Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Corona Kinda Christmas

Liz and I enjoyed making a pandemic parody medley in the guise of the old K-Tel style television commercials back in the spring.

We kicked around the idea of putting together a similar one but with a bit of a Christmas theme.

So I started to work on some lyrics. The cool thing about writing a "medley" album spoof is that you don't need to do the whole song; just small bits of it.

We never ended up getting to do the work on recording the songs or the video. Stuff happens.

But on Christmas Day, after spending far too long trying to get a picture of us with the fur family (the only family we saw over the holidays due to pandemic lockdown)...

Then we started goofing around and took a few pics of us drinking Corona in front of our book Christmas tree.

One of the images looked perfect for the album cover of the parody we never recorded. So I used it to make a fake album.

Here are some of the planned lyrics in the album that never happened.

[EDIT: Like an itch I HAD to scratch, these songs wouldn't let me go, so I quickly slapped a parody commercial together....and mocked the fact it came out AFTER Christmas]


This Year Blows 

(To the tune of "Let It Snow")

Oh these pandemic times are frightening
And my pants, they just keep tightening
Stuck inside with no place to go
This year blow, this year blows, this year blows

Rusty the Noseman 

(To the tune of "Frosty the Snowman")

Rusty the Noseman wears his mask below his nose
With both nostrils out for the world to see
And his eyes all glazed and stoned

Rusty the Noseman is a miracle they say
And he moves about with a protruding snout
As he goes about his day

He must think there is magic in
That cloth across his gums
He wears it on just half the face
That’s connected to his lungs

Oh Rusty the Noseman, is as stunned as one can be
Even children say, it don’t work that way
He’s a risk for you and me


Heck Those Malls 

(To the tune of "Deck the Halls")

Heck those malls are filled with folly
Fa la la la la la la la la
Shoppers crammed and no one’s jolly
Fa la la la la la la la la
Don we now our plague apparel
Fa la la la la la la la la
Troll the maskless, yell and quarrel
Fa la la la la la la la la

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like F*ck This

(To the tune of "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas)

It’s beginning to look a lot like f*ck this
Yes, this whole year blows

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

You've Heard of Elf on the Shelf Now Get Ready For

 I always enjoy a good meme; particularly the creativity that goes into it.

A recent one is the "You've Heard of Elf on the Shelf, Now Get Ready For..." and there is a visual of a something on top of something else that rhymes with it.

There is usually never any accompanying text - part of the fun is that the image itself needs to convey the punchline. Sometimes it can be a bit confusing, or a bit of a challenge, because of the multiple ways we can name things.

For example, an imagine of Darth Vader on top of a potato becomes . . . .


. . . "Vader on a tater."

It's usually accompanied by a hashtag such as #ElfontheShelf -- a popular celebrity meme has started to circulate using the hashtag #MyElf, in which the celebrity posts a pic of something that rhymes with their name on their shoulder.

I thought I'd play around with a few of these here.

The name of my company / publishing imprint is Stark Publishing. It is derived from the company my best friend Steve and I dreamed about when we were young. Stark Entertainment was meant to be STEVE + MARK. Steve got the first two letters, I got the last three. We actually ran a DJ service when we were in college called "Stark Entertainment" and in 2004, I adapted that name, with Steve's blessing (and his design of the Stark Publishing logo) to release my first book.

That's why this version is pretty spot on (and it easily gives away the hint)

This is an image of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark on my shoulder - hence, it's Stark on a Mark.

This one is a bit more subtle, and we're both dressed up. And it uses the #MyElf hashtag. (I like the visual jokes that require someone to actually think a bit about it to get it)

I could go with plural Marks and use a different fictional Stark family.

Thus - Starks on the Marks.
Of course, I could have gone with a common mispronunciation of my last name and went with something like this.
This is one where, even if you recognize the alien from a late 80's TV show, you have to be a bit older to catch the reference to a fictional character from the earlier television show Happy Days.

The character's name from Happy Days is Ralph Malph. Hence. Alf on a Ralph.

