Thursday, June 30, 2011

HNT - Sue Retires

Yesterday was a strange and sad day.

Sue Hockeridge, one of my Textbook Buyers at the McMaster bookstore, retired.

Sue had been working at Titles Bookstore at McMaster University long before it took the name "Titles." She had been there for 42 years, starting the year I was born.

It was in the summer of 2006 just prior to me starting in my role at McMaster when I first met Sue. She was actually one of the three people to interview me for my current job. Given her decades of experience it made sense that she be there to determine if I was truly knowledgeable in the realm of books. I suppose I must have passed that test.

The course materials folks at Titles - Sue is on the far left
Of course, though I knew a lot about books and about bookselling, I knew virtually nothing about academic bookselling back then. It's a similar world, but there are so many variances that it has been like learning a whole new aspect of bookselling.

And I've learned a lot from Sue in the five years that I've been her boss. Or, her "crazy boss" as she sometimes has refered to me. (I always took that as a compliment) She was a pleasure to work with and taught me a great deal, particularly in the past month as she has passed some of her buying responsibilities over to me to take over.

It's hard to imagine such an energetic go-getter sliding into retirement. Since I've been there I have continued to depend on Sue's long knowledge, experience and sheer enthusiasm for her work. She always put serving students and faculty first and inspired me to do the same in my daily tasks.

I imagine that this morning she's already awake and thinking about getting to work and the hundreds of little things that need to be done as we move towards what's known in academic bookselling circles as the "September Rush" (yes, one might think that it's quiet at a campus bookstore during the summer, but that's when all the gathering of required text material info takes place, when all the ordering and other prep work related to that chaotic and very busy September period takes place)

But today, Sue is officially retired. She can turn her alarm back off and drift back to sleep. But likely, she has already gotten up, put on some tea and is reflecting about the four decades she spent at the bookstore at McMaster, at the hundreds of relationships she cultivated there over the years; just as surely as today, I'm not the only colleague of Sue's who is thinking about her and wishing her all the best as she rides off into the sunset to enjoy a wonderful new chapter in her life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dad's Truck

Today is my Dad's birthday.

He would have turned 74 years old today if he were still alive.

Every year on or near his birthday, I've paused to reflect on June 28th and my Dad. I just took a quick stroll down memory lane and read: This Moose Be My Real Reason (June 2010); Summer + BBQ = Dad Celebration (June 2009); Just One More Beer With Dad (June 2008); Da Count - Dad (June 2007); Memories of Dad (June 2006) & Daddy Hugs (June 2006); I Think I Caught His Spirit (June 2005)

This year, I'm thinking about Dad and his truck.

After he died, I took his truck. I didn't need a vehicle, because I had already been leasing one - it actually cost a bit of money to break the lease early - but having my Dad's truck meant a lot to me. From the time I was little, going for a ride in the truck with my Dad was a really fun experience, right up there with going to an amusement park. Just Dad and I together, heading out to run an errand, going to visit my Uncle Leslie or barrelling down a dirt road on our way to a fishing or hunting spot, enjoying one another's company, yelling "wheee" at the top of our lungs as the truck raced down a steep hill on the winding Old Cartier Road near Windy Lake.

When I got older, I learned to drive standard in Dad's truck. And, though I was approaching adulthood, there was still this magical thrill of getting in the truck with my old man and going somewhere -- anywhere. That thrill never left me. Even today, if I had a choice between taking a magical journey on The Polar Express or a ride with Dad in his truck, I think you'd know which one I'd take, hands down

So, when he died, I kept his truck. And since 2003 I've not only been able to re-live some of those special memories of driving around with Dad in his truck, but I've been able to create special new ones with my son Alexander. Going for a ride with Dad in the truck is likely as fun for Alexander as it has been for me. When he was smaller, sitting in the car seat in the truck allowed him a vantage point of the road that he wasn't able to get in the back seat of the CRV. And he was always at the healm of the controls for the garage door opener.

Yes, the father and son tradition continued.

Until last week -- when I received the devastating news that the odd pulling and occasional snap, crackle popping I heard while turning was due to the control on the front of the passenger side wheel being completely rotted out. Taking the vehicle anywhere on the road could result in a nasty accident with complete loss of steering control.

Simply, the cost to fix this would likely come to double what the vehicle itself was worth. Well, at least in dollars.

The real worth of the vehicle can't be measured in dollars. The real worth is measured in treasured memories.

During the first winter that I had the truck, not all that long after I lost my Dad, I'd been driving by myself on the way to work. It had been some sort of frustrating or anxiety-filled day - can't remember why, just that I was feeling out of sorts.

