Friday, November 30, 2007

Da Count - Daddy's Little Helper

Ever since my son could pretty much get around on his own, he has wanted to participate in the things I do around the house. And while it often takes twice if not three or four times longer for me to get those chores done with my helper, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Alexander has long been a companion of mine in shoveling the driveway, cutting the lawn, puttering around the garage, working on the pool, fixing various broken items, heading to Canadian Tire or Home Depot to pick up materials and tools, and, of course, putting up Christmas decorations.

The other day when I was putting the decorations on the roof, he wasn't satisfied with just handing me things through the window, but he wanted to come out and inspect the work I was doing on Santa's sleigh, reindeer and of course the new Santa ladder.

And that's the beautiful thing. The kid, although only 3, actually doesn't just fart around. he actually works and puts genuine effort into it. And if he's not a part of the actual serious work (rather than the pretend little "Joe jobs" I can invent to keep him occupied) he's not interested. God, I love his work ethic. It's truly inspiring.

I fail to understand parents who ship their kids off or banish them from the work area in order to get their work around the house done. Sure, it means your fifteen minute job will actually get done in fifteen minutes as opposed to forty minutes or maybe even two hours. But you deny yourself so much pleasure, so many great memories to cherish for your entire life. And you deny your children those same things too -- never mind a sense of self esteem and the chance to learn by doing.

When I was young I didn't get many chances to work around the house with my father. It wasn't because he wanted me out of his way (although there was a bit of a sense of it since I recall one of his favourite sayings was "get out of my road") -- it seemed more geared along the line of: "You're a kid, go out and play and have fun -- you'll be working the rest of your life - enjoy the playing now." However, those few occasions where we shoveled the driveway together, BBQ'd together, worked on wood crafting, or even wrapped my Mom's Christmas gifts, particularly the annual "joke surprise" Christmas gift that he worked so hard on each year, are among the finest and sweetest memories I have of him.

So this week I'm counting my little helper and the fact that while it seems like I'm teaching him things while working on tasks, he's actually the one teaching me how to enjoy the moment -- all those moments -- and properly bask in them.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

HNT - TiT - Time To Bale

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

Continued from this post

As the hay was hurling down towards Mark's head, he took a deep breath, thought about what his hero Spider-Man might say in a time like this and, leaping to the side, said: "Time to bale!"

He just narrowly managed to jump out of the way of the falling doom of hay, surprised to notice that, in mid flight his underwear miraculously changed back from the heart shaped ones to the original Spider-Man underwear he'd been wearing at the beginning of this adventure.

"Wow, talk about really bad continuity in this storyline," Mark thought, when he heard a cackle from around the back of the barn.

"My hay didn't get you, but my tractor never misses!"

It was Farmer Jones, driving his tractor and hell bent on finishing Mark off.

To be continued . . .

Congratulations to Ameratis whose comment suggestion was used to help write this chapter in the story - Ameratis, your signed copy of One Hand Screaming is on its way]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When Fatherly Advice Backfires

In my son's short three years of life, I have offered up several different nuggets of wisdom that I thought might help him along on his journey.

I didn't think that my advice would backfire or cause him much trouble, of course, at least until he reached his teenage years. But I was wrong. (Being a husband for over 11 years now I should have learned by now that I'm always wrong)

When he was a young toddler, I offered him the solid advice: Don't drink the bum water! (Referring, of course, to the fact that it wasn't good for him to drink the bath water, it being filled with soap and dead skin and his stinky bum)

He never took my advice, of course. But over time he has translated it for his own purposes.

The other night when I was trying to wash his face, he turned to me and let out a panicked yell. "No, Dad! Don't wash my face! It's poo water!"

Then we struggled for a minute, him kicking and splashing and trying to get away in the same manner you'd see the people in the movie Jaws beating a hasty retreat out of the water when they saw a shark fin approaching.

"No poo water!!! No poo water!!!" He was yelling this out with the fierce determination and panic of "Shark!" (or maybe the way that the Griswold's yell out "Squirrel!!!!!" in Christmas Vacation.)


Since kids are smarter than we often give them credit for, and very manipulative with their parents, I figured this was just a ploy. I figured Alexander was just trying to get out of having his face and ears and hair washed in order to play with his bath toys uninterrupted. But if I poured water onto the face cloth from the tap he calmly let me wash his face.

Yes, like Frankenstein's monster, I ended up creating something that grew out of my control.