Or this one - same one, just with a different Ralph. (The actor from The Karate Kid)

 This is kind of fun.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Obsessions Review - Tangent

Obsessions, the November 2020 anthology I edited, was recently reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf of Tangent Online.

 Here are some of the highlights from the review.

In “The Last Julian” by Annie Reed, a man creates multiple robotic duplicates of his dead son over many years. An act of nature forces him to consider how he has wasted his life trying to recapture the past. This is a simple but effective fable, which touches the reader’s heart while avoiding sentimentality.


“A Rare Bird” by Joe Cron features the last ivory-billed woodpecker on Earth. In the tradition of Felix Salter’s classic novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods, the animals in this story are depicted realistically, except for the fact that they can talk to each other. Alternating sections of narration deal with the woodpecker’s long, arduous flight from Cuba to Arkansas, and a boy with a terminal disease whose hobby is birdwatching. The two characters come together in a bittersweet ending.

The author skillfully manages the difficult task of writing an animal fantasy that is neither anthropocentric nor whimsical. The story’s conclusion is emotionally satisfying without denying the reality of the characters’ plights.


In “Bringing Light Into Darkness” by Dayle A. Dermatis, a woman uses a time machine to prevent her grandfather from suffering an act of injustice as a young man. The theme of changing the past is a familiar one, with no surprises in the plot. The main appeal of this straightforward tale is the way in which it deals with racism in the Jim Crow era without becoming melodramatic.


The ghost of an actuary haunts an office in “Silver Linings” by Leigh Saunders. The dead man was a chronic worrier, and the presence of his specter casts a gloomy pall over the other employees. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to distract the ghost from his anxious mood, his coworkers make use of him to boost their company’s business.

This is a lighthearted story, with a wry look at the workings of a corporation. A reader is likely to smile at it, without laughing out loud.



“Everything Got Colder” by Dean Wesley Smith takes place after civilization breaks down from a series of crises. The story’s only character lives alone in an abandoned subdivision. Over time, the last functioning parts of society, from mail delivery to the few remaining banks and stores, disappear.

The plot has a compelling inevitability to it, as things go from bad to worse. This slow apocalypse is chillingly plausible, but some readers may find its complete lack of hope depressing.


“The Tooth Fairy” by David Stier is a grim tale set during the Korean War. The protagonist is an American soldier who pulls gold teeth from the dead bodies of enemy soldiers. As if this were not ghastly enough, he keeps written records of his treasures, adding bonus points to his score if he killed the victim himself. A mission to search a hill covered with corpses for the presence of any living opponents leads to an even more gruesome encounter.

Although there are no supernatural elements, the story definitely qualifies as horror fiction. The antihero’s coldblooded nature is powerfully conveyed. The author paints a compelling portrait of the banality of evil.


And while I realize that not every single story is going to affect every single reader in the same way, I'm always pleased when a reviewer finds the compelling things that attracted me to want to include a story in an anthology.

Interestingly, as you can see in this last photo, when I embarked upon creating the Obsessions anthology, I had no idea that there had been an anthology of the same name published in 1991 aned edited by Gary Raisor. Interestingly, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch both have a story in that one too.

Although, Gary's anthology is a horror anthology, so it's far darker. Mine crosses the genres from science fiction, to contemporary/literary fiction, mystery, and horror.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

MyTube, YouTube, TheyTube, We All Tube

I received a neat look at my YouTube stats for 2020.

Nope, I am not any sort of YouTube sensation but I'm enjoying putting out creative content and some folks are resonating with it. (A pretty strong parallel to the books and stories I publish - hanging out in that broad mid-list realm)

Of course the most popular new video this year was early on during the first wave of Covid-19, when Liz and I performed Stuck in this House Here with You, a Stealers Wheel parody of "Stuck in the Middle with You"

I think we did even better on the less popular K-Tel spoof commercial - a medley of pandemic-inspired parodies. Still Stuck, Still with You, Still in this House

 Liz and I appeared on three different Ontario television news programs for these fun collaborations. That was kind of cool.