Then, a sudden smell hit me. And, though it seems weird, it was the smell of my Dad's sweat - likely sweat that had been baked into the very seats - not sure where or how. But there it was all the same - the distinct sensation of my Dad's smell filled the cab of the truck. Scent memory is a very powerful thing.

So for a few moments, everything was okay. Dad was with me again; the world was alright.

Yes, it seems strange that I would find comfort in such a basic (and seemingly gross) sensation. But that morning, smelling the remnants of my Dad's perspiration comforted me in such a gentle and wonderful way. I can think of very few scents that spark a special feeling in me -- fresh baked bread, popcorn, bacon, coffee. And the smell of my Dad. Sadly, I can easily re-create each of those other scents. My Dad's however, I cannot. So thoughts of that one special morning driving alone in my Dad's truck and not feeling at all alone due to that scent, linger with me.

And, as I begin to say goodbye to Dad's truck, it's like another chapter of my life that's closing. It's that special part of my Dad, and of special memories that I was able to hang onto for another 8 years.

But really, it's just a truck.

It shouldn't hurt this much.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)

Two recent book-world headlines are kicking around in my head lately, but ultimately the same theme emerges. I'll get to that in a moment.

One is in regards to a Seattle bookseller who refuses to sell the new Amazon publishing imprints, such as the Thomas & Mercer mystery imprint - despite the fact they recently signed a major deal to publish books by the late Ed McBain and one of the authors signed to this imprint wanted to do an event in that bookseller's store.

The other is in regard to bookseller reaction to Pottermore and the selling of ebooks direct to consumers, rather than through bookstores. (Late last week, J.K. Rowling announced the new web experience of Pottermore which will finally include the release of the Harry Potter novels via ebook.)

I absorb such news bits with two hats, which sometimes cause conflict in my own mind:  As someone curious, fascinated and excited by advances in the book industry; and as a bricks and mortar bookseller who is struggling to stay relevant in the digital age.

In the Pottermore discussion, there's mention of the Harry Potter launch day events at bookstores having become the stuff of legend. And in the Amazon imprint hype, there's a debate between an author who wants to do an event at a store that refuses to sell those books.

The thing I see in common with both is the richness of the physical.

Part of the excitement and hype with Harry Potter involved the first (at least to my knowledge) midnight book launches at bookstores around the world, with so much anticipation for the next book in the series that fans simply couldn't wait until 8:30 or 9:00 AM Saturday morning, but instead, lined up, in costume, with specially planned events and a definite party atmosphere, to pick up the next Harry Potter novel at 12:01 AM on the official release day. For a bookseller, such an event is truly magical. And I'm not just talking about the excitement, buzz and adrelanine - I'm talking images of customers lined up as if to get on a gigantic new theme park ride, but instead, they're lined up to BUY A BOOK.

Wow, think about how many copies of that book sold - how many customers dressed up and lined up to hang out at a bookstore in the wee hours of the night. It was a bookseller's wet dream, in many ways, and a tremendous boost to the book industry.

Booksellers might decry how Rowling owes them for being there when she needed them. And sure, that's true -- but just the same, booksellers needed Rowling, not just for the hype and the launch day events, but for reinvigorating the thrill of reading for a whole new generation, for crossing the boundary between young adult and adult fiction (since you didn't need to be a young person to be captured under the spell of Rowling's universe)

Yes, I'm disappointed that customers won't have the chance to choose to support their favourite local bookstore (chain or indie) when buying a Harry Potter ebook -- and that's too bad. But, at least we'll always have Paris.  Er, I mean, at least we'll have those great stories to tell about the magical launch day events.

It seems as if the once struggling author who no longer needs the booksellers is moving along to different waters, leaving the booksellers to sing the old Glass Tiger song: "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)"

But the reality is, the bricks and mortar booksellers have not been forgotten, nor completely left behind. In some ways, there are folks out there trying to sing the song Bette Midler made popular "Wind Beneath My Wings" -- of course, for others the music has stopped and the song is over.

Because, though it seems a little shifty, Amazon sneaking in and snatching publishing itself from publishers (the way they snuck in and snatched bookselling from booksellers) let's look at the situation as presented on mhpbooks site in a recent article.

When contacted by an author who is being published under Amazon's new imprint, the bookseller refuses to carry the books, refuses to host the author, refuses to support Amazon. And I'm not disputing the bookseller's reasoning - he has solid reasoning, does not want to muddy the waters, does not want to buy from the competition that is hammering nails into the coffin of bricks and mortar booksellers everywhere, and simply does not trust the behemoth online company based upon some of their less than stellar actions as good corporate citizens.