Word of advice for fathers (and husbands) -- when you think you've got something brilliant and wonderful to offer the world, think twice before you open your big yap.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


The great and powerful Os has decreed that this week's HNT post should feature our MP3 player. Fair enough. I figured I'd show off the 2 GB SanDisk Sansa m250 mp3 player that I've had for a couple of years now.

My MP3 player has served me well, and currently contains the full tracks from the latest Rush album Snakes & Arrows (I purchased the special DVD/MP3 file version), the latest episode of The Writing Show podcast, the last two chapters of Mur Lafferty's Heaven Season One audio book as well as several songs by The Blazing Elwoods and a song by Alex Wilson called Untitled Pretention Pontificated by a Passive Voice (a song that I can listen to at least once per week and still enjoy).

Here's an HNT picture of me listening to my MP3 player in the hotel room I'm staying in this evening. I took a few more risqué shots that I wasn't willing to post here, but if any readers out there are interested in seeing them, click here and here if you're a flickr friend or flip me an email and I'll send them to you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Come On Baby Start My Kindle

Gutenburg's invention of the printing press responsible for the creation of the "modern" book has been modified and certainly evolved by new technologies in the past 550 years, but it hasn't really changed all that much from the original. Not really. And why should it?

After all, the ancient technology known as "book" represents not only superior longevity for storage, convenience of portability as well as compatibility between different users, but also requires no electricity or batteries to enjoy begins working the moment you open it (provided, of course, you know how to use one of these complicated devices) and never crashes. And let's not get into the depths of joy and passion people have for printed words on the page.

Yesterday Amazon revealed a revolution that the world has been anticipating for quite some time now. The Amazon Kindle e-book reader takes existing e-book technology such as the eye-pleasing "electronic ink," the ability to store hundreds of volumes of books in a single portable device and being able to instantly create a "large print" version of the text with a sales and delivery platform that takes even the iTunes/iPod method of digital delivery to a whole new level.

Wireless digital delivery. No need to download the book to your computer and then transfer it over to your portable reading device. No sir. With Kindle it's automatic and as convenient as using a cell phone. You simply hit a button and you're browsing on Amazon's website for just under 100,000 possible books, magazines, newspapers or blogs that can be downloaded within about a minute.

It's enough to make even a die-hard lover of the physical printed book sit up, take notice and say: "I gotta get me one of those!"

Yes, I'll admit it. Despite my large library at home and my desire to continue to increase it. (As a member of the Folio Society, I just ordered a $90.00 special Folio Edition of Robertson Davies' The Deptford Triology despite being able to purchase much cheaper paperback versions of these beloved books)

So last night, while Francine was watching the 11 o'clock news, I was watching online video demonstrations, interviews and reading articles about the Amazon Kindle. And every few minutes I would pause, look up at Francine and say something utterly intelligent and insightful like: "Cooooooool!" or "Wicked!" or "Ah man, that's neat."

She finally had enough of it after about twenty minutes, and headed off upstairs to lay in bed and read a hard cover book I'd purchased that day for her. Meanwhile, I stayed downstairs and read and watched more about this fascinating new device.

The Kindle costs about $400 US (Okay, that translates to, right now, oh about $400 Canadian, or maybe actually about $392 Canadian) and most new releases and bestsellers retail in Kindle version for $9.99. Paperbacks look like they cost about 5 or 6 dollars, and magazines and newspapers have varying monthly subscription charges. Amazon even offers an email method of delivering your own personal Word documents to your device for a small fee, allowing you to travel with your required business docs (for example), without having to carry a dozen folders.

By the time I popped back up into bed all I could talk about was the device and how much I wanted to write to Santa and add it to my already giant list of things I was hoping to see under the tree on Christmas morning.

Of course, Francine grounded me quite nicely by asking me if owning a Kindle meant I would stop buying hard copy books. Despite wanting to lie to her just to get her to allow me to own this device, I admitted that owning it would not deter me from my lifelong desire to own copies of books. I did sway a bit and say something along the lines of being able to read a new book for only $10 and then only buying it if, upon reading it, it was deemed worthy.

Francine just shook her head, knowing me better than that. I had to really dislike a book to not want to keep it.

But it made me think about the downside to using such a device. Okay, on the plus side, it was damn cool, incredibly convenient, and with the amount of traveling I do it would make having more than one book in my carry-on laptop bag a cinch. But on the down side, I would likely end up spending more money, because I'd likely drop $10 on the e-book version and then turn around and drop another $30 on the hard copy. And despite the "electronic ink" I'd really have to be able to test out reading on that screen to see if I'd be able to properly adapt. I have read perhaps half a dozen books in pdf format on my laptop over the years, and despite the convenience of being able to do so while commuting in to work on the GO train, it wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the feeling of curling up with a book.

