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Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Chilling Halloween Treat

Usually, on the evening of October 31st, by the time that my son is in bed, and Francine and I are shutting the lights off and unplugging the power leading to the front yard decorations (typically a haunted graveyard scene with plenty of tombstones, scary figures either popping out of the ground or lurking among the graves, blue and red floodlights a strobe light and fog machine), I get that same feeling I used to get when I was a child and Christmas was over.

A little bit sad.

The thrill and excitement of Halloween is over for another year.

Since Halloween is the one time of year that most everybody else is in sync with the types of things I most adore (yes, I have a bit of inkling towards the macabre), I'm that much more sad.

I'll go on believing in ghosts and goblins and monsters lurking in the shadows, while the rest of the world moves in into other seasonal celebrations.

Sigh.

I've always wished that Halloween could be extended and not just culminate in a single night.

I mean, wouldn't it be neat if Halloween celebrations could last throughout the week?

Well, in my own little way of trying to extend the Halloween spirit, I'm offering a special Halloween treat.

Starting today and ending six days from now, I'm offering free copies of CAMPUS CHILLS, the anthology of terror stories set on campuses across Canada which I edited. The contest appears on Goodreads.com.


With original stories from some of Canada's finest horror authors, this wonderful collection is certain to offer you a special chill for reading during a dark and creepy fall evening.

There's one copy available for each of the seven days the contest is open.

For a chance to win, simply register your name at the Goodreads contest site. A random selection will be done, and the winners will be sent a copy of CAMPUS CHILLS. No strings attached.

Of course, I'd love if it the seven people who win a copy would be so kind as to write a review of it on Goodreads, on their own blog, on Facebook, or tell some friends if they enjoyed it -- but other than that hope, there's no catch.

Simply, it's a Halloween treat -- starting today and ending at the end of the week. The contest is open to people in the US and Canada.

So, if you're looking for a special Halloween treat and something to offer you some special chills beyond the Halloween season, go sign up for a chance to get your copy of CAMPUS CHILLS.

Best of luck to you if you enter. And if you're not a winner, please note that the book is available at a number of retail locations in Canada -- many of which take online orders and can ship to you. Ask for it at your favourite local bookstore. Tell them to check out www.campuschills.com to find out how easy it is for them to special order a copy in for YOU.

Happy Halloween! Here's hoping that the Great Pumpkin is good to you this year.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Evolve = Adapt = Survive

There was a great article in the Huffington Post recently called Evolve or Die: Why Reinvent Independent Bookstores? by Praveen Madan and Christin Evans.

The article covers some startling facts, such as an average of about 200 independent booksellers closing their doors a year in the U.S.

The authors go through a list of the various factors likely leading to this dramatic extinction (or slaughter if you prefer) of an ongoing traditional fixture in local communities. It's about a dramatic explosion in competition, from price-slashing retail monsters like WalMart to the ever convenient explosion of internet book stores.

However, despite the depressing and very frightening realities that the authors discuss in their article, they make a point that all is not lost.

Here is a quote from the article
"So far you haven't heard anything new. We believe that this is a time of great opportunity for independent bookstores. What? Go back and read that again. Wait a minute, didn't we just write the obituary of the independent bookstore?

We believe that independent bookstores can have a great future and we are betting our careers on it. What makes us optimistic in the face of all the doom and gloom surrounding independent bookstores? New opportunities that can help independent bookstores reinvent and reinvigorate their businesses. New opportunities being made possible by a publishing industry in turmoil, new opportunities being served up by new technologies, new opportunities we can identify if we pay attention to the unmet needs of our customers."

Then they go on to list 5 potential new opportunities and supporting details for each.

1) Literary Community Building
2) Author Services
3) Enhancing the Browsing Experience
4) Print on Demand
5) New Markets
Since the article is well thought out and written, it's best for you to go read it in its entirety.

Like me, you'll likely want to keep an eye on updated articles from these authors on this subject via The Huffington Post.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

HNT - Which Tie?