So, again, I'm not poo-pooing this bookseller's POV. He is sticking to his guns and one has to admire his integrity.

But I can't say I'd be as steadfast in my own conviction if an author who signed a deal with Amazon turns around and wants to sell books in my store.

This is acknowledgement, of the highest order, that despite the hype, despite the media frenzy, the author recognizes that without a bricks and mortar presence, without acknowledgement from his local neighbourhood bookseller, he's still not an author. Definitely not in the "my book is on bookstore shelves" manner by which an author is often judged.

This is acknowledgement of the type of resonant connection that can be made between an author and a reader when given the opportunity to connect, in person, via a local venue such as, oh, I don't know, perhaps a bookstore.

Those are powerful sentiments, and something booksellers, particularly with all of us singing that Glass Tiger song so frequently, should consider.

If players like Amazon continue to utilize their non-physical presence to their advantage, why aren't booksellers playing up their physical presence more often? Yes, virtual online selling is exciting and new, but there are definite benefits to a real physical presence in a community that no online experience can ever match. Otherwise, authors wouldn't be knocking on the doors of booksellers asking them to carry their book or to host a book event.

After all, the very thing that presents a challenge (being tied to a particular unique physical location) can be the same thing that presents an opportunity.

So, while looking toward the future, while looking at ways in which bricks and mortar bookstores can embrace change, get involved in some of the digital/virtual action, it's also okay to take the time to play up and take advantage of those strengths that already exist.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Man In The Wall

Now that the re-telling of the silly Darth Tater Spud Wars series is done, I'm back to doing silly one-off HNT posts. (If you missed the saga entitled Spud Wars: A New Hopelessness and want to know what you're missing, you can follow the whole silly thing from the first post: Darth Tater Unmasked)

This time around, I'm sharing some pictures from several years back, before I had finished the basement, actually - so we're looking in the realm of mid to late 2003.

I wanted to properly run speaker cable as well as the cable/satellite feed from the living room down to the basement before I dry-walled the basement stairs area, so I cut a hole in the drywall to mount a connection box. (If you look off to the left, you'll see the original way I had run those wires - the "it works" but "not so pretty" method)

Of course, once there was a hole in the wall, I just couldn't resist goofing around . . .

. . . and yes, I'm being silly in these pictures, but looking at them now makes me want to write a horror story. Perhaps something about a middle aged man who lives inside the wall of a house. It could be an absurdist Becket-like "Happy Days" sort of story . . . meant to be frightening and darkly humorous, but really be about the condition most people spend their lives in - the sense of being trapped, or living, as Thoreau put it, a life of quiet desperation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Giving eBooks The SAME Value As Books

There's an interesting post on MobyLives regarding an unscientific survey conducted by Nathan Bransford.
What should an e-book cost when the hardcover is $25.00?

$0.01 - $4.99 - 5%
$5.00 - $9.99 - 29%
$10.00 - $14.99 - 45%
$15.00 - $19.99 - 15%
$20.00 - $25.00 - 3%
* Survey results from Nathan Bransford's blog

It's intriguing to see where the "best price point" lands.  I would imagine that the price point has as much to do with a reader's familiarity with the author whose book is being considered. (Let's be honest, spending $10 on the latest Stephen King novel in ebook format is one thing - spending the same $10 on a horror author you've never heard of is going to be a bit more of a stretch)

So ultimately, there's likely multiple factors hitting that "ideal price point" -- but just the same, the survey offers some interesting results.

What I particularly like about the MobyLives post is the concept of adding value to the ebook. Yes, there's convenience and portability, yes there's often a price less than the printed version of the book. But how interesting to look at adding some sort of other value/special feature.

They ask in their own poll what would MOST increase the value of an eBook or app and include such options as bonus material from the author, bonus images and videos, social networking features, additional contextual, critical and scholarly materials and interactive features.

It's rather interesting to see how eBooks are expected to cost less and potentially to offer more in order to bring the same value as a printed book. I'm curious to read the results of their survey.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Those Little Things

Sometimes it's those little things that make such a big difference.

The other day I had printed off a Google Map for some books that I needed to deliver to a customer. Normally, I'd print the map, which has a pointer showing the location I'm going to, then, on the printed sheet, jot down the address and phone number of my destination.

However, this time I noticed something I hadn't seen before . . .

When you hit the Print button at the top of the Google Maps screen, the pop-up window allows you to enter a free text note that will print along with the map.

