Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween 2018

Every Friday since early April 2018 I have been doing a thing called #FreeFridayFrights.

This is where, on my website, I offer up either a free short story or a free non-fiction eerie/ghostly article read. I also do a Facebook live video that is often also posted to YouTube and other places.

For this past Friday (Oct 26, 2018), because it was the last Friday before Halloween I talked a bit about the origins and sources for Halloween customs as well as some trivia related to Halloween.

Since the Free Friday Frights articles only appear for a week and then are replaced by new content every week, I thought I'd share this past week's article here. If you'd rather see the video based on this written content, scroll down to watch it.




Friday Oct 26, 2018

NON-FICTION:  Halloween

A look at the tradition of All Hallows Eve (Halloween) as well as some interesting trivia associated with it.



Halloween appears to be a combination of traditions and folklore derived from Pagan, Celtic, ancient Roman and Catholic traditions.

Originally a pagan festival of the dead, All Saints’ or All-Hallow’s Day is November 1. The day is also known as All Saints Day, All Hallows Day, and All Souls’ Day. According to the original pagan custom, the celebration of the dead is meant to begin as the sun sets the evening before, and that is usually when the souls of the dead are said to begin to get up and roam around the earth. This original festival has, of course, survived to the present day in popular culture as Halloween, a night of trick-or-treating by children dressed up in costumes.

 

In the 17th Century, the catholic church used the same day as a way to honor and celebrate the known and unknown saints and martyrs of the church. It had originally been celebrated on May 13, but was moved to November 1st in the eighth century.


The ancient Celts refered to the festival surrounding this day as Samhaim and used it to celebrate the onset of winter and the begining of the Celtic New Year. Samhain translates to “end of summer.” In Ireland, the same celebration was known as Samhein, or “the feast of the sun.” In Scotland, the term Hallowe’en was used.

The act of children dressing up and going door-to-door to collect treats was likely adapted from the Gaelic practice of giving cakes to the poor (aka “soul-cakes”) in return for praying for a good harvest, prosperity and protection against bad luck. The concept of the trick is likely to have been derived from an English Plough Day custom where Ploughmen went door to door begging for gifts, and if they did not receive anything they would threaten to damage the grounds with their ploughs.

There are numerous folk customs associated with this festival. Here are a few Halloween related bits of trivia:
  • THERE IS NO ESCAPE: Harry Houdini died on Halloween. It’s true. I even wrote about it in Macabre Montreal (yes, that’s a bit of shameless self-promotion). One of the world’s most famous magicians died on October 31, 1926 in Detroit at the age of 52 in Detroit. He died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix. It is commonly stated that Houdini died due to repeated or unexpected blows to the abdomen by a McGill University student in Montreal. This proposition might be partially true, as it is possible that the pain from the blunt force trauma Houdidi received might have masked the fact he was suffering from appendicitis, and, had he been treated earlier for that, he likely would have survived.

  • NOT SO HAPPY JACK: One of the traced origins involving the carving of jack-0-lanterns is believed to have come from Ireland with the carving of turnips and the legend of a man named Stingy Jack. The miserable old drunk enjoyed playing tricks on people. After playing a trick and trapping Satan, Jack made a deal to release him, so long as Satan promised not to take his soul. When Jack died, he was denied entrance to heaven, but also banned from hell. Satan gave Jack a single burning coal, which he placed into a hollowed out turnip. He then spent eternity wandering the earth with this lantern hopelessly looking for a resting place.

  • GIMME SOME CANDY:  According to the National Confectioner’s Association, one quarter of all of the candy sold in the United States every year is purchased specifically for Halloween. In addition, a majority of all candy given out on Halloween is chocolate. Three out of every 10 homes will pass out lollipops or other types of hard candy. Candy Corn was created in the late 1800s. The three colors are meant to look like the colors in kernals of corn. More than 35 million pounds of candy corn is produced each year. According to a 2017 Forbes article, Candy Corn is among the most hated of all Halloween candies (second to Circus Peanuts) and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups were the most favored

