Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cap'n My Captain

For some reason, when I mentioned Cap'n Crunch cereal to my son a few weeks ago, he got excited and had it stuck in his mind. When we reached the cereal aisle of the grocery store, he rushed over to the Cap'n Crunch display and insisted we buy some.

No harm done here -- while we mostly eat the healthier varieties of cereal, I was delighted to have one of the sweeter and more "fun" cereals in our home.

And Alexander's pitch to Francine to get fun cereals always go over a heck of a lot better than my own futile attempts.

Of course, speaking of Cap'n Crunch, I've always called it Captain Crunch -- but looking at the box recently made me wonder: How many kids out there never learned the proper spelling of "captain" because of this popular kids cereal box? And why did they call it Cap'n Crunch rather than Captain Crunch?

The cereal in the US apparently has all kinds of variations on it. Here in Canada there's the basic simple Cap'n Crunch flavour -- but in the US there are berry, chocolate and peanut butter versions of it, and even a really cool Halloween flavour -- yes, Halloween. According to the capncrunch website it contains crunchy biscuits and fruit flavored ghost shapes that turn the milk GREEN. How cool is that? I'm going to have to do a bit of cross-border shopping in the fall to get some of those for Alexander and I.

Here are a few bits of trivia on Cap'n Crunch for those curious minds:

  • The captain's full name as revealed in 2007: Captian Horatio Magellan Crunch
  • What flavor is Capn' Crunch? A combination of sweetened corn and oat.
  • Spider-Man and Capn' Crunch teamed up once in a cross-promotion campaign to fight The Soggies (a fictional race of blob creatures that dampened breakfast cereals.
  • Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club makes a Cap'n Crunch sandwich.
  • Here in Canada, our bilingual English/French cereal boxes include the French "Capitaine Crounche" (see, no silly abbreviated Cap'n there)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Douglas Smith Interview

I had the pleasure of recently interviewing author Douglas Smith for the "Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy" Facebook group as part of a series of "live" discussion threads being conducted with various Aurora Award nominees.

Douglas is an award winning Canadian author of speculative fiction whose stories have appeared in over seventy professional magazines and anthologies in twenty-eight countries and twenty-two languages. I had the pleasure of publishing a reprint of Doug's story "State of Disorder" when I edited NORTH OF INFINITY II back in 2006.

The interview, which appears below took a bit over 7 days to conduct and the original can be found here.

Douglas Smith is the author of "The Dancer at the Red Door" ( which is on the final ballot for the 2008 Aurora Award in the category of Best Short Form Work in English. The story first appeared in the DAW anthology UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS (Czerneda & Paniccia) in 2007. First of all, Doug, congratulations on the nomination. I'd like to begin by asking you these two things: "Who is Douglas Smith the writer?" and "How did you first get into writing?"

DOUGLAS SMITH: Start with the existential stuff, eh? Who am I? A happily married father of two grown sons, living in Toronto and with a secret daytime identity of an IT exec with one of the big accounting & consulting firms. I write on the GO train, subway, planes, coffee shops, libraries, in my spare time. I've been strictly a short fiction writer to date, but am finishing up my first novel. I write a pretty broad range of stuff, all more or less "speculative," with a preference for contemporary fantasy, which is what I'd call "The Dancer at the Red Door."

I'd always wanted to be a writer, and realized in 1995 that my dream wasn't going to happen by itself. I started with short fiction because I've always loved reading the form, with a lot of my influences being short fiction masters like Bradbury and Zelazny, so I figured that I'd enjoy writing short stories. I also planned to try to build up my creds with short fiction sales and hopefully awards to make it easier if/when I would be marketing a novel. Finally and frankly, back then I also needed to see if I could actually sell anything that I wrote, and trying my hand with short fiction seemed less daunting than starting with a novel. I sold the first story I wrote, "Spirit Dance," to Rob Sawyer and Carolyn Clink, who were editing Tesseracts6, on the last day of 1996. A good way to end and start a year. I've since sold over 100 stories (including reprints) in 28 languages and 21 countries (I think). More bio stuff, if anyone is interested, on my web site at

Thanks for that background, Doug. I'm going to want to ask about your novel a bit later in the interview. But for now I'd like to talk a little bit about DATRD (hope it's okay that I'm abbreviating "The Dancer at the Red Door" in this fashion)

This story contains some phenomenal illustrations of the "rut" of commuter working class routines. And I just have to quote from one of them here:

"People shuffled by like the undead, blinking at the sun finally rising over the towers, newspapers clutched like amulets, briefcases hanging like manacles, coffee sucked from cups as if it were their life blood."

That's absolutely brilliant. The way you describe this here and in other parts of the story magnificently foreshadows King's ultimate fate. Can you talk about the manner in which that idea developed when you were creating the story?

DOUGLAS SMITH: Thanks, Mark. This story developed in layers, which a lot of mine do, it seems. Roger Zelazny once said that his story ideas tended to come to him in one of three ways: an intriguing character, an unusual idea, or a striking image--and that the best stories combined all three.

This story started for me with the image of the Dancer--the scene where she first appears in the story, spinning into view around a corner on a downtown Toronto street, and is completely ignored by everyone except the protagonist. At the time, I was working at the same corner of King and University, and wishing I could focus more on my writing than the day job, so I'm sure that's where the description of the commuter trance came from. I wrote the description of the Dancer's appearance right away, before I even knew what the story was going to be about: "He knew she was mad the moment he saw her. She spun into view around the nearest corner, then froze for a second, au pointe as in ballet, arms raised in two graceful arcs. Then she leapt, landing to waltz through the crowd as if the sidewalk were a ballroom and each scurrying commuter her partner. And with each pirouette, madness whirled around her like dead leaves caught in a forgotten winter wind." And there it remained in my notebook for probably a year or more.

