Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

At the beginning of the year in Jan 2009, I resolved to do a few writing related things:

And I quote:

1) Continue to keep between 3 and 5 stories in circulation at all times during the year.

2) Re-work the completed novel MORNING SON and get it back into circulation with publishers

3) Finish the novel A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK (which has been on a back burner for way too long now) - Paula B from The Writing Show will be so proud of me if I can finally accomplish that. I'd finally have something really cool to reveal in the continuing interviews for her "Getting Published with Mark Leslie" reality series.

Let's see. In terms of 1, I believe I was successful in that pursuit for most of the year. I DID manage to keep at least 3 stories in play for most of the year, and continue to struggle with that pursuit.

Number 2 was a bit more challenging -- I did rework about 75% of Morning Son, having spent a good deal of time in the summer working on it. Of course, I ended up losing most of that work (in one of my "way too late" clean-up exercises in the den, I accidentally threw out the hand-written notes and updates I'd made on a printed version of the manuscript). So I had to re-start at the beginning of the novel one more time. A frustrating pursuit, but I'd already re-written and re-edited the book half a dozen times -- that's just part of the process. But in terms of getting the book BACK into publisher's hands, I was successful at that. I made two attempts in 2009. One in which it went into a seemingly bottomless slush pile never to return (ie, not even a "piss off" from the publisher, nor do I even ever expect a response) and another which I just sent out the week before Christmas to a market I spent a while researching to determine if it was a "proper" fit for Morning Son and I really do feel there's a good match between my novel and this publisher (so I have all my fingers and toes crossed on that one)

As for Number 3, what is this, a curse? I started writing A Canadian Werewolf in New York several years ago as part of a "public" challenge on Paula B's The Writing Show podcast. And, despite the humiliation of not having finished the novel, I continue to leave it on the back burner. Yes, I chipped away at the book a bit in 2009, but didn't make any significant progress on it. Nothing "newsworthy" to report to Paula.

I can make other excuses such as the fact that at least I was working on writing, had several stories published in 2009, including things I'd written in the past 12 months, was able to collect stories for and edit the book Campus Chills (which took a tremendous amount of my time and energy). I also wrote and had several non-fiction articles published and was invited to start submitting articles to The Mark News (A Canadian online forum for news, commentary and debate) -- But there's no escaping the fact that I failed to fulfill all 3 resolutions.

That being said, I received an email yesterday from Paula B telling me she had a listener contact her to find out what was going on with A Canadian Werewolf in New York. It seems this listener is sincerely curious. And it's just the kick-in-the-pants I need -- knowing that there's a potential reader out there who actually cares enough to take the time to ask the status of this book in progress.

That makes finishing the first draft of ACWINY my top resolution for 2010. So while I don't have a dramatic update for this interested party and Paula B, I do have a new-felt personal motivation to get this one completed.

So, that being said, here's what I resolve, writing-wise for 2010:

1) Finish the first draft of ACWINY and report that back to Paula B and The Writing Show listeners that care (I know there's at least one of them out there and THAT more than anything gives me a truly heart-felt desire to make the time to finish this project)

2) Continue to keep 3 to 5 stories into circulation at various short-fiction markets (after all, you can't get stuff published if you don't send your stuff out)

3) Try my hand at writing a non-fiction article on the topic of fatherhood and sending that to a "parenting" market (got to have a fresh goal, something I've never done before, you know, to reach beyond my normal comfort zone)

I have already started working on a "book" project with a fellow writer, and something that, if our pitch to publishers goes well, will keep me extremely busy in 2010 (can't really say anything about this, but it's an incredible project this fellow scribe, and someone whom I look up to invited me to work with them on). So if this project takes ahold, my writing time will be compromised -- but that should just be more motivation to keep at the 3 items on my list.

Let's see how I do this year, shall we?

Now that I've put my resolutions out there, do tell -- what do YOU resolve writing wise?

HNT - Favourite Post of 2009

The last HNT post of the year is typically reserved for re-posting your favourite from the past twelve months.

I think my favourite is the post entitled: I Left This Post in San Francisco. The main reason it's my favourite post is because it represents meeting a fellow HNTer in person and someone who inspired me to be more creative and to really have fun with the HNT concept -- that someone, was, of course, Marcel Nunis (who used to blog under the name Lecram Sinun -- so if I slip and call him Lecram once in a while, you'll understand). Marcel and I had a great time hanging out at a few different bars and literary haunts (like John's Grill in our picture below) and just kicking back and shooting the shit for several hours. It was great fun.

Here are some runners up in the category of favourite HNT posts.

Death of Free Time (Featuring a picture of my Halloween front yard tombstone)

Sing Me A Rush Lullaby, Dad (A flashback HNT showing a shot of Alexander and I having an afternoon nap back when he was just a little baby)

Boys of Chorus
(A "Photoshopped" picture from the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon with my face and Alexander's face on two of the characters -- a classic moment of father and son being goofy together)

Pow! (Me goofing around with a great marketing/business book by Andy Nulman called Pow! Right Between The Eyes - and a contender for my top 10 read books in 2009 list -- blog post for that is forthcoming)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Canadian SF Works Database

For a few years now there has been a Wiki created and administered by Robert J. Sawyer and Marcel Gagné called the Canadian SF Works Database. It was meant to be a collaborative storehouse of knowledge about the world of professional Canadian speculative writing, publishing and art created to prevent the panicked scrambling that usually occurs at the end of each year to determine works eligible for such things as the Aurora Awards.

On Rob's blog, he recently sent a kick in the pants to creators who haven't added their own material to this listing.

You really should go and add your own work. Don't depend on someone else going to do it for you.

Sure, Rob and Marcel put it together and keep it up and running, but it's everyone's responsibility to keep it updated.