  • HALLOWEEN 2018: THE TRIVIA OF MICHAEL MYERS: Jamie Lee Curtis was considered for the heroine for the original 1978 Halloween by John Carpenter as a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. (Janet Leigh, famous for the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho, is Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother. The movie, produced in 12 weeks, was shot on a shoestring budget of only $300,000 and went on to make $47 million. It was the most profitable independent film ever made until The Blair Witch Project in 1999. John Carpenter was paid $10,000 for the film, and Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers, was paid only $25 a day. The sound of slashing flesh was created by stabbing a watermelon. Myers mask was another side effect of a low budget. It was derived from William Shatner’s likeness because they purchased a Captain Kirk mask, peeled off the eyebrows and some hair, and spray painted it white.



This article was originally composed for Mark Leslie’s weekly #FreeFridayFrights





You can also watch the video on my Facebook page, where a fun POLL has also been embedded.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Oh Yeah, By The Way, I Wrote A Book, or Two

It's so funny.

I spend the majority of my time helping authors with gaining better visibility, maximizing their title and author SEO on various retail websites, enhancing and working on their author brand, and overall, attempting to sell more of their books. I quite love doing that. I find it extremely satisfying.

Then there's me. And my books.

Yes, I work hard at them. Yes, I love writing. Yes, I love publishing.

But I keep forgetting about mentioning or talking about my own books. For example, I published the eBook version of KILLING IT ON KOBO last week. But I was at a writing conference and was busy with engaging in the daily activities and with the writers there; you know, helping them learn more, helping them strategize for selling more. So I neglected to really do much to even mention that the new book on that exact topic was out.

Sigh.

http://books2read.com/killingitonkobo


No, I've never liked pushy "salesy" sorts of social media posts. And though I will, from time to time, mention something about one of my books as it relates to something else, I try my best not to be too in peoples' faces with pushing my books.

Sometimes I lean, too far, in the opposite direction.

Because in the past month and a half I have published two books about writing and publishing. And I realize that I haven't even mentioned them here on this blog.

Sigh.

It's funny, my friend, Joanna Penn, of The Creative Penn Podcast, sent me an email late last week asking if there was some sort of landing page for my latest book, KILLING IT ON KOBO because she wanted to recommend it. Joanna has done more to sell my book than I have.

I realized, of course, that I hadn't even added a listing of that book to my website. Nor did I add the other book in that same series (Stark Publishing Solutions), THE 7 P's OF PUBLISHING SUCCESS.

http://books2read.com/publishingsucccess


Sigh.

I have fixed that. I have those two books and the forthcoming one that's still a work in progress, listed under the bibliography/books section of my website.

Currently, only the eBook versions of these are out, but I plan on having the audiobook versions released by the end of November if all works out well.

Speaking of Joanna's podcast, her latest episode, Episode 400, is a great interview with Kobo's European Manager of Kobo Writing Life, Camille Mofidi. And I'm not just saying that because I originally hired Camille for that role. I'm saying it because she's awesome. And so is Joanna

Seriously, go check out that podcast interview for great free tips about selling more on Kobo. Listen to that. It's free. Then, if you want a "Reader's Digest" version of tips for Kobo (kind of like a significantly shortened version of the book I mention in this post), sign up for my10 day free email course from Reedsy called Kobo Hacks for Optimizing Sales.

Yeah, go do those two things. Don't buy my book about Kobo. Enjoy the free content/advice and tips.

See, there I go again, being an under-pushy salesperson.

 

Friday, October 26, 2018

On Flying and Firehoses

In the past week, I flew over Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas at 35 MPH on a zip line.



I also took in a firehose of information at the WMG Publishing, Inc. Business Master Class.



The overwhelming stimulation for each is somewhat similar. In the latest episode of the Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing podcast, I share how I plan on dealing with the information, inspiration, and ideas that can fill your head at the end of such a conference, which include:

  • A few key things to remember before setting out to try to implement the ideas gathered
  • The importance of first stepping back to take a breath and get perspective
  • A list of questions to ask yourself when looking at all of the ideas that you have jotted down or taken in
  • The importance not just of deciding on something, but deciding to act on that something
  • The concept of EAT, FEED, DRAIN
  • The FOUR-D way to update a to-do list
  • The importance of taking responsibility for your own career

These are just some ideas, and potentially useful strategies you can adapt in your own way whenever you attend a conference or workshop where you have so much information to process and never enough time to try to do it all.