Of course, I did a number of silly Dad Joke-inspired ones, too:

You Better Knock First (Horror Parody Dad Joke)


Dramatic Exit (Inspired by a Rubes Cartoons comic)

Under Attack (An Action Film Parody Dad Joke)

I was so thrilled to create a CHEERS parody (that I'm curious to try to do more episodes of throughout the winter), when I put out Mark's Tavern (because I so MISSED hanging out in bars)

I had fun schooling people in how to pronounce my name in this Peggy-Lee/Elvis parody of "Fever"

And it was fun getting frustrated that The Monster Mash is a song about a song that you never get to hear in There Is No Mash.


Looking forward to doing a few more towards the end of the year and into 2021.

Do you have a favorite one?

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Let It Snow: Audiobook Giveaway 2020

I'm thrilled to be taking part in an annual audio giveaway that was created by NY Times and USA Today Bestselling author Mandy M. Roth.

I've got 3 novels, 3 short story collections and a novelette up for grabs via a random draw this year.

You can enter for a chance to win two of these titles via this online form.



I'll be accepting entries between Dec 1 and 15, 2020 and will be randomly selecting more than 30 winning entries) on Dec 16, 2020.

Check out the hashtag #snowaudio2020 for even more wonderful audiobooks.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Rude Awakenings from Sleeping Rough

This is a tough blog post to share.
It's about a book that was tough for me to read.
Especially from the privilege of the warmth, comfort, and security of a home...
...where I'm surrounded by books, surrounded by so many of those objects we take comfort in because they can perhaps, allow us to momentarily forget our mortality. 
Allow us to forget there's not that much separating us from our having, and not having. From having warmth, security and comfort, to having nothing but the clothes on our backs.
This was also a tough book for me to publish. But I wanted to do something. I wanted to share the story of my friend Peter.
It's not easy to read about something like this happening to someone I love.
It's a story that the charities don’t want you to read.
It's about a fate that can strike any of us, at any time, that we don’t want to think about.
I met Peter C. Mitchell in the mid 1990s when we were both working as booksellers at the Chapters in Ancaster, Ontario.
He was one of the most well-read, intellectual, and witty book nerds I’ve ever had the honor of working alongside.
Though he kicked my butt at chess and book trivia board games, I loved hanging out with him, because he challenged me. He made me think. He made me laugh.
We worked together over the years, he was a trusted friend who babysat my only son, he was also a first reader and wonderful editor for plenty of my fiction and non-fiction stories.
It has been several years since I’ve seen him in person.
He returned to London in 2017 to complete his research on a book entitled “A Knight in the Slums” a self-confessed vanity project about his great, great grandfather, Sir John Kirk, and the man’s dedication to bettering the lives of the disabled and the working poor in Victoria-era London.
A perfect storm of calamities ironically left Peter penniless and sleeping rough, falling victim to the very same ailments John Kirk fought.
That nightmare inadvertently gave Peter an inside look at the very systems put in place over a century earlier by his great, great grandfather and those who, like him, were trying to help.
That experience frightened him more than the horrors of homelessness itself.
And that is the story of Rude Awakenings from Sleeping Rough.

This is a book being published independently by my own Stark Publishing imprint in a stealth manner and on a shoestring budget and is being used to help earn Peter his way out of his situation.
Unlike most traditional publishing deals, the author is earning 80% of the net profits on sales of the book. (It's typical for a first-time author to earn 8% - and, if they're well established, as much as 20%)
Because I'm not publishing this book to make money. I'm using it to help drive funds towards a friend who does not want charity. He wants to earn his way out of the hole he is in. And he wants his story to be shared
Below is a link to the book at the various retailers where it is available. It released December 1, 2020.
It can, of course, be special ordered in paperback or hardcover via any local bookshop, as it is distributed via Ingram. (And I encourage folks to consider ordering books via local bookstores whenever and wherever they can. Local businesses serve the local community and culture and allow the revenue to stay local).
If you know someone in the media or a book reviewer who might be interested in a review copy of the book, please have them contact me.


Sunday, November 01, 2020

364 Days Until Halloween 2021

If you're like me, you've already begun to count down the days until Halloween 2021.

I know, I know. It's Nov 1st. There are other holidays to look forward to.