Of course, it might be easier to curl up with a Kindle.

But I do think that Amazon should consider changing their module just a bit. It's really good. But it's still a bit lacking (at least from the perspective of someone who hasn't tried it out yet).

What about, if you purchase the Kinder version of a book, then want to purchase the hard copy, you're given a rebate off the price via a credit on your Amazon account? Would it mean lost money for Amazon, or simply just a smaller margin on an additional sale through their already prosperous online channel? But I'm sure there are a ton of other book nerds out there like me who would do this -- Heck, I'm doing it now with free audio books -- if I enjoy an audio book (usually downloadable for free via cool online places like I tend to go out and buy a hard copy of the book after. It's just the way I am. I know not everyone is like that, and pirating digital content is all the rage, but it's just not for me.

And I also think that, in order to entice people into the world of e-book reading, they need to do something to help get it into the hands of people. And I don't just mean lowering the $400 price. I mean doing something like taking a series of public domain titles (a la Project Gutenburg, for example) that could be downloaded for free from their service. This would allow people a chance to seriously check out reading kindle-version e-books without having to invest in more than the Kindle device, and, like iTunes, which offers music for 0.99 but also provides RSS feeds to thousands upon thousands of free podcasts, it would drive a lot more traffic and a lot more users through their doors.

I went to sleep, by the way, after spending a joyous 15 minutes reading the preface to a book I'd purchased that day.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

HNT - TiT - Strike Zone

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

Continued from this post

[PRODUCER'S NOTE: Mark has been lying to readers of the HNT - Terror in Toyland storyline. The reason that the storyline hasn't continued for the past seven weeks is not due to Mark working on other projects. The truth is that the writers for this storyline have been on strike. These writers are the ones who, in fact, have inspired the Hollywood screenwriters to go on strike]

[Due to the strike, the producers of this blog are asking readers help keep the storyline going and to "write in their own dialogue" to accompany the following picture.

in the comment section, please fill in what you think Mark should be saying as the big bale of hay is dropping toward him]

[NOTE: An additional incentive. The best line submitted by comment will be chosen to be incorporated into the continuing storyline AND that person will receive either the e-book version or a signed physical copy of Mark's book One Hand Screaming (your choice) - how's that for a cheap incentive? And yes, sending a free book is a lot cheaper than the pay raise the striking writers are demanding]

To Be Determined . . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Courting The Muse

It was the middle of the summer when this new idea for a story came to me. When I started working the details out in my head, I realized it would be too long for a short story, yet too short to be a novel. I figured it'd be somewhere in the 40,000 to 50,000 word range.

Perfect for NaNoWriMo I thought (that's National Novel Writing Month - where a huge whack of writers all over the world try to write an entire novel in the month of November), and tucked a few notes away, figuring November would be the perfect time to work on this project.

So I signed up for NaNoWriMo and got ready. I did keep in the back of my mind that I still hadn't finished the novel in progress A Canadian Werewolf in New York that I'd been writing as part of The Writing Show podcast's reality series "Getting Published with Mark Leslie" -- despite having taken a break to pen the novelization of my online serial thriller I, Death and also work on a handful of other short writing projects. However, with ACWINY looming on my conscious, I figured I'd prove to myself that I could write the first draft of a 50,000 word novella in a single month.

I had tucked away all my notes on the novella project and planned on starting it in November (according to the conventions of NaNoWriMo you're supposed to write the entire first draft within the span of that month). And although I didn't hit the ground running on November 1st, I did work diligently on the novel while I was doing a book signing at the Coles in Halifax on November 2nd. It was a relatively quiet night and I often pass the time while sitting at the author table in the front of the store jotting down notes in a writer's journal. Given that I was on a business trip for several days I figured I'd be able to get up early and get working on the novel in the solitude of the hotel room.

However, during my book signing on Saturday November 3rd at the Chapters in Bayers Lake, in the middle of Hurricane Noel, no less, all my NaNoWriMo plans fell by the wayside. I started chatting with a young woman from Halifax who was relaying ghost lore from the Halifax area to me. One of the virtual "ghost walk tours" she took me on hit home with my muse, and when she left my author table, I began making notes for a story idea based on a scene she'd described to me. By the time my book signing was finished that night (and, oh, I did sell more copies of my book that night during the hurricane than I did the previous non-stormy night - note to self, people like horror during nasty storms, at least people from the East Coast) I'd penned several pages of notes for a new short story.

