Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Change Is Bad; Trust No One!

The title of this blog post "Change is bad; trust no one!" is something a buddy of mine named Mathew used to jokingly utter under his breath, particularly during the sweeping changes that struck Chapters Online during the dot com bust in 2000.

Mathew, someone who embraces change, was being cheeky when uttering that phrase, but the sad truth is it's the mantra of so many people.

I fell victim to it the other day.

But when I paused to actually look at the details, I realised I was being closed-minded and change-averse. And, interestingly enough, I was so upset with the change that I missed the fact that this change was good.

The President's Choice brand recently changed the packaging for one of their BBQ sauces - Smokin Stampede Beer & Chipotle BBQ sauces. Since I first discovered it, it has been among my favourites. We ALWAYS have a bottle in the house.

My immediate thought upon seeing the updated packaging was: "Oh great - smaller package, same price. The big companies are screwing with us again; giving us less while charging the same price, or more." In this case, the packaging changed, but the price remained the same (Although, admittedly, when a consumer gets this frazzled, you might as well have also "upped" the price)

Last night while BBQing, I used up the original sause, so brought out the new bottle. I was so upset, I even went to take a picture of the two of them side by side so I could tweet my disappointment to the world.

Of course, it was only when I was taking the picture that I looked closely at the label.

The new "smaller" package was still 1L - the exact same size as the original glass bottle. Only, the plastic one was, naturally, half the weight and much easier to grip in one hand. Also, when I went to pour it, the new packaging had an "easy to pour" flip lid, while the old one, while classic and stylish with a cork pop top, was messy.

Simply, the old packaging, while "neat" and unique, was too heavy, difficult to fit nicely in the refrigerator, too messy and just think about the freight involved in shipping a skid of them.

The new packaging (which runs the exact same price for the consumer) is lighter, easier to handle, easier to store, and easier to use. It's a phenomenal improvement.

However, remember my initial reaction? Negative. "Change is bad!"

Even though I joke and make fun, I fall victim to this close-minded perspective.

Perhaps there are other things changing that we're missing the boat on. That's definitely worth keeping in mind.

Monday, May 30, 2011

No Mud Run For You!

The past two years, I've partaken in the Mud Run - Canada's Dirtiest 10K which takes place at Claireville Conservation area in North Toronto.

This has always been a fun run for me to do and something I look forward to each spring. I started doing the Mud Run the year I turned 40. You can read all about how I did it (and how YOU should never do it) on this blog post from 2009.

The first picture of me below (taken this morning) is one with my bibs from each race from the past two years. Can you see the look of disappointment on my face acknowledging the fact I won't be participating in this year's race?

 And the reason I had to drop out of the 2011 Mud Run is because of the next photo of me below (taken last Thursday). Thursday evening I suffered some incredibly powerful chest pains -- I didn't have any other symptoms (except for a strange feeling of intense heart-burn, which is quite rare for me). Simply, I was working quietly on my computer when, all of a sudden it felt as if somebody had slammed a two-by-four into my chest. There was a tightening pain that shot from the middle of my chest and spread quickly to encompass the entire area.

Pretty frightening fifteen minutes while I tried to figure out what I should do.

To make a long story short, while I SHOULD have called 911 immediately, I waited until Francine got home before deciding I should play it safe and go into ER.


So I went into the ER, they immediately hooked me up to machines with sticky nobby things across my chest, sides, arms and legs, and ran blood tests. They kept me there for 8 hours.  I was given an "everything seems to be okay" with one minor issue that was consistent on the heart tests.

They found a borderline intraventricular conduction delay and want me to return for all day tests on Wed June 1st where I'll be hooked up to more machines and get to run on treadmills, etc.

To live out a boyhood dream, I'm imagining myself like Steve Austin (Lee Majors) in the opening sequence to The Six Million Dollar Man, lifting weights, running on a treadmill and amazing the doctors - I just hope the doctors don't hear me making that classic "bionic man" noise under my breath while I'm performing the tests.

But in any case, when they told me about these tests they wanted me to have, they told me not to exert myself (ie, no more running) - so that kind of put a damper on this year's 10K run training.

Assuming I get a clean bill of health on Wednesday, there's always next year's 10K Mud Run. (And there's the 5K Warrior Dash in July in Barrie which I'm signed up for - fingers crossed I can still do that one)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why You Big

My six year old son's humour continues to delight and surprise me.

Last night, when he got out of his bath and I was helping him dry, he let out the yelp normally associated with a tickle.

"Dad," he said. "You just pinched me."

"Oh, sorry," I said, then proceeded to offer him a quick light pinch on his arm. "You mean, like this?"

That began another laugh, with him delivering a pinch. The scene quickly descended, the way these things often do with the two of us, into a tickle-bout style event, each of us trying to dodge each other's pinches while delivering our own attacks.

At one point, Alexander reached out and put his hands around my throat, pretending to choke me.

I did the same to him, saying, in my best Homer Simpson voice:  "Why you little . . . !"

He retorted, quickly, continuing to "choke" me and saying: "Why you big . . . !"

Of course, at that point, I collapsed to the floor, completely weak with laugher.

As I said, my son slays me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

HNT - Spud Wars: The Final Standoff

This blog post is a serialized story continued from HNT - Spud Wars: Alex Attacks

As Alexander was struggling under the mighty attack of Darth and his clones, and just as he was about to give up, a disembodied voice came to him.

"Alex," It was the voice of Mister Bunny.

"Mister Bunny," Alexander said. "Why are you coming to me in a vision as if you've died?"

"I have died," Mister Bunny said. "Even before this "slightly re-booted" version of the original tale, I died of old age waiting for this damn Darth Tater story to end."

"Re-booted story?" Alexander said. "What are you talking about?"

"Worry yourself not over this," Mister Bunny said, reverting to Yoda-speak. "A self-referential mention intended to inspire laughter in the reader was all that this mention is. Let's get back to the issue at hand. I'm here to give you advice, young friend. Use the forks!"

"I would if I could," Alexander said. "But I don't see any forks around here."

"Hmm," Mister Bunny said. "What about the farce? Can you use the farce?"

"Hasn't this farce gone on long enough?" Alexander responded. "C'mon! Give me something to use here, man!"

Mister Bunny's specter started to fade, and as it did he said this: "Just remember, you're stronger than you seem, braver that you believe and smarter than you think . . ."

