Thursday, March 31, 2011

HNT - Spud Wars: Darth Tater Unmasked

 Not all that long ago on a blog not so far away . . .

. . . a fresh new type of Mr. Potato Head, Darth Tater, moved into Chateau Leslie.

Things had been going quite nicely for a while. Mark had a new toy to play with that brought back fond childhood memories of enjoying Star Wars, and it kept him from getting into trouble by posting inappropriate things on his blog.

But one tired evening, while Mark was attempting to clean Darth Tater's mask, something went horribly wrong.

The mask popped off, and Mark got a startling peek at the face beneath.

As if looking upon the raw face of Darth Tater wasn't enough, the spud spoke a startling revelation.

"Mark, you ate my father!"

The terrible truth was almost too much to bear.

Upon hearing the accusation and with Darth's father (who had, only hours before, been a nice plate of french fries smothered in gravy and ketchup) still digesting in his stomach, Mark let out a girly-man scream and fainted.

Darth then jumped into attack mode, fully intending to avenge his father's needless consumption.

TO BE CONTINUED . . . next week

Will Mark be able to get out of this predicament? Will Darth get his revenge? If Darth really is a potato, why doesn't he have more than one set of eyes? Does anybody out there really care? Are you aware this story is a re-run, a "remastered" tale of a serial blog story originally told in 2006? If this is a Star Wars spoof, why has the storyline already gone in a decidedly different direction than the original George Lucas tale?

To find out the answer to perhaps a couple of these goofy questions, check back next Thursday.

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don't You . . . Want Me . . . Baby?

Except for stations like Treehouse and Playhouse Disney, Alexander doesn't watch much TV. So he doesn't see a lot of commercials.

But, he regularly watches the news with us, (he has an affinity for the weather just like Francine does), and when he sees commercials he is often captivated by them.

One he has seen recently which he just adores is a new Chips Ahoy commercial with four Chunky Chips Ahoy cookies in a convertible all singing the old Human League song "Don't You Want Me?"

It's really cute - four of them are singing the chorus to the song when a giant hand reaches down and plucks them out one by one. Finally, the last one, the driver, is on his own and he starts to sing nervously, his eyes casting all around and he inserts some beautiful dramatic pauses. "Don't you . . . want me . . . baby?"

One thing I love about the commercial is the uncertainly of the last cookie's intent. Is he nervous that all his friends are being eaten and he's not? (IE, "Don't you want me?") Or is he nervous about being eaten, like the last remaining survivor in a bad horror flick? It's funny either way you interpret it. (And yes, perhaps I analyse character intent too often sometimes)

Apart from hearing Alexander and a little buddy of his singing this song in the playground at school, (which was cute and just plain strange at the same time) Alexander regularly perfectly repeats the dramatic pauses the driver sings and giggles each time he does it.

Yes, he doesn't just like the cute silliness of the commercial, but appreciates the subtle things in it, too.

I love how this commercial appeals to the adults like Francine and myself, who fondly remember this song from the 1980's and, of course, the cartoon silliness of the commercial that appeals to children.  Beautifully done. I've since played the entire classic song by Human League for Alexander, explaining to him it was a popular song that his parents enjoyed when we were young. See how cookies and music can bring two generations together?

Oh, and guess what kind of cookies we've recently purchased?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Netflix Responds To Bandwidth Caps

I've enjoyed access to Netflix since it came to Canada, regularly supplementing my video intake with a combination of rented and purchased DVD's/BluRay and content available on NetFlix.

I can easily watch Netflix movies on my iPhone, computer or on my television via a wireless connection through my Wii. And I've done all three.  (That being said, I likely read 3 times more books in a year than watch movies - but it doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching movies, nor having the convenience of being able to stream it at a time and place that's convenient to me)

Of course, the titles available on Netflix in Canada have initially been limited. As evidenced in some recent press releases, that is about to change. Iron Man 2, for example, is one of a line-up of Paramount titles that now show up as available to Canadian Netflix subscribers. (Again, given my limited movie viewing, there are a lot of older movies that I haven't seen and was able to watch via Netflix - I've also enjoyed going back and watching some of the old television programs available - like the original Battlestar Galactica from the 1970's)

And in response to bandwidth concerns (ie caps imposed by providers in Canada), I received the following message in my inbox yesterday from Netflix.

You can now control the settings with which you watch anything on Netflix. You now have the choice between Good Quality (up to 0.3 GB per hour), Better Quality (up to 0.7 GB per hour) and Best Quality (up to 1 GB per hour or up to 2.3 GB per hour for HD)

So, using the big screen TV, you might want a higher resolution and larger bandwidth. Using a smaller screen like the one on my iPhone, you might be fine with the lowest quality setting. Nice choice to have and it's something you can change on the fly.


Monday, March 28, 2011

It's That Big Chunk Of Fudge!

I was showing Alexander some of the commercials from my childhood that I still remembered the jingles to the other day via YouTube when a classic Oh Henry! commercial from 1984 popped up in the Suggestion sidebar to the right.  (Yes that good old suggestion sidebar that sucks you in when you meant to only go there and look at a single video)

I had to laugh immediately.

No, there's no jingle, but I remember this like it was yesterday that I first saw it.

Of course, in my memory, the three characters were wrestlers, not circus strong-men who were trying to determine what makes the Oh Henry! bar so big.

But the emotional conviction of the guy in the middle is priceless. His voice is not unlike a character from the classic Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes cartoons. I particularly love the pause the second time he speaks when he says: "It's that big chunk . . . of fuuudge!"

Here's something fun to try the next time you're in a group conversation, meeting, whatever, and everyone is trying in frustration to find the answer to a burning question.

If everyone is getting gridlocked with frustration because the answer is just not coming to anyone you just might break them out of their funk by saying something like:  "What a minute! I've got it. I know what it is!" and then in the deepest voice you can muster: "It's that big chunk of fuuuuuudge!"

