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Friday, June 28, 2013

The Product Of Two Men

I am the product of two men. Okay, one's not yet a man, he's still a boy - but truly, so many of the things I am, so many of the things I appreciate about life, that I respect, admire and connect with, come from my relationship with two people.

So much of the way that I see myself, stems from two very important guys:

My Dad and my Son.

They never had the opportunity to meet each other. I know that my Dad would have worshiped the ground that Alexander walked on, and that my son would have had idolized and adored his Grandpa Gene.

But my Dad died before Alexander was born, so they never met.

And yet they are connected.

Today is my Dad's birthday - our family always made a big deal about that; always celebrated it, in conjunction with ringing in the summer season. Alexander's birthday is about a week later and has, for Francine and I, been a similar type of special celebration of a wonderful new season in our lives -- and thus, as June ends and July begins, I am filled with strong thoughts about how I am a better person for my relationship with these two males who define me.

Dad and me in the boat on one of my earliest fishing trips

Alexander and I are heading on a boy's trip next week. It's going to be a road trip with lots of exploring and, of course, fishing as a central activity. He has expressed a desire to go fishing; my Dad was the most avid fisherman I ever knew.  Taking Alexander for his first fishing experience is going to be fun, a little bittersweet, but certainly a wonderful memory for the two of us. I have spoken to him many times about my own experiences fishing with my Dad, but I'm sure, when we're out on the water, I'll conjure up other memories for him of other memories and stories that will come to mind.  (Fishing, inherently, goes hand in hand with tales)  Who knows, it might even become a tradition, the way my taking the first week of July off every year to spend some concentrated time specifically with Alexander has been a tradition ever since his first birthday.

Alexander and I BBQing in Levack

I'm a really lucky guy. My Dad loved doing things with me. And Alexander has always enjoyed doing stuff with Daddio.  I cherish those moments, and those memories.

And so, on my Dad's birthday, I think a lot about the two men who make me a better man, a better person.

And I'm extremely thankful for both of them.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Zombies, Run!

I have been using the Zombies, Run app now for a bit over a year. I haven't been consistent in using it for runs, since I tend to alternate between listing to podcasts and or audio books and music - and since the Zombies, Run app uses a playlist, injecting a fascinating story (and random zombie attacks) in between tracks, I tend to find it most interesting to use a music playlist when using this app.

My July 25, 2013 run map from Zombielink - Lakeshore, Toronto, ON


The story, in a nutshell, has you, the runner as "Runner 5" in a post-apocalyptic world overcome by zombies. You're a member of Abel township and are sent out on missions (with home-base folks providing commands in your ear).  The dialogue and narration from the various folks speaking with you help unroll a fascinating storyline with interesting characters and unique conflicts.

As you run, you end up picking up supplies that you can use to help build up your base and increase Abel's strength and population (remember Sim City?  Something like that)

The storytelling aspect of Zombies, Run is fascinating, but the random zombie attacks, are, of course, an additional benefit.

My June 15th ZombieRun from Zombielink


The app uses GPS to track you and how fast you are running. Thus, when a random zombie attack occurs, there's a warning, and a background beat that, like the classic Jaws theme, increases in intensity when the zombies get closer.  From 100 metres, to 50 metres to 20 metres . . . and all the while the sound of the zombies, uniquely three-dimensional in your ears, get louder and louder. It actually sounds like they're closing in on you and can be quite convincingly terrifying.

To escape from the random zombie attacks, you need to run faster for a full minute, or else you get caught.  And no, you don't die. If the zombies get too close, you end up dropping all your supplies (to distract them and lighten your load to get away), meaning you lose anything you found.

Two different zombie chase stats - Caught & Evaded


The random zombie chases, of course, make for a fantastic interval training experience.  The frustrating thing, of course, is when they come when you're at the bottom of a hill.  That can be truly killer.  (I much prefer when the come just as I'm about to run downhill)

One of the fun stats to look back at shows you your average speed during different songs, which can help you adjust and manage a playlist of songs that you might just run faster when listening to.

Zombielink song stats
Of course, this doesn't show if you happen to be running up or down elevations, so you have to sometimes remember that.  (For example, in the screen shot below, I'm running down the "Jolly Cut" of the Hamilton escarpment and am thus going a lot faster than average speed due to the favourable incline....


....and on the flip side, the chart below shows just how slow I was moving when I was heading back UP the Hamilton mountain up a set of stairs....

Deathly slow speed going up stairs
 
In any case, it's a fantastic app that I have gotten a great deal of benefit and entertainment from.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bookstore Barnaby

I was cleaning up files on my iPhone recently and came across a few of Barnaby at some events I had done in bookstores in the past 9 or so months.

Here's one of Barnaby at the Indigo in Stoney Creek where I had done a workshop on writing horror during the March break.

