Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Manitoba Soft Snow Blues

Hello to all from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. I'm here visiting with family. My Dad is in hospital, very ill, and we are gathering around to be with him while we still can. He sleeps much of the time, and his voice, when he can speak, is an often inaudible whisper. Today we thought he was dying. This evening he was joking in a soft voice and sipping French vanilla milkshakes. Lots of tears, lots of gentleness. No idea how long before I fly home.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Google Book Settlement: The Thing That Would Not Die

Thanks to all the people who have worked so hard on this baffling and irritating situation. Some good results have come of your diligence. One big one is that prior to these changes, Google had it that any book not currently available new in the US was considered not in print, so anything in any other country was up for grabs for making available without compensation through the Google Books project. No more, thank heaven. Read on...

Important Amendments to the Google Book Settlement

On November 13, 2009, Google, the Authors Guild, Inc. and the Association of American Publishers filed an Amended Settlement Agreement with the court.

Revised deadlines include:
  • The deadline to remove books has been extended to March 9, 2012.
  • The deadline to make a claim for cash payments has been extended to March 31, 2011.
  • The deadline to opt-out of the Amended Settlement Agreement has not been announced. If you opted-out previously, you do not have to opt-out again. You will however receive notice of the Amended Settlement Agreement directly from Google.
  • If you opted-out, and now would like to “opt back in”, you may do so. The deadline for “opting back in” has not been set.
  • The Fairness Hearing has not been rescheduled yet.
Some substantive changes made to the settlement agreement include:

1. The settlement agreement now only applies to books published in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia (in contrast to applying to books published virtually anywhere in the world). Books published in Canada, the U.K. and Australia do not need to have been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be included under the settlement.

2. A book is now designated as being commercially available if it is available for sale new, from sellers anywhere in the world, to purchasers within the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Australia.

3. Children’s book illustrations are no longer included in the settlement, unless the rightsholder of the book is also the illustrator.

4. An “Unclaimed Works Fiduciary” will be appointed to represent the interests of the rightsholders of “unclaimed” books (i.e. unlocatable or orphan works). The royalties collected for the use of such works will not be used by the Book Rights Registry for its operations or distributed to other rightsholders. The funds will be held by the Registry and used to search for rightsholders and may be distributed to literacy-based charities after ten years.

5. The Book Rights Registry will have one publisher and one author on its board of directors from each participating country, including Canada.

6. The deadline for rightsholders to claim works and receive certain royalties has been extended from five years to ten years.

7. Rightsholders have enhanced powers to negotiate certain revenue splits and display use features directly with Google.

8. Future revenue models and uses of books are no longer unlimited. Only Print on Demand, File Download and Consumer Subscription models may be negotiated between Google and the Book Rights Registry.

9. Third party resellers will be able to sell books through the Consumer Purchase model to end users and retain a majority of Google’s share of the royalty.

10. The Book Rights Registry will monitor Google’s use and display of books outside the United States, on request.

Please visit the Google Book Settlement website for more information.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Addena on the Drive

Fellow Wattle and Daub author and dear friend Addena Sumter-Freitag is interviewed here by Steven Duncan of Live on the Drive. (That's Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC, for the uninitiated.)

Isn't she lovely?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Creating Timelines

How to SORT OF hunker down and work while finding a way to blog instead? Easy! Let me show you.

Since Draft One of Lakansyèl I've created a lot more scenes (a LOT more scenes) which need to be plugged in where appropriate through the text and then filed smooth. Daunting? You bet!

I figure the miracle tool I need to get me out of this quagmire is a timeline program that I can input the various actions into and see where I need to go. This is the best thing I've found so far.

I did try Liquid Story Binder XE, but it crashed after I input two character names and I thought, Self. This sucks. Try something else.

This one is an Excel timeline, worked up by someone who likes to do these things, who also teaches you how to do it yourself if you don't want to use his template. I'm going to play around with it now. Meanwhile, if you come across any even simpler programs, let me know. I'm looking for something I can keep adding into, rather than having to know in advance how many columns I'm going to need. Not having used Excel almost at all, I'm not sure if this is the answer, but I'm hoping it is.

Thanks Jon!


Excerpted below:

There are many ways to create a timeline in Excel, but most of the methods I have seen make use of the drawing tools or bar charts or a gantt chart for project timelines. I wrote an article about this a while back (see Timelines in Excel).

Well, I am happy to say that I have finally found an easier way to rapidly create timelines. This means being able to quickly make timelines for various historical periods or documenting events in a person's life (for historical timelines, geneology projects, school reports, etc.). The figure below is an example, showing some of the events in the life of Benjamin Franklin.

Timeline Chart in Excel Showing Events in the Life of Benjamin Franklin
Figure 1: An Excel chart showing an example timeline.

If you don't have time to learn how the timeline is created, and want to just jump right in and create your own timeline, go ahead and download the Excel Timeline Template below.

Project Timeline Template

Excel Timeline Template

This template creates a timeline using an XY chart with error bars as leader lines. The first worksheet contains the example timeline above. The second worksheet contains a project timeline example, where the time scale is days rather than years.