Okay, I'll give you that. There ARE other holidays. But I'm still going to pine for the next Halloween. The most wonderful time of the year.

And in the meantime, I'm going to share a pretty cool Kickstarter project that I'm honored to be a part of. It's WMG Publishing's Holiday Spectacular 2020.

Imagine an original holiday story delivered to you every day during the holidays? But not just the regular "the holidays" - on top of the Christmas themed tales, you can get Valentines and Halloween tales for 2021.

It's the story gift that keeps on giving, almost all of the way through 2021.

This project was born out of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's combined love for short fiction and holiday countdown calendars.

Subscribers to this project will get the first story on November 26th, 2020 and then a new story EVERY DAY through January 1st, 2021.

That's right! A Brand New Original Holiday Story Every Day, following three distinct themes. Mysterious Chrismas, Fantastic Christmas, and Sweet Holidays.

But wait, there's more!!!!!

Because (and you'll see why I related this to my eagerness for Halloween 2021) there are two more wonderful projects:

  •  From February 7th through the 14th, 2021, you can get eight original Valentine stories delivered to your inbox. One each day. This Sweet Valentines collection is edited by Annie Reed.
  • From October 25th through November 2nd, 2021, you can get nine original Halloween stories delivered to your inbox. This Halloween Harvest collection is edited by yours truly.

All of the stories are fantastic. I've had the privilege, as one of the series editors, of reading them all. But I'm a little biased about the ones I selected for my combined Halloween and Harvest themed anthology.

The stories are available to be delivered on those calendar dates but will also be available in book format.

And you can get in on the action and check it all out before this Kickstarter runs out in another 16 days.

What's your favorite time of the year?

Friday, October 30, 2020

There Is No Monster Mash

Ever since someone pointed it out to me, it has really bothered me that The Monster Mash is a song about a song that you never get to actually hear.

 Before you start to argue, yes, I understand the the Monster Mash is a dance move. But it's also a song.

Check out this set of lyrics from the 1962 song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett (written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi)

The scene was rockin', all were digging the sounds
Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds
The coffin-bangers were about to arrive
With their vocal group, 'The Crypt-Kicker Five'
They played the mash, they played the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash
They played the mash, it caught on in a flash
They played the mash, they played the monster mash
The song, which was the number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for Oct 20th through the 27th that year has been a perennial Halloween favorite ever since.

But you never do hear the actual song that is referred to.

Just sayin'. Or, perhaps I should say, "Just singin'."

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Canadian Beer Day


Happy Canadian Beer Day, from all of us (all 3 of me?) at Mark’s Tavern, Eh!

October 7th is Canadian Beer Day. A day to celebrate the awesome folks who brew, sell, deliver, serve, and drink beer.

We typically have beers from no less than a half dozen different craft breweries in the fridge at any time. And on this special day, the fridge is filled to capacity, with plenty more great beers than could be shown in this triple exposure pic at our home bar.

Download and share this image

But beer isn't just a thing in our household. Beer plays a big role in the lives of many Canadians.

  • 15,000 Canadians work in breweries
  • 149,000 Canadian jobs connected to beer in the restaurant, hospitality, tourism, agriculture and transportation sectors
  • 85% of the beer consumed in Canada was brewed in Canada

[For the curious, here are the Ontario craft beers hoisted from left to right in the picture of me hoisting a beer in cheers: They are Jutsu from Bellwoods Brewery (Toronto) - The Mutants Are Revolting from Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery (Barrie) and Invisible Friend from Grain & Grit Beer Co (Hamilton).

The hoodie I'm wearing is from Augusta's Winking Judge (Hamilton), one of my favourite haunts that has been about local and craft beer for years and years before the craft beer growth took off, and the hilarious and stylish t-shirt is from Rural Routes Brewing (Elmira).

So many amazing beers. I suppose that’s why EVERY day is Canadian Beer Day at Mark’s Tavern.


#CDNBeerDay #BeerProud

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Imagine, If You Will, A Man Obsessed With Sharing Thought-Provoking Stories

I am about half-way through writing up the introductions to each of the stories in the Obsessions anthology that is currently part of a Kickstarter project. One might also think of these bits as interstitial pieces.

