Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Attending World Horror Con 2007

Something forthcoming that I'm really looking forward to is that I'll be an attending member of the World Horror Convention 2007. (March 29th to April 1st in the heart of downtown Toronto)

I don't make it to many conventions any longer (not exactly by choice, because I love attending them, but more by other circumstances that have gotten in the way), but was delighted to see the World Horror Con come to Canada for the first time, and so darned close to home. How could I resist?

I had originally signed up to be a participant in the 2007 Gross-Out Contest, an event that had historically proven to be the foulest, sickest and funniest late-night entertainment for the convention. (Basically, within the span of 5 minutes, contestants read a story and are judged upon presentation, grossness and crowd reaction). Unfortunately, the contest has been canceled for this year. I had been working on a story specifically for the contest and was attempting to hold nothing back in terms of grossness and sickness. Oh well. Maybe I'll be able to attend the WHC in 2008 and participate then.

As it stands WHC 2007 looks to be filled with a ton of other great events, and more phenomenal horror writers than I've ever seen assembled in a single place before. Check out this list of attending members, which includes the incredible guests of honor for the convention. What a line-up!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

No Monsters Allowed!

There's currently a simple sign created using black Crayola marker that is taped to my son's bedroom door. It reads:


The no is underlined three times, of course, to emphasis the point.

Some time towards the end of last week Alexander started whispering the word "monsters" and "scared" when I was putting him to bed. I, of course, assured him that there are no monsters. I don't know, maybe he can call my bluff, because, as I'd feared not too many years ago, how was I going to lie to him about this? How was I going to tell him that there was no such thing as monsters when I myself was frightened of the bogeyman? In any case, he wouldn't buy my denial of monsters, so I told him that Daddy would protect him from the monsters. He whispered the word "safe" and soon after he settled in to sleep.

Then came this past weekend, when I was working late doing a stock inventory (and not arriving home until sometime after 11:30 -- well after Alexander's bed time) when Alexander's talk about "monsters" continued. Only this time is was "monsters" and "Daddy" and "safe" -- well with me still being at the store, and unable to protect him from the monsters, Francine had an excellent idea. She comforted him by giving him the power to dispel the monsters. She suggested that in the morning we make a sign to put on his bedroom door saying no monsters were allowed here.

It's quite cute. We all made the sign together. He proudly looks at it and says "No Monsters Here!" And it seems to work.

Last night, when I was putting him to sleep he started talking about the dark and monsters and they said "sign" and "safe" to assure himself that there were no monsters here in his room. Then he asked me if there were monsters downstairs. Again, my first instinct was to say: "Of course there are monsters downstairs -- monsters love the basement. They especially love hiding under the stairs and reaching out from between the risers to grab your ankles and trip you when you're walking down the steps. There's also more hiding behind the furnace in the shadows, which is why it seems like the furnace is making so many strange noises." It's really tough being an adult who believes in monsters.

But yet again I lied to him and said that there were no monsters at all in the house.

I started to envision making more signs and posting them all over the house. Then I started to think a little more realistically about monsters. No, not he creepy crawly stirrings of an overactive imagination, those things that go bump in the night. The real monsters out there. The predators, the evil, terrible people that every parents wants desperately to keep their children safe from. I know that soon after trying to talk my son out of believing in monsters, I'm going to have to explain about these real life monsters to him.

If only there were a sign to keep them away.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Da Count - Mom

Mothers are wonderful, beautiful, very special and often even magical people. Take my Mom. When Francine's Mom died, my Mom immediately headed down (she lives about 6 hours away) to stay with us for the week. Yes, she was here to offer support to us, but it was mostly because we needed to have someone look after Alexander while we made the hundred different arrangements for the funeral, and spent most of a handful of days at the funeral home.

She, of course, apologized that she didn't really do much for us around the house (thinking she should have been cooking, cleaning, making calls, arranging things for us, etc) -- typical. Having her look after and play with Alexander was a top-priority item for us and allowed us the peace of mind knowing he was being cared for and happy to see Baba Jean (my own Baba (Ukranian/Polish for Grandmother) is still alive, and she's always been Baba to everyone, so my Mom has become Baba Jean).