Either everyone will think you're nuts or the unexpected intrusion will break the things that are binding everyone as their minds reach around trying to figure out what the heck it is you're referring to. Some, those who are old enough, might even remember the commercial and will talk fondly of old television commercials they liked. Perhaps someone with a strong memory (or who watched a lot of television) will respond by saying:  "I'm telling you, it's all that caramel!"

Who knows, the sudden change in topic might get everyone's minds going enough to see the problem with fresh eyes. Or, being brought back to their childhood with this audio/visual memory, they might approach the problem with a fresh and youthful perspective.

And if not, well, at least you lightened the mood, perhaps made at least one person laugh.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

HNT - The Return of Darth Tater & Spud Wars

Not that long ago, in a blogisphere not too far away . . .

Given my son's recent enthusiam for all things Star Wars, I thought it might be fun to re-run a serial blog story I started back in 2006 when I first posted a picture of myself unmasking my Darth Tater toy (Darth Tater Unmasked) and then just couldn't resist making a serial story out of it.

Starting next Thursday, you can enjoy the silly Darth Tater / Spud Wars series, presented as a syndicated re-run here on this blog.  I will, of course, be tweaking the tale ever so slightly where necessary - after all, the first time it appeared, it was a "first draft" - this writer likes to improve at least slighty with each re-write of a story...and besides, given some changes to my blog's layout, I've noticed that the formatting of the original posts needs to be worked on again, rendered in a properly updated MarcusFilm format)

So next week, prepare yourself for the digitally remastered (yeah, right) version of the ever popular SPUD WARS . . .

Spud Wars: A Serial HNT Adventure by Mark Leslie

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Let Books Transform You

Prompted by the charismatic Jen Knoch of the Keeping It Real Book Club, I recently recorded a video in support of the Toronto Public Library's Keep Toronto Reading Festival (which runs April 1 to 30, 2011).

Jen and I met at the CBC studios in Toronto a few months ago when we were both guests on CBC's Fresh Air and were talking about our love for Canada Reads. Her passion for reading is contagious, we had a great time in the studio with Fresh Air host Mary Ito, and I had a really fun time recording this video.

This year's theme for Keep Toronto Reading is:  Let Books Transform You.

For that reason, I chose Robert J. Sawyer's novel Rollback.

This is, in my mind, the perfect science fiction novel for people who have never read science fiction or claim that they wouldn't like sci-fi. Rollback is a novel that helps people transform their idea of what science fiction is and can be. I have been able to put Rollback into the hands of people who say they hate science fiction or have never been able to read it and have them return to me raving about the novel and to ask for more sci-fi title suggestions, as well as interested in seeing what else Sawyer has written.

Simply, if you enjoyed Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife (and you'll notice I don't risk mangling the author's name in my video), you'll likely fall for the beautiful love story unvealed in Sawyer's novel as a couple that has been together for 60 years facing an incredibly powerful and sudden change in their relationship when one of them undergoes an experimental "rollback" procedure that restores their physiological body to the equivalent of the age of 20.

In any case, I'm always happy to share great books and hope that adding my two cents to the wonderful Keep Toronto Reading festival inspires folks not just in Toronto, but everywhere, to keep reading.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cool Inkygirl Cartoons For Writers

I found Inkygirl cartoons for writers through a friend's status update on Facebook.

Thought they were hilarious.

The first one that caught my eye was the following, called "The Deadline" and features a snowman attempting to finish his novel before spring arrives.

The Deadline
Photo Copyright 2006 Debbie Ridpath Ohi (

If anyone has read my short fiction, you'll know I have a special affinity for snowmen stories - particularly looking at the various challenges of a snowman, such as the inevitable coming of spring (Ides of March) or the limitations of being a pile of snow with useless sticks for arms (That Old Silk Hat They Found - Audio).

The Gift
Photo Copyright 2006 Debbie Ridpath Ohi (

Of course, Inkygirl has many many other great cartoons, a lot of them featuring writing or writers.

But be warned - once you start browsing the cartoons, you'll be swept away and want to see "just one more."

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Man Is An Author

So yesterday I was surprised to discover a picture of me in a Globe & Mail article by John Barber called Getting a read on the future of publishing. It's part of what has been an interesting series of TIME TO LEAD articles they've been running.

The article looks at various innovations taking place within Canada and around the world in the publishing industry.

One of the things they mention is the Espresso Book Machine.

And it looks like they used an old file photo of the EBM at McMaster from back in 2008 when we first got our machine and the G&M came to visit Titles Bookstore.

There I am in a picture accompanying the article, gazing lovingly at the book From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne seconds after it has been bound and just as it has been passed off to the robot arm that is about to move it into position for the bottom to be trimmed.

Photo by Glenn Lowson for Globe & Mail

That's why, when I saw this video posted on a recent MOBYLIVES blog post this morning, I giggled, thinking about the differences between this process from 1947 and what the process can be now. (Again, I'm just talking about the process of making a physical copy of the book, not the writing process, nor anything related to digital distribution - you know, for simplicity's sake.)

I love the way the narration in this video begins:

"This man is an author. He writes stories. He has just finished writing a story. He thinks many people will like to read it. So, he must have the story made into a book."

Oh yes, he thinks many people will like to read it.  It would be fun to spoof the narration of the video and change it and incorporate the self-publish process available on the Espresso Book Machine now. You know, have the narrator say something along the lines of: 

"But the author knows that no agent, publisher or editor is likely to select it from a warehouse full of manuscripts they have to wade through. That pile of manuscripts is called a slush pile. So, the author decides he'd rather just print the book himself at his local bookstore."

Or maybe:

"But the author is impatient. He knows it'll take forever, and he wants to see his book printed today. After all, it took him 4 hours to write the book. Why should it take longer to publish it? And besides, who needs an editor? He is a talented genius after all. So . . ."

Or, the spoof could head down the dark-humour path:

"But he is wrong. Nobody wants to read his book. Back in 1947 he might have drank too much and then reached into his drawer for his Smith & Wesson handgun to end it all. But not today. Today, he can get his book printed; quickly, easily and without having to remortgage his home."