FYI, to the contributors to Campus Chills, I made sure everyone's stories in the anthology were listed. It makes sense, to me, that the editor of a Canadian anthology should make sure that their author's works get listed.

But if you're a Canadian writer you really should be making an effort to ensure your work from 2009 is represented, particularly at this "end of year" time when we're usually all making resolutions to "do more" towards our crafty pursuits.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Waiting For Santa

As all the sleepyheads and restless dreamers of all ages wait for Santa to come . . .

Merry Christmas to you and may peace, joy and happiness find a place in your lives!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fun Christmas Song

I've always loved the wonderful spoof of Porky Pig singing Blue Christmas. In fact, every time the Elvis version of the song comes on the radio, I start singing THIS version for Francine instead.

She used to like this song (well, the original version of it, that is). I suppose I've ruined it for her now.

So, for your enjoyment, here is as performed by Seymour Swine and the Squealers back in 1978 here is "Blue Christmas"

(I found many different videos done to this song, but I liked this one posted by Mr. AntiSocial Guy because of the interesting trivia pop-ups in it)

Merry Christmas!

HNT - Three Wishes 2009

Every year at Christmas time, Osbasso suggests a theme of giving for HNT. The "three wishes" theme suggests that you pick 3 other HNTers (hopefully people you don't already know well), and endow them with "fantasy" gifts -- the idea is going to their site, checking out who they are and getting to know them and thinking of something that you believe they would like -- what a great way to get to know new people and participate in the spirit of giving without it costing you a dime. Over the years this has been a fun exercise for me, but as I often do with Osbasso's themes, I'm bending this one a little.

This year, in the spirit of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present & Future, I'd like to make three wishes for three types of HNTers out there:

1) For past HNT participants
There are many people who have HNT'd in the past, but no longer participate, for whatever reason. Perhaps they are among the pioneers who first started this blogging meme, or even those who gave it a single try. But for whatever reason you first gave HNT a whirl and for whatever reason you decided to no longer participate, you were still a part of something that extended far and wide, you took a risk, tried something new and perhaps different and hopefully you met some new people. For all past HNT participants, I offer a special gold watch. It's not just any gold watch, but one with a built in GPS that will, whenever you feel the need, guide you to the closest friend.

2) For current HNT participants
For those people who participate in HNT, and nomatter what your reason, do know that your venturesome spirit, your participation in this weekly ritual and what you are adding to the blogisphere is unique and interesting and might possibly be something studied by sociologists some day. You are a part of a community that is dynamic and wide-spread, and you're part of keeping this meme alive every time you participate. For all current HNT participants, I offer a magic portable digital camera, something you can wear and carry with you at all times as comfortably and unobtrusive as a ring on your finger, allowing you to quickly and easily take that HNT photo whenever or wherever the spirit catches you.

3) For future HNT participants
For those who have checked out HNT and are considering giving it a try, again, for whatever reason, please know that HNT, while a celebration of exposure, is not necessarily about taking naked shots of yourself. Yes, that can be how you interpret it, but the beauty and wonder of HNT to me over the years has been in the incredibly diverse and challenging ways that different people have participated. Some are bold and go for entirely "adult content" shots, some play with humour, some offer insight, depth and introspection, some expose something internal, some compose incredibly creative pursuits. So for those of you looking at HNT and wondering about trying it out, my gift to you is a chance to temporarily look into the future, and see what "the road not taken" might offer you.

And a gift to all (including non-HNTers) from the triad of the Leslie family . . . here's our HNT "Christmas Card" featuring our faces superimposed onto the new Snowmen blow-up decoration on our front lawn that our five year old insisted we must have.

So, from Mark, Francine and Alexander to you and yours -- Merry Christmas! (Or, if you prefer, translate that into whatever seasonal sentiment works best to make YOU feel loved)

My HNT Gift posts from the past include: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

BNC Guest Post

I was recently invited by the wonderful Morgan Cowie from BookNet Canada to write a guest post doing a brief year in review for the Canadian book industry.

I'd been enjoying reading several previously published year in review posts by folks that I quite respect and have been following through social media, so was honoured to be asked to join in the fun.

You can read the guest post here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Die Harder

I've always felt that Die Hard was a great Christmas movie. What can I say? A smart alec Bruce Willis in peril on Christmas Eve shooting it out with the bad guys while quipping like Spider-Man. Yeah, that's the stuff. Sure, Frank Capra pulled our heart strings with the tale of George Bailey, but give me John McClane putting bad guys in their place for a feel good Christmas movie any day.

I sought out and ready the book Die Hard was based on. (Roderick Thorp's Nothing Lasts Forever which was written in 1979) Having read the excellent book a couple of times and seen the movie close to a dozen, I'd have to say the movie closely followed the book's content (with the exception of changing the main character from Joe Leland, who appeared in an earlier Thorp novel into John McClane, as well as a few other specific details)

Die Hard 2 (which is being run on CHCH tonight) was also based on a novel -- though, inspired by the novel is more accurate. The premise is based on Walter Wager's novel 58 minutes, which I also read, but which I doubt I'll read again. It was a decent novel, but I wasn't a fan of the omnipotent narration and style of the novel and that kept putting me off throughout the reading of it.

But the movie, directed by Renny Harlin and written by Steve E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, beautifully continues the saga of John McClane, again, on Christmas Eve, fighting off a group of terrorist bad guys. This time, instead of taking over a skyscraper, they've taken over Dulles International Airport in Washington.

It's a great, fun movie -- and having just watched a bit of it on TV, I'm remembering why I liked it so much. Not only great casting, dialogue and action, but also great writing and direction.

The scene where McClane runs out onto the field to try to warn a plane of an impending crash (due to the terrorists hacking into tower and recalibrating ground level to be 200 feet below sea-level) is made much more powerful by a few brief yet powerful glimpses into the passengers aboard the doomed flight. The writers and director allow us to really feel for these passengers as well as the crew. So when McClane is unable to save them, you really feel for the incredible loss of so many lives.