I eventually wrote an earlier and much different version of the story around the Dancer, but it just didn't work. I didn't really have the right character to encounter the Dancer, and I didn't have the right idea to drive the plot--I didn't have the right problem for the character to wrestle with. So I shelved that story until Julie and Jana invited me to submit a story for their anthology, UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS, with its theme of secret societies. Once I had that theme, I remembered the Dancer, and the character of King showed up to audition pretty much right away. With King, the idea of a mysterious and exclusive club followed, so I had my character with a problem and the idea, like a pair of bookends around the image of the Dancer. And then it was just a matter of writing the story. I generally jump around when I write, often writing the ending first, but I wrote "The Dancer at the Red Door" pretty much linearly from start to finish.

It's funny, I'd been planning on asking you what your inspiration for this story was and whether or not you write your stories in a linear fashion or jump around -- I think it's fascinating that you normally jump around but wrote this particular story straight from beginning to end after finding the appropriate details from that first inspirational scene of the dancer.

Which leads me to ask: How many other notebook "scenes" have been part of your short fiction in this manner?

DOUGLAS SMITH: Quite a few. I'll mention a couple. I remember taking my youngest son to the circus one summer, and we managed to get ringside seats this time. Great view of the performers--so close that I noticed something I might not have from further back. The same people who would come out in spiffy spangly uniforms and do the trapeze or high-wire acts would show up again later in coveralls pushing a broom behind the elephants and horses. That gave me an idea for a down-and-out circus of aliens, barely scraping by, moving from planet to planet. The idea went into the journal, but it was a while before I added other elements around it to make a story, and even then it took me about six attempts before that idea finally became "Scream Angel," the story that won the 2004 Aurora (I have "Scream Angel" up on my web site for the rest of April, btw, if anyone would like to read it: under "Free Stuff for Readers"). One more example. I used to train in karate with my oldest son, and we were at a karate camp at Wasaga Beach one summer weekend. In a strange coincidence, I'd spent my summers as a child at the very same place where we were staying for the camp. It brought back memories of getting up early and having the entire beach to myself as a kid, sharing it only with the waves and the seagulls. That led to a single strong image, that of a strange bird and a warrior on an empty beach, an image that eventually turned into a 14th century Japan martial arts / romance story called "The Red Bird," which was an Aurora finalist in 2002. Anyway, there're probably at least another dozen stories that started with a journal entry around a single image or sometime a single line, but which didn't turn into a story until quite some time later.

In "DATRD" you touch upon all the senses quite wonderfully. Can you discuss how you use these sensual touchpoints to draw the reader into your fiction?

DOUGLAS SMITH: I've often been described as a very visual writer, which always make me chuckle because I *hate* writing description. In first drafts, if I need to provide the physical layout of a place or the visual description of a thing, I'll sometimes just put "[insert description here]" and then add it in a later draft. I find describing the mundane surroundings in a story to be astoundingly boring as a writer. The funny thing is that many of my story ideas come from an initial strong visual image. But telling the reader what a typical downtown Toronto street commuter looks like bores me to death, which is probably why I tend to use metaphor and simile, such as in the passage you referenced earlier. That makes it more fun to write, and ultimately (I hope), more interesting for the reader. Visual description of the fantastic or the bizarre is a lot more fun, like the first appearance of the Dancer in this story, or the phantom subway stop, or the black pyramid rising from the strange jungle that King finds on his quest for the Red Door.

I consciously try to include other senses in my description of any scene--sounds obviously, but also smell, as it's one of our strongest memory cues. All the writer should be trying to do with a descriptive passage is to pull the reader into that scene as fully and as quickly as possible. A few cues from multiple senses works, to me anyway, better than a long passage of visual description painted in excruciating detail.

With "The Dancer at the Red Door," the key senses I tried to play on were the same ones we employ when enjoying a dance performance: visual for the movement, hearing for the music, and touch, in the way that the rhythms of the music, especially the bass beats, are felt in our bodies as much as heard. Sound and rhythm are key sensory elements of the story, since the song--*the* song--that the Dancer hears, and that King learns to hear, becomes a main character and, without giving too much away, a critical driver of the action and the climax. I worked music and sound and the song into the story throughout--the beat King feels rising up from the sidewalk, the song he hears before he first sees the Dancer, the movements of the Dancer merging with the rhythm of the subway train, the song returning to stop King's pursuit of the Dancer, the sinister gong of the phantom subway stop, etc. As the Dancer says to King, "The city has a song…," and the trick to this story was to make the reader be able to hear it too.

It's interesting that you mention this, because I could feel the pulse and beat of the city's song while reading this story. And I would imagine it's your admitted impatience with building tedious description that leads to your strength in writing descriptions that capture the reader.

Can you talk a bit about how you decided to use the lyrical interludes of the "city song" between scenes in the story.

DOUGLAS SMITH: It's another layer that I like to add to stories if it fits. I wrote an SF story called "Symphony" a few years back, which I structured into four acts, to mimic a four-movement symphony, and introduced each act with the type of instructions a composer includes in a score for each movement: Accelerando, Staccato, Largo, etc., to indicate the tone of the scene. With that story, the scenes were told out of order, so the intro also included the numbering of the movement, plus instructions like FAST FORWARD or REWIND depending on whether the scene was jumping ahead or was a flashback. The reader didn't have to pick up on that to understand or appreciate the story, but if they did, then it would add that much more to the story for them.

I had another story, "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" (still my all-time favourite title), which starts with a four-line poem (probably the only way I'll get my poetry published), and then uses each line to introduce each of the four scenes, where the line foreshadows the coming scene, but in a way that isn't apparent until after you read the scene.

In "The Dancer...," I wanted to do something similar, since a story about a strange dancer just seemed to call out for a strange song. I wanted the "song of the city" lines to set the tone of the story immediately, and to foreshadow the events of the story. I knew the story was going to follow the classic three-act structure, so I introduced the three scenes with lines that referenced three components of the song:

For scene 1, where King meets (and loses) the Dancer, the rhythm:

"The city has a song.
Its rhythm, a million broken hearts..."

