Friday, May 28, 2010

New Review FCOS by Simon Petrie in ASIF

New Review  May 27, 2010

Finding Creatures and Other Stories

Reviewed by Simon Petrie.

C. June Wolf is a specfic writer who lives in Vancouver. Finding Creatures is her first collection of stories, several of which have appeared previously in various small press magazines and anthologies.

“Claude and the Henry Moores” features a failed artist security guard who works at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and becomes gradually captivated by the gallery’s collection of Moore’s abstract sculptures. Claude is convinced there’s more to the objects than meets the eye. This is a closely informed story with an intriguing premise. It works well, although the “aurora” scene carried less power than I felt it should have. But all up, it’s an effective and memorable story that does a good job of introducing Wolf’s style to the reader.

“Thunderbirds”, the collection’s longest story, has nothing to do with the marionette rescue specialists. Instead, it’s the story of Norman, a native North American who struggles to balance the ways of his ancestors with the necessities of modern life. It’s also the story of Chitta, a doomed alien explorer who crashes on Earth, in the woods behind Norman’s home. Told in alternating slices centering on the two protagonists, “Thunderbirds” attempts a separate resolution for the two of them. Does it succeed? I’m not completely sure, but Wolf is nonetheless adept at crafting stories that stick with you after the telling, and this is no exception.

“The Ziz” sounded, to me, to be a made-up word, which only goes to betray my level of ignorance. Ziz is in fact the aerial sibling of Behemoth and Leviathan, and Wolf’s story here is an irreverent and didactic retake on the biblical fate of these colossi. This one didn’t particularly resonate with me, but it’s nonetheless a short, fun tale with a serious subtext.

“The Coin” is a token given several times to Likner, a young Haitian streetkid, by a mysterious middle class woman who tells him each time not to lose it. There’s a sharp edge to this one, which manages to present itself as both intense and subtle. A good example of contemporary urban fantasy.

In “Finding Creatures”, Bernadette is a pious young girl who longs for a miracle to prove God’s existence. What she gets is a horse… but can anyone else see the horse? This is a charming story that plays to Wolf’s strengths: she seems most assured in characterising introspection and solitude, and these are attributes very much at play here.

“Miss Lonelygenes’ Secret” starts promisingly, but throws a few too many ingredients into the mix. Rosaleen is a phenotypic profiler, a career for which she has her pioneering, Nobel winning mother to thank, although the sentiment would not be reciprocated. For Rosaleen uses her skills to the end of pairing up lonely souls with safe, compatible lifemates. So who is she holding out for? The ideas explored here are very interesting, though I ended up feeling the overall story didn’t do them justice.

“These Old Bones” has previously appeared in the anthology SF Waxes Philosophical which, as it happens, I’ve also reviewed. Back then, I described it as “a subtle, atmospheric tale of the interaction between two loners who share an interest in palaeontology. It’s an intriguingly elusive story that’s reminiscent in style to the work of Kate Wilhelm. For me, it echoed long after I’d finished reading” and my view of it hasn’t changed.

In “Aggie’s Game”, the young narrator’s sister is overly given to theatricality, perhaps not without reason. This one is charming, principally for the exactitude with which the sister’s foibles are drawn.

In “The MagniCharisma Machine”, two young lovers attempt to make the world a better place by collaborating on a machine which engenders empathy. Despite the serious premise, this one feels more light-hearted than many of the other stories accompanying it.

“Equals” is one of the collection’s more overtly SF-leaning tales. It jarred somewhat with my own tastes in SF – and to my mind, it doesn’t quite pull off what it’s attempting – but the central ideas are intriguing.

“After Hours At The Black Hole” is a whimsical fable on the dangers of shovelling awkward things and unwanted memories under the carpet – or, as in this case, into the mouth of a black hole.

I didn’t fully fathom the significance of the title hand in “Dana’s Hand”, but it’s nevertheless a well-crafted and unsentimental story of the bleaker attributes of senility. If there’s a speculative element in this one, I missed it.

In “Kouzen Zaka”, fifty-year-old Vancouver resident Isabel is haunted by memories of her time in Haiti, with Denys, a young journalist committed to revealing those resposible for the entrenched abuses of power. Such idealism is, of course, dangerous. For my tastes, the story’s pivotal scene is inappropriately muted, but the depiction of Haiti and its people remains effective.