It wasn't just a plane that went down and exploded in a big Hollywood movie explosion in an action film. It was a plane filled with real people with lives, with hopes, dreams, worries, plans, smiles, loved ones.

And of course, it makes the concern over McClane's wife Holly who is on a plane circling the airport with only 90 minutes of fuel left, that much more tense.

Powerful, well written, well directed. And a good example, in my mind, of a movie that was far better than the book it was based on.

And, as I mentioned, a great movie to watch again close to Christmas.

Solar Powered Christmas Lights

On the weekend, Alexander and I pulled out a few more strings of Christmas lights and added them to the existing ones on our house (and on his play structure in the back-yard -- Yes, there are almost as many lights on his play structure as there are on our house. Not only that, but there's also a small Christmas tree with lights on it inside)

While we were figuring out where to put up the new lights, I was reminded, again, how frustrating it could sometimes be to string lights in certain areas, and how great it might be to have a set of Christmas lights that didn't have to be plugged in, but, instead, relied on a solar cell of some sort.

For example, there's a tree on the other side of the sidewalk that we'd love to put lights on -- but we don't want to run a string across the sidewalk to do so.

Similarly, sometimes you want lights at point A and point C but not at point B in between. It'd be nice to be able to place them only where you need them and not need to use long extension cords; and that's not even mentioning the environmental and energy-saving benefits.

Of course, a Google search for solar powered Christmas lights reveals that they DO exist. (Here, for example, here, or here is more info about them) EcoGeekLiving has a set of 60 LED white solar powered lights listed for $34.99. Not a bad price, especially considering how much money you'll save on your electricity bill in the long run. I even found an online video on how to make solar powered Christmas lights.

And it's not that I looked too hard in retail stores this season for them, but in all honesty, I can't say I saw any available. Sure, they're easy to find online -- but I'm wondering when they're going to become more available, better working (I read some customer reviews of a particular set of NOMA solar lights on Canadian Tire's website and it looks like there are many improvements to be made) and more popular. I mean, it wasn't all that many years ago that LED Christmas lights were rare -- now, they're pretty much the standard. I imagine it'll be not long before the same thing happens with solar powered ones.

Monday, December 21, 2009

It Snowed

Okay, so there's not much snow around here yet. But there's a song that has been getting a lot of airtime on local radio stations that has certainly added to the wonderful feeling I normally get from a beautiful snowfall.

It's called "It Snowed" and is by Canadian singer/songwriter Meaghan Smith.

Francine, Alexander and I first heard it one evening last week while we were driving around looking at the beautiful Christmas lights.

The instant we heard it, Fran and I both fell in love with the song's playful sense and jazzy styling. The lyrics begins like this . . .

"It snowed, it snowed, it snowed last night
Everything is sparkling with diamond light.
The road is buried four feet high
Honey, let's play hooky 'cause it snowed last night"

I thought, at first that it was Feist -- partly because of the similar voice and partly because, "It Snowed" was an instantly addictive song in my mind, the same way I reacted to Feist's "1, 2, 3, 4"

Deciding I wanted to find the album this song was on and buy the CD for Francine for Christmas, I began my quest. Alas, I learned that the only available CD was being done as a giveaway at Meaghan Smith appearances at Barnes & Noble on her Dec 2009 tour.

But the good news was that the Holiday Sampler "Wish Upon A Star" which contains 4 songs by Meaghan, was available for purchase on iTunes -- so I bought it. Each song is similarly delightful. I'll be looking for Meaghan's other work to purchase as well.

Here's the video for Meaghan's version of "Silver Bells" which appears on the sampler.

There's also a clip of Meaghan singing her original song "It Snowed" at a benefit concert ("Feed Nova Scotia") back in November 2007, right here and here is a video with clips from the holiday sampler.

Careful. Her music is wonderfully addictive. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Heads In The Sand

I'm quite proud to be a bookseller, but I often shake my head at the simplistic nature that some of the top executives in my industry subscribe to.

The recent one that makes me shake my head are the delays that publishers are subscribing to with respect to e-books. (In response to the $9.99 pricing model that seems to be establishing itself, their response is delaying release of the ebook version, typically from 4 weeks to six months after the release of the hardcover).

Yes, in the print world, delaying publication of the trade paperback or mass market book for one year (ensuring your hardcover book went through one Christmas season helping ensure stronger sales), worked.

But I don't think that'll work for digital.

Haven't these really intelligent people learned anything from others' previous attempts to deny reality (like record executives trying to deny the proliferation of digital music, like the motion picture industry trying to deny the existence of the television, like television executives trying to deny the existence of the internet?) None of the burying their heads in the sand approaches nor attempts to fight the new technology really worked, now did they? But look at the industries I just mentioned? Is there still a motion picture industry? YES. Is there still a television industry? YES. Is there still a music industry? YES. Have they all evolved? YES. And some of them survived the evolution a little bit more intact than the others.

As for me, I'm seriously concerned at how some of the mega publishers are going to survive with out-dated approaches. Yes, I love my print books and though I embrace digital books and do buy some of my books in digital versions, I doubt my love of the printed book will ever fade. But I also buy CD's and DVD's too (and still have a small vinyl record collection I'm not getting rid of). I'm that type of person.

So while I honestly believe that print isn't going away, I recognize that neither is digital. And that while the market share for digital is minuscule now, it's growing exponentially and will continue to do so.

But rather than embrace the reality of what is happening and figure out a way to be PART of the game to maintain some sort of decent market share in the movement, publishers are trying to delay it and deny it, believing they'll make more money from a previously existing model.


