Friday, May 28, 2010

Prelude To A Scream - Episode 14

I just pushed Episode 14 of Prelude To A Scream (a podcast featuring my short fiction) out. It runs about 12 minutes.

Episode 14 of Prelude To A Scream features a really short tale called "Almost" which was originally published in One Hand Screaming in 2004 as well as me yapping on about the origin of the tale, which involved adapting an urban legend story that I'd heard many times and many variations of into a new story by using a different point of view or perspective in telling it.


Download MP3 by right-clicking here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

HNT - Independent Since 1867

I chatted a few posts back about t-shirts, particularly the pride one has in sporting t-shirts associated with a brand that one likes to be associated with.

For me, being associated with books or beer is pretty cool. I went on in that previous post I mentioned about how it might be cool to see proudly independent breweries like Moosehead associate themselves with independent publishers or independent bookstores to do joint marketing campaigns.

I learned a lot of great things about Moosehead last summer when I read the book LAST CANADIAN BEER by Harvey Sawler from Nimbus Publishing.

Here's a link to my HNT post talking about that in a post I called "Pardon my Big Moose Head"

So, as I gear up to spending Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Canadian Booksellers Association National Conference 2010, which will include several hundred delegates from across the publishing industry and featuring a high concentration of independent booksellers from across Canada coming together to meet with authors, publishers, intent on networking, learning and sharing, I thought I'd boast my independent spirit and pride.

And what better way to combine my independent bookseller spirit with my passion for beer, than show off one of the many great Moosehead t-shirts I got from a 24 pack of Moosehead.

This t-shirt is from one of their last promotions and not the current one featuring Roots shirts -- while the Roots shirts are much "softer" and more comfortable, I still take comfort in sporting my pride and support of this independent brewer. And I just like the simple style and look of this one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kicking The Hornet's Nest

Yesterday, Francine, Alexander and I popped into the Chapters in Ancaster as part of our regularly enjoyable family browse of books. (When there's a bookstore nearby, you can't keep the three of us from being drawn to it like moths) It was the perfect thing to do on a rainy afternoon after having just seen a matinee How to Train Your Dragon.

It's always fun to visit the Chapters that I used to manage, all those years ago. And I have to admit that the recent Indigo Kids renovations they have done to the store make it even more of a family destination. (Though I do have a particular fondness for the original Chapters kids sections that featured a storytime central area - that's just nostalgia getting in the way of progress in my mind, because the new sections are brighter and more attractive and still have lots of hands-on stuff for kids to check out)

While browsing the new release section I had what I like to call one of those Margaret Laurence moments.*

*(There's a scene from the novel The Diviners that has stuck with me all these years. Morag, as a young girl, comes across a dead animal and, as Laurence so beautifully describes, on a level far removed from reality, imagines herself poking the dead animal's eye with a stick. I've always loved the way Laurence says that -- like picking up a live wire, it's one of those bizarre thoughts you have, something you think about, can imagine yourself doing, but would never actually do.)

In any case, I had one of those moments while looking at The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson.

A lot of attention has been paid this past week of Indigo rushing this hotly anticipated new novel to their stores across Canada and putting it on sale on May 14th despite the official release date of May 25th and the fact that virtually every other bookseller in Canada didn't even get their shipments yet.

In a nutshell, it was a shrewd business move, but a dirty one.

Though there was no official embargo on the title from Penguin Canada, I still think it was a blatant violation of what I would consider a "gentleman's agreement" on honouring street dates for the more popular books.

That's why, when I was standing in the store and looking at the big display of the title, I considered, on a level far removed from reality, taking all copies of the book, one by one, and hiding them behind the remainders and under the gifty merchandise, and behind random barely browsed shelves in the store.

Then, once every single copy was hidden, I would sit at the adjascent Starbucks and sip a latte while enjoying watching customers complain that there were no copies of this hot new book available.

You know, give them a taste (however small), of their own medicine. Show them what it felt like to be one of the retailers losing out on sales of one of this season's most anticipated hardcover releases -- to have customers complain to you about something you couldn't control, about a completed unexpected surprise attack.

The practical joker in me thought it would be funny.

Then the thought left my mind, and I browsed some more.

I am, after all, not going to sink to that level.

But still, the thought makes me giggle in a mischievous sort of way.

Sometimes I wish I could play dirty like that. Sometimes I wish I had the guts to kick the hornet's nest.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fireworks Rant

Fireworks are cool.

Big, spectacular, wonderful firework shows high in the air that display intriguing patterns and timed launches coordinated by professionals who put on a real show are awesome, a spectacular sight to behold.

Like a well written, directed and performed stage show, they offer a magical experience for a large group of people.

Lighting up the sky and inspiring the hearts and minds of the people gathered as friends and family to observe them, they are a real thing to behold.

Fireworks made available on any street corner to any yahoo with a few dollars in their pocket are stupid.

Think about it. The Victoria Day long weekend is coming. And, prior to any long weekend there's an explosion of availability of fireworks almost everywhere you look. The advertisements for fireworks the average person can buy remind me of those old ads in the back of comic books, the ones that promised you something really cool like x-ray glasses or a family of cute dancing sea monkeys. The hype seems to promise the same spectacular effects that the professionals can offer. But like most "you can do it yourself" hype they fail to remind people that putting on such a great show as the ones that Disney puts on every single night requires a LOT of work, a lot of time, and the proper amount of effort and skill.

Not to mention safety.

That idiot who doesn't understand gridlock, who cuts you off in traffic, who tosses their garbage haphazardly wherever they want without any consideration for anything or anyone other than themselves; that knucklehead who leaves their grocery cart in the middle of the parking lot rather than putting it where it belongs so it can roll off and dent someone's vehicle, who butts ahead in line when the new cashier opens and clearly states "next person in line," who isn't responsible enough to curb their dog so that the next time, walking on your own lawn you step in a messy pile of stinking crap can suddenly be in possession of dangerous explosives.

