Thursday, January 31, 2008


I know this was the theme from several weeks ago, but I couldn't help revisit it, particularly given my rediscovery of the joys of listening to books on tape -- allowing me the distinct pleasure of being able to meet my "resolution" of reading MORE books in 2008.

Right now I'm listening to the unabridged audio book version of John Irving's Until I Find You. I'm only about 4 chapters in, but, like most of Irving's writing, it's a good, solid story and I'm quite enjoying the characters.

And for those who don't get all that excited about books, there's a hidden nekkid treat in a click-thru.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday Lego

Oh man - it's just like me to forget Lego's birthday yesterday. Sigh. I never mailed a card or even called; but I hope it's okay for me to wish Lego a Happy 50th birthday one day late!!!

The picture above is a Escher-style lego structure inspired by one of Escher's impossible stairway designs and created by Andrew Lipson. You can check out more of Andrew's cool lego creations here.

Hmm, Alexander is quite into Lego's junior larger style block Duplo -- but it's just a matter of a year or two before he's ready for the smaller sized bricks - oh man, I can't wait to go nuts buying tons and tons of Lego . . . er, I mean, it's great that I'll be able to help impart a proper sense of space and structural knowledge on my son by allowing him to play with this fun and educational toy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Alas Poor Throat, I Coated It Well

Yesterday I recorded what will be episode 6 of the reality series on The Writing Show podcast with host Paula B. It was an interesting few days leading up to the interview, because on Friday and Saturday my voice -- hoarse and rough from a cold I got earlier in the week -- sounded pretty much like The Godfather.

It wasn't until Saturday afternoon when we were at the farmer's market in St. Jacobs that I purchased a giant bottle of Buckwheat honey and started swallowing tablespoon fulls of it every half an hour or so that my voice started to return close to normal.

I took my last swallow of honey immediately before recording the interview (which lasts about 45 minutes) and I only had to turn my microphone off about ten times or so to cough, blow my nose and clear my throat during that time -- of course, Paula and Alan do a phenomenal job of editing out such things, along with the usual uhms, ahs and ers that often accompany normal conversation. In fact, they edit so well, that I often come off sounding only a little bit like an idiot when I'm speaking.

Interestingly, Episode 3 of the reality series "Getting Publishing with Mark Leslie" (originally recorded in December 2006) hit the top 10 list of most downloaded episodes of the week.

I'm not sure why -- I'd like to think it's because of the handsome author shot of me holding my skull Yorick at a book signing in Toronto . . .

Friday, January 25, 2008

Da Count - Talk To The Finger

I recently finished reading Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss, an overview of the rudeness of modern life and the ultimate collapse of society. She hilariously sums up "Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door" in this book which parlays an important message in an offbeat and funny way.

After reading it, I felt a bit more annoyed at some of the things that bothered me about the lack of manners in today's society. No, I shouldn't say that -- it's not a lack of manners, it's more of an infusion of utter rudeness.

In her book, Truss reminds us that it just takes small things to make a positive difference, so I thought I'd focus this week's count on those people I encounter in my day to day life who aren't rude, but are instead considerate and offer a positive impact on society.

This week I'm counting . . .
  • People who use the turn signal in their vehicle
  • Colleagues who greet you with a "good morning" or "good afternoon" or at least a pleasant smile
  • Folks who use words such as "thank you" "please" "excuse me" and "you're welcome"

Three small things that can make a huge difference in another person's day.

C'mon, I know that our society is overflowing with rudeness and nastiness -- but spend a moment today looking for those people who make those tiny almost invisible attempts at infusing the world with a little grace, a little kind spirit, a little something to make the day a bit brighter. Those little things will actually make a huge difference.

And while I'm counting, I'd like to pause and thank Lynne Truss for writing this book and illustrating the importance of such behaviour. Thanks Lynne.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

HNT - RainyMark

Last Friday night my friend and fellow blogger RainyPete came over with his new video camera so that we could film a short spoof of my AOL Commercial as well as some fake interviews to send to Marcel Nunis for a movie project that he's putting together.