I learned how to do this effectively from mentor Kristine Kathryn Rusch while editing titles in the Fiction River anthology series. And I liken those bits to the role that Rod Serling played in The Twilight Zone, where he would walk out and set up and introduce a story.

In my case, each introduction, or interstitial, will include a bit of biographical information about the writer, my own teaser about what you're about to read, as well as some notes and direct quotes from the author on the inspiration, genesis, or other "behind-the-story" details. I write them immediately after going through a detailed read-thru and line-edit of the text, looking for typos or other formatting elements that might need a small tweak.

These bits run from anywhere between 300 to 1000 words. There's no specific formula. I liken them to me talking a long walk with the reader, and sharing some amazing stories that dear friends (the amazing contributing writers) have shared with me. And, as I relay each tale, I first introduce who that writer is and why their story is important to the overall theme I'm sharing.

Similar to that long walk, the other fun part is determining the order of the stories. Because they span multiple genres, and each has its own unique mood, cadence and feel, the order is important so I can keep my walking/listening/reading companion on a path that is interesting, offers plenty of different fascinating, entertaining, and thought-provoking bits of scenery to enjoy along the way.

What should be a riveting, entertaining, inspiring, and ultimately thought-provoking walk that stayed with them long after we both returned to our respective homes.

Have I mentioned how much I love this part of the process?


Friday, September 11, 2020

19 Years Later - 9/11 Reflections

For me, 9/11 will always be a day of quiet reflection about a terrible tragedy.

And, via something called Project 2,996, also a celebration of the lives (not the deaths).

Here's a post of celebrating some of those lost lives on the 10th anniversary via my own participation in that project.


Now, 19 years later, my reflections aren't just about those beautiful lives, because in the US alone this year, we are dealing more than 190,000 deaths, more than 9,000 deaths in Canada, and just under one million deaths world-wide due to a global pandemic.

In September of 2011, we were anxious, frightened, and mortified about deadly terrorist attacks. We responded by coming together, trying to focus on celebrating the lives of those tragically lost, of comforting those around us, and holding our loved ones close.

This September, the attack, we realize, hasn't come from a single calculated physical assault, but something far more deadly, far uglier, far more pervasive and far more difficult to over-come.

And I'm not just talking about a virus -- or at least not just about covid-19, a deadline virus transmitted through contact. That is part of it.

But we're also suffering from a much deadlier virus bred on hatred, fear, and lies -- a virus of intense and impassioned divisiveness, of anger, of fear-mongering, of objectifying and dehumanizing the "other" -- a virus of a belief that one's opinion and ready-made meme and confirmation bias is far better than actual science, that one's beliefs about race, about religion, about sexuality, are more important than basic and fundamental human rights, that a completely artificial construct and adhering to the "party of choice" is far more important than basic decency, compassion and respect.

I reflect on the words of a leader I long admired, a man whose own life was cut short. Jack Layton said it best in his final letter to Canadians when he said this:

"We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world....

".....consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."

No, it's not going to be easy to pick up the pieces, find ways to focus on what unites us, what we have in common, but it usually begins with the way we cherish and honor our loved ones, the way we seek to nourish and support rather than objectify and destroy. And seeing how we can extend that compassion beyond our our units.

If we can start with love, if we can start with respect, if we can have those difficult, painful, and awkward discussions that lead to growth rather than doubling down on our own confirmation biases, we can have hope and optimism.

[Please don't comment with hate, anger, finger-pointing, blame naming, conspiracy theories, or any such ilk.This is not the place for it, and I will delete those comments. Go spread hate, fear, and anger on your own digital wall.

And if you feel that this post is a threat to what you believe, or where you stand, consider why you feel that way. What about what I said made you uncomfortable? What about what I said made you self-identify? You might notice that I haven't called out any specific persons, or groups, or political parties, except to quote from a man whose vision I respect and admire.

On the other hand, if you self-identified with the idea that compassion, that hope, that optimism, that love, are a good place to start, that is also worthy of reflection. What makes you optimistic, hopeful, respectful?