In last week's HNT post, I speculated on whether or not I would wear the same skull tie at the Campus Chills/Haunted McMaster 2009 event that I had at the Haunted McMaster event in 2008.

Of course I did.

This year I wore it with a black shirt rather than a white one.

You've got to love those versatile skull ties.


I mean, there are only so many occasions where I can wear my Halloween/horror ties, and I do have a few of them. (The skull one is just my favourite) I need to take advantage of those occasions where it is appropriate for me to wear such a tie. Which are, basically, my appearances as a horror author at bookstore events and conventions (though you don't often dress up at a convention), and, of course, near Halloween.

I have even more Halloween underwear, and have to admit, I'm really good at only wearing them during the Halloween season. (Of course, in our house, the Halloween season begins about the last week of September -- but I do have no less than a dozen different Halloween themed boxers, so can go almost two weeks without wearing the same pair twice. No wonder they've lasted so long and my collection keeps growing. Since they get put away until the next year, there's hardly any wear on them, so they keep lasting. For example, one of my favourite pairs, my spooky eye shorts (and incidentally, the subject of my very first HNT post back in October 2005), which glow in the dark, are still in perfect shape.

And should they last that long, I imagine I'll be wearing them another 40 years from now (assuming, of course, that I also last that long too)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Campus Chills Launches

The Campus Chills launches in Halifax, Hamilton, Waterloo and Edmonton went over extremely well last week, with 4 different events taking place across the country on October 22, 2009.

Here are a few of the pictures from some of the events.

Starting in Halifax at Dalhousie University bookstore, here is Steve Vernon, offering some lunchtime reading and talk treats to the audience there.


Here's a fun picture taken before the Waterloo event started, with Douglas Smith, Julie E. Czerneda and James Alan Gardner hamming for the camera with the University of Waterloo bookstore staff in the lecture hall where the readings (and Julie's story) took place, complete with eerie lighting and spooky effects.


Here's a shot of the happy family at Titles Bookstore McMaster University where Kelley Armstrong, Kimberly Foottit, (me), Sephera Giron, Michael Kelly and Edo van Belkom did readings and signed copies inside the bookstore where the haunted campus walks started and ended from.


While I have video of Susie Moloney and Brit Trogen reading at the University of Alberta Bookstore (I'm going to chunk the videos up to put on YouTube), I don't have pictures of the event, but will attempt to post them soon.

And today, if you find yourself in Ottawa, get thee over to the Algonguin Bookstore on the Woodruffe campus. Because mid afternoon Nancy Kilpatrick and Carol Weekes will be treating. Below is a shot of the Algonquin campus store mascot, Thor, getting into the Halloween spirit by checking out Campus Chills.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HNT - Haunted Hamilton 2009

Today is the launch of CAMPUS CHILLS -- an anthology of all original tales of terror by 13 extremely talented Canadian authors which I had the extreme pleasure of editing for the three campus bookstores that have produced it.

Titles Bookstore McMaster University, University of Waterloo Bookstore and University of Alberta Bookstore combined their resources to sponsor paying authors professional rates to craft stories specifically for this anthology.

Their tales are set on campuses across Canada and run the full range of horror -- from classic ghost stories to eerie "Twilight Zone" tales to the utterly disturbing and shocking. They have a couple things in common though. All of the tales draw upon some sort of speculative element (ie, some historic ghost legend, a classic "monster" or a new discovery from a campus lab) and they are brilliantly crafted tales by some of the finest writers I've ever had the pleasure of working with.

The book, which is being produced on the Espresso Book Machines at Waterloo, U of A and McMaster, (a 308 page perfect bound trade paperback retailing for $19.95) is launching and going on sale today at the following stores:

University of Waterloo Bookstore
(Waterloo, ON)
University of Alberta Bookstore (Edmonton, ON)
Dalhousie University Bookstore (Halifax, NS)
Algonquin College Bookstore (Ottawa, ON)

...and, of course,

Titles Bookstore McMaster University (Hamilton, ON) where Titles is joining forces with Haunted Hamilton. The launch of Campus Chills will be taking place inside the bookstore where a series of 20 minute guided ghost walks of the campus that start and end at the bookstore will take place.