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The Mysterious Little Boy Ghost at Indigo Montreal

This past weekend, I was in Montreal to launch Macabre Montreal, which I co-authored with Shayna Krishnasamy. We did two events at two different locations. Given that, at both events, we sold all but a single copy, I'd call the events a success.

THANK YOU to everyone who came out to see us, to hang out, to chat, and to get books signed. Thanks to the awesome staff at both the Chapters Pointe Claire and the Indigo downtown Montreal.



Our event on Sunday Oct 7th took place at the Place Trust Indigo in downtown Montreal and was followed by a mini ghost walk of three nearby locations from the book conducted by the good folks at Haunted Montreal. (Seriously, if you go to Montreal and DON'T check out their wonderful historic ghostly tours, you are really depriving yourself of some fun)



At the end of the mini-ghost walk, where we were all left with chills, our guide warned us to be careful when returning home in case a ghost might follow us back.

What she should have warned us about was the ghost that might have already been following us.

Let me explain.

When I returned home to Waterloo last night (Monday night) around 9 PM, I received a disturbing text from Shayna.

"Question about our signing yesterday." She wrote. "Who the hell is that in the mirror?"

She included a picture that her friend Naz had taken of the two of us and Barnaby.

Who is the mysterious child in the mirror behind us?

In the image you can see, in the reflection of the mirror of an Indigo display behind us, what appears to be the spectral image of a child, perhaps a little boy, with dark eye sockets whose disembodied head is overlooking the scene.

Zoom in on the mysterious child with sunken eye sockets staring out from the mirror


"That's awesome." I texted back. "Ha Ha. Who doctored the image to add the ghost kid?"

"Naz swears up and down she did nothing to the photo."

"Well, then, THAT'S a story to share!!!"

We messaged a bit back and forth while I showed the image to Liz. Liz was looking at the pic to determine if there was someone maybe standing behind Naz or off to the side whose reflection was appearing in the mirror. We couldn't find a match, nor did a little boy (I decided it was a little boy) who looked like that ever seem to have been around that evening.

Shayna and I joked about it possibly being Mary Gallagher, one of the most famous Montreal ghosts - a murdered Griffintown prostitute who allegedly returns every 7 years to look for her head.

Liz then asked if I had taken any other pictures that evening, reminding me of the selfie I had taken of a woman who we wished Happy Birthday to on Instagram.

When I looked at that photo I felt my face going pale.

The mysterious vampire-like child appears in another photo from different camera


Sure enough, the mysterious ghostly boy face appeared in that photo too.

"What the hell?" I said. I knew I hadn't touched up the photo, with the exception that I added an Instagram filter. So who the heck was that little boy with the haunted sunked eyes?

The ghostly image zoomed in


I wondered about contacting the store, to see if anyone else had spotted this little boy ghost? I was curious about it not just as an intriguing Montreal ghost mystery that we could share on our Macabre Montreal Facebook page, but also one for my Tomes of Terror: Haunted Bookstores and Libraries page too. Also, we had to call Donovan from Haunted Montreal to let him know about a new tale they could share.

My heart was racing.

My skin was continuing to get more and more pale.

And, a chill running down my spine, my phone ping'd

Another text.

From Shayna.

It read: "It kind of looks like Audrey Hepburn."

Then, a few minutes later. "The image is clearer here." And she sent me a photo.

And, finally: "This is indeed Audrey Hepburn."


Audrey Hepburn does possess a haunting beauty
Liz and I looked at the image. And we laughed. It was Audrey Hepburn.

It was likely part of the display of the mirror for the products Indigo had on display.

We laughed, but I still felt a delicious shiver over the experience.

And I love that Shayna and I approached writing this book with the same sense of open-minded skepticism. I'm the true believer. She's the skeptic. We did our best to balance that as we researched, read about and then presented the facts in order for the readers to decide for themselves.

Of course, in this particular case, the mystery is solved. It's not the ghost of a little boy. It's an image of Audrey Hepburn. Although, if one admits, she DOES possess a haunting beauty.