Also know that I see myself as being hopeful and optimistic, but I also see myself as being flawed - fixing that is an ongoing and never-ending process. I have made countless mistakes; I have done plenty of wrongs. I will, I know, inevitably continue to err, to fail at times, despite what I believe are positive intentions. But I try, in whatever small ways I can, to continue to be open to listen, to learn, to grow, recognizing that every day I am battling with so many pre-existing confirmation biases of my own. As we all are.]

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Writer Workshops at Waterloo Public Library

I'm going to be running a series of weekly workshops in Sept for writers at the Waterloo Public Library. It's part of a virtual series of events.


Tues Sept 15 - 7:30 PM - Learning About Publishing Options for Writers

A basic introduction to the various options available for writers, including finding an agent, or publisher, selling/licensing your writing, and leveraging DIY self-publishing options.

Tues Sept 22 - 7:30 PM - Step by Step Digital Publishing

I'm actually going to walk writers through step by step of taking a manuscript in WORD format and using free online resources, tools, and services, to make their work available internationally. I'll be  sharing the multiple options, direct publishing, and distribution platforms available, but will be demonstrating, in detail, the steps using Draft2Digital's awesome free tools.


Tues Sept 29 - 7:30 PM - Basic Book Marketing Strategies

Regardless of how a book is published, the most common questions writers have is how to market their work. I'll walk through a number of options, opportunities, tools, and strategies they can use with the goal towards helping get the right book in front of the right ideal audience/reader eyes.


Here is a link to a PDF of the September IN THE LOOP guide from Waterloo Public Library for this and many other great programs and services.

Saturday, September 05, 2020


 There are a couple of audio/video teasers for the first story in my "Canadian Werewolf" series which introduces readers to my main character, Michael Andrews.


The first one is a basic audio with animated audio waves and transcription on it which I made using Headliner.


The second one is a collection of videos and still images with an appropriate soundtrack to accompany the opening text of the story. This is one I made using Camtasia from TechSmith.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets Logan

 My latest book in the Canadian Werewolf series, Stowe Away, which launched today, has been described as "Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets Logan."

Perhaps because it's about a man with enhanced strength and senses (a la the character of Wolverine) on a cross-country road trip with a young girl who is he trying to protect; but with some of the misadventures, detours, and slight humor of the John Hughes classic.

Stowe Away: A Canadian Werewolf Novella

Stowe Away (Book 1.5) is a novella length story that takes place about one year after the events in A Canadian Werewolf in New York (Book 1), and about another year before the events in Fear and Longing in Los Angeles (Book 2), which is releasing in Feb 2021.

Michael Andrews is an Alpha Wolf and Beta Human trying to live a normal life in the Big Apple while living with the side-effects of being a werewolf. During the right phase of the moon, he turns into a grey wolf, with no control, or memory of the experience from his human brain.

In the novel, Michael is desperate to get to Stowe, Vermont, to be there for his best friend, Gail. Without a driver's license or a passport, he is unable to rent a car or fly there, so he boards a train. Only, there are a couple of challenges in his way:

  • The train arrives about half an hour after sunset, and it's "that time of the month" for this werewolf
  • There is a young woman being stalked by a human predator and Michael being Michael, is obligated to ensure her safety and escape from harm 

The book (and the previous titles in the series) is part of a re-branding, and is available in Print (Hardcover and Trade Paperback), eBook, and Audiobook simultaneously. The audiobooks are read by Scott Overton.

Stowe Away and the other books in the series, are available to order through most online bookstores, through your favorite local bookstore, as well as via your local library.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The 2020 Aurora Awards

 On Saturday August 15, 2020, I had the honor of being the Master of Ceremonies for The Official 2020 Aurora Awards and Hall of Fame Inductions.

It was supposed to take place in Calgary, Alberta during this year's When Words Collide conference.

But it was migrated to a live online broadcast, where I hosted, with the sealed envelopes in hand, and a good number of the nominees and 2 of the 3 Hall of Fame Inductees (Heather Dale and Cory Doctorow) appearing live to accept their awards and offer their thanks. 