"Oh sure, it's not bad enough that you're a bizarre spoof of Yoda and Obi-Wan, but now you're ripping off the advice that Christopher Robin tells Winnie The Pooh in "The Search for Christopher Robin"

Fed up, and thinking it's about time this story had more pictures than text, Alexander broke free from the hold Darth had on him, fell to the floor, and launched an all-out attack on the clones, smashing them with a series of punches, chops and kicks.

Wailing out a steady battle cry, he kept kicking and punching and chopping at them until they were nothing but a pile of Tater parts on the ground. And, with just his main nemesis of Darth Tater left, he lifted him into the air . . .
. . . and put him into a special Jedi-inspired arm-lock.

"Do you give, do you give?" Alexander said, with an iron-tight grip on his foe.

"Er, I gave at the office," Darth Tater said.

"No," Alexander said. "I mean, do you give up?"

"Yes, of course, I give, I give," Darth Tater said. "But, please put me down, I have something important to say . . ."

To be continued . . . next Thursday

What IS Darth about to say? Is he going to say he's is dying of boredome just like Mister Bunny? Are YOU ready to die of boredom yet? (Mister Bunny, died, BTW, in the middle of the original telling of this storyline back in 2006, and much like Obi-Wan and Yoda, his presence and sage advice is still felt in the Leslie household)

* The font used for the SPUD WARS logo above came from Boba Fonts on Fontspace - check out all their cool designs.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Prize In Multiple Formats

I recently finished reading Neil Peart's new book from ECW Press called Far and Away: A Prize Every Time.

Like every single other one of Peart's travel-biographies, it goes straight up the "must recommend" list, but unlike his previous works, this one is the most interesting in that most of the content has already been accessible via Peart's blog.

You see, Far and Away is a collection of blog posts gathered from Peart's blog, something he started tentatively, back in 2005 (the same year this blog started). Using the title "News, Weather and Sports" he made some updates about his professional life, talking about completion of the book Roadshow as well as an instructional DVD called Anatomy of a Drum Solo and then ended up with a joke about weather and sports.

His next tentative post came in April 2006, the form of a "story" actually taking place. Shortly after, the next story came more easily, this time with pictures. By 2007, Peart had evolved his blog posts into a template he was comfortable with, and the words started to flow "with passion and precision." (Sorry, couldn't resist making reference to one of his lyrics)

And once he was in the swing of things, satisfied with the process of publishing online, the stories, the pictures, the wonder continued to flow. And, they eventually found their way into this gorgeous book by ECW Press, who also published Traveling Music and Ghost Rider.

I originally received a pre-production galley of the book via NetGalley, a great service for publishers and professional readers. Instead of costly, printed ARCs and galleys, often sent to bookstore buyers and reviewers, NetGalley offers digital secure gallies to be sent out.

I had the choice to read the digital galley of the book in multiple different ways, but opted to move it to my Sony Reader with the e-ink black and white screen. While reading in that format took away from the experience meant to be produced by the accompanying photos and original layout of the book, I was quite pleased with the experience, it being extremely portable and convenient. (It has also been over a year since I'd read any book on that electronic ink screen - most of the ebooks I'd read had been via the KoboBooks app on my iPhone)

One thing I knew for sure, however, was that I was going to want to own the hardcover when it came out. (And I did - the day it was available on bookstore shelves, there I stood at the cash register, proudly holding the hardcover, eager to bring it home, despite the fact I had already read most of it) And as I continued to read through the sequence of articles, adventures (which are, as Peart continually states in an ongoing ode to Hemmingway "no fun when you're having them") and retrospective commentary, I was blown away with the fact that there is, indeed, a prize in each and every tale collected in this book.

Peart seems most at home when he is not spotlit on a stage, but rather, blending into the crowd and absorbing the abundance of what each day's adventure has to offer.  He's not one for the fuss and bother of being fawned over by fans, and amazingly humble in the overwhelming "cheers" for his multiple creative outlets. His stories reveal that attitude as well as his thirst for perfection in his personal accomplishments and the sheer joy in the act of sharing these tales.

The blog posts are reminiscent of the personal hand-written letters that appear in Ghost Rider, in that they are the result of Peart's desire to put into words the things he sees in the world around him, capturing interesting moments and singular activities that become timeless and enduring.

After all, who would have thought that reading somebody's blog posts from 2009 about the strange personal quest for two neighbours to find the base of a "phantom tower" that suddenly appeared on the horizon in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec or the tranquil reflections of watching a hummingbird family in the backyard bougainvillea vines could be fascinating for strangers to read.

But they are. And amazingly so.

Peart deftly brings the reader right along for each one of his adventures and observations. The experience is less like reading a book and more akin to sitting across from a dear friend on a warm summer night and listening to them recount the fascinating day they just had.

Photo of interior spread from Andrew Wolson's The AndyO Experience

It find it interesting that I could have read most of the content of the book for free via Peart's blog, or could have just left it at reading the free digital NetGalley copy I received. But if I had done that, I would be missing out on a truly glorious experience of holding the 10 1/2 " X 8 1/2 " hardcover in my hands, of flipping through the pages, seeing photos and then being drawn back into the tales that accompany them. Simply, the hardcover is gorgeous. It beautifully crossed the boundary between text prose and coffee-table picture book, offering much of the best of both worlds in a single bound edition.

The physical manifestation of the book itself is evidence of how a tried and true format of the print book simply can't be replaced. But even putting that "collectible" and "displayable" artefact aside, the compilation of these posts into a single package with a defined beginning and end give it something special, and I applaud Peart, his travel companions (who are also photographers), his editors and ECW Press for putting the proper time and effort into producing this fine book.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Apocalypse . . . Later

I'm not making fun. Really, I'm not. But I'm certainly having fun. So are a lot of others.

The Rapture and beginning of the end was supposed to happen May 21, 2011.

Let's be honest. The thought of the world ending, of the apocalypse? A little scary.  Even if a person doesn't believe or take it seriously, many can't help whistling past the graveyard.

I wasn't a believer that May 21st was the end of times, but I am a Christian. Religious beliefs are personal, and, of course, something that shouldn't be mocked or laughed at. However, that being said, I have used my own religion in horror stories I have written, both as a mirror held up to my own beliefs as well as a way to attempt to look at the beliefs I was raised with through someone elses' eyes.