Don't they realize that they're just making MORE excuses for people to create and distribute pirated content?

iTunes and the 99 cent song downloads proved that, while the margins aren't as high, there IS certainly demand for honest people who want to purchase digital content. Take away people's options and they'll create their own. It's easier and easy for people to do so. So WHY give them another excuse? Why not make it EASY, SIMPLE and AFFORDABLE for them to purchase your digital content?

Isn't a smaller margin better than no margin at all?

And, as much as I love print books, I seriously wonder how many of the major publishing houses who continue to think in terms of 1980 business models will be around in another 3 or 4 years.

1000 Posts

I just realized that this post will be number 1000.

Kind of intimidating to note that such a high round number as pretty as 1000 could possibly just be any old random post. So now that I've thought about it I figured I should make it count somehow.

So let's take a quick retrospective look at this blog, shall we?

I started this blog on a whim on March 09, 2005 -- a simple post, like so many first blog posts, feebly announcing, unnecessarily so, that I was starting a blog. The blog post was entitled Beginnings. So we now all know Mathew Growden is to blame for this (I won't bother trying to link to his elusive and continually changing online presence -- just know he's an influential dude)

Later that same day, I think I started in my true stride of blogging, and something that represents most of what this blog has been about -- personal reflections on things going on in my life peppered (I believe) with moments of humour. That blog post was entitled Not the TV show starring Dick and was about growing a Van Dyke beard (that is a mustache combined with hair on the chin, but not the cheeks -- ie facial hair that surrounds only the mouth -- people still call these goatees but a goatee is hair on the chin area only)

Funny, a real-world friend pushed me into the blogging world, and I ended up with tons of blogging friends (friends I met through the Blogiverse) some of whom have became real-world friends. Of course, there are still many whom I consider friends whom I haven't met in person yet but imagine I will some day. (Like this past summer when I was traveling on business in San Francisco, very close to the stomping grounds of Marcel Nunis and he made a trip into town to meet me: I Left This Post in San Francisco)

Over the years, I have created many posts centered on writing, bookselling, fatherhood and my observations about the world around me. I've never tried to be really serious (ie, stick to a particular topic or apply journalistic integrity to my writing), but occasionally I've done serious rants or blogged about things that were critically important to me. Mid-way through this blog, I started using tags, which have been useful in defining what type of post I've done. Of course, when you click on a tag, you only get the most recent couple of dozen posts -- so trying to find one of my earliest posts on fatherhood, for example, like Attack of the Carpet Critter, You Can Pick Your Friends or Child-Proof But Not Idiot-Proof requires intense searching which I doubt anyone would want to do.

Wow. 1000 blog posts in just under 5 years (it'll be 5 years in March 2010) -- that means about 200 posts on average per year -- not bad output. Assuming the average post contains perhaps 300 words, that means I've written about 300,000 words on this blog. That's somewhere in the realm of 3 novels worth of words.

Part of me wonders if I'd just applied that amount of time and energy into writing if I'd have more output and be further along in my career.

Very Possibly. (Most of my publications have been short stories and articles -- and while I have 3 books to my name, they're collections of short fiction or books I have edited which are compiled of other writer's work -- there's still no novel contract in my clutches) So, yes, it's possible that if I'd ignored this blog and spent that time and energy on the various book-length projects on my back-burners that I might have something more to show for it in that respect.

However, working on this blog HAS meant that I've been writing on a regular basis, which was one of the underlying reasons for starting this whole thing. (I remember, at first, I used to write blog posts offline while on the GO train heading into Toronto for work, and I'd post them once I arrived -- I'd spend about 5 to 10 minutes composing a post before starting into a writing project I did on the train. Most mornings now, when I get up between 5 and 5:30 AM are spent the same way. So, while blogging takes away from my time writing fiction and articles, it gives me the opportunity to continually work at writing -- and hopefully, by keeping at it, I'm getting better and better.

Consider Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 Hour Rule" as described in his book Outliers -- basically, that the key to success in any field is largely due to practicing for a total of about 10,000 hours. Interestingly, assuming I spent between 5 and 10 minutes a day on 1000 blog posts, that puts me close to the realm of 10,000 hours, suggesting perhaps that I might be approaching the realm of "successful blogger" according to Gladwell's rule. In all honestly, though I've been writing since I was in my early teens and have easily logged more than 10,000 hours writing, the key, in my mind, is to KEEP practicing, and that, every single extra moment I spend writing makes me a better writer.

And while I'm not overly concerned with "hits" a quick glance at stats (at least since I began tracking, and who knows WHEN I added that), I have had about 63,000 visits to this blog over the years. I also know that there are RSS subscribers to this blog (people who never visit, but who pull a feed of this blog into a reader), but I'm not sophisticated enough to know how many I have -- also, this blog automatically feeds into my profiles on Facebook as well as Goodreads and perhaps others, but I honestly can't remember -- and I know there are folks reading through those spots as well based on comments, emails and IM's received.

So while, admittedly, as a writer, it's fantastic to know that people are reading, and while I do try to keep my diverse "audience" in mind, I'm really just writing things that are important to me, or things that I, as a reader, would enjoy reading. I find if I focus too much on trying to write something with only readers in mind, I fall flat -- my best posts, IMHO, are the ones in which I'm simply being true to myself and prattling on about things that I find important enough (or silly enough) to warrant spending a few moments pondering "out loud" on this blog.

So, for those of you with enough patience to be reading this long blathering retrospective post, and those of you who have been "following" my online postings, thanks for checking me out. I wish I'd thought to include a cake or something to make this 1000th post more memorable. But it has been fun to stroll a bit down memory lane.