No Installation, No Macros - Just a simple spreadsheet

Download the Timeline Template Download Now

Cost: Free ($0.00)
License: Personal Use Only

File Type: .xls (~50KB)
Required: Microsoft Excel® 2002(XP), 2003, or 2007

This article provides a tutorial describing how to create a timeline like the one above, from scratch (without requiring any macros or VBA). I won't go into detail on some of the specific formatting used to fancy up the chart, but the necessary details are listed below...

- Wittwer, J.W., "How to Create a Timeline in Excel" from Vertex42.com, Sep 2, 2005, http://vertex42.com/ExcelArticles/excel-solver-examples.html

Ah! Pretty cool, eh? Here I am half an hour later with the beautiful beginnings of a life-saving timeline:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

New Review! by Lorina Stephens

Review: Finding Creatures & other stories

The cover of C. June Wolf’s collection of speculative shorts was enough to snare my attention, although the title supported that dynamic image. Then when I saw the man himself, Charles de Lint, had given his unequivocal support to the publication, I knew I would put aside everything else on my reading mountain.

It was an excellent decision.

There are fifteen stories that make up this eclectic collection, ranging from pure speculative, science fiction, fantasy and urban reality. They are all of them quiet, introspective tales, very Canadian in nature although certainly Wolf’s milieux range from unknown geographies of space, to the devastating poverty of Haiti and the cerebral spaces of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Her geographies may vary, but Wolf’s themes remain central to the exploration of the human, and sometimes not so human, responses to sciences, situations and challenges, revealing our inner natures with a deft, honest hand that is absolutely readable and memorable.

By far, Finding Creatures & other stories is the best body of short, speculative fiction I’ve read all year, and certainly deserving of critical acclaim.

The only criticism I have is the publisher, Wattle and Daub Books, has very limited distribution and their website has little information to assist you to purchase (no price), although there is a link where the collection is available:


It’s worth tracking down; you won’t be disappointed.

Finding Creatures & other stories

C. June Wolf

ISBN 9780981065809

Wattle & Daub Books (2008)

Trade Paperback 5.5” x 8.5”, 240 pgs


Casey Wolf said...

Thanks for this review, Lorina! I'm so glad you liked the book.

The publisher's website actually does state the price in a couple of places (the page the book is described on - Books: 2008 Fall - and the Orders page.) There are also PayPal buttons on the Orders page, so you can see what the shipping costs are, too.

Hopefully the distribution will improve, though I do agree it is pretty puny at the moment! So I thank you for spreading the word.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

BBB Winners!

Got the word today on who won the prizes from my Bitten By Books chat. There was an unavoidable delay in the proceedings but we're back on track now.

Elisa Jankowski won the story, and Rose Gabdul won the poem.

Elisa Rocks! Rose Rules! Woohoo!

I'm still excited about this contest, and am looking forward to seeing what Elisa and Rose think up for me to write.

Here again are the rules:

Prize 1: A story written for You. You choose the genre and the time period. Tell me up to three things about the protagonist (a name, an ability, something she hates or something she likes – it’s up to you) and I will do the rest. Or you can choose a theme - say, art and the paranormal or alien shopping or whatever you’re curious about, and I’ll come up with the character, etc. Or you can leave it all up to me. In any case, tell me a little about yourself and what you like or what is important to you, and I will bear that in mind as I write. The publishing rights remain with me, but the story is dedicated to you and you see it first. I’ll send you a signed printout when it’s done. Heck, if you like I’ll call and read it to you. Plus you will receive a personalized signed copy of Finding Creatures & Other Stories. (Note: writing a story takes time! This won’t come instantly but it’ll get there soon enough.)

Prize 2: A personalized signed copy of Finding Creatures & Other Stories plus a poem in the genre of your choice. Choose one element of the poem and I’ll do the rest. See Prize 1 above for details.

If you haven't had a look at the video and chat, you can find them at

Interview, Chat and Contest with Author C. June Wolf.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Making Up Book Club Questions: A How-To Guide

I don't think I have yet mentioned tha
t the Vancouver Public Library is putting together a book club set of Finding Creatures & Other Stories. They've asked for a number of materials and one is a set of book club questions. Fair enough. I am now at work on that.

Searching around on the net for tips o
n how to organize my set of questions, I found a number of useful sites. I offer some of their guidelines below.

Some Typical Discussion Questions


While reading a book, a club member should reflect on these questions, and research other supplementary materials. This is mostimportant if you are leading the book discussion.