The evening went of mostly without a hitch as Liz and I were crammed into my home office (me wearing my tux for the occasion), with two dogs and two cats that I only tripped over once.

One of the great things about virtual presentations and meetings is that you can't tell that I'm only wearing the tuxedo top. Not so fancily dressed below the waist.  ;)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

It's funny that, for most of my adult life, I'd always wanted to have a place like Cheers, a local bar that I could go to where everybody knows your name.

I didn't find one that truly felt like "my Cheers" until I discovered The Winking Judge on Augusta Street in Hamilton. And the place only came onto my radar because I wrote about it in my 2012 book Haunted Hamilton. (Here is a video of me sharing some ghostly tales from the bar).

But not long after, and, particularly after I ended up moving into an apartment on the same block as that bar, practically "upstairs" from it (as I could look out my living room window down onto the back patio of the Judge), I became a regular there and everyone did know my name.

I was home.

Heck, Liz and I had our second date at The Winking Judge, and that was the date that pretty much clinched it for us. Actually, our first date, which had been at a brewery in Toronto a couple of weeks earlier, was quite awesome. But it was the second date that confirmed it hadn't just been a single spark moment of our first meeting.

Even after moving to Waterloo, I would still visit The Judge on almost every return visit to Hamilton. Because it was always so good to walk into a place where everybody knew you.

The song, written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, has long been one of my favourites. And I love the entire song, not just the short snippet of lyrics that are used for the show's theme. (Heck, I bought the vinyl single of the song, with Portnoy's other great song "Jenny" on the flip side when I was in University and Cheers was still on the air)

These are the full lyrics for the song "Where Everybody Knows Your Name."

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?

All those night when you've got no lights,
The check is in the mail;
And your little angel
Hung the cat up by it's tail;
And your third fiance didn't show;

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.

Roll out of bed, Mr. Coffee's dead;
The morning's looking bright;
And your shrink ran off to Europe,
And didn't even write;
And your husband wants to be a girl;

Be glad there's one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Of course, since the global pandemic, I hadn't been able to get to The Winking Judge to fulfill that lifelong desire to hang out in a Cheers-like atmosphere.

But we do have a home bar.

And I had been making music parodies with Liz as well as silly Dad Joke short films on my own as a method of creative expression. One of those short dad joke films was called "The Things We Miss Most" and it featured me playing three different people sitting at a bar (my home bar) - in that film one of the Marks is wearing a Winking Judge hoodie. But making that short made me think that my home bar should have a name.

I made a joke sign that read "Mark's Tavern: Serving Marks Since 2020" and imagined it being a place where I could share some of the silly dad jokes - a consistent setting with recurring characters.

Not long after, I was reminded of my affinity for Cheers.

So I schemed up a song parody of one of the coolest songs in the universe as well as a scenario for Mark's Tavern.

Heck, I even went and bought a license for the two fonts used to create the Cheers logo (Candice and Flamenco), and spent some time crafting a logo that conjured up a similarity to the Cheers logo.

My re-written lyrics, which were set to piano from my friend and fellow writer, Joe Cron, went with the shortened version of the Cheers opening.

Getting through isolation times
Takes everything you've got
Having a laugh and a craft beer pint
Sure would help a lot
But you just can't get away

Sometimes you've got to go
Where everybody shares your name
And they're always spelled the same
You wanna laugh and see eyes roll
Where dad jokes are awful lame
You wanna go where everybody shares your name

And then I wrote a 1000 word script for a short episode, complete with cold opener, the title song, sequence, and a scene between Mark the bartender, Mark the new patron, and the Norm-style Mark who was the main regular.

I shot most of it in a single evening, but once I got through just the opener bit, I realized how much work it was, so I cut the entire episode down to what was supposed to be the opener. As it was, it was six minutes. But still a heck of a lot of fun.

Because I got to tell a few jokes, parody a classic sitcom, and show off a picture of me having a beer with Norm (or rather, George Wendt, who played the loveable barfly on the series)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Music Parody of "Fever"

The other day I made a short video on how to pronounce Lefebvre.

I couldn't resist adding in a joke at the end about the funny ways people mis-pronounce my actual surname. (This blog is under "Mark Leslie" the name I use for most of my writing).

