Sunday, November 29, 2009

Win My Books Through PoH Podcast

Want a chance to win two of my books?

Listen to the latest episode of Pod of Horror -- a podcast that celebrates the horror genre.

PoH host and producer Mark Justice is including two of my books (CAMPUS CHILLS and ONE HAND SCREAMING) in this episode's Tomb of Trivia giveaway. The Tomb of Trivia appears near the end of each podcast where Justice spouts out the final line from a horror novel. To win you simply need to email him the correct answer (ie the name of the novel and the name of the author) The winner will be drawn from all the correct answers.

Winner* to Episode #57's Tomb of Trivia question will win:

- A review copy of INVISIBLE FENCES by Norman Prentiss (courtesy of Cemetery Dance)
- URBAN GOTHIC by Brian Keene by Bloodletting Press
- CAMPUS CHILLS (edited by Mark Leslie) - signed by Kelley Armstrong, Kimberly Foottit, Sephera Giron, Michael Kelly, Edo van Belkom and Mark Leslie
- ONE HAND SCREAMING by Mark Leslie)

* (Please note that winners will be limited to those listeners in the United States)

The Tomb of Trivia comes in at about 1 hour 46 minutes into the podcast -- but if you're a horror fan, then you'll want to listen to the whole thing. Episode #57 also has the Call of Kalanta (in with Mark and Nancy Kalanta talk about recent and forthcoming horror releases and horror news) as well as Edward Lee talking about the differences between his mass market and small press fiction. Mike Oliveri talks about how The Pack will roam the world of prose fiction and graphc novels. Michael Vance discusses the pulp influences that went into the writing of Weird Horror Tales.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I've only been using Twitter now for a handful of months. After putting it off for a couple of years, I started in late winter/early spring of 2009.

Oh, and just a brief note about what Twitter is, on the off chance that someone reading this isn't familiar with it -- Twitter is a free social networking service allowing users to put out text-based messages of no longer than 140 characters that others can subscribe to. It is similar to blogging and is often referred to as micro-blogging. (For a lot more details about Twitter, here's the Wiki entry)

This might have been one of my first tweets (March 15, 2009):

Wonders if I do the EXACT same message for both Facebook and Twitter, is that like having an affair?

Of course, I'm not sure if all my tweets have been archived or not, but it certainly feels like one of my first tentative ventures into the land of Twitter.

I've stumbled my way around the Twitter landscape now for a while and while I'm far from a proficient or experienced user, I thought I'd share how I like to use it as well as my own version of Twitterquette (or Twitter etiquette)

First, I have two accounts. One is a personal one - Mark Leslie. The other is a work-based one I share with a co-worker at Titles Bookstore. Given that I'm passionate about books and bookselling etc there's a huge crossover between my personal posts and posts from the store. However, I do try to keep the posts from the work related account on target in terms of things that might be of interest to the McMaster community (particularly those interested in bookish things)

And that leads to how I use Twitter. For the sake of simplicity, I'll stick to my personal account, since that's the one I use 90% of the time.

Here are the types of tweets I send:
  • Items of interest (blog posts, articles, etc that I consider worth a look)
  • Humorous observations/anecdotes
  • Updates on my writing activities/appearances/etc
  • Goofy, silly comments

When I tweet, I try to consider the amount of noise out there and before I submit something I wonder if it's really worth crowding up someone else's Twitter feed. So I don't tweet everything that comes into my mind or every single thought I have in a day. I try to stick to a self-filter of only the most interesting. Is that the right way to use it? Well, it works for me. It's my version of "do unto others."

Some things that annoy me with Twitter are users who DO seems to tweet every single thing that comes to their mind, and don't seem to apply any sort of filter on what they're tweeting. I'm not saying that's wrong -- there are no right and wrong ways to use Twitter (and I'm far from an expert) -- but the way I approach it is the way I approach a that babble-mouth who never shuts up or lets anyone else get a word in during a conversation. I avoid speaking with them, or I stop following them.

Does this mean I expect every single tweet to be great? Is every single thing a person says gold? No. Why should Twitter be any different? But, given the unique nature of this social media platform, there is the ability for users to apply at least some thought before they "publish."

Another thing that annoys me about Twitter are those who seem to be out there MERELY to try to amass the most followers. These are the folks who follow you only in the hope that you'll follow back. Then, if you don't follow back after a few days, they drop you. Strange behaviour in my mind, and I wonder if these people actually understand that Twitter is a community, not a potential fan-club.

There's so much noise and so much content on Twitter that I try to only follow tweets that are of interest to me. So, usually when someone follows me, if I don't already know them (and if I have time), I'll go check out their Twitter page and scan through the most recent 5 posts they've sent out. I make a decision based on those 5 posts.

1) Do they have ANY info about themselves in their profile? A website link?
2) Are the posts interesting/entertaining/useful to me?

3) Are the posts coming out like machine-gun fire?
So if I answer YES to the first question (which is, to me, a measure of whether or not this is a "real" person or some blatant spam account or perhaps just some amateurish marketing attempt for attention -- if you're a writer, or blogger or bookseller or whatever, simply say so - it helps give me an idea of who you are and what you might offer to my experience in the Twittersphere.). If I answer YES to the second question, I seriously consider the 3rd one. Does this person send an update every 5 minutes? If so, then it might negate the effectiveness of the first question. Too much of a good thing isn't so good or useful to me.