So many ways to spoof the original video. But in any case, I think it's cute to watch both processes side by side.

Video of how books are made circa 1947 - "Making Books is Fun (To Watch)"

Video of the Espresso Book Machine circa 2009 (there are newer, slicker models available now - too bad there aren't that many slicker and really short videos showing the machine)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

HNT - No Regrets

Eight years ago today my father died unexpectedly. He was waking in the recovery room after having a kidney removed and already joking with the nurses when suddenly his blood pressure dropped from severe internal bleeding. The clips had come off his renal artery (manufacture error or human error we'll never know) and he bled to death.

One instant, alive and making others smile. The next, gone.

Sometimes I think back to how I should have spent more time with my dad; listening to the wonderful and hilarious stories he used to tell (whether they were fishing tales, hunting stories or memories of his childhood and his years as a younger adult) - I know I would have benefited from simply knowing more about him while I had the chance. And at times, my heart aches for all the missed opportunities.

But instead of focusing on what I missed, I like to concentrate on all the times I did share with him, on all the stories I heard, on all the memories we created together.

Dad and I on my wedding day - 1996

And I'm thankful for the very last words I said to him before he walked through the doors and into the pre-op room that fateful morning.

I kissed him and said:  "I love you, Dad."

Yes, a grown man who is supposed to be embarassed about doing such things about saying such things, about being seen acting in this way. And in a rare moment in a public place, I tossed all those things away, kissed him and told him I loved him.

It doesn't make up for all the previous opportunities I missed out on, how, at a certain age in my childhood I stopped holding his hand, about the many teen years where, as children often do, I pushed away from and rebelled against my parents, and all the stories that I never got to hear.

But at least I didn't leave unsaid the important things in my heart.

I've long blogged about my Dad, and, particularly on this anniversary of the day I lost my father, I've come back to reflect on all the things he was to me.

Rather than repeat, I'll simply post links back to each year's memory.

2010 - A Man, His Son & Their Laughter
- Includes a poem I wrote for my father back in 1996)

2009 - Mourning Son
- I talk about my still unpublished novel Morning Son, much of which was inspired by stories from my father.

2008 - And I Miss You Just The Same
- Mostly pictures of my Dad

2007 - Dad, Four Years Ago Today
- Memories of the last hunting trip with my Dad and my cousin on Manitoulin Island

2006 - Still Miss You, Dad
- Basic memories, a lot of which I have repeated in this blog over the years; and the father/son poem

2005 - Miss You, Dad
- Simple thoughts of being a new father myself and thinking of Alexander and my Dad interacting

Dad and I playing Intellivision - 1981
For HNT this week, I thought I'd post this picture of my Dad and I playing Intellivision back in the early 1980's. I love this picture. We were collaborating on one of the simple initial game offerings on this system: Space Battle. One of us would navigate the cross-hairs over the enemy spaceships and the other would fire. A simple task that certainly didn't require two people, but the game was so much more fun when we did it together.

Sometimes, when my son and I are collaboratively trying to beat the computer on a game (most recently the Lego Star Wars game on our Wii), I think back to the joy brought by the memory of this simple time spent with my father.

And I'm thankful for every moment I spent with my father; and every moment I spend with my son.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Best Of Both Worlds

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Netflix. I love the idea of being able to access movies and television shows at my own convenience without having to leave the house.

However, the service, while pretty exciting, is still hugely lacking in Canada if you're looking for newer releases or a broad selection. To someone like me, though, who hasn't seen a lot of movies (heck, I likely read perhaps three or four times more books in a year than I watch movies) there's still lots of "not yet seen" stuff available. So to me, Netflix is a pretty decent service with lots of room to continue to grow and improve.

But I also relish the experience of heading to my local movie rental place and browsing. I often spot titles I wouldn't have noticed on the screen (despite some pretty cool systematic browsing capabilities Netflix offers) just by walking through the aisles of the store. The serendipity of that experience is, to me, part of the real thrill. You may have walked in looking for X, but walked out with A instead (not even Y, which was closer to X, but a movie that someway, somehow caught your eye because a staff member decided to merchandise it on a "Staff Picks" endcap display you walked by.

The local video store is just down the street, after all, and it's a nice short healthy walk to get there. The experience itself of getting out, chatting with the staff there (soliciting their recommendations) and enjoying the walk there and back, is a worthwhile endeavour.

That's why I was glad to see Blockbuster offering an "all you can eat" style deal that far surpasses the limited selection of content online at 

Blockbuster Canada is offerings a FAVOURITES MOVIE PASS for $9.99.  It's a couple of dollars more expensive than Netflix, but it doesn't eat up any bandwidth (ie, other hidden costs) and you can get unlimited favourites movie rentals (1 movie at a time). It's flexible, too. So you can purchase a monthly pass on a month where you know you'll be watching a ton of movies, and not get it on a month you won't be renting any (unlike an online monthly subscription that automatically gets charged to your credit card)

I think this is a pretty big deal and represents an important strategic shift in bricks and mortar DVD/Blu-ray rental places that allows them to offer something fresh, new and relevant.  Kudos to them. They're reaching out and trying to offer customers the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides Of March Are Come

There's really only one day per year when I can walk around saying "The Ides of March are come!" And I can usually only get away with saying "Beware the Ides of March" a few days prior to March 15th.

Of course, I have yet to have someone respond to my reference to the Shakespearean play by saying "Ay, but they have not gone!"

For some reason, this morning I was reflecting back on one of the many different series of layoffs I survived back in the days immediately following the dot com bust. I worked at Chapters Online back in the glory days when dot com companies were expanding exponentially, there were free pop machines on every floor of the building, one of those giant popcorn machines, and food regularly being ordered in from local restaurants. COL had recently purchased a "home and garden" company and expanded, hiring an additional hundred or so folks and renting an additional two floors of an adjascent building in the Peter Street offices downtown.

