Thursday, October 30, 2008

HNT - Mark-O'-Lantern

The other night, Francine, Alexander and I had some fun carving a couple of different pumpkins.

Of course, I'm still not sure at what point in the creation the pumpkin goes from being a pumpkin to a Jack-0'-lantern. Is it the moment you first break the "skin" of the pumpkin? The moment you gut it? The moment you make your first complete "hole" in the face of it?

As we were looking through a bunch of different patterns, Alexander insisted we carve the "grim reaper" onto ours. Aren't four year olds supposed to want things like Winnie The Pooh, Bob The Builder or some other cartoonish-type character? I have nobody to blame but myself, I suppose.

Francine went for a creepy looking more traditional look to hers. It was a fun evening.

I always love how the jack-o-lantern looks before you add a candle and turn out the lights. Ho hum, nothing more than a large vegetable all carved up -- but add the candle and turn out the lights and voila it becomes a masterpiece.

Ah, the magic you can produce with simple lighting effects -- it has me fondly remembering those days back in university when I worked as a theatre lightning technician and did various lighting designs for plays.

Happy HNT and Happy Halloween!!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sweet Deal!

WestJet recently announced that it will offer free flights on Halloween for guests with the last names Candy, Orange, Web or Webb, and Sweet.

Guests with those particular surnames will pay applicable taxes and fees only for flights booked before midnight October 30th, 2008, Mountain Time for travel anywhere in Canada on October 31st, 2008. (Return flights will be regular price)

Cool idea.

I'm just curious how they landed on those particular names. And I'm also curious if people with the last name of Pumpkin, Jack or Treat are really ticked that they weren't included.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Long Live The Short Story

Here's a fun and interesting concept that takes full advantage of POD technology.

Let the reader choose from a list of available stories, build their very own custom anthology, click a few buttons and voila, a collection of great tales custom build by the reader.

I love reading short stories -- unfortunately, it's very rare that a magazine or anthology I pick up contains more than a handful of stories I love. It's more common that in any given collection of a dozen or more stories, there are 4 or 5 stories that really stand out and which I love, and the rest seem to not do much at all for me. It's always been that way.

(Okay, AnthologyBuilder, here's your cue)

Enter: AnthologyBuilder. An online archive of available short stories -- reprints from well established magazines such as Asimov's, Analog, Realms of Fantasy and others. To create your very own custom anthology, all a reader needs to do is

1) choose a custom title and cover design (there are a list of available templates)
2) select between 50 and 350 pages of fiction
3) purchase the final product (a 6X 9 trade paperback) for $14.95 - it will be printed and shipped to you within about 1 to 4 weeks.

Pretty nifty.

Nancy Fulda, creator of AnthologyBuilder, explains on her blog that there's been a lot of talk about the short story dying and that it needs to be saved as a literary form. But rather than debate the idea, she says if it is in danger, she'd rather look at what might be done to save or re-define the way it is accessed or read.

Nancy talks about "unpackaging it" from the original format. IE, you no longer need to get 10 stories you don't like along with the 4 or 5 that you love. Why not select the stories YOU want to read together to get optiumum pleasure based on YOUR reading interests rather than the interests of an editor you likely don't share exact interests with?

I love the idea. It's perfect for the "it's all about me" generation that now exists -- the "I want it now and I want it delivered MY way" attitude that persists in our society.

I have started submitting some of my previously published stories to AnthologyBuilder, and I'm quite satisfied with what it offers readers.

My story "Browsers" which originally appeared in Challenging Destiny #5 back in 1999, was reprinted in my story collection ONE HAND SCREAMING in 2004 and also reprinted in the beautiful deluxe smythe sewn black imitation letter limited edition of BOUND FOR EVIL: CURIOUS TALES OF BOOKS GONE BAD earlier this year.

"Browsers" is now also available at My profile is listed here.

I love giving readers the option to access my fiction in many difference ways.

I'm looking forward to getting more of my reprints onto AnthologyBuilder.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

HNT - The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Zander

The other day, Francine picked up a Halloween gingerbread house that Alexander had been wanting us to buy for several weeks now. And on Monday evening when I got home from work, Alexander had been waiting patiently for us to get started on building it.