This is one of the pictures that Pete (a brilliantly gifted photographer with a zany sense of humour - check out some of his great photos on flickr) took with his camera right after the photo shoot.

It's always great to have a guest join in on HNT. Thanks Pete.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Love Mark Leslie

When my sci-fi anthology North of Infinity II went to remainder status a couple of weeks ago on the website, I also did a quick search of to see if it had been remaindered in the U.S. as well. (Mosaic, the publisher, is based in Canada, but also has an office and distribution channel into the United States from a U.S. address)

While I was searching on Amazon (some might call it ego browsing), I found this interesting product - a simple plain white I Love Mark Leslie t-shirt.

It's very likely this t-shirt was created as a reference to the Mark Leslie who was the founding CEO of Veritas (unless, of course, there are secret chapters of my fan club located all over the place) or perhaps it's just some sort of automated dynamically generated result of searching an author's name on Amazon -- but in any case I thought it was an interesting find.

But doesn't this just make you want to go out and buy an "I love Mark Leslie" t-shirt -- or two, or three?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dances With Audiobooks

I'm rediscovering, for about the fifth time in the past two years, the joys of listening to audio books. One of the resolutions I made for myself this year was that I would try to read more. I usually have at least two different books on the go at a time, but I'm a slow reader. Finding time to read more is challenging at best.

That's where the beauty of audio books come in. I spend about 45 minutes a day walking and driving to work. That is time I usually spend listening to podcasts, many of which are usually writing related podcasts, and thus time well spent. But, between podcasts, instead of listening to music on my mp3 player, I've started trying to find books that I already own and have had on my "to read" list for a long time, and starting to listen to them.

Late last week I started listening to the audio version of the Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child novel Dance of Death. I got a signed copy of it two years ago and it has sat, since then, on my "to read" pile. (Okay, not technically on my "to read" pile since the pile is imaginary - it has sat on the "signed books" bookshelves) When I was at the library last Thursday night with Alexander and browsing around I discovered a book on CD version of Dance of Death read by Rene Auberjonois (known to most sci-fi geeks like me as Odo on Deep Space Nine -- however, I also fondly remember him in his role on Benson and more recently on Boston Legal (yes, alongside William Shatner, yet another Star Trek collision).

In any case, Auberjonois, a diverse and seasoned actor who has appeared in countless different roles over the decades, has a phenomenal voice that is pleasing and steady and he does a fantastic reading of the novel. I am enjoying this novel far better than the previous Preston/Child novel I read (Still Life with Crows). Perhaps the writing and story are better in Dance of Death or perhaps it's due to the superb reading by Auberjonois keeping me in complete suspense.

In any case, I've rediscovered the joys of listening to books and figure I'll be able to at least double my consumption of books in the next twelves months. I have already reserved copies of 3 different books on CD that I've wanted to listen to for a while now -- methinks that despite my obsession of buying books non-stop, I might actually make a small dent in that ever growing "to read" pile.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

HNT - TiT - Farmer Jones And Me

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

Continued from this post

Farmer Jones steered the tractor in Mark's direction, but, still on his toes from the constant attacks, Mark managed to leap to safety . . .

. . . almost.

The tractor clipped one of his legs and Mark fell to the ground. He laid there, stunned and exhausted from the day's events. [Yes, despite the fact that it has taken over a year of semi-regular posts for this storyline, the events of this adventure have all taken place within a period of about an hour and a half.]

Farmer Jones got out of the tractor and said. "I changed my mind. Why run you over with the tractor when I can tear you apart with my bare hands? It would be more fun to kill you that way. And besides, it prolongs this already overly long storyline."

And with those words, he advanced on his still prone victim.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

7 Things Tag

Imp recently tagged me with a meme in which I have to tell 7 things about myself that I haven't talked about before on my blog. That's going to be tough since I ramble on endlessly about almost everything and regularly repeat myself.

