Tuesday, December 29, 2020

"From Port Wine Stain To Angel Kisses"

"Hello," the children's book begins, "my name is Leonardo Joshua, but you can call me Leo. I was born with a rare birthmark on my face called Port Wine Stain. Do you have a birthmark anywhere?"

Leo is a real little boy, the son of former Chicoan Shawntel Newton and her husband, orthodontist Paolo Poidmore. As People Magazine notes, "Newton--a former funeral director, who placed fourth on Brad Womack's season of The Bachelor in 2011--gave birth" to Leo, their second child, in October 2018. (For more about the challenges--and moments of grace--see shawntelnewton.com.)

Leo's grandmother, Chicoan Colene Newton, realized that Leo's narrative, which she had written for her grandson as a gift of love, might well be shared with a larger audience. "For some children," she writes, "things that make them unique might also make them look different." Teaming with Chico artist Penny Poole Oster, Colene presents Leo's own experiences (as well as more detailed information for parents) in "From Port Wine Stain To Angel Kisses" ($9.95 in softcover from Memoir Books, available on Amazon).

In the book Leo explains that his "Port Wine Stain covers half of my face including one eye and over my brain, which means I also have something called Sturge-Weber Syndrome. This makes me even more rare. There are not that many people born with this. ... I think that makes me really special. Is there something that makes you special too?"

The real Leo has had dozens of laser treatments "to help get rid of the redness. The lasers feel like someone is taking a rubber band and snapping it on my face; it hurts, but only for a second. ... Afterwards I have polka dots on my face; my mom and my brother call them my Angel Kisses. Have you ever had to be really brave?"

Oster's full-page watercolors illustrate Leo's journey. Sturge-Weber Syndrome can affect the eyes, so there are regular visits to glaucoma specialist James Brandt, M.D., at UC Davis. "He and I," Leo says, "like to make faces at each other, which makes us both giggle." Oster captures the moment beautifully.

This is what love does.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

"The Art Of Stretching"

Twelve-year-old David Janzen is a wonderer at heart. Short of stature, he is tormented at Central Elementary School (where his dad is a science teacher) with a different epithet, that of "shrimp." It is the early 1960s in Del Rio Vista, "a small, central California farming community." 

He wonders if he can build a balloon that can soar into the sky and parachute its payload unharmed to the ground. He wonders if, one day, he can build a rocket to reach into orbit.

"At home," he observes, "I was a 'shrimp'--but I wasn't excluded from life because of it. At home, in my experiments, I could be someone. As long as Mom didn't know the details."

David tells his story in "The Art Of Stretching" ($8.99 in paper, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) by David H. Dirks, Chico State grad, now a Livermore resident. Sketches throughout the book are by Benjamin Pacheco and help readers visualize what David is up to.

Dirks draws on his own memories for his quietly loving account of the fictional Janzen family. There are seven of them, two brothers, three sisters and a fair amount of squabbling. Young David has an eye for engineering but his initial balloon experiments end up terrorizing the neighbors (explosions, anyone?). 

While his father gently encourages his explorations, his mom is wary. "I was a scientist and I needed room," David remembers. "Mom was always pulling me back, making me do my homework and insisting I go to church instead of sleeping in Sunday mornings. Mom did not understand science." Will she ever see the light?

Neighborhood kids throw dirt clods at David but secretly admire what he and his new friend, wheelchair-bound Jack, also twelve, are accomplishing. Together they create a new balloon inflated by natural gas from the science classroom's Bunsen burners, one which can theoretically climb a mile and release its occupant, a "rat-astronaut," safely to the ground.

Readers will find themselves rooting for David and Jack when launch day arrives. 

David is always stretching, even as a kid reaching for the stars. It is fitting we turn our eyes heavenward this Christmas season and become wonderers as well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"Chico History: 1905-1971 Featuring The Bartlett Drug Company"

The ordinance passed by Butte County supervisors was stark: "All persons within Butte County must wear masks.... Failure to comply with the law is punishable by a fine of $50 or imprisonment for thirty days, or by both." It was November 17, 1918 and the "Spanish Flu" had hit hard. That year at least 104 Chicoans died of the disease. 

Ironically, there was a bright side. Early in 1919 a newspaper account noted business at drug stores was booming: "Every druggist in Chico is riding along on a wave of prosperity that reached its crest last November and has not subsided yet."

Among the eight or so pharmacies operating in Chico at the time was Bartlett's, at 330 Broadway. Chicoan Kathleen Gabriel, who teaches at Chico State and has published on how to best serve underrepresented students, focuses on this downtown landmark to trace "Chico History: 1905-1971 Featuring The Bartlett Drug Company" ($55 in paperback from Memoir Books; available on Amazon). The book is beautifully designed, replete with hundreds of historical photographs, and meticulously researched. 

Gabriel has deep roots in the community. "My paternal grandparents came to the Chico area around 1909," she writes, "and in 1921 their three-year-old daughter, Janette Ruth Martin, contracted catarrhal enteritis. Without antibiotics, she, like many other children with this and similar types of diseases, did not have much of a chance for survival.... She died in my grandmother's arms on May 21, 1921."

The pharmacy began as the Waste ("pronounced Wass-tee") Drug Company in 1905, became the Smith Drug Company and then, in 1909, the Bartlett Drug Company (operated by Raymond Schaller from 1944 until his death in 1971, when the business closed).

Gabriel's essential account immerses readers in Chico history, including the development of Enloe Sanatorium in Paradise, Sycamore Pool, Chico High, and much more. But it also gives a lot of love to advertisements (Palmolive Olive Oil shampoo, Gleem Toothpaste or Little Liver Granules, anyone?), the new "penny scale," the introduction of the rotary phone (in 1953 "Chico Goes Dial... New numbers will include the prefix Fireside 2"), competing pharmacies and candy stores, and prescription slips.

My prescription: Get the book.

SPECIAL NOTE: The book is available locally from the author, kgabriel@u.arizona.edu; or call (530) 342-6936. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

"The Vault Of Adon"

After Camp Fire survivor Michael J. Orr (wordsmithmojo.com) and his family moved to southern Idaho, he began writing a series of novels under the name of T.J. Tao that have grown ever more fantastical. His first, "Burn Scar," reimagined the fire as occurring in the town of Genna (Maltese, he writes, for "Paradise"). 