I HAVE tried various filters and ways of honing in on my "favourite" tweeters, but I'm not fond of any of them so far. First, I don't always know from the get-go who will end up on that list, and maintaining yet ANOTHER list is something that just eats up more time. There might be a blogger I follow in RSS whose posts are phenomenal, but whose tweets leave me flat and dry. Or a writer I admire who, similarly, should stick to novels and stories rather than 140 character updates. Also, I question filtering. If I'm not going to pay attention to your tweets, then why the hell should I even pretend by following you then just ignoring the stuff you're saying? I'd rather not bother including you just to filter you out.

One of the great things about Twitter is the serendipitous nature of it. I want to follow as many interesting people/entitities as possible -- but not at the expense of creating so much noise that I can't get any use out of it. So while I know I'm not getting everything because I'm sure there are thousands of others out there that I'm likely to get great info/content from, it's simply a matter of not being able to properly digest it all.

The main way I add new people to follow is through retweets that others send out. If someone I'm following retweets something, and that something intrigues or interests me, I will check out the original poster and run through the same 2 questions, then follow them or not.

What I haven't done in a while is go through to see who is following me whom I might like to follow back. My apologies for anyone following me who I haven't followed back -- perhaps I'm seen as rude, but in all honesty, if I didn't get a chance to click on your profile and check out your posts, I might have just missed the chance. Hopefully the chance for me to check you out will return through another way. And if I did check out your profile but didn't follow you, please don't take it personally. It's like books. There are hundreds of fantastic books published each year that I haven't read and might not ever get to. Not that I don't want to check them out -- just that I haven't been able to get around to it yet.

So while I think things like Follow Friday (#FollowFriday) are interesting, I don't find them particularly useful. Sure, the community spirit of sharing is there and I truly admire that, but I question the usefulness of it. Users simply toss out names of people they follow in a large list. That's nice, but there's no substance to it. It doesn't speak to WHY do you follow them? WHAT about them is interesting, and to what type of person? If you're following a person because they send really cool updates about crocheting, but I'm not interested in crochet, there's not much use there for me. So I tend to look at other things such as retweets to find people I'm interested in following.

One thing I've learned is that there are way too many tweets out there that I'm going to find interesting than I'll ever have time to absorb. But really, that's no different from being at a party or conference where there are dozens of interesting conversations going on at the same time and you can't be involved in all of them at the same time.

If I'm not connected or following and I miss 100 great posts, so be it. It doesn't bother me. It's no different than if I step out to the restroom and miss a few minutes of great conversation. I have enough faith in my friends that if something REALLY interesting happened while I wasn't paying attention or had stepped out, that they'll relay it to me later.

And THAT, more than anything has allowed me to use Twitter to connect, send updates and receive interesting information from others without getting all stressed out about it

How do you use Twitter?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

HNT - Sonny

HNT, being a weekly celebration of exposure, is supposed to include a picture of yourself. But I have found that sometimes it warrants a "special guest" -- and this week's celebration of exposure does reveal a bit about me (as will be explained), but is also an exposure of my grief.

Francine's cousin Santo Amalfi (whom many of us called Sonny) died suddenly last Friday November 20, 2009 of a massive heart attack. He woke in the early morning with chest pains and did the exact thing you're supposed to. He went straight to the hospital. So, when it happened, he was in the best possible place to be to have a heart attack. But despite their best efforts, they weren't able to save him.

It was absolutely shocking and devastating to think that Sonny, who just celebrated his 40th birthday in September, was suddenly and tragically no longer with us.

Sonny leaves behind two young children, a wonderful loving wife, three very close sisters and a group of family and friends as large as his gigantic heart.

Memories of getting together with family at various gatherings over the years always included tales of Francine, her brothers and their four cousins getting into various kinds of mischief when they were children. Sonny could be quiet at these gatherings, often just sitting back and listening to one of his sisters or cousins recounting humorous stories about him, so I didn't always directly see his playful and mischievous spirit; but I have been privy to countless tales and intimately knew his bright and infectious grin and his wonderfully contagious laugh.

As we all gathered together in our grief and discussed celebrating the good spirit of Sonny and his "no-bull" attitude about enjoying life to the fullest, we started gathering photos to include in a music slide-show for the funeral home visitation. I set about scanning them and putting them to music.

For the three song set, I included two standard and fitting songs. Sarah McLachlin's "I Will Remember You" And Louie Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World." For the third song, given Sonny's affinity for fishing, I chose Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her" which is a tale about an avid fisherman being given an ultimatum from his wife that it's either the fishing or her.

For that video, I used dozens of pictures of Sonny fishing and hanging out with his outdoorsman buddies. In one sequence of shots Sonny is walking with two buddies and in typical Sonny fashion, moons the camera in a subtle way. So there's a shot of the three walking away, Sonny's butt hanging out -- then the next of him with his pants back up and laughing his special mischievous laugh. It was a perfect Sonny moment, which I knew many people would recognize.

But at the last minute, I pulled it out of the video, fearing it might offend some people. (Me, I'm not so brave and bold as Sonny was) But in any case, I thought this HNT would be fitting to include Sonny's "moon" shot as well as the video.