But I'll give it a shot:

1. (And I'm stealing this one from Imp because it's pretty much true for me, too) I used to be terrified of the dentist, but now I quite enjoy trips to the dentist. Okay, I'm stretching the truth. I used to be terrified of the dentist, but now I'm only mildly anxious when I visit. (Oh crap, I think I already blogged about my fear of the dentist - dang, strike one)

2. When I was young, I hated using out houses so much that when we went camping, I would go days without actually having a bowel movement. (Yes, welcome to Mark Leslie's blog where we talk about such high brow subjects as bowel movements)

3. Another thing about when I was young is that I used to think that the smoke stack in Sudbury was actually a cloud making machine. (Oh man, I think I already included that in the 101 things about me -- still unfinished, BTW -- as well as another blog post about Sudbury's largest erection. Sigh. Strike two)

4. Misheard lyrics aren't so common now that you can easily look them up on the internet, but despite being a huge fan of Phil Collins and thinking I knew the words to all his songs, I used to think that when he was singing the words "Oh Lord" in the song "In The Air Tonight" that he was singing the words "hold on."

5. Speaking of lyrics, I never misheard the Jimi Hendrix song "Purple Rain" to have the words "excuse me while I kiss this guy" which was a common mis-hearing of the song. I always knew he was kissing the sky. (Of course, I didn't realize it was drug talk and when I heard the song I tried to imagine him actually puckering up and kissing clouds and things -- or maybe I imagined him standing on tippy toes and trying to kiss that cool narrow blue strip of "sky" that kids often put at the very top of their drawings.)

6. I'm still deathly afraid of the monster under my bed. In fact yesterday evening when Alexander came running upstairs, terrified of the noise the furnace had made when it turned on, I was a little chilled to go down there myself. Stop laughing; I can't help it if I'm a big chicken. (Oh, what's that you say? I've already blogged about the monster under my bed? Dang, dang, dang. I guess that's strike three.

Strike three? I'm out, and I didn't even get to finish my list. Sorry, Imp, I tried.

For those reading this if you want to tag yourself for your own 7 things blog (and good luck to you getting through 7 new points without repeating yourself), go ahead and share this meme with the world. :)

Monday, January 14, 2008

For In That Loss Of Sleep What Dreams Might Come

Because I work full time, I often get up early to get in some short writing time in before heading off for work. Most days it's usually 5:15 or 5:30, allowing myself about half an hour or 45 minutes to get some writing done.

Of course, I usually spend about 15 minutes or so farting around (checking and responding to email -- sometimes even writing related emails, catching up on various social networking platforms, etc) and am often only left with about 15 minutes or perhaps as much as an hour of writing time. (Not counting the days when I get carried away in all the wondrous "farting around" distractions that the internet teases me with constantly)

This morning, however, Alexander woke up crying at about 4:20 from a bad dream. I carried him into our bed so he could snuggle down and fall back to sleep with us. It was close enough to the time I'd been planning on getting up, so I figured I'd just put on some coffee and get writing.

Oh what a phenomenal difference that one hour made.

In that time (including the 15 minutes of farting around) I managed to get half-way through a rewrite of a story that I'd finished about a month ago. I always find it useful to put a new story aside, let it rest while I work on other things, then come back to it with a more detached and slightly critical eye. Of course, in the back of my mind I was also working out particular character details for a secondary character that I knew needed to be fleshed out better in the story. Writers can often write in their head for long stretches of time before putting words down on paper -- this secondary character development was exactly that; while working on other tasks, while driving, while staring into space, I was focusing on this character, exploring what made him tick, questioning his views of the world. All useful "non-writing" tasks that help me when it's time to put pen to paper.

So this morning, as I was working away at this last re-write, I accomplished a good chunk of the work I'd intended. Most other mornings, I barely get started before it's time to start getting ready for work.

Fantastic what that extra time allows -- and it's a lesson I keep having to re-learn. I always forget that I need to give myself some time just to get up to speed -- my writing sessions are often like getting an airplane off the ground. I need to slowly build up speed and then only after I've worked at it for a solid consecutive sequence of time am I ready for a proper "take off."