Among the characters is recovering alcoholic James Augustine who, in "Stone Scar," teams with Boise State University archaeologist Stuart Angeline as they find a portal in Idaho that leads to other parts of the world and to a monk named Adon, trying through the centuries to bring humanity to its senses.

With the apparent death of their antagonist, Gavin David (pronounced "dah-veed"), James and Stuart are confronted in the third novel with his twin brother, Marcel, who has even grander ambitions: "He wants to become a god." "The Vault Of Adon" ($13.99 in paperback from WordsmithMojo Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with an earthquake and ends with an existential threat to Islam and Catholicism. 

Adon explains that the gods of mythology, such as Thor and Odin, were actually those who wielded sophisticated technology unknown to ordinary folk, but they all failed, and their weapons were buried deep in an Icelandic cavern, now revealed by the earthquake. 

There, two locals, seventeen-year-old Ásdís Axelsson and her father Kristján, discover the vault; guarding it is a shield, which turns out to be the actual shield of Odin.

Marcel is following it all; his minions kidnap and torture Kristján in an effort to snare Ásdís, who has escaped with James. Does she have the key to opening the vault? Stuart is taken to the vault as well; with threats to his family he is charged with translating the strange symbols on the shield and vault entrance. 

On the run, James finds Ásdís a quick study, accepting his bizarre story of ancient Travelers (Ava, called "Mother," is 11,000 years old) and godlike powers (through the strange metal Atlantium which tips Poseidon's trident and the spear that pierced Jesus on the cross).

If the vault is opened Marcel's quest will be fulfilled. Humanity's subjugation appears imminent, but the end, as they say, is not yet.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

"The Boiled Peanut Book: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Boiled Peanuts"

My sister-in-law, living in Alabama, tells me they are an acquired taste. Her husband picks up a can of them and munches throughout the day. "They" are boiled peanuts. Though part of southern cuisine, boiled peanuts (and how they are made) offer a challenge to the uninitiated. 

Author Robert Deen quotes one of them: "At gas stations in the South, I've opened the lids on hot stainless steel kettles and looked at the boiled peanuts floating there, soggy and a bit slimy, but I have never had the courage to eat them."

Deen's new book is out to change that. It also contains instructions for do-it-yourselfers and lots of recipes for adding flavor. "The Boiled Peanut Book: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Boiled Peanuts" ($9.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is just plain fun reading (and will make boiled peanut aficionados salivate). 

Deen graduated from Chico State with a Master's in Communications and, after a career in public relations, retired to the Oregon Coast to write. But he was born in Florida and knows a boiled peanut when he sees one. 

"In a nutshell," he writes, "a boiled peanut is exactly what it says, a peanut boiled in the shell in salt water, often with a spicy mixture. The result is an extremely soft peanut in the shell, quite salty. The softened peanuts are easy to open and bursting with the boiling liquid which fills the shell during the boiling process.... A 'boil' of green peanuts often includes small, immature peanuts called 'pops,' super soft and edible whole, shell and all!"

They don't taste like roasted ("not even remotely") and there's a right and wrong way to eat them (all detailed in the book, along with the history of "goobers" and a plethora of recipes from around the world). They spoil quickly: "Boiled peanuts left at room temperature will only be good for a day" though they can be refrigerated and even canned.

Making your basic boiled peanuts will take up to six hours of simmering on the stove. You may need that long to decide whether to eat one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"The Chico Police Department: The First One Hundred Years"

James A. Dimmitt knows Chico well. He now works out of the Sacramento area as Commander for the Department of Developmental Services in its Office of Protective Services, but served on the Chico Police force in a number of capacities including, as he writes, "SWAT, Use of Force Instructor, Critical Incident Stress Management team." 

During this time he gathered historical materials to share with the Department, but "when Chief Mike O'Brien came in, I was asked what Chief number he was. Nobody knew. The small pamphlet ballooned into a much larger project" taking six years to complete. 

The resulting book pulls together tales and tidbits, from newspaper accounts and official records, chronicling "The Chico Police Department: The First One Hundred Years" ($45 in paperback, self-published, available on Amazon). It is simply essential for Chico history buffs.

Each chronological chapter contains dozens, if not hundreds, of entries, showing over time the changing, and sometimes fraught, relationship the Department had with Chico, its citizens, and the press. "As the son of a newspaperman and a 'lawman' myself," Dimmitt writes, "I understand the delicate balance between the need to get the story and the desire to get the story right."

He adds that "I have done little to shade the past with the filter of modern-day political correctness.... Many of the stories contained herein are funny. Several are deeply tragic.... Unless you have worn the badge and lived that life, it is difficult to ever truly know the Chico where these officers live. Perhaps these stories will help provide a window into that world."

"The first Marshal in the Town of Chico," Dimmitt writes, "was appointed on 18 March, 1872" a month after Chico's incorporation. The need was great; there were a lot of saloons downtown and, as Michele Shover notes, "drunken brawls were common." Transients caused trouble and some were sentenced to chain gangs.

Marshal James O. Weed was joined by the town's first two police officers, Benjamin True and W.A. Taylor. Today, so many years later, "Weed" is still an issue, the Department endeavors to remain "True" to its calling and to "Taylor" its responses to the City's needs. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

"Tomas And Vera: And Other Stories"

"Paradise will always be my hometown" writes J.R. Henson, though after displacement by the Camp Fire he is now living in Chico. Over the last few years, in "Reflections And Dark Truths," "Unseasonable," and "The Camp Fire: Dreams, Nightmares, Hopes," he has explored the contours of his life and what it means to begin again.

Now, with "Tomas And Vera: And Other Stories" ($10 in paperback from Valley View Press; available from Amazon), Henson enlarges his creative landscape with a series of tales and vignettes straight from his imagination. 

The title story, he says in an introduction, was inspired by "a black and white picture of a man, dressed up and standing in a field of sagebrush and dirt." A friend had found the picture and sent it to Henson "as a challenge to write something about the character in the picture. A few moments later, after looking more closely, I had an eight-page story about the man, who became known as Tomas."

The story is a fitting centerpiece in the book. Tomas, having crossed the U.S. border, walking alone, not knowing where to go except onward, is picked up by a woman named Vera, who also speaks Spanish, as a likely prospect to work on her father's big ranch. He's hired, and later Tomas "rides out with Vera to the back forty. He closes his eyes as he feels the rhythm of the horse match his heartbeats. He can smell the dry grass whisper in the air, reminding him of his younger days as a boy on his grandfather's farm on the outskirts of Mexico City."