For scene 2, where he searches for her, the lyrics:

"The city has a song.
Its lyrics, whispered lies and unheeded cries,
Their meaning lost in the babble,
In the magnitude of the choir."

And finally, for Scene 3, in which he finds her, I used the notes of the song, specifically the key and melody.

"The city has a song.
Its melody-- No. There is no melody.
And in a minor key. Definitely, a minor key."

Basically, I'm just trying to add another layer to the story and the way the story is told.

These are some fantastic "Easter eggs" you've added into your tales. And it's interesting you should bring up "Symphony" because I wanted to mention that story and "Spirit Dance" and what seems to be a recurring theme of lyrics, dance and music in your writing. Does this mean there's not just a hidden poet inside of you but perhaps a musician?

DOUGLAS SMITH: Well, if there's a musician inside me, he's not just hiding--he's in a witness protection program. Nope, can't play a note on any known instrument, but I make up for that by not being able to sing and having no rhythm either. I enjoy music and generally have something playing--hard rock in the car, or instrumental classical when I'm writing, usually Vivaldi or something Baroque. But no, I'm no musician. I'd love to be, so maybe that's why I work these aspects into my stories. It's probably more that I find all creative artists interesting. I've done several stories about some form of creativity -- dance, music, sculpture. My most recent is a story about a search for undiscovered paintings by Vincent van Gogh using remote viewing. That story will be included in an upcoming short story collection (my first) called IMPOSSIBILIA, coming out from PS Publishing in the UK mid-2008.

Can you please tell us a bit more about IMPOSSIBILIA, such as where the title comes from, how it came to be and the process of putting the book together.

DOUGLAS SMITH: Early in 2007, I was discussing the possibility of a short fiction collection with PS Publishing, a small UK press that specializes in SF, fantasy, horror and crime. Their philosophy is "to produce top quality (in terms of both the stories themselves and the production values of the actual books) collectable but affordable signed limited editions -- both fiction and non-fiction -- within the field of science fiction, fantasy and horror." They put out their first titles in 1999, and have since won six British Fantasy Awards for the Best Small Press, a Bram Stoker from the Horror Writers Association, a World Fantasy Award, and the International Horror Guild Award.

They offered me one of the first slots in a new line they are starting, PS Showcase, which will be "short, chapbook-style collections by notable emerging writers of short SF, fantasy, and horror." (So I guess I'm emerging. Not sure from where, but perhaps it's better not to know.) The collections are all 20,000-30,000 words, and mine will be at the high end of that range.

IMPOSSIBILIA will contain three novelettes, two of which are brand new, plus one reprint of an award winning story. "Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, by van Gogh" is a science fantasy, time-travel, love story revolving around an attempt to use remote viewing to search for undiscovered paintings by Vincent van Gogh.

"Going Down to Lucky Town" (Springsteen fans may recognize the title) is a contemporary fantasy about an itinerant gambler and con man, chasing a strange pattern of extraordinary good luck across Ontario, while trying to reconcile with the daughter he'd abandoned years ago.

The third novelette will be my Aurora-winning story, "Spirit Dance," which I've always called a love story with a high body count. It involves my race of shape shifters, the Herok'a, a covert CSIS agency that hunts them, and a tragic love story, all wrapped up in environmental themes and Cree legends. My first novel which I'm finishing up now, picks up a couple of years after the end of "Spirit Dance" and involves the same protagonist, Gwyn Blaidd, a Herok'a of the wolf totem. My interest in putting out a collection was to help promote the novel when I'm marketing it to agents and publishers, so it was important to have "Spirit Dance" included.

Why IMPOSSIBILIA as the title? I wanted something short and punchy, and I hadn't been able to come up with something that encompassed what are three very different stories. It was actually suggested to me by a friend and fellow writer, Mici Gold, and I decided that I liked it. Plus all my other title ideas really sucked.

Wow, sounds great -- I've already got it on my "to buy" list -- something tells me this limited edition won't last long and I should be placing my pre-order with PS Publishing soon.

Apart from multiple award wins and countless nominations, you've also had a lot of success with reprints of your fiction in foreign languages. Can you tell us a little bit about that -- perhaps what it has done for you as a writer?

DOUGLAS SMITH: Well, it started out just as a fun thing to do. After I'd been writing for a couple of years and had a few short fiction sales, I came across a reference somewhere to a German anthology that accepted previously published stories in English and translated them for free. Plus they paid. So it was found money, and I thought it would be cool to be published in another language. They took two stories from me, and I started looking for other foreign language markets and submitting to them, mostly just to see how many languages and countries I could "collect," and it kind of grew from there. I've now sold stories in 28 countries and 22 languages. Some of the markets pay pro rates, some pay less, and some only provide contributor copies. When I started my web site, I included the FML (foreign market list) on it. The FML is now the most popular page on my site, and draws visitors from around the world. In recent days, I've had visitors from as far away as the Ivory Coast, Russia, and Senegal

Quite frankly, I'm not sure what it's done for my writing, beyond making my name known to a lot of other short fiction writers, and I've made friends with lots of short fiction editors around the world. Maybe it will help me sell foreign rights to any novel I sell. I really don't know. Okay, I can think of one definitely positive impact. Solaris, the fine Quebec magazine, doesn't take submissions in English. However, one of my early foreign sales was to a great little dark fantasy mag in France called Ténébres (now defunct, sadly). They printed "Spirit Dance" and sent me their translated version. I subbed the French version (albeit Parisian French not Quebecois) to Solaris, and they printed it, as "La Danse des Esprits." It went on to win the Aurora for best short story in French. If it hadn't been for the original foreign sale, that never would have happened. I've also found that the foreign language mags are more likely to include cool artwork with the stories than even the big pro English language mags. If anyone wants to check these mags out, I have some of the illos and all of the covers for my foreign sales up on my site at I have a mailing list associated with the FML for any interested writers. You can check out the FML at

Thanks for sharing the link, Doug. I've sent several writers to it in the past few years as the best foreign language market reference I've seen on the web.