I also understand that, for those who truly believed yesterday was a significant day, the fact the Rapture didn't happen is a big disappointment.

But some good did come out of it. People all over the world came together to share in some laughter, sometimes nervous, sometimes just raw unadulterated guffaws. (And in all honesty, I'm a firm believer that, no matter what spiritual belief you subscribe to, humour is universally good and something that can be shared.)

I participated in something being called "Rapture bombing" -- setting clothes up to make it look as if a person has been transported up to heaven. I thought it might freak out or confuse either some drunk stumbling home from a local bar or perhaps make a morning jogger look twice.

Mostly, it just confused my neighbours on their way to Canada's Wonderland early yesterday morning. They laughed when they later saw my Facebook post with the picture and the "ahhh" moment hit them.

There's a great article by Alan Boyle called "Left behind" by humorgeddon which nicely summarizes how the prediction opens the door for levity.

I particularly like the one post he eludes to in which David Kinsey, via a Facebook post suggesting people pose without their clothes (ie, pose their clothes without them in them), and then, at the end of the day, give them away to a charity. Great idea for people to have fun, then donate to a good cause. Two good things - a laugh, then a charitable donation. Smashing idea.

What Boyle says regarding the humour being a reaction to the stress of all the hype makes sense to me. A lot of my horror fiction, for example, pushes over into the absurd and dark humour in recognition of the manner by which we sometimes react to stress and horror -- we laugh. (I think one of my favourite collection of ghost stories is by Robertson Davies - it's called High Spirits, and the stories are just as humorous as they are eerie, they contain parody alongside chills)

But I've quite enjoyed some of the humourous references made to the Rapture, through Facebook, Twitter and in various other media sources. Twitter even had a humorous #endoftheworldconfessions hashtag. One of my favourites was when someone tweeted:  "I let the dogs out. It was me." as their confession.

One of the top 10 lists on David Letterman, for example, was regarding the top things to do during the "end times" - my favourite was the one about playing a slide whistle while the righteous ascended into heaven.

Writer Kevin J Anderson (@TheKJA) posted this on his twitter feed: "Oh, it's 6:30 already. I've been so busy editing I didn't even notice the world ending at 6 PM. Did somebody record it so I can watch later?" Seems he was making as much fun of our society's "I'll have it my way and when I want it" tendency as of the false prediction.

Another writer, Nancy Kilpatrick posted this to Facebook as her status:  "Well, now that the Rapture has come & gone, I can finish up with packing for NYC, I'm at BookExpo America on Wed., May 25th 10 am @ the main autographing (booth 22) for EVOLVE and 3 pm @ the HWA booth for CHILLING TALES. If you're there, stop by & snag a free signed copy."

A tweet I saw this morning from @MarkJustice went like this: "Hi, boss. I know I quit my job and told you I'd be in Heaven while you heathens would be left behind. Uh, could I have my job back? Hello?"

There are too many more examples to point to, but the evidence is clear. Speculation about the Rapture certainly allowed a chance for people to come together, be creative and share humour.

And that's a good thing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Figuring Out The Figures

I'm always suspicious when announcements are made without any actual concrete statistics being revealed, particularly ones used for comparison. I'm sure you remember the statement often attributed to Mark Twain that "figures never lie, but liars figure."

Amazon recently stated that they are now selling more ebooks than printed books.

I don't at all doubt that ebook sales are on the rise. They're still relatively new, and their popularity is growing.  After all, being still such a "young" part of the industry, they really have no other place to go but up.

However, whenever claims are made without being backed up by actual numbers, real statistics that aren't shadowed in hyperbole, I take it with a grain of salt -- because somewhere between the claim and the doubt lies the reality.

I chuckle when I think about listening to Neil Pasricha, the author of The Book of Awesome and The Book of Even More Awesome talk at an author luncheon this past Sunday at Canadian Booksellers Association National Conference. Neil's New York Times Bestselling book was born out of a blog he started one day in an attempt to just focus on one awesome thing each day.

When describing his first blog post and the response, he joked that when he checked his stats after releasing his observation to the world, that he got a single hit; his mother. The next day, his mother forwarded the link to his blog to his father, resulting in his hits doubling overnight.

Interesting how Neil used that as a joke, but could have hidden the actual numbers from us if he wanted to impress. But he wasn't there to impress. He was there to entertain and uplift - something he is a nature at doing.

Neil's self-deprecating joke drives it home, though.

I could use similar statistics hiding the real numbers to let you know that visits to my blog in the past two days are three times that of what they were the same day last month. (Hiding of course, that there were no fresh posts in the "like" period, which typically has an effect on hits, or other outside factors which might have led to a temporary increase in traffic.)

I can also look at ebook sales within the bricks and mortar bookstore I work at (yes, we offer an option to a limited number of digital titles - have done so, in various ways for well over a decade, BTW) and state that our revenues for ebook sales are easily ten times higher this year than the previous similar period - and, without revealing the numbers, I'm honestly quite impressed by the revenues appearing there - but at the same time, while a positive number to add to our bottom line, and one I whole-heartedly welcome, those revenues wouldn't keep the store open on their own; we still rely on physical sales of products through our physical location, that textbook unit and dollar sales are still the core of our business.

But back to Amazon's claim. Ebook sales surpass physical book sales by a certain value. And this time we're not talking about "free items" counting as books. Okay, cool. We're talking units, right? We're not talking actual dollars or revenues - given the lower average price point of ebooks, there's a lower profit for everyone involved. Surpassing won't replace in a solid business model unless the supporting revenues are there. I won't try to iron it all out because not all the statistics are being revealed - there's no way to proper analyse the data when you don't have access to all of it. Just sayin'.

Again, I'm not doubting it's working for Amazon - they're brilliant business people, after all - they wouldn't have gotten where they are today otherwise; and it's only natural for a "virtual" retailer with a huge market share and virtual presense to do really well selling a virtual/digital product. I'm just a bit leery of extrapolating beyond their own closed-numbers results.

Canadian author Jeff Buick's ONE CHILD - availabile in print, ebook & transmedia formats

And I'm not saying I don't believe that ebook sales are on the rise. Why do you think CBA announced partnerships with two Canadian ebook options - Enthrill and Transcontinental? It's to allow more bookstores across Canada access to a growing market.