I keep reminding myself that I started blogging as a means to force myself to write something/anything as a means to warm-up for my writing sessions. But again, it's something I often fall off course with, and have to readjust to regularly. Like the tower sending me notifications to alert me that I'm flying off course again -- see, I'm enjoying the whole flight analogy here -- a fun creative exercise putting some extra wind beneath my wings.

Tonight I'll be setting my alarm for 4:30 again in the hopes that tomorrow I'll be able to take this particular re-write to a perfect four point landing

Friday, January 11, 2008

Remaindered -- And It Feels So Good

Ack! I've just been remaindered!

Let me rephrase that. The science fiction anthology North of Infinity II, has been remaindered.

Having one's book remaindered is usually not a good thing.

For the author having a book remaindered pretty much means the end of any sort of royalties (I double-checked with my friend Rob Sawyer on this -- see his excellent insightful look at remainders from a successful author's POV entitled "Remainders: What do authors get?")

For those unfamiliar with the term, a book is remaindered after it stops selling well in the book trade and the publisher is faced with warehousing a huge volume of copies. Rather than sit on those copies (and pay the increasingly high costs of carrying the stock), they liquidate it at dramatically reduced prices.

Not all remainders, of course, are bad books. I'd even argue that an incredibly high percentage of remainders are great books, in fact. My friend Robert J. Sawyer is a brilliant author, and even his multi-award winning and bestselling novels do occasionally get remaindered once his hardcovers go into paperback. So it's a perfect example that even excellent books can find themselves remaindered. Not always the best for authors, but what a wonderful treat for readers.

Let's walk through the life of a book to understand remainders in a bit more detail.

For example, Stephen King novels regularly get remaindered, and he's a consistently bestselling author. Perhaps you've heard of him. A recent example is his book Cell -- not one of his best, in my opinion, but still a pretty good book that sold fantastically. When the paperback came out a year after it's initial release, retailing in Canada for $11.99, sales of the $34.95 hardcover started to slow down and most bookstores would have returned their hardcover stock to the publisher. So the publisher, now sitting on copies of the hardcover, liquidates it by selling it to remainder wholesalers and bookstores, allowing bookstores to sell it for $9.99.

Now, speaking as a book lover and as a book seller, remainders (also commonly known as Bargain Books) are a win-win situation for bookstores and readers. The margin (difference between the cost and retail selling price of a product) on bargain books tend to be anywhere between 50 and 80%, meaning that if it costs the customer $10.00, the bookstore could have paid as little as $2.00 for the book.

The math is interesting. Normally, books are sold to bookstores as returnable and with pretty limited margins. The margin on most trade books are approximately 40%. Meaning, if the bookstore sold King's novel at the regular retail price of $34.95, they paid $20.97 for it, and made $13.98 margin on it. That margin, of course, usually covers costs such as shipping and handling the product. And handling a book twice -- once to receive it and shelve it then again to pick, pack and return it, pretty much doubles the cost to the bookstore. So that $13.98 margin gets eaten into pretty dramatically once you factor shipping costs and labour into it.

Now in cases like King's Cell, which sat on the bestseller list for a while, large retailers in Canada like Chapters/Indigo/Coles would likely have been selling it for 30% off. Meaning it would be selling to customers for $24.47. Meaning the margin they'd be making would be only about $3.50. (Of course, with bestsellers you make your money not necessarily through high margins, but through rapid volume -- ie, you perhaps only make $3.50 minus shipping handling and labour, bringing that down to maybe $1.00 to your bottom line for each one sold, but if you sell 1000 of them, you've got $1000)

Let's compare this to the same book as a remainder. It lives its life as a hardcover -- then, once the smaller, slicker, cheaper paperback comes out, that poor old hardcover is left behind and stuck in the warehouse. So the publisher remainders it. And the bookstore likely buys it for $2.00 and sells it to customers for $9.99.

From the customer's point of view, ten bucks is significantly cheaper than thirty-five bucks or even the bestseller reduced price of $24. And it's even cheaper than the $12 paperback version of the book. Therefore, the book is all that more appealing to customers, particularly those who like collecting and hanging on to hardcovers. Us book nerds can be funny that way.