We will be featuring the following Campus Chills contributors who will be doing readings and signing copies of the anthology and their other books at the store: Kelley Armstrong, Kimberly Foottit, Sephera Giron, Michael Kelly and Edo van Belkom.

Steve Vernon, Julie E. Czerneda, James Alan Gardner, Douglas Smith, Susie Moloney and Brit Trogen will all be attending the launches in Halifax, Waterloo and Edmonton today. Plans are being draw for a pre-Halloween event in Ottawa at the Algonquin Bookstore with Carol Weekes and Nancy Kilpatrick.

Titles Bookstore did a similar event last year, branded Haunted McMaster (and yes I blogged about it last year, too) -- so, fittingly, enough, this year, we're calling it Haunted McMaster 2009.

For this week's HNT post, here's a picture of me handing out one of the many exciting door prizes from last year's event. You can count on the fact that I'll be posting pictures from tonight's event in Hamilton as well as the other ones.

The question is, will I be wearing the same "skull" tie this year?

I'm not telling.




Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Campus Chills Anthology Trailer

I recently posted a couple of YouTube videos related to Campus Chills, an exciting new anthology that I have edited which was produced specifically for the Espresso Book Machines at the McMaster, Waterloo and University of Alberta bookstores.

The first one, is a "video book trailer" for the Campus Chills anthology. It's under 60 seconds and is relatively simple -- some text, some voice over, some creepy background music. Campus Chills features 13 original tales of terror set on campuses across Canada. It include stories by Kelley Armstrong, Julie E. Czerneda, Kimberly Foottit, James Alan Gardner, Sephera Giron, Michael Kelly, Nancy Kilpatrick, Susie Moloney, Douglas Smith, Brit Trogen, Edo van Belkom, Steve Vernon and Carol Weekes and is introduced by Robert J. Sawyer.




The second one is about "Haunted McMaster 2009" -- the combined book launch and ghost walk of the McMaster campus taking place at Titles Bookstore Thursday October 22, 2009 at 7 PM. Kelley Armstrong, Kimberly Foottit (McMaster Author), Sephera Giron, Michael Kelly and Edo van Belkom will be onhand for this book launch. The good folks at Haunted Hamilton will be offering the free ghost walks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

It Hurts Really Badly

Alexander and I spent several hours Saturday and Sunday setting up the front yard for Halloween. Basically, we transformed it into a graveyard scene, adding one or two new elements to it and switching it up just a little bit from last year. (Pictures forthcoming)

As always, my son was right beside me, participating every step of the way in the creation of this annual masterpiece. He is such a hard worker it amazes me. I'd like to think it's something he gets from his old man.

Of course, there's something else I'm pretty sure he gets from me.

It's his use of adverbs and adjectives. At one point, when he was helping me hammer some boards into the rickety graveyard fence we were putting up, he caught one of his fingers under the business end of the hammer. Yee-owch!

As I was trying to console him and inspect the damage, he kept saying. "Oh, Dad, it hurts really badly." Lately, it's a phrase he often repeats when he is hurt beyond the normal fall and scrape that five year olds are prone to. And while it disturbs me when he is injured, I also find the way he says it so absolutely cute and adorable.

Then it strikes me. Cute as the statement is, he's falling into one of the traps I can sometimes fall into when writing. Tossing out adverbs and adjectives like there's a massive "going out of style" sale going on.

Of course, given that at five, my son is already demonstrating he'll soon be surpassing me in various abilities (as sons often do to their fathers as they get older), he'll likely be a better master of words than his old man. I'll still be saying things like "This pain hurts really badly" and he'll be suggesting I be more concise like "it smarts" or at least more creative like "the agony I am experiencing is unbearable."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

HNT - Campus Chills

I have spent a good amount of time in the past year working on a book called Campus Chills, an anthology of thirteen tales of terror set on campuses across Canada.