I'm just curious at the actual numbers, the actual stats that will likely never be revealed, and, while impressed with what we're being told, take this recent press release with the proverbial grain of salt.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

HNT - Spud Wars: Alex Attacks

This blog post is a serialized story continued from HNT - Spud Wars: Mark's Last Stand

Upon discovering that Darth Tater and his army of clones had killed his father, Alexander launched a quick attack.

"I'll mash you all!" he screamed as he lunged into the room. "I shall take vengeance for my father's death at your dirty little spud hands!"

(Okay, in all honesty, it actually came out sounding more like: "Yeeeeaaaah! Egobbledy!" But really, you must allow the writer a little creative licence because that's exactly what the toddler meant in that battle cry)

"You will not succeed, spawn of the wretched man who ate my father!" Darth Tater announced, then turned to his army and said: "Eliminate him in the manner we eradicated his paternal unit."

"Huh?" one of the spud clones said.

Darth sighed. "Kill him!"

Alexander's attack was efficient and brutal, the way you might imagine an energetic toddler would crash his way through a room full of toys.

With giant steps he squished several of the Tater clones under his feet, and with Batman-like grace, style and cartoon captions which magically appeared in the air, he pummeled several of the clones into pieces of so much dead spud.

Yet, despite the youth's initial upper hand, the sheer number of Tater's attacking him put him off balance.

He fell back onto the couch as the clones began their redoubled efforts, lead by the leader, Darth himself, who felt he finally had the advantage.

Will Alexander get out of his current predicament? Will he pull a classic "Batman" move and pull out his anti-potato spray? Does anybody reading this realize the "Batman" references are made to the original cheesy television show and not the continually re-imagined series of movies made in the past twenty or so years?

To be continued in Spud Wars: The Final Standoff

To find out what happens next in this very silly story (But really, who has the patience or even the attention span to have continued this far in the story?) check back next Thursday for the continuing multi-generational, serialized, syndicated and re-booted storyline of . . .

* The font used for the SPUD WARS logo above came from Boba Fonts on Fontspace - check out all their cool designs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CBA Libris Awards 2011

I had an absolute blast at this year's CBA Libris Awards.

Following the successful format used last year, this year's event (which took place during the CBA National Conference in Toronto) included a reception and dinner, hosted by Kevin Graff and Bob Phibbs, who injected a good deal of fun play and humour into the evening's celebration.

Some amazing photos were taken of the evening, so I put them together to some lively up-beat music from the talented Kevin MacLeod (I use a sample of one of his eerie bits of noir music for my podcast Prelude To A Scream) - This way, people who were there can re-live the fun of the evening in about 6 minutes, and those who weren't there can get a sense of the fun that happened when the book industry came together to celebrate one another and the difference that books and book people make in the cultural landscape of Canada.

The video link is here, and here is the press release with the official winner announcement.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

There's Nothing Virtual About Death

I found out a few days ago that a friend of mine died last month.

Here's where it gets interesting, but isn't all that unique any more - not in today's online and connected society.

I've known this friend for about 5 years, knew her under various names/nicknames as well as her real name. But we never met in person. We were blogger friends. We'd connected via a weekly blogging ritual called HNT (Half Nekkid Thursday) in which people would post photos of themselves, typically taken by themselves, and then visit the other folks who would post the same. The photos would run the spectrum from "nekkid" meaning simple self-exposure shots of a person in their daily lives, or perhaps a simple shot of the paper cut on their finger they got at work that day, a picture of themselves with a dear friend, all the way to racy and less interpretive shots of "nekkid." But, often, the "exposure" wasn't the removal of clothing, but a peek into a person's inner self, an exposure of them. That, in my mind, has been where phenomenal connections and friends have been made.

I made a lot of friends through HNT and blogging (I started blogging in March 2005), some of whom I've established personal connections with "off-blog" and some of whom I've even had the pleasure of eventually meeting in person.

I never met Melanie Elizabeth Phillpott VanWinkle (also known in the blogging community as Stealth Bombshell and Texas Spitfire - perhaps other nicknames) in person. But we connected via blogging, via photos, via comments and silly humorous exchanges, and connected with our real names, later, via Facebook.

So I never knew her in person, but I knew her just the same. She touched my life, she made me smile, made me laugh, made me cry, made me think. I am a richer person for having known Melanie, even in this limited virtual way. And I am mourning her loss, but at the same time, wanting to celebrate her life and the fact that I have gained simply by knowing her.

The joys of the virtual online world exist. You can connect and share and communicate with great people you'd otherwise not have the pleasure of meeting in person. And that experience can enrich your life - because that's what other people do; they enrich your life.

But here's the rub: when that person dies, particularly when there's no "physical world" interaction in which people close to them know you know one another, what is the result? What is the healing ritual?

Typically, death involves ritual, involves a chance for people to say goodbye, for some ritualized sense of closure (even if the pain of that loss never fades away). But in virtual death, what is the ritual, what is the manner by which we can share our appreciation for having known a person, our sense of loss, our grief?

There was a fascinating discussion of this on a recent episode of CBC Radio's Spark between host Nora Young and guest Adele McAlear. And discussions like this help when dealing with this virtual loss. But it's true that we need to figure out a way to handle this all to common situation. A good conversation to continue.

But back to Melanie.

I found out Melanie died through another online friend who has enriched my life but I've not met in person. Osbasso recently posted a tribute to Melanie on his blog - the blog, whose weekly ritual connected Melanie and I, and thousands of other people together.

How do I properly grieve, other than post one of my favourite pictures of her and say something about her?

Thank you, Melanie - thanks for connecting, and thanks for enriching my life. May you rest in peace. May your dear friends and family find peace and comfort in all of the memories you gave them. And thank you for touching my life - there was nothing virtual about the way you enriched my life.

Melanie Elizabeth Phillpott VanWinkle
March 20, 1978 - April 12, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

CBA Weekend In Toronto

Where to begin after having just spent the past three days immersed in book culture with colleagues from across Canada?

Was it Friday's bus tour of some great Toronto stores and publisher/distributors? (Including University of Toronto Bookstore, Random House Canada, Ella Minnow, Mabel's Fables, The Flying Dragon and North49)

Was it that evening's author/publisher/industry reception?