Then the bubble burst, the seemingly endless buckets of money stopped flowing in, reality sunk in, and the rounds of layoff after layoff began as the company that had been expanding so rapidly started contracting back down in an attempt to stay sustainable.

Then there was the takeover of Chapters by Indigo, and shortly thereafter, yet another round of layoffs as two companies merged and the duplicate roles filled by people at the home office were resolved.

That round, I distinctly remember, took place on a March 15th.

I remember, because, in the same manner that one whistles while walking past a graveyard, I posted a sign on my office door that read:  "Beware the Ides of March!"  My gut (which had already been through two major rounds of layoffs) told me that the company wide meetings that had been planned for that day were really going to be another round of layoffs.

And sure enough, that morning, people were handed colour coded sheets of paper informing them to report to a particular room at a certain time that morning.

I remember sitting in the room I was in and looking at the other folks in there with me and trying to decide if I was in the "cut and laidoff" people or the "we're safe" room. It was an agonizingly long ten minutes with most people in the room silent, save for the occasional uncomfortable shifting in seats and quiet mutterings.

It turned out I had survived yet another round of cuts. But yet again, just like previously, there had been the sense of relief for getting to keep my job, but then came the survivor's guilt I felt because friends of mine had not been so lucky and had lost their jobs. Yes, I was extremely lucky, but the guilt was really strong.

I don't want to dwell on the stress of the repeated rounds of layoffs, but just point out that, despite the fact I had been working for a "book" company, nobody seemed to pick up on my literary reference, or the significance of the day. Either that, or they had, but nobody had been in the mood to whistle past the graveyard with me.

I suppose I've long enjoyed playing upon that reference to the Shakespeare play.  I've even written a horror story about snowmen facing the terror of the arrival of spring in a tale called (yes, you guessed it): "Ides of March" (Click on the title to read a preview of it)

In any case, I'll keep tossing that cue line out and some day someone will pick up and respond. We'll smile, perhaps acknowledge the bard in some small way (perhaps one of us will be wearing one of the cheeky "Dead Author T-Shirts" designed by Margaret Atwood that feature Shakespeare), then we'll go on with our day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dead Author T-Shirts

A lot of people compare the music and book industry; ie, they look at how the music industry, which was faced with illegal digital downloads, had to completely change -- well, at least the distribution and sale of physical objects in that industry changed. Rock stars can bring in the majority of their revenues from live performances and the swag people buy at concerts.

During a presentation in February at Tools of Change called The Publishing Pie, Margaret Atwood made reference to the concept that while rock stars can give away their work for free and make a living off of concerts and t-shirts, that authors can't do the same.

Based on comments and feedback, she created a line of Dead Author T-Shirts featuring some of the illustrations from the slides in her presentation.

To explain the cartoon below, she looks as authors as a "primary source" -- comparing a Dead Moose (which feeds up to a dozen other sources) to a Dead Author, which sustains many other life forms in the "biological food cycle of publishing")

Of course, though the joke is author's can't make a living off of t-shirt sales, she'll likely be the exception that proves the rule because she'll likely sell a huge whck of these. I know I'm thinking of ordering one. (Although I think I'd like a combination t-shirt with the Dead Moose on the back and Dead Author on the front)

Check out the swag she has put her illustrations on here:  Dead Author T-Shirts at Cafe Press

But the presentation, if you haven't seen it, is well worth checking out. Fascinating for writers and authors or anyone in the publishing industry.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

One EBook Screaming "Look At Me! Look At Me!"

Today, being the last day of Read An E-Book Week (don't worry, there'll likely be another one next year at the same time, and there's nothing stopping you, really, from continuing to read ebooks after today), many of the special promotions are expiring.

I thought I'd take a self-promotional pause (you know, for a change, because I rarely talk about my writing or suggest people check it out or anything like that here on this blog) and remind folks they can use coupon code RE100 at to get my book ONE HAND SCREAMING (among a huge selection of other titles), for free up until midnight tonight (Saturday March 12, 2011) - after that, OHS goes right back up to the ridiculously over-priced $0.99)

The $0.99 price point is meant to make the book attractive for folks with very little risk. I mean, if you spend $1.00 to get it and you don't like it, it's not like you dropped $30 or anything.

And if you really liked it, you'd consider that $1.00 to be a really good investment. (In fact, you can download 50% of the book entirely for free, which gives you a really great way to check it out and see if it's worth your hard-earned money)

The reason I set a really low price rather than making it 100% free is that I wanted to be able to see some cash exchange hands in order to support the supply chain that supports publishers and authors. (When money is exchanged, each of author/publisher/retailer/service provider typically gets a small cut - I like that equation, particularly since it spreads the cash to as many elements of the supply chain as possible)

When I first released One Hand Screaming back in 2004, I never dreamed about becoming rich off of it. The idea of collecting my previously published stories together was simply to create a way for people to find my stuff. When most of your fiction has appeared in small press magazines or anthologies that are no longer in print, it's really hard for people who want to read your stuff to find you -- that's the reason I put the effort into this collection. And the good news is that I've heard from a lot of folks over the years who have quite enjoyed this little volume that samples the various types of fiction I have written. So it seems to have done its job.

And yes, each year, I draw some small royalties and income from the sales of the print and ebook versions of OHS. But I know I'll never get rich off it.  The real reward to me has been hearing from people who've read and enjoyed it. 

I'll also pause to say if you like this collection of dark humour, macabre stories and twisted poetry, you might also enjoy listening to my podcast Prelude To A Scream, where I've taken samples of some of my previously published stories and pushed them out into free audio.

I really like listening to fiction via podcast feeds (it allows me to "read" more while doing other things, such as going for a run, or even on my daily commute in to work), so I thought I'd try to share some of my own writing that way.  Prelude To A Scream includes many of the stories and poems that appear in ONE HAND SCREAMING (and will eventually include all the stories from it) as well as some other tales I thought would be fun to share.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How To Spell Ebook?