The two come across a group of squatters, and Tomas stays the night to make sure they leave. This does not go well, and Tomas almost gets himself shot. But something happens to save him and Tomas learns there is much more to Vera than meets the eye.

Henson has an eye for small things. There's King Amos the cat in "All Hail King Amos," and a dog on the hunt narrates "Obsessed." There are poems and stories about disappointed love, spiritual yearning, and "riderless horses" running free. 

And so is the writer's imagination.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

"The Art Of The Bird: The History Of Ornithological Art Through Forty Artists"

"In days past," Chico ornithologist Roger Lederer writes, "birds were considered both symbols and predictors of events ... doves are symbols of love and peace, owls of wisdom, storks bring babies and good luck, and ravens predict death." Drawings and paintings of birds in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the West often reflected religious symbolism.

Lederer notes that today, with a growing interest in birds in their natural habits, they have become "our most apparent connection to nature. Their songs, their colours, their freedom in the air ... constantly remind us that there is a world external to the everyday one we live in." Some contemporary bird art is scientific, as found in field guides; some is intended to evoke emotion. 

Lederer, professor emeritus of biological sciences at Chico State, captures the vast range of creation in "The Art Of The Bird: The History Of Ornithological Art Through Forty Artists" ($35 in hardcover from the University of Chicago Press; also for Amazon Kindle). It is a sumptuous coffee table book, stunningly beautiful in its many full-page reproductions. In ten mostly chronological chapters, Lederer begins with Flemish Baroque Artists (1580-1700) and concludes with living artists such as Raymond Harris-Ching and David Allen Sibley. 

Along the way we meet John James Audubon (1785-1851), who "made bird paintings famous with his life-size prints of almost 500 bird species. These are realistic to a great degree, although Audubon worked with dead specimens that he shot and mounted in a wire frame, not always in the most natural pose." Edward Lear (1812-1888) "was born in London, the twentieth of 21 children ... the first major bird artist to draw birds from life instead of skins." He also popularized the limerick.

Roger Tory Peterson (1980-1996) created the modern field guide, drawing birds to show "the most important features for identification, now called 'field marks'" (something photography might not do as well). Chico's own Janet Turner (1914-1988) is also included; her "prints were all about mood."

Here is a book that will put readers in a celebratory mood and, with the rustling of each page, stir a sense of wonder.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

"The Crossingway"

"What about my birthday party at the Redding Water Park?" Howell, about to turn thirteen on November 1, and who lives with his parents and sister in the town of Mount Shasta, will only slowly come to understand his part in a great transfer of power and consequent world-shaking events that will come right after his birthday. 

He and his friends must battle the evil Drygoni who, says his uncle Tal, "dig deeper and deeper into the Safonals until they are possessed ... Painless and unnoticed...." Safonals are ordinary folk who have become "bullies, young and old; gossips who say hurtful things about others when gathered in grocery stores, churches, street corners, schoolyards or on Facebook; ... and, so many more."

In order to gain Doeth power Howell must come to a place where here and there meet. It's called "The Crossingway" ($12.95 in paperback from Austin Macauley, austinmacauley.com; also for Amazon Kindle), a cracking-good YA adventure from Chicoan Lynn Elliott, playwright, novelist and Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at Chico State.

Elliott revels in language-play, bringing in, as he notes in an email, "Mabinogi, tales of hauntings from Spanish and Aztec, references to Haitian culture, haunted sites from Native-American culture" and more. In Welsh, "mabinogi" means "instruction for young bards." Howell's mother, Rhiannon, has schooled him in Welsh mythology. Her brother Tal's "real name," Howell says, "is Taliesin who was supposed to be some mystical Welsh poet and friend of King Arthur."

Howell is bullied at school by Bully Harold Bully, Pug the Pyro and Sloppy Jack, who call him "howl" (yelled howlingly). 

When his mother mysteriously vanishes on a trip from Mount Shasta to New Mexico, Howell begins a mind-bending transmogrifying journey to rescue his mother, save Sister Sarah from evil Tommy Foxglove, and rout the bullies (who have multiplied and taken on new forms), aided by blind Leonel, a Latino, deaf Dazmonique, born in Haiti, Jimi One and Jimi Two (twins), and Native-American Dani Walks-Her-Pony. Each has a key part to play in helping Howell brave the tests he must endure.

Will Howell succeed? It all depends on the pronunciation of a word--and a little help from his friends.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Stories Of The Humboldt Wagon Road"

Andy Mark spent two decades as a brakeman and conductor with the Western Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, and as a brakeman he spent his coldest night ever in Gerlach, in the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada, the mid-winter temperature below zero, the wind "howling like a pack of wolves." The Black Rock area was the scene of the great "silver rush" in the 1860s, and opening the way for miners was what was then called the Chico and Humboldt Wagon Road.

Later he graduated from Chico State and worked as a data analyst and statistical consultant; yet even before his 2013 retirement was bitten by the local history bug. Could he tell the story of Black Rock from a Chico perspective?

He eventually focused on the first hundred miles, from Chico to Susanville, and the result is a captivating foray into bygone times, accompanied by historical photographs as well as contemporary pictures taken by the author. 

"Stories Of The Humboldt Wagon Road" ($21.99 in paperback from The History Press, historypress.com; also for Amazon Kindle) traces the road's fate decade-by-decade from its beginning in the 1860s on through the 1890s to today, where remnants of the original still exist.

Its development was spearheaded by John Bidwell who dreamed of Chico "being part of a major supply route from California to Nevada and Idaho" mining sites. That didn't pan out, but "regular stage traffic to points from Chico to Susanville continued, and the road opened the foothills and mountains to stands of virgin timber to supply an expanding logging industry." Little towns along the way helped Chicoans get out of the valley heat. (Jonesville seemed to be party central.)

Mark includes dozens of stories, culled from local papers, of stagecoach robberies, murders, shootouts, snowstorms, encounters with grizzly bears, and family tragedies. 

In 1888 the five-year-old daughter of lumberman Barney Cussick died; the Chico Daily Enterprise published a poem sent in by a Butte Meadows reader: "We are waiting, Maggie, waiting,/ For the hours to pass away,/ When we'll meet to part, no, never,/ On the resurrection day."