It was Francine and I who felt bad because we pretty much spent the whole week not spending much time with her and eating cold meat and buns. We never once got to cook a nice sit-down meal for her, or take her out for dinner to thank her for her hard work.

And hard work it was. She arrived on the Sunday afternoon, and basically ran all around the house with Alexander for the whole day. When Alexander went to sleep in the early evening, my Mom was not too far behind, virtually dropping into bed from exhaustion. (And I have to tell you, it was really cute how the only snoring you could hear echoing through the house came from Alexander's room and Baba Jean's room -- they were both snoring so loud that when our Voxcom alarm went off twice in the middle of the night due to the door sensors being damaged by the combination of extreme cold and moisture, neither of them budged in their sleep -- and let me tell you, that alarm is not quiet -- you can hear it inside the neighbours house two doors down when it goes off)

In typical motherly fashion, my Mom is hypercritical of herself. When she sees pictures of herself she says she looks fat, has a big mouth, or whatever other thing she can say. I suppose she can't understand how beautiful she is to me in all aspects.

Mom lost her soul-mate, my father a few years ago. It was at the time of life many people look forward to. He had just retired and then had planned on doing those things they always wanted to do -- go on longer than simple weekend fishing trips, heading out West on a vacation, and taking a cruise. They never got to do those things, with the exception of a few of those extended fishing trips, which I'm so glad they were able to do. When I get sad thinking about how I miss my Dad, I can only imagine how lonely and difficult it is for my Mom. And yet, in that typical motherly fashion, she's strong, there for others, always giving, never taking. Not long before my Dad died, I caught a glimpse of the depth of how much he loved my Mom through an in depth conversation we were having. It was a very special moment.

My Mom is not my birth Mother. I was adopted. I have met my birth Mother and she's an amazing, wonderful woman. And I mean no disrespect to her by saying this: But my Mom is my Mom is my Mom. Regardless of the fact that she didn't give birth to me makes her no less my true and real Mom. I've always felt that way and always will.

I could go on for days discussing how wonderful my Mom is, how much she means to me and how much I love her. She chased away the bogeyman when I was a child, and even now, at the end of the day, when I call her, she has a way of making me feel good just by talking to her.

Thanks, Mom, for being you.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

HNT - TiT - Surprise Attack

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

Continued from this post.

"Knock knock," Artoo said, and the whole group snickered, awaiting Mark's response.

Mark jumped up from the couch where he was resting trying to figure out who could be knocking at such a late hour.

"Who is it?" Mark asked.

Artoo said in a disguised voice. "I'm a really sexy chick. Open up the door and I'll flash my bazoombas at you."

"Bazoombas?" Mark asked and arched his eyebrow trying to look cool and sexy himself as he reached for the door. "That sounds quite intriguing. I think I'll open the door and have a look-see."

That was definitely a mistake, and not the first time that the mention of flashed bazoombas caused a man to drop his guard and forget all else. The moment the door opened Spud Trooper fired his weapon at Mark.

And, his mind barely registering the fact that he was being ambushed, Mark felt the heat of the laser fire sear into his flesh.

To be continued . . .

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Prelude To A Scream - Finally

Back in late July, early August, I recorded and edited my fourth Prelude To A Scream podcast. However, technical difficulties and challenges prevented me from actually getting the episode posted.

In Episode 4, I read one of my poems "Frost After Midnight" which was inspired by Coleridge's "Frost At Midnight" -- one of STC's poems that I have always adored. I also talk about how even the "looked down upon" genres like horror can draw their inspiration from classic literature, and discuss how listening to James Patrick Kelly's novel Burn inspired me to want to go back and re-read some of Henry David Thoreau's writing, particularly his essay "Walking" (I never even got into how Kelly's novel inspired me to want to reread Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451)

(if you just click on the link rather than right click, it'll open up to listen to online)

And it only took me 6 months to resolve the technical issue preventing me from posting the file. In all honesty, I didn't keep trying every single day to post it -- I think I tried about half a dozen times back in August, then I might have tried again towards the end of September and maybe once more in October. I think by then I put the completed podcast on the back burner and left it there.

