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Thursday, April 30, 2009

HNT - Nekkid Fores

Last week was the tenth anniversary of Chapters.ca.

A gathering was held last Friday night at The Charlotte Room in Toronto, one of the regular watering holes many employees who worked at the Peter Street location in Toronto (which, for a brief period of time during the dot.com boom, expanded into the adjacent building on Charlotte street) Getting to this bar was a quick escape down the stairwell -- after our Charlotte street office area closed down, we had to walk ALL the way around the block to get to the bar.

And let me tell you, during the dot.com bust, where this huge, fast-growing online company suddenly hit the brick wall that most dot.com companies faced and then we dealt with the merger of the online, retail and warehouse divisions of the company, then a takeover from Indigo, the endless waves of layoffs (the first of which saw my team go from 65 people down to 21 in one frightful afternoon), we certainly escaped to that bar on a regular basis at the end of the day.

But last Friday was an incredibly fun night (Thanks, Sean) And I got a chance to see many people that I haven't seen in ages -- a great evening chatting with a truly wonderful and dynamic group of people I used to work with. Not everyone I'd hoped to see or chat with was there, so it would be really cool if there was some sort of annual gathering (Hint, hint, Sean Chard, the wonderful organizer of the event, and one of the original team members who was there at the beginning and is still there holding the fort down and managing several different teams)

In any case, Leonard, one of the most brilliant people I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and the genius behind the main database infrastructure that is still a critical part of the data feeding www.chapters.indigo.ca, snapped a whack of pictures of people at the event, and posted them on Flickr.

Here's a fun shot of me talking with Chris Woodill and Michael Bowles, where Leonard caught just the fore-parts of my body -- namely, my forehead, hand and forearm.

Perfect for this week's Half-Nekkid Thursday post wouldn't you say?



Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Been Ten Long Years

Wow - yesterday Chapters.ca (which was originally chaptersglobe.com, when Chaptes and The Globe & Mail launched a "book lovers" website, and then became chapters.ca and then eventually became chapters.indigo.ca) turned 10.

I wasn't there in the chapters online office at the VERY beginning, but I was there near the dawn of time for Chapters' web presence. In late 1999, I moved from a management position at the Ancaster Chapters and into the role of something called "Database Quality Manager."

Interestingly enough, I applied for a posting for "writer" with the website. It seemed right up my alley -- continuing to work for the bookseller company I was with but in a role that took advantage of my writing skill and experience. It seemed like a dream come true to me.

But when the HR contact called me, they wanted to interview me not for a writer position, but for a newly created role of "Database Quality Manager" (Interestingly, though I'd been published and had editing experience, apparently, according to the hiring manager, I wasn't skilled enough for the writer job, which I later found out, was not much more than re-keying the blurbs from the back of the books into the descriptions on the website -- what a huge waste of a group of very talented people)

In any case, I balked at the concept of being a "database" anything. I was a book nerd. I knew virtually nothing about computers except the very basics. She assured me that learning sql and various database terminology, etc, was secondary to having someone with a good degree of book knowledge and experience. What they really needed was someone who could look at a list of data feeds, and from experience, know that the way the title or author info, etc was wrong. To a hardcore IT person, it was just data -- but to someone with book knowledge, errors and typos, etc really stuck out.

I continued to balk, (fearful of not being able to keep up in an IT environment) but she continued to assure me that it was my book experience they were after and that any database skill I would need, I could learn on the job.

And learn I did. I was interviewed for and hired into the position, with the supervisors of four teams reporting up to me: Data Entry, Special Orders, Image Processors, and the Writers (ironically, I became the manager of the person who wouldn't even consider me for the position of writer on her team) -- there were about 60 odd people working within my core group.

Through my seven years working within the online group (which later merged into the head office IT group for Chapters and Indigo), I had the opportunity to work with some fantastic creative and intelligent people. I learned a great deal about database terminology and was able to understand concepts I never thought I would, and things that continue to help me in my current role as a bookseller.