Think about this. Bubbleheads who nobody in their right mind would let operate dangerous machinery or handle weapons can quickly and easily be in possession of a box of explosives that they're most likely to use while even further stupified by alcohol.

I worry about innocent people, children and animals being injured or personal property being damaged by some jackass lighting off fireworks in their backyard or driveway without a second thought for safety.

But I also marvel at the idiot in my neighbourhood who was lighting these things off last night near midnight. I mean, c'mon, what was that bonehead thinking last night? "Hey everyone. It's a Thursday night prior to a long weekend and I have a box of fireworks. I think I'll set off explosives that nobody is even around to watch or enjoy, and wake everyone within a 5 block radius." Of course this is likely the very same idiot who drives his car through the neighbourhood at 1 in the morning blasting music so loud that the windows of houses he drives by rattle. He thinks he's showing off how cool his music is, but he's just showing off that he's a jerk without a second thought for anybody else.

Humans are pretty darn smart, sophisticated and capable of ingenious intelligent acts of discovery and creativity. We solve problems, engage in complex and marvelous activities that educate, engage and inspire.

But we can also be incredibly and intensely stupid.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

HNT - Naked Eyes 2010

Today marks the 5th anniversary of a blogging ritual that I have been participating in since almost the beginning. I didn't start to do HNT posts until October 2005 -- but it started on Osbasso's blog 5 years ago this week.

And for that reason, the suggested theme Os is throwing out there is an attempt to re-create your first HNT post.

What is HNT? It's Half-Nekkid Thursday. Half-Nekkid Thursday is a celebration of exposure -- exposure of any part of you. And despite the connotations associated with "naked" it's not about "dirty pictures" or about "sex" -- sure, some of the half naked pictures are uncomfortable in a puritanical sense, but often HNT is about channeling the creative spirit by exposing various parts of oneself, both physically and emotionally. Artsy body landscape shots are encouraged -- also encouraged are shots of oneself taken BY oneself.

In a nutshell, HNT is a suggestion for a type of blog post that has become a huge "underground" community.

Several people over the years have asked me why I wanted to start posting "nekkid" pictures of myself each Thursday. It's difficult to answer other than with something simple like "because I can." I've always enjoyed the creative spirit and liberating feeling of doing an HNT themed post, and since I started back in October 2005, I believe I haven't missed a single week.

Sometimes the posts were risque in nature (ie, revealing skin), but often they were about exposing a truly personal thing about me (ie, revealing far beneath the skin).

And, quite regularly, the HNT posts I've offered have been filled with humour or allowed me to stretch my storytelling legs a little (consider the "Spud Wars: Darth Tater Unmasked" serial adventure I did and then the "sequel" storyline called "Terror in Toyland" which seemed to have gotten cancelled and never returned for a second season despite some viewer acclaim -- sigh, just like many of my favourite TV shows). I even had the pleasure of planning cross-posts with at least 3 different HNT friends. What a great joy that has been.

What I quite enjoy about the nature of the HNT community is the great diversity out there. Everybody has a story to tell, and often, participants tell amazing and touching stories with a single picture and a bit of text. The HNT community is open and welcome, immediately accepting of everyone and has been a pleasure to be a part of. Sure, I don't "go visiting" to many other HNT member blogs much any more, but I continue to participate in the weekly ritual and still feel a part of the community spirit.

In any case, I've had a great time experimenting with this format, with the themes put out during certain seasons, have made a ton of great bloggy friends (some of whom I've had the pleasure of actually meeting in person), and each week look forward to putting up another HNT post.

Happy Fifth Anniversary, HNT. A huge thank you and hat tip to Osbasso, the father of HNT who started it all and brought people from all over the world together each week now for 5 years.

My first HNT post was of my "spooky eye" underwear, and today's post is a revisit to them. Fortunately, Francine puts my Halloween underwear away, so I only wear them during Sept and Oct, so they've lasted all these years.

Yes, this is one of those "risque" ones -- risque in the scense of our western aversion to the natural human state of "naked" -- but it's really just a funny picture of me in a pair of some of my favourite boxer shorts. You see just as much skin when I'm on the beach. Over the years I've included many pictures of the goofy printed boxers I regularly wear. I think it's funny that so much time and effort goes into picking out something to wear like underwear that most people never see.

This picture, while a bit out of focus and not a perfect recreation is the one I liked best -- I really liked something about the sunlight bleeds into the picture and the way the light falls on my arm.

No, I'm nobody's photographer. But that doesn't stop me from having fun each week.

Happy Half-Nekkid Thursday. If you want more info on HNT, click on the HNT logo below which will take you to Osbasso's site and the post back in 2005 that started it all . . .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Never Judge A Book By Its Movie

I've long been a fan of Josh Christie's blog Brews & Books and it's slogan "Read Great Books - Drink Great Beer."

Christie, an under 30 independent bookseller from Maine, combines a passion for books and beer in an endlessly delightful way.

In the same manner that your favourite passionate bookseller can often suggest new "undiscovered" reading pleasures that you never suspected when you walked through the front door, Christie does via his blog -- but he also mixes it up with a "sampling" of independent brews.

And, anybody who knows me knows that beer and books are two of my favourite things (whoops, had to catch myself there -- I almost broke into a Julie Andrews style song and dance)

My favourite posts, of course, are ones that combine the two pleasures. (Like this one about beers named after books and authors)

A recent post on his blog featured literary t-shirts, which featured a Kindle-like image with the text "I am not a Book" and the accompanying classic Nixon guesture, which seems to be available in two different styles from both Zazzle and BustedTees, made me think about the combination of 24 packs of beer and t-shirts.