Was it Saturday morning's keynote from Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor and his message that you can compete if you focus on the right areas for competitive advantage.

Was it that morning's technology update of CBA partnering with two companies one online (Transcontinental) and one in-store (Enthrill) solution to help independent booksellers be part of selling ebooks?

Was it the fantastic line-up of concurrent education sessions (Publishing your own books, Event Planning & Leveraging Technology to engage customers)?

Was it the whirlwind speed dating with sales reps luncheon?

Was it the fantastic exhibitor showcase allowing for an intimate chance to network, connect and learn more about what different publishers and business partners are either releasing this fall or have available for booksellers (along with a chance to chat with some great Canadian authors)

Was it the CBA Libris Awards reception, presentation and dinner, glitzy, fun yet brought down to earth and inflicted with many funny moments from the various presenters and award winners, but also by it's hosts Kevin Graff and Bob Phibbs?

Was it Sunday morning's annual general meeting which began a conversation and dialogue that continued in that morning's member forum (with progressive discussions that will continue throughout the year)?

Was it the Sunday author luncheon featuring Johanna Skibsrud, Jeff Buick, David Chilton and Neil Pasricha and getting a chance to hear them talk about their work & writing, hearing them read and a wonderfully informal Q&A?

Was it Sunday's keynote presentation from Barbara Crowhurt featuring driving sales by focusing back on the basics?

Was it the final networking chance to "Ask the experts" -- meeting with you colleagues and getting advice?

Or was it the absolutely wonderful chance to network and connect with so many colleagues and industry partners over the course of those three days?

I haven't decided.

I'm still overwhelmed with such a wonderfully jam-packed weekened filled with information, networking, intense dialogue, entertainment, sharing and a chance to simply celebrate what it is that booksellers do.  I am in awe of the commitee that put this weekend together, colleagues from across Canada, and the staff at CBA who kept things running mostly from behind the scenes.

What an incredible weekend, just perfect for this book nerd.  I'm still soaking in all of the learning, all of the information I took in.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

HNT - Spud Wars: Mark's Last Stand

This blog post is a serialized story continued from HNT - Spud Wars: Darth's Revenge (Part II)

Just as Mark thought he was going to reach the forks and be able to use them against the army of cloned Darth Taters, one of the dozens of spuds attacking him stepped in and kicked the forks out of his reach away.

Mark was left with nothing more than his bare hands to fight the swarming taters.

But, without use of the forks he was unable to stop the deadly attack.

Although he tried desperately to get out of the situation, it was just too much.

In a very anticlimactic and disappointing plot turn, Mark was killed. Darth and his army of clones were victorious.

Darth himself stood at the head of his enemy's dead body and told his clones to stand aside.

"We must honour our enemy," Darth said. "And treat his downfall with the respect he truly deserves."

When the clones all stepped away, Darth stood silently, regarding his fallen enemy. Then he took off his mask, took a deep breath and said . . .

"Nah, Nah. In your face, Mark. In your face! Nah, Nah! I'm better than yoooou." Then he did a little happy dance and started to bop around singing "Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah. Heeeeeey, Goooooodbye."

But in the middle of his dance and celebration, a voice could be heard. "My Daddy! What have you done to my Daddy?"

It was Mark's son, Alexander. And boy did he look pissed.

To be continued next week in HNT - Spud Wars: Alex Attacks

With his father lying dead on the floor, victim of a clone spud attack, will Alexander achieve the revenge he seeks? More importantly, did Alexander bring any ketchup along so he can enjoy the fruits of his victory? (Seriously, has anybody ever seen a toddler attack a group of toys? Let's be honest here - Darth and his army don't stand a chance, now do they?) And if Mark is dead, how could he be writing this blog post? Isn't that one of those strange loophole stories where you find at the very end the POV character as narrator has died? Except, of course Mark isn't the first person narrator of this tale, I AM . . . and . . . er, okay, let's not go there . . .

To find out what happens next in this very silly story check back next Thursday for the continuing multi-generational storyline of . . .

* The font used for the SPUD WARS logo above came from Boba Fonts on Fontspace - check out all their cool designs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

EerieCon 13 Panel (World Building)

Following up on some more notes I took during EerieCon 13 in Niagara Falls, New York a couple of weekends ago, I thought I'd share a little bit about World Building from the discussion which took place on the Sunday afternoon.

How do you go about it? Where do you start? Do you have a formula? What works and what doesn't? Panelists: Anne Bishop, Lois Gresh, Alex Pantaleev, Larry Niven. Moderator: Mark Leslie.

World Building Panel at EerieCon 13 - Photo by Bill Hilliker

I was delighted to be the moderator on this panel because it was a great cross-section of various different types of world building. And getting to ask really smart and talented people questions is, simply, wonderfully entertaining for me.

This panel had a lovely cross-section of talent from across the genres/spectrum on it. From Larry Niven and the hard science POV, to Anne Bishop, who writes mostly in the realm of dark fantasy. Lois Gresh writes both hard science fiction and dark fantasy as well as a wonderful mix of everywhere in between. And as an interesting addition, the panel had Dr. Alex Pantaleev, who builds worlds and teaches world building to game designers.

The discussion was fruitful and lively, and I loved the comparison between creating worlds for fictional characters to move through in a story or novel and creating a world for gamers to move through independent of the creators. (IE, the concept of non-interactive VS interactive worlds)

I had been curious about different types of indexes or maps and how each writer organized their research, but was fascinated to learn some interesting details such as a good white board was sometimes all that was needed to keep things straight (as were hand-drawn maps). Also, Lois and Larry seemed to take delight in the research itself, enjoying getting into the hard science whenever possible, and it was interesting to learn how Niven's The Ringworld Engineers (1980) was inspired by various engineering problems his fans had written to him about from his original Ringworld novel in 1970.

And I find it interesting that I was privileged to get to interview these four great minds about world-building at EerieCon, because it had been the previous year when I'd conducted a podcast interview with Robert J. Sawyer to talk about the very same topic (although, as often happens, I slide a little off course every once in a while, all in the name of fun and interesting conversation, of course).

You can listen to that interview here:  The Writing Show Podcast interview with Robert J. Sawyer.