“Mr. Cowmeadow’s Sky” is a closely observed story of resilient old Mr Cowmeadow, whose existence creeps along in a world gone to ruin.

“Saint Francis and the Green Man” explores a mythical meeting between the two. It’s a story about belief, which manages to avoid pushing any particular barrows (and is the stronger for that.)

These are the fifteen stories in Finding Creatures . There’s a variety of tones and themes, but if I had to tease out some common threads from what I found in its pages, these would be a tendency to focus on loners (and therefore on solitude and introspection), a persistent concern with the past in all its forms, and a subtle yet unflinching quietness of observation. It’s not a book to attempt to read in one sitting, nor did every story succeed on all levels. But there are enough memorable moments here, including “Claude and the Henry Moores”, “These Old Bones”, “Aggie’s Game” and “Dana’s Hand” that I found the overall collection to be enjoyable and worthwhile.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Casey Wolf Writes: The Inaugural Newsletter, 21 May 2010

Sent off my  first writerly newsletter, inviting people to sign up at Yahoo Groups for the occasional followup missive. Here it is below, sans links. If you want the links as well, have a boo here. Unfortunately, Yahoo can't cope with accents and so on, so the letter looks a tad silly there, but what the heck. 

One good use of the group is the File folder. I've placed pdfs of three stories there, which I will add to from time to time. So far you may help yourself to:

"The Coin"

"Claude and the Henry Moores"

"After Hours at the Black Hole"



Casey Wolf Writes: The Inaugural Newsletter, 21 May 2010


Those of you who expected to receive this message may be surprised at how long it has taken to arrive. Those who weren't expecting it are probably puzzled that it's come at all. Allow me to explain.

A number of months ago I was interviewed on video for the book review site Bitten By Books. At that time I was persuaded by Rachel, the site owner, to start up a periodic newsletter to let people know what I have been doing in my writing life. Shortly after that my dad became very ill and died. Most of my life went on hold at that time, and I am beginning to reorganize now.

This newsletter will be very occasional--2-3 times a year tops. If you want to continue receiving them, please go to the Yahoo group site Casey Wolf Writes and sign up. 

You will find on the site a few photos, links to interviews and social networking sites I participate in (you are welcome to join me there), my blogs, etc. Feel free to contribute to the site if you wish.

I'm also uploading pdf files of some of my stories for you to read and pass on as you wish. Please, if you want to quote extensively from or publish them, do get in touch with me about it first. Otherwise, enjoy!

************ ********* The News******** ********* *****

Stories out:

* "The Brideog"; a modern nod to an ancient Irish goddess. Published in Escape Clause: A Speculative Fiction Annual, edited by Clelie Rich.
* "The Dreamcatcher" ; set in British Columbia. A white artist uses native imagery in an unexpectedly powerful way. Room Magazine, (32.2) , edited by Fiona Lehn.
* "Triona's Beans" with Paivi Kuosmanen; too odd to describe and keep face. Pending publication of Fun Times in Strange Lands, edited by Ahmed Kahn.
* "The Corpse Pose"; a woman sits with her father as he dies. Accepted for Room Magazine's upcoming "Women and Spirituality" issue. (33.4)

Writing for Rose and Elisa:

Rose Gabdul and Elisa Jankowski won the most interesting (to me) prizes in the Bitten By Books contest. Each gave me hints on what they wanted, and I wrote a poem ("Roksana") for Rose and a story ("Posture of the Infinite") for Elisa. Each in its way was a challenge, and took me into territory I wouldn't necessarily have arrived in without their promptings. Most enjoyable work!

I was interviewed by Robert Runte for Strange Horizons speculative fiction online magazine.

Book Club News:
Vancouver Public Library now has a book club set of 10 copies of Finding Creatures & Other Stories, in addition to the circulating copies. So have at it, those of you in the local area, if you dare.

Novel Update:
The second draft is close to being finished. With the earthquake in Haiti and the effect this has had on my friends there, and in me as a result of that connection, I'm returning to work on the story, which is set in pre-earthquake Haiti, with renewed acuity after neglecting it in favour of other projects for the last year. (Sorry, novel.) 