I love supporting independent booksellers. I also love supporting independent breweries.
So why haven't the two worked together on marketing campaigns? For example, I love Moosehead beer, from Canada's oldest independent brewery. I'll buy Moosehead regardless, but when they add t-shirts into a 24 pack, I'm eagerly trying to collect them all because I love showing off my support of a brand I feel proud to be a consumer of.

The most recent Moosehead t-shirt program is awesome (Moosehead and Roots seem to have joined forces again for this) -- I'm wearing a shirt from a recently purchased pack right now, and this weekend will be getting another one (I'm really hoping to score the grey or black one this time)

But here's where I think beer and books could get interesting.

Why not have an independent Canadian brewery offer literary t-shirts, or t-shirts from an independent Canadian publisher? Imagine the really cool "Fiery First Fiction" promotion run by Literary Press Group a couple of springs ago morphed into a t-shirt offer in a case of Moosehead. Or perhaps instead of just featuring single titles, the t-shirts feature branding from one or more of the over 60 different small Canadian press publishers that LPG represents.

Or maybe there could be some sort of regional combination -- ie, independent Toronto brewer Steamwhistle joins forces with Toronto's Dundurn Press to feature one or more of their regional themed titles or perhaps regional mystery series.

Similarly, why not have some regional breweries join forces with independent local booksellers to create "collector" t-shirts? I'm imaginging perhaps Words Worth Books in Kitchener joining forces with Brick Brewing Co. Ltd. When you buy a case from Brick this summer, you get a "Words Worth" branded t-shirt along with a promo card put together by the local bookseller suggesting some great summer reads.

I think these types of cross-promotional partnerships could be interesting, and allow me to wear a really cool selection of literary t-shirts, showing my support of the Canadian brewers and book industry at the same time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bookstore Of The Future

This evening at the Arts & Letters Club (14 Elm Street) in Toronto, I'll be sitting on a panel with four other people to talk about The Bookstore of the Future.

What will bookstores look like in the future? In a recent article, writer Sarah Sheard imagines small neighbourhood shops that offer coffee, cake, and print-on-demand books accessed electronically and printed while-you-wait. How will the advent of the e-book and quickly changing technology affect bookstores and the bookselling industry in the future?

Come and join in the discussion along with:

Steven Beattie (moderator) –
Writer/Critic, Quill and Quire
Dan Aronchick – Market Research Specialist, President, Out -Think Inc.
Mark Lefebvre – Book Operations Manager, Titles Bookstore
Sarah Sheard – Writer and Therapist
Becky Toyne – Freelance Editor and Publicist

This event, as part of the Idea Exchange put on by the Book & Periodical Council and the Book Publishers' Professional Association and sponsored by Quill & Quire should prove to be a very engaging and interesting evening.

I suspect I might be talking a little bit about the Espresso Book Machine at Titles Bookstore at McMaster University. Well, I'll see if I have an opportunity to bring it up, anyways . . .

Monday, May 17, 2010

Top 10 Quotes From BookCamp Toronto

On Saturday May 15, I had an absolute blast at the 2nd BookCamp Toronto.

The theme for this "unconference" where everyone is welcome (ie, writers, technologists, publishers, readers, editors, designers, book sellers, book buyers, printers, librarians ... anyone who cares about books) was "Book Publishing Is Going Digital, Now What?"

This day long conference, or rather unconference was completely free, but did have a limited number of spaces, requiring pre-registration, and the pre-registration filled up in something like 24 hours if I remember correctly.

The basic premise for an unconference is that all attendees are participants at the event. All points of view, backgrounds, and levels of experience are welcome. Of course it also means all participants are responsible for themselves. While there is a certain amount of mob rule at a BookCamp, attendees are encouraged to vote with their feet, clean up after themselves, and speak-up when they encounter something they don't like -- in other words attendees are generally encouraged to act like adults.

BookCamp Toronto was organized by Alexa Clark, Hugh McGuire, Erin Balser, Mark Bertils and BookNetCanada. Of course, it was also supported by dozens of other friends and volunteers who helped make the day fantastic.

One of the ways I could tell the day was a success was that of the 4 concurrent sessions taking place, I knew I'd want to be in AT LEAST 2 of them at the same time. Now that's a GREAT sign of a phenomenal schedule, and a wonderful problem for a programming line-up to have. I was able to attend the following sessions:

- eBooks in Education & Academic
- Where are you at? Geolocation
- Leaping off the Page: Transmedia Storytelling*
- A Bucket of Cold Water: The Future Is Now
- Building and sustaining a community of readers online

* I had to attend Leaping off the Page, since I was co-leading the session with Jill Golick.

Here's a link to the full schedule, so you can see these were just a small portion of what the day offered. Again, it was one of those fantastic schedules where I truly wanted to be able to be in two or three places at once.

Rather than try to capture the pure essense of the wonderful day, I thought I'd share the top 10 quotes I jotted down during BookCamp Toronto (or #bcto10) as a sort of quick "snapshot" into some of the great discussions that took place that day - I did my very best to properly attribute the people speaking, but must admit I wasn't adept enough to always identify the person speaking.

1) "People will pay for content but not if they feel you're shafting them." Evan Leibovitch from York University, discussing open access content in the eBooks in Education & Academia session.

2) "There's not a single ebook reader that supports tabbed reading . . . having multiple books open at the same time." Evan Leibovitch discussing how academics often use books for research and study.

3) "Please, please, please, no DRM." John Dupuis, York University Library, stated after explaining in great detail how as a librarian he will ALWAYS be willing to pay for content, will never stop paying for content to support his academic institution.