The road goes ever on, as Tolkien said, and Mark ably shows the way.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"Behind Picketwire"

In 2008 businessman and former Paradise mayor Howard Johnson, who died in 2014, published an account of his hunting experiences with a strange title, "Picketwire." Paradise area writer M. Day Hampton had struck up an unlikely friendship with Johnson and it became clear there there was more to the story. And so, with Johnson's encouragement, a novel took shape. "I traveled the country," Hampton writes in an author's note, "in the footsteps of my protagonist Red, ending in southern Colorado at the end of the Picketwire River."

The just-published story is dedicated to Johnson and his wife Maurine. "Howard considered himself a simple man," Hampton adds, and the novel, inspired by his life, faith, love for his blended family and especially for his wife, "is a story about how significant and precious a seemingly ordinary life can be."

"Behind Picketwire" ($15.95 in paperback from HuckleberryBlue Press; also for Amazon Kindle, with more at mdayhampton.com) is a flat-out terrific novel, a can't-put-it-down, edge-of-your-seat tale that will drive readers to laughter and to tears.

Red Johnson, married for three decades to Addy, is a cranky 68-year-old man who has a difficult time expressing his deep love for his wife. After a freak accident he finds himself alone in his house, off Coutolenc Road in Magalia, save for his dog, Jake. Really alone. Out past his door there is no sign of civilization, no roads, no other humans. 

Eventually he embarks on a walking journey to Colorado where his family had vacationed years ago, convinced that Addy will be there. He leaves a note which says in part: "If someone else finds this letter, use this home with care. Know that it was here, where I loved my wife and raised my family."

What follows is more than a survivalist story (though it is that as well, including encounters with mountain lions, bears and more). Red's dreams are so real. "Everything seemed to remind Red of his past life. Memories he hadn't thought of in years all felt like pieces of the puzzle connecting one with another.... He was being allowed to see his life as others had."

Behind the mystery is the key to a man's heart.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"Book Marks"

Mark McKinnon (the other one--not the singer and retired Butte College instructor) also has strong Chico ties. Now living in Carmel Valley, McKinnon worked for Merrill Lynch in New York but, he writes me, "I still consider Chico my hometown. ... My mother taught in the business department at Butte College until around 1998 or so ... and my father opened the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream store in Chico." He played many sports, becoming "Chico High School athlete of the year in 1973."

Later came graduate work at Chico State for an MBA and, more recently, an MA in Psychology. "I then did a job I loved as Program Director of Dorothy's Place - House of Peace in Chinatown, Salinas helping homeless people." 

A voracious reader, along the way he collected thousands of quotations, from aphorisms to poetry, and wrote some of his own. Now he's published his trove as "Book Marks" ($20 in paperback, self-published, available through Amazon).

Not intended as a scholarly work (just the names of the authors are given), the book invites dipping into. Certain writers appear often, including Friedrich Nietzsche ("Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders"); Marianne Williamson ("According to A Course in Miracles, the purpose the mind ascribes to a thing is what determines its holiness or lack thereof. Any activity is holy if it is used for purposes of love and healing...."); and Mark Twain ("When angry, count four; when very angry, swear").

McKinnon includes many of his own observations. "We can be our best and highest self by simply combining the magic elixir of compassion and gratitude." "Racism, sexism/misogyny, gay hatred/homophobia, religious hatred, arrogance--they all boil down to valuing one's own group and perspective over another group's...." "It is easy to be wise about other people's lives."

Striking quotes abound, including this Turkish proverb: "When the axe came into the woods, many of the trees said: 'At least the handle is one of us.'"

And again Mark Twain: "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." McKinnon aims to help readers think about the "why."

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

"Fishing For Something"

Cottonwood writer Andrew Scott Bassett (andrewscottbassett.com) writes that "my personal history goes way back with the Chico area as my father worked in Chico when I was a small child and I managed a small, family-owned business there for almost five years." But, he adds, "I also am an abandoned son from the same father, dealing with what that implies."

Those implications are worked out in Bassett's debut novel "Fishing For Something" ($15.95 in paperback from Luminare Press; also for Amazon Kindle). Its language is mostly soft-spoken, gently risqué in places, funny, heart-warming, all contained in a wonderfully-plotted story. 

In Grants Pass, Oregon John Barrett works too many hours. So "his wife, Darlene, has separated from him and asked him to move out."

Then John's little brother Audie, from whom he is estranged, arrives with news. Their father, Raymond Barrett, has died. John has hated their father who "abandoned the family more than fifteen years ago when John and Audie were still just teenagers." Ray was a drunkard, philanderer, gambler.

The will makes an unusual request. In order for each brother to receive money from the estate, they must travel the country together, meet with their father's old friends he has listed, and break the news personally. And they must take each fishing. 

From Beale Air Force Base to New York City, the two brothers and, later, a beautiful young hitchhiker named Kitty, find themselves bonding in unexpected ways, especially after John is shot in Texas and Audie almost gets eaten by a shark. 

Ray's friends share stories about him that give Audie and John pause. How can such a bad man have friends who think so highly of him? And more questions--John finds himself in a compromising situation and is forced to ask: Does he really love Darlene after all?

Meantime, Darlene, working as a waitress, is tempted by a handsome customer who shows more than a little interest in her. Does she really love John after all?

As Audie puts it, "Catching a break in life is like catching a fish, part skill, part perseverance, part dumb luck. Life's a lot like fishing...."

The story caught me hook, line, and sinker.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"Paradise Isn't Lost: Embracing Resilience In The Face Of Loss"

The fires have come again, and so have loss and grief. A new memoir aims to show a way forward.


Former Paradise resident Kari Carter had moved to town three months before the Camp Fire. On that fateful day, "I got out with a leather duffle bag, my little dog Reese, my car, and with a couple of neighbors ... just minutes before roads turned to gridlock. From my cousin's living room in Chico, a handful of us watched the harrowing news footage of flames ripping through neighborhoods." Her place at Vista Village, she learned later, had turned to ash.


But her memoir isn't about "the horror of the event itself." It's just one of many losses she experiences ("I thought I had lost about everything a person could possibly lose in my sixty years of living") but the fire drives her to look more deeply within at her own responses and, she writes, to find the inner resources to continue on.