In the initial slightly blurry image, I saw a creepy dark shadowed boy staring at us with his eyes open; when in fact, it was the timeless classy beauty of Audrey Hepburn with eyelids closed or down-turned.

Evidence that sometimes you see what you want, or you see what you are looking for. Like one of those psychology/Escher style prints where you see either an old woman or a young woman, depending on how your eyes focus.

A mystery solved, but still a fun one nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Two Wrongs That Make A Spite

I recently spent an episode of my Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing podcast reflecting on two of the negative things that writers unnecessarily inflict upon themselves. The episode is entitled "Two Wrongs That Make A Writer Spite."

The two things are COMPARISON and REJECTION.



These two seemingly little things can eat up a significant amount of a writer's time and convince them that the good fight of continuing to write and publish might not be worth it.

It's not fair to compare yourself to others; there will be times when the comparison makes you feel less worthy and other times where it'll fill you with a false sense of grandeur. Either way is not a good thing. The only thing you should be comparing yourself to is YOU yesterday.



Also, I pause to think about how a writer friend (Kerrie in Episode 31 of the same podcast) doesn't like to use the word REJECTION when talking about writing. Drawing inspiration from Kerrie's thoughts on that, I reflect on what "rejection" most likely actually means.

You can listen to me ponder these two things in full frontal audio here:


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Books Don't Go Bad, They Just Page Away

As a life-long book nerd, I'm pretty pumped to be part of a bundle of novels and stories all focused on books and bookish things.

The BOOKS GONE BAD BUNDLE, from BundleRabbit, is a collection of nearly 260,000 words of 2 novels and 10 stories from 11 authors and is certain to be an excellent 24 hours or so of reading for those who revel in book-themed tales.


Using the catch-phrase "Speculative Tales about a Uniquely Portable Magic" (in reference to the quote from Stephen King), the bundle, which is available at all major eBook retailers, contains:

  • "Clockwork Lives" by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart (Novel)
  • "Quest for the Three Books" by Dawn Blair (Novel)
  • "These Chains" by Dayle A. Dermatis (Story)
  • "Warning! Do Not Read This Story!" by Robert Jeschonek (Story)
  • "The Page Turners" by DeAnna Knippling (Story)
  • "Active Reader" by Mark Leslie (3 Story Collection)
  • "Guardian of the Grimoire" by Karen McCullough (Novella)
  • "The Story for the Letters" by Kate MacLeod (Story)
  • "Petra and the Blue Goo" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Story)
  • "Invasion of the Book Snatchers" by Ryan M. Williams (Story)
My own collection of three bookish themed stories, Active Reader, is a part of the bundle and was the genesis for the idea for the bundle. I love bookish themed stories and I wanted to see if there was a way to collect a bunch of them together to give other book nerds like me an easy way to read a bunch of book-centric tales of books, booksellers and librarians.

The bundle, as mentioned, is available at all major eBook retailers. You can get to it by following any of the links below:

BundleRabbit Page: With full synopsis of bundle and each individual eBook - and retailer link
Books2Read.com (links to all retailers, including Kindle, Kobo, Apple and Nook)


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Inside, Outside, Loving All Around

Earlier this morning I was hit with one of those Facebook pop-ups. A memory from last year.

When I saw the picture I was reminded of an awesome time last year in a picture of Liz and I on our way to the Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando last summer. It was a crazy and fun road trip adventure driving from Ontario to Florida.



This is a great pic of Liz and I, and one of my favorites. Look at those two smiling kids. Fresh air, sunshine, an awesome beer spot. The world belongs to them.

But it was also an interesting reminder that, when I took this picture I was suffering from a nasty bout of food poisoning. The painful side-effects of the food poisoning was hitting me in repeated waves that morning, and just wanted to curl up into a ball and leave the rest of the world behind. I should NOT have eaten those raw oysters the night before. I haven't been able to eat raw oysters since then. Such is the post-effect of food poisoning.

The last thing I wanted to do was be in a car for 10 or 12 more hours, to be heading to a conference where I had to be on stage, on panels, conduct business meetings and Facebook live videos with various folks.