And from the bookstore's point of view, they make $7.99 margin on that remainder, which, while lower than the $13.98 margin of the original hardcover, doesn't have some of the additional handling and shipping costs associated with the original (ie, they order it, bring it in and sell it -- there's no picking it and returning it and shipping it back to the publisher -- that one way flow of goods decreases handling costs significantly) -- so if they sell two bargain book copies of it, they'll have made $15.98, which is more than the margin on the original product, and the customers who bought it only shelled out $20.00 for those two copies of the book rather than the original $34.95.

Interestingly enough, the bookstore would usually make a 44% margin on the mass market paperback version of the book, meaning they'd haul in $7.27 for the $12.00 paperback. But that's still less than the margin they make on selling the hardcover for 2 bucks cheaper than the paperback. It becomes a good deal for the seller and the buyer.

As I stated, remainders, or bargain books are a pretty decent win-win situation for both the customer and the bookstore.

But alas, you say -- what about the poor publisher? What about the poor author? As my friend Rob explains on his blog, the author pretty much gets naught.

Except perhaps exposure.

As a giant book nerd, I have discovered many new writers through the joys of remainders and bargain books. I'm not always willing to take a chance on a writer I'm unfamiliar with for $30, but I'll usually be more tempted to try them out for under $10. And I have often gone back and bought other books by authors I've discovered through bargain books and also recommended books by these authors for others to enjoy -- so, hopefully, I've helped increase different author's royalty payments despite their having been remaindered.

And as for North of Infinity II -- well, there wasn't much chance of any of the authors making any royalties off it anyway, so the fact that it has been remaindered is, I think, I great thing.

Now that the book (which used to be $20 in Canada) is available for $4.99 Canadian, it is much more likely to attract new readers -- perhaps folks who might not have checked it out for $20 but will be more tempted now or maybe even folks who never got a chance to see it when it first came out.

Quite simply, this anthology is a steal for $4.99.

It would certainly be worth your while to check it out -- if you do, you'll not only enjoy some great reprinted tales by well known names in the world of science fiction (like Robert J. Sawyer, Andrew Weiner, Nancy Kilpatrick, Douglas Smith and Stephanie Bedwell-Grime) but you'll also hopefully discover the thrill of reading great stories by some writers whose work you might not have seen before such as Robert Beer, Bruce Golden or Zohar A. Goodman. I'm also quite proud to have helped introduce newer writers A.M. Matte, Kimberly Foottit, Karen Danylak and Stephen Graham King to sci-fi readers.

So get out there and buy a copy of this remainder -- then, go check out the other books and stories by the wonderfully talented writers that helps make North of Infinity II a fantastic anthology that Cary Hays of Booklist says is "a good yardstick for the current topography of Canadian sf" or that Elizabeth A. Allen (from Tangent Online) says "deserves a place on your 'To Read' pile."

This week, I'm counting the opportunity to have worked with some truly talented and gifted writers on North of Infinity II and the fact that it's new cross Canada availability at $4.99 will hopefully allow more people than ever to discover this book and enjoy the fruits of their wonderful speculative tales.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

HNT - Super Writer

This week's HNT picture is pulled from the archives and was inspired by Lime's response to my posting about the AOL Commercial I was in back in 1999 -- she loved the fact that the director wanted me to take out my contact lenses, put on my glasses and wear a brown vest for the commercial so it would make me look more like a writer.

Lime, the brilliantly talented wit that she is wrote:

Faster than a one liner, more powerful than an extended metaphor, able to leap stacks of rejections in a single bound . . . it's a lit prof . . . it's an editor, NO! It's Super Writer!

I just couldn't let that go without running with it . . .

Mild mannered nerdy book loving book seller by day . . .

Super geeky writer by night!

Thanks for the inspiration, Lime. And Happy HNT! (And for those of you who are eager to see the continuing HNT adventures of Mark vs Darth Tater and the toys in "Terror in Toyland" now that I've converted into super geeky writer again, perhaps there'll be more new episodes coming soon . . .)