Until Sunday, that is, when I downloaded a newer application SpinExpress2 and my problems were resolved in a matter of minutes. Way faster than any other upload application for file sharing that I've used before. Woo hoo! Yeah for the people at SpinExpress.

(Of course, it wasn't until the file was finally uploaded thatI wondered if the entire issue was the fact that I had been using the wrong password)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Sound of One Man Reviewing

Mick Halpin, the occasional guest-host of Paula B's wonderful The Writing Show podcast has not only been offering me incredibly detailed and useful feedback for me as a guest in one of Paula's "Getting Published" reality series but he has also recently reviewed my book One Hand Screaming.

I've snipped out some really nice "blurbs" from the review such as:

Originality is decidedly rare in horror. Invention is even more rare in horror fiction, thus a sigh of relief at Leslie's "Browsers"
- Mick Halpin,, January 2007
He's mighty good with a hook.
- Mick Halpin,, January 2007

. . . but despite the fact that there were some things Mick liked about the book, that's not the best part of the review. The absolute best part of the review is that this doesn't read like a review at all. It reads like more of a creative writing exercise. The review is revealed within the body of a very unique and funny story. And the story itself is peppered with small references to things that I swear Mick planted there as cute little "easter eggs" for me to find and enjoy.

He describes his reviews in this cover statement: "Mick Halpin offends snooty critics by offering reviews that non-intellectuals can grove to. UNRULY REVIEWS. The rules of proper diction can bite my ass."

Reading through reviews on Mick's website it's obvious that he's having a good time, telling it like he sees it and enjoying the freedom of being creative. And he ends up producing some uniquely bizarre essays. So I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun reading a review of my work as when it gets penned by the zany master of unconventional reviews, Mick Halpin.

Read the full very fun to read review here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Budgie Poop Sticking To Bum

I like to browse through and see what keywords end up landing people on this blog.

Recently, a Google search for "budgie poop sticking to bum" has an archive page from my blog as the third returned link. It's likely due to a combination of links to this post (Attack of the Clones - August 19, 2005) in which I talked about my Baba's pet budgie and my buddy Pete's fear of birds, this post (Everybody's Loving Your Bum - August 03, 2005) where I chat about a fun song Humble & Fred played on air, and this post (Speaking of Bathroom Humour - August 23, 2005) in which I recite the old Sam The Lavatory Man song.

It was a bit strange reading through some of my blog archives. I can certainly be a strange bird.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rocks In My Head

What better than a cute Alexander story to bring me out of a very difficult week . . .

So there we all are in the kitchen. Francine and I preparing a cooperative supper (which means, we're both doing work -- the work I'm doing is mostly following her orders and staying out of the way while she does all the difficult and challenging jobs). When I got confused and misunderstood some of the instructions and asked for the fifth time for her to repeat them, Fran finally gave up and just stood there and asked me if I had rocks in my head.

Alexander then begged me to pick him up, which I did. He immediately requested that I hoist him up high and he grabbed the top of my head with both of his hands and started to inspect it. After a moment or two of searching he spoke up.

"Nope." he said. "No rocks."

Gotta love him. My son proved for once and for all that I don't have any rocks in my head.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

HNT - Memories of Dianne

This week's HNT is in honour of a very wonderful, youthful and spirited woman. My mother-in-law Dianne Marzanek passed away this past Saturday. I'm posting one of my favourite pictures of the two of us, taken about 14 or so years ago when Francine and I were living in Ottawa and her mother had come up to visit.

It was near Christmas time and I had rented a bear costume for work to promote the "Coles Book Bear" that our store was selling to raise money for literacy. I like this photo because it nicely illustrates the fun and loving relationship that I always had with my mother-in-law. I'm a very fortunate man for having had her in my life and feel privileged to have known her.

Goodbye Mom. I love you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Music of Angels

Just minutes after I pressed the "publish" button on that last post, the telephone rang. It was the hospital, calling to let us know that my mother in law's breathing had started to get worse. We rushed to the hospital, and for the following forty-eight hours we all took turns sitting quietly with her, making sure she was never alone.

She passed away peacefully on Saturday morning. I was sitting with her when all of a sudden, without any warning, she simply stopped breathing.