I remember the usual side-effects, combined with sweating profusely (not just the heat, but the fever of my body trying to get rid of the poison inside) that began that morning and lasted for days. But I was committed to this road trip, we had plenty of fun things to do on our way, and, arriving in Orlando, I needed to go on to do my usual work at the annual RWA conference with nobody I hung out with or had business meetings with knowing the internal physical pain I was suffering. 

Fortunately, I was a-okay mentally and emotionally, so was able to apply a "mind over matter" element and make the best of it. But not everybody is so fortunate. And some pain and internal suffering is not something where "mind over matter" works.

Reflecting on this was a reminder to me that perhaps, while we share the "perfect picture life" sometimes on social media, with big grins and a "smiling" exterior, there might be internal turmoils (mental, emotional) that aren't shared so cavalierly.

Maybe the "moral" of me sharing this (and apologies to anyone who thinks that my food poisoning experience is a little TMI) is to pause a moment to consider those you care about and others around you.

Even if they are posting happy and positive things, it never hurts to let them know you are there for them or that they are important to you. They might be experiencing pain that is invisible to the rest of the world. They might be suffering from an unseen anxiety or turmoil that isn't being shared.

Heck, maybe even strangers or others you encounter in your day to day. You know that jackass that pissed you off because they said something or did something in a way you don't agree with? Perhaps they were struggling with something you aren't able to see and perhaps it came out wrong. It might perhaps, be worth a moment or two of pausing to reflect on that and not jumping all over them.

And, even if that person you care about, that friend, or that stranger that rubbed you the wrong way isn't suffering, isn't it a good thing to just take a moment to spread a little bit of kindness, or love, out into the world?

The cost, to you, is virtually nothing. But the worth, to them, could be priceless.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Essential Edits / SFeditor.ca: Interview with Terry Fallis

Quite delighted to see this recent review about my latest Stark Reflections podcast interview.



Essential Edits / SFeditor.ca: Interview with Terry Fallis: Fabulous interview by Mark Leslie Lefebvre with Terry Fallis about going from self-published writer, to Stephen Leacock Medal winner, to b...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Humor Can Be Really Serious Stuff

I recently interviewed my friend Terry Fallis for an episode of the Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing podcast.

Apart from gushing over how much I adored Terry's novels, I had Terry take a journey through his unique publishing path, from self-publishing and podcasting his novel, to winning awards, landing an agent and a publisher, and then winning more awards and having his book The Best Laid Plans made into a musical stage show and a mini-series for CBC Television.

Among the many great things we spoke about, here's a clip of Terry talking about the use of humor to address a serious subject matter (while speaking about his novel Poles Apart)


You can watch the full video interview here.

Or you can listen to the entire audio of Episode 29 of the Stark Reflections Podcast here.

“Terry Fallis has written a delightful book about a young man inspired by feminism to contribute to the cause. . . . Funny and engaging, Poles Apart is a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read.”
Judy Rebick, founding publisher, rabble.ca, and former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Two-Sentence Horror Stories

I recently spotted a few two-sentence horror stories and was enjoying reading them. So I wanted to try writing one of my own.

One of the first that came to me was based on a poem I wrote and had published years ago. I suppose it's okay to re-adapt my own writing into this new form.

So, here's the first two-sentence horror story I came up with:

"She has her daddy's eyes. In a jar up in her room."



This two-sentence horror story is derived from a poem I wrote called "Daddy's Girl" and which was originally published in Everyday Weirdness in 2009. The two first lines of the poem came to me many many years ago as a quick and dark humor punch-line that I later morphed into a poem (below) - but I figured: why not re-adapt it back to those first two sentences?

Daddy's Girl
By Mark Leslie

She has her Daddy’s eyes
In a jar up in her room
It took a while to dig them out
Because she’d used a spoon

She has her Daddy’s hair
And with it his whole scalp
She hacked it off with a dull steak knife
But knew a sharper one might help


She has the rest of her Daddy’s parts
Stored in an air-tight drum
She fancies herself a Daddy’s girl
But she looks more like her Mum


But enough of the original poem and back to the two-sentence horror tale.

