopher Hall began his studies at the Northwestern University School of Dentistry in Chicago. He was twenty-two when he received his acceptance packet as he was completing four challenging years as a chemistry major at Chico State University ("I was happy to be done with all those meticulous labs").

He reminded himself that at Chico "I had received an excellent education. I had put myself on firm ground by earning my Bachelor of Science degree. I would always be able to take care of myself." Hall's memoir makes it clear that this was not a boast but rather a realization that such inner confidence had saved his life. 

"My dad had died when I was fourteen years old," he writes in "Ward Of The Court" ($5.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). "Sometime during the first four years of my life, my father was imprisoned for killing a man. … My mother is a tragic figure; when my father was imprisoned … she turned to alcohol. …"

Born in Watts, at four Hall "was declared a ward of the court." He was placed in a foster home, "the beginning of a journey that would include two more foster homes, four boys’ homes, and multiple stints in three different Juvenile Hall facilities."

Something began growing inside Hall, some sense of future prospects. "I knew that to have a fighting chance I would have to attend college and get an education." His going to Chico State "lifted a huge burden off my shoulders. I had kept all this anxiety inside about the future beginning at about the age of fourteen."

Hall's story is told in matter-of-fact language. There are many schools, a failed marriage, a stint in the Army, and a move away from dentistry to his true love, family medicine. A poignant letter from his brother Wayne (serving life in prison), provides a startling contrast. Hall was thirty before his long-held goal began to come true. But it happened. It happened.

"I hope," he writes, "that at least one young person sitting out there in foster care, the juvenile justice system, or a boys’ or girls’ home will be inspired."

Thursday, June 07, 2018

"Broken: Tales Of A Titanium Cowgirl"

"We can all identify our own moment," writes Michelle Scully, "that blink of an eye drawing an indelible black Sharpie line between 'before' and what comes 'after." Her moment came in 2011 in a horse riding accident that broke her back and nearly crushed her spirit.

Scully, who has a Master's in Biology from Chico State University, lives with her family in Northern California where they are "part of a multi-generational family farming operation." Her harrowing story is recounted with grace, wit, and deep insight in "Broken: Tales Of A Titanium Cowgirl" ($18.95 in paperback from Spinning Sevens Press; also for Amazon Kindle). For more, visit

Taking her horse, "Wish," for an outing, "the wild backyard riding kid in me overwhelmed the budding horseman in me" and they began to lope, too fast. When a rabbit "bolted right through her legs," Wish shot "up into the air like a rocket and sideways, simultaneously." 

Scully flipped onto her back and hit hard. "I had heard a loud 'pop' when I hit the ground," she remembers, "and a wave of pain hit me like a hammer."

The pop? An "imploded first lumbar or L1 vertebrae which had disintegrated upon impact." It meant "removing one of my ribs and using it as the basis for a bone graft in a titanium bone cage which would be placed in the gap where my L1 used to be."

"I've been training myself to love my hardware, because without the technology and audacity that ever caused someone to try out such a complicated fix, I'd be screwed. Now I'm actually screwed together, but in a good way."

Would she ever ride again? "Could I accept my brokenness without raging against it?" There is, she learns, "a beauty in broken things." She senses God's sustaining love and also finds "hope through my abiding love for the majestic horse."

"It's easy to feel overcome and heavily burdened by the weight of our struggles, and I've found that having a stash of joy (and Cheetos) can help keep you afloat."

Dogs and frogs also have much to teach us, as does Scully's own story of courage, faith, and gratitude.