One of the comments on a share of that video used the "Lefever" version of the name.

And for some reason, I got the old Peggy Lee song "Fever" stuck in my head.

Which lead to writing parody style lyrics to the song.

Which then lead to the recording of the song.

Which then lead to the music video.

You might say that I sometimes get a fever and the only curse is not necessarily more cowbell, but it's actually turning that creative energy into a project meant to make people laugh.

I learned that the song was actually written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell and was originally recorded by American R&B singer Little Willie John in for his 1956 debut album, Fever.  Peggy Lee covered it a couple of years later and it remains the most notable cover of the song.

Of course, Elvis Presley also covered the song - and it was his vocal styling I was attempting to reach when I made my own parody music video.

My pal Julie Strauss, her husband, and daughter, and a couple of their friends quickly recorded silly mispronunciations of my name that I used for the video's opening.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Virtual Guide Ghost Walk (Safe Social Distancing)

Last summer I wrote and produced, with the help of the awesome people at VoiceMap (who create immersive GPS audio tours), a ghost walk of downtown Hamilton, Ontario.

The stories for this tour were drafted out of files of research I had compiled to write the book Haunted Hamilton, which was released in 2012 and was nominated for a Hamilton Literary Award.

The half hour route can be purchased through the free VoiceMap app on virtually any smartphone device, and takes you through central downtown Hamilton and includes several interesting downtown locations, historic landmarks, dark history and fascinating ghostly tales certain to bring you a few shivers.

This tour begins at The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry building located at 200 James Street North, in Hamilton, Ontario. It takes you south down James Street, and past the sites of the Hamilton SuperCrawl, the historic Tivoli Theatre, Gore Park, the Royal Connaught, the former Wentworth County Courthouse and jail, Hamilton Club, Whitehern Mansion, The GO Station, The Pheasant Plucker, and The Winking Judge. Tales involve ghosts at these locations, as well as Hamilton's connection to Jack the Ripper, the Torso Murders, and Hamilton as a location for the filming of horror movies, including one from a Stephen King novel.

I've long been a fan of historic ghost walk tours. In fact, much of the research for this book was thanks to the good folks from Haunted Hamilton and Ghost Walks. I highly recommend their tours and events to people, and continue to be a huge fan of the work they do.

But what happens when you want to explore a historic haunted locale and the timing for the official tours don't jibe with your own schedule, or perhaps the tour is sold out?

Of course, during these more recent times of physical distancing, social distancing, and avoiding hanging out in groups, a virtual tour like this allows you the option to explore those same locations on your own, at your own convenience.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

How to Pronounce Lefebvre

I have long written under the name Mark Leslie because of the fact that most people don't know how to spell or pronounce Lefebvre.

However, because I've been a book industry representative and part of the speaking circuit on a regular basis for well over a decade now, my actual surname is used. I also have a number of books (with more to come) about the business of writing and publishing published under my full name Mark Leslie Lefebvre.

One of the many things I have learned from the awesome folks at CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers), is to add a pronunciation key into the bio you provide to the folks running the conference/workshop/keynote address that you are speaking at. This helps ensure the person introducing you can easily pronounce your name.

I also thought it might be handy to create a brief video that helps explain how to pronounce Lefebvre.

I could not, of course, resist adding a little humor to it.

Because that's also part of my brand.

Under Attack

I've been having fun making short videos inspired by stupid dad jokes.

The first "action spoof" one that I've done is a short called Under Attack: A Stupid Dad Joke Short Film.

I've also long been a fan of the movie Die Hard, so I thought it might be fun to make a silly thumbnail for the YouTube video in the style of the movie posters from that film.

The "film" is just a little over 1 minute long. Just long enough to set the scene, and then make you rolls your eyes.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls, and Other Haunted Objects

I'm currently soliciting stories for a book that I'm working on.

This is the cover.

I plan on releasing this book in the fall of 2020.

I already have a file folder stuffed with a bunch of tales that I have collected over the years. But I'm looking for new ones to add to what I already have.

If you have a tale to share, feel free to let me know by using this handy online form