You could always rely on Sonny for either a laugh or to be there when you needed him. One friend wonderfully described him as a family man, a fisherman and a true friend.

At the funeral home visitations on Tuesday, there were endless lineups out the door of the hundreds upon hundred of people who wanted to pay their respects. In fact, at the end of the afternoon showing, which had already gone overtime for an hour, there was still a lineup that had to unfortunately be asked to return at 6 PM for the evening visitation in order to give the exhausted family a bit of a break. Similarly, the chapel was packed beyond capacity at his funeral and burial service on Wednesday. What further evidence of the incredible reach and effect he had on so many lives?

As one of his friends said: "He may have been small, but he had the heart of a giant."

We miss you, Sonny. Godspeed and let's hope the fish are biting good in heaven.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I, Storyteller

I have recently started to slowly chip away at the look of my blog, figuring it's time for a few "home improvements" around here. No major renovation or face-lift, but just some tweaks to clear out some boxes that have been kicking around unused for a while and a good dusting of the cobwebs.

I'm starting at the "top" of the blog and eventually working my way down the very crowded right nav side-bar.

A few weeks ago I revised the header blurb. Just updated it from a "this blog is new" sort of feel to more of a "this blog has been around the block a few times" feel -- nothing much else.

I also removed a banner from the header that has been there since 2006.

My "I, Death" banner.

Sad to see it go, but man, it's been 3 years since that adventure in storytelling. I suppose I've been reluctant to remove it, particularly since it took me a while to figure out how to generate a "moving" gif for it.

But what a fun adventure it was.

I took a 1700 word story that I wrote back in high school and converted it into a "live" novella length tale told through the main character's blog.

With the story being told in real time as if Peter O'Mallick, a young man who discovers he was born with a bizarre "death curse" were a real person blogging, all I really knew when I began was that the story was going to end about 6 months later and in a specific way. I started it on January 18, 2006 and the final post was Oct 24, 2006, so I ended up stretching the tale into 10 months, partly because so many other plot elements ended up getting added to the story along the way that I had to wrap them up before the story could conclude.

Here's the first post:

It’s over. I can’t believe it. Sarah won’t speak to me. It’s as if she blames me for her father’s death sentence.

I can’t say it’s a new feeling, though. It’s like all my life death has consumed the people in my life. First my parents, then my best friend, now Sarah’s dad.

I’ve been where Sarah is now, but she won’t let me help her -- hell, she’s not even talking to me.
Ever since her father announced to the family that he had an inoperable cancer so far advanced that the doctors were giving him a 50-50 chance of living beyond one more month, she stopped talking to me, refused to see me and ignores my phone calls

It’s been four weeks now. Four long, painful, horrible weeks. I think I’m going to die. I wish I was dead, actually, like so many of the people I’ve cared about.

Our school’s guidance counselor suggested that I start this blog in order to try dealing with it.

So here I am, typing, trying to come to terms with it. But I don’t want to write about how I feel -- I keep stopping and just sit here smashing my fingers down on the keyboard. I want to smash my fists down on the keyboard. I want to break something, smash something, throw my computer monitor through the fucking window.

This is bullshit.

I even tried audio-posting the first few posts in my "Prelude to A Scream" podcast. You can listen to this post and the next few (slightly edited from written blog to audio-blog format) here.

The story begins with a love-sick Peter O'Mallick harping on about his girlfriend refusing to speak with him. Once he begins using the blog as therapy to deal with this stress and some other stresses in his life, he starts revealing more details about why he believes he is cursed, and the reader begins to see a pattern emerging which support his belief.

Throughout the posts written between January 18, 2006 and October 24, 2006 there were lots of characters, plot twists and sub-plots that I never originally anticipated. And THAT was one of the cool things about writing a "live" story in that fashion.

One of the other really interesting things for me as a writer was that I had people leaving comments (some real people who I emailed to ensure they knew Peter was fictional, and some friends and other bloggers who were playing along entirely unscripted) -- not knowing what the comments were going to be, I actually had Peter react to some of them.

In fact, there was a "sort-of" scripted moment when, for a fund-raiser for Hamilton Literacy Council, I auctioned off a chance for someone to be killed off by Peter O'Mallick's death curse. For that, the "winner" participated by agreeing to begin taunting Peter in comments left on the blog. That was about the extent of it -- I told the winner (a blogger who happens to be named Pete who is now a buddy of mine) that his death would involve a camera (he's a photographer) and what day it would happen. Other than that, the whole death and taunting was ad lib.

Peter reacted to the negative comments, which got pretty ugly, and then had the following dream about his death. The next day, Peter realizes it actually happened when he sees a post about the other blogger actually dying -- he killed someone through the internet.

The whole experience of rolling out a story in real time in this fashion and reacting to input from readers as the story was unfolding was a lot of fun. It was a neat blend of writing and improv. I'd love to try it again some day, though, admittedly, it took a great deal of effort and work.

I'm actually surprised more writers haven't tried something similar -- the ability to tell a story in real-time and allow the readers to help the tale unravel and potentially affect the direction the story ends is fascinating to me.

I have since written the sequel to this novella and have attempted to package it into a novel-length work with the first third being a slightly revised version of the blog (to protect the innocence of the real commenters, for example), and the next two thirds to be what happens next.