Thanks for reading. And, if I might be so bold as to ask -- what is your reason for reading this scattered grouping of my online ramblings?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Staying Within The Lines

For the longest time, I always thought a notepad of blank sheets was always something that allowed more creative expression and freedom than a colouring book. (Or "coloring book" for readers from the US)

At first glance, the blank sheet of paper, a "tabula rasa" environment where you could virtually go anywhere seems a much better opportunity than a colouring book which simply offers you the ability to chose whatever colours you want so long as you stay within the lines. A colouring book seems, relatively speaking, a boring task where you have a black and white line sketch of a picture and your task is to add colour to it.

Given the choice, I usually preferred the blank sheet where I could make up whatever drawing I wanted rather than work within the framework of a sketch in a colouring book.

But situations in life aren't always like that. You often don't get to choose between the completely wide open option and the "restrictive" one.

Lately, spending time with my son, who enjoys when Mom and Dad join in on colouring with him (particularly the massive two feet by two feet colouring workbooks he has which offer lots of room for three people to be simultaneously working on the same page), I'm learning a whole new appreciation for the creative expression allowed within the "rules" of the colouring book.

Assuming you still "stay within the lines" there's still almost endless variations on the way you can fill in the colouring book.

The first obvious one is that you don't have to pick colours from reality. The grass doesn't need to be green, the sky doesn't need to be blue. You can pick whatever colours you want. You most often see this during seasonal "colouring" contests that different retailers hold where, posted near the checkout area, you see the results of 50 or more different versions of the same picture done by 50 different children. That, to me, is a wake-up call illustrating just how creative one can be while working within this "confined" workspace.

Second, you don't need to fill in every single "blank" spot -- you can choose which ones to leave the background colour of the paper. And along those lines, you don't need to actually shade in every single area in the same manner. Some can be filled in solid, some might only be outlined, some might be filled in using a pattern of sorts.

Third, you always have the option of adding to the drawing itself or breaking any area to colour in into smaller areas. There's no rule that says one area has to be all the same colour. You can fill it in however you choose, add whatever other elements you wish to the picture.

Four -- you have many options for what to use to colour the picture with. You can make it a black and white picture using a plain pencil and different styles of shading. You can use crayons, pencil crayons, markers, pens, or whatever device that transfers onto paper that you choose for your picture, or whatever combination you decide to use.

The list goes on -- and it comes from whatever comes to your mind when working on the task.

Try it yourself. Get out a colouring book and start just playing around. See what sort of ideas come to mind while you work on it. You might just surprise yourself.

Then, whenever you're faced with a task that, at first, doesn't seem to allow any sort of creative spirit or flexibility, remind yourself of this colouring exercise I'm suggesting and see what creative ways you can complete the task. IE, get to the result of filling it in while staying within the lines, but in a way that allow you to be creative and try something new.

In many ways, for me, I end up being more creative when trying to flex creative freedom within the "confines" of a space like that. Or, at least, I derive satisfaction from having completed the task which at first seems low on the creative expression spectrum, but in fact contains plenty of opportunities for me to do it my way.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

HNT - Markie Brown Christmas Tree

This is the fourth year for Osbasso (he who began the HNT blogger movement) to suggest a "Christmas Tree" theme for HNT, or Half-Nekkid Thursday. It's always fun to try to dance to a particular theme.

In past years I've already done some fun and interesting Christmas tree shots, mostly of reflections in a Christmas ornament, usually with strategically placed fixtures blocking the naughty bits. Yes, this was back when I was young and risque (ie, before I turned 40 and became the mature, serious and responsible adult I am today . . . okay, it was hard to type that with a straight face)

In any case, in celebration of the HNT Christmas Tree theme, I give you the Markie Brown Christmas Tree . . .

Please hold your applause -- I know my "photo chopping" skills are absolutely stunning -- you can barely see the "seams" of this picture, and I know it's so good that some of you are wondering HOW Charles Schulz drew my face onto Charlie Brown's -- but I have to be honest here and admit this is a faked picture where I put my face over Charlie Brown's -- look closely and you might be able to see it (again, having trouble typing this with a straight face)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Silly Christmas Lyric Meme: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

A few years ago I started a silly Christmas lyric meme where I take a song that we hear countless times during the Christmas season and point out a part of it that makes we wonder, confuses me or is worth exploring if merely for the humour of it . . . (feel free to play along and share your own silly thoughts about Christmas lyrics on your own blog)

The Rules: Pick a Christmas lyric that you've always had a question about and discuss it. Then either tag one or more people or either tag nobody and invite your readers to tag themselves and enjoy discussing the subject on their own.

Feel free to use the "Cousin Eddie" image by copying the following code and replacing the '(' and ')' with '<' and '>' :

(a href="")(img src="" alt="Mark Leslie's Silly Christmas Lyric meme" /)

The Song: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Originally written by Tommie Connor - (1904-1993) and first recorded by Jimmy Boyd (1939-2009) in 1952.

Lyrics In Question: "Oh what a laugh it would have been if Daddy had only seen Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night."

The Comment: I get it. It's a cute song. But not only has it always disturbed me, but it's evidence of something that can easily happy when an adult writer tries to write from a child's point of view -- they can't divorce themselves far enough away from their adult POV and experience, and don't properly capture the true innocence of a child's POV.

The problem, to me, is that the song relies on an adult point of view in order for it to be cute and funny. From a child's point of view I can't find it anything but utterly disturbing.

First of all, when I was a child and heard this song, I found it rather confusing. Why, if a child snuck downstairs in the middle of the night and saw his or her Mommy kissing a stranger in their living room would they find it cute? Is Mommy cheating on Daddy? Why is a child singing about it? What the hell is so funny about that?

Worse, of course, is that it's not entirely a stranger. No, it's not just the mailman, or the pool boy, or some other young hunk who Mommy might be having a tryst with, but it's one of the most trusted adult figures in a child's universe: Santa Claus. The ultimate trustworthy, lovable, generous and kind adult in a child's mind. I mean, one hardly ever threatens a child with the fact that Mommy or Daddy know they're misbehaving -- but threaten with a quick call to Santa and the child's particular flavour of unwanted behaviour often unsours rather quickly.