Campus Chills contains never before published stories by Kelley Armstrong, Julie E. Czerneda, Kimberly Foottit, James Alan Gardner, Sephera Giron, Michael Kelly, Nancy Kilpatrick, Susie Moloney, Douglas Smith, Brit Trogen, Edo van Belkom, Steve Vernon and Carol Weekes. It is introduced by Robert J. Sawyer.

I had asked each of these fine authors to produce a tale set on a campus anywhere in the world (they all chose Canada) and that tells a chilling story. I wanted the stories to either be traditional ghost stories drawing on history or local campus legends, or perhaps be something born from a discovery in the labs. One caveat was that I did not want any stories that were based on real-life horrors such as what happened at Virginia Tech in 2007 or at McGill in 1989. There were to be no enraged gunmen on campus -- those things were still too close to home for so many -- the horrors in their fiction were to come from some supernatural force or from something happening in a research lab.

And the authors came through beautifully. From experiments gone wrong to ghosts walking the deserted hallways at night, from creatures returning from the dead to eerie spectres forewarning danger, from the fear of a failing grade to the dread of abandonment and isolation, from outraged revenge to a desperate desire to change the past, from supernatural creatures stalking the campus to long hidden and buried passageways and secrets, this anthology covers a broad range of the horror genre from some of Canada's truly finest writers.

The book, which is available from the Espresso Book Machines at McMaster University, University of Waterloo and University of Alberta Bookstores, will be launched next week -- October 22, 2009 in a four city, three province series of events.

Dalhousie University bookstore will host author Steve Vernon for a lunchtime reading/book signing in Halifax, NS.

Then, starting at 7 PM in Hamilton, ON at McMaster, Haunted Hamilton will be offering free custom ghost tours of campus starting and ending at Titles bookstore, while inside, after a demonstration of the printing of the book on the Espresso Book Machine, authors Kelley Armstrong, Kimberly Foottit, Sephera Giron, Michael Kelly and Edo van Belkom do readings and sign copies of Campus Chills as well as their own books.

In Waterloo, ON beginning at 9 PM at the University of Waterloo bookstore, after a demonstration of the printing of Campus Chills on the Espresso Book Machine, authors Julie E. Czerneda, James Alan Gardner and Douglas Smith will be taking customers on a journey from the bookstore to a special secret campus location where everyone will be treated to candlelit ghost stories. (Due to limited space, this free event requires pre-registration, which you can do online)

And finally, the University of Alberta bookstore in Edmonton, AB will be hosting authors Brit Trogen and Susie Moloney, engaging customers in readings, a demonstration of the printing of Campus Chills on the Espresso Book Machine and the previewing of short horror films from local independently produced film-makers.

We were unable to secure a fifth event (Montreal-based) featuring authors Nancy Kilpatrick and Carol Weekes. Otherwise, it would have been a five city, four province series of book launches featuring all contributors. But I'm still delighted that we're able to have scheduled launches across Canada for the same day and featuring 11 of the 13 contributors (okay, 12 of the 15 if you include me, as I'll be hosting the McMaster event, and Rob Sawyer, who wrote the introduction but is unable to attend due to previous commitments)

I will, of course, be talking more and more about the coming events, particularly the one in Hamilton. In the meantime, here's a picture of me reading through an Advance Reader Copy of the book that we're currently spitting out of the Espresso Book Machines . . . this book is so good that I've read it over a dozen times. (I suppose, being the editor, I'd have to read it repeatedly, and yes, I'm a little biased . . . but dammit, these authors have done a tremendous job writing some incredible stories for this anthology . . . it's unputdownable . . .)