Those seven years were absolutely incredible -- various projects and teams I worked on required not unfrequent over-night shifts and it was typical that while I arrived in Toronto at about 7:30 AM, I often wouldn't be back in Hamilton until 11 PM or perhaps after midnight. But that's the joy about doing a job you love -- because, though the hours were long and the work was non-stop, I loved every minute of it.

In my 7 years there I rode through some incredible changes -- frightening multiple rounds of layoffs due to the dot.com "bomb", mergers, takeovers, etc -- dramatic changes in organizational structure, and continuing to assume new roles and responsibilites and learn various systems and tools. One constant in all the years was the high quality of people I was fortunate enough to work with. I was priviledged to work with some of the most talented, intelligent and dedicated people I've ever met. Too many of them to even begin to name.

I left that company in 2006 to move into a new management role in the bookstore at McMaster University. It was a difficult decision to make, but with a young child in the house, getting back home well after my son's bed-time and missing out on seeing much of him was too much to bear.

While the move was good on my personal and family life, it has also been a fantastic one on my professional one as well. I've been fortunate to get to work with yet another group of phenomenal people within the academic bookselling community, and have continued to grown and learn in new areas.

I am grateful that I moved when I did, and completely enjoy each of my days in the job I've held at McMaster since 2006.

But I will always cherish the time spent at "Chapters Online" and within the IT group of head office for Chapters/Indigo -- and I will always treasure the memories and the friends and colleagues I met and worked with while there.

Which is why I'm completely delighted to be attending a 10th anniversary celebration in Toronto tonight at The Charlotte Room (a meeting place we regularly gathered in at the end of a long day) and I can't wait to catch up with some many folks I haven't seen in years.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

HNT - Sing Me A Rush Lullaby, Dad

When Alexander was a baby, I used to sing different lullaby's to him -- of course, after a while, tiring of the same old standards, I would start singing him others songs including ballads from my favourite bands, like Rush. (The three songs that work best for lullaby's are Closer to the Heart, Tears and Madrigal -- Madrigal being my favourite)

The song opens with the following words:
When the dragons grow too mighty
To slay with pen or sword

I grow weary of the battle

And this storm I walk toward

When all around is madne
ss
And there's no safe port in view

I long to turn my path homeward
To stop a while with you
- from Madrigal by Rush - A Farewell To Kings, 1977
- lyrics by Neil Peart

The other day when Alexander was having trouble falling asleep and asked me to sing him a "Rush Lullaby", I started singing Madrigal and could hear, ever so quietly, him gently whispering the words I was singing.

And so, with signing lullaby's on my mind, I thought this week's HNT post would be a picture of Alexander and I having a snooze when he was a teeny baby.


(And speaking of Neil Peart, check out the book on my bed-side table: Peart's Traveling Music: The Soundtrack to My Life and Times -- like all his writing, this is a phenomenal read, and it's one of his best books.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

They Do It Right After They Roll Up The Sidewalks

We spent this past weekend in Niagara Falls, NY. Francine and Alexander came along with me while I was attending EerieCon 11, a science-fiction, fantasy and horror convention.

On the drive across the border from Canada to the U.S., we took the Rainbow Bridge -- this is the bridge across the gorge that is closest to the falls and offers a spectacular view of the Horseshoe Falls. We told Alexander to look out the window on his right so he could see the falls, remembering how when he was just a little over one year old and we were driving by the falls, he piped up from the back-seat saying he needed his swimsuit.
A couple of days later, on our drive back into Canada, we instructed him to look out the window at the falls again. This time, the falls were on the left, but he was looking out the window on his right-hand side, and could see a steep brick/rock facing.

He exclaimed: "They turned off the falls!"

Monday, April 20, 2009

Name Game

I had a great time at EerieCon 11 this past weekend. Saturday was pretty full for me, from 10 AM until about 6, I was participating in either a reading or sitting on a panel back to back all day. I almost prefer it that way, as it keeps me on my toes -- of course, it doesn't leave much time for chatting, except perhaps a few minutes before and after each panel begins and ends, and in the hallway and elevator on my way to the next scheduled event.

Of course, that's what makes the late night parties fun -- getting a chance to mingle and chat with so many interesting people. The beer, of course, makes that part fun, too.