Simple, yet ultimately useful. Perhaps it was there all along and I only just noticed it now.

But what a wonderfully simple thing that makes it that much easier for the user to customize their experience and ensure the printed map has the detail and info that they want.

It makes me think back to what simple yet effective things I can do to make my own customer experiences that much richer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Active Downloads

Following the successful experiment with releasing my short story SPIRITS direct to digital, I thought I'd continue to play around with that format.

So I took a collection of 3 stories I'd put together for an Espresso Book Machine experiment and uploaded that to the Kindle platform.   

To explain the EBM experiment a bit --> back when we first got our EBM at McMaster, there wasn't much content available to test the machine out, so we did a lot of experimenting.  I created a "chapbook" style collection of three of my previously published stories -- all "book-themed" which came to about 50 pages and called it ACTIVE READER: And Other Cautionary Tales From the Book World.

So I posted it to Kindle without any fanfare (unlike the noise I made when Spirits was launched) for $1.50 and a few sales started to trickle in. Neat. (At the same time, I revised the version of Active Reader that I had uploaded to Smashwords - the original version had some minor formatting issues, so I fixed them, updated the content a bit and readjusted the price on that to match)

I used the following description to summarize the three stories included in Active Reader:

Active Reader
Loyalty programs that track a reader's every preference are handy, save time and offer great discounts -- at least until your customer data gets into the hands of the wrong person.
A passionate book lover is drawn into a mysterious and eerie little bookstore the way a moth might be drawn to a flame.

How far might a desperate writer go when blinding following the advice of a popular self-help book to eliminate the distractions preventing him from completing his next novel?

Then, this past Saturday morning, I caught wind of the fact that Amazon had adjusted the price of Active Reader to 100% off (via Pixel of Ink) and the downloads shot through the roof.

By Saturday evening, over 1000 people had downloaded Active Reader, it hit #3 on the Fiction -> Short Stories list, #7 on the Fiction -> Horror list and #129 on the Top in Kindle Store list.

It has already received a favourable review and the downloads continue to fly - this morning the total is > 1500. 

So in less than 48 hours, the downloads through this single source surpassed the 600+ downloads I received when I made the digital version free through Smashwords for a much longer period of time.

Yes, if I were receiving the royalties based on the original retail price (about 50 cents is what I'd normally make on the sale of each unit), I'd be laughing my way to the bank; but it looks like due to Amazon discounting it to 0.00, my cut of the royalties are a % of the final retail price. 

At the end of the day, though, it means a lot of people are checking out my writing and might end up purchasing one of my other digital works which are available. So that's a pretty cool thing. Again, it's all experimenting - and this one seems to be going quite well.

And for those intrigued but who don't read on Kindle, Active Reader is available at Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, Diesel and a few other places like Apple iBooks.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Father And My Son

I thought I would be feeling bitter-sweet about Father's Day, again focusing on how much my Dad would have loved Alexander, and how my son would have adored his Grandfather.

But as I was thinking about the two of them, and just how much I know they would have enjoyed one another's company, while slightly sad for the fact the two never had a chance to meet, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with thinking about just how fortunate I am to have been sandwiched between the two of them.

I had a great Dad - I have some amazing memories of him and of the two of us doing things together. Though we shared many laughs, we never really sat down and had any serious talks about life (we did have some serious talks, but mostly we just enjoyed one another's company, in the traditional "males doing things together" capacity); nonetheless, I reaped so very much of my work ethic, my morality and my ability to find amusement even in perilous or frustrating circumstances, from the examples he continually set for me.

And every day I count the many blessings that my son bestows upon me. Alexander is such a kind, thoughtful, intelligent and funny little man. Yesterday when I was working on a light fixture while perched on a ladder, there he was, handing me the correct tool that I needed, a reminder of how he has always been involved in the day to day "business" as well as the day to day fun - minutes earlier he was sharing a joke he'd just made up. "Why did Dad go to the Beer Store?" - "To get a case of beer." (His version of the chicken crossing the road chestnut)

It's funny how much I learned from my Dad when I was young; things I still apply to my day to day life.

But it's amazing just how much I continue to learn from my son; things that continue to enrich my days.

I'm overwhelmingly blessed, because whether I look back at my Dad or ahead at my son, I see men that I truly respect, admire and love from the bottom of my heart.

I'm one truly lucky and blessed guy.

Dad and me
Me and Alexander

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pasricha Pastiche

I love it when two awesome things combine to become something equally marvellous.

A classic that's a pretty common one for most people might be peanut butter and jam.