God, I miss her. She was such a central part of our lives that I still can't believe she's gone.

I'll never forget the first time I met her. I was working at Coles on Sparks Street in Ottawa and Fran and her roommate and her mother came in, laughing and smiling and completely brightening up the entire store. Fran and her mother were close, like sisters and best friends in the way they shopped and did things together. And I remember being so impressed at how youthful and spirited her mother was. And, like her daughter, she was a knockout.

I've included a photo of the three of us taken at our wedding. I've always loved this candid shot of us smiling and laughing while talking to each other. I think that's one of the best ways to express what Francine's Mom was to us.

Francine's Mom was the strongest woman I've ever known, and had this very unique creative touch in everything she did. I'll never forget the first time I listened to her play the piano. Immediately after hearing her play for the first time, I wrote the following poem.

Music of Angels
by Mark Leslie

Her fingers dance effortlessly
Across the ebony and ivory keys
Like tiny dancers moving a split second ahead
of the music they know so well
The notes rise and glide forth through the air
Beautiful and timeless
Yet they fit this moment so well

As she plays I am no longer in a closed room
I am breathing in a fresh cool ocean breeze
with the warmth of the sun upon my face
As the flashes of brilliant colourful light superimpose
themselves on gentle waves sliding up the beach
from the sea

I stare in awe at the woman who is creating this magic
And I think of how incredible it is that
such a moving, powerful piece of music
Can come from anything less than a chorus of angels
Then it occurs to me that this is merely one
of her beautiful miracles
And I smile across the room at her first miracle
The one sworn to me by marriage

She always treated me like a son, and I loved her like my own mother. I always got a kick out of how supportive she was in my writing. She never read a single word of one of my short stories (because she didn't like to be creeped out by the horror I wrote) but she insisted on owning and cherished signed copies of my work that she bragged to others about.

And on a wry note, I was slightly disappointed at how much I liked and respected her. Because once I met her, all of those stereotypical jokes about "mother-in-law" were completely lost on me -- our relationship was never like that at all. She was 'Mom' to me. A constant support, a constant joy.

As I said, there's now this huge void. This loss is difficult, but sharing stories about her life right now with family and friends is at least comforting. And I know that the music of her love will continue to echo in our hearts forever.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

HNT - Happy Birthday Francine - Da Count

For those of you here for a continuation in the latest Darth Tater saga, stay tuned . . . the storyline will return next week . . .

I'm cheating a bit here, by combining two of my weekly pleasures into a single post. After all, the subject matter (my wife Francine) is crucially important. And since this Da Count, which normally is posted on Friday is so critical to me personally, I'm sure Lecram would understand me sliiiiiiding it forward a day so that it can be posted ON my wife's birthday. After all, it's important to count what you have . . .

And what I have is a wonderful, beautiful, incredible woman. While I still can't believe how lucky I am to have found her, and that she didn't go running away fast in the other direction when I approached (well, initially she did, but I chased and finally out winded her), I don't pause often enough to express to her how important she is, what she means to me and how much I love her.

In the Peter Gabriel song that we danced to as our first dance on our wedding day he states: "In your eyes, the light, the heat. In your eyes, I am complete. In your eyes, I see the doorways to a thousand churches. In your eyes, the resolution of all the fruitless searches." I couldn't have said it better, because Francine is all those things to me.

Fran is my best friend, a good-natured, kind-hearted and selfless person. She is a caring and nurturing mother and wife. She is sexy and fun, and I can always count on her for stimulating and intelligent discussion. Never mind the fact that she's willing to humour me in all the strange and bizarre things that I do (like taking these HNT shots of us laying on the couch and watching Medium on a Wednesday night). But even more important, of course, is the fact that she loves to laugh and enjoy life.

This trait becomes more and more important when you look at all the stress and uncontrollable factors that strike a person's life. Fran's mother has been hospitalized with varying degrees of severe heart failure since the beginning of September, spent several weeks in a coma and most of the rest of the time in a state within which it is challenging and frustrating trying to communicate with her. We get passing glimpses of this remarkable woman whom Francine is so much like, but these glimpses are brief and are often clouded through the intense pain-relief drugs.