"Paradise Isn't Lost: Embracing Resilience In The Face Of Loss" ($16.50 in paperback, self-published, karicarterparadise@gmail.com; also for Amazon Kindle) is a clear-eyed chronological narrative dealing with loss before the fire, the fire itself, and, in the third part, "In Search of Meaning."


"I'd been a single parent and capable householder for fourteen years before meeting Randy," whom she married in 2000. Eventually they moved to Oroville to be close to his job at Feather Falls Casino, and she felt joy attending the Center for Spiritual Living. The group met monthly in Paradise and that became her introduction to the town she would later call home.


There are losses, from family members to precious possessions, even her marriage. Yet she finds resilience.


"The more I looked at resilience, the more I could see its connection to loss and grief. It doesn't matter what type of loss. Loss is anything that leaves a hole in one's heart. And loss comes with living. But the way our losses are grieved—or avoided—is another matter. The way in which grief is experienced and processed, influences whether we get stuck, or move forward."


In this book Carter moves forward.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"Peer Through Time"


David T. Pennington (davidtpennington.com), who works as a computer data analyst in San Francisco, has deep roots in Paradise. According to correspondence received from his mother, Mikki Ashe, "(married to Terry Ashe), formerly of Paradise (yes, of the Terry Ashe Recreation Center)," their son graduated from Paradise High in 1986.


Pennington has written a mind-bending science-fiction thriller. "Peer Through Time" ($12.99 in paperback, self-published; also available as an audiobook and in Amazon Kindle format) is the first of a planned series ("Gravity's Loop" is already published). The story mixes several science-fictional plot devices (wormholes as time portals; mind transfer; the creation of synthetic humans) into a complex tale of murder and mystery.


A small Northern California town named Heaven's Highest Hill (Triple H), a couple hundred miles from San Francisco, plays a key role since, as a news announcer puts it, "the body of resident Sara Drake was found early this morning inside the local branch of Peer Therapies." It is 2079; Peer Industries provides memory simulations for clients so they can relive past moments, and Peer Therapies provides a psychotherapist android, named Kass (now accused of murder).


The town is also the source, in a nearby creek, of a wormhole and its other end that can take a person back in time or into the future. The way it works is that one does not meet one's earlier (or future) self, but displaces that person. Spencer Westmoreland (Sara's ex-husband) discovers the wormhole and, according to one Carmela Akronfleck, "Spencer said he met me in the early 1980s. I was an old woman and I lived in a house known to the neighborhood kids as the Witch's House."


But in 2079 Carmela (whose real name is Carrie Dolphin) is twenty-eight. Yet to come is a long trip back to the late 1930s where she falls in love and receives a series of cryptic messages, the killer's hit list which now targets her mother and sister in 2079. When Carmela discovers who the real killer is, she is able to track down a woman pregnant with his ancestor. What should she do? Can she absolve Kass?


It's a wild ride, and it's not finished yet.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

"Aftercare Instructions"

Genesis Johnson, the narrator of the emotionally searing debut novel from Chico writer Bonnie Pipkin, will grab readers and not let them go. Johnson is almost eighteen, a student at Point Shelley High in New Jersey, and she is pregnant. Her boyfriend, Peter Sage, has driven her to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Manhattan for an abortion, a choice, she feels, both of them have made together. But once it's over, Peter is gone.

"I found out by walking into the waiting room, scanning a sea of hopeful eyes, and finding absolutely nowhere safe or familiar to land. In that moment, I was thrown into the deep, deep water. And in the deep, deep water, there is no way to breathe. Yet somehow, something propels you forward. Survival mode, I think it’s called."

"Aftercare Instructions" ($10.99 in paperback from Flatiron Books; also for Amazon Kindle) takes its chapter titles from the materials Genesis is given, including "Monitor Bleeding," "Recovery Times May Vary," and "You May Experience a Wide Range of Emotions." Each chapter ends with scenes from a play that provide the back story, how Genesis comes to connect with Peter, a conservative Christian, son of a prominent prolife mother.

Genesis' family? She cares now for her mentally unstable mother; her playwright father killed himself through a drug overdose (though her relatives will not admit it) and rumors abound at the high school. 

As the novel charts the course of the most significant week in Genesis' life, she feels she is in someone else's play.

She confronts Peter. "This is the moment where the whole stage is dark and a weak spotlight focuses on these two people who fell in love with each other, who made promises to each other, who don't know which direction to turn, who lost the last pages of their scripts and have to improvise now."

Wither their relationship? Matters are complicated after Genesis' chance encounter at a party with an attractive young actor named Seth who invites her to an off-Broadway audition. Just whose play is she in, anyway?

"There's so much that will hurt us," Genesis recognizes. "It's how we take care of ourselves afterward that matters. The aftercare."

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

"Coming Home Whole: A Draftee's Foretold Journey To And From Vietnam"

Don Graham retired from Chico State in 2007 as the university's Associate Vice President for Student Affairs (he and wife MaryAnne now live in Sonoma County) but his Chico State connection goes back decades.


In the summer of 1968, he writes in his well-crafted memoir, Chico State had accepted him into the master's program in psychology, and he and MaryAnne "would be renting a very small house at something-and-a-half Cherry Street" near campus.


Though his draft board had been hounding him even as the U.S. War in Vietnam raged he was confident he'd be safe. As MaryAnne continued packing at their Napa home, Graham drove north on Highway 99 toward his destiny. It did not go as planned.


The story is told in "Coming Home Whole: A Draftee's Foretold Journey To And From Vietnam" ($13.99 in paperback from Valley of the Moon Press). A car accident sends Graham back home; that same day he receives a draft notice. Alice at the draft board tells him: "'Don ... if the quota for Napa County next month is one person, you're it.'"


His choices are few. Canada was unappealing; he didn't have a history of conscientious objection (though years later he and MaryAnne would work in the peace movement); he didn't really want to maim himself to get 4F status; he didn't want to go to prison. So, he writes, he gave up, was drafted on election day in 1968, and promptly ushered into the Army.


What follows is not a gruesome tale of war but rather a series of meaningful "coincidences." Graham had sensed a kind of spirituality ("some immensely powerful force") watching over him, mediated by his mother, her spiritual mentor David (who had died), and a psychic who predicted he would return whole from the war.


He is assigned artillery duty in Vietnam, but he and his friends survive. R&R is in Hawaii where a kidney stone attack brings him to Tripler Hospital in Honolulu and a military job away from the war.


"How is this possible?" he asks himself in this story of a grateful young man amidst the twists and turns of life.