  • Did you like the book? If you have read any of the author's other books, how does this compare?
  • What is this book's message?
  • How did you feel about the characters? Whom did you like or not like and why?
  • What did you think of the ending?
  • In a movie version, who would play what parts?
  • How did you feel when the character did or said....How do you think the character felt when she did or said...?
  • If questions...e.g. If the characters had done this instea d, how would the story have changed?
  • What do book reviews say about this book or more generally the author, and her past works?
  • What did you think of the plot line development? How credible did the author make it?
  • What moral/ethical choices did the characters make? What did you think of those choices? How would you have chosen?
  • How authentic is the culture or era represented in the book?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this? What is her most important message?
  • How do you think the main character's point of view is similar or different from the author's point of view or background?
  • What is the author's background (her style, stature and focus)?
  • How does the setting figure as a character in the story?
  • Are the characters' actions the result of freedom of choice or of destiny?
  • Is there any moral responsibility that was abdicated?
  • Are there any symbols that may have cultural, political or religious reference? e.g. flag, tree, rose.
  • What type of vision does the author use with her word choice? Is it optimistic, pessimistic, prophetic, cautionary, humourous, satirical, venomous, cathartic?
  • What effects do the events (time, natio nality, physicality) have on the character's self or personality?

Remember to check the publisher's website for your book of choice. Usually a publisher will include some questions specific to a book.

General Book Club Questions for Study and Discussion

By Esther Lombardi, About.com


In your book club, you may be reading books on a wide variety of topics. Here are a few questions for study and discussion. These questions are designed to make you think about the book(s). Take a look...

  • What did you think the book was about?
  • Did you feel that the book fulfilled your expectations? Were you disappointed?
  • Did the author seem to appear in the book? How? Why? Was the presence of the author disruptive? Or did it seem appropriate/fitting?
  • Did you enjoy the book? Why? Why not?
  • How did the book compare to other books by the author (or other books in the same genre)?
  • What about the plot? Did it pull you in; or did you feel you had to force yourself to read the book?
  • How realistic was the characterization? Would you want to meet any of the characters? Did you like them? Hate them?
  • Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not?
  • If one (or more) of the characters made a choice that had moral implications, would you have made the same decision? Why? Why not?
  • How does the setting figure into the book? Is the setting a character? Does it come to life? Did you feel you were experiencing the time and place in which the book was set?
  • How would the book have been different if it had taken place in a different time or place?
  • What are some of the book's themes? How important were they?
  • How are the book's images symbolically significant? Do the images help to develop the plot, or help to define characters?
  • Did the book end the way you expected?
  • Would you recommend this book to other readers? To your close friend?

Guide Materials:


Number of Pages

-About the Book
-One sentence about the book (25 words or less) --- To be included with title listing in the "New Guides" section of the homepage
-Discussion Questions
-Critical Praise
-Excerpt (with copyright information)
-Author Bio
-Author Interview (if available)
-Link to one website (author's website or publisher's website)

Please indicate up to three genres where you would like your guide to be listed:

  • African-American Interest
  • Award Winners
  • Biography
  • Books Into Movies
  • Christian
  • Classics
  • Current Events & Politics
  • Fiction
  • Foreign
  • Gay and Lesbian Interest
  • Historical Fiction
  • History
  • Jewish Interest
  • Literary Fiction
  • Mystery & Thriller
  • Memoir
  • Nonfiction
  • Oprah (Must be an Oprah Book Club Selection to be added here)
  • Religion & Spirituality
  • Romance
  • Sci Fi and Fantasy
  • Self-Help and Psychology
  • Short Stories
  • Women's Interest

For 100$ they will list your reading guide on their site.

Soothing Oatmeal Porridge.

Boy Eating Porridge

I was asked to participate in a recipe circle (me??). What was wanted was a recipe I know by heart and could jot down quickly, for something I'd eat when I didn't have a lot of time. Here's my answer.

Soothing Oatmeal Porridge.

Choose the appropriate oatmeal for your mood:
Steel-Cut for those vigorous mornings, Rolled Oats for regular days, Scottish Oatmeal for when you need pampering.

Toss into a pot and begin to heat it. A touch of salt is good.

Chop dried apricots and plop into the cooking oatmeal.
Add hazelnuts (you can get local organic ones at the Food Coop).
Sprinkle in cinnamon.

Cook till it's the way you like it.

Best on hot, buttered, whole grain toast.



Sunday, October 18, 2009

Den Page of Casey Wolf: Audio Video BlogDaughter

photo by Gail Nyoka

Although I haven't ironed out all the bugs yet (eew! What an awful thing to do to a bug!) I'm launching a daughter blog to go with this one. It is exclusively for audio and video interviews, story readings, and so on. I'll still post such things here, but for simpler storage and easier finding, the other blog will be the place to go.

Right now it has the recent videos I've posted here, as well as the HiSciFi.com audio interview. I've recorded "The Coin" and am now trying to figure out how the heck to post it there.

Wish me luck!


Quarterly Newsletter: Casey Wolf Writes

For those of you who are interested in keeping loosely in touch with my writerly machinations but are not up to following a blog, I'll be writing a quarterly newsletter with updates and anecdotes. If you are interested in joining up, head on over to Casey Wolf Writes and sign up. I look forward to seeing you there.


Follow me...
LibraryThing: thesmellofbooks
Twitter: http://twitter.com/CaseyJWolf
Facebook: Casey Wolf
Quarterly newsletter: CaseyWolfWrites
Blog: Den Page of C. June Wolf
Videos and Audio (inc.Stories): Den Page of Casey Wolf

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wattle and Daubers Featured Readers @ Spoken INK!