So how disturbing, then, to discover one of your parents cheating on the other by kissing Santa Claus. It's like a double-betrayal. How in the hell can a child find that cute? And how would a child think it would have been a laugh if Daddy saw this? (Unless, of course, Mommy and Daddy are happily separated and honestly enjoy seeing the other person happy; or perhaps they have some sort of completely open marriage, and it's okay for this kind of thing to happen. But still, not in front of the kids)

Again, the cuteness of the song comes from realizing that the Santa in the song isn't the real Santa, but, in fact, Daddy dressed up as Santa. So, for a child to actually GET this song they have to have a completely different understanding of Christmas than most young children usually have. It's always a bittersweet thing when children get to that age where the magic of Christmas changes (Hopefully, it changes from the magic of believing in the goodness of a jolly old elf in a red suit to believing in the inherent goodness within all of us and doing one's best to spread peace, love and joy) But I mean, WOW -- what a terrible way for the magical childhood fantasy to come crashing down.

I suppose one of the ways to monitor which particular magic of Christmas a child believes in is to gage their reaction to this song. If they GET IT, then they've lost something they'll never get back. If they don't get it, you can smile and hope that it'll be a long time before they get it and that hopefully the concept of the song doesn't disturb them too much in the meantime.

What about you? Does this song disturb you too? Or perhaps it's another song.

[To read my previous Silly Christmas Lyric commentary, check out 2008 (Silent Night), 2007 (Silver Bells) and the original 2006 (The Christmas Song)]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Long And Shortcover Of It

After several days of speculation, humorous tweets and investigative bloggerism by such notable Canadian book and technology mavens as Mark Bertils, Shortcovers (the ebook place launched by Indigo about one year ago) has changed their name to Kobo.

What's a Kobo?

You don't know? It's the most delicious candy ever made?

No, wait a minute, that's a Rolo.

As explained on Michael Serbinis' blog Kobo is an anagram for book. The way I look at it, particularly given the start to Shortcovers, and the concept of being able to read your ebook YOUR way (ie, on the website, downloaded to your desktop, laptop or smartphone of your choice) , the anagram for "book" makes sense and is cute.

Yes, even if it confuses all the people who in the past week thought Kobo was a hot new television show hosted by a puppet (these people were mistaken and confusedly thinking about Gabbo from The Simpsons -- and of course, it was really only me that was confused), Kobo is a cute, short name -- and at least has "book" in the name and url. Then again, shouldn't they be called "Kobos" to be a true anagram for "books"? Or Maybe Skobo? Or Kosbo? I really like Kosbo -- reminds me of that hipster doofus character from Seinfeld.

But all kidding aside, the new look and feel (as well as the logo) is cool and slick, actually is a lot better than the original name "Shortcovers" and I'm curious to go update my iPhone app for it now.

And, speaking of ebooks, particularly cool free ones, check out Seth Godin's latest offering, a free ebook called WHAT MATTERS NOW which is a collection of ideas from more than 70 big thinkers, each sharing an idea for the reader to think about as we head into a new year.

Godin would love to get the book into the hands of 5 million people and invites people to post it on their own blog, create their own Riff of it, whatever. I've only read the first couple of articles in it and have to say it's definitely worth sharing -- seriously, go check it out. That is, unless you don't like thinking . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two Good Gift Book Suggestions

Last week the folks from the McMaster Daily News came into Titles Bookstore with a camera and asked what book I'd recommend for holiday gift giving. I told them I'd have difficulty narrowing down the list to 10 books as it was (which I try to do around this time every December), but that picking just one would be impossible.

They let me pick two books, so I went with one fiction title and one non-fiction title both of which I believe would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.

See video below, which not only includes my two selections, but great selections from Lorraine York, Professor of English and Cultural Studies and Associate University Librarian Vivian Lewis.

I selected these books for the following reason.

Lawrence Hill's THE BOOK OF NEGROES (Illustrated Edition)

This phenomenal story about one woman's life experience living through the slave trade is beautifully written and one that sticks with the reader long after reading. This is a great selection for a number of reasons. First, just on its own, it's a fantastic novel. Second, if you know someone who has already read the novel, this makes a great gift because the illustrated edition adds a whole new way for the reader to enjoy the novel. Because it includes much of the artwork that inspired Hill when he was researching for the writing of the novel, the additional layer of historical references are perfect. This new presentation of the novel would also be appealing for the history buff.


Everyone is connected. Everyone is talking about new media and social networking. But there are a lot of people out there who don't understand what it's all about nor how it can be used for the greater good. Joel introduces the worlds of social networking (such things as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs and podcasting) in easy to understand layperson's terms then runs through various examples of how this interconnectedness can help benefit a person, brand or business. Though written with a business reader's perspective in mind, Joel's approach is one that can easily be appreciated by someone simply wanting to understand more about the digital world. And the cool thing is that once you finish reading it, you can continue to enjoy learning more from Joel's blog or podcast in which he continues to advance knowledge and resources in these areas.

You'll also notice that I picked two books by Canadian authors.

It never hurts to promote Canuck talent, but in all honesty I didn't make the selections Canadian on purpose -- it just happened that way.

What two books would YOU suggest make great gifts this holiday season?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Social Gaffe

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very graceful in social settings, nor am I very good with names. It's true that though I might have already met someone and been told their name that I'll often forget unless I find a way to use their name almost immediately. It's a weakness I recognize in myself, and I am trying to work on it.

At the very least, though I'm not good with names, I typically remember a face and pride myself on at least committing part of the introduction of a person to memory. And, being a socially awkward person, I'll admit that I recognize them and apologize for forgetting their name. Usually at that point, their name is committed to memory.