Friday, October 09, 2009

Da Count - Fran

This week's Da Count is something I neglect to count often enough, yet a thing that is so very precious to me. My relationship with Francine. She is my wife, my best friend, my lover, my confidante, my playmate, my soulmate, my partner on this life journey.


On Monday, Francine and I will be celebrating 13 years of marriage.

What I still can't believe, and which I am truly impressed by is that she actually continues to put up with me, with all my foibles and faults, all the silly things I do and the fact that though I'm 40 years of age, I am amused by the same things our five year old finds funny. More so than being the kind, wonderful, loving and nurturing gorgeous and sexy woman that I continue to fall more in love with each and every day, she actually has the infinite patience to put up with me.

I don't know how I got so lucky, but I'm certainly a better man for having Fran in my life.

And for that, I count my blessings repeatedly.

dacount

Thursday, October 08, 2009

HNT - Death Of Free Time

When I was cutting the lawn this past week (something I had neglected to do for close to two weeks due to me being so crazy busy at work and on personal projects, combined with the fact that whenever I WAS at home, it seemed to be raining or an ungodly time to be cutting the lawn -- I'm sure the neighbours would freak out if I started up my mower at 2 AM) I left a small patch of grass in the middle. It's one of the "games" I play with my son while we're cutting the lawn. He enjoys seeing different patterns.

Based on how divided my attention and time has been lately, and hearing myself continually using the phrase "Oh gee, I'd better get home soon or my wife is going to kill me," I thought pulling out one of our Halloween decorations a bit early and sticking in the lawn might be a fun idea.


Symbolic, perhaps of the death of free time I've been experiencing lately?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Avatar

I hadn't thought about it much, but when I started getting into various social media platforms, I decided it would make sense for me to use a single avatar.

The avatar usage started right here on this blog. I started blogging back in 2005, and I honestly can't remember what picture I had originally used when I started or how often I changed it around. But one of my buddies from work, Taras Shuper, had small pictures of his bloggy friends on the right nav of his website, and within it included a small head shot derived from a photo I had on one of my websites.

I quite liked it -- taken from a photo of me leaning out over the railing of the Staten Island ferry with the Manhattan skyline behind me, it was simple and obviously me.

From that point forward, I updated my Blogger profile blog avatar to the cool image that Shoop had used and haven't changed it since. I also updated my MySpace avatar to include the same head shot. (Though I did create a changing gif for that one, flashing between my profile pic and my book One Hand Screaming)

Then, as I joined various different social media platforms and online groups, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Goodreads, I used the very same avatar. Given that my original reason for going to the various social media platforms was to expand my networking as a writer and engage in various self-promotional activities (sometimes blatant and shameless, and other times subtle and quiet), I thought it might be important to have a consistent look. So if somebody followed my blog and then wanted to "friend" me on a different social media platform, they could tell, without much fuss, that it was indeed the same person.

Given that most of my social network connections use my writing name "Mark Leslie" rather than my full name "Mark Leslie Lefebvre" -- the consistent avatar also helped shed a tiny bit of confusion as to my identity. Those who knew me in person or from work should immediately recognize the tightly cropped head shot -- and those who knew me from other social networking platforms should be able to easily recognize that it was the same person.

And while I admire the fact that people frequently change the profile pictures on Facebook, matching their mood or something that is of great significance to them, or in the case of authors, changing their profile pic to their most recent book, that hasn't been something for me.

I can honestly say that since I joined Facebook I haven't once changed my profile pic from that fun headshot my buddy Taras created. I've been a "one profile picture" sort of guy from the very beginning. In fact, to celebrate, I just created a Facebook group to see how many others, like me, have maintained the same profile pic on Facebook from the beginning. I mean, why not? It's a fun social experiment, right?

As a point of interest, here is the original picture that my avatar headshot was derived from.


It was taken by my wife, Francine on the weekend of our anniversary several years ago when we were in New York. Having missed the ferry to visit the Statue of Liberty, we took a trip on the Staten Island Ferry at the top of the afternoon rush hour.