When I was reading DATRD I wondered if the Society of the Red Door might have been inspired by some sort of real-life entity, or if it was symbolic in nature. I'm curious about this but also about your views on how fiction, particularly science fiction can be used to make comments on our society and history.

DOUGLAS SMITH: My exposure to Toronto's various downtown business clubs from my non-writing corporate career certainly inspired the idea of the Society, but no one club served as the model. I mean, most of them stopped doing the sacrifices and the blood drinking thing a couple of years back, once they knew for sure that the millennium hadn't brought the end of the world. I think my Society captures some of the exclusivity and inherent snobbery of those clubs. I'm proud to say that my Society never had a gender barrier--women have been able to join the Red Door for centuries.

Regarding speculative fiction's role as a tool for social commentary, I think that SF and fantasy are at their strongest when they hold a distorting mirror up to our reality (to use an analogy by the great anthologist, Damon Knight, I believe). The best spec fic can shine that mirror on an aspect of our society and reflect it back to the reader, magnifying its evils and dangers--or at least the evils and dangers as perceived by the writer. The key thing for the writer to remember is that they are a storyteller, not a preacher. Any time a writer gets up on a soapbox, they turn me off. To keep a reader in the story, speculative fiction needs to convey that sense of wonder at the same time, a goal which is often in conflict with trying to make a serious point. My fiction tend to be written because I thought they were cool ideas, as opposed to being driven by any society-needs-to-change agenda. That being said, some of my stories certainly reflect my concerns with our world. "Scream Angel" (and its companion story, "Enlightenment") deals with corporate imperialism and militarism as its tool, which a reader might, if they were so inclined, map onto recent foreign policy by our neighbour to the south. You know, if you wanted to make that link. But I didn't write it with the goal of delivering a message. I just extrapolated current conditions into a distorted future, then put my characters in that situation, and made them struggle to escape it--with some cool images, inter-species sex, a mind-bending drug, and kick-ass action climax. You've still got to entertain and tell a story. My Herok'a stories all include an environmental destruction theme, with a racism sub-text, both in terms of society's fear of the shape shifters, and what white society has done to our indigenous peoples and their cultures. One of the things I'm enjoying about writing my first Herok'a novel (almost done!!) is that I have more room to weave those themes into a longer and more complex plot.

Glad you mentioned it, because I wanted to ask (if it's okay for you to share) for more details about the Herok'a novel. What drove you to want to explore a novel length work from that "universe" and how has that experience been different than your short fiction work?

DOUGLAS SMITH: "Spirit Dance" was the very first story that I ever wrote (and sold), and I always knew that I wanted to return to that world in novel length. Shape shifter legends have always fascinated me, probably a result of all those anthropomorphic Disney movies. And wolves have always been an interest, likely from reading too much Jack London as a kid. The Herok'a are my own race of shape shifters, each tied to a particular animal species, or class of species, such as canids, felines, rodents, birds, etc. These stories let me explore issues that are important to me, such as the destruction of animal habitat by the exploitation of our natural resources. The Herok'a derive their vitality from the strength of their totem species, so when their totem animals are threatened, the Herok'a themselves are threatened. The novel has given me a chance to explore these issues to a depth not possible in a short story.

Writing "Spirit Dreams" (working title) has been an interesting experience, compared to short fiction. I knew how I was starting the novel--a gruesome killing that seems to imply a Herok'a involvement. And I knew the general plot line, including how and where it would all end. Plus I knew most of the main characters. But compared to a short story, a novel is, uh, longer. And, um, bigger. More characters with longer arcs. More plot lines and complications for characters, resulting in more possible character decisions and plot turns. The net effect was that I needed to do a scene outline, plus full character outlines with their history, motivation, and arcs. When I write a short story, I can generally keep all this in my head. But with the novel, especially my first, that wasn't going to work for me.

I have multiple character arcs, and I firmly believe that "character drives plot." I really needed to understand my characters, their motivation in the story and how they would meet each other and how those interactions would drive character problems and decisions, which drives plot. Plus it's a murder mystery so I had to plot out what discoveries would happen when.

I also found that I needed to write scenes more sequentially than I usually do for a short story, where I often write the final scene first. In the novel, I could still jump around to some extent in an act, but I had to pretty well finish the act before writing scenes in the next act, because I found that as I wrote the scenes, I'd get better plot ideas than I'd originally put in the outline. That meant if I jumped too far ahead to write a scene, I'd likely end up having to throw it out.

Another discovery was how important theme was. The novel's theme is one of hunger and emptiness--the hunger of our modern society for natural resources--water, trees, minerals, land--and the emptiness that leaves behind, for the people and the creatures who were here before us--the native people and the animals. Knowing this up front let me use the theme to drive the choice of symbolism that acts as a linking element throughout a longer work like a novel.

Then there was the amount of research required, but I think I picked too ambitious a book to start with. I tell parts of the story via traditional Cree and Ojibwa stories and legends, and I spent a lot of time researching these aspects of the book, but I am very concerned that I am portraying this culture with accuracy and respect. On top of that, I needed to research hydroelectric dam operations, history of impact of white society and religious structures on native culture (such as residential schools), the impact of hydro projects on hunting territories and traditional way of life, and lots of physical site research, which involved time in a "typical" Ontario northern town to research First Nations reserves, flora, fauna, characteristics of the bush. Not to mention DNA research, reproductive rules of the Herok'a (what happens if they mate with a human), police procedures in a small Ontario town and on a First Nations reserve. I'm happy with the result, so maybe it's just as well, because if I'd known how much I'd bitten off, I might have started with something less ambitious.