Do you have a favorite two-sentence horror story to share?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

All We Used To Know


I have long been a fan of Alicia Witt's music. Many people know her as an actor; but it's her music that I am fascinated with. And yes, she started her acting career in 1984 as a child actress in the movie Dune. Her television and movie credits are almost too numerous to mention with some of the TV spots alone including Friday Night Lights, Cybill, Twin Peaks and The Walking Dead.

The first time in more recent memory that I recall paying attention to Alicia was when she appeared, on perhaps half a dozen episodes of Law and Order as Detective Nola Falacci, the temporary partner of Mike Logan (played by Chris Noth) in the mid aughts.

It was a couple of years after that, I think, that I somehow stumbled upon her cover version of Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al. Simon's Graceland is among my all-time favourite albums, and Witt's piano-forward stylistic rendition of the song made me sit up and take notice. I wanted to know who that was; and when I saw, I recognized her from Law & Order.

Alicia Witt in a still from her "Anyway" music video
At that point, I started to check out the self-titled album the song came from, bought it on iTunes and fell in love with the powerful song Anyway. (Her talent as an actress helps with the dramatic presentation of that video as well)

Since then I have been following along and purchasing all of her music. She is a fave of so many of the indie musicians that I adore.

Her song "I'm Not Ready for Christmas" which she wrote to accompany a Hallmark Christmas Romantic Comedy of the same name that she starred in, is among my favourite Christmas songs. (And not just because of lines such as "I don't give a sh*t how many shopping days are left" and "I need a f*cking holiday" - BTW, here's the "radio safe" version of that song if the explicit version is too much for your sensitive ears)

And not all that long ago, when I saw she was launching a Kickstarter for her 15,000 Days EP project, I knew I wanted to be among the fans who contributed to helping make it happen. (15,000 Days was a reference to her age at the time of initially planning and recording the album)

It has been exciting watching Witt in the lead up, the process and the forthcoming EP release, particularly since, as a Kickstarter supporter, I've had the pleasure of regular updates on how it was working. It was so fun to get a behind-the-scenes look.

A few weeks ago, the first single, "Younger" was released. And just yesterday, the official music video was released.

The song itself is a beautiful one and alludes to the incredible power, adventurousness and spirit of youth. Something that we all either lose, or allow ourselves to let go as we embrace the restrictions and cages and chains that apparently come with maturity. I have listened to it multiple times and I do quite love the song.



And then the video was released. And the video, directed by Paula Kay Hornick, adds in a heart-warming lifelong love story visual that brings out a unique flavour to the song. It opens with the brilliant magic of imagination and youth, which, on its own is pure and delightful, but then, as the video moves along, you see these children who have grown up, have married, had children, and have lost that magic they once had.

As the song and the story ends, I will admit to shedding a tear of happiness at the beautiful story, and I marveled at how, though I had already thought the world of the song, that the video could allow me to re-appreciate it on a whole new level.


Compilation of images from video for "Younger"


The song, written by Alicia Witt, Catt Gravitt and Tofer Brown includes these following amazing lyrics . . .
let's be honest
   it's not too late
to fade away
and disappear into the stars
  above the noise
and rise the silence like a wave
you have the choice to
     reveal the quiet that you're hiding in your voice

let's take the world and discover
all we used to know.... I
wanna find a way to the wonder, like
when we were younger
It is a great look at the importance of so many of the things that make our youth so magical, which include open-ness, acceptance, imagination and all that comes with that. Perhaps the reason I write speculative fiction is my desire to want to continue to capture and share that sense of wonder I first experienced when reading that type of fiction in my youth.

Of course, part of the brilliance in this song isn't that it's "when we were young" but "when we were younger" - meaning it's never too late (which the song also says) for us to use any of our previous experiences, and not just the earliest ones, to learn and grow and reflect. After all, we always have that choice no matter how old we grow.


With these introspective lyrics that make one reflect back on the power and magic of our own pasts, with the beautiful accompanying music and the powerfully produced video, I have to say Kudos to the amazing collaboration of talent that made that happen.

And I can't wait for the rest of the EP's release and to enjoy more of Alicia Witt's incredible music.