For those curious about the whole half nekkidness thing
click the image below to go visit Osbasso and learn more about
Half-Nekkid Thursday...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wheeling & Stealing

I just read a news short about two men in New York City who were arrested after wheeling a dead friend in an office chair through the streets to a Pay-o-Matic location to try and cash his Social Security cheque.

Apparently David Dalaia and James O'Hare, both 65, pushed O'Hare's dead room-mate Virgilio Cintron's body from a Manhattan apartment to a cheque-cashing store a block away. The body was flopping from side to side as they moved down the street, and the two of them had to keep propping him up while they slowly moved down the street, all of which started to attract attention. When they went inside to cash the cheque, a crowd had gathered outside the cheque-cashing venue.

A detective having lunch at a restaurant next door noticed the crowd and immediately recognized that Cintron was dead. He called uniformed police and EMS. Dalaia and O'Hare are facing fraud charges.

Poor Mr. Cintron. He dies of natural causes and his room-mate immediately schemes to steal from his dead friend. Crappy sort of luck.

But you can't help but smile at the antics of these two. It's sort of a "Banking With Bernie" sequel to the dark humour Weekend at Bernie's movie franchise. I must admit, it does inspire some dark humour/horror ideas in this twisted mind. I mean, if they got away with cashing the cheque, would they have proceeded to at least be courteous to take their friend out for lunch next door?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Focus On My Craft

Each new year brings with it resolutions to do better, be better. I often resolve different things regarding writing goals -- of course, keeping up with all the goals while maintaining a full time job and a fulfilling family life is often difficult. The first thing to often get dropped when push comes to shove, unfortunately, would be my writing time. I often sacrifice sleep to work on different writing projects -- often wishing that I could just forgo a few nights of sleep altogether and plow through some of the longer outstanding projects that have been haunting me for a while now.

One of the things I have resolved to do was to keep between 3 and 5 submissions "out there" or "in play" in the various slush piles of editor's desks, and so far for the beginning of 2008 (and the last few months of 2007) I've been successful with that.

Speaking of trying to focus on my craft, I found a clip from an AOL Canada commercial that I appeared in in late 1999.

I've been an AOL Canada member since the mid 90's, finding their service perfect for my needs. I'm using a DSL connection at home, but the great thing about AOL is that no matter where I travel, in a pinch I can still use my AOL connection via various local dial-up numbers. This is extremely useful when I visit places like my Mom's where there is no internet connection other than a regular phone line.

In any case, I landed this testimonial commercial after submitting my "story" to an AOL Canada contest to "tell us how you use AOL" -- when they contacted me and told me I was one of the winners, I was excited, not sure what prize I would get. When they asked me to appear at an in person interview in Toronto, I had no idea I was walking into a screen test audition until I got there and had to sign a bunch of wavers. But once I walked into the room, they planted me onto a stool in a pool of bright light in front of a camera in an otherwise darkened room and the director and president of AOL Canada interviewed me. When AOL called me a week later telling me they'd like to feature me in a 15 second AOL Canada commercial, I was delighted.

The commercial was shot in early November of 1999 at a farmhouse in Mississauga. The series of commercials (I think there were 8 of them) were all shot on that one weekend in various spots on that property. Mine was shot in an unheated large shed in the back yard, redesigned to look like my writing space.

Francine and I arrived at about 1 PM so I could get into costume and make-up. As they were putting make-up on me I was asked to sign several more forms including my agreedment to pay ACTRA (actor's union) dues. I said, "Wait a minute - this was supposed to be a prize win. I didn't know I had to pay to be in this commercial." The assistant smiled at my naivety and said: "You're going to be getting paid for this." My jaw dropped open at that point. I thought just getting to be in a commercial was payment -- I didn't realize there would be cash involved.