Yet despite the fact that Francine's Mom has been suffering like this for six months now, and it has been stressful and difficult to keep going with day to day activities while managing her mother's affairs and making multiple daily visits with her in the hospital, Francine is still the main pillar of strength in our home. She continues to plug on, and though it is painful and difficult for Fran to see her Mother who is among her closest dearest friends, suffer this way, she carries on, continues to be a loving mother, wife, daughter and sister. She continues to think about others first, continues to give and share.

Her strength, her selflessness, her tirelessness seems to know no bounds. And as I try my best to be a supportive husband (I really only am taking my cues on how to be supportive, how to be a good mate from Francine herself), I continue to marvel at this incredible woman. A week ago, when her mother and I were talking, during one of those brief moments of clarity we reminisced about the big surprise birthday bash that we arranged for Francine last year on her 40th birthday. I know this year's birthday won't be as special, not because it's not a landmark year, but because Dianne, her mother, won't even be properly cognizant of it. She won't be able to wish her the simple wish of a Happy Birthday. As for myself, I think back to all of the times when Fran's mom spoke of her, talked about how proud she was of the woman her daughter grew up to be, how much she loved her, how much she enjoyed spending time with her. I know it's not proper consolation, but it's something I can offer.

And I will continue to count the blessing of Francine in my life.

Happy birthday Francine. You are a remarkable woman whom I look up to. Every day of every year I try harder to be more like you, to become a better person. And every day of every year, you offer me a reason to smile, a reason to laugh, a ray of sunshine and warmth. And while I know that Alexander doesn't yet have the words to express it, you are all these things to him as well.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spam Spim

Okay, I'll admit it, I sometimes give a quick read through of the loads of junk in my spam folder. Not just because sometimes there actually is a message there that automatically got shuffled into that folder by mistake, but because sometimes there are real gems.

Take the opening line of this recent spam that was supposedly from PayPal:

Dear Costumer,

We recently noticed one or more attempts to log in to your account from a foreign IP address. [yadda yadda yaddda, click on THIS bogus link and tell us your credit card info, all banking details, all of your secret logins in the universe and we'll make sure we fix this security hole.]

"Costumer" - that's priceless. I almost bought it too, because I do have a background in theatre. But the "tell" in this one, for me, was that they called me Costumer rather than Lighting Designer.

Whew. Almost got sucked into that one and revealed all my passwords and other personal secrets.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rich Kid Complaints

Why is it that I find myself laughing at so many of the MSU (McMaster Student Union) campaign posters here at the University. Particularly at the outrageous promises. I just shook my head this morning when I noticed an entire campaign poster claiming if you elect this dude president, he'll do something about the high cost of parking on campus.

You'll get no sympathy from me, rich kids. Has nobody ever heard of a bus? How about walking? In my day it was only the rich kids who had wheels in University, and only rich kids who complained about such things. Students were more concerned with issues related to the services offered by public transit, or complaining about the local grocery store being out of stock of Kraft Dinner. The sympathy these kids'll get from me is on par with the sympathy I offer the rich who complain that it's difficult to find parking for their limo or that they find it so difficult to find good help to take care of their second and third home.

I mean, I'm getting to the age that I can now pull out the good old chestnut of: "When I was in University I walked twenty miles to campus in 10 feet of snow, in my bare feet, and it was uphill both to and from campus."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Say It Ain't So Teresa!

I was rather disturbed to hear the news late last week that brewing giant Labatt (which used to be a Canadian company but is now owned by a Belgium company called InBev) offered 201.4 million dollars to buy out Lakeport Brewing.

It figures. A couple of years ago Labatt introduced their own version of Lakeports very successful "honey" beer, in an attempt to reclaim some of the market. It didn't seem to work so they followed the old methodology of "if you can't beat them, buy them." (Kind of a revisit to what happened with Chapters and Indigo back in 2001)

Lakeport has been a Hamilton success story since CEO Teresa Cascioli rescued the near bankrupt brewery and brought it into the top 3 selling beers in Ontario by a bold move, offering a decent beer for a very good price. She almost single-handedly pioneered the discount beer movement (24 for $24) in Canada.