In any case, I've removed the header banner from my blog, but am leaving the story up there. It's pretty much a first draft, which is kind of a scary thing to be putting online. (I usually never submit a story to an editor without having first re-written it half a dozen times) But for a first draft it's not all that bad, if I can say so myself. And I'm rather proud of the intriguing and twisting tale I was able to spin in that "first draft" release of the tale.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Testing Amazon Affiliate Carousel

Please excuse me while I test out the Amazon Affiliate Carousel...

Just a small selection of titles that include my work or are ones I highly recommend (like anything written by Sean Costello)

Okay, that was a fun test.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One, Two, Three, Four - Monsters Walking Cross The Floor

My son and I just watched Feist's appearance on Sesame Street doing a parody version of her most popular song.

Absolutely brilliant with such cute re-adapted lyrics as: "One, two, three, four, monsters walking 'cross the floor" and "One, two, three, four, chickens just back from the shore." I love it.

"Are you counting, counting with me?
One less than five; one more than three."

Can you tell I'm proud to be part of The Sesame Street Generation, as my blogger buddy Lime stated so brilliantly a few weeks ago?

Here is the video on YouTube.

Digital Sheep

Here's a ten minute keynote speech at Web 2 Expo delivered by Chris Brogan, author of Trust Agents.

This is a wonderfully short and useful talk about social media. I particularly enjoyed the one question Brogan asked which seemed to not get the response intended. "What is more sad than making digital sheep?" Perfectly stated, I thought. It's a beautiful play on words and reference to Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with it's human-looking and human acting androids without empathy or feelings. It so perfectly captures the way that some companies and marketing efforts are using Twitter and other social media in a non-personal and non-humanity level sort of way.

Here are some other great key point that Brogan makes:

- "You should be listening far more than you should be worrying about what to say." [Which is pretty cool to consider that what's important in face to face conversation is ALSO important in social networking dialogues]

- And quoting from Emerson, says: "Go where there is no path and leave a trail."

Check it out, and if you gain something from it, you'll likely want to check out the book Trust Agents, which I quite enjoyed and learned a lot from.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Here Comes An Interesting Concept

Here's an interesting article by Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody.

Shirky makes some very astute observations about the nature of change, particularly driving home change and how it has affected physical bookstores. He makes some points that I'm certainly some booksellers would find offensive, but he definitely offers some good food for thought on the value, particularly the social value of the local bookstore.

"The local bookstore creates all kinds of value for its community, whether its providing community bulletin boards, putting rocking chairs in the kids section, hosting book readings, or putting benches out in front of the store. Local writers, harried parents, couples on dates, all get value from a store’s existence as a inviting physical location, value separate from its existence as a transactional warehouse for books."
- excerpt from Local Bookstores, Social Hubs & Mutualization by Clay Shirky

That's just a fun teaser blurb.

Go read Shirky's full article. It's definitely worth a read and definitely worth applying some further thought to.

52 Books

I recently finished listening to Six Pixels of Separation Podcast 176 (also Media Hacks #19) -- this episode is a conversation between Mitch Joel and Julian Smith (authors of Six Pixels of Separation, and Trust Agents -- two great books I read this year)

There are many moments in the conversation that are NSFW, mostly because Julian has a tendency be prolific with the use of four letter words -- that's just his style -- but, as always, there are some very thought-provoking concepts tossed about between the two of them.

One of the cooler things in the dialogue was Julian's mention of the 52 book challenge that he has taken for the past several years. Simply, his desire was to read a book a week for a year, and he talks about his continued attempts to do so.

That's just plain cool.

A couple of years ago, I tried to figure out how many books I actually read in a year and so kept a quick and simple journal of the books I'd read, the date I finished reading them and any thoughts I felt were relevant to jot down. It has been useful to look back on the list, particularly whenever people ask me to note a favourite -- this simple list helps fire off memory triggers.

Though I'm a gigantic book lover, I'm also a very slow reader. So my average annual book count ranges between 30 and 40 books per year. Not quite the 52 that Julian was shooting for, but something that I believe is a decent number, particularly for this slow reader.

One interesting point -- annually, I might read about 40 books per year. But annually I buy about three to four times as many (of course, those include books I buy as gifts, but could explain why my "to read" pile is so high that I often don't actually pick up and read a book I bought until several years later.

A decent problem to have, I suppose.

Weathering The Digital Storm

The editors of The Mark did a phone interview with me the other day asking me pointed questions regarding the subject of my article "The Future of Publishing is Here" and embedded a wonderful montage of audio clips about my speculation of the effect that the digital landscape might have on the book industry.

They did a wonderful job of encapsulating a 10 minute conversation into a juicy little 2 minute chunk in which I make some pretty bold statements about how I see digital actually benefiting the book industry rather than destroying it. Being the avid book lover, I, of course, couldn't help slipping in the mention of two books -- Chris Anderson's book Free: The Future of a Radical Price as well as one of my favourite new authors, Terry Fallis and his book The Best Laid Plans.

The audio clip opens with me saying: "Digital is here to stay, but that doesn't not necessarily mean books are gone," and going on from there to speculate about the huge potential the book industry is facing. Notice that I say potential and not Apocalypse.