Tuesday, September 01, 2020

"History, Memories And Stories"


Kim Wacker Thompson writes me about her father, George Wacker. He "was a lifetime resident of Yreka. He was mayor, county supervisor, and businessman, and was known for his stories." Now, after many requests, she has gathered his writing into book form. It's a labor of love that shows George's penchant for the whimsical side of Siskiyou County history, and it's a delight to read.


"History, Memories And Stories" ($9.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle), by George Wacker, edited by Kim Thompson, begins with an account of the short life of the State of Jefferson in 1941 and ends with the short story (presumably based in reality) of meeting the great Babe Ruth on October 23, 1921, when the Bambino visited young Wacker's 6th grade class in Yreka.


Wacker was fascinated by the effect the Gold Rush and subsequent mining operations had on his beloved town. "When gold was discovered at Yreka in 1851," he writes in the "Memories" section, in a piece called "The Tunnels Under Yreka And The Little Men," "Yreka Flats was dubbed the 'Richest Square Mile' on the face of the earth. And rightly so, for the precious metal did lie on top of the ground and down through the gravel to bedrock."


A few years later, though, with the earth scoured of surface gold, mining turned to tunnel-making so the underground quartz veins could be extracted and crushed to release the gold, and it turns out Yreka is criss-crossed with tunnels. And: "It is thought by some 'believers' that after the extensive labyrinth of drifts had been completed and abandoned it was at this time that the Little Men moved in and began to inhabit the tunnels."


There were other Yrekan denizens: chickens. Those raising backyard chickens destined for Sunday dinner would carefully examine the gizzards for the shiny metal. "And the gizzards did yield a small nugget often enough to excite every housewife around."


There are accounts of the last train robbery in Siskiyou County, miners' practical jokes, invading bears, tragic murders, the high school rivalry against Dunsmuir, the Chinese in Yreka, and "The Great Watermelon Heist."


These nuggets of history and memory shine brightly.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Cultural Traditions Of Ancient Mesoamerica"

Retired Butte College and Chico State anthropology instructor Mike Findlay has long held a fascination with, and love of, Mesoamerica, "central southern Mexico and the northern portions of Central America, including the Yucatan Peninsula." It's the home of ancient traditions like the Maya, Olmec, Zapotec, Aztecs, and others. Now, in a new book, Findlay brings a scientist's eye to examine the long history of growth and decline of these storied cultures, from ten thousand years ago to Spanish colonization beginning in the fifteenth century.


"Cultural Traditions Of Ancient Mesoamerica" ($89.95 in paperback from Cognella Academic Publishing), by Michael Shaw Findlay, is a textbook; but its clear prose, pictures of artifacts drawn by the author, and an extensive glossary, make the book highly accessible to a general audience. It's a mostly chronological guide to cultures too often shrouded in myth.


By AD 250 in Mesoamerica "the centers of power were controlled by small cadres of elite nobility who managed state affairs and regulated trade to some extent." It was the time of what is called the "Classic period" (which lasted to around 900), and which produced "monumental architecture," writing, dynasties, and "institutionalized warfare."


What were these cultures like? Findlay brings in his own research as well as that of others from a variety of disciplines to provide a nuanced account. Religious life evidenced an interest in "spiritual sojourns": "In central Mexico and the Maya area," Findlay writes, art forms show "fantastic otherworldly scenes possibly aided by the use of psychotropic drugs (such as peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms....)" and even "intoxicating enemas."


A cultural "collapse" came at the end of the Classic period, and Findlay unpacks the many reasons, including "cultural fatigue," before he charts the coming of the Spanish.


In the sixteenth century Aztec king Moctezuma practiced human sacrifices of those captured in war "to maintain the cycles of the sun." Findlay observes that "If we are going to judge the ancient Aztecs ... for their 'inhumane' behavior, we must be willing to also look closer to home to find analogous practices" in which nation-states demand sacrifices of their own citizens.


Just like the avocado (which originated in Mesoamerica), this is food for thought.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"What Now, Little Mouse, Rocky, Wolfy And Flea?"

Longtime educators Jim and Nancy Barnes live near Paradise Lake, and over the years Jim has been telling the story of wise Little Mouse the Mouse (who also happens to live near Paradise Lake) in a series of children's books. Little Mouse's thoughtfulness is no accident; even as a youngster his problem-solving skills are quite evident.


And young Little Mouse the Mouse does have a big problem. "A flying boulder/ With speed and glee/ Had landed on top/ Of a teeny golf tee.// As bad as that was/ As you can see/ It cuddled up to Little Mouse's home/ Within a width of a flea."


The whimsical story is told with Jim's pen and pencil drawings in "What Now, Little Mouse, Rocky, Wolfy And Flea?" ($7.99 in paperback, self-published; the Amazon link is available through littlemousethemouse.com/index.html.) The same book, without any shading in the illustrations, is available in "The 'What Now?' Coloring Book" ($7.99 in paperback).


We've already met Flea. Enter neighbor Wolf, who thinks it's child's play to blow the boulder away. But then Rocky awakens: "'Huff and puff all you want./ I'm not going anywhere!'" Rocky is not exactly accommodating. "'It's so relaxing and airy,/ This tee hits the spot.'"


But young Little Mouse suspects there's more going on, something bugging Rocky, "problems that we can't see." Indeed so; Rocky admits that "'Before I landed on this tee/ ... I was mostly underground/ And feeling quite blue.'"


When the backhoe came and dug Rocky out of the ground, he tells Little Mouse, Wolf, and Flea, he realized "'We rocks get no respect. We only catch a lot of heck.'// 'We're dug up, pushed around, and shoved aside....'"


But, says Little Mouse, rocks are actually very important. "'Take for instance Butte Creek,/ Over the cliff and to your right./ Your boulder kin have played/ Their part in a special delight.'// 'For if it weren't for rocks and boulders,/ There'd be no sounds and sites--/ Ripples, rainbow-waterfalls, bridges,/ And the deep holes that fish like."


Does that, uh, turn the tide?


Well, the moral of the story may well be: When in doubt, communicate. Be a little boulder.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"Solstice Shadows: A VanOps Thriller"

Grass Valley novelist Avanti Centrae is back with another world-spanning adventure featuring thirty-something twins Maddy Marshall and her brother Will Argones. It's a follow-up to Centrae's debut, "VanOps: The Lost Power," which should be read first (though readers of the new work are brought up to speed).