Not bad, (if I'm allowed to brag for a moment), for a guy who hasn't really built any worlds in his fiction, but rather, casts dark shadows across the world we know through his writing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CBA National Conference 2011

This weekend is the 2011 CBA National Conference. It will be held at the Radisson Admiral Hotel Toronto Harbourfront May 13th to 15th.
This will be the third CBA National Conference since the collapse of Book Expo Canada, the large, splashy trade show that had grown out of the annual gathering of CBA members, but slowly morphed into a non-sustainable model that seemed more geared on soaking publishers with large bills for the priviledge of them hosting a booth and giving away free books.

When Reed Exhibitions shut down Book Expo Canada, CBA took the opportunity to re-create the "annual gathering," turning the focus back on the booksellers and ensuring the event was more intimate and included opportunities for workshops and learning, alongside opportunities to preview forthcoming titles from publishers as well as celebrating industry achievements (ie, the CBA Libris Awards)

Yes, part of me misses the splash and "big deal" that Book Expo Canada used to be, but I find that, ever since the annual gathering become more intimate and focused on community, learning and networking, I simply walk away from the weekend much richer than I ever did back when BEC was more about a few extra ARCs handed out in giant over-priced booths where you waited in lines as long as the ones for rides at Canada's Wonderland.

This year, the usual great keynote presentations will occur (this year featuring Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor and Barbara Crowhurst, Retail Makeover), the fun events, such as the speed dating luncheon with publisher sales reps, the learning/information events like the exhibitor showcase and the education/workshop sessions, and, of course, the celebratory events such as the CBA Libris Awards reception, presentation and dinner on Saturday evening.

A bus tour will be taking place on the Friday, which will include visits not only to several Toronto area bookstores, but also to a few publisher and distributor stops, giving booksellers an opportunity not just to visiti their colleages' locations, but also to visit some of their publisher/distributor business partner operations. And CBA will also be announcing two rather exciting new opportunities for booksellers (particularly independents, who have mostly been shut out from the game) to become part of the ebook revolution.

I'm certainly looking forward to another great weekend of learning, sharing and networking opportunities.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Word Of Caution For Booksellers

It has long been said that the book industry should pay close attention to the significant changes and turbulation that has decimated the music industry, lest it fall into the same pits and traps.

Simply, music was digitized and distributed via the internet long before digital books, which have been around a long time, and their "threat" has been looming for well over a decade; today, however, ebooks are finally maturing to a point where their accessibility and consumption is now underway well beyond the outliers who are quick to adopt new technology.

I have thus been paying attention to the music industry, particularly to the physical music retail locations I encounter in my travels, eager to try to learn as much as I can, so as to be prepared for dealing with similar changes that will affect bricks and mortar bookstores.

Yesterday, however, I was shocked when I approached HMV (a popular music retail chain) at Limeridge Mall in Hamilton.

I had to pause at the front entrance and pull out my camera, because I simply could NOT believe my eyes; this bizarre and terrible change was visible even as I approached from well over 150 feet away. But as I neared, it became clearer that I was not seeing things. I could barely contain my horror as I pulled out my phone to snap a quick picture.

Is THIS what booksellers have to look forward to?

OMG, if booksellers aren't careful and don't learn from what happened to the music industry . . .

. . . in the very near future, we might just all be selling BOOKS in our stores.

I sincerely hope we're up to this challenge.

(* Yes, this blog post was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. And yes, I felt I HAD to state this in case anybody reading it thinks I have deluded myself into a state of complacency)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

HNT - Spud Wars: Darth's Revenge (Part II)

This blog post is a serialized story continued from HNT - Spud Wars: Darth's Revenge (Part I)

The attack of the Darth clones was swift and ruthless (unlike this meandering storyline which is seeming to take forever just to get to a good action sequence).  But despite it's "long time coming" nature, the aforementioned attack completely caught Mark by surprise. (He is rarely accused of being the brightest bulb in the box)

He was able to step on a few of the spuds.

He was able to poke perhaps half a dozen eyes, muttering a "nyuck nyuck" type sound like one of the Three Stooges.

He was able, even, to knock a few out of the air and squeeze a few in his hands, like an overzealous and anxious senior squeezing fruit at the supermarket.

But the never-ending onslaught of Darth Taters was too much.

For with every spud he was able to defeat, another two stepped into their place.

Mark was seriously outnumbered.

As blow after blow struck his thick, balding head, Mister Bunny's words of wisdom came to him. "Use the forks, Mark. Use the forks."

The Taters forced him off of his feet, and he fell to the floor not far from the forks he'd been practicing with moments before that fateful knock on the door which led to this attack.

"Dammit," he said, wishing he'd spent more time practicing on the forks and less time practicing playing the spoons. But the 7th Doctor Who in that series made playing the spoons so appealing that he just couldn't help himself -- even, he thought, if it was a different science-fiction reference than the Lucas-inspired one he'd been in for this tale.

He desperately reached out, but was still inches away from reaching his weapon of choice.

To be continued . . . in HNT - Spud Wars: Mark's Last Stand

Will Mark be able to use the forks to get out of his current predicament? Will the Darth Tater clones be victorious in their revenge? Will Mark ever get the chance to play the spoons again? Did Spoons, a new-wave band from the 80's that started near Hamilton, even play their hit song "Romantic Traffic" on the spoons? Can we please get back to asking questions pertinent to this story? Will Mark regret eating Darth Tater's father with a light dusting of salt and dipped in ketchup?

Will this silly Darth Tater series ever come to an end or will it continue to stretch out like this in short bursts with poorly created "Photoshopped" pictures?

If by some strange chance you're actually enjoying the goofy story, you can find some answers next week in the continuing story of . . .

* The font used for the SPUD WARS logo above came from Boba Fonts on Fontspace - check out all their cool designs.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

EerieCon 13 Panel (Handling Social Media)

As I promised during a panel this past weekend, as well as mentioning on my blog a couple of days ago, I thought I'd post some thoughts based on notes I took and discussion that took place during one of the panels I sat on during EerieCon 13 in Niagara Falls, New York.

This particular panel was called:

How do you handle all the social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Blogs? What if someone gives you a bad review? Panelists: Lois Gresh, Stephen B. Pearl, John Harlacher. Moderator: Mark Leslie.

The first thing to note is that none of the panelists (including myself) are social media experts. We are merely authors and creators who use social media to connect with fans, with other creators and with the online community in general - so we were speaking about our own experiences.