So, just before supper, we laid out the "foundation" for the house, putting the walls in place and ensuring the icing/glue was dry before proceeding with the rest of the construction.

And, by the time bath time rolled around, the house was completed.

Not a bad job if I do say so myself.

Unfortunately, the house slowing began to crumble while Alexander was upstairs having his bath. Francine called out to me to come down and try to help her put it back together when the roof pieces started sliding (likely from the weight of the black icing covering the roof) - we managed to get it together twice, but then the pumpkins and other candies on the peak collapsed inside, and the house continued to break down.

It reminded me of The Fall of the House of Usher.

I knew Alexander would be absolutely devastated.

So what I did was mention to Alexander that it's not much fun to just look at such a yummy sounding house -- I asked him if he wanted to try eating it (of course, while building the house, Francine had to work hard to keep both Alexander and I from munching on the candy and gingerbread). He was delighted with the prospect, so when we came downstairs, the house was standing with the roof pieces off, and I invited Alexander to take a huge bite from the gingerbread wall.

We each took our turns taking bites and then the fall of the house of Zander wasn't a tragedy but instead a celebration.

Whew. Crisis averted. :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Yeah, I know, it's an awesome book, but this post isn't about the novel The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (which, if you haven't read yet, you should go out and do)

This post is, instead, about my own best laid plans for this morning.

I'm at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the Alberta mountains for a two day business meeting with other retail campus colleagues. Always very productive, inspiring and beneficial meetings.

After a four hour flight then a two and a half hour drive through complete darkness to get here last night, I set my alarm for 5:30 AM so I could get up, deal with some work-related emails and then pop down to the exercise room and work-out.

Of course, when I got to the fitness room (all dressed up nice in the workout clothes I packed and with an mp3 player in hand with a cool audio book from ready to listen to while working out) I discovered it didn't open until 6:30.

I'd planned on working out from 6:00 AM until 6:30 AM -- then heading back to my room, showering and getting dressed for the 7:00 AM breakfast. We roll right from the 7 AM breakfast and into an 8 AM business meeting in a jam-packed day that will end some time after 6 PM this evening.

"No worries," I thought. I had packed winter running clothes figuring I should be able to go run outside if the indoor facilities weren't that good. (And when I say "I packed" what I really mean is that Francine packed -- I'm just an idiot with concepts and ideas -- Francine is the real "doer" in our household; if it weren't for her, I would have arrived here perhaps with the clothes on my back, a laptop and a chocolate bar and maybe a pack of gum. But because of her, I have matching clothes to wear at my meetings -- perfectly labeled so I don't combine the wrong shirt and pants together, along with a set of indoor and outdoor workout clothes -- gotta love her!)

The only problem is that it's still pitch black outside and I have no real idea of the surroundings. Since we got here in the thick dark blackness of night and it's still completely dark out there (my window faces directly onto the mountain and either we had 100 feet of snow while I was sleeping which is now covering my window, or it's still really really dark out there) -- so while there are likely a ton of great jogging and hiking trails here, I'm not quite ready to go get lost in the rocky mountains in the dark with nobody knowing where I farted off to, only to get captured by some forest creature like Bigfoot. (Yes, it's true, I'm not afraid of bears, wolves or other predatory creatures, but rather mythical ones like Bigfoot)

So I came back to my room, figured I'd blog for a few minutes, then shower and get ready for my day.

Perhaps I'll have time to workout this evening after all the work is done.

Of course, I had some writing work I'd been planning on getting to since I'm securely locked in a hotel room with very few distractions . . .

We'll see how that goes. As we all know, my "best laid plans" don't always roll out the way I intend.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Da Count - Freedom To Vote

Voter turnout at this week's recent federal election in Canada was at an all time record-low at 59.1%.