The embedded audio player appears near the top of the article -- go have a listen if you can stand listening to my optimistic viewpoints.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

HNT - iPhone Pics

Got an iPhone 3GS this week.

Thought my Palm Treo was useful and easy to use, but this iPhone is really something else.

Simple. Easy. Cool.

Could go on for days talking about it, but I'm still in discovery model, overwhelmed with all the great features.

For now, just going to post a picture of Alexander and I at bed-time. During the time we normally read, we used my iPhone to pay with some Disney apps and watch short cartoons. We won't make that a habit because we both love reading regular fun kids books for our nightly storytime, but it was still pretty darn cool.

The pictures the iPhone normally takes are clear and crisp and wonderful -- these are a bit blurry because they're the first and so far only self-pics I've taken on the iPhone - I was still trying to figure out how to hold it for a self-pic.

(Last week's HNT was taken on my Palm Treo -- admittedly, that pic is nicer, but the "trigger" on my Palm was easier to get to for a self-pic)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Lost Children of Academia

"The lost children of academia." It sounds like the tagline for a cheesy b-grade movie about spirits haunting a hundred-year-old campus building and picking off tenured faculty one by one.
But it's a reality I've slowed uncovered since first moving from the "trade" side of book retailing and into an academic/campus retail environment.

- From my article in Canadian Bookseller magazine Volume 4 - 2009

That's how my latest article in Canadian Bookseller magazine opens and is a subject that has been milling around in my head for several years now. In 2006 I was an "outsider" to the campus side of book retailing, and though I came with plenty of years of bookselling experience, I was to discover there's a whole new world of bookselling out there with regards to the campus experience.

And I don't just mean the backwards and twisted world of textbooks. That's a whole different ballgame and I'm not going to go there no lest I get all sidetracked and on my "this needs to be changed" soapbox.

Just focusing on the general books or "trade" book side of the business, it's still an interestingly different game, particularly since trade booksellers in campus stores have three main audiences to attempt to please: faculty, campus staff and students.

Talk about a broad spectrum.

Talk about huge challenges for the booksellers on campus.

But talk about opportunity.

My article looks at the differences, but more importantly, looks at the similarities between campus booksellers and other independent and chain bookstores out there and attempts to help campus booksellers recognize their strengths and benefit from networking opportunities and resources that exist for them.

If you don't already read Canadian Bookseller magazine and you're a bookseller, you should. The latest issue not only has this article I wrote, but plenty of great content geared specifically for booksellers and book nerds in Canada. Not that it wouldn't interest people outside our great country, but it is geared towards bookselling north of the 49th parallel.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

About The Mark

No, I'm not like that freaky character in Seinfeld who refers to himself in third person as "The Mark" -- I'm talking about Canada's daily online forum for news, commentary and debate . . .

The Mark - News & Perspectives Daily

I was recently asked to submit articles to The Mark -- they recruit contributors using two criteria: professional credibility and a connection to Canada.

What I like about the articles on this online news digest/forum is that they are less than 1000 words and are relatively digestible chunks of thought and perspective for today's reader.

My first article is called The Future of Publishing is Here and it debuted yesterday.

The "summary" phrase for the article is: Print on demand supplies books almost instantly while lowering costs, allowing local bookstores to compete with the Amazons of the world.

I could describe what this essay is about, but it's only 700 words -- you might as well just go read it yourself.

Here's my author bio page on The Mark. For it, they used a photo that my buddy and talented photographer Greg Roberts took several years ago when I was in need of some serious "author" pictures.

Photo by Greg Roberts

The photo was taken on Hamilton Mountain in the spring of 2004 (I believe) on the side of the road near the West Fifth mountain access. I think it's cool that in the background you can see McMaster University, where I now spend a good deal of my time.

And since much of what I'll be writing about in my articles for The Mark will be based on my real-world experience as a bookseller rather than pulled from the eerie depths of my imagination and fears, I've opted to write under my full name Mark Leslie Lefebvre rather than the pseudonym of Mark Leslie which I adopt for my fiction.

It at least helps ME keep the non-fiction straight from the fiction pieces.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Types Of Writing Satisfaction

I have found that there are two main types of writing satisfaction for me.

One is the act of finishing actually composing something in words. IE, either finishing the first draft of a story or article for the first time, or if not at that point, then the moment when you have finally finished the last re-write and are satisfied with the piece you have written.

The other type of satisfaction is actually submitting the work to a market. This usually occurs after having researched a market and finding the perfect home for your piece. There's a real sense of completion at that point which is different than the sense of completion you get when you actually create a story or article. (Note on this -- about half the time I write something first, then try to find a home for it, and the other half of the time, I know the home the writing is intended for and I write the piece with that market in mind) But regardless of which way I do it, there's still a degree of satisfaction with actually submitting the pieces.

It reminds me of a quote I saw last week on Twitter attribted to Greg Daugherty and which I quite liked.

"Rejected pieces aren't failures; unwritten pieces are."
- Greg Daugherty
I'll take the concept and modify it a bit to get to the second level of satisfaction and offer the following:

"Rejected pieces aren't failures; unsubmitted pieces are."

I know it might sound strange, but my "writing time" is spent within these two main chunks of time. Writing and Submitting. There are various levels of satisfaction related to each. But they definitely compliment one another.