Picture from EerieCon 10 (April 2008) by Derek Sullivan
Nancy Kress, Mark Leslie, Sephera Giron, Caro Soles


With some of the panels I was on, I definitely found myself in well over my head in terms of being able to keep up or offer as much as the other guests, but often in those cases, I sit back and absorb what the other panelists are offering. For example in the "When Does SF Become Fantasy and Fantasy Become SF" panel, Nancy Kress and Carl Frederick got into an interesting discussion/debate that included paralleling scientists to mysticists. Nancy, with a background and knowledge in genetic engineering, and Carl, a physicist, were able to argue scientific theory at a wonderfully deep and fascinating level. Me, being an English major, could only momentarily comment on the signs and signals aspect of science merely being a "map" and not "the territory" (referring to Alfred Korzybski's comment that an abstraction derived from something is not the thing itself, but merely a representation of it) -- that took me back to the classes in which we discussed Semiotics and language back in university) -- but in any case, I walked away with a short list on subject areas I plan on reading about and books I'm looking forward to digging into.
At the end of the panel, Nancy apologized for monopolizing the panel on the sidetrack and I assured her it was absolutely riveting and I enjoyed it very much despite being unable to add much input into the discussion at that point.

And speaking of language, at another panel, just before it began, one of the folks sitting in the audience asked an interesting question. He asked if I knew the term that described when a person's first name and last name are both "first" or "given" names. He was, of course referring to my psyeudonym (Mark Leslie) -- where the first, or given name and the last, or surname, could each be a first/given name. This is also referred to as having two first names. (Other people with two first names would include: Ron Howard, John Wayne, Larry David, Paul Simon, Kirk Douglas -- you get the picture)

Fascinated by etymology (word and phrase origins), I'm always intrigued by terms used to describe different word combinations. So I spent a bit of time trying to find out if there was a term for such a thing -- I'm postive that there is -- but was unable to find anything yet.

I did find mention of a "Surnameless club" but am sure there must be some sort of actual word for it. (Yes, I realize mine is artificial, that I drop my last name "Lefebvre" when I write, and just use my first and second name of "Mark Leslie" -- but despite the artificial nature of it on my part, it still exists, and I'm eager to learn the term.

So, my research continues -- if anyone out there can point me in the right direction, I'd love to hear from you. After all, I did promise Tom that I'd email him an answer if I ever found out.

Friday, April 17, 2009

EerieCon 11 This Weekend

I'll be attending EerieCon 11 this weekend in Niagara Falls, NY. It's a fun con, celebrating science-fiction, fantasy and horror. I'll be participating as an author guest in a number of different activities.

Saturday

10 AM -Panel: Music To Read By
Can music add something to your reading or would it just distract you? What type of music would you use?

11 AM - Panel: Does Anyone Make a Real Horror Movie Anymore?
Remember when they created terror out of mood, an intricate script and, dare we say, subtlety? Why are so many horror films now just slasher flicks and torture porn? Can you name a recent film that was genuinely unsettling and not grotesquely revolting?

12:30 PM - Reading: Mark Leslie
Me doing a reading from some dark humour poetry and short short stories. I'll have a couple of fun giveaways for the audience.

1:00 PM - Panel: Genre Crossing
Do crossovers provide a bigger audience? Will an SF novel ever win an Edgar or a mystery a Hugo?

3:00 PM - Panel: What's Your Object When on a Panel?
Do you worry about being funny or entertaining? What, if anything, do you do to improve the "entertainment value" of a panel you are on?

4:00 PM - Panel: What's New With You?
Panelists discuss new or seldom used ideas or plots that have been used in print and media in recent years.

Sunday

10:00 AM - Panel: When Does SF Become Fantasty and Fantasy Become SF?
Where does horror fit in? Can you effectively set out to combine them?

2:00 PM - Panel: I Want You, Beloved
If you could bring any one character to life, who would it be and why?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

HNT - Dark Is Not Enough

I've been reading the electronic version of Necrotic Tissue since it first came out in January 2008 and have quite enjoyed each issue. It has been a fun, quirky and visually appealing magazine with some fine chilling short stories in it.