Important Realization:
I don't want to make this newsletter too long. If you want to know my current thinking on how writing fits into my life, please read the posting A Necessary Change at the Den Page of C. June Wolf.

"Where I want to focus, how I want to carry on." This question is different in weight than when I first asked it in my teens. I realized then I had to choose between a flood of interests, that I would benefit from narrowing in on and really exploring just a few of them. Years later, I wanted to focus still more tightly, to become adept at one or two things and let other activities--beloved or unfulfilling--go. Now, with chronic tiredness and pain, and a very slow thought turnover rate, I have to cull as never before. Yet after Finding Creatures & Other Stories* came out, I actually did the opposite. I opened up my sights and welcomed in the world...

Finding Creatures has gotten some lovely reviews, which is very gratifying, and I am happy to be receiving very positive responses to my current work, as well. Sometimes a note from a fan or a long lost friend can come by to lift the writerly spirits as well. Such is the following from musician/songwriter Nathen Aswell. Thanks Nathen! 

Dearest Casey -

Just wanted to let you know how thoroughly I'm enjoying your book (MASSIVE understatement! ). I marvel and delight in the richness of your imagination come alive on every page.

Reading your words is like eating the best chocolate: every mouthful is a celebration, and moderation (not more than a story or two in one sitting) is the best way to enjoy it/them. THANK YOU, my talented friend!

Much love,
- Nathen xo

P.S. I'm halfway through, and my favourites, so far, are "Claude and the Henry Moores", "Thunderbirds" , and "Finding Creatures".. . :-)

Best to you in all of your endeavours, and in your non-endeavours, too.


What seems at first a cup of sorrow is found in the end immortal wine.

That pleasure is pure:

it is the joy which arises from a clear vision of the Spirit.

 .......................The Bhagavad Gita 18:37

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Prizes: "Roksana" & "Posture of the Infinite"

Back in the mists of time I did an interactive interview and chat for Bitten By Books. The prizes included a poem and a story written to specs given by the winners. (Within limits. See the bottom of this post for details or check out the video interview and text chat at the BBB site.) 

I wrote the poem "Roksana" for Rose last November. This is what she'd said: "Ok, protagonist's name is Roksana, and the ability she has is shape shifting to any animal. Roksana loves paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Chocolate is her life." Rose mentioned that she was from Uzbekistan, and told me a bit about what is important to her. I tried to bear all this in mind while crafting the poem, which turned out to be about a were snow leopard. It was great fun to write it and to be in touch with the delightful Rose.

Elisa took longer to decide what she wanted her story to be about. (I can relate! I took much longer to figure out how to write it!) She came up with this: " Based on the types of things you have in your repertoire, I think a story that touches on the process of a character finding his/her path in life would be great. I think most of us ask ourselves every now and again, “What is my purpose? Surely, I was meant to do something!” It’d be great to see this question answered by a divine someone in this character’s life. Be it a fairy, goddess, grocery clerk, you name it. Does that make sense? Actually, it would be pretty neat if the person directing people to their “right paths” was someone you’d least expect. Like that grocery store clerk, or perhaps the homeless man you pass by at the corner every week. Or a bus driver." 

Elisa hasn't yet seen her story. I have a little editing left to do on it. But it is not quite what she or I probably expected, based on her notes. The thing that I stumbled on was the "purpose in life". I have a hard time with that concept; I don't believe we have a single purpose, a single path that will suit or fulfill or be best for us. But I do believe we get knocked off any good path at times and people, situations, unorchestrated epiphanies can bring us to a new awareness that will help us get onto a path worth following. That is what I ended up writing about in "Posture of the Infinite", which features a woman who remembers countless past incarnations, and is a human for the first time.

Both of these writing projects were challenges for me and I loved that about them. My contact with Rose and Elisa was a great pleasure, too. I wondered if I was biting off more than I could chew by offering these prizes, but I am very glad I took the chance. I hope Rose and Elisa are, too! I regret the long delay in delivering Elisa's story--after my dad's death I lost all feeling for writing for several months--but I'm glad I got to ponder it long enough that I finally came up with something I think is worth giving her.

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.