Well I'm certainly looking forward to seeing the result of all the research and effort you're putting into this novel.

Now one last question.

As I understand it, there's a short independent film that was recently shot and due out this spring or early summer which was based upon your short story "By Her Hand She Draws You Down" (another art-themed story I might add) - can you tell us a little more about how that came to be?

DOUGLAS SMITH: Sure. It's just an indie film, but it's kind of exciting. In 2002, Stephen Jones selected my supernatural horror story “By Her Hand, She Draws You Down” for the thirteenth edition of his award winning annual horror anthology, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. The Review Journal of the American Library Association described “By Her Hand…” as “delightfully creepy” and “about a young woman who is driven by a mysterious hunger to sketch people and steal their life force as her horrified lover looks on.” You can read more reviews on my web site at

Shortly after, director Anthony Sumner of TinyCore Pictures ( approached me. TinyCore does work in commercials, promotional videos, music videos, and documentaries, with a client list that includes JP Morgan Bank, Jesse Jackson, and Hootie and the Blowfish. However, they also do short independent horror films, and Anthony was interested in shooting a film based on "By Her Hand..." to show at indie film festivals.

I agreed, and Anthony added the project to his production schedule. Alan Rowe Kelly joined the project as co-Executive Producer. Anthony cast Zoe Chlanda ( and Jerry Murdock in the lead roles of the artist Cath and her boyfriend Joe. Drew Willis, art director for Time Life Children's Books and an award winning SF illustrator, was commissioned to do the sketches that are such a key part of the story. They filmed on location around Ocean Grove and Asbury Park, New Jersey, during which Fangoria magazine came to the set for an interview.

Check out the image gallery on my web site at for some photos from the filming. Anthony has shared the storyboard script with me, and they've stayed incredibly faithful to the story, including the original dialog. I've posted the storyboard script on my web site at

Shooting finished in November, and they are currently working on the edit and score, and then will do the sound mix and DVD finishing for the festivals. That should be finished in about a month, at which point I'll have first viewing and approval of the final piece. Then they'll be submitting it to indie film festivals, hoping to garner some awards. There are also plans for including it in an anthology of three movies, all starring Jerry Murdock, and distributing the antho on DVD through major retailers. Hope that works out--it would be cool to be able to walk into a store and buy a DVD movie based on one of my stories.

I’m looking forward to seeing the final result.

So am I, Doug. "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" is one of my favourite of your stories.

Well that concludes this interview with Aurora nominee Douglas Smith. Doug, I'd like to thank you for taking to time to "sit down" in this virtual setting with me and answer my questions about your writing.

DOUGLAS SMITH: And thank you, Mark, for your time and an interesting set of questions. It's been fun.

Well there you have it. A fascinating and revealing interview with Canadian author Douglas Smith. Check out more about Doug on his website

And good luck on this year's Aurora's, Doug. You're in some mighty fine company. This year's short-list for Best Short-Form Work in English are:

“Falling” by David Clink (On Spec)
“Saturn in G Minor” by Stephen Kotowych (Writers of the Future XXIII)
“Metamorphoses in Amber” by Tony Pi (Abyss & Apex)
“The Dancer at the Red Door” by Douglas Smith (Under Cover of Darkness)
“Like Water in the Desert” by Hayden Trenholm (Challenging Destiny)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

HNT - Getting Away With Murder

This past weekend, one of the panels I sat on at EerieCon was entitled: "Getting Away With Murder" - I sat on the panel with Sephera Giron, Nancy Kress and Caro Soles. We had a fun topic, the details of which were outlined as: "How and why would you kill of a major character? Is it a good idea? What was your readers' reaction?"

The panel begins
Nancy Kress, Mark Leslie, Sephera Giron, Caro Soles - Photo by Derek Sullivan

'Twas a fun discussion, indeed as we shared examples from our own writing and kind of came up with, under Nancy's direction, a list of four main reasons why a writer might kill off a major character.

Me talking with my hands - Photo by Derek Sullivan

1) Hook -- to draw the reader in (concept of killing a character at the beginning of the story then backtracking through what happened to lead to that point)
2) To underline the seriousness of what's at stake (if it Bob just got killed, then none of us are safe)
3) The plot development requires it (you need x to happen before y can occur, and the only way to do that is to kill off a certain major character)
4) Because you can't stand the character (what can I say? Even writers can be affected by the characters they create)

A great shot of one of my favourite t-shirts - Port Dover Friday the 13th
Photo by Derek Sullivan

Of course, the setting for this discussion was in one of the basement meeting rooms which was, fittingly, as cold as a morgue. Nancy was quite chilled so I loaned her my blue flaming skull shirt for the panel.

Nancy Kress, Mark Leslie - Photo by Derek Sullivan

Sephera's fiance, Derek Sullivan took tons of great pictures at the convention -- I particularly like the "candid" aspect of most of the shots he took -- I liberated a couple of them here for this week's Half-Nekkid Thursday post. Isn't it wonderfully appropriate how we all had black tops on for this topic? Honestly, we didn't plan that ahead.

Nancy Kress, Mark Leslie, Sephera Giron, Caro Soles - Photo by Derek Sullivan

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writing Show Contest - Great Cash Prizes

The Writing Show podcast is hosting their annual "First Chapter of a Novel Contest" with some fantastic cash prizes . . .

Like the very cool first prize of $1000.

Or the neatoman second prize of $400, third prize of $300, fourth prize of $200 and fifth prize of $100. How cool is that?

And for 10 lucky winners (chosen completely at random) they'll get 750 words of detailed feedback on their submission -- priceless advice for writers, IMHO.

