Why use your real name when your pen name makes such a good book title? C.J. Bow is the nom de plume of local writer Casey Bowman. Unseasoned artists are known to simmer at first, shelving a debut novel or burning a first painting, but Bow saves time by turning it right up to a boil in his initial collection of horror novellas, The Portable Horrors of C.J. Bow.
Bow starts by bringing us to a typical military base in “We are Acid 77.” The story is technical at first, then morphs into a Dali-esque mystery, directing the action and characters sideways into the supernatural. The universe is recognizable, pulling from Native American symbolism.
The author gets some details wrong, but for security reasons, a slightly incorrect narrative is usually used intentionally in military movies and books. What’s spot-on is how members of the Armed Forces speak to each other in the dialogue, which Bow has a talent for writing naturally—a skill that often eludes far more experienced writers.
“Life is but a Dream” merrily rows the reader out onto mist-shrouded waters—a literary device that I guess is scary to people who don’t live in the Land of 10,000 Sources of Advection Fog.
Gus is the sole protagonist, whose recently deceased wife is as wispy as the weather. The threat against Gus remains unseen, allowing us to fill in the blanks, perhaps with something even scarier. Bowman cannily leaves the twist to the very end.
Midway through Portable Horrors, the author takes his chances with a random poem, titled “It’s Beautiful Isn’t It?” Poems can be so clever that their technical construction robs their soul, but these whimsical couplets are like a funny episode of The X Files (that Bow is an X Files and Star Trek fan is evident throughout the book), with a rhyme scheme that manages to never feel forced.
Indeed, it’s easy to forget that Bow is new at this, which he credits to friends who offered their unvarnished opinions of early drafts. It was a good collaboration—the writing is effortlessly tight, avoids scenery-chewing, and most of the stories hook the reader within the first sentence.
Local talent is highly prized at the moment. Regional artists are sought after to fill the shelves at bookstores so tourists can bring a little piece of the reputedly “artsy” North Woods home with them.
We’re also in a renaissance of digital first editions, with at least a little less stigma around self-publication—a boon to locally written offerings.
But perhaps the ultimate test of quality is entertainment, and Bow has mastered more than just brevity in his freshmen endeavor. The pages turn quickly, and the book is hard to put down. We have every reason to anticipate his sophomore effort.