Eileen Kernaghan & Casey Wolf

I'll be one of three featured readers at the Burnaby Writers' Society Spoken INK reading series next Tuesday. Each of us has been published by the new micro-publisher Wattle and Daub Books.

Here is the scoop:

The Burnaby Writers' Society’s Spoken INK presents BC writers Casey Wolf, Addena Sumter-Freitag, and Eileen Kernaghan reading from their recent Wattle and Daub Books releases.

Casey will read from her short speculative fiction collection Finding Creatures & Other Stories, Addena from her poetry collection Back in the Days, and Eileen from her speculative poetry release, Tales from the Holograph Woods.

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 7:30 pm.

Location: James Street Café, 3819 Canada Way (one block east of Boundary Rd. in Burnaby)

Contact: bwscafe@gmail.com

Open mic to follow featured readers.

Addena Sumter-Freitag

Wattle and Daub Books

Finding Creatures & Other Stories by C. June Wolf:

“Wolf uses different genres, different voices, different cultures—in short whatever she needs to make the story work. What ties it all together is her sure-handed prose and a depth she brings to her writing, that indefinable element that rises up from between the lines and gives a good story its resonance…”

from the introduction by Charles De Lint, author of The Onion Girl and Dingo.


While praying at the edge of the woods one day, with the larks singing all about him and the grey-brown hare of Greccio outstretched like a dog at his side, Francis lifted his eyes. There was a stirring of the underbrush just ahead of where he was standing and he saw something—someone standing at ease beneath an aged, twisted oak. It could not be identified as any creature he had ever known, and indeed was neither creature nor plant nor man, but a strange combination of the three. The leafy, pelted being stared out thoughtfully at Francis, a light smile at the corners of its wide, lipless mouth and even more vividly in its flickering ochre eyes.

Francis' prayer did not falter. (It was many years since he had perfected the ability to pray in any circumstances, and it was like breath to him.) But he gave a little start. And his eyes widened in surprise.

For Francis was a man of his land. He had seen the ancient, lichened images carved on mottled stone. He knew the creature that stood before him, half-obscured by leaves, both its own and those of the brush that grew all around it. He had not believed that such a thing had ever truly lived, but there it was, and suddenly Francis’ world began to teeter…

Back in the Days by Addena Sumter-Freitag:

…bold-faced, broad-based and takes up space in a Canada that needs to be re-raced. *Back in the Days* is a book that will change your sense of here, and will eclectify your sense of self, wherever and whoever you are. You’ll love going back with Sumter-Freitag, whether or not you were there the first time around, because you’re here and now in her glorious storytelling.

—Wayde Compton author of Performance Bond


Friday nite meant all of us met up

And we’d be ‘stylin’

Fixin’ to dance the Madison

And Jive ‘like there was no tomorrow’.

Back in the days when a Bitch was a dog

And Nigger was a fightin’ word.

And all the Canadian guys would stand around

and posture

And ‘toss a dance challenge’ to the American G.I.s

who came to town to take all their girls

(Not that they wanted us Black girls

Before the American guys came ‘on the scene’).

Back in the days when a Bitch was a dog

And Nigger was a fightin’ word…

Tales from the Holograph Woods by Eileen Kernaghan:

"Kernaghan has touched something deep and visceral with these verses. You will read them once, then, in the middle of the night, wake suddenly, shivering, and need to read them again. Eileen Kernaghan neither lights a single candle nor curses the darkness—she swallows it whole and then sets it on fire."
—Sandra Kasturi author of The Animal Bridegroom


the shadow is always there
dark subtext, dissonance: the mocking laughter
in the fairy wood, the scowling presence
at the birthday feast, the faint suggestion
of warts beneath the velvet coat

this is the page in the book you dare not turn to
the face you see in the mirror
when the light falls at the wrong angle

this is the sly poison under the apple’s
smooth red skin, the dark that is not
light’s absence, but its twin.

Eileen Kernaghan's Wild Talent: A Novel of the Supernatural has been short-listed for the 2009 Sunburst Award for Canadian Speculative Fiction.

Finding Creatures & Other Stories

by C. June Wolf


ISBN 978-0-9810658-0-9

Back in the Days

by Addena Sumter-Freitag


ISBN: 978-0-9810658-1-6

Tales from the Holograph Woods: Speculative Poems
by Eileen Kernaghan
ISBN 978-0-9810658-2-3

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 7:30 pm.

Location: James Street Café, 3819 Canada Way (one block east of Boundary Rd. in Burnaby)

Contact: bwscafe@gmail.com

Open mic to follow featured readers.

Wattle and Daub Books
Grandview RPO PO Box 78038
Vancouver BC V5N 5W1

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Turkey Readings Revealed!

...In which I attempt to explain what the VCon Turkey Readings are, and to give a small demonstration of their evil power.

Monday, October 05, 2009


As you may know, I suffer from fibromyalgia. This makes it difficult to write or mouse for long periods of time, and leaves me suffering sometimes for weeks if I do too much.