Don't get me wrong, I think Cascioli deserves every single penny of the 40 million that she'll walk away with when the Labatt takeover is complete. She earned it. And I still think of her as a local hero. I'm just a little ticked that this brewery will no longer be a Hamilton institution, never mind no longer Canadian owned. Part of the reason I bought Lakeport beer was because I was supporting a local brewery (the other reason was it tasted good and you couldn't argue with the price). I'm hoping that the workers at the brewery don't get shafted if Labatt closes the local brewery and relocates the operation to one of their other locations. And regardless of whether or not they discontinue the discount beer offering, I don't think they'll be able to put a stop to the momentum that Lakeport has been able to generate.

As for spending my money on local or Canadian brewe3Fortunately, there are still other relatively local breweries to support, like Sleeman, Brick, Steamwhistle and (not as local to Hamilton, but still Canadian owned) Moosehead.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Da Count - If You Give A Man A Kid's Book

If you give a man a kid's book,
He'll want to read it
And when he's done he'll like it so much
He'll ask to read more
So you'll have to take him to the library or book store
(And so it goes)

I love being a father; I absolutely adore my son. But I also rather enjoy many of the side-effects of being a dad. Like getting to read children's books. They're so much fun, I can imagine that I might continue to read them well after Alexander has gotten older and moved on to young reader or young adult novels.

One of our current favourite series of books to read lately are by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond and in the "If You Give" series of books. They started with, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, then If You Give A Moose A Muffin and If You Give A Pig A Pancake. There are several more great books in the series and they're all a whole lot of fun. There's also some online fun based on the series too, where you can learn more and get info about the latest books in the series.

The basic premise involves the various distractions and the "one thing leading to another" elements of life that all begin with the simple act of doing something or giving something to a cute little animal. Each story follows the fun and madcap adventures of a young boy or girl trying to keep up with the constant demands of their new friend, and typically ends the way the whole thing began. It's a device that works beautifully again and again through slightly similar yet uniquely told stories.

Alexander loves reading them over and over, and I love reading them with him. I think an important element for a kid's book (apart from the critical marriage of great story and wonderful illustrations) is the book's re-readability. Kids usually go through an "AGAIN!" phase with things they enjoy, so it's important to find something in which "AGAIN!" is not tiresome for the adult.

And these books are certainly "AGAIN!" material. And I urge you to go check them out. You'll certainly count them among the important and worthwhile things in your life.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

HNT - TiT - A New Beginning

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

After a long hard day of work, Mark was resting on the couch downstairs and started to drift off to sleep. His mind began to fill with memories of a fun playtime from a year earlier: Memories of him and his son Alexander finally beating Darth Tater after a long and difficult struggle.

But at just about the same time, a small group of toys were gathering under the giant Spud Leader. And he was telling them about the horrible tragedy that befell one of their own and the man who was responsible for it all.

"Behold" he said. "The only remaining piece of what was once a great spoof toy."

"But," The Spud Trooper said. "I read that legendary HNT series, and the whole thing was just a made up pretend adventure. Mark and Alexander were just pretending the whole thing. It never really happened."

"It might have been pretend," the wise large Spud said. "But a toy was injured in the making of it. And that is something which simply cannot be forgiven."

"Understood," Darth Tater said. "We shall get revenge." He turned to Artoo-Potatoo. "But I don't understand why you've joined us. You're supposed to be on the other side."

"Normally I would be," Artoo said. "But a toy was harmed. And not just a toy, but a potato themed toy. I must join you in seeking revenge."

The cloakless Darth Tater shook Artoo's hand. "Then you're one of us. Welcome."

And so, their little spud hearts full of anger, and their guts steeled for vengeance, the spud team headed off to find their quarry. They knew that working together they would be able to secure their revenge much better than a group of Darth Tater clones.

"But that never happened," Spud Trooper said.

"Shut-up," Artoo said. "You're ruining the whole suspension of disbelief thing."

And so the group kept moving on. It didn't take them long before they arrived at Mark's door.

"Knock knock," Artoo said, and the whole group snickered, awaiting Mark's response.

To Be Continued . . .