That being said, it became obvious from the questions that audience asked us that while we're not experts, we do have enough experience to share some basics. And a lot of the questions were from those writers and creative types who haven't done any of it and didn't know where to start. That's what I'm offering here. A basic look at where one might start. I'll make no claims to be an expert, just someone who is willing to share from his own experience.

Before I get into this topic, I should point out some speculative fiction authors I'm aware of who have a really good handle on social media. Check them out and you'll find tremendous value in what they offer and how they engage in social media.

Michael A. Stackpole (whom I regularly listen to on the Dragon Page: Cover to Cover podcast), continually offers useful tidbits and advice, both on that podcast, and on his own website. Definitely worth checking out both.

My friend, Robert J. Sawyer, also has a plethora of content useful for other writers and is a social media magnate. (His site, with over one million words, 720 documents and 25,000 links, was the first-ever science fiction author website, established June 28, 1995)

Below I'll post some links that I believe will be helpful in understanding the basics of what some social media is, but I wanted to spend some time talking about why.

Marketing guru Mitch Joel (check out his blog and podcast for incredible value when it comes to social media) regularly states to his clients that they shouldn't be asking IF they should be employing various social marketing strategies, but rather WHY? and to what end.  IE, the question isn't "Should I be on Facebook?" but rather "Why should I be on Facebook?" and "What do I want to get out of being on Facebook?" - pose that same question with each social media element you investigate.

As an author, ask yourself first WHY you want to do it and WHAT you want to get out of it. Take the time to seriously explore the details, and here's why - because engaging in social media takes time. As discussed on the panel, it usually takes at least an hour a day.

The issue for writers, of course, is that hour (or more), is most likely going to eat into time you can be spending writing new content or doing the other activities involved in writing: research, market submissions, editing, filing and organizing, planning, etc.

It's interesting to note that for the panelists, most of them (John being the exception, since he is likely the most savy of us to employ social media to connect with customers and fans, given his focus has been through his haunted house business in NYC and LA) engage in social media BECAUSE THEY FEEL THEY HAVE TO. Lois and Stephen are involved in various social media outlets (website, blog, Facebook, etc) but would rather be spending their time writing and focusing on that. This is a decent and important recognition of the time it takes away from actual writing.

I have a slightly different perspective on that - yes, I see social media as necessary, but I have also gotten so much valuable return on that investment of time, that I see it as a delightful necessity. (But yes, a huge time-sucker that takes away my writing time) - Of course, when I first got into blogging, back in 2005, I used my blog as a writing warm-up exercise. I'd blog for 10 to 15 minutes, then kick right into writing or editing projects. But often, the content itself that I've engaged in has led countless people to me and my writing, connecting me with readers (in the same manner that attending a con or book reading/signing helps me to connect with and share my writing with new readers)

My own basic reasons for having a website and being engaged in or having a blog, podcast, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads? Basically, connecting with readers, other writers and friends. But it's also important to be discoverable. So, someone hears one of my works, or reads one of my stories in an anthology or magazine and they like it and want to learn more. They should be able to type my name into Google or other search engines and immediately find out more about the author, more about the person - and potentially learn more about me and my other available works.

Once they find me, is there something potentially interesting for them to read/listen to/learn more about? I hope so. What I write isn't for everybody, but if it is your cup of tea, perhaps you'll get something out of it. That's why I continually offer free content, so people can, without any cost, sample what my writing is about. And if they like it they might either buy something or tell a friend.

But back to some basic advice if you're an author looking at getting into social media:

1) Don't dive in head first into unknown waters. Take a bit of time to first ask what you want out of it, and test the waters. Pick one or two that look interesting to YOU, register for an account, and first, just listen, check out what others are doing, follow some conversations; then, once you become a bit more comfortable, start testing it out.

2) It takes time. You start a blog, a podcast, get a Twitter account, etc from scratch. Don't expect people to come running immediately. You need to invest in and develop a community online. That means not just pushing out blatant self-promotional stuff (although you can't help buy do that once in a while when talking about your upcoming or available work or events, etc), but engaging in discussion, offering and giving to the community. Like-minded people out there will eventually connect with you. But it takes time - a whole lot of patience, time and really hard work (just like writing, which is what you already know about)

3) If it's not working for you, drop it and try something else. Most social media is free in cost (but not free in time) - it's not a mortgage that you have to invest 20 years in paying. If, after a bit of time and experimenting, it's not working, then don't waste your time doing it. (Think, again, of the way you approach a writing project - if the story or characters are not working, you try to fix it, try to change, but sometimes you just tear it up and start something else)

Here are some amazingly wonderful looks at WHAT various social media items are and how they work from the good folks at commoncraft - simple, eloquent introductions you're likely to find useful:

Social Media in Plain English
Blogs in Plain English
Twitter in Plain English
Podcasting in Plain English

Also, Chris Brogan (another social media guru and colleague of Mitch Joel), offers a great step by step suggestion for authors getting into social media - check it out, here.  Also, his book: Trust Agents, is an amazing book to read. Yes, it's for businesses, but writing is a business so books like this are well-worth exploring. You might also check out his book Social Media 101 (You say you don't read. Really? I thought you called yourself a writer. But that, my friend, is a whole other discussion for another day)

One last thing, and this is something I mentioned during the panel, and was a direct response to the question on the panel topic:  What if someone gives you a bad review?

First of all, bad reviews are part of the game, and, in my opinion, perfect evidence that not everything you write is going to be enjoyed by everybody. Get over it. If all you have are GOOD reviews, then people simply aren't being honest. Reacting to a bad review is almost never a good idea. I think the best way to illustrate this is to point to a recent online review in which the author attempts to respond to the review and very quickly the conversation devolves into ridiculous absurdity, with the author coming off looking extremely unprofessional.

Read this review, but, more importantly, read the comments - the author demonstrates (sadly, because I feel terrible for the hole she dug herself into -- no, not just a hole, a gigantic pit) how easily taking the path of commenting on bad reviews can go.

One of my fellow panelists offered this wonderful advice - don't push into social media any comment/content that you wouldn't want posted on a gigantic billboard.  Simple yet very solid advice indeed. I would also caution you not to let social media take over all of your writing time - like commenting on reviews, it's a very easy pit to fall into.