Yes, I know the entire election was unnecessary and a huge waste of taxpayer money, that there were "slim pickins" to choose from and given the fact that the Bloc Quebecois party hogs so many "useless" votes that it's virtually impossible for an actual federal party interested in Canada as a whole (rather than a single province) to obtain a majority government -- but none of that really matters when, at the end of the day, Canadians have a phenomenal freedom in that their vote and their voice matters.

So, rather than ragging on and on about the idiots in our society who likely love to complain yet fail to take even a moment out of their self-important schedules to exercise their demographic right, I want to focus on the positive -- that we live in a free society and have the civic right and privilege to VOTE. Not only that, but we get to choose from 4 different political parties. (Yeah, I know 5 - but as I stated one of them is really only interested in a single province, so many of us across Canada can only choose from 4 major parties, not 5) But still -- we get to choose.

And with counting that privilege, I only hope that my American friends to the south aren't so lethargic as 40% of my fellow Canadians were and get out and vote in the US federal election in November in record numbers.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

HNT - Writer / Bookseller Exposed

On October 15th, Episode 9 of "Getting Published with Mark Leslie" was posted on The Writing Show podcast.

This series of "reality episode" podcasts first started in October of 2006 and was introduced by Writing Show host Paula B with the following words:

Ever wondered what goes on inside the mind of a horror writer? Now's your chance to find out. We'll be following Mark's struggles as he attempts to complete and find an agent for his unpublished novel 'A Canadian Werewolf in New York'.

The work in progress, A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK was originally a 10,000 word short story that my friend Sean Costello convinced me would be worth developing into a novel length work. When I first started on the novel and this series, I'd been planning on spending the month of November 2006 to finish the first draft of the novel.

However, as reality set in and multiple different distractions took me away from being able to focus solely on this novel, this podcast series became as much about the side-trips I've taken as a writer as it has been about finishing ACWWINY.

Episode 9 not only explores the side-activities I have taken as a writer (such as working on other writing projects, both short fiction pieces and non-fiction articles -- both of which I've had some success in finding homes for), but also explores the overwhelming distractions I face from my day job.

In this episode, Paula and I cover the following topics:

  • Revisiting the character Brickie (introduced by Mick Halpin) through a submission about the "Brickie virus" by writer Mark Herbst
  • How I'm still plugging away (very slowly) on ACWWINY
  • A few other short story and non-fiction writing projects I've been working on
  • The unique challenge for a writer of loving your day job so much that it takes more time away from your writing (I'm blessed to have a very satisfying career as a bookseller -- on the flip side, that steals even more time away that could be spent writing)
  • What I believe it takes to be a good bookseller (my completely biased viewpoint) as well as a "Coles Notes" summary of my career in bookselling
  • A detailed discussion about POD (Print on Demand) technology and the Espresso Book Machine from On Demand Books, including how I believe it will change the world of bookselling and what my plans when the Espresso Book Machine arrives in my store at the end of October

This interview is an interesting cross-over between my daytime work as a bookseller as well as my "night time" work as a writer.

Of course, while I try to keep my personal life and my work life somewhat separate, there's no separating the way that passions can collide. But I never expected, when I started in on this series, that I would be talking so much about my work as a bookseller. I find it interesting how this interview segues from writing into bookselling -- but at the end of it all, it's really just a huge "exposure" of two of the largest parts of who I am, and that is why it's the subject of this week's Half Nekkid Thursday post and why I'm posting several of the "episode" pics from this series on The Writing Show this week.

You can download and listen to "Getting Published with Mark Leslie" episode 9 here.

Though that was a wallet in my front pocket I was still quite happy to be at the New York Public Library

Me posing with Yorick (the skull I bring to most of my book signings) at a Chapters in Toronto

I was a teenage chain store zombie.
(No offense to chain store booksellers intended, as I did spend 14
of my 16 years as a bookseller working for Canada's largest chain retailer)

Hamming for the camera with Paul Wilde at the University of Alberta Bookstore
in front of their Espresso Book Machine

Friday, October 10, 2008

Da Count - The Smile On His Face

Last night, Alexander and I went to see Thomas the Tank and Friends Live at Copps Coliseum.