Barnaby posing in a chair with Yorick - Indigo Stoney Creek, March 2013

Here's Barnaby sitting in the front row of a workshop I had done on digital self-publishing for a writer's group in Stratford (May 2013).  This time he was here to demonstrate the manner by which a writer can use a prop or some sort of consistent messaging to ensure the audience knows exactly the type of thing they're in for (my example is, when Barnaby is sitting with me at an author table, customers who approach likely have a pretty good idea what genre I write in -- or, at the very least, it makes for a handy ice-breaker......)

Barnaby sitting front and centre for a workshop

The following is a picture of Barnaby at the Indigo in Stoney Creek (October 2013)

Please don't feed the starving writer
And, of course, Barnaby at the Coles at Eastgate Mall in Hamilton (Sept 2013) - which was the very first book signing I had done for Haunted Hamilton last fall.

This poor guy waited FOREVER for the author to show up

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Big Monster On Campus

Yesterday we took Alexander and his cousin Madison to see Monsters University.  It was a fantastic movie and a wonderful prequel to Monsters, Inc.

While, as a horror writer, I wished I could have gone to a university like MU, I was delighted to see that they actually had a great tie-in website made to look like virtually any other university website out there, complete with admission info, faculty profiles, academics, campus life, etc . . .

Monsters University website

For example, they outline the various schools within the university, wonderfully mimicing

Academics listing at Monster University

They even go so far as to outline different courses for the schools.  Example below from the School of Scaring....

MU Sample course listing from School of Scaring


And, the cool swag shop called The MU Store for MU branded clothing (which is what I had been looking for) . . .

Banner for The MU Store
I had originally been looking to find a t-shirt that might have played on the "Big Man on Campus" motif.  I remember, when Alexander was a toddler and I had been working at the bookstore at McMaster, we got him a "Big Man on Campus" McMaster shirt -- he loved it.

I would LOVE to be able to get a "Big Monster on Campus" shirt for him.  So, though the MU store online is pretty cool, there are, I think, more opportunities to sell some really cool swag.  Maybe the Disney store already has one - I'll have to go check.

And, given the trend I have seen with university bookstores abandoning books in favor of tchotchkes and other branded crap (even abandoning the name "bookstore" in favor of "campus store" [insert loud audible sigh here]) I find it interesting that in this fake MU Store there isn't even a single mention of textbooks - despite the fact that Mike Wazowski spends a good deal of effort studying from some classic monster textbooks, and some of the ones used in the movie, however brief, were really funny.


[insert second audible sigh here . . . ]

In any case, it was a fun movie, and I really am interested in getting ahold of some of the fun swag; and, of course, going back and watching Monsters, Inc again.

MU forever . . . . .

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man Of The House

I used to receive great little tidbits of fatherly advice from my Dad. And, interestingly enough, the advice that he would share with me didn't seem like all that much when he was relaying them to me. But now, I think back on those nuggets of wisdom and cherish them.

I have tried to do the same with my son Alexander.


I travel quite a bit for work. And, every time I do, I usually sit down with Alexander the night before and have a heart to heart chat with him about what it means.

Alexander has always been a helpful little person, assisting with chores around the house and he has always been working right at my side at various tasks and DIY projects in the home. And he takes his responsibility very seriously.

So, respecting that, I usually sit him down prior to my departures to pass on the "man of the house" duties to him.

Alexander and I, summer 2012 - Swiss Family Robinson tree house, Walt Disney World, FL


This is how it went last time.

Mark:  I'm heading to New York tomorrow and will be there for almost a full week. You know what that means, don't you?

Alexander:  That you'll be spending most of your time looking up on the side of the tall buildings to see if you can spot Spider-Man?

Mark:  Of course. How could I visit New York without doing that? What I mean is, you know what that means around here, right?

Alexander:  That I'll be the man of the house.

Mark:  That's right.  And you know what your main job as man of the house is, don't you?

Alexander:  Yes.  Listening to Mom.
Mark:  Exactly.

Again, my son has nailed it.

In celebration of what it means to be the man of the house (until she gets home), here's Rodney Carrington's "The Man Song" in which he sings:  "'Cause a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and I'm gonna do what you tell me to.  Because I'm top dog around here . . . but I've been neutered....


To all the "men of the house" out there . . . Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Digital Publishing Workshop

Among the fun and amazing things I got to do this past week.  (Such as participate in the act of awarding Alice Munro a CBA Libris Lifetime Achievement Award, hand the CBA Libris Author of the Year Award to Terry Fallis and Fiction Book of the Year Award to Will Ferguson), I ran a workshop for the Stratford Authors on digital self-publishing.