Some while ago, my very kind sister Ani sent me Dragon Naturally Speaking 7. This software enables the user to speak into a microphone while it transcribes
their words. The idea is sublime. The reality, however is not quite perfect. Despite buying a highly recommended Logitech microphone headset, and patiently training myself with the DNS7 software, I end up reading like a computer on crack. What I could type in ten seconds takes ten minutes to bugger up completely.

Below, I give you my first dictation using Dragon Naturally Speaking 7...

Her Eyebrows
and take her across the room, and saw she was a night of blue. She walked. Its error beneath her seats at the Whitney her at-bat at a but at a at a to a but to the lower than.
The wonderful thoughts of being able to speak and have my words transcribed is somewhat more enticing than the reality that I see before me.
I was walking down the street, the other day. When I noticed a man across from me. I did not realize that he was the one I was meant to see. All is well in love and war. My bladder is full. My bladder is so very full. My bladder is so-so Bucking bucking bull. She could, and at at-bat at to neck, her eyebrows
I have not given up. I will prevail. But not today.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

An Eclectic Buffet: Review of Finding Creatures & Other Stories

(Follow the links to read the stories.)

An Eclectic Buffet
Jess Mowry, author of Way Past Cool

I like story collections, and speaking as one who writes for kids, it has always puzzled me why many mainstream publishers are reluctant to publish them. Short stories are far less intimidating and generally more enjoyable than novels for “reluctant readers.” I have seldom been disappointed with a story collection, though I may have been disappointed with one or more of the stories in them. Still, as with an eclectic buffet, one can usually find something they like.

Finding Creatures & Other Stories by Casey June Wolf is by no means a young-adult book, though I’m sure that many teens, especially those who like sci-fi and fantasy, will enjoy it; and Ms. Wolf has offered a lavish and varied buffet with well-prepared entrees that should please most everyone, whether or not they hate vegetables or don’t eat meat.

While the stories are as varied as vegan salad and truck stop steak -- indeed, one of the stories,
After Hours At The Black Hole, is about a space-going garbage truck -- it’s clear that Ms. Wolf knows her way around a literary kitchen, and even the most picky eater or fanatical food-faddist may be tempted into sampling things they thought they didn't like.

The collection opens with an offering titled
Claude And The Henry Moores, about a security guard in an art gallery who senses the life trapped within certain pieces of sculpture and ultimately sets those lives free. In a case of “it tastes like chicken,” I was reminded of Thorne Smith’s novel, Night Life Of The Gods, although Mr. Smith tended to use magic and the supernatural merely to present his situations and then get on with the tale, while Ms. Wolf takes us much more deeply into how the magic happens and what the characters feel. There are also subtle echoes of Anne Rice and the process of transforming into a vampre, though by no means sinister.

However, Ms. Wolf is also adept in the horror genre with offerings such as
Dana’s Hand and Aggie’s Game, both of which may generate within the reader a macabre but titillating tingle similar to forbidden or potentially deadly foods -- fugu fish come to mind -- that must be prepared with much skill by only the most experienced of chefs.

The title story,
Finding Creatures, about a girl who finds a ethereal though not imaginary horse who helps her make friends, reminded me of The Celestial Omnibus by E. M. Forster, one of many stories that so-called adults should read from time to time to remind them that children usually see clearly though grownup pretension, self-involvement, indifference and hypocrisy.

As for the other stories, and as one reviewer eloquently put it, they “range throughout space and time... the aliens are actually alien, not just humans-with-twist. The gods are godlike, with all that that historically implies. Humans, wherever they are, are still human with human concerns and flaws.”

While, as I’m sure will be the case with many readers, I liked some of the stories better than others, I devoured every one and none disagreed with me. If I absolutely had to find a flaw in this book it would be the author’s introduction to each story. Having been a voracious reader since a very early age, I quickly learned to avoid prologues or introductions, especially those that tend to either describe a story or, worse, hint at or give away the ending. Nor am I interested in why
an author wrote a story, what inspired it, or the author’s own interpretation of their work, though of course other readers may feel differently. In any event, it’s simple enough to ignore the intros -- as one might ignore a platter of Vienna Sausage appetizers -- and get to the good stuff.

Aussie Sis & Partner Visit Lower Mainland - Where To Take 'Em?

Carole's Shirt: Hard Water in Melbourne???

These are the suggestions I got from my pals (with edits from me). Decided to leave in the repetitions to show which popped into the most brains. (The lists end with the suggester's name.)