4) "I have a feeling every single panel today is going to devolve into this type of discussion." John Dupuis after listening to yet another merry-go-round discussion of "print books vs ebooks."

5) "The agility of paper and pen." - okay, in all honesty, I missed the first part of this statement, but quite liked the way that Bob Logan of sBook perfectly described the reasoning behind the habit of writers and editors, though heavily using digital media to create their works, often still default to printing and hand-writing notes. Because I'll admit that though I do more work on the screen, I DO still have to print for a better final edit (at least for fiction and not for things I write on this blog - though I regularly do catch nasty typos and errors on this blog).

6) "Did you have an onion on your belt - was it the style at the time?" Ryan Bigge, content strategist and cultural journalist in response to a comment during the "print vs ebook" discussion that suggested new technology would never be as good as the way it has always been done.

7) "We talk about computers and ebook resources as unlimited, but they're not. There is a cost." Unattributed female participant in eBook in Education & Academia session wanting to ensure the discussion considered unseen costs, such as electricity and the huge volumes of "throw-away" trash waste involved in the rapid updates to hand-held devices and other hardware.

8) "Because they're not in Canada." A statement from one of the enthused and engaged Pearson Education editors at the eBooks in Academic session in response to the question John Dupuis posed as to why their bosses, the "big decision" makers weren't there. [Of note, there were about half a dozen folks from Pearson at the discussion, but, as interested as they were in digital strategies they are, and as involved in developing content for the products being discussed, they, are, unfortunately, not the people making the high level decisions that drive the company -- Too often, I see the sad result of the really smart and eager to progress people being held back from bringing a company to success by high level mandates that prevent them moving forward -- okay, Mark's editorial aside is over now]

9) "The only problem with using these great apps on mobile devices where traveling to other countries are the roaming charges, where a Rogers rep pops out and punches you in the face." Ron Nurwisah, The Afterword co-editor, National Post as part of a great discussion on some really cool geolocating apps and projects.

10) "If we can figure out how to get everyone paid properly, we can finally get somewhere." Deanna McFadden, Harper Collins Canada. [Ah, Deanna has a way of saying things that go right after my own heart. I think I'll go watch her BookNet Canada Tech Forum presentation again - I found it truly inspirational]

Okay, this is a tough one as I just realized something. These aren't the Top 10 quotes I jotted down at BookCamp Toronto, these are the first ten quotes I found from the 6 pages of notes I made, and are mostly from the first couple of morning sessions. Once I started typing out this list I realized I was in way over my head. I made more notes than could easily be summed up here in a single post.

So think of these like a "teaser" to the rest of the day, and, if you see an unconference, particularly a BookCamp styled event coming in your area, plan on registering EARLY and getting yourself there quickly.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

HNT - BNC Field Trip

Yesterday, 99% of the BookNet Canada crew left the office in Toronto to come visit Titles Bookstore at McMaster University.

It's not enough that the folks who work at BookNet Canada are champions of supporting the multiple aspects of our industry, by providing tools and services that help booksellers, publishers and distributors become better, stronger, faster, smarter. (Yes, but not just like Lee Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man -- they help steer innovations that allow us all to prosper)

No, working on all these various offerings isn't enough. The good folks at BNC thrive on getting out into the field and checking out various operations. (And yes, I'll admit I'm a bit biased because I sit on the BNC board -- but from the beginning days of BNC, I've had the priviledge of knowing and working with many of the people behind the scenes there, and watched them build from a great idea into something that I truly believe is a fantastic benefit to our industry -- I mean, who else out there is truly invested in trying to benefit ALL parties, from the author down to the consumer within the Canadian book industry?)

So, yesterday, the team took the loooooong and painful road trip from downtown Toronto to Hamilton. I say this tongue in cheek because it's a POV thing. If you're a central Toronto person, anything past Oakville seems like the "edge of the earth" -- but if you're from the edge of the GTA, like we are in Hamilton, you're used to the groans of people who rarely dare to venture behind the "sprawling fringes of the city" (yes, I'm quoting Rush - I like to do that regularly)

For one, it was great seeing the whole team. (Okay, it wasn't the whole team, because their fearless leader, Noah, was stuck back in the office with the auditors. Someone had to hold the fort down, and you have to admire a leader who is willing to "take one for the team" in such a way)

I gave them a tour of the main bookstore and our main textbook location (the Tank), as well as the big piece of innovation they were there to check out -- our Espresso Book Machine and how we're using it to print textbooks to lower the price for students, to get access to digitally distributed titles more efficiently than ever before, to create new business models for regional community bookstores that take advantage of technology that benefit consumers, booksellers, publishers and authors, all in one fell swoop.

The crew, (a little tech savy to say the least), were using FourSquare to check in, taking pictures and sending them off into Twitter, etc. throughout the tour.

Noah, back at the homestead, saw one of the pictures and made a hilarious comment back on Twitter: Is Mark praying that the live demo goes well?

It was in response to this picture...

Hilarious. I wasn't praying, though. I was just talking with my hands. (Hey, I'm French - it's all about using my hands as much as my lips when I speak -- besides, when I wave my hands around and make lots of guestures, I'm hoping it distracts people away from noticing the bald thing going on upstairs)

In any case, the tour went well. Laura (the main EBM operator extraordinaire) and I printed a bunch of different books for them, and they asked tons of great questions. Okay, in all honesty, Laura did all of the real work and printing -- I just did most of the talking.

One of the books we printed was an oddity I never saw before. (And you have to expect that, with any demo of a new technology, there's got to be at least ONE hiccough) -- we selected a title from the catalog of just under 1 million titles to show them how we order from the EspressNet Catalog. We picked a public domain Google Book of Shakespeare -- a "King Lear" search result that was listed as 120 pages. We figured it would be a nice short book that could be completed in about 3 minutes, as part of demonstrating the quickness of this process.