The editorial team has done a great job of keeping to their mandate of putting together a nice package for fans of horror fiction while supporting horror writers not only by offering a paying market but by striving for quickly turned-around personal rejections. (IE, helpful comments on why a story wasn't chosen rather than "blank" form rejections)

After six successfully received electronic issues, Necrotic Tissue will be coming out in print format. Their July 2009 issue will be the first print copy of the magazine. And I'm delighted to be one of the contributing authors to that issue, with my short short "Less of a Man."

While my pay for this story will come upon publication, I was delighted to receive a Necrotic Tissue t-shirt in the mail yesterday. It seems I completely forgot that, upon acceptance of my story, the editor asked for my t-shirt size, because all contributors, on top of their pay, get a snazzy t-shirt with the Necrotic Tissue logo on the front "...dark is not enough" on the back and "Published" in a tiny script on the left arm. The t-shirt is just really neat, and an extremely nice touch.

Good timing, too. Since I'm an author guest at EerieCon 11 this coming weekend in Niagara Falls, NY, I'll be delighted to wear this t-shirt and do my small part to help spread the word about this fun new small press magazine. The great thing is that people can check out the fine quality of the first six back issues in electronic form (available in both a high resolution and low resolution format) before they subscribe. Go check it out.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When Technology Fails

There was an interesting article in The New York Times this past weekend that talked about how technology is making certain plot devices obsolete. Devices such as having to isolate a character, the inability to reach or contact someone, misunderstandings, etc.

It's a great article that covers some fascinating moments in literature. Author M.J. Rose is quoted in the article as talking about the fact that if a character missed a train in 1888 or even 1988, there was no way to contact the person at the other end, so they were likely to think you either changed your mind, had been captured, weren't able to escape, etc. But in 2009, Rose says, you simply whip out your cell phone or text the person that you're going to be late.

Given our socially connected world, it's a somewhat challenging thing to achieve. Isolation. Missed communications.

Interestingly enough, I faced the opposite challenge with my novel MORNING SON (which I had originally wrote half a dozen years ago and am currently revising) -- I needed to have a character traveling north of Sudbury, Ontario and being out of cell phone contact in certain scenes, yet have cell phone contact in others. My challenge was, at the time I originally wrote the story, there was NO cell phone signal anywhere near the town of Levack. But for the story, I manufactured the fact that there was a signal available in town, yet when the character travels north on highway 144, he loses his signal and therein lies a bunch of important missed phone calls.

Fortunately enough, reality caught up with me and currently, you DO get a cell phone signal in the town of Levack, yet there are spots as you head north on Highway 144 where the signal drops off.

Which is really good, because, Erratic Cycles, a story I had published originally in 1999 and which was reprinted in my book One Hand Screaming, relies on the fact that the main character's cell phone is useless to him when his car breaks down in the middle of the night on a deserted stretch of Highway 144.

So far, technology hasn't rendered THAT particular story unbelievable.

But I suppose that currently, in order to create isolation, there needs to be some sort of technological failure. Some sort of Kryptonite-laden circumstances that renders a technology useless for the convenience of isolation. However, nomatter how technology continues to progress and allow us ways to connect, I'm sure that writers will continue to devise new ways for people to misunderstand one another or establish isolation.

After all, technology changes, but plot devices abide.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Writer's Block - A Serious Illness

I found this embedded video on mb's blog. It's an episode of Steve Patterson's That's Not Debatable. Steve is the host of The Debaters on CBC Radio. You can see more episodes of TND as well as other hilarious clips on You Tube.

I have long argued that there is no such thing as Writer's Block, that I don't believe in it and that perhaps it's just a convenient excuse writer's use so we don't look like lazy asses.

But I just love the way that Patterson sums up his view of Writer's Block perfectly in just over one minute.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

HNT - Inspired

A week or so ago, Francine ran in Around The Bay, North America's oldest road race which takes place every spring right here in Hamilton. As I'd mentioned, she continually inspires me.

Fran and I used to run together, many years ago. We had completed a 5K race together many years back (The CIBC Run for the Cure in support of Breast Cancer) When Alexander was born, I kind of fell out of running. But she kept at it, and has continually improved and inspired me.