But I'm also thinking about when companies produce something - like when H.B. Reese combined peanut butter and chocolate to make Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. My taste buds still sing out in praise of the forward thinking that led to this glorious experience in yummy.

I was similarly impressed with the simple wonder of fry sauce - which is the merging of one part ketchup and two parts mayonnaise (two of my favourite basic condiments)

And this morning, while making my lunch, I marvelled at the combination of President's Choice Smokin' Stampede Beer & Chipotle BBQ sauce with mayo to make a new sandwich spread.

I thought it was worthy of pausing, snapping a quick pic and just acknowledging the wonder when two great things combine to make a whole new thing to enjoy.

* This post is titled "Pasricha Pastiche" in honour of the man of awesome, Neil Pasricha, whose books The Book of Awesome and The Book of Even More Awesome, inspired by his blog, help inspire people to take unabashed pleasure and joy from the many very simply joys each day brings. I had the pleasure of seeing him give a talk in person last month and continue to be inspired by his outlook on life. Thanks, Neil.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

HNT - Spud Wars: Epilogue

Continued from HNT - Spud Wars: The Conclusion

As father and son were celebrating the defeat of their foe, Darth Tater, they failed to hear the creaking of someone coming down the steps.

A shadow fell across them, and they both froze, wondering how the two of them could possible be caught unawares, this father and son team being so crafty and clever and cunning (not to mention their fondness for alliteration).

"What the heck is going on here?" A loud voice boomed through the basement.

Oh no! It was Francine (known to Mark as Wife, Partner, Honey Bunny to Alexander as Mom, Mommy, Meow-meow and to both as She Who Must Be Obeyed)

And Francine was not at all pleased. One might even say she was angry. But why waste words trying to explain how she was feeling? Why TELL? It's a poor storyteller tactic. It's much better to SHOW.

"What kind of trouble are you two getting into NOW?" Francine asked, shaking her head. "And WHAT have you done with the Darth Tater toy that I bought you for Christmas? You've completely destroyed it."

"But, hon, we . . . that is . . . I . . . er," Mark tried to stammer out an excuse while Alexander simply tried to crawl away and hide.

"I can understand this from Alexander. He's not even two years old. But YOU!" Fran said. "You're supposed to be the adult here. And you should learn to take better care of your things. Just look at that toy -- it's busted into a million pieces."

"It's really only about a dozen or so pieces," Mark muttered.

"Pardon me?"

"I said, it's only about a dozen pieces."

"Don't get saucy with me, mister!"

"Hon, listen." Mark said in a whiny voice. "We were playing. You know, fun make believe stuff. It was all part of our important father and son bonding. And besides, we got at least one or two people from all over the world who read my blog excited about the whole Darth Tater Spud Wars serial story. Again! Because don't you know this has been a re-telling of the original tale we told back in 2006."

"Don't get all: 'explain the circumstance and back-story through dialogue' with me, mister. Besides, you're making this confusing."

"Yes, I suppose I have been messing with the time-space continuum of this tale's supposed fictional realm, with Alexander now 6 years old and Mister Bunny having been dead since the year I first told this story. But it was fun sharing this story again. And fun to go back and re-experience it. Re-edit some stuff. Re-imagine some dialogue moments like the one we're having right now that never occurred for this long in the original version of the tale."

Francine smiled, then started to laugh. "Well, okay, since you were using your imaginations, and also using the Internet for anything other than watching Lego Star Wars videos or downloading porn, than I guess it's okay."

"What's porn?" Alexander asked.

"Er, it's a new type of vegetable that hasn't really caught on. A hybrid between peas and corn." Mark said.

"Anyways," Francine said. "I suppose you two are not in trouble anymore."

"Yaaaa!" Both Mark and Alexander said.

"Now c'mon. Get cleaned up! Supper is ready. I'm sure all this adventure and make-believe has given you a huge appetite."

"Yummm," Mark said. "What are we having?"

"Smashed potatoes and tater tots!" Francine said.

"Yaaaaaaa!" Both Mark and Alexander cheered again.

The End
Yes, it's true.
This long-winded re-run/re-boot of the Spud Wars serial adventure is finally over!
Thanks for reading!

* Please note that no actual toys or potatoes were harmed during the making of this serialized tale. 
(Although Alexander did bang his knee, Mark got rug burn and Francine needed to take some Advil)
(Also, the toys on the floor in this story DID eventually get cleaned up, but newer toys - toys enjoyed by 6 year olds and 42 year olds alike are sprawled all over that same space. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose) 

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is Less More, More Or Less?

There's an interesting post called "You've Got Thirty Pages" on the Melville House Publishing website talking about our addiction to amusement and our society's evolution into a desire to be entertained in short snippets of time.