Hopefully, this post has offered at least a bit of info and links to content that you'll find useful and helpful.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

I Didn't Vote For You!

Watching the Conservative Harper majority government come into power last night was a little chilling, even for this writer of horror. 

I was fully prepared to have another minority Conservative government with the NDP as the official opposition. What I never suspected was just how decimated the Liberal party would be.

I'm still a little frightened.  Initially, to make myself feel better, I amusedly thought back to previous commentary I made about Mr. Harper being in office, back in Jan 2006 and October 2008): 

Jan 26, 2006 (Well I Didn't Vote For You! - inspired by a scene from Monty Python & The Holy Grail).  It opens with the following text.

Last night my son threw up in a sudden explosive burst.

This was at about the same time the news media was announcing the certainty that Stephen Harper was going to be Canada’s next Prime Minister.

And people say that babies don’t understand what’s going on in the world around them.

I know, snarky harsh words. But you must admit it's a bit funny. And that blog post goes on to explain the bizarre way in which we elect the leaders of our country. What better way than using a "Monty Python" inspired scene to do it?

But despire my initial concerns, here are few things that give me hope:

1) With such a startling new government makeup, there's a real chance for change, and a chance for the NDP to show us what they've got now that they have so many seats in office.

2) Within my own riding, the candidate I voted for got in, and she has consistently represented my concerns beautifully in Ottawa. (I pay attention not to the parties but to the candidates who represent ME in my riding, and I vote for the person who best fulfills that role - I'm delighted that both federally and provincially, the MP and MPP in my riding are solid upstanding leaders that I'm proud to have represent me)

3) While I still don't fully understand how 60% of Canadian's could vote outside of a particular party, yet that party still end up with a majority government, that % gives me a sense of hope that there is diversity and balance in the attitude of voting Canadians.

4) Elizabeth May, one of the party leaders I most admire, won in her riding, bringing the Green party into Ottawa - this is a refreshing opportunity for another fresh voice to be brought to the House of Commons. And wee desperately need that.

5) The leader's speeches were inspiring (unlike much of the pre-election debates) - Michael Ignatieff displayed perhaps his finest moment of leadership in his speech last night. Dignified, strong, respectful. Jack Layton kept on target talking about working for Canadian families, health care and jobs. And Stephen Harper's speech was inspiring (I fully expected he would still be our Prime Minister) and he was eloquently respectful of the other leaders. I'm curious to see if he will indeed work with the opposition and other parties to make a better Canada.

6) More people voted than in the previous election. THAT is important to me. Still, less than 62% of eligible voters turned out to vote. Really? What the hell is wrong with the 38% of Canadians who are demonstrating sheer "laziness and stupidity" by not voting? Every vote counts. YOUR vote counts. Don't let other people speak for you. (I have to stop now because just thinking about this type of lethargy makes me sick to my stomach - have to focus on the fact that MORE people voted this time around and hope that continues to improve as Canadians wake up and smell the democracy we're fortunate to live in)

So I remain cautiously hopeful. I am a "glass is half full" kind of guy, after all.

FYI, CHML has an excellent post that includes audio clips of the three main party leader's speeches last night. No, I didn't vote for any of them (because none of them are in my ridings), but I respect the things they each said in their speeches.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Post-EerieCon 13 Bloggy Stuff

I got back yesterday afternoon from EerieCon 13 feeling a little tired, but mostly satisfied and energized.

It was a great weekend spent with some amazing people, talking about writing and reading speculative fiction and related topics (technology, culture, society). And to boot I got to meet and hang out with yet another iconic writer whom I grew up reading: Larry Niven.

After trying not to gush over Larry while asking him to sign some books (among them a well-worn/well-loved mass market paperback version of Lucifer's Hammer) I got to sit with him on a few panels, learned more fun "behind the writing" bits from several of his novels, and sat beside him during the WHAT LINES' MINE panel, helping him along - as it had been his first exposure to this unique game (more on this panel/game below).

During that session, the EerieCon organizers surprised Larry with a large slab cake (April 30th was his 73rd birthday) with the entire Ballroom audience singing "Happy Birthday" to him. I snapped a couple of quick pictures of the moment.

Larry standing while the crowd sings & cheers

A view over Larry's shoulder of his cake & stage-right side of the audience

WHAT LINES' MINE is a unique EerieCon game where quotes from anywhere within the entire body of the panel authors' works are read aloud out of context and the authors have to guess which one of them wrote it by holding up name cards in front of them. The scoring is standard fare when you get one right, but if you get your OWN quote wrong, you lose points big time. 

There is a lot of fun-spirited cheating during this game (which leads to much amusement between the panel and the audience and lends to a lot of the game's fun). There are some great running jokes involving Anne Bishop's use of particular recurring subject matter in her writing, and references to long-running panelists, even when they're not there (like Josepha Sherman and Carolyn Clink who weren't physically there, but were in spirit)

I, of course, had the biggest advantage over the other panelists since I'm pretty sure I had the least amount of published material out there and was thus most likely to be able to recognize my own writing from within that smaller pool.

But it was a fun game. I came in first and my friend James Alan Gardner came in last, winning the Hal Clement memorial award for the lowest score. (The lowest score was given that name in honour of Hal, who absolutely adored sitting on this panel/game and cherished every moment of it, but consistently came in last)

I met and chatted with so many great people this past weekend.  At events like this, sure, the panel discussions are good, but the hallway and ConSuite chats can be just as illuminating and fun.

As I often do while sitting on panels, I jot down notes of interesting things that the other panelists say - I tend to take more notes when I'm moderator, which allows me to draw on things they've said, explore concepts they raise further and tie in things that each person said. I continually learn as much if not more as a panelist than when I'm sitting in the audience.

During one of the panels about writers using social media, there were so many great questions from the audience as well as so much interesting discussion from my fellow panelists that we ran out of time. I promised the folks who still had more questions that I'd do my best to sum up the things discussed as well as put out a blog post regarding that topic.  Thus, later this week, there'll be a few "follow-up" posts about EerieCon 13, in particular a "Reader's Digest" version of the social media panel, complete with links and other info I think would usefully answer several of the questions.

I wanted to extend my thanks to the volunteers from the Buffalo Fantasy League who, for thirteen years now have put together a great weekend filled with lots of fun, learning, networking and intimate, lively discussion. I look forward to being there again next year. Great job!