The EARLY DEADLINE is May 20th with an entry fee of $25.00
The Late Deadline date is June 20th with an entry fee of $35.00

I was an honourable mention in TWS's first annual contest with the first chapter of my novel Morning Son, and quite enjoyed the experience. Of course, the whole Writing Show experience has been a lot of fun for me as apart from being a fan who gets lots of fantastic writing-related advice and tips with each new weekly episode, I am also a regularly returning reality show guest in the "Getting Published With Mark Leslie" series.

For this year's Writing Contest, not only am I honoured to be a judge in the contest, but I'm in some really fine company with Mick Halpin, John Marco, Tom Occhipinti, Ann Paden, and Paula Paul as the other judges. The final round of the contest will be judged by the celebrity judges who are: Wendy Barnard, Candace Lake, Simon Moore, Joe Nassise and Laura Wright.

You can read all about this fine panel of judges here.

And they're all so darned good looking if I might add.

(If you follow the link you'll get to see the giant photo that my blogger profile picture, Facebook picture, MySpace picture, etc was taken from)

Not only are the prizes great, but look at the opportunity to get your writing in front of so many pros in the business.

I mean, what's NOT to love about this?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Finding Balance

I had a fun weekend at EerieCon 10 in Niagara Falls, NY. As usual, I met some great people, participated in fun discussions and enjoyed listening to several different speakers on panels. (That, and meeting Joe Haldeman and getting him to sign my first edition mass market paperback version of The Forever War was pretty darn thrilling) I had a fun time sitting on panels with Sephera Giron, Caro Soles, Nancy Kress, David Stephenson, John-Allen Price and Darrell Schweitzer.

One of the things that made the weekend so satisfying, I think, was the fact that my wife and son came along with me for the trip. I travel quite a bit for work, so it's always a bit hard to pull myself away from the family for my "other work" -- yes, I do consider any activity I conduct related to my writing (attending conventions is part of the networking and self-promotion activities of being a writer) to be work, regardless of whether or not it directly ties in to being paid.

But since this convention was in Niagara Falls, pretty close to home and not all that far from a great outlet mall across the border, Francine and Alexander came along. We ended up balancing my desire to attend panels and sessions with Francine's desire to get some shopping done. I was able to go to the panels I really wanted to see or participate in and we were able to have lunch and breakfast and dinner together as a family. It was the best of all possible worlds.

Sure, if I'd attended alone, I likely would have gone to more events and stayed longer on Sunday. But this was a great opportunity for me to do my writing thing AND be close to my family. And we all had an enjoyable time. And I'm hoping we can work out something similar for future convention weekends.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Heading To EerieCon 10

This evening I'll be heading off to Eeriecon, a convention in Niagara Falls, New York.

Guests of Honor this year are Joe Haldeman and Sephera Giron. I've met Sephera and she's very cool, and I'm quite delighted to meet Joe Haldeman - I'll be bringing my 1974 well-read and re-read paperback of THE FOREVER WAR for him to sign. Woo hoo!

I'm quite looking forward to tonight's 10 PM "Late Night Talk Show" hosted by Robert J. Sawyer - looks like it, and the whole weekend will be a lot of fun. I'm only sitting on a few panels Saturday morning and afternoon so should be able to sit in on lots of great discussions and readings.

Details about the convention can be found here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

HNT - Da Count - Getting Wilde

Given that it's so late on Thursday and that it's been yet another crazy busy week I thought it might be appropriate to merge my weekly HNT and Da Count posts into one. It's particularly fitting this week too.

This past week I took a quick trip to Edmonton, Alberta to the University of Alberta bookstore to visit my colleagues and friends from that store, Todd, Wayne and Paul. I met these fine gentlemen through such great organizations as the CCRA (Canadian Campus Retail Association) and CSC (Campus Stores Canada).

The U of A bookstore guys are a pretty fine bunch of dudes, hospitable, professional and progressive in their approach to academic bookselling -- yet despite all their hard work and dedication to the job, they're lively, energetic and a heck of a lot of fun.

And while it has felt as if I've known them for years, we haven't worked together for all that long. Paul Wilde, Textbook Manager/Buyer/Renaissance Man and I were talking about the first time we'd met, which was no more than one year ago. We quickly developed a relationship quite like Spike and Chester from the Looney Tunes cartoons. ("Hey Spike, we're pals, huh Spike? Whattaya wanna do today, Spike? Wanna chase cars? Huh, Spike?") Along along those lines, I've learned a ton about the academic book world from Paul and Todd and Wayne.

These are the brilliant gents behind the only Espresso Book Machine in Canada (one of only 7 in the world), for instance (which was the reason of my visit) -- with this machine in their bookstore, they've not only been able to help create cheaper textbook solutions for their students, but also boosted their general book business with their ability to print one of hundreds of thousands of out of print and public domain books right in their store within about 5 minutes. I was visiting the store because we're looking at getting one of these machines for the bookstore at McMaster.

So, in a nutshell my HNT pictures this week are from my trip to visit the cool dudes at U of A bookstore which also happens to be what I'm counting this week -- the great friends and colleagues I've made since moving to the academic side of bookselling less than 2 years ago.

Paul Wilde and I posing in front of the Espresso Book Machine

Check out the hilarious looks on our faces as we suck in our guts for this shot

Friday, April 11, 2008

Da Count - Listen For Free & Share The Love

This morning the McMaster Daily News posted an article I wrote about McMaster alumnus Terry Fallis whose satirical novel of Canadian politics The Best Laid Plans was just short-listed for The Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

I'm counting the fact that as a bookseller I'm privileged not only with being able to deal with books all day, but that I often have a chance to help share the love and passion of reading with book lovers and book buyers.

But one of the truly best ways of being able to let a potential reader sample an author's style is via the awesome trend of podcast novels. I mentioned it here last week, but it's worth bringing up again. Podcast novels are a great way for readers to discover fantastic writers whom they normally might not have heard of. Check out for some great free reads by authors such as Terry Fallis, Scott Sigler, Tee Morris, J.C Hutchins, Seth Harwood, Matt Wallace, Mathew Wayne Selznick, Mur Lafferty and countless others.