Of course, now that I think about it, there are two other types of satisfaction related to the latter stages in writing -- they would be the satisfaction of making the sale, or having the work accepted by an editor and then the satisfaction of actually seeing the work "in print." I use the traditional "in print" phrase regardless of whether or not the work actually appears on a printed piece of paper, particularly given the fact that there are many electronic or online markets for writing lately and that in the last year, 3 of the 10 writing sales I made were to online markets.

Of course, another interesting factor related to the satisfaction is how each level of satisfaction builds upon the previous. There's an interesting sense of milestone accomplishment at each stage.


None of the later stages, of course, mean as much without the previous ones.

And while the satisfaction of the later stages can be large, they don't come without a huge degree of work and effort at the beginning. I'm trying to determine if the effort of work in the WRITING and SUBMISSION phase makes the level of satisfaction in the ACCEPTANCE and PUBLICATION phases any greater. And in all honesty, while it is VERY satisfying to have something I worked really hard at published, there are plenty of pieces of writing that I didn't spend much time on that I'm just as satisfied with when they got published.

Similarly, there are stories I had accepted the first time I sent them out and other stories that took half a full dozen cycles of submission to get into print. The satisfaction comes, I believe, in finding the "match" between story and editor.

And on a similar note, while the stages can build upon one another, because of the representation of more work and more effort, the later stages can also mean nothing without the work.

That is to say that, if, for some bizarre reason, I had something published that I didn't actually write (ie, perhaps been given credit for something I didn't do), it wouldn't have ANY meaning to me. Or if I wrote a bit of fluff that was published without actually being accepted, it doesn't mean as much (ie, this blog post didn't have to be vetted by an editor before it was published, so while there is satisfaction in the writing and submission of it, there's limited joy in the publication of it because there was no hurdle to overcome to make it to publication . . .

. . . of course, on that note, when it comes to writing that isn't vetted by a third party, such as blog posts, podcasts, etc where I can simply PUSH my content out to the world without having first had to convince an editor it was worthy of being shared, the satisfaction might come not from having achieved publication, but rather from acceptance of readers (ie, either the fact that the writing HAS actually been read and potentially commented on, etc)

That inverts my process a bit perhaps to something like this:


Hmm, and if you can't tell that this post (like most of my blog posts) is a rough draft that I simply compose then push out, then let it be known that I'm working out this simple concept as I write it, because I just realized that I completely forgot the 5th level of satisfaction from this writer's perspective. The CONSUMPTION and reaction of readers. I'll call this level REVIEW because it's shorter, even thought it doesn't necesarrily mean a "review" in the traditional sense of a "book review", but rather the fact that the writing is reviewed or consumed and potentially reacted upon. Again, it might be a traditional "review" or merely comments made by readers, or even the knowledge that it is being consumed (in the case of number of copies sold, number of times something is downloaded, subscribed to, etc)

So here are the 5 levels of satisfaction I have stumbled into through this meandering "first draft."


Hmm. I might be on to something here. In any case, I'm satisfied with having toyed with these concepts and written something that I believe has at least a bit of merit. (This post has been a great warm-up writing exercise for an article that I plan on working on for a traditional market for my work) While I don't gain much satisfaction from the submission or publication process (hitting "PUBLISH POST" is easy and publication is instant, I might perhaps gain some satisfaction if this post inspires comments or reaction from readers)

So to that effect, to all the writers out there, let me know your thoughts. Am I being too simple? Too complex? What do you think? Similarly, readers -- what are your thoughts about this POV of the process from one writer?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Know The Title Or The Author? Cool.

I've been a bookseller for almost two decades now. One of the most challenging (and yet most fun) aspect of being a bookseller is when a customer comes in and knows just a tiny bit about the book they're looking for. IE, they know part of the title or author's name or perhaps just the colour of the book or the fact that the author was on CBC radio or Oprah just a few days ago and a basic concept of what the book is about.

Putting your investigative bookseller hat on and doing your best to find that customer's book is one of the truly absolutely joys of bookselling.

Sure, you can approach it with frustration and get angry with the customer for being ill-prepared. But seriously, it's simple when a customer comes in and asks for the new Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer book -- no challenge there, no use of actual brain power or real bookselling skills. Your average big box warehouse or WalMart with extremely limited book knowledge can do that. And yes, I love being able to answer the easy questions, but I also quite enjoy the fun challenge of helping turn the lost and confused customer into one who leaves my store satisfied and with more knowledge and perhaps even the book they came in asking about in hand.

That's why I loved Josh Christie's recent blog post No Title? No Author? No Problem!

Back in the early days the challenge was a bit more difficult. I have evolved over the years into using Google to help me with such requests now, as well as various industry resources such as lists offered by Ingram and Bowker, etc. But Josh offers a truly wonderful resource on his blog, crediting Saikat Basu of in this post and points customers to it as a very useful reference.

Something else I like to do is keep a handy list of other booksellers within a 1 hour drive of my store, particularly specialty retailers -- and rather than have the customer leave without any answer, I provide them with contact information for another local bookseller that I believe might be able to help them. For example, if I determine that the book they were searching for is out of print and I don't have it listed as available through my in-store Espresso Book Machine, I send them to a local used bookstore -- if the book is a business title, I send them to a local bookstore that specializes in business books.