My point is that I'm far from perfect -- but I feel I at least make an effort.

But something that I can't stand are self-important people who might have met me on multiple occasions and yet, each time act as if it's the very first time we've met.

Normally, in a social setting, I lie back and take it and don't make an issue of things. After all, we all make this mistake, don't we? My manner has always been to try to make the other person in a social situation feel good and relaxed. I'll ignore gaffes and minor things rather than making a big deal out of them.

But last night at a social gathering, I just couldn't let it pass.

Last night, this woman whom I've met, had conversations with and socialized in a relatively intimate group setting for the past half dozen years tried introducing herself to me as if we didn't know each other and had never met. Yes, I'm impressed with the attempt at the social nicety of introducing herself, but the fact that she didn't realize we'd met and conversed on numerous occasions felt like a gigantic slap in the face.

This particular woman who is generally pleasant and nice, has consistently given me the impression that she looks down her nose at most of the rest of the world and that, to be in a conversation with someone unimportant like me is her version of "slumming."

So while normally, I let such things pass, this time I couldn't help but respond by saying:

"Hi, Madame[name excluded to protect the innocent], I'm Mark. We've met about 5 or 6 times now at this annual party."

Of course, the best part was just seconds later when, simply moving on rather than respond to my comment, she made the same gaffe and introduced herself to Francine. Fran responded by saying. "Hi, I'm Francine. Mark's wife. We've also met several times."

Strike Two on Madame.

I believe at that point she stopping introducing herself to the same crew she "met" every year and seemed to relax into just enjoying the gathering rather than risk a third strike.

Our work done, Fran and I went back to socializing with people we quite looked forward to spending time with and usually only saw once or twice a year at this lovely annual gathering of friends.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Calculated Risk - BNC Tech Forum 2010

I just registered for BookNet Canada's annual BNC Technology Forum which takes place March 25, 2010. I have attended all of them up until this point and have to say that the single packed day of information about technology and innovation within the book industry are definitely worthwhile.

Of course, this year, I'd better be there, since I also happen to be presenting the topic Trailblazing: Leading the Way to a New Kind of Supply Chain with Hugh McGuire of Book Oven and LibriVox.

Here's the bio page for speakers at BNC Tech Forum 2010.

The last time Hugh and I were scheduled to speak at an event, we were in parallel sessions at Campus Stores Canada 2009 Symposium. He was doing What Are Campus Bookstores For? while opposite him I was partnered with a buddy from Queens University bookstore doing Strategic Campus Alliances. I enjoyed his presentation at BNC Tech Forum 2009 as well as his regular participation in the Media Hacks podcast hosted by Mitch Joel and was disappointed I didn't get to see Hugh's presentation in Montreal about a month ago.

At least this time I'll get to see Hugh's presentation really close.

The 2010 BNC Tech Forum is entitled Calculated Risk: Adventures in Book Publishing and it looks like it'll be another stellar day. Early bird registration rates are still available, and, fortunately, space is still available, but I doubt there'll be space for long.

Check out the schedule, then, if you're curious about how to incorporate technology into your part of the book industry to maintain relevance in these times of significant change, then you should seriously consider registering.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

HNT - Marky Claus

I've always liked dressing up, particularly in a Santa costume. (It might have something to do with the fact that Santa, like Spider-Man, wears red and is a good guy)

I thought for this week's HNT I'd post a few "Christmas flash backs") in which I "wore" my Santa guise.

This first one was taken in 2004. After dinner on Christmas Eve, I snuck out of the house to change into a Santa outfit, hoping to delight my Godchild Madison and my son Alexander with a visit from Santa.

(Perhaps just like when I was a kid and my dad would disappear, then Santa would appear and my cousins and I would be delighted for his visit and of course all fight over which one of us got him a beer (yes, Northern Ontario Santa prefers beer over milk -- remember that if you live up north) -- I was confused and could never figure out if my dad was really Santa or Spider-Man, because both he and Peter Parker would disappear whenever Spidey or Santa showed up)

In any case, I wasn't inside the door more than 30 seconds before Maddie yelled out: "Uncle Mark! What are you doing dressed up like Santa?" Busted. Of course, even if Maddie hadn't recognized me behind the beard, I would have been busted about 2 minutes later when I picked up my son and the first thing he did was take a good hold of my beard and yank it off.

And a couple of years ago, when I was unable to buy the soundtrack for Francine, I decided to create my own CD of music from a movie that is one of our favourite seasonal treats - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. For the music, I used a combination of songs that appeared on the original soundtrack, mixed it with audio clips from the movie (like many of the Cousin Eddy gems that appear throughout it) along with a few other Christmas music favourites and for the CD cover, I used the image from the DCD cover, inserted my face over Chevy Chase's and also changed the title to Chateau Leslie's Christmas Vacation.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Piano Toes

The other day I stubbed my toe pretty hard, making me limp for a while.

When my son Alexander figured out I was hurt, he rushed to get his Doctor's Kit and give me a thorough examination. I thought it was so cute how he used the little hammer for testing reflexes to whack my foot almost as hard as the original stubbing incident. Then he used the otoscope (the device normally used to examine the ears) to check out my toes, then he gave me a needle in the throbbing toe (of course, pressing the fake plastic needle into my toe and hurting it as much as the reflex test hurt my foot).

I always play along with his routines (noticing his Doctor routine was suspiciously like the Mr. Fix-it routine he more often plays with his tool box -- I'm just glad he didn't have the tool kit out and decide to saw off my toe), so while he was examining me, I tossed out a series of questions and comments from a stereotypical doctor's visit.

"Ouch!" I said when he thrust the plastic needle into my toe. "I thought you were a painless Doctor."