I know the effect it has had on me, self-admitted book nerd. Once I start listening to a great podcast novel that has been given to me completely free and with no strings attached, I usually want to buy a copy of the book to own and also tell all my friends about them.

I suppose I'm also counting the fact that there are authors willing to take the risk and put their work out there for free -- so I'd like to also count their generosity and their talent as well as the good folks behind who make these titles easily available for free.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

HNT - The Exposure Continues

Episode 8 of Getting Publishing With Mark Leslie went live today on The Writing Show podcast which Paula and I recorded late last week. It's a perfect tie-in with Half-Nekkid Thursday, particularly given the manner in which I expose my frailties as a writer as well as the frustrations and challenges of the writing process. (Never mind how compromising a full night's sleep to keep going gung-ho on a writing project while working full time is causing me to continually fall prey to flu and cold viruses)

In this episode, I respond to the challenge from Episode 7 in which Mick Halpin asks me to not only write 10,000 words of my novel in progress A Canadian Werewolf in New York in the month of March but must include a character named Bricky. After a brief discussion, I read a few short scenes of the novel that I believe are quite humorous in nature, and reveal where I planted Bricky into the story.

In all, a fun and IMHO, interesting discussion with Writing Show host Paula B.

The photo this week (and which is being used for this episode) was taken by my good buddy Greg Roberts. Check out more of his photography via his website

I like it because Greg wonderfully captured a slice of life moment -- we were at the Levack ski hill with our kids and toboggans, enjoying a fantastically sunny and beautiful late winter afternoon in Northern Ontario. The photo is me, unabridged and exposed, balding head, gray hair, squinty eyes and all. I love it.

You've SEEN me exposed, now listen to me being exposed - right click HERE to download and listen to the podcast.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Helping P&E Help Writers

Over the years, I have visited Predators & Editors and gained insightful tips and information about the writing world. P&E, touted as "a guide to publishers and writing services for serious writers" has been a hotspot for sharing information for writers since 1997.

P&E has also been known for helping alert writers to scams and less than scrupulous people in the publishing industry. Unfortunately there's not shortage of "businesses" and people out there who are willing to prey upon beginning writers

The first of which I recall encountering (well before P&E existed to warn writers of such places) was one of those giant poetry anthologies where you can submit to for a chance to win a grand prize of X dollars of cash. Of course, perhaps one or two people do get the cash, but over 500 writers poems are "selected" as runners up to be in the book -- and you can't buy the book through any bookstores, but the "publisher" sells the book directly for $100. Thus, your claim to becoming a published author comes with a $100 charge. And this "book publisher" walks away with thousands of dollars from unsuspecting first time writers.

For one particular poetry anthology like this I wanted to test out the thought that it was just an attempt to get beginning writers to buy a book that featured their work. I wrote the equivalent of a "grocery list" poem -- packaged it and submitted it to the anthology. The poem was purposely written as a piece of crap. Lo and beyond, I was sent a congratulatory letter telling me I was a runner-up and my poem was slated to appear in the anthology. And I could order the book for a mere $100. Because I was also a bookseller, I contacted this "publisher" from the bookstore, asking if I could order the book in. Most publishers sell to bookstores and offer them some sort of discount off retail. When I contacted them they informed me that they didn't sell through bookstores, didn't offer a bookstore discount and sold directly to consumers. Which confirmed, in my mind, the scam.

Through the 90's I recall having countless numbers of first time poets come into the bookstores I worked at wondering if we could order in the book they'd been published in. More often than not, it was from a similar "sell direct" publisher.

Of course, this was before the internet and the concept of selling direct to consumers. But with the explosion of places that sell direct to consumers in the past 10 years, it's tough to sort the wheat from the chaff. Which is why having a place like P&E is good.

P&E has helped share and alert such scams in the hopes of preventing further beginning authors (and sometimes experienced authors) from falling prey to such "business models."

Of course, not all of them are actual "scams" - in many cases, there's nothing illegal going on and it's just a really shrewd "business model" that takes advantage of the fragile egos of innocent writers.

So when a call went out asking if writers would be willing to contribute stories to an anthology that would help raise funds and benefit P&E, I sent them a story.

And I'm delighted to announce that my story "Distractions" will be appearing in HELP! An anthology of horror, fantasy and SF benefiting Predators & Editors.

Now just check out that cool cover design by Daniele Serra.

Edited by Craig Phillips, the anthology will feature a huge list of talented folks from across the speculative genres and whom I'm delighted to appear alongside. The authors whose work will be appearing in HELP! are listed below:

A J Brown
Aaron Gudmunson
Alice Loweecey
Benjamin Bussey
Brian Knight
Brian Yount
Cassandra Lee
Catherine J. Gardner
Christopher Conlon
Christopher Treaugus
Colin Harvey
D.W. Green
Darrel Joyce
Dave Rex
David Mohan
Dominic McDonagh
Douglas E. Wright
Ellen Meister
Eric Christ
Eric Enck
Eric Smetana
Garry Charles
Gary Braunbeck
George Taylor
Gustavo Bondoni
Guy Anthony De Marco
Helen Taylor
J. Travis Grundon
Jeff Parish
Jenny Orosel
Jeremy Zoss
JG Faherty
Jill Elaine Hughes
Jimmy Gillentine & Donnete Smith
John Grover
Joseph Mcgee
Karen L Newman
Ken Goldman
Kevin L O’brien
Kevin Macleod
Lisa Cavalear
Lisa Morton
Marcie Lynn Choff
Mari Adkins
Marie Pacha
Mark Boss
Mark Leslie
Mark Tullius
Martin Owton
Matthew Pierce
Mellisa Mead
Michael A. Beoudry
Michael R. Colangelo
Monica J O’rourke
Natalie L. Sin
Paul Freeman
Peadar O Guilan
R. Scott McCoy
Randy Chandler
Rick Taubod
Sally Quilford
Sara Creasy
Sheryl Nantus
Stephen Mark Rainey
Steve Dean
Terrie Leigh Relf
Tim Deal
William Blake Vogel III
William Bulen