Of course, it took a unexpected longer time for the book to load to our system and start printing. And once it started, the print que was showing a gigantic page count, well behind 120. So we let it run it's course and out came a 1000 page book.

The BNC folks, grinned at this and stated something they often say, and something I'm familiar with given my previous job role as data wrangler at Chapters/Indigo between 1999 and 2006.

"See," Tom, the Bibliographic Manager at BNC said. "It all comes down to the quality of the metadata."

Spoken like a true bibliographic data manager and BookNet Canada team member.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Top 5 Ways To Overcome Writing Excuses

This post is a direct response to yesterday's post covering the five reasons why a novel project I'd been working on isn't completed yet.

If you want the simple response, here are the best 5 ways to overcome those excuses:

1) Butt
2) In
3) Chair
4) And
5) Write

Or, put another way, stop whining and making up excuses and just get your butt into the chair and start writing.

However, I owe it to myself and readers of this blog to try to outline HOW I plan on accomplishing getting my butt into the chair and writing. So I'll go back to each of yesterday's excuses and talk about how I can overcome them.

Okay, time to put on our big boy "serious face" and deal with our issues

1) Loving The Day Job (Which consumes more time)

Okay, so the love the day job means I put more time and effort into it. Yesterday, for example, the day job had me at a Hamilton area radio station for 6:30 to talk to Bob Bratina at CHML AM900 about books and bookselling, taking away time I had originally slated for working on the werewolf novel.

These things happen. You need to deal with them. First of all, "Boo Frigging Hoo" for you. You love your day job. Stop bitching about it and relish in that fact. Do you know how many unfortunate slobs out there hate their job? Suck it up. So you lost about an hour of writing time you had originally planned for. You, therefore, need to find another hour elsewhere. Is there another activity you can drop and slot in writing? Can you do what Kevin J. Anderson does and dictate your writing into an audio recorder to find that time? You like to believe you're a creative person, so you shouldn't be lazy when it comes to creative ways to make time for writing.

2) Too Easily Distracted (By Internet, Blogging, Social Media)
Simple response. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life in the internet age. Suck it up. Deal with it. You like the internet for your ability to get information, whether it's research for a writing project or connections to editors, writers, readers and friends. Stop blaming the internet for your own failing and admit the truth. You'd be distracted by whatever shiney bauble is presented to you. First, you recognize this weakness in yourself -- it's time now to deal with it. Do you need to write in a place that you have no internet access? If so, how will you assure yourself you won't be distracted by something else? You DO know that once you START writing, those distractions are mostly ignorable. So work at STARTING writing, and you'll get there.

3) Other Smaller Writing Projects Slip Into The Cracks
First of all, I'm going to merge this excuse with excuse 4, which Paula B of The Writing Show called me out for in yesterday's post. Excuse 4 was limited experience writing novels, which was really an extension of this excuse being that with limited time chunks it's much easier to do short stories, poems and articles rather than work on a novel length projects.

Okay, this happens in the physical world, too. Little things continually slip into the cracks, and soon, consume more time that should have been spent on the big projects. But here's the funny thing, the little things will ALWAYS slip in, so you need to focus on the big ones first and let the little falls fall into place. The old adage of filling a container with boulders, rocks and sand is true. Start by putting the boulders (your top priorities) into the container, then add the rocks (the slightly lesser priorities), then pour the sand in. You'll fill the container (or, your day's goals), with the priorities first, and while the little things will still be there, you'll have at least started the day focusing on the big important things -- like the novel. If you find the time (and you will, give the tiny chunks of time you can use on smaller writing projects), you can still work on them. Or, think of the smaller writing projects like an appetiser or dessert -- but, unlike the way you often roll, don't let the appetiser or dessert overcome the main meal. Consume them in the portions they were intended for.

4) Yes, I skipped this lame excuse - read 3 for the reason

5) Working To Deadline
Okay, so you need an actual real deadline to commit to, to motivate you. Consider that done if you read a comment in yesterday's post. Paula B of The Writing Show suggested July 31st.
Are you happy, Mark? Good. Now get your butt in the chair and start writing. No, not more blog post and fun social stuff. Work on the damn werewolf novel already. The clock is ticking.

Thanks for that, Paula! (Or should I say, Sgt B)

I still love this quote from Hugh Prather from his book "Notes To Myself" and which appears at the footer of this blog. I used to keep it posted above the desk where I spent most of my time writing.

"If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write." - Hugh Prather

Now, for the writers out there reading this. What are your excuses for not writing and getting the project done? How can you address them and get past them? How would you overcome them?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Top 5 Reasons Why The Novel Isn't Done

Episode 10 of The Writing Show's "Getting Published With Mark Leslie" reality series went live the other day.

In celebration of the recognition of how I've been "slacking" on this project, I thought I'd do a two-part post.

Today, I'll outline 5 reasons why I haven't finished the first draft of my novel A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK.

However, to balance this, tomorrow I'll post 5 reasons why, while these might seem to be good excuses, are no excuse to a serious writer, and how I should and MUST overcome them by developing strategies that recognize them as "excuses" that prevent me from getting my butt into the chair and actually writing.

1) He Loves His Day Job, Dammit!
If Mark performed a job that he actually hated, he would do a few things differently. For one, he'd never go to work early, never work late, and he'd always take all his breaks and full lunches. Since he rarely eats for more than about 5 minutes, he'd end up having a full 50 minutes or so each day to devote to writing. And he'd be able to get a hell of a lot of writing done in that time. Similarly, by only working a 7 hour day, he'd have more time at the beginning and end of each day to work actual writing into his schedule.