The Melville House  "Art of the Novella" series - photo from their blog
The demand for readers in particular to be entertained in short "dips" in and out might just be a reflection of our continual rapid-fire changing between one source of incoming info and the next (as discussed in Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains)

It's one of the reasons why I've been experimenting with trying to push out short fiction in digital format (ie, the straight to digital launch of my short story Spirits a couple of weeks ago) - I'm curious to see what the uptake is on that as compared to my book-length works.

I'm also rather curious to see where this trend leads and if it ends up making the experience of actually being absorbed with reading so much that falling completely into a book is that much MORE of a luxurious and wonderfully unique experience than ever before (For that percentage of the population who can still enjoy that, of course)

But alas, based on the assumed average modern person's attention span, I've likely already gone on too long.

How many of you have bothered to read right through to the end of this post? More importantly what's your sense of having possibly missed something else while focusing on reading this?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Doin' It Right

I was delighted to see Random House Canada announce yesterday a special digital release of a hot new Linwood Barclay novella, Clouded Vision.

Upon seeing the tweet from RHC, I immediately clicked the link to check it out.

Barclay has long been on my list of writers whose works I will buy on sight.  Clouded Vision is available in paperback in the UK, but in Canada and the US as a digital ebook release.

I'm impressed with RHC's venture into this territory, always delighted when a publisher does something new and exciting, particularly with a Canadian author.

But I was also impressed with the manner by which Random House Canada is selling the book.

Check this out:

When you hit the "BUY BUTTON" you get a pop-up window directing you to check for a list of eBook retailers.

As a bookseller  I'm always delighted to see a publisher directing customers to choose their own favourite retail place to make their purchase. (Note - for physical books, Random House Canada's BUY BUTTON allows you to select from a list of online retailers and local physical bricks and mortar stores - a great feature of their site) I love the fact there's a choice offered to the consumer, and one that doesn't compromise the partnership between the publisher and the bookseller. 

I also love the fact that I can get my Linwood Barclay fix before his next hardcover release later this summer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Baba's Burial

We buried my Baba this past Friday.

She passed away in February. In Northern Ontario you need to wait until the spring thaw before you can bury someone. So we picked June 10th - it being a PD day, we figured Baba's great grandchildren would not be in school and able to attend.

It was a cool, overcast day. The cemetary was relatively quiet. We were a very small group.

There were two other small groups of families at a couple of other grave sites that we passed on the way in and a few maintenance workers trimming grass on a knoll in the distance.

When we arrived and got to the pre-dug hole, I realized that though Francine and I had spoken to Alexander about Baba dying and about why we bury someone, we hadn't yet explained cremation to him. He saw the small pre-dug hole and asked if that little hole was where we were burying Baba.

Perhaps because my mind works like a child's I had visions of Alexander being horrified that someone would have violently crammed Baba's body into this tiny box measuring less than half a foot by a quarter of a foot. Francine and I exchanged a quick look of parental confirmation, that unspoken and quickly resolved debate about what, how and when we should explain things to our son about the world.

So before her ashes arrived with the gentleman from the funeral home, I knelt by the grave and quietly explained cremation to him. And yes, I used the example of what they had done with Darth Vader's body (the redeemed Anakin Skywalker) at the end of Return of the Jedi - sometimes it's best to explain things using situations and settings children are most familiar with. My son is into Star Wars big time right now so that helped him imagine it with something he recognized rather than trying to imagine a casket moving down a conveyer into a giant oven.

Then the gentleman from Lougheeds arrived with the ashes.

The prayers were said, a poem was read.

I placed her ashes into the grave and we each placed a rose on top.

When asked if there was anything to say I started to talk about Baba, but choked up and cut it short at just a few quick sentences.

That's the thing with me.

I can go on and on about things that are important to me (like when I've blogged about Baba), but sometimes have difficulty speaking them aloud.

The same thing happened when my Mom and I released my father's ashes into the lake near one of his favourite fishing spots. I had prepared a short speech and a snippet from W. H. Auden's Funeral Blues which I just couldn't bring myself to read aloud because the emotions simply ran too high.

I can put the words together, express my feelings perfectly when writing or typing. But verbalizing those very words is sometimes too much.

I guess that might be one reason I chose the path of writer.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

HNT - Spud Wars: The Conclusion

This blog post is a serialized story continued from HNT - Spud Wars: All This Violence

As Alexander and Darth Tater were playing violent video games, the shadows behind them shifted and moved.