"Distractions" which is a cautionary tale about the unquestioning worship that can occur with a bestselling cult-like self-help author's books, first appeared in the World Fantasy Con 2001 CD-Rom anthology edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and was reprinted in One Hand Screaming in 2004. I'm delighted for it to be reprinted in Help! for such a good cause.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Da Count - Licking Your Fingers

A few weeks ago, Alexander and I decided to try out the "super easy" recipe for peanut butter cookies that we'd been reading on the back of the KRAFT peanut butter jar for years. (Yes, that very same "Teddy Bear" KRAFT peanut butter which gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling all over and has done since I was a child)

Having always been one to jump right into the thick of things and be involved in each of the details of a process (one of the best way to learn about things, in my opinion) Alexander quite enjoyed the experience of mixing the ingredients -- which werepretty simple, since all it really involved was KFAFT peanut butter, sugar and an egg. We thought it might be a nice touch to add chocolate chips (me being a big fan of that peanut butter and chocolate medley) and we created the Dad and Alex Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie.

One of the sweetest moments during the making of the cookies was when Alexander paused in mixing the batter to dip his finger into the bowl and lick it, eager to sample what we were making.

It, of course, spoke to me -- not of the urgency of everything when you're a child, but of the simple act of stopping to lick your fingers -- I suppose the phrase is more commonly spoken as "stopping to smell the flowers." The end result is the same, taking a moment to pause and enjoy the moment, revel in the process rather than the destination.

I keep thinking I'm teaching my son things about the world, but all along, he's the one teaching me. That's what I'm counting this week as I pause to savor that knowledge.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

HNT - Buddy Pete

Wow, the combination of a nasty cold and unbelievably busy days and evenings prevents me from creating anything uniquely creative for HNT as well as from visiting my bloggy friends well into the late night hours.

So for this week, I'm simply "liberating" a photo taken by my buddy Greg Roberts of me and pal Pete Mihajic, who holds the honour (or painful distinction) of being the person with whom I've been friends with the longest. The poor guy, suffering through all these years of my friendship and somehow managing not to kill me.

Photo © 2008 by Greg Roberts

And yet, despite toiling through decades of friendship with me, he still manages to find the strength to smile when I try to hug him. :) Good old Pete.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Good Week For Podcast Novels

I was delighted to hear the fantastic news that Terry Fallis, author of THE BEST LAID PLANS, a hilarious and fantastic satirical novel of Canadian politics, was short-listed for The Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. I was delighted to hear this, not just because Terry's novel was one of the best books I read in 2007, but also because of the incredible manner by which Terry got his book into print.

When he first finished writing it, Terry GAVE HIS BOOK AWAY FOR FREE via a podcast feed. Via Chapter by Chapter installments, Terry narrated the novel and posted them for free online so that anybody anywhere in the world could listen to it. And hundreds upon hundreds of people around the world did -- and, like me, they loved the story. Then, in late 2007, the print version of the book was released.

And now, it's short-listed for a very prestigious award. I'm beside myself with excitement over this, and encourage anyone reading this to go Terry's website where you can learn more about the book and follow links to the podcast or where you can purchase the novel online.

And on April 1st, writer Scott Sigler, who has been giving away his novels for the past several years via podcast feeds and has amassed a huge cult following of "Junkies" -- upwards of 30,000 listeners to his novels -- has had his latest novel INFECTED released by Crown Publishing (a division of Random House).

I started reading Scott's novel the other day and am quite enjoying this disturbing and well written thriller, which is a cross between Michael Crichton and Stephen King. I've also listened to the first few chapters of the novel, read by the author, and was swept away with the wonderfully produced audio product. The audio version is done so well, in fact, that I'm tempted to shelve the beautiful hardcover into my collection and continue listening to the audio version instead.

Scott has also pulled out the stops in terms of promotion for his novel -- for example, check out the radical trailer for INFECTED.

Now if that doesn't get you interested in checking out Scott's book, I don't know what might. Scott also put up a short video which not only sets up the novel but provides a nice quick "introduction to Siglerism" and how he got to where he is today. Nicely done and it shows the laid back personality of Scott that I've enjoyed listening to on podcasts for the past few years.

So there, I've given two different examples (both north and south of the 49th parallel) of podcast novels that have recently reached a special kind of critical acclaim in the traditional publishing world. I'm quite excited for both of these guys, and wish both Terry and Scott much success. When great authors like these two succeed by trying new things to get their work out there and into the hearts and minds of readers, we all win!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Earth Hour Post Mortem

Francine and I enjoyed our "lights out" time last Saturday night so much, that we actually kept playing Scrabble in the dark until 10 PM. As planned, she did, indeed kick my ass. She often does, but we had a good time, sitting in the dark, chatting and playing a board game that we both enjoy.

It reminded me of simpler times, of those quiet dark evenings we used to spend sitting out on the back deck and chatting -- it reminded me of camping or of staying at a camp where there is no electricity and of enjoying the company of the person you are with rather than merely sitting beside them with your eyes glued to the idiot box across the room.

And I quite love the romantic atmosphere of a candle-lit room. Of course, since many of the candle-holders we have are skull shaped items, I rather loved the spooky atmosphere it also lent to the room.

It makes me want to do another "Earth Hour" this coming Saturday night after Alexander and Francine are in bed, writing to the glow of a few candle-lit skulls and the soft glow of my battery powered laptop and working on a ghost story into the wee hours of the night . . . or at least until the battery dies out on me.