But, having a day job that he loves is a problem he's willing to continue to live with. And gladly. Otherwise, he could spend most of his time doing a job he hates, and fight at the growing ulcers in his stomach, rather than struggle to make time for writing.

2) He Is Too Easily Distracted
Mark blogs and does other social media things rather than writing. When Mark first started his blog, he wrote quick 5 to 10 minute posts while offline on his GO train commute into Toronto. (When he arrived at the office in Toronto, he'd push the post online) He would use that blogging time as a pre-writing warm up to get the creative and writing juices flowing -- because more often than not, he would do actual real fiction writing afterwards. The proof is in the pudding because in a single one year period, Mark completed the first draft of his novel MORNING SON on his GO train trips. On the GO train he also read submissions for an anthology he'd edited, edited manuscripts from some writer friends and worked on various other short fiction writing projects, compiled and worked on his short story collection ONE HAND SCREAMING, etc. The issue is that he has gotten so distracted with blogging and other social media connections (which he continues to attempt to use to promote his writing), that they end up stealing away from his planned writing time slots.

3) Other Writing Projects Keep Slipping Into The Cracks
Working on a novel takes a significant amount of time. Working on shorter fiction and articles takes less time. For example, to work on a novel, it often takes a bit of "prep time" to re-aquaint oneself with the project -- the complex characters, relationships, previous scenes, etc. So, in a 15 minute to half an hour time chunk, perhaps only 10 minutes are spent actually composing words and writing while the rest of the time is spent "getting to" the writing. Thus, when 15 minutes or half hour or even hour long time chunks present themselves, the shorter projects often "win."

4) He Has Only Ever Written Three Novels Previous To This
While Mark has been writing for almost three decades, he doesn't really have a lot of experience writing novel-length works. While not a "novel virgin" he's rather inexperienced at writing novel length works. While he has written hundreds of shorter pieces, he has only written 3 completed novels to date. (The first two are ones that he happily relegated to the recycle bin as the experience of writing them was a learning process -- one that no reader should ever be subjected to having to suffer) Mark's forte has mostly been short fiction. He finds it easy to slip in and out of working on shorter projects, but a bit more challenging to slip in and out of a novel, due to the more complex and detailed characters, plot lines and settings involved in keeping a novel full and real.

5) He Works To Deadline
This is the most interesting one. The reason Mark started his guest spot on The Writing Show was that he recognized something in himself that has long been a fact. Mark works to deadline. If a project is due on day 10, Mark doesn't really gear up until the very last minute to work on it. Sure, he might do some prep work and start sketching things out, but the rubber doesn't really hit the road until the last possible minute. Mark was like that throughout his schooling, and most of his writing is like that. So yes, despite opening himself up to public scrutiny (which he thought would force him to finish this project quickly), he still hasn't had an actual tight, written in blood sort of deadline for this project.

Tomorrow's POST: The Top 5 Ways To Overcome The 5 "Excuses" For Not Finishing The Novel

Monday, May 10, 2010

Has It Really Been Four Years?

The latest episode of "Getting Published With Mark Leslie" just went live on Paula B's The Writing Show podcast.

Episode Ten of Getting Published With Mark Leslie runs about half an hour, and in it, Paula and I discuss where I am almost four years after I initially started working on a novel that I'm calling A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK (or ACWWINY for short)

How shameful of me to be so far behind.

So, listen to the episode, then get thyself over to The Writing Show forum where you can give me hell, offer me advice, cheer me on, or however you want to react (any of which get you a chance to win a free copy of Campus Chills)

I might be really behind, but at least I come bearing gifts.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The One That Got Away

Sometimes the most obvious things escape a person. All the clues can be right there and all it takes is putting them together, without much effort or thought, and there they are.

Like this picture of my Dad.

I always assumed this was a shot of him either miming hugging the person taking the picture (most likely my Mom), or perhaps spreading his arm in welcome to their campsite (I'd also assumed this was taken up at Opeepeesway Lake, a fishing spot off Highway 144 in Northern Ontario near Timmins), as if to say "This is my campsite, but treat it like your home, everyone is welcome."

But yesterday I found out it wasn't that at all.

Yesterday, when my mom was looking at the picture (I was showing her the "Good Men Project" details I'd mentioned on my blog the other day) she smiled and immediately said: "Ah. The one that got away!"

The one that got away.

My Dad, in the picture, was miming "the one that got away" -- of course he was. Who knew my Dad better than my Mom? She was right on. Of course, she was also the person who took the picture, so she also brought with her the memory of what he'd been doing when the picture was taken. It was taken where I'd thought, but the "intent" of my Dad's pose was different than I'd thought until my Mom shed the proper light on it.

With my Dad being the most avid fisherman I'd ever known, it should have been the first thing I thought of. It was always about telling fishing tales, always about the one that got away. Even the basis of the novel Morning Son which I wrote in honour of my Dad, was all about a son trying to decipher his father's secret fishing mysteries. The whole novel is a quest surrounding a life of secret fishing holes. It was always about the fishing.

So how did I miss that?

Likely because I overlooked the obvious things right in front of me and, instead, implanted my own perspective on the picture, rather than looking at it the way it really was.

How many times in each day do we do that when in conversation with others, when looking at the world around us? How many times, instead of seeing it for the way it is, we see it in a specifically translated way, tinted by the things going on in our own minds?

I got the answer by listening to my Mom. By actually listening. Simple as that. So, how many times in our daily communications do those little things a person meant to express to us "get away" because we didn't do the simple thing like listen, or look, without applying our own interpretations?