Out of the shadows came a hand -- a startlingly familiar hand - a large hand, belonging, perhaps, to a man with large hands and large feet. A hand that was holding a fork!

It was Mark!

Mark?  But he was supposedly dead.

"But, you're dead." Darth muttered as he was hoisted into the air by the power of the fork. "I killed you myself! I saw it with my own eyes. And since I'm a potato I have a lot of eyes, so I saw it really, really well."

"You killed the evil Mark, not me." Mark said, laughing madly. "Didn't you notice his facial hair?"

"Aw, that's not fair," Darth Tater said. "It's the old evil Captain Kirk 'goatee' thing."

"It's called a van Dyke, not a goatee!"

"Whatever! But this is not fair at all. This is supposed to be a spoof of Star Wars, not Star Trek."

"Spoof is a spoof is a spoof," Mark said. "It's all fair game. And now, your game is up, Tater." And with that cliched statement, Mark bit down into his enemy.

Mark and Alexander then took turns snacking on their enemy.

"Mmm," Alexander said. "I love potato. Try the arm, Daddy. It's just like a French Fry."

"Mumfh klpsp," Mark said, his mouth too full of spud pieces to respond intelligently. But it sounded an awful lot like: 'Could use a little ketchup.'

When the victory snack was finished, the father and son team yelled "High Five!" and then started to do their happy dance.

But they didn't hear the creaking of someone coming down the stairs . . .

To be continued . . . in HNT - Spud Wars: Epilogue

Don't worry, the story is over - we just have that whole Epilogue thing to put full closure on the tale, which you'll find here next week in the re-booted tale of . . .

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

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tickled With My Ticker

This post is an update mostly for those who follow my blog and were waiting to hear the results of my recent heart scare.

I recently posted about a heart attack scare I had which led to the doctor's suggesting I stop running and not exert myself until they could determine what was going on with my heart. This meant I had to drop out of the 2011 10K Mud Run.

In a nutshell, due to a significantly powerful chest pain experience (20 minutes in which it felt as if somebody had slammed me in the chest with a baseball bat), I played it safe and went to the ER. They kept me for 8 hours, ran blood tests and hooked me up to machines to monitor my heart and found a borderline intraventicular conduction delay.

So last week I went in for further testing so they could get some clearer pictures of my heart and see how serious it actually was.

Yesterday I got my results back.

Except for the unveiling of high blood pressure (for which I've been put on a low sodium diet and told to continue to monitor it; if it doesn't come down soon, lifestyle changes won't be enough and medication for hypertension will be on the agenda), I've been given a clean bill of health and told I can run again.

I normally write long blog posts, but these three pictures of Homer Simpson roughly summarize the mini little saga in a fun way.

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Virtual Success

On Friday I decided to perform a little experiment and do a "launch" for the release of a new story direct to digital.

Spirits is the tale of two young lovers who caught up in the legend of The Phoenix Baby, the ghostly crying that haunts a repertory theatre in the city of Ottawa.  As they unravel the mystery, they find themselves becoming inextricably entangled to the old abandoned building.

If you're at all intrigued, you can listen to the entire story online (or download an mp3 of it) for free.

So at lunch time on Friday, as part of the joy of experimenting, I did a virtual launch via UStream, which is a streaming live video. I did what one normally does at a book launch (I read from the tale, spoke a bit about it and answered questions) - except, of course, I wasn't in a book store.

I can imagine that as the physical and digital begin to work more closely together, one might very well be able to do a virtual book launch right into a bookstore, or more than one bookstore simultaneously. I know my colleagues at Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeebar in Ottawa have done this very thing several years ago; they projected an author from the UK into their store, and filled the place beyond capacity.

I've also experimented in the same realm with my colleagues from University of Alberta Bookstore - they had an author appear there and we had an audience without our own store watching the event and communicating with the author and folks in Edmonton via a two-way video chat. And, for the launch of Robert J. Sawyer's WATCH, we broadcast the event from our store to a UStream feed, with twice as many people attending the virtual event than were in the store.

I can imagine more experiments like this, particularly as booksellers work out various ways to allow customers to purchase ebooks through their businesses.

The live broadcast was about 45 minutes, and I recorded about 30 minutes of it. This is raw and unedited video, so do be warned.

Eighteen people attended this virtual launch via UStream. I'm not sure how many watched via the direct-to-Facebook feed that I built into my Mark Leslie page there. But in any case, having 18 people "attend" a book launch is a huge success for an author such as myself.  