  • Reifel Bird Sanctuary, birds and forest and water
  • Steveston fishing village, with good fishing museums and tourist stuff (pretty)
  • UBC endowment lands, forest walks, UBC botanical garden, nude beach (brrr!), Museum of Anthropology, etc
  • Britannia Beach near Squamish. mountains sea and forest.
  • MacDonald Beach and beyond (Richmond) - seaside beach, birds, inc predatory
  • Granville Island Market on water, between bridges and downtown, cool stuff to eat and buy, Kids Market, live theater, etc.
  • VanDusen gardens, well-wrought plantings, gift shop
  • Stanley Park
  • Hollyburn Mountain
  • Bowen Island...good pub on the other side!
  • ....and my favorite...Jericho Beach.. (Mary) (great sunsets, views of north shore mountains and downtown Vancouver)
  • Mount Baker, if you want to go that far, is best mountain views for the buck - you can drive up a paved road to 6500 feet, with breathtaking views of baker and shuksan (glaciers everywhere) and no hiking required at all, though nice easy walks all over the place. takes 3 hours drive plus border crossing, but at a quiet crossing (sumas) usually with no lineup.
  • Yew Lake interpretive trail at Cypress Mountain is totally lovely in the fall and an easy walk.
  • Reifel, obviously. Also Burns Bog is really interesting.
  • inside city, coffee at Caffe Artigiano on Hastings for Vancouver's best espresso coffee, bar none. Aquarium has very young beluga calf, which apparently plays with the older bigger calf in a very cute way. Also loads of new tanks that are really wonderful, including a massive 2 story high one with kelp community fish. It's a bit expensive though.
  • Lighthouse Park to see huge trees.(Susan)
  • Centennial Park on Burnaby Mountain (on the way to SFU) with great views and Ainu totem poles. SFU itself. Unless it's raining.
  • UBC, for the Botanical Gardens, the Nitobe Japanese Garden and adjoining Asian Centre, the Anthopological Museum, -- and the area behind the Museum
  • with west coast first nations lodge and totem poles.
  • Jericho Park beach
  • The walk along the water from Pacific Place convention centre (the one with the sails) to Stanley Park. And on around the seawall.
  • Bowen Island. Where we have yet to go. (Eileen)
  • Buntzen Lake (Port Moody), Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Ladner), Burnaby Lake (duh, Burnaby), Wal-Mart (oops, did I say that?), Nitobe Gardens (UBC), Sun-Yat Sen garden (Chinatown). (Clelie)
  • Queen Elizabeth and the view (don't forget the sculptures of the two couples, next to the restaurant)
  • Stanley and the view and the totem poles
  • Van Dusen and the several sculptures there
  • Lighthouse Park in North Van
  • Grouse Mountain Skyride (a bit pricey, I think)
  • Lynn Canyon Park in North Van (free scary suspension bridge, much cheaper than the
    Capilano Bridge)
  • some nice parks that I've never really explored in the vicinities of Capilano College, SFUniversity and Port Moody
  • Vancouver Island and the other Islands
  • revolving Sears Tower--we found the restaurant quite pricey, even for lunch, during the high season, but it may be a bit less now, and there's an observation deck with an admission fee, but I don't know how much it is. (Howard)
And any ideas of my own...
  • a drive up the Squamish Highway (depending on Olympics construction) has endless beauty: forest, mountain and coastline. Interesting stops along the way: Britannia Beach and mining museum, Squamish and horseback riding, the Chiefs, sheer mountain face popular with climbers, the scent and smoke of pulp mills.
  • interior of BC: how far can you get in a day? Definitely to Hope and the stunning mountains in that area. Or an overnight camp in Manning Park or any of a dozen others. Mission and Haney, with Golden Ears mountains, Harreson with the hotsprings, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, etc, etc.
  • Gulf Islands: Pender or Saltspring, eg, for a day trip. Victoria overnight. High tea at the Empress? Classic old Canadian hotel. Crystal Gardens, Buchart Gardens. We are nothing in BC if not forests, gardens, mountains, and gardens. Personally I am not crazy about ferry lineups, as there are usually long waits for the ferries, but in this weather not so much, I'd expect.
  • I like Southlands Nursery, with its beautiful indoor and outdoor plants and displays, friendly staff, and free coffee. It's a hop and skip from a quiet river walk and not far from UBC with Pacific Spirit Park and particularly the wee reclaimed area of Camosun Bog. There are tiny stunning plants and critters in there if you slow to a dull jog and have a look.
  • I also fancy walks along Commercial Drive (my longtime neighbourhood), with a stop in Hippy Bongo Park (thanks, Chris Walter, for that handle) (it's also called Grandview Park, I think), with book, coffee, friend, or joint in hand. (Okay, no joint in my hand, but it IS traditional.) Maybe I'll do a feature on Commercial Drive one day. But for now...
This is my list, Carole, my sister, and Melissa, your partner (who I am so excited to meet). Where do we start? And what have we missed? Cheap eats?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Women Who Run With the Werewolves: My BBB Video Interview

Here she be. The Dreaded Webcam Interview. Worked out pretty well, all in all. If you look carefully you will see a hand-made clay pot in the background. I did that! With a little help from Persimmon Blackbridge, many long year ago. It's a copy of a neolithic owl goddess pot.

If you want to read the comments and questions post-interview, they're at:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chat & Interview a Raving Success! (Or am I Just Raving 'Cause I'm Tired???)

Who'da thunk typing for 14 hours could be so FUN?

OK, I was a wreck afterward, but I had a wonderful time talking with the people who came to my chat. We racked up over a hundred comments, and the conversation ranged over some really interesting stuff. I suppose it will remain up there on the Bitten By Books site - it's rather too long to post here! - so if you are curious you can pop over to Interview, Chat and Contest with Author C. June Wolf and leaf through the comments.