When they brought me to see the director, he said I didn't look enough like a writer and asked me to take out my contact lenses and put on my glasses as well as do something about my shirt. We went back to the trailer, I popped out my eyes (I had the Boston Lens hard contact lenses at that point and had to virtually "pop" them off my eyeballs using pressure on the side of my face) and put on my glasses. They then added a brown vest and returned me to him. He took one look at me and said: "There. Now you look like a writer." (Gee, after all those years of dedication and hard work to hone my writing skills, I didn't realize all it really took was putting on my glasses and an ugly brown vest)

Since the commercial was a testimonial, they couldn't tell me what to say. Sure, they could stage the set (and they did set up a really cool, although unheated writing workshop using a box of materials from my own writing space that I had brought along, including several books on writing that I favoured) and dress me up -- but my words had to be my own.

I was supposed to be filmed at about 4 PM or so, but they were quite behind in the schedule, so I don't think they started recording my interview until about 7 or 8 PM. All that waiting around reminded me of the type of waiting actors often do during rehearsals for stage shows -- and worst of all, during the technical rehearsals and cue to cue run-throughs where it's all about the lights and sounds and set changes and not at all about the actors.

About 8 of us and a whack of cameras and lights were crammed into the small cold shed that evening. The director and most of the crew were draped in fall/winter jackets and between "takes" I was allowed to put on my own jacket -- brrr, what a chilly night, even under those hot lights. I remember the poor make-up girl shivering as she would occasionally re-apply touch-ups to my face between "takes" -- the Director interviewed me for about 45 minutes in all and at the end of it was a 15 second commercial.

A few weeks later my first royalty cheque for the commercial came in the mail. It was to cover the first 4 months or so of the commercial airing on different Canadian networks. Yowsa! It was immediately the most money I'd been paid for anything writing related. The commercial started airing in late 1999 and I remember getting a phone call at work (I was working at Chapters Online in Toronto at the time) from a colleague who I'd been introduced to just the day before -- he called me in the morning telling me he saw me on late night television the night before and was a bit startled, telling his wife: "Hey, that guy. I met him at work yesterday."

The next several months were filled with similar calls and messages from friends all over the place, many of them friends I hadn't heard from in years. (Prior to online networking like my blog, mySpace and Facebook, this was the first time I'd heard from so many people in such a short time)

One good buddy of mine called to say he was in his apartment by himself, puttering around in the kitchen with the television on when all of a sudden he heard my voice droning on in the background. Startled (perhaps thinking I'd snuck in to scare him), he looked over and saw the last few seconds of my commercial. That was a hoot.

Of course, to this day my buddy Mathew Growden never let me forget my goofy line of "focusing on my craft" and often quoted it at the most obscure times over the years.

In all, the commercial was a lot of fun, and as they continued to play it, the royalty cheques continues to roll in. Thank heavens because they helped pay for the really steep car repair bills that happened to slam Francine and I in 2000.

Of course, since doing that commercial, my dream has been to land either a hemorrhoid or diarrhea commercial - because I learned that the actors in commercials for embarassing products get what's known as "humility pay" -- a "top up" of the usual pay because their likeness gets associated with an embarassing ailment.

However, given my age, I'll soon likely be a candidate for a Viagra or perhaps Depends commercial.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

HNT - Alexander Leslie Photographer At Large

This year for Christmas, Santa brought Alexander a digital camera.

It's one designed perfectly for a three year old by Fisher Price and has already taken quite the beating (yet still works nicely) - this does two things - it allows Alexander to flex some creative muscle without Francine and I having a stroke watching Alexander handle our digital camera.

As an avid young "Peter Parker" Alexander has enjoyed running around the house and taking pictures of pretty much anything and everything. The digital camera holds about 50 pictures, and it takes him less than 3 minutes to fill it up. There are many great studies of the floors and walls of our house (although I must admit there are some pretty darn cool pictures of the ceiling fan in my Mom's kitchen)

I figured I'd let Alexander's snaps of me be featured in this week's HNT.

Here's a shot of me backlit in my Mom's kitchen. Kind of makes me look like a demented serial killer.

Here's another one of my in my Mom's kitchen, caught in the process of fixing myself a cup of coffee.