When I got back to the hotel I began working on the story (and yes, it was a fun experience to write a creepy horror tale with the gale force winds of Hurricane Noel tapping against my hotel room window), but realized I needed more information about the setting. So while I was off working on character sketches, I emailed my new friend Ashley asking her for more info about the small town just a few hours outside of Halifax to help me flesh out details in the story. She complied with all kinds of details and descriptions and even the offer of emailing me some photographs.

The next thing I new, armed with more detailed descriptions to accompany my imagination, I was wading thick through the joys of penning a completely new story, enthralled with the characters I was discovering through the act of telling their story, chilled by the scenes I was envisioning, compelled with getting the story onto the printed page.

So November 13th is here and I still haven't done much work on the mystery/thriller I'd been planning to write during November since the mid summer.

Guess that goes to show you that courting the muse is a tricky business. I can plan and make notes; I can outline and sketch characters until I'm blue in the face. But when it all comes down to it, I'm really at the mercy of my muse, and darn it, but she's a harsh mistress with her own agenda, no matter what plans I might attempt to lay down.

And I'm completely at her mercy. But I just can't resist her charms. More fool me.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Pittance of Time

The song "A Pittance of Time" was written by Terry Kelly in 1999 after Kelly witnessed a man with his child ignoring the two minutes of silence in a retail outlet during the 11th hour on Remembrance Day. The man not only ignored those two minutes of silence but he also tried to engage a store clerk who was trying to show their respect for the veterans who sacrificed so much. Kelly was angry and concerned for the example it set for the man's child he turned it around into a song.

Taking just two minutes. It's not much time. And Kelly does a wonderful job of expressing it in this song.

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, May 3, 1915

A pause to reflect and a simple message to our troops: Thank you and come home safe.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

HNT - Getting Wrecked Halifax Style

This past week I was in Halifax for a Campus Stores Canada symposium. We worked hard during the day in the workshops and seminars and educational sessions. Between those, we worked just as hard at networking with colleagues from all over Canada (as well as few from some US campus stores). But in the evening, we kicked back and relaxed and enjoyed the local hospitality. And what better place to get a good sense of a town than in a local pub, listening to a local band?

The first picture is of Rick (one of the text buyers I work with at Mac) and I at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Dartmouth Campus location, in front of the windows giving a glorious view of the bay as well as the incoming Hurricane Noel.

The second is one I took at The Lower Deck bar. Seated beside me is Ken from the University of Guelph.
And the third pic is of the band Wreckhouse playing that night at The Lower Deck. Paul Lamb, lead singer is also from the band Crush. Incredible band. Incredibly fun time. Too many pitchers of Keith's were consumed (as you can likely tell from that blurry shot of the band)

Since the photos I took were so crappy, I figured, I'd throw in a clip of Wreckhouse performing at The Lower Deck (this video was from Canada Day, but they did play "Jessie's Girl" on Monday night)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Planes To Catch And Bills To Pay

The past few weeks I've been on more than the usual amount of out of town business trips. Last night after a wonderful day's worth of Campus Stores Canada Symposium panels and discussion groups and presentations, I was sitting with my colleagues at a local pub called The Lower Deck when the band Wreckhouse started playing.

So there I am, thinking about how the past 4 days my only contact with my son has been short telephone conversations, mostly with him asking when I'm coming home, and the band's opening song was the old Cat Stevens song "Cats in the Cradle" -- you know, the old tear-jerking (at least for big sucks like me) song about a father who is too busy to spend time with his son and then, when he's older and the tables are turned, the son does the same thing to him.

"When you coming home, Dad?"
"I don't know when.
But we'll get together then, son

You know we'll have a good time then."

Blubber, blubber. I wonder how many people noticed the tears in my eyes during that song?

But in any case, the band went on to sing a fantastic line-up of cover songs and do justice for all of them, including music by Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Bare Naked Ladies, Billy Joel, Johnny Cash, Bad Company and even Neil Diamond. The eclectic yet perfectly matched songlist was reflective of the the types of mixed tapes I made when I was younger, and they executed the songs perfectly. That, combined with the excellent company of the colleagues I was with, made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Oh, and the beer was good, too.

Paul Lamb, lead singer for the band was not only a very talented guitar player and vocalist, but he's also a down to earth and friendly guy. I encourage people to go check out his website and learn more about his bands and his music. And if you ever get a chance to see him perform live, don't miss it.