I find I am on tenterhooks, waiting to see who won the contest and what I will be writing for them. It's neat to be as eager about the prize as the particpants were!

I'm grateful to everyone who came and participated, and to Rachel for making the whole thing possible. And now I think I'll sleep for a thousand years.



Review: Bones Become Flowers, by Jess Mowry

Bones Become Flowers

by Jess Mowry

Windstorm Creative (2001)

Paperback, 392 pages


ISBN 1883573912

Author of Way Past Cool, Phat Acceptance, Voodu Dawgz, When All Goes Bright, and Skeleton Key as well as other novels for and about black kids and teens, such as Six Out Seven, Babylon Boyz, Rats In The Trees, Ghost Train, Tyger Tales, and Children Of The Night. His novel Way Past Cool also available in film version.

After over thirty years of working with kids and raising four of my own, along with a few strays -- none of whom are in prison or collecting Welfare -- not to mention almost twenty years of writing books and stories for and about kids, I've found that it's a lot easier for people to be "pro-child" about some kids than it is for them to care about and champion "other" kids. Perhaps, like the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm, some kids are more equal than others?

Jess Mowry

The quote above is from Jess’s LibraryThing profile. I might never have heard of him, or of Bones Become Flowers, if he hadn’t set up that account.

I’ve written of my fondness for LibraryThing. An important tool available there is the tag. Tag a book “social justice”, and when anyone in the vast LibraryThing system looks for books on that topic, the book you tagged will be among them.

I was glancing over my Tag Zeitgeist one day and noticed that my most common tag was Haiti. Clicking on it to see if there were any “Haiti” books I might want to read, I found Bones Become Flowers.

When I first received Bones Become Flowers, I entered the book in my catalogue and tagged it Haiti, Vodou, Voodoo. Now I’ve finished it I’ve expanded the list: Haiti, Vodou, Voodoo, religion, culture, social justice, social structure, history, children, boys, poverty, African-American.

Almost all my stories and books are for and about black kids, who are not always cute and cuddly. My characters often spit, sweat and swear, as well as occasionally smoke or drink. Just like their real-world counterparts some are "overweight" and have no desire to get skinny, or they may look "too black," or are otherwise unacceptable by superficial American values... including some AFRICAN-American values. Like on-the-real kids, they often live in dirty, violent environments and are forced into sometimes unpleasant lifestyles.

“I have devoted my career, such as it is, to writing positive but realistic books and stories, not only for and about black kids, but also for "white" kids so they will understand that the negative stereotypes aren't true... that most black kids have other interests besides guns, gangs, drugs, violence, becoming rap stars, or playing basketball.”

Bones Become Flowers certainly falls into this category. No simple romp, it depicts dense and vivid cultures, both African-American and Haitian, reflects on mores and prejudice, plays on literary passages, and examines the politics of gender and sex. It is multi-layered, exciting, brutal, and kind.

Mowry knows well Haiti’s painful and provocative truths. He delivers a ground-level view of history in meaty, candid prose. Yet this history is not over-simplified; many sides of issues are represented, creating an ethical tension that only increases the truthfulness of the book.

Tracy Carter, a black American woman with some cash behind her and a lot of compassion for kids, travels to Haiti with the intention of donating a sum of money to an orphanage in the mountains near Jérèmie. She is a tough, impatient, self-aware woman who is critically aware of oppression, particularly the oppression of children. Yet her character is leavened with wry humour and gentle affection. Her resolute insistence on following the truth, however elusive or uncomfortable, makes her an uncompromising and merciful protagonist.

From start to finish her journey is anything but clear-cut. She encounters a horrifying ritual on a beach en route to Jérèmie, uncovers a painful mystery connected to the orphanage, and sets out to find a talented ex-resident of that institution, to encourage his art and bring him, perhaps, to America, where he could truly flower.

The story is carried by well drawn characters whose motivations are refreshingly free from stereotype. The children are scarred and insolent, reeking and scheming, playful and beautiful, greedy and tender. Tracy is determined, impulsive, and passionately caring. Her heart goes out to children many would deplore and fear; she sees beauty in ugliness, and cherishes all. If your aim is to aid humanity, her actions seem to say, you can’t stop with the people who please you. The shy, clean, obedient, and well-spoken. Mowry draws our attention to the children society turns away from, and puts our noses in their stink, holding us there long enough, perhaps, for us to stop reacting against what we dislike and fear and see who is really there. He offers us a chance to be more human than we were before.

Some of Tracy’s reactions seem strange to me, not because they are strange, but because they’re not my own. But in the main I’m able to follow where her thoughts lead, and even when I am disagreeing with a particular aim (such as bringing the young artist to America) or action, I am wholeheartedly in support of her underlying intentions and am rooting for her to see clearly and decide well.