In continued celebration of "Read An E-Book Week" I kept coming back to a dilemna I've long had when writing about ebooks.

How the hell should you be spelling them? Yes, I know "e" - "b" - "o" - "o" - "k"  - there, problem solved.

I suppose what I really mean is: How should you format the word when spelling it?

Which of the following is it?

(have I covered all of the possible combinations?)

Of course, one part of me asks if it really matters. After all, when you consult dictionaries and online references, you get a plethora of different spellings.  Wikipedia, for example, while referencing more than one spelling, uses E-book (Of course my 1996 Oxford English Reference Dictionary, a trusted book within handy reach of my home writing space, doesn't even have any version of the word - strange, since eBooks are 40 years old this year)

It matters, I suppose, because we like things to be consistent. And I'm one of those folks, who, though flexible and accepting of new and varied use of words and phrases (though I long stumbled with accepting "my bad" as an acceptible use of English), I still cringe every time I see people very regularly messing up the difference between "your" and "you're" (one of them meaning taking a possessive for the person you are addressing while the other being a contraction for "you are" - if you don't know the difference, for the love of all that's holy spend half a minute and look it up - here's one of hundreds of places to figure it out)

Of course, while "your" and "you're" sound alike, they mean different things (or are supposed to).

Ebook, e-book, ebook, etc all mean the same thing; so perhaps that's why one hasn't emerged as the more dominant.

So, the next question is, however you spell eBook, do you think ebooks spell the end of print books?

My short simple answer is that e-books will kill print books the same way that television killed major motion pictures, the same way that the transistor radio killed live performances on stage by actors and musicians, or the same way that the internet itself has already killed all of these things.

Not death, I say, but evolution.

Ebooks will have a huge effect on the publishing industry - changing the manner by which it performs and engages with the end consumer and all the various parties involved in delivering the "book" to the consumer (which can be varied and involve multiple layers or be direct - often a complex combination).

The changes, so far, have been slow and there have been many struggles and a lot of experimentation. I suggest that the experimentation (and the more the better), with how to adapt ebooks into the existing supply chain models will be what allows the publishing industry to continue on. And by experimenting, I don't mean trying to keep doing things they way they have always been done, but continually looking at new ways of delivering content to readers in effective and efficient manners.

Books and ebooks will co-exist, play off of one another's benefits and serve different consumer desires, behaviours and needs.

I have a novel coming out in hardcover in November 2012. Seems a long way off given the rise of ebooks and the greatly exaggerated rumours of the death of print books. I know the publisher is planning a launch of the eBook along with the hardcover release. (It'll be launched in time for World Fantasy Con 2012 in Toronto) I know that some customers will prefer a hard copy of the book and some will prefer the ebook version. (I also know that some will simply just steal an illegally optained copy of it - whether it's a copy of the original ebook or a scanned copy of the hardcover) - but the key, in my mind is that whatever version, or whatever spelling, "book" is still the main part of it.

I love the way Terry Fallis put it in his guest blog post on Kobo's blog yesterday.

"Whether you’re reading in paper form, listening to the podcast, or turning the virtual pages of an ebook, the story is paramount. The vessel is secondary. I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop buying traditional books, but I’m certainly going to keep buying lots of ebooks as well." - Terry Fallis in "My eBook story" on the blog

Beautifully said, Terry.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

HNT - EBook Readers

In celebration of Read an Ebook Week, I thought I'd post a picture of me posing with the three ebook readers I own.  The Sony PRS-505, The enTourage eDGe, and my iPhone.

Okay, my iPhone isn't a dedicated ebook reader, but it is my ereader of choice, main because it is always on me.  And, though I have half a dozen different ebook reading apps installed on my iPhone, the one from Kobo is the one I use 95% of the time. I like the functionality, ease of use, and the fact that Kobo is a Canadian company (and besides, a lot of really awesome folks I know and have worked with work at Kobo in Toronto)

If you haven't started reading an ebook this week, there's still time.

Here's a link to a list of various promotions where you can get discounts on ebook purchases as well as ebooks for free. (Most ebook platforms and applications include a decent variety of free reads, particularly from the classic/public domain realm -- what a great way to check out e-reading AND read a classic book and kill two birds with one stone)

Of course, if you're looking for something a little more recent and don't mind macabre situations with a sprinkling of dark humour, you could always download my story collection ONE HAND SCREAMING off of the Smashwords website for free using promo code RE100.

(At the end of this week, my book returns to it's full price of $0.99  Yes, a decently low price.  But, the book has been out since 2004 is still available for purchase in print format from the typical online suspects for  $12.95 US as well as orderable through your local bookstore should you desire to own a physical copy. And the ebook price is designed to appeal to someone looking for some new horror fiction to read without a huge upfront cost. If they like my writing, it's a bargain, and perhaps they suggest that a friend checks out my writing; and if they don't, they only spent $1.00)

See, I just can't stop with the self-promotion. But the good news is that this week there have been a lot of new downloads of my story collection in ebook format, meaning that more people are checking me out, and hopefully enjoying the read. Got to love that.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

EBook Reader Review

Rob Sawyer doing reading from ereader (Photo: Peter Rainford)
As Read an E-Book Week continues, I thought I'd follow up a comment from yesterday's post with some links to ebook reader reviews.

One of the biggest challenges facing folks who are interested in reading ebooks on a dedicated ebook reading device related to the choices to make. There's certainly no shortage of devices available.

As I mentioned, I own two ebook readers (a Sony PSR-505 and an entourage eDGe) - they both have their advantages and disadvantages, both use e-ink screens -- ie, easier on the eyes than a backlit screen, require ambient light, just like a book, uses less battery power for the display) and are decent depending on what type of reading I'm doing.

For example, the Sony is good for places I'd normally read a paperback because it's far more portable and compact. The eDGe is better when I'm reading a book I want to annotate and write in the margins of, because it offers me the ability to actually write and save notes right in the text of the book. It also is a dual-book, running an e-ink screen on the left with an Android operating system with wifi capabilities and a whack of other bells and whistles on the right hand-side.