We had a fantastic time -- so one of the side-effects of using the same profile picture/avatar on so many different sites and platforms is that whenever I see it, it reminds me of the great time Francine and I had as well as of my cool buddy, Taras, whom I stay in moderate touch with online via different social networking platforms, but haven't seen in person in perhaps a couple of years.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 3 different online platforms/community/networking groups where I broke from this trend/habit and did NOT use that same avatar. Do you think you can you find them? I'm pretty sure you can, as at least one of them is among the more popular social media sites in use.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

HNT - Pub Beat!

I joined the very exciting BookNet Canada PubFight fantasy publishing game with three of my colleagues at Titles Bookstore for the fall season this year.

We basically get to pretend to be publishers, create our own publisher name, logo and slogon, then buy titles in an auction and set print quantities (both offset and digital print runs with varying pricing and delivery times) -- then, based on the sales data from BookNet Canada's records, we can gage how we're doing. But in order to get "sales" you need to ensure you have enough stock to meet the cross-Canada demand.

And it's not as easy as it might at first seem.

For example, last week, I got caught with my pants down and lost over half a million dollars in sales because I dramatically underestimated the incredible volume of a particular title and barely had half as many in stock as sold that week. And while I did do a giant batch of digital short-runs to try to get it in stock, I still won't have that stock until next week, so have missed out an entire week's sales this week too -- and my larger offset print run isn't coming until October 11th -- yikes -- so I just see those incredible lost sales.

The BNC PubFight game is an awesome way for booksellers to see the industry from a whole new perspective -- sure, we can manage stock at our store level and anticipate movement trends, etc. But trying to gage it at a national level and ensure there is plenty of stock out there is pretty challenging.

Over the past couple of decades I have always wondered why or how a publisher could NOT HAVE stock of a particular title that suddenly ramps up as a "sleeper" hit and starts selling like crazy . . . but now I know . . . and it has been perhaps only a half dozen years that BookNet Canada has been around and able to provide publishers with information on the state of books in the Canadian market, so how publishers did it before that I really don't know. (Did they have secret crystal balls?)

PubFight has given me a whole new respect for the incredibly intense and challenging job that publishers have in deciding whether or not to do a second print for a title (keep in mind that PubFight is extremly simplified and doesn't include the complex concept that publishers ALSO have to consider that some of the stock they have "out there" in bookstores will be returned to them, so if they print too many, they'll be sitting on a ton of extra stock after the season is over -- scary stuff) My experience so far is that this game is an incredible educational tool that I think booksellers would definitely benefit from.

Now, I still have bragging rights that among the players in my league I am ranking #1 and beating the next highest ranking publisher by almost a half million dollars -- but my lead would be incredibly further ahead and more properly secured at well over a million dollars ahead had I not fallen asleep at the publishing wheel.

In any case, I got my butt kicked in lost sales because I was sleeping. Okay, from the realm of "good excuses" I was busy at my campus store focusing on helping the rush of Sept students find their proper course materials and textbooks . . . but not paying attention for that week and a half period where it was absolutely busy was all it took to shake down my publishing house -- (Xander House - "Books worth getting excited about")

Fitting the theme of me getting my butt kicked, this week's HNT picture is a shot of me from my own university days. Yes, this goes back about 20 years. I was doing a senior level English seminar talking about "silence, violence and chaos in Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter.

My seminar involved an interactive sort of "silence, violence and chaos" as I tried to demonstrate the impact that these things had on the reader -- I freaked a few people in my class out with the manner in which I delivered my presentation, (I used Pink Floyd's "Careful with that Axe Eugene" as my background theme music for part of my talk where things got a bit chaotic) -- but my prof was impressed and I did get an A -- so I'm pretty thrilled with that. The picture below is a test of the makeup I'd applied halfway through my presentation.


But the picture kind of matches how I feel after getting a can of whoopass opened on me this past week in PubFight.