I'm willing to bet that sometimes the "big ones" get away and we're lucky enough to realize it or pick up on them later, but more often than not, there are plenty of "little ones" that got away from us that we'll never ever realize.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

HNT - It's My Birthday Too

I spent the last two hours of my 40th year on the Night Fright Radio show. In studio with host Brent Holland, we talked about CAMPUS CHILLS as well as about writing horror.

It was a great way to finish off that birthday year, and a blast to be in studio with Brent. Joining us at two different times during the show were CAMPUS CHILLS contributors Douglas Smith (author of "Radio Nowhere" which has been nominated for an Aurora Award in best-short form category) and Nancy Kilpatrick (author of "Sara").

At about 11:50 or so, somehow the topic of birthday came up, and, live on air, Nancy and I realized that we shared the same birthday. That was a really fun way to realize that we not only shared a passion for writing macabre stories, but shared May 6th as a birthday.

Neat stuff.

The show, which is simulcast from Laurentian University's CKLU 96.7 FM to about a dozen other campus stations across Canada, is also streamed live to the internet. And Brent also records the shows to post as downloadable podcasts. So if you're interested in listening to the show, you'll be able to check it out within the next few days. I'll post a link to it on my blog.

I have to admit that, sitting being on an isolated campus in a mostly empty building talking about creepy scary stuff after dark was the perfect place to be talking about CAMPUS CHILLS, which draws a lot on how a quiet and lonely and mostly vacant campus after hours can be extremely eerie.

This week's HNT picture is a shot of Brent and I in the CKLU studio a few minutes before the show went live.

Happy HNT. And Happy Birthday, Nancy!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Night Fright on Campus

Tonight on the Laurentian University campus, I'll be joining host Brent Holland in studio for a 2 hour show featuring horror fiction and the CAMPUS CHILLS anthology I edited which features horror stories set on campuses from some of the finest writers of speculative fiction in Canada.

The Night Fright Radio Show airs on CKLU 96.7 FM in Sudbury, Ontario from 10 PM to midnight every Wednesday night as well on a dozen other stations across Canada. But you can also listen online.

There is also a possibility that CAMPUS CHILLS contributors Nancy Kilpatrick and Douglas Smith will be joining me as well.

Nancy was on Night Fright Radio a few weeks ago talking about her lastest novel and anthology as well as vampires.

And Doug's story "Radio Nowhere" from CAMPUS CHILLS (which you can read for free online at which happens to take place at a radio station at University of Waterloo, is nominated for an Aurora Award in the Best Short-Form English category.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Good Man Isn't Hard To Find

Every once in a while I wonder at why I bother taking time to "put myself out there" by composing blog posts about things that are important to my life.

Then, something happens that reminds me why I'm doing so.

First, I do it because I'm a writer and it's part of fulfilling my need to continually be writing.

But as to why I do it publicly, that's a tougher thing to answer. Sure, I appreciate the fact that others read my writing and can sometimes benefit from things I have to say or talk about. But then there's also the concept of "immortalizing" people places and things that are important to me.

I was recently contacted by the folks at The Good Men Project who found an online picture and post of my Dad from 2007. The picture was taken back in 1995.

They wanted me to write a short blurb to accompany this picture in their project. In the words of one of the founders: "The Good Men Project is men telling their stories in their language. It’s men sharing and searching for their good. And it’s an unfolding and limitless conversation about what good means, what the good man can be."

I agreed to let them use this picture of my Dad and to write an accompanying bit of text to go with it. So I submitted a quick summary about how I learned to laugh and find humour in regular daily situations because it's something very important that my Dad taught me. He loved life, loved to laugh, but more importantly, loved to make other people laugh. And, when following in my father's way and I'm actually able to inspire smiles or laughter from others, that's like having a bit of my Dad there with me.

In any case, I'm honoured and delighted for my Dad to be recognized in this way. And it reminds me that this "putting myself out there" on this blog is perhaps doing some good, and not just keeping me working on my "craft" of writing.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Birthday Worthy Moosehead Gift

My 41st birthday is in just a couple of days. This past Friday I got the first birthday card of the year, as I usually do, from the good folks at Moosehead.

Canada's oldest independent brewery has long been my favourite default beer to buy. In fact, here's a picture of me from about ten years ago at a cabin on Manitoulin Island when I used to hang out there and write while my Dad and cousin Rodney went deer hunting. Check out the beer in my hand.

(Don't worry, it was well after noon and I had already written two chapters in the novel I was working on that week.)

This year, my birthday card was a wallet shaped card. On the front it read:


When you open the card, the inside reads:

Expect good times, wherever you go, with your wallet worthy Moosehead bottle opener.

Happy Birthday from your friends at Moosehead Lager.

And inside the pocket on the right was, of course, a thin metal Moosehead bottle opener that would indeed fit nicely in my wallet.

I tried it out on a bottle of Moosehead Pale Ale that night for dinner and was quite pleased. This interesting and surprising gift certainly made my day.

This isn't just a handy bottle opener provided to me by a brewer. It's evidence of an intelligent and interestingly run marketing campaign.

I'm already a loyal Moosehead consumer. And I have been for a long time. That day my beer fridge already contained three different beers from Moosehead. Moosehead Pale Ale, Moose Light Lime and Cracked Canoe. Moosehead didn't need to send me this wonderful little gift. But they did. And it made my day.

And it also reminded me of a truth about marketing that's critical to remember. It isn't all about blasting your brand or logo in front of as many people as possible. It's about making real connections with people who truly appreciate the product or service you offer. It's about recognizing those who are fans of your product and taking the time to appreciate them. Because at the end of the day, the importance isn't the flashy ads or marketing gimmicks - it's where customers hold your product or services in their hearts. It's how your customers themselves become champions of what you offer.

Moosehead gets it.