So they're both decent devices, yet I read most ebooks on the iPhone that I pretty much already carry around with me. It's just more convenient for me.

But I'd like to share a list of generic comparisons of devices - the first one is from Wikipedia and is a listing of the features of the various ebook devices out there. The nice thing about it is there is a lot of info about the devices that aren't "ads" for the devices by the manufacturers themselves, so you'll get a relatively unbiased POV.

There's another great and similar comparison done on the Mobileread wiki, with the matrix broken down by the size of the device.

And, of course, there's this great video from my friend, author Robert J. Sawyer who, back in February 2010, recorded a quick video summary of the various ebook reading devices he owns and has used over the years.

(Remember, this video was posted more than a year ago, so while there are a great many devices in Rob's excellent overview, it doesn't include newer devices that exist, and which Rob likely now owns. He's been reading on ebook devices for years, and when he does readings he usually reads from an ebook screen (as seen in the image accompanying this post, when he launched his novel Watch at Titles Bookstore at McMaster University last March.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Read An EBook Week - Whatcha Reading?

Since it's Read An E-Book Week, I thought I'd share what I'm currently reading in ebook format.

Okay, as I mentioned yesterday, I have two dedicated ebook reading devices. But I also have close to a dozen different ebook reading applications on my iPhone as well as my computer.

Most of the ebooks I read, however, are read on my iPhone application for


Because my iPhone is almost always on me, so it's simple and easy for me to use it to read. For example, while at gymnastics with Alexander last night, during the times when he was waiting in line to get on the trampoline or whatever activity they were doing, I was able to easily pull out my phone and read a few pages.

I'm currently reading Dead Man's Song by Jonathan Maberry.

It's the follow-up to his novel Ghost Road Blues, and part of the Pine Deep trilogy. I read the first book several years ago and loved it. I ended up buying the ebook more than a year ago, but only started reading it a few weeks ago. (Yes, it takes me much longer to read the ebooks I've been reading because I typically only read when I'm waiting in line somewhere for brief periods of time rather than longer planned reading sessions like bed-time, etc)

Ghost Road Blues

Maberry is a good writer and this is an interesting series of books about some terrifying activities that take place within a small farming town during the fall in the classic stand-off of good vs evil.

I'm enjoying savouring the reading of the books over time and the fact that I changed it up - read the first novel in mass market, and am reading the second in ebook format. 

(One disappointment with the ebook reading for me is that there is no cover image for the book on Kobo. I know it's a small thing, but if it wasn't for the fact I already liked Maberry and knew I was going to read Dead Man's Song, I wouldn't have bought it - yes, people still judge ebooks by their "covers."

So, what ebook are YOU reading this week?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Life Begins At Forty

After you reach your forth decade, you're likely to hear someone say that life begins at forty.

Perhaps it's because at forty you're still young enough to look ahead at achievements you wish to make, at goals and dreams to attain, yet you're experienced enough to have several achievements under your belt and perhaps a more realistic view of your abilities, strengths and weaknesses to make those things happen.  Or maybe it's because you've become slightly better in various ways as you age, the way a scotch aged 15 or 18 years tastes better than one aged for merely a dozen years.

Maybe that's why they say life begins at forty.

The reason I'm thinking about this isn't because of my own age (Forty and I were introduced to each other a couple of years ago), but because this year E-Books (or ebooks if you prefer) turn 40. It was in 1971 that Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, made a digital version of the United States Declaration of Independence.

March 6 to 12, 2011 is Read an E-Book Week. And, it being 40 years since ebooks were first created, it's a special one at that. Ebooks are becoming more commonplace than ever, particularly in the past 12 months.

And if you look at a matrix of ebook reading devices, you might become a little bit overwhelmed with just how many there are. I currently own 2 ebook reading devices. Okay, I own 6 (because you might as well count computers and smart phones) - but, looking specifically at dedicated ebook readers, I own two of them, and yet I do most of my ebook reading on my iPhone. Why? Because it's always on me - and to a book lover, when it's important to always have a book with me, guess what wins, yes, even over physical books.

Admittedly, I still prefer to read physically printed books, but knowing there's always a book on the device that I always have with me is of a great comfort to me - it means I needn't go anywhere without having a book to read with me.

In celebration of "Read an ebook week" there are many great promotions happening. I thought I'd join in and offer one of my own for free. 

You can download one of various different ebook versions of One Hand Screaming directly from the Smashwords website for free using code RE100.

If you prefer (or after this week is over, since the promotion's last day is March 12, 2011), you could always purchase it for $0.99.

Yes, for less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can pick it up from Sony, Diesel, Kobo or via Apple's iBookstore. Or better yet, just grab a free one and enjoy it.

And if you enjoyed reading this collection of short stories and feel obligated to say thanks, go online to any place that sells the paperback version or ebook and simply rate it, review it, etc.

Happy E-Book Reading Week to you!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Stuff On Demand Machines

First it was music, then it was books, soon it will be stuff.

Years ago, when it became easy for someone to replicate music from digital files in their own homes, music stores faced major issues. Now, when ebooks are finally reaching a similar status, bookstores are facing similar issues.

Soon, could it be virtually any retailer out there cringing because consumers will have the ability to just print whatever stuff they need right in their homes?

Entirely possible I suppose.

In the most recent episode of Spark (a CBC radio program that is also a podcast and blog), there was a great discussion and interview about 3D printers. (3D printers basically create a three dimension object by outputting successive layers of material, the same way a printer (AKA 2D printer) outputs ink onto paper.

At first, the technology sounds like magic (ie, like the replicators on Star Trek that can produce virtually anything seemingly out of thin air), but as it is explained so wonderfully on Spark, the materials needed to produce the object are often stored in a paste/liquid format the same way that ink is stored and accessible by the printers we are familiar with. So it doesn't produce items out of thin air - but still, the ability to replicate items using a 3D printer and a digital blueprint is amazing.