"Nope." He said, then produced a small pretend medicine bottle from his kit. Saying, "Open up," he pretended to pour some into my mouth. Then he said: "Okay, you need to take this medicine ten hundred times tonight and in the morning."

"Thanks, Doctor." I said. "I just have one question. Will I be able to play the piano?" (It was a trick question -- you know, the old chestnut of a joke I was trying to pull. The one where the patient asks the doctor if he'll be able to play the piano when he heals. The doctor says yes, sure and the patient says something along the lines of great, I've always wanted to play the piano or wow, I couldn't play the piano before, you're a great doctor.

Of course, Alexander beat me to the punchline with his own unique response.

He simply looked at me incredulously. "Not with your feet!"

End of conversation. This patient was then sent to bed to rest.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Prelude To An Itch

I recently posted Episode 10 of my Prelude To A Scream podcast.

EP10 features "Phantom Mitch" which was the first horror story I ever sold and was originally published in the magazine Wicked Mystic in 1993. It received honourable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror #7 and was reprinted in my 2004 short story collection One Hand Screaming.

"Phantom Mitch" (which is a play on words between the phenomenon of the "phantom itch" and a nickname for Michelle) looks at the concept of the itch supposed felt on phantom limbs and proposes the idea that the amputated limb might exist on some other ethereal plane or "afterlife." What if a man with an amputated arm could reach into the afterlife and hold hands with his dead wife? It's a morbid and bitter-sweat love story.

Episode 10
contains the full story as well as notes on the writing of the tale. I also come out and shamelessly beg for listeners to provide feedback or ask questions which I'd be happy to answer in a future episode of the podcast.

Download MP3 by right-clicking here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Public Domain Replicas

I was recently asked if I would write a series of articles for The Mark News, a hot new online news magazine with a combination of news, op ed and opinion pieces.

My latest article, about the mass digitization of rare out of print public domain titles went live today. In it I make specific mention to the way in which the partnership between McMaster University's library and bookstore has helped increase access to more readers by collaboratively using their Kirtas scanner and Espresso Book Machine.

Here's a link to the article, which is entitled All That's Old Is New Again.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

HNT - It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Zombies

I'm still quite tickled with Michael P. Spradlin's book, It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols) which I blogged about yesterday.

That's why, when it came to picking this week's HNT picture, I thought I'd slap up a quick couple of zombie pictures of myself.

A blogger friend that I met through HNT years ago created these two wonderful zombie pictures of myself based on my blogger profile picture. Brandon is an avid photographer and brilliant photo chopper and I'm still in awe of these great shots he put together for me. Brandon participated in my "Darth Tater/Spud Wars" series of HNT photos from a few years ago and taught me how to do photo chops such as the one of the Darth Tater clones attacking me)

After all, I feel like the zombie virus is taking hold -- I've already found myself stumbling through shopping malls, and lurching through crowds (burdened with parcels and bags), continually bumping into others who are lurching about the same way, muttering under my breath and endlessly searching to satisfy a maddening hunger. (Of course, I'm not muttering "Brains!" but rather "Presents! Need to get presents!" but the effect is almost similar)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Dreaming Of A Fright Christmas

I first heard about this book on Mark Justice's Pod of Horror podcast and then picked it up the other day at Bakka-Phoenix in Toronto, Canada's oldest science fiction bookstore.

It's Michael P. Spradlin's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies: A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols.

Introduced by Christopher Moore and illustrated by Jeff Weigel, this is a hilarious book of parodies on classic Christmas Carols as well as timeless Christmas songs.

It certainly adds a wonderful dark humour spin on the songs we all hear repeatedly this time of year. Just the titles alone inspire laughter with such parodies as I Saw Mommy Chewing Santa Claus, We Three Spleens, Snacking Around the Christmas Tree, Silver Brains and Let's Feast on Merry Gentlemen.

And Weigel's illustrations perfectly match the macabre humour of these poems.

About the only thing missing from this book might be the actual sheet music to accompany some of the songs -- perhaps that can be a revised future edition but would make it easier for a group of friends with a bizarre send of humour to sit around a piano and sing these songs.

I've always been a fan of parady and spoofs (Weird Al Yankovic being, of course, one of my all-time favourite musicians) and this one ranks right up there in my mind as a classic book that I'll be referring back to time and again whenever hearing the standard versions of these songs gets to be a bit too much. Of course, there are still the regular spoof versions of the songs that I made up myself that I'll sing along to, either annoying or disturbing the people around me, but this book provides an entirely new arsenal for humour and enjoyment.

There are so many classic lines in the book that I want to quote all of them. But I get a charge out of closely spoofed lyrics like the following one from the title carol:

It's beginning to look a lot like Zombies
They're in every store
But the scariest sight to see is the Zombies that will be
At your own front door

Or, of course, the hilarious opening lines of "Eat a Toe" (sung to the tune of "Let It Snow")

Oh the virus outside is spreadin'
And there's more and more undeadin'
But when fresh brains are running low.
Eat a toe, eat a toe, eat a toe!

Brilliantly twisted. I could go on and on. These are definitely parody songs to be sung outloud to friends and enjoyed in a group (groups, of course, being one of the better ways to defend yourself against Zombie attacks in case the inevitable happens).

And it would make a hilarious stocking stuffer for either the horror fan on your Christmas list or perhaps someone who just enjoys a good twisted parody.

Here's the trailer video for the book.

And of course, though it is not stated in the book, there's the whole subtle reference (at least in my mind) to how we all become Zombies this time of year. Not Zombies due to some virus that spreads making us hunger for brains, but the sociological virus that seasonally infects society when most people prescribe to a certain commercial mentality this time of year.

I mean, don't the crowds in the mall at Christmastime sometimes remind you of a wild pack of mindless zombies?