That way, the customer can at least have left my store with a few good leads, which might be more than what they came in with.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

HNT - Christmas (Lights) Came Early This Year

With the weather this past weekend having been in the high teens on both Saturday and Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to climb up on the roof and get the Christmas lights and decorations up.

It sure beat last year when I was trying to scramble along the patches of snow and ice on the roof to get the job done.

The day's events began as all good Saturday mornings, should -- my son and I taking a trip over to Canadian Tire, where we acquired a few "must have" essentials for our day's work. The Christmas wreath behind me is one of the items we picked up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Take Two Minutes, Would You Mind

Here's a wonderful video by Terry Kelly. Beautiful and touching. Don't forget to take two minutes of time today to remember. It's a pittance of time.

Below is the accompanying blurb from the video on YouTube.

On November 11, 1999 Terry Kelly was in a drug store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 AM an announcement came over the stores PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.

Terry was impressed with the stores leadership role in adopting the Legions two minutes of silence initiative. He felt that the stores contribution of educating the public to the importance of remembering was commendable.

When eleven oclock arrived on that day, an announcement was again made asking for the two minutes of silence to commence. All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect.

Terrys anger towards the father for trying to engage the stores clerk in conversation and for setting a bad example for his child was channeled into a beautiful piece of work called, A Pittance of Time. Terry later recorded A Pittance of Time and included it on his full-length music CD, The Power of the Dream.

Thank You to the Royal Canadian Legion Todmorden Branch #10 and Woodbine Height Branch #2 for their participation in the Video.

Please visit

Prelude To A Scream - Episode 09

I just posted the latest episode (Episode 09) of my Prelude To A Scream podcast.

This particular episode features my short story "Browsers" which is a "haunted" bookstore tale inspired by a real-world encounter I had with a bizarre little corner bookstore upon one of my first visits to Hamilton. "Browsers" was first published in Challenging Destiny #5 in 1999 and was reprinted in my book One Hand Screaming in 2004.

Here's the opening bit from the story....

STEPPING INTO a used book shop is sometimes like stepping into
another dimension. Where else but a used book store can one find
such an eclectic selection of minds and experiences stored in dusty
tomes, just waiting to be browsed through by anyone who happens

Occasionally a used book shop can be a painful experience,
offering up nothing more than the latest trashy paperbacks and adult
porn magazines.

But sometimes . . .

Sometimes a used book store can provide, to the avid browser, a
mystical experience. Sometimes, walking through that door, you are
overwhelmed with a sense of awe, a sense that something powerful is
being housed within the very walls.

I discovered such a wondrous shop years ago on the corner of
two streets whose names I cannot remember in one of those pseudocities
on the south western edge of the Golden Horseshoe.


If this whets your appetite for the tale, you can read even further into the tale online.

But why not just make it easy on yourself and download to or listen to the full audio version of the story?

And here are some of the reviews of "Browsers" that have appeared over the years.

"Anyone who reads much short fiction in the small press fantasy and science fiction magazines knows that the style and form of the old Twilight Zone is still very much alive among writers. 'Browsers' by Mark Leslie, is a good example. A low-key horror story, it uses the time honored method of introducing a character in an ordinary situation, in this case a customer in a used bookstore, and slowly trapping that character in a form of hell. Readers who have enjoyed the experience of losing themselves among the stacks of books in an old musty store will identiy with, and appreciate, this story." -- Greg L. Johnson, Tangent Online

". . . a worthy effect and a good read." -- Jim Bennett, NEW HOPE INTERNATIONAL REVIEW

"Originality is decidedly rare in horror. Invention is even more rare in horror fiction, thus a sigh of relief at Leslie's 'Browsers'" -- Mick Halpin,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Alternative Review of Anderson's FREE

A few months back I posted a long, detailed review of my thoughts after having read Chris Anderson's book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Shortly after I posted my review, my friend, Paula B of The Writing Show blog and podcast commented that she had a very different experience with the book and would also be reviewing it.

Paula recently did her review in podcast form. Click here to check out the review -- the full text is posted on the blog, or you can download the mp3 or listen to it online.

I have long been a fan of Paula's podcasts, and I really like her voice and style, so I preferred to listen to it. (Besides, it's easier listening to a podcast while driving -- police officers tend to frown upon me trying to read while I'm zooming down the highway)

The first thing you'll notice is that Paula and I had quite different reactions to the book.

I like that.

Because in two "writer" types (and similar writer types I might add, if I'm allowed to compliment myself by comparing Paula and I), you get almost completely opposing viewpoints of a single book -- that alone has to be interesting in and of itself.

Further, I wish she lived closer so that I could get a chance to sit down over a coffee (or two or three) and engage in a healthy debate and discussion about our differing viewpoints. But, as it stands, that's not possible, which is too bad. At least we can engage in our discussions via Skype, email and other social media comments.

The running time for the podcast is just under 40 minutes. That should tell you something about the amount of effort and detail that went into it. And that's exactly what you get in Paula's review. She doesn't just gloss over the surface of the book, doesn't just touch upon particular points, but she engages in a thoughtful analysis of some of the things that she liked and disliked about the book.

I found Paula's review immediately fascinating and I quite admire the method by which she goes through and discusses particular comments and contradictions she found in Anderson's writing. Her review and analysis certainly made me think and though I might not see things from the same viewpoint, I can definitely appreciate where she is coming from and why she was challenged by some of the statements Anderson makes.