Another inspiration was Alicia Snell's story -- the one she tells in her riveting book: Me Minus 173: From 328 Pounds to the Boston Marathon. In it, Alicia describes how at the age of 42, she decided to make a life altering choice of eating healthy and exercising -- which led to losing 173 pounds in 15 months and shortly after completing the Boston Marathon. Ten years later, Alicia has run 18 marathons. If you've ever wanting to change your life for the better (whether it's lose weight, stop smoking or whatever), Alicia shows that it can be done with a bit of conviction, determination and goal setting -- get your hands on her phenomenal book and you will NOT be disappointed.

Now back to me.

I turn 40 next month.

I thought it would interesting if I did something neat and fun to mark the milestone occasion.

Late last summer, after a minor health scare, I finally decided to do something about some extra poundage I was carrying around. Based on my BMI, I was 40 pounds overweight. So in the period of about three months (from August to December 2008), I lost 30 pounds. Since then, I've been fluctuating the final 5 to 10 pounds on and off, back and forth, teeter-totter.

To lose the initial 30 pounds, all I really needed to do was take a bit of care in what I was eating. No, I didn't become a health food maniac -- I simply watched what I ate, tried to follow Canada's Food Guide (which mostly meant trying to increase my intake of fruits and vegetables) and took Francine's advice to stop shoveling food indiscriminately into my mouth. (Yes, imagine Homer Simpson when he sees a pile of donuts -- that's me -- or, it was me. I'm still tempted to devour a whole box of donuts whenever they're presented to me -- but I now tend to curb it down to one, or perhaps two, maybe three) But making decisions such as "sure, I'll have the extra donut today, but next time I'll skip desert" goes a long way to providing balance while still allowing me to slip and have fun non-healthy treats.

In any case, I turn 40 next month and I still have this extra 5 to 10 pounds -- and I don't feel I'm in as good shape as I can be. So I thought perhaps a return to running would be in order. The regular exercise would likely help me control those last few pounds. And, after all, I want to still be able to play with Alexander and perhaps keep up with him for at least the next 10 to 15 years. That, and I really want to be around for a long time (am I asking too much for just another 40 years?) to watch my son grow.

So, running is fun. Besides, with an mp3 player strapped on, I can listen to more audio books and get more reading done. Thus, running serves two purposes -- tunes the body, informs the mind.

To give myself a "okay, you're 40, do something cool" goal, I thought it might be fun to run in the upcoming 10K Mud Run in Toronto. It takes place in June and at the end of the 10K of hills, river crossings, climbing walls and going through and over various obstacles, you end with a rump (or dive) through a giant mud pit. Sounds exactly like my cup of tea.

I've got two months to train for it and I started last Sunday. My legs actually stopped hurting late yesterday from Tuesday night's run -- which means I'm getting better at it so far. But I still have a long way to go.

So to inspire me, I've got this picture of Francine that was taken in this year's Around The Bay Road Race. Okay, it was a cold, very rainy morning, yet Fran looks awesome in this pic -- she looks more like she's out for a mid afternoon stroll than running 15K soaking wet.


Of course, to remind myself that I need to be doing something to meet my own goal, I have a second version of the picture. A little less pretty, of course.


Stop looking at my man-boobs!


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Not Pod-Fade Away

A few years back, I started doing an experimental podcast that was a strange combination of snippets of my fiction and the "author notes" behind the writing of it. Called Prelude to a Scream, it was meant to be the testing grounds for creating a podcast version of my story collection One Hand Screaming.

The project ran out of steam at a certain point. It began with a technical issue that a podcasting friend pointed out to me -- one that, for the life of me, I couldn't resolve. Also, in my quest to make each episode as "perfect" as I could, I kept running into issues where I wasn't satisfied with the recording of a story or my rambling babble, and so ended up re-recording the same thing a half-dozen times and getting nowhere. And then the whole project went south when I began losing more writing time, and was reluctant to work on what I saw as a "past project" rather than work on new writing, and new projects.