The discussion on Spark involved material printers (and walked through the creation of a metal gear that takes about 20 minutes to produce) as well as food printers (discussing the incredibly complex and wonderful designs one might be able to do with a food printer which would be impossible to do using convention cooking methods), but it gave me two interesting ideas.

For the first one, I should pop back to my own experiences using an Espresso Book Machine.  An EBM is a machine that uses print-on-demand (POD) technology to print, bind and trim a book in about 5 minutes. The bookstore at McMaster University where I work has such a machine. (I like to call it "Mippy" - short for McMaster Innovation Press) We're able to receive digital files from publishers or pulled down from a secure network of close to 2 million titles, and produce perfect bound paperbacks virtually indistinguishable from paperbacks produced by real printers.

Me posing in front of the EBM 1.5 at McMaster with books printed on our machine

We bought the machine because we foresee a trend within the book industry that'll further optimize current physical distribution models (particularly as ebooks become more popular) and allow a small local bookstore to print titles upon customer requests. Currently, with a store that has an Espresso Book Machine (and there are almost in North American bookstores - click here for a list of EBM locations worldwide), you can walk in, request a title they don't have, and the bookstore can either order the book through convention methods (which may take anywhere between 3 days to 6 weeks depending on where the publisher's warehouse is located), or, if it is available as POD through the EspressNet catalog, the store might be able to print the book for you within a matter of minutes and you can get it, still warm from the printer.

So now back to the concept of a 3D printer.

I was thinking of a local neighbourhood hardware store, particularly one in a more remote community, where quick and easy access to special ordered products for their customers are problematic. Imagine them owning a 3D printer pre-loaded with various metatic pastes. They could use the machine to produce rare nails, screws and other widgets that they wouldn't normally stock, all built from a catalog of virtually millions of possible items.

Sounds like a possible realistic use for a 3D printer.  But why would anyone go to the hardware store when they could get a 3D printer for their home and just produce it there? Perhaps for the same reasons you go to your local hardware store now rather than a generic super-store that might carry the small parts you need. Expertise, advice, discussion. There's still a wonderful hardware stock on my block that can sell you a bag of nails just like in the old days, rather than a pre-packaged plastic box of them. Less packaging, greater expertise when you're doing work around your home and need to consult with a hardware expert.

With this new technology, soon it will no longer be just booksellers who will be looking at what it is that makes their physical presence desireable in their communities.  Virtually any other retailer that carries stuff will be facing this.

One of Nora's guests talked about shoe stores, for example, particularly when shoes are mass produced yet don't perfectly fit anyone - imagine being able to produce shoes custom fit to you from a machine in your home? Cool idea. But, affording a machine like that doesn't come easy. So what about a local shoe store that can do the same thing? Keep a data file of foot sizes for their customers, link to a digital catalog of the latest shoe designs and be able to produce the exact size, fit and style their customers need right on the spot? Sounds practical to me.

The second idea that struck me regarding 3D printers involved what Nora and her guests discussed in interesting detail. 3D food printing.

Yes, I know, the idea of eating food produced by a machine isn't all that appetizing. But realistically, unless you're on a special rare diet or live on a farm and are eating mostly food you grow and prepare yourself, most of what you're eating is processed well beyond the food's original format.

I'm imagining the use of a 3D food printer in a way that might help people on special restrictive diets, or those who want to move away from consuming animal proteins to do so without the current difficulties involved. I have some friends who are vegans who work really hard and invest a great deal of time and effort into their diets, particularly because a lot of the foods easily available to them. And eating out can become somewhat of a comedy of errors for them.

But imagine a food printer filled with vegan-approved food source pastes and the ability to inject artificial flavours. You could produce from a virtually endless catalog of recipes, different textures, products, etc, all with different flavours and tastes, but guaranteed not to violate the dietary restrictions. Great for use at home, great for restaurants that want to mimic their regular menu with identical "vegan-safe" items.

Imagine the benefit to someone with a peanut or other food allergy?

Interesting possibilities.

And that's what I love about listening to Spark. I never leave without being given something really interesting to think about.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

HNT - The Next Chapter Of The Little Bookstore That Could

This past Saturday I took a quick trip out to Waterloo to Words Worth Books for the dual celebration of the retirement of Trish and Chuck, the store's founders and original owners and to congratulate Mandy and Dave, long-time employees who are now the new owners.

It was delightful to see the store packed that afternoon with a group of obvious book lovers as if a major celebrity author was appearing.  The celebrities, this day, of course, were the fine folks behind Words Worth Books.  Everyone was there to celebrate what new owner Dave Worsley described in his inspirational speech as "the little bookstore that could."

It reminded me how a store like theirs isn't just a great place to come and hang out, talk about books and meet authors (and let's not forget, to buy books), but it's an integral part of the community.  Waterloo's mayor showed up to say a few words, celebrate the legacy of this 27 year old store and wish the best to the outgoing and incoming owners.

The cultural impact of this small store has long been exponentially larger than the relatively small space it occupies at 100 King Street South. Hundreds of authors (including Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley, Jane Urquhart and John Irving) have appeared at events organized by the store over the years, and they continue to attract a fantastic mixture of local authors and the most sought out well-known authors, who regularly contact them to see if they can come do a book signing with their store. (For example, the time Jean Cretien's publisher contacted them to see if it was okay that the former Prime Minister of Canada dropped in to their store to sign copies of his book)

Chuck Erion and Tricia Siemens were pioneers, well-respected booksellers who have made a difference not just in their local community, but in the greater bookselling industry as a whole because of their regular participation in industry events and activities. Trish was instrumental in bringing the "One Book, One Community" public readings and activities to Waterloo as well as local version of Word on the Street and Chuck was a founding member of BookNet Canada's board of directors and the drive to make the overall book industry more efficient for publishers, distributors and booksellers. They will be missed as they ride off into the sunset of retirement; but one takes comfort in knowing they're still a quick call, email, or Facebook poke away.