"Solstice Shadows: A VanOps Thriller" ($16.49 in paperback from Thunder Creek Press; also for Amazon Kindle) chronicles the work of Vanguard Operations, a shadowy unit of the CIA. Chartered "to keep an eye out for any sort of advanced ... technology that threatened the security of the United States," the organization learns that the Russians are developing a quantum computer capable of hacking even the most sophisticated protections. 


In order to run properly, the computer needs superconducting materials, precisely what Maddy wielded in the form of small obelisks, strange shards that helped her channel ball lightning and defeat the Russians--for a time--some sixteen months earlier. But now the race is on to find the origin of those shards, likely contained in a meteor buried somewhere 3300 years ago.


The only clue as to its whereabouts is a "star chart" ripped from an ancient codex.


Centrae's depiction of what could happen if that super-computer hacked its way into U.S. "critical infrastructure" sent shivers down my spine: "How would truck drivers deliver food to stores with no gasoline? If dams didn't work, how would the farmers and firefighters have water to use? ... With no food, water, power, cash, or gasoline, there would be chaos. Armed fighting for basic survival. It would make the COVID-19 pandemic look like child's play."


And if the military's own communications were scrambled, the country would be open to, well, invasion.


Making matters worse, the Spaniards (under the direction of the evil King Carlos, to whom Maddy and Will are related) want in on the action.


The VanOps team (Maddy's boyfriend Bear Thorenson, who tries to get Maddy to join VanOps officially; Will; and group leader "Jags," an "intriguing" woman to whom Will is attracted) has only days to find the secret of the superconducting meteor. 


From Mexico to Jordan, the action never stops until the nail-biter of a conclusion.


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'"

Burned out by the Camp Fire, Paradise illustrator Steve Ferchaud fills his latest creation with Paradise memories in a children's book for all ages--and for the ages.


The book came about when the Executive Director of Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation, Debbie LaPlant Moseley, had the idea of raising funds by auctioning off names and characters to be put into a book. The winning bid came from the Hartleys, owners of Joy Lyn's Candies, and so their granddaughter, Haley, is the one who tells the story, a kind of diary of Paradise before, during, and after the fire.


"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'" ($14.99 in paperback, published by Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation; printed by Digital Print & Design in Chico) is available at ABC Books in Chico and through the website of the Foundation's Paradise Chocolate Fest (chocolatefest.us/getting-involved/my-name-is-haley). Proceeds go to the Foundation.


As writer and illustrator, Ferchaud tells a hopeful story. But it's hope that knows full well what has been lost. 


"I have to tell you about Noble Orchards," Haley writes. "I think I have a special talent for picking apples because I have always picked the best, juiciest, sweetest apples in the whole orchard. ... I wonder what the going rate is for an apple expert?"


Haley and her friends Lucia Violet and Sam spend time at Joy Lyn's ("I always choose the brittle"). There's Gold Nugget Days (readers may know some of the folks in the crowd), the Chocolate Fest, Gold Nugget Museum, Darlene's Ice Cream dreams, and Johnny Appleseed Days. 


Then one morning the phone rings. Haley and her mom must evacuate, try to make it to Chico to meet her dad. Booming sounds are all around. For five pages Ferchaud's palette turns red. 


"Then suddenly, there was blue sky."


Days pass, and the Skyway reopens. The two-page spread of a devastated Paradise, "empty and burned away," is heart-rending.


Months pass, and the family rebuilds. "There is still so much I want to say ... but do you know what I love saying the most...? 'Hi! My Name is Haley, and I live in Paradise.'"


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous"

"How could she possibly relay what thousands of square miles are like to callers who think San Francisco is Northern California?" That's the question fictional real estate agent Ingrid Fromm asks herself about the glory of Siskiyou County in the short story collection that depicts her encounters with interesting (read: quirky) clients.


The county, Fromm muses, is "the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined.... You can get lost here, stake out your territory, and retreat to a lifestyle reminiscent of rugged individualism and grit...." And there are pretty good views of Mt. Shasta.


Author Ursula Bendix, Peace Corps volunteer and Spanish teacher, was born in Germany in 1945 and with her family immigrated to Oregon when she was ten. Now the owner/broker of Bendix Real Estate in Yreka, she has crafted a series of deceptively simple stories about her counterpart Fromm (also in real estate in Yreka). 


"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous" ($13.95 in paperback from Memoir Books, an imprint of Chico's Heidelberg Graphics; also for Amazon Kindle) presents ten vignettes, tales of clients narrated from Fromm's point of view, that in quiet ways begin to expose the soul of a woman in her sixties, divorced after thirty-four years of marriage, with a son and daughter, living a "conventional" life.


Fromm's work makes her almost a voyeur into the lives of her clients. "Voyeurism, she knew, was a means by which she tried to discover and comprehend the nature of intimacy. She was sure that once she understood this feeling, she would understand the essence of living.... Selling real estate gave her the opportunity to meet all types of personalities and, for a short while, become intensely involved in their lives."


Zola Poe wants to build a "spiritual and holistic retreat" near the town of Hilt. A couple is interested in a strange house with a trapdoor in Dunsmuir. Foul-smelling Patrick meets a sad end. Ingrid imagines a fling with her client, Russian Boris Volkov. ("We're all in our sixties after all--what difference did it make?")


A conventional life? Perhaps--but one that will draw readers into its gentle passion.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown"

As a longtime Chico resident, former high school science teacher Dick Cory remains active as an essayist (writing a monthly column for Today's Senior Magazine) and environmentalist (advocating Teichert Ponds in Chico be designated "Peace Park Nature Preserve").

When he read about a controversy over prairie dogs in New Mexico, how they might be wiped out of existence by "changing farming practices and development," he created a story for young people told from the perspective of Percival the prairie dog. Percival falls in love with Ida Mae, and together they realize that "both of our families (coteries) may soon have to move if two-legs standing (people) have their way."

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown" ($15 in paperback, self-published, available at Made In Chico and through the author at ubangarang@yahoo.com) is not a story about the old upper Ridge area, but one about a very different "dogtown," captivatingly illustrated by Steve Ferchaud.