It was a fun show with music, dancing, and of course, Thomas, Percy and Diesel. Two acts, lots of participation required from the kids and, of course, popcorn for Alexander and me.

I must admit that I spent half the show just watching the huge grin on Alexander's face as he watched the action on stage. That was worth ten times the price of admission and the $15 Thomas flash light that they dinged me for at the souvenir table. I'd pay anything to see that beautiful smile.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

HNT - Halloween Is An 11 Month Build-up

Earlier this year (July to try to be exact), we spent a fun afternoon at Science North in Sudbury.

It was a fun day, lots of learning and lots of hands-on activities.

Of course, Alexander and I couldn't resist posing with a skeleton. Sure, we were loving the July weather and having a great summer, but we saw the skeleton as a sign that Halloween was just a few months away.

Francine had to try to talk us out of putting up our Halloween decorations the moment we got home. (Of course, she loves the decorations just as much as us, so it must have been hard for her to play the role of "bad cop" in this particular episode) Societal norms, however, prevailed and we resisted pulling out the decorations for a few months -- but that doesn't mean we aren't still drawn to skeletons and the like . . .

Er, have I mentioned that I'm excited about Halloween coming?

Happy Half-Nekkid Thursday!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Not Spooky Enough, Dad

Oh boy. What have I created?

The other day Alexander and I were doing one of our favourite things: looking at Halloween decorations and costumes. Even though he already has two costumes for this year (one to wear at the pre-kindergarten party during the day and the other to wear when he goes trick-or-treating) he was still looking at different costumes and trying to explain to me that he needed another one.

It reminded me of the kind of thing I continually try to convince Francine. "But hon, I need another Halloween costume. One to wear the day BEFORE Halloween, you know, to properly get in the festive spirit" OR "But hon, I know I already have three cases of beer, but I should really get a keg too, you know, just in case we run out."

So we started looking at costumes.

But for every single one we looked at, including the werewolf, devil and vampire costumes, all pretty darned scary, particularly for a 4 year old to wear, Alexander said: "Nope, not spooky enough, Dad."

I was thinking of suggesting that he dress up as Stephen Harper getting in for another term and announcing yet another cut to arts and culture funding. But that would just be mean.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Creative & Restless Spirits

I created another short promotional video for the upcoming Haunted McMaster Ghost Walk and Author Extravaganza (see all the details about the event here) being held at Titles Bookstore, McMaster University the evening of Friday October 10th.

This one is entitled "Creative & Restless Spirits" and spotlights the 10 featured authors who will be appearing at the event.

If the video isn't showing above click here to view it on YouTube.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Fun For The Cure

Yesterday, Francine again ran in the CIBC Run for the Cure 5 K run in Burlington to benefit the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

This year, she ran with the team of women that she regularly runs with -- they called their team BREAST MATES and were running in support of their team-mate Janice, who is currently undergoing breast cancer treatment. (Janice, showing true survivor spirit, still runs with them regularly despite the difficult and draining treatment side-effects, and participated yesterday as well)

Alexander, of course, insisted that he go on the run with Francine. Every since we bought him new running shoes he has wanted to go running with Francine. Because most of the women on this team ran 18 K on Saturday (the day before), they decided they would walk the 5 K. This made it a perfect opportunity for Alexander to join in the fun.

Although something tells me he had to really hold himself back from putting on a little burst of speed.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Haunted McMaster Video and Poster

I recently slapped together a promotional video for the Haunted McMaster Ghost Walk and Author Extravaganza we're hosting at Titles Bookstore on Friday October 10th at 7 PM.

The trickiest part of creating the video is related to us having so many cool authors coming. There are simply so many different great books to promote, trying to get cover images of each of the author's books into the video without making the video several minutes long was a real challenge.

So instead, I did the "Star Wars" credit listing with the author's name and hope that the "greyscale" pictures of the older buildings (with gargoyles, etc) on campus set the tone properly. I suppose I could do 10 different videos, each one featuring individual authors -- but a guy has got to sleep too, you know.

I've embedded the video in this post, but if it's not popping up, click here to see it on YouTube.