There is much detail in this book about Haiti, about Tracy, and about the characters she comes to know – Father Avery, Remy the artist, his brain-damaged friends, Jingo and Jango, and the people of Cayes Squellette. There is never a risk of forgetting where you are. Each place becomes real, its textures and smells and nuances defined and heady. Not every detailed jived with my own experience of Haiti, but enough did that I could say, yes, I am there.

“The stream grew swifter and deeper as they descended through the twisting ravine. The water now looked like frothing chocolate. Other small streams were joining it, fed by the rain on the mountains above and leaping down rocks and through branches and vines. A muddy cascade poured over the Jeep from an outcropping, flooding the windshield with yellowish foam and roaring on the roof as they passed underneath. The rushing brook rattled like hail on the hood whenever a patch of gray sky showed through the leaves.” pg.162

Much of the book is inner dialogue. Tracy’s reflections on her own young life and the realities faced by black American youths are every bit as striking as her thoughts about Haiti’s children. She ponders issues at length, many and important issues, and her thoughts are irreverent, frank, and informed with a lack of prettiness and pretension that could in other writers’ hands devolve into stereotype and easy answers.

Mowry doesn’t allow himself or his protagonist easy answers. In a book so concerned with oppression, with a protagonist so aware of it, there is the danger that she will be portrayed as flawless, always noble, always right, a hero against the forces of evil. But Tracy is not free from oppressor patterns herself; she is not always able to see clearly between her First World certainties and Third World truths. Nor, as readers, are we certain what is right and what is wrong, anymore than she is. Is the priest, who we meet in the early part of the book, correct in his beliefs about what the children need and what they have to sacrifice? Is Tracy correct in her disagreement with him? Is her acquisition of a carving that serves a religious function in its community only selfish arrogance, or is it a thoughtful and caring act? Are the people of Cayes Squellette unnecessarily cruel or uncannily wise? One of the great values of Bones Become Flowers is the opportunities it offers to question our own assumptions and reactions, and to open ourselves to other possibilities.

At times I wished there was a little less detail or reflection, but it never became a problem. If I had my editor’s knife, I would have cut a bit here and there, would have suggested that a word or two (seminal being the major one) were used over-much and might be alternated with other words. But these are thin complaints for a book that has fearless vision and a relentless valuing of human beings, whatever their apparent value or role in society, and however they may screw up or simply not appeal.

Bones Become Flowers took me places I would never have guessed it would. Some of those places are not for the squeamish. The positive light that Vodou is cast in will alienate some readers, but for me it was a relief. After the plethora of fear-soaked depictions of zombies and houngans, it’s refreshing to be given a different angle on this religion.

The bit that made me squirm was the attention paid to the corpulence and sexuality of a number of the adolescent boys. Why did it make me squirm?

Partly because I hadn’t finished the book and was not trusting the writer’s ultimate understanding of those themes. Early descriptions of the fat children were unflattering, and fat oppression is an issue I feel strongly about. With my editor’s knife I would have suggested a word change or two. But would that have been necessary? Was I just reacting? I’m not sure. Because in fact the fatness of the children was never seen by the characters as a bad thing. In fact, it was seen as highly positive. I rubbed my mental eyes at not one, but several fat children in the book because I never once saw a fat child in Haiti, except one youngster visiting from Miami.

I was missing the point.

The young god Esu appears in conjunction with the Undertaker in Bones Become Flowers. The gaunt, tall Undertaker receives the dead, and the impish, hedonistic Esu inspires life. His huge tummy is a symbol of his good fortune and the love and care which the people bestow on him. The fat children in the book are linked to him.

The sexuality. It makes complete sense in terms of the story. It just comes up so darned often! These youngsters are randy as heck. And this is a problem why?

I don’t think it actually is. There’s nothing pornographic about the book. My discomfort arises when adults speak of children’s sexuality in any but the most scientific way. I fear they’ll fall into, or will be accused of, using it to pleasure themselves, that rather than a dispassionate depiction of the kids themselves, it could veer into pedophilia. I get nervous in the same way that elementary school teachers get nervous when unknown adults wander into a school. In a world where we’ve seen so much sexual abuse of children, we’ve become flighty at the mere thought of children’s own sexuality, let alone adults referring to it in a book. Nevertheless, however much I cringe when Mowry refers to kids having sex, I never experience it as titillation. Whether it always works completely with the plot – I am thinking of one scene of sex between two boys out on the street, something I can’t even imagine in the Haiti I know – is another matter. In the main, I think it does, and indeed adds something important to our understanding of the characters.

Bones Become Flowers is a fascinating, appealing, and encouraging story. Kudos to Mowry for gathering so many disparate strands of life in difficult lands, and for lifting the whole from sociology to self-awareness and art.

I’m grateful to have met Tracy, and travelled with her to a Haiti I can never encounter, myself. Mowry’s dream is a demonstration of his great thoughtfulness. To have followed Tracy from Jérèmie to Father Avery’s orphanage, to the rusty old Enfant Vagabond, to the island community of Cayes Squellette and their gods, was a pleasure and a gift.

“…a tiny, gentle, and isolated culture that loved its children as it loved itself…” pg. 366

Well done, Jess Mowry. And thanks.

Casey Wolf

Vancouver BC