Of course, if you read my review, then read or listen to Paula's review you hopefully come away with a balanced look at this interesting book. It would seem that I took a more "gut reaction" approach in my review and Paula took a thoughtful and analytical one. Put the two together and it makes for an intriguing well-rounded effort. (Of course, that's just me elevating my own status by comparing myself to Paula again)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Da Count - Teachers

When it came time to write the dedication for Campus Chills, I started thinking about the theme of the book. All of the stories took place on campuses across Canada. Sure, they are horror stories; wonderfully written chilling tales all centered around university and college campuses.

And what's one thing that all campuses have in common?

They are places of learning -- institutes with a primary goal of educating.

It made me think about the teachers I had throughout my life and how fortunate I have been to learn under them. Yes, I know, everyone can likely easily think about that one horrible teacher who made their life miserable for a short period of time (like Harry Potter's Professor Snape)

But I have to say that I have been extremely fortunate to be able to look back at how many wonderful, memorable and top notch teachers I have had over the years. As far back as grade school, through high school and through to my university years, I'm very lucky to have had so many great teachers. Too many to name, but these teachers all left impressions on me, allowed me to learn new things and helped shape my development and life -- and for that I'm forever grateful.

I suppose I'm lucky to be working at an academic institution right now and I still get to work alongside some really incredible faculty members at McMaster. It has been an endless stream of fortuitous learning for me virtually my whole life. And I have teachers, instructors and educators to thank for it.

And though I had many great teachers, one in particular stands in my mind as the type of teacher who transcended the learning process. Jim Turcott, who taught Math and Physics at Levack District High School was a passionate and dedicated instructor.

Though I hated and struggled with math, I loved going to Mr Turcott's classes (he was also known as Dr. T since he also DJ'd) -- Jim used his passion for math and physics creatively and made the learning process fun. Having been active in the student council and in "stage shows" at LDHS, I got a chance to work more closely with Dr. T. whom I eventually began to call Jim after I graduated from LDHS. I worked for him for many years in his DJ business and learned a great many things about the art of DJing (this was back in the day of cassette tapes -- long before mp3's existed -- so cuing up a show and responding to ad hoc requests created quite a bit of work -- intense and challenging, but fun work).

Jim and I often bickered about music -- he was passionate about that, too. Me being a teenage fan of Rush, I often tried talking him into playing their music at our school dances. He told me that while they were talented musicians, you just couldn't dance to their music. I wouldn't take no for an answer and kept pushing and pushing in my bullheaded way. Jim was right. With the exception of some of their ballads, for the most-part, this brilliant rock trio has created a wealth of music, most of which simply doesn't work well on the dance floor. I only realized that many years later, and, of course, never admitted that to him.

As I mentioned, Jim transcended teaching. He became not just the guy who taught me math, physics and certain DJing skills. He also became a mentor and a friend and taught me a lot about life.

I recently started reading Gary Vaynerchuk's book CRUSH IT which explores how he turned his life-long passion into an incredible success story. Gary's story is wonderful and his passion leaps off the page immediately.

But one interesting thing is, though Gary does a wonderful job nailing the concept that doing what you're MOST passionate about is the key to success, it's actually something that Jim taught me several decades ago just through the way he lived his life. It's one of those basic elements that makes every single day a TGIT (Thank God It's Today) rather than a TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) sort of day. Reading Gary's book reminds me about that passion that Jim demonstrated every day, whether it was in the classroom, behind the DJ station or just hanging out with his friends and colleagues.

In any case, here is the dedication for CAMPUS CHILLS:

To all of the teachers, instructors and educators
who inspire, coach and nurture young minds

Particularly to Jim Turcott

Teacher, mentor, friend 1951 - 2008

Thanks for continuing to inspire, me Jim. And thanks to so many of the teachers out there who are passionate about what they do and help continue to inspire us all . . .


Thursday, November 05, 2009

HNT - Flashback N Buskin

Just a few hours ago, an old university buddy commented on a photo I had posted to the Sock 'n' Buskin Theatre Company group on Facebook -- S'n'B is Carleton's University's student theatre company where I spent a great deal of time between 1988 and 1992 and made a ton of great friends -- many of whom I am still friends with today.

The comment inspired this week's HNT post -- a shot that was taken on the set of one of the larger plays (in terms of cast size, set, lighting and production crew) that I had worked on when part of the company: Balm in Gilead. The play was written by Lanford Wilson, but the director of the play added wonderfully fitting musical interludes written by Lou Reed and John Cale into the production. Performed by three beautiful women and sung in modified tempos the music was haunting and disturbing and added wonderfully to the overall ambiance of the play.

This is a shot of four of the crew hanging out behind the bar on the set.

Robert Bell (Lighting Designer), Andrea Clasper (Stage Manager),
Steve Wilson, Mark Lefebvre (Assistant Stage Managers)

Good times! Hard to believe that was . . . yikes . . . almost 20 years ago . . .

Here are a couple of other shots from the play, taken during one of the earlier rehearsals.

Adeel Ahmad (Ernesto), James Gatto (Dopey), David O'Meara (Rake)

Dan Willis, William Murray, Stuart?