However, given that my podcast seems to have faded away (a term often used for that in the world of podcasting is to "podfade"), I wanted to give it another shot, because, an avid listener of podcasts (both great writing podcasts as well as fiction podcasts, I really want to contribute to the world of free downloadable audio) -- And apparently, podfading is too generous a term to use for what happened to my podcast -- mine sort of just seemed to hit a giant brick wall one day.

Sigh.

But I'm going to make an effort to put out a new episode within the next couple of weeks -- perhaps something shorter, with a complete work of fiction in it. But at least something.

But nobody hold their breath.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It's Like Being Back In Levack

I recently saw this interesting video clip of Matthew Ingram (Globe & Mail's Communities Editor) talking about social media at an event in Toronto that was posted by Matthew Burpee.

Ingram talks about social media tools are turning everything into a small town, which has both good and not so good side effects.



It reminds me so much of what it was like growing up in Levack, a small community that is part of the town of Onaping Falls in Northern Ontario about an hour's drive north of Sudbury.

The experience was both extremely wonderful but at times frustrating and constricted. I'm continually conflicted about the great sense of community I grew up with, but also the frustrating "everybody knows your business" aspect of growing up in such an environment. Francine and I continue to speculative about whether or not Alexander would be better off growing up in such a pleasantly quaint community rather than in a city. We still haven't finished lining up the pros and cons, as we're finding they're evening matched. But in any case, I'm delighted for my own experience of having lived and grown in a small town.

Interestingly enough, I've used social media to connect with dozens and dozens of friends, school-mates and other folks from my small town -- it has partly brought back those feelings of community spirit and pride, which is really cool. Part of what makes it even better, though, is the "catching up with old friends" aspect of it. I find it fascinating and wonderful to connect with people I haven't seen in a few decades just to see how they're doing and what they're up to. Interesting stuff. Just this morning, for example, I accepted yet another Facebook friend request from a friend from my old school that I haven't seen in ages. It will be neat to see what he's been up to, where he lives now, etc. It's like a perpetual higgh school reunion.

Which tells you, I suppose, that I must miss that sense of community spirit more than anything, right?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Don't Squeeze The Bacon

What will they think of next?

Well, why not squeezable bacon? Sounds good to me.

Actually, part of me is disturbed and disgusted. The other part of me wants to go buy some and try squirting bacon paste onto ALL of my meals.

A friend of mine recently passed on info about this from ThinkGeek.com, one of the coolest places in the universe to get neat stuff.

Of course, one of the great things about ThinkGeek is that they don't just have the coolest, neatest new things, but things that have been around for decades but perhaps were only available in selected markets or regions of the world.

Vilhelm Lillefläsk, the inventor of Squeez Bacon ® developed a new way to process bacon while working in a kitchen in Sweden shortly after WW II. He created a fully cooked 100% bacon paste that could be squeezed from a tube. The process that creates it requires no preservatives or other additives so the end product is as "healthy" as real bacon.

In the classic words of Homer Simpson: "Mmmm, bacon. . ."

Okay, I was going to end my post there. But I'll be honest, this was an April Fool's joke from the good folks at ThinkGeek. And a classic one at that.

However, despite any suspicions you have, you don't find out it's a joke until you click the "BUY" button. But I have to admit, the concept still partially disgusts me, but another part of me is really sad that the "BUY" button doesn't actually lead to this marvelous product . . .

Check out the video that went along with it. It's so goofy it looks real.

Another interesting note about the video -- apparently, if you translate the Swedish to English, you get the lyrics to Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" -- therefore you not only get fooled and disappointed about the bacon, but you get Rickrolled.

Ah, those fun people at ThinkGeek -- what will they think of next?

Friday, April 03, 2009

It All Adds Up

So this morning I opened my email to find a rejection from a publisher for a short story I'd submitted about a month and a half ago.

That's never fun.

However, whenever I get a rejection, I typically respond by looking at the story, any comments the editor might have made on the rejection, seriously consider constructive feedback (if provided) and potentially edit/modify the story accordingly if I feel it's necessary, then attempt to find another appropriate market to submit that story to.

I like to keep at least 5 or more stories "out there" in the slush piles of various markets at any given time.