A brief glossary notes that a "coterie" is "a family group of prairie dogs made up of a male, one to four females, and their young, up to two years." They aren't really dogs, Cory explains, but "are most closely related to squirrels" and now range over only two percent of the land they did in 1900. Bottom line: "Studies show that the prairie dogs really don't compete for grass with cattle and bison."

After introducing Percival's family, the story takes an ominous turn as he watches the "grass grabbers" (humans) "bury poison seeds that smell like burnt nuts and cause us to die when we eat them.... Some take shots as us with their hollow tube shooters (guns)."

Even worse, "the grass is drying without water, too many four-legged milk-making gas-belching animals are eating what grass is left. Pups are being orphaned by this war on us. What can we do?" Ida Mae adds: "Doesn't anyone care for us? Do the legislators in our capitol not hear our barks?"

In the end Percival and Ida Mae make their choice. "We will stay and fight for our homeland. One day the two-legged standings will realize that our bark is better than their blight."

Doggone if it's not a small tale that needs watching.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)"

Technology is crucial in bringing a worship experience to those sheltering in place. Yet technology can also be a barrier to "authentic worship." That's the claim made in a new book directed especially to conservative evangelicals. 

The author, Livermore resident David Dirks, is a Chico State University grad who helped pioneer KCHO-FM as Chief Engineer. Now retired as a video producer for Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories, he leads the sound/media team at Brentwood Bible Fellowship.

Designed to be read by church leadership, "The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)" (self-published and available on Amazon Kindle) offers a "theology of sound" for churches with around 100 or so in attendance. 

Can those who sing or speak be heard clearly? Is the sound in the room too loud or too soft? The book provides basic technical advice on setting up sound systems, creating the right mix for band members and the congregation, and the importance of the FOH--the "front of house," "the person who mixes the sound for the congregation...."

But here's the key question, Dirks writes: "Are the sounds that you make, whether as a musician or an engineer, consistent with sounds that honor and glorify Christ? ... When we exalt our talents and abilities and elevate our technology as the source of the power in worship, we turn worship on its head. We practice 'the cult of sound.'"

Instead, "sound should seamlessly reinforce the worship time.... All glory should go to God." Beware "the deceptive emphasis on the worshiper as a consumer." Authentic worship is from the heart, in a spirit of joy.

The last part of the book is a jeremiad, a lament over how technology consumes our attention. Is a tech sabbath needed? 

The balance is difficult: "My life’s work is based ... on the use of technology.... At the same time, it is incumbent on me and each believer in the all-sufficient work of Christ and His resurrection to place boundaries on the use and influence technology has on day-to-day living and ... within the time of worship that we share together."

Dirks' book seeks to be a companion in that challenge.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

"An Education In Ruin"

Chico novelist Alexis Bass (alexisbassbooks.com) exposes scandalous family secrets in "An Education In Ruin" ($19.99 in hardcover from Tor Teen; also for Amazon Kindle). 

The Rutherford Institute welcomes high schoolers from the moneyed class, those "with bright futures and lush lives." But for new third-year student Collins Pruitt, who tells the story, her arrival at the boarding school is the start of a mission having little to do with learning.

She focuses on the Mahoney boys, Theo and Jasper. Especially Jasper. He's a fourth-year, the school's lacrosse champion, "accepted early to Dartmouth after being lauded into academic stardom last year when he won the national academic decathlon. ... He spent last summer interning at Robames Inc., a world-popular company because their founder is a twenty-year-old Yale dropout and a Rutherford graduate herself."

If Collins can get Jasper to fall in love with her (and she is convinced by her aunt Rosie that she can), Collins can leverage the relationship to force his married mother, Marilyn, who dotes on her sons, to stop her affair with Collins' divorced father, Jacob, on whom she dotes. Simple.

Except not so simple. As the deliciously dishy tale unfolds, it turns out no one is who they seem to be. Take Rob (Roberta) James, head of Robames, plagued by a personal lawsuit that threatens to bring down the company. She's invented a medical device that quickly analyzes DNA (or something), but she's a total fraud. (The parallels with Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos are quite clear.) 

Jasper knows yet refuses to blow the whistle on Rob. Why? Collins is falling in love with him and in searching for the answers with her group of friends, Anastasia, Stewart, Sebastian, and, yes, Theo and Jasper, secrets inside secrets are revealed. Can love flourish when all the truths come out? 

In the end, Collins writes, "there are some things that are too complicated to understand unless you know the whole of it. The entirety. What came before what comes comes after. The broken-down parts, each piece making both the foundation and the destruction. A moment-by-moment recount until the abhorrent conclusion."

Readers may be so engrossed in "Ruin" it will ruin their dinner plans.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Consider: Somewhere out there in space, humans have come to a planet they call "Home World," fleeing the military-industrial complex on their "previous planetary home," a place in which war seemed to be the answer to every question. The colonists "resolved to bring with them only the technology that rewarded the peaceful solution of differences of opinion." 

Over the next five hundred years only one war flares up. "When it was over, everyone ... agreed that killing each other was stupid." That was long ago; now, though, some of the countries on Home World are again amassing technological power with an eye toward the wealth of a planet known as E47. The "healthy technological and moral environment for human evolution" is about to be shattered.

For Chicoan Andrew Hanson, retired Professor of Education at Chico State University, and now a first-time novelist, the solution comes in the form of what might be called a "conspiracy for peace," led by Mark Sturgis, a rich and mysterious figure recently returned from E47. 

He convinces Adrian Prescott Museum Director Eric Harris, and Assistant Director Rachel Johnson (who fall for each other), that he is indeed the late Adrian Prescott in a transplanted body. Can they convince Adrian's grandson, Jerold Prescott, Chairman of Prescott Industries, before Jerold makes a decision "that will jeopardize the future of our planet"?

"Revelation" ($14 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses in the first part on Mark's (cinematic) E47 experiences involving friendly Hill People, the unfriendly "People of God" tribe, five orphans (the "Sherpas"), telepathic wolves, the Witness Tree (which is a kind of space and time transport), and a People Mover machine which allows Sturgis to escape.

The second part details a series of meetings among the conspirators reporting on peace movements they are encouraging. Will humans get another chance to be welcomed into a peaceful galactic community?

As Mark reports, "It's becoming increasingly clear that advocates for peace must do more than sponsor initiatives and rallies. Warmongering politicians with financial interests in arms industries must be exposed, and colluding arms manufacturers put out of business."

Questions of war and peace continue to resonate as the United States celebrates its own founding.