There, I distracted myself long enough to forget how much I miss my son and my wife right now, and how when I see them tonight at the airport, I'm going to pick them both up my arms and hold them tight and never want to let go again.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Neither Rain Nor Sleet Nor Gloom Of Night

I'm enjoying being out in Halifax for two main reasons. The people and the people. Sounds redundant, but it's not. First, the people of Halifax, God Love 'em are sweet and kind and friendly and make a person feel at home. Second, the people I'm here at the conference with, my work colleagues, are a fantastic group - similarly friendly, and all with some phenomenal ideas about our sludging through the campus book store experience.

I did two book signings; one on Friday night at the Coles at Halifax Shopping Centre and then on Saturday night at the Chapters in Bayers Lake. While I enjoyed both events, and the staff at both stores were friendly and great hosts, I did much better at one signing than the other. And ironically despite the hurricane that was passing through on Saturday evening, my event at the Chapters was more successful.

Despite a distinct lack of customers in the store.

I mean, while the locals were all pretty calm and "matter of fact" about the hurricane blowing around over our heads a good many of them decided not to head out that evening. Who can blame 'em, either, particularly with memories of the devastating Hurricane Juan a few years ago?

But a small group of customers did filter in through the store and many greeted me and stopped to see what my book was all about. (The store was only able to get in One Hand Screaming. Their order for North of Infinity 2 was still outstanding - though NOI 2 had arrived at the Coles) A handful of folks had me sign them a copy of my book and I had some pleasant chats and conversations with several customers and staff members. But the highlight of the evening would have to be fellow horror fan who worked at the neighbouring Starbucks and her relaying to me several local folklore and legends -- she practically offered a virtual "haunted walk" of Halifax, and one of her descriptions inspired me to start a new story that I started writing when I got back to my hotel room and which I'm pretty pumped about. Gotta love that. Thanks Ashley.

I capped off the evening when meeting up with an old friend from my early school days. Maki Stewart who I went to public school and high school with and hadn't seen in perhaps 15 years, lives in Halifax with his wife and two kids. He stopped by and we ended up lounging in Starbucks after my signing, catching up, talking about the days of our youth, our shared love of Spider-Man and comic books, and trading the many joys and humorous stories of fatherhood.

Is it any wonder Halifax is so wonderful? And I haven't even gotten into describing the phenomenal history of this town, nor the beautiful sights . . .

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halifax, Here I Come

I'm getting on a plane this morning and flying out to Halifax for a Campus Stores Canada conference. Definitely looking forward to that. It's going to be a very busy handful of days with some interesting panels and discussions. (Big topic right now, of course, is the declining American dollar and the fact that books in Canada are still a lot more expensive than they are in the US, despite the Canadian dollar being worth more than the US dollar)

While in town I'm going to be doing a few book signings.

Tonight I'll be at the Coles in Halifax Shopping Centre (7001 Mumford Road) from 7 to 9 PM. And tomorrow (Saturday) I'll be at the Chapters in the Bayers Lake power centre (188 Chain Lake Drive) from 7 to 9 PM. This'll be my very first book signing in east.

While in Halifax I'm also very very likely to check out some Eastern Canadian micro brewery beers. Mmmmmm.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

HNT - Halloween 2007

So sad that Halloween is just a single night.

Unlike Christmas, where Christmas Eve is a special evening, but you still have that very special Christmas Day to spend with friends and family, we don't do the same on Halloween (All Hallow's Eve) because by the time we wake up on All Hallow's Day, the thrill and excitement are gone, the decorations seem lifeless and not as compelling as they were the evening before. Sigh.

Of course, in my ideal world Halloween wouldn't just be a single night or a single night and a day, but rather a week's worth of events. Maybe I should start a petition to see if we could convince some government body to recognize it. Make it into a full-fledged Harvest celebration. Celebrate not just pumpkins but all the fruits and vegetables of the harvest, recognize the huge contribution that farmers make to our society, celebrate the week leading up to Halloween as the 7 days of Hallow, with ghost walks and creepy stories told by firelight at midnight and costume parades.

A guy can dream, can't he?

This week's HNT picture is one of Francine and I dressed up for a Halloween party. Fran was wearing my Conan the Barbarian costume (one that I had originally worn when I was 14 years old but kept and used to play Conehead the Barbarian in a series of goofy adventure short movies I made with my buddy John Ellis) -- one of my very first HNT posts back in 2005 featured a flashback to me in that costume back in my University days when I could still fit into it. And of course, here's a pic of when I first wore the costume in Grade 9.

Fran, of course, looks much better in the costume than I ever did and seeing her in it fulfilled a long-time teenage fantasy . . . (hard to believe the nerdy kid in that costume at 14 who became a nerdy adult gets to see his hot wife wearing the costume a few decades later)

Happy All Hallow's Day and Happy HNT.