Because, at the end of the day, rejection is part of the business (each market gets hundreds of submissions and can only accept a small handful - and you're not going to wow every single editor with every single story - like dating, there has to be a nice fit between the story's content/style and the editor's tastes/mood as well as whether or not the editor has already chosen a similar story for their magazine/anthology/project. It's a tricky hit and miss process (okay, it's more miss than hit, but THAT'S why a writer has to not stick their head in the sand and keep at it)

After all, you can't have a story accepted for publication with it just sitting there in your drawer.

So far, in the past couple of years I've been pretty good about keeping a small handful of stories in circulation. For a handful of yearsusing on novel-length projects, I had slipped on that mandate, and my "sales" of short fiction completely dropped off. Why? Because (and I'll repeat this in case it was missed) you CAN'T sell a story if you don't send it to an editor. Honestly. It's true. I've tried it. There are some great stories sitting in my drawer, and not once in the past 15 years has a story sold without me having to submit it anywhere. (Okay, it sort of happened once, but it was a fluke and isn't typical -- it's on par with winning the lottery) Unless you're a "name" author, you're not going to receive invitations from editors to send them a story.

No, at the end of the day, you have to submit to be accepted.

And speaking of submissions, I still occasionally submit to market that pay lesser amounts (IE, they pay less than professional rates). I know that many schools of thought among writers circles suggest this is a terrible idea. And for the most part, I agree with them. Giving your away for free or less than pro rates isn't usually a good idea. However, I'll sometimes do that because it's a reprint for which I've already made a decent amount and the story works so nicely in the project it would appear in, the editor is a friend and I'd like to support them or do them or their project a favour, or perhaps because the market is a great one, offering high exposure (the key is HIGH exposure, not just exposure - I can get ho-hum exposure by posting a story along with a naked picture on my blog) or is considered prestigious among enough circles that appearing in it is a good thing for a writer.

However, despite exceptions that I will make if all the stars are alligned, I don't often submit to no payment or "contributor copy only" markets much anymore. When I first started out, I certainly did -- and that was a good area to hone my craft and get some experience.

But one thing that has happened over the years, and continues to happen, is that I'll get cheques (or checks if you're not Canadian) in US funds for really small amounts, like $5.00 or $25.00 or something like that. It has happened less in the past 5 or so years due to options like PayPal where it's more cost effective for editors to pay small amounts via that option -- but I still do occasionally get smaller royalty payments in US funds.

For that reason, I have a US funds account with a Canadian Bank where I've been depositing these small cheques into for at least the past decade. Again, not so much lately as when I first started out. And though the amounts are small (the larger US cheques go straight into my regular Canadian account, auto-exchange, etc because I usually need them to do things like eat and buy clothes), they've added up over the years. And since the US account I have has no monthly fees just to keep the account open (a giant anomally among banking institutions) the account continues to grow with tiny interest deposits plus my occasional small deposit.

I've let it sit over the years, and it has added up to several hundred dollars. Not bad for small deposits. And I'm going to be taking advantage of it to help pay for attending Eerie-Con 11 in Niagara Falls, NY in a few weeks.

You see, attending conventions is yet another type of investment that a writer can make in their career. But that discussion is for another day.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

HNT - Scare Net

And here's reason number 14 that I don't work in an environment that requires me to wear a hair net. I'm too damn freaky looking with one of those things on (particularly since I don't really have that much hair to net) On me, the hair net looks more like a "scare net" (Of course, the shitty pair of 5 dollar sunglasses don't help the look)

This week's HNT picture was taken as Francine, Alexander and I were waiting outside the Walker's Chocolate factory in Burlington for an open house tour last weekend.

Cute aside: Just to the left of my head you can see a large scrap metal pile -- behind us was a scrap metal yard, with giant cranes hefting large compacted boxes of metal around. Alexander was convinced that WALL•E was over there and wanted to go check it out. I managed to convince him that he'd already left with EVE and they were on the Axiom rescuing the reject robots, so we returned to our quest to find Oompa-loompas in the chocolate factory.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

2nd Canadian Book Challenge - Update

A while back, I joined the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge.

The originator (John Mutford), challenged bloggers to read (and write about) 13 Canadian books (by Canadians and/or about Canadians) in the 1 year period between July 1, 2008 and July 1, 2009.