And they brew a fine product, too.

Guess what brand of beer I'll be buying next time I'm at the beer store?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Free Comic Book Day

Yesterday, Francine and I brought Alexander to Free Comic Book Day at Big B Comics on Upper James in Hamilton.

Free Comic Book Day is a single day - the first Saturday in May each year - when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away from a selection of free comic books absolutely free to everyone who comes into their stores.

Big B Comics describes the day as "The Christmas in May for comic book fans." They held a great celebration, including BBQ, costumed heroes (Flash and Superman were there), an artist, along with their usual helpful and friendly staff and a fantastic selection of comics, graphic novels, toys and comic related merchandise.

Alexander selected the free Toy Story comic book and I read it to him last night at bed time. It features a continuing storyline and both of us are eager to get the next issue and read it. That was for me, one of the great thrills of reading comics -- reading a serialized story and eagerly anticipating next month's issue to find out what happens next.

While we were there, I picked out one of the latest issues of Amazing Spider-Man featuring the Black Cat -- yes, it's been three decades and I still have a crush on Felicia Hardy.

At the back of the store there were classic plastic-covered volumes on the wall. I lifted Alexander up and showed him some of the old Spider-Man comics. When pointing out that Dad has this one, and that one, and, oh look, this other one, I noticed that they were worth prices like $60, $150 and $300 each. Francine muttered something about being able to pay off our mortgage with the thousands of comics I have. I just grinned and whispered to Alexander that some day they would be his.

In the hand-out Big B Comics provided, they say:

"All we ask is that you read the comics you picked up on Free Comic Book Day. Take them home, take them to work, or take them to school. Take them wherever you go and once you're done with them, pass them around to anyone else you think might enjoy them. This is an event about celebrating all that comic books have to offer."

And comic books have a great deal to offer.

I started reading them when my mom worked at the Mini-Mart in Levack. Each week she would come home with a few copies of the Gold Key comics of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Huey, Duey and Louie. Then it was Richie Rich and Archie comics. Then Spider-Man. Each week I read them, then read them again. And as I got older, I got hooked on Spider-Man and rushed downtown myself each week to make sure I got the lastest issues of the various titles Spider-Man appeared in.

My love of reading stems directly from my love of comic books. I am a voracious reader today because of comic books. And today, I still love comic books, still love reading -- in fact, if anyone reading this hasn't already figured it out, I'm a gigantic lover of books and of reading. I credit my career choice as a bookseller with this love of reading. I'm also a writer because since the first day that I enjoyed a comic book, I wanted to be able to tell interesting and fantastic stories to be able to move people the same way that these stories moved me.

When Stan Lee moved this little boy's heart with the words "With great power comes great responsibility" I knew that comics were more than just illustrated stories. They were powerful tales of real characters facing real moral issues. And they were the genesis for me becoming an avid reader and a writer.

That's why I'm glad that Comic Book Day exists -- and delighted to be able to share that fun and excitement about comics with my son.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

When Technology Hinders Humans Work Around

Recently on his blog, Seth Godin suggested in a blog post called "Empty your library" that people give or lend their copy of LINCHPIN, his latest fantastic book, to someone else.

"Go find someone you care about, hand them the book and insist they read it. I'd consider that a gift of the first order, and I hope they will too."

I recently finished reading LINCHPIN and thought it was awesome.

It was exactly the kind of book that I'd love to give to as many people as possible and tell them to read it.

The problem is, I can't.

You see, I bought the ebook version of LINCHPIN on my enTourage eDGe -- I had a great experience reading it because the eDGe allows me to take notes, both in the margin of the book and in a quickly accessible enotebook I can toggle back and forth between.

And I took a ton of notes while reading Godin's latest. Because it's the kind of book that doesn't just give you information. It makes you think. Really think.

But I'm not about to just hand over my eDGE. Sorry, just can't afford that one. (Though, admittedly, it would be interesting to share the highlights, notes and comments I made in the margin of this book)

Sigh. Technology usually makes things easier, not more difficult.

I suppose I'll have to go buy a copy of the hardcover to give to someone.

That, or I'll just give away my copy of PERMISSION MARKETING - a book from well over 10 years ago by Godin, but fantastic and worth reading, particularly since he predicts many things that have come true today and much of what he addresses is still pertinent and valuable.

So, in the nature of the giving without strings that Godin suggests throughout the book LINCHPIN, who out there has always wanted to read Seth Godin but hasn't? I'll send you my copy of PERMISSION MARKETING. Free. No strings attached.

And if you're thinking this is a pure "Mark being generous" effort, here's the clincher -- there is something in this for me besides feeling good about giving. For a long time my wife has been asking me to clean up and deal with the piles and piles of books in my den that won't fit on the 8 book cases that fill two walls. This "giving away" is a step in the right direction and will please my wife, which brings me happiness. But instead of getting rid of things I don't want to keep, I'll start by giving away a book I really enjoyed and would normally want to hold on to forever -- Godin's PERMISSION MARKETING -- still in hardcover after all these years.

Who wants it? Post a comment on this blog post at along with a note indicating the latest favourite book that you recently read and would highly recommend that others read (just because that's a cool thing for me to learn and for you to share with others) and my copy of PERMISSION MARKETING can be yours.

Sorry, but I only have one copy to give so will have to figure out who among the requesting folks actually gets it. I'm thinking I'll do this randomly, but I'm also open to take suggestions on how to selection someone, or suggestions on which of the people requesting it should be selected.

(Also, please note, I auto-syndicate this blog into Facebook, Goodreads and a few other places that I can't remember -- so if you're reading this note anywhere but directly on my blog, please click back to my blog to comment -- I have a setting on my blog that notifies me of comments there and that way I won't miss it)