I arrived in plenty of time to set up, and, since Barnaby was in the car with me, I placed him front-row centre.  (My skeleton Barnaby was part of the "author branding" segment of the talk - in which I explain how I use Barnaby at book signings, etc, to ensure people immediately "get it" that I write horror/Twilight Zone style fiction - an easy way to quickly help people decide if it's worth their time coming to my author table, etc.  IE, attracting my target audience along with creating a fun ice-breaker for people to crack jokes about my skinny friend)


This was the first time I had done a workshop where I live published a book on Kobo Writing Life in front of the audience (walking them through the setup of my book in WORD format, the upload process, how I then download the converted ePub file and then use Sigil to manually polish it up, adjust the metadata and then re-upload a better version of the ePub).  It was fun to walk through each of the steps and show them the time and care it takes to

I published a short story I had previously published, BTW, demonstrating that an eBook doesn't have to be a full length novel sized work but can be, in fact whatever length (longer or shorter) that you want. The key is making sure the potential buyer is made aware of that through a solid synopsis/description so they don't feel tricked.


Here are some of the highlights of tips from my presentation:

  • The Hard Truth:  This is a business. If you want to self-publish, you need to assume all of the responsibilities that the publisher normally takes on, and it is no small feat. You need to ensure all the elements of editorial, design, metadata, art, layout, listing, marketing are completed.
  • The Three P's of Self-Publishing Success:  Practice, Patience and Persistence. Keep writing, write every day, re-write, edit, write again. Then some more.  And, just in the same way that submitting your work to agents and publishers takes a lot of time and effort, so to does becoming successful in self-publishing take a lot of hard work and patience. If you don't see results right away, maintain Persistence. Believe in yourself, never give up and focus on writing your next great book  (this advice, of course, also applies to traditional publishing)
  • Know Your Audience.  Your book is not for everybody. If you believe that you are deceiving yourself.  You need to spend time figuring out who your ideal/target audience is, and don't waste any marketing efforts trying to blast your marketing efforts everywhere. The worst thing you can do is sell (or try to sell) your book to the wrong reader. If they buy it, you get one sale, but they won't like it, and it'll be a negative experience - what's the long-term benefit there?
  • People DO Judge a Book By Its Cover.  A great cover, targeted for your ideal audience, can help you gain attention and sales.  A poor cover will send people running away (screaming, laughing, or some combination of both) and do more harm than good. Don't take short-cuts. If you don't have a good design eye (and it is hard to be objective), you need a cover designer.  Here's one of the articles we have posted on the Kobo Writing Life blog regarding cover design.  This one helps with what to look for in a book cover designer.
  • Think of price as a VERB not a NOUN.  Price deliberately, price responsibly. And don't paint all your titles with the same "price brush" -- be prepared to react to the markets -- and the markets are different and unique and following their own trends, so be prepared to research and understand what price points work in various categories in various global territories and create a strategy incorporating that.  More great pricing advice appears HERE.

Those are five generic tips that were mixed in along with the details of the step by step process for digital self-publishing. I hope that you found them helpful.

I know Barnaby did.  (At least, he never stopped smiling at me from the front row the entire time, so I'm reading a bit into that)


Monday, June 03, 2013

Self Publishing Podcast Episode 57: Publishing on Kobo

I was recently a guest on the Self-Publishing Podcast (with Johnny, Sean & Dave) to talk about Kobo Writing Life.



Some of the topics discussed include:




The podcast is definitely NSFW (not safe for work) because there is some language not appropriate for all audiences; but the content and discussion about self-publishing and digital publishing is pretty detailed and it is great that Johnny, Sean and Dave have always been so forthcoming about their own experiences in the self-publishing world.  I have been a fan of their podcast from the day that they launched it and have enjoyed following their very frank and open discussions about the journey they have made.

But I think one of the more important messages expressed here goes along with a phrase I have been heard saying when authors are looking at putting all of their eggs in one basket (ie, choosing to list their book on just one retailer and not paying attention to all of the other ones out there):  "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of while cruising along on the world's longest river."  Sure, that river is large, well-known and encompasses some huge territorial spread - but if you think it is the entire world, you really should look beyond the shoreline of said river because you are missing out on a heck of a lot of wonderful global territory.

Or, in other words, for most authors it doesn't matter how brilliant your book is - a customer who is a dedicated Kobo, Nook, Sony or iBooks reader isn't going to suddenly switch to the Kindle platform just so they can read your book. It just becomes one other reason they'll have NOT to buy your book, but to move on to a book/author whose work is already available on the platform they are already a patron of.

Here is a link to Episode 57 - you can listen online, download it, or subscribe to the podcast from places like iTunes.

And check out their cool books on Kobo here.....(just some of them, of course)

Unicorn Western
(free first book in series: UW Vol 01

Yesterday's Gone
(free first book in series:  YG EP01)

Fat Vampire
(free first book in series:  FV 01)

White Space

Available Darkness