Mandy Brouse and David Worsley took over the store on February 1st, and the store couldn't have been left in better hands. Their passion for the business and their dedication to excellence shines through the moment you interact with them. You can feel their connection to their customers and community in the very air. It's easy to see how Dave won the HarperCollins Canada Hand-Selling Award in 2006 and how Mandy won the inaugural Young Bookseller of the Year Award from Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Awards in 2010.

I walked in that afternoon with the intention of congratulating some friends and wishing them the best of luck. I left, a much richer, much more inspired person, thanks to Chuck, Trish, Mandy, Dave and the rest of the staff of Words Worth Books. Thanks, everyone!

So, for this week's HNT shot, here's a picture of me with Mandy and Dave, the next generation of Words Worth Books.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Afraid Of The Dark

The other night when Alexander and I were walking through a parking lot in a place where the streetlight placement had us walking through deep and dark shadows, he said: "I'm scared, Dad."

I, of course, assured him that everything was fine and used the glow from my iPhone to cast a bit of light around us rather than admit that I, too, was afraid.

But not of the usual things that a normal person should be afraid of in such a situation, such as a mugger or some such other threat to our safety.

No, I was afraid of the monsters that might be lurking in the shadows.

Basically, I might have grown up, but have yet to grow out of the primal fear of the dark that haunted me as a child.

And that's part of the premise for a short story I recently had published. I recently received my contributor copy of Fear of the Dark, an anthology from Horror Bound Publications edited by Maria Grazia Cavicchioli and Jason Rolfe.

My story, "Nocturnal Visions" was written after being inspired by a comment my son made one evening at dinner. It was quite cute, actually. Alexander had recently lost a tooth, so at the dinner table he made a comment about wondering if he might hear the tooth fairy come into his room.

I had been about to tell him something along the lines of: "No. If the Sandman gets there first, you'll be fast asleep." But before the words could even form, my mind had already started tearing down the deep dark alley of inspiration, catching that fleeting glimpse of my muse and pursuing it at a desperate full throttle before she got away.

I immediately excused myself from the table, went downstairs to the den, and started to write the opening line of the story, plus a few quick bullet points of thoughts about my idea. Then I went back upstairs to re-join Francine and Alexander. Fran cast me a strange look and I said I'd explain later, because I wasn't about to explain the concept that I had been struck with. Not to my son, who had been eagerly anticipating a nocturnal visit from the Tooth Fairy that night.

To illustrate why I hadn't been about to share this with my son, here's the opening few lines of my story "Nocturnal Visions"

When Carl was six years old he watched the Sandman strangle the Tooth Fairy.
      It wasn't the first bizarre nocturnal sight he'd witnesses, and it definitely wasn't to be the last; but it did alter him permanently from that day forward.
     He'd been tossing and turning in his bed, unable to get to sleep because he was anxious about the visit from the Tooth Fairy. His parents had told him about her as yet another one of those nocturnal beings who slipped in and out of a person's house in the middle of the night while everybody was sleeping.
     And while he'd been lying there, worried he wouldn't fall asleep and that the front incisor wrapped carefully in a wad of tissue would not be replaced with a bright shiny coin, he heard a muted shuffling outside his door.

The basic premise is that Carl has the ability to see all of the nocturnal beings that children believe in and adults talk about. So, growing up, he never grows out of his wondrous faith in those creatures, constantly aware of the annual visits from Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Father Time as well as other entities such as The Tooth Fairy and Cupid. An insomniac, Carl also constantly struggles with the dark pact he made with The Sandman on the night the Tooth Fairy was murdered.

I was quite pleased with this tale, and also pleased that it nicely fit in with the theme of the Fear of the Dark anthology.

I'm also quite pleased that my story appears in a collection alongside the following authors: Adrian Chamberlin, Eric Dimbleby, Christopher Fowler, Michael F. Fudali, Dave Ingalls, Paul Kane, Charles Loudowl, Lisa Mannetti, Brian D. Mazur, Angel Leigh McCoy, Jason Muller, Sandra M. Odell, Anne M. Pillsworth, Aaron Polson, Martin Rose, Norman L. Rubenstein, A.D. Spencer, Mary A. Turzillo and Brian Wright.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

LEGO My Hero

Alexander peeking from behind some LEGO CITY pieces
I've been playing with LEGO since I was a young child - lately, with Alexander continually excited about the LEGO Star Wars offerings, I've had another round of fun exploring the magic of creating your own toys to play with using the "Automatic Binding Bricks" as they were originally called back in 1949.

I could go on and on talking about how great it is to have a toy that allows you to create virtually anything and where you're limited only by your imagination. That in and of itself is pretty darn specular and something I loved about LEGO.

But that's not what this particular post is about.

This particular post is about my admiration for the incredible quality control behind LEGO.

If I had to guess, I'd say that I have likely personally opened the plastic on several dozens of LEGO sets over the years and followed the included visual manual to construct the specialty item on as many different sets.

And one thing that has NEVER happened to me, is I have never been short a single piece in any of the kits I have worked on. No, not even all of the really tiny pieces that are included in the LEGO CITY or LEGO Star Wars sets that Alexander and I have built in the past few years.

Seriously - with each set, most of which contain hundreds upon hundreds of tiny pieces, some of them containing pieces numbering in the thousands, you'd think there would be a mistake made.

Alexander and I playing with Dad's old "Space LEGO" sets
But the only consistent "mistake" made is there are often about half a dozen extra tiny pieces included in the average set. I have never encountered a set that was short a single piece. And with each new set Alexander and I build, there's always a point, when trying to put together the model while following the directions that I think "oh, we're missing a piece that we need." But then we find the piece, either hidden underneath something else in the pile or perhaps used in error in an earlier step in our construction.

I don't know what kind of quality control measures they put into their sets, but it is absolutely amazing. In terms of quality control, LEGO is my HERO.