Here are some basic details about the event

WHEN: Friday October 10, 2008 - 7 to 10 PM

: Titles Bookstore, McMaster University (1280 Main Street West, Hamilton - Gilmour Hall, behind the Student Centre and across from the Mills Library). For more info or detailed directions, phone 905-525-9140 X24751

: Titles Bookstore, in conjunction with Haunted Hamilton, will be running a Haunted Campus Ghost Walk and Author Reading event. Haunted Hamilton will be doing FREE guided ghost walks of the McMaster campus which will start and end at the Main Bookstore. Throughout the night, fantastic door prizes will be handed out, such as signed copies of tons of great books, including books from the honoured guests, books from additional authors who will be present that night as well as Brian Keene’s GHOST WALK as well as other of Keene's titles. (Keene's GHOST WALK, BTW is what inspired this event in the first place)

WHO: Authors will be available to sign books the whole time. But here is the schedule of when each of the honoured guest authors will be doing their readings/talks.

* 7:15:00 PM Kelley Armstrong
* 7:30:00 PM John Robert Colombo
* 7:45:00 PM Richard Gavin
* 8:00:00 PM Sèphera Girón
* 8:15:00 PM Marcy Italiano
* 8:30:00 PM Michael Kelly
* 8:45:00 PM Gregory Lamberson
* 9:00:00 PM Gord Rollo
* 9:15:00 PM Simon Stantzas
* 9:30:00 PM Edo van Belkom

HOW MUCH: That's the best part -- the entire evening is FREE.

Oh, here's the slight catch. The authors and bookstore are really hoping you'll be so impressed with the free readings and meeting the authors that you're tempted to buy lots and lots of books. And the good folks at Haunted Hamilton are hoping you like the free ghost walk so much that you'll check out their many different full length ghost walks and other awesome spooky offerings.

Stephanie from Haunted Hamilton created a really cool and sexy poster that I just had to share here as well.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Da Count - McMaster Writer in Residence

On Wednesday, we had the distinct pleasure of welcoming the Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer in Residence for McMaster University, Lawrence Hill for a special lunchtime meet and greet and reading.

Lawrence is not only an incredible writer, but he is also a fascinating speaker and a delightful person. He spoke a bit about writing, about the program and read from his award winning novel The Book of Negroes (which we still have signed copies of). There was a wonderful turn-out for this lunchtime event. We only had room for about 15 chairs, which were filled and there were another dozen or so people standing in the back.

It always warms my heart to see people gathered at a book-related event.

I only wish we could host events like this every day at noon.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

HNT - October Brings Halloween

My whole family loves Halloween. When I got home from work last night, my son was begging us to start getting out all the Halloween decorations. Francine had already replaced the soap pumps in the kitchen and two bathrooms with the spooky Halloween themed ones, and upon Alexander's begging, we started hauling out more of the inside decorations, including the special wine goblets and beer steins.

Got to love this season. Bring on Halloween. (But not too quickly of course, because I always love savouring the fall and the countdown to Halloween)

Cheers! Happy HNT.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

October Is The Best Month

Woo! Hoo! October 1st is here! Which means it is officially okay for me to start breaking out the Halloween decorations.

Okay, the truth is that we started getting out the Halloween decorations a couple weeks ago, but we really only put a few things out and they were inside the house where only Francine, Alexander and I could enjoy them.

But since October is finally upon us, it is socially acceptable for me to start putting those decorations out on the front lawn.

If I had it my way, we'd have our front yard decorated like a graveyard or haunted house all year, slightly changing the themes motifs with the seasons. Just think how much more punch a zombie Santa Claus and 8 skeletal reindeer would add in December. Or instead of the Easter Bunny, the killer bunny from Monty Python's Holy Grail and a lawn strewn with his victims. And for anyone who has read my horror stories involving snow men (or is familiar with the snowman themed cartoons from Calvin & Hobbes), you know I have a bit of a thing for scary snowmen and there's no end to the freaky snowmen displays you can do throughout the winter months.

Then again, the neighbours would likely start to talk.

Maybe it's a good thing I'm only allowed to decorate for Halloween once per year.