And, BTW I know that my Mom (who doesn't own a computer) wasn't one of the attendees. Neither was my wife - she was upstairs cleaning the house at the time. I do know a few friends who attended and greatly appreciate their enthusiasm and support. It's always nice to look out into the audience and see a few familiar friendly faces.

Of course, that's one thing that was a bit strange for this launch - I couldn't see any friendly, smiling faces. All I could see was the green light on my web cam letting me know that I was broadcasting. Also, normally when I speak in front of a group, I can judge how things are going by the looks on their faces and can adjust my presentation accordingly. You can't get any of that feedback during a virtual launch.

There is, however, the ability for folks to pipe in during a chat stream and ask questions - and at least one person in the audience did -- one of my friends. Thanks, William!

So, ultimately, WAS the launch a success?

Well, on Smashwords, Spirits hit the Top 5 Bestsellers list within Horror and on Amazon it climbed as high as 13,693 on the Paid in Kindle Store list (up from where it started at 102,755) and it was also listed at #93 in the Top 100 Hot New Releases in Horror for the Amazon Kindle.

I'd call that a decent showing.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Do One Thing Really, Really Well

I recently won a contest from Y108 sponsored by Steamwhistle and Stonewalls.

The contest reads like this:  Everybody does one thing really . . . really well. Y108, Steamwhistle Pilsner and Stonewwalls wanna hear all about it! Nominate your most talented, thoughtful or skilled friends and you could win a Steam Whistle Home Delivery Service and catering by Stonewalls delivered to you!

I submitted a story (which I never kept a copy of, even though people have asked to read it a few times - I just filled out the online form and away it went) about my neighbour Chad.

I explained how I'd been working in the garage with my father when we first moved into our new home about 12 years ago and Chad showed up with a smile and a few cold beer in his hands. Since then, almost every time there's a lawn mover, rake, or snow shovel out at either of our homes, there's a friendly neighbour with a smile and a beer. Whether we're washing or working on our cars, watching our kids play together or having a BBQ or a smile in the back-yard, one thing has always been consistent - Chad has been leading the charge on being the friendly neighbour to share a beer with.

Basically, Chad does the "neighbour beer" thing really, really well - better than anyone I've known. In my mind, it's that neighbourly effort that helps build communities and is something worth celebrating.

So I won the contest -- or rather, I won the contest in honour of Chad.

So last night, Andrew G and Jesse from Y108 delivered the fantastic and delicious food from Stonewalls, and Alex from Steamwhistle delivered the 30L Keg. (I've long favoured Steamwhistle on tap over having it in the bottle, and that was the consensus for everyone that night)

About an hour after dropping off the catering, Andrew G was back in the Y108 studio and live on air, and he shared the story I had written in honour of my buddy and neighbour, Chad. He also played a Rush song, because we couldn't resist putting in a request when he was in our backyard, since we were listening to Y108 in the back-yard all night.

So last night, a group of friends got together and had some good eats and some good beer and a lot of laughs while the kids played in the backyard, then had popcorn and watched a movie downstairs.

Good times!

Thanks Y108! Thanks Steamwhistle! Thanks Stonewalls!

Thanks, Chad!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Launch of SPIRITS (Digital Short)

People who haven't died can still leave their spirit in a place.

That's the premise for "Spirits" the tale of two young lovers who are caught up in the legend of The Phoenix Baby, the ghostly crying that haunts a repertory theatre in the city of Ottawa.  As they unravel the mystery behind the legend, they find themselves becoming inextricably entangled to the old abandoned building.

Today I'm launching a short story direct to digital. After all, you've got to keep trying new things just to see what sticks.

The story is available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents.

I also loaded it to Smashwords which distributes to all the major ebook retailers (Kobo, Sony, Diesel, Apple iBooks, etc) - at this point it's available at Smashwords directly but hasn't yet cascaded to all the other channels.

At noon today (EST) I'll be doing a live streaming video launch via my uStream channel - it'll be the usual thing one would normally do in a bookstore for a launch: a brief talk about the story, short reading, answering questions; or, as sometimes happens, sitting quietly or talking to myself because nobody shows up - (hey, I have to joke about it because we've all been there at "no show" author events, haven't we?)

There's also an audio version of the story which is available completely for free on my "Prelude To A Scream" podcast.

Yes, you can sample the first part of the story direct from Amazon or Smashwords, or listen to the entire story for free online or download it and listen to it on your iPod or mp3 player.

If you like that free audio experience or the free samples, or even the live streaming "event" perhaps you'll consider either buying it or perhaps posting a positive review so that others might find it.

But at the very least, you can say: "Hey, I attended a virtual book launch for an ebook." And that's got to be worth something . . .