And here's one of me that Alexander is in, taken in our kitchen (by Alexander's cousin, my Godchild Madison) Beautiful backlighting, don't you think?

Well that's the way Alexander's camera saw the world this week. From all of us here at "Mark Leslie's Blog" goodnight.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Best Laid Plans

You have to laugh. Otherwise, what else have you got but half your body covered in a vomit mixed concoction of chewed carrots, baloney and milk?

Francine and I had plans to sit back, put our feet up and relax this past new year's eve by watching a couple of movies. (The Simpsons movie, which she bought me for Christmas -- and Live Free or Die Hard, which we rented using a coupon from the Blockbuster gift pack which Santa left in the stocking I'd carefully hung by the fireplace).

It had been a hectic ten days of constant company and multiple travels (driving 6 hours up to Levack to pick up my Mom and Baba and bring them to Hamilton before Christmas, then the following weekend returning them safely home) and when Francine got home from work on the 31st our plan was simple. Get Alexander to bed at a decent time (unlike most of the late bedtimes during the Christmas holidays), sit back, have a fun snack, some fun drinks and watch a couple of movies before ringing in the New Year with Dick Clark on the telly.

Of course, those plans fell through when Alexander started projectile vomiting all over me at about 7:45 PM while I was holding him in the kitchen just prior to putting him to bed. The poor little guy emptied his stomach contents in three very nasty large volume gushes of the putrid, acidic chunky fluid. I stood there, rubbing his back with my one clean hand and telling him it was okay, while Francine ran to the other room to get us some clean towels and wash cloths. We proceeded to strip naked in the kitchen and headed straight into the bathtub to clean up.

Of course, this scenario (location, situation and stomach content volume slightly modified) occurred one more time. After another dual bath and change of jammies, the next few boughts of nausea came with a bit more warning, so I was able to retrieve a small bucket and Alexander was able to aim in the correct direction in time. But it was still a long, difficult evening; we sat up with Alexander, all snuggled together on the couch, him fading in and out of sleep, waking to puke a bit more up, us trying to keep him comfortable, calling Telehealth Ontario (fantastic service, providing free 24 hour access to a registered nurse that can easily help someone decide the next step in treatment - ie, what to do if staying home, whether you should book a doctor's appointment the next day or if you should get to a clinic or emergency room - if more people used this service, we'd have less emergency rooms crammed with idiots and their hang-nails or a mild cough) and talking quietly.

As we watched the New Year rung in (accompanied by CHCH's annual live broadcast of the concert at Niagara Falls - oh man, has Mike Reno, the lead singer of Loverboy ever gone to pot. Looks like someone "turned him loose" at an all you can eat buffet) Francine and I smiled at each other and chatted about how several times in the past few years we've made simple plans that haven't quite fallen through the way we expected.

Like that time, just a few years ago where we spent New Year's Eve with Francine looking on while a woman I'd just met was sticking her finger up my ass. (To make a long story short, we were in the emergency room on the advice of the good folks from Telehealth Ontario - after spending the previous day pushing cars out of snow, and experiencing increasingly intense abdominal pain, there was a fear that I had a hernia. The woman I'd just met was a cute young medical resident who was checking for internal bleeding. At least I'd been wearing my spooky eyes underwear and that helped break the ice. Fortunately, there wasn't internal bleeding and I'd just sprained a groin muscle and inadvertently helped a young resident experience her first rectal probe)

In all seriousness, as 2008 was arriving and Francine and I were sitting up with Alexander, knowing that we were in for yet another long sleepless night of worry and concern for our little Mr. Man, I thought to myself how, despite the fact that our plans fell through and we didn't get to spend the evening relaxing in the manner we'd planned, that I was still spending my New Year's Eve in the company of the two most important people in my life. Sure, the circumstances weren't the greatest. They can't always be. But we were together. And that made all the difference to me.

Happy New Year. May this year find you peace, joy, prosperity and good health. And in those moments where any of those might be lacking, may you find comfort in the proximity and memories of your friends and loved ones.