Here's a status update on how I've been doing in the challenge so far.

To Date:
1) The Killing Circle - Andrew Pyper
2) Cricket in a Fist - Naomi K. Lewis
3) Wolf Pack - Edo van Belkom
4) Lone Wolf - Edo van Belkom
5) Cry Wolf - Edo van Belkom
6) Wolf Man - Edo van Belkom
7) In Tongues of the Dead - Brad Kelln
8) Wake - Robert J. Sawyer
9) Grown up Digital - Don Tapscott
10) Too Close To Home - Linwood Barclay

See my original post about these books here.

Latest Additions:

11) The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson
(Finished reading Feb 16, 2009)
This is a wonderful story of love through the ages. Although the premise for this book wasn't exactly my cup of tea (a contemporary novel raved about by folks who enjoy fine new works of literature), I started reading it and got hooked by the author's compelling prose. Once his prose hooked me (that took not much more than a few lines of reading), I wanted to know what happened next, and so on, and so on, until the end of the novel. The book is about a narcissistic porn star who gets severely burned and almost dies in a car accident. While recovering in the hospital, a strange lady by the name of Marianne Engel shows up and starts telling him stories about how they've been together forever in his past lives. She tells him stories of love throughout the ages, including their own story of how they first met. And, though he knows she is a mental patient and manic-depressive, he can't help but be compelled by her stories and her, and gradually falls in love with her. The title comes from the gargoyle carvings she does (and the fact that the main character describes his burnt self as looking like a gargoyle). Excellent book.
Link(s): Andrew Davidson's author profile on RH Canada website

12) Frozen Blood - Joel A. Sutherland
(Finished reading Feb 23, 2009)
A well written first novel by Sutherland, containing a good sense of place (Ottawa) -- it actually made me homesick for the city. As apocalyptic novels go, it succeeds in actually being about the end of the world as we know it, though a bit depressing. Sutherland's characters were well crafted, the situation was filled with tension and suspense and the story steam-rolled its way to the very end. A great first novel by Sutherland, and I was pleased to see that this novel made the short-list for the upcoming Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in a first novel.
Link(s): Joel A. Sutherland's webpage

13) Me Minus 173 - Alicia Snell
(Finished reading March 15, 2009
Alicia's story of how, at the age of 42, she decided to make some dramatic changes in her life is a poignant, touching and ultimately inspiring tale. Within the space of 15 months she lost 173 pounds and began running -- since then has completed 18 marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Her story is self-effacing and honest, straight-forward and uplifting and wonderfully documents how a person can choose to make a significant and positive change in their lifestyle and come out on top of something that has plagued them their entire lives. I put this book down feeling inspired and motivated and know that her tale is going to help so many others in the pursuit of their own dreams and desires.
Link(s): Alicia Snell's website, the book (because it's not yet broadly available - not YET)

14) The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill
(Finished reading March 30, 2009)
Absolutely brilliant novel -- wonderfully written, compelling, moving, touching -- It's incredibly easy to see why it has won so many awards and continues to dominate the bestseller lists. This fictitious story of Aminata's life, born in Africa, captured into the slave trade and taken to America, then her travels to Nova Scotia and back to Africa are filled with an endless stream of struggles and heartaches that are staved by the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. I had the pleasure of meeting Lawrence several months back when he was writer in residence at McMaster -- he is a great guy, down to earth and easy-going and is as wonderful a speaker as he is a writer. I strongly encourage anyone who has read his book that, you get a chance to go to an event where Lawrence is reading, you definitely go check it out. There's not much point in me writing too much "review" type content about the book, because far better reviewers than me have raved about this fantastic novel. This is yet another example of a book that I purchased a long time ago but didn't get around to reading it until a later date -- and for that, I continue to kick myself.
Link(s): Lawrence Hill's website, mention of Lawrence on this blog

So at this point, I've already reached and passed the 13 required books for the challenge. But I've got more books (one of which I'm currently reading) by Canadians -- so perhaps I'll reach 16 or 17 by the time I reach Canada Day 2009. Not hard to do as there is no shortage of fantastic books by Canadian authors.