Award-winning author Mark Leslie lets imagination lead the way
by Timothy Pike
“I’ve always loved telling stories and imagination,” says award-winning horror and speculative fiction author Mark Leslie, recounting a childhood of spinning tales every chance he got.
“I’m an only child, and when growing up I spent a lot of time telling myself little stories involving my Fisher-Price action figures,” Mark says. “I would tell myself serialized stories that would last weeks and weeks, but the downside was that all these ‘great stories’ were gone once they were played out.”
To keep the stories going, Mark started writing them all down. “Sometime in my childhood I discovered the magic of putting my stories down on paper,” he says. “I discovered my mom’s old Underwood typewriter under a dust cover in the back of her closet when I was young, and enjoyed hammering out stories on it.”
At the time, one of Mark’s most stimulating sources of creativity was comic books. “My mom used to work at the mini-mart in my hometown,” he tells me, “and every Tuesday bought me comics that came in. Spider-Man was my favorite. I longed to tell adventurous stories like the ones from the Spider-Man comics.”
Meanwhile, Mark felt the dark side calling to him. “I was also drawn to speculative tales of ‘what if’ and to the shadows and the unknown,” he says.
“Imagine waking up in Battery Park completely naked, with the taste of blood in your mouth, a bullet hole in your leg, and no memory of what you’d done the night before,” Mark says.
Today, Mark lives in Waterloo, Ontario—near Toronto—and is the author of numerous novels, short stories, non-fiction works, as well as his ongoing Canadian Werewolf series.
That series started with Mark looking over the requirements to submit a short story to an anthology. “The editor was curious to receive stories about the man part of any monster,” Mark says. “The Jekyll to the Hyde. The Bruce Banner to The Hulk.”
Then, during a visit to New York City, inspiration hit. “I was wondering what it might be like to live in New York, and I imagined a man who turned into an actual wolf—not a half-man, half-wolf,” Mark says. “And that like Jekyll or Banner, he’d had no, or limited, conscious awareness nor memory of his time when he was in that altered state of being.”
With his imagination taking the lead, Mark’s writing process was free to run its course. “I usually start with a premise,” he says, “It’s the idea of a character with some sort of nuance, in a particular situation, and imagine how they might react, or what they might do when faced with it. A lot of my stories take on a ‘what if?’ in that way.”
Mark recalls the unsettling premise of that first story: “Imagine waking up in Battery Park completely naked, with the taste of blood in your mouth, a bullet hole in your leg, and no memory of what you’d done the night before,” he says. “Not only would you have to spend the day wondering what the hell you’d been up to, but you’d have to figure out how you’d find some sort of clothing to get back home without being arrested for indecent exposure.”
To flesh out this premise, Mark leaned on his fly-by-night working style. “With short fiction, I usually just sit down and see what happens as the story unfolds,” he says. “With longer works, I usually have at least some idea of how it might end, or some sort of potential conclusion. I don’t always know what that is exactly, and I’ll often adjust the ending as different elements appear in the book. But I rarely ever outline.”
Counting Stan Lee—creator of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk—and famed horror author Stephen King among his biggest influences, Mark recalls some of his early works. “When I was fourteen, I spent almost my entire summer vacation from school working on what I thought was an epic fantasy adventure novel inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and the Conan the Barbarian comics and movies of the early eighties,” he says. “My ‘gigantic epic,’ The Story of Aaron Boc, which clocked in at around 30,000 words, became the first of many ‘trunk novels’ that shall, for the good of the world, never see the light of day.”
“You can do all the right things and still not find that success,” Mark says. “That’s why never giving up and continuing to work at it, particularly if it’s something you’re truly passionate about doing, is the best thing you can do for your writing.”
In 1992, Mark was hired at a local bookseller—a position that was intended to be temporary. “I was then bitten by the bookselling bug,” he says. “That part-time, seasonal job turned into a full-time job, and I worked my way up to assistant manager, learning the ropes of retail and loving that it was in my area of passion: books.”
From there, he was hired by the Canadian bookstore chain Chapters as a product manager, and later tasked with developing standards that—to this day—publishers use to transmit book data to retailers. After that, a position managing a university bookstore led Mark to the realm of self-publishing. The experience he gained there helped him land his next gig at Kobo, a company specializing in e-books, where he worked to create a platform that helped authors add their books to the system.
At a certain point, Mark found himself wanting more time to focus on his writing, and felt good about moving on. “Happy with the state of the mini-company-within-a company I had created, I decided it was time to leave Kobo at the end of 2017 and try to pursue writing full time,” he says. “By then, I had released a dozen or more books, both traditionally published and self-published titles.”
Mark’s plan to write full time didn’t even last one year. Some of his peers at Draft2Digital, a company that provides digital publishing tools, recruited him for a part-time position as their director of business development—a position that, somewhat ironically, allowed him to focus even more on his writing. “I’ve been far more productive as a writer since about 2019, once I got into the groove of things with balancing my Draft2Digital and personal writing work.”
Despite his success in the publishing industry and as an author, Mark acknowledges the difficulty of his chosen field. “Writing, and the writing life, is not easy,” he says. “It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and commitment to understanding both the craft and the business of writing and publishing and bookselling. But one factor that most people never talk about is luck. You can do all the right things and still not find that success. That’s why never giving up and continuing to work at it, particularly if it’s something you’re truly passionate about doing, is the best thing you can do for your writing.”
Throughout his life, Mark has always let imagination lead the way. With his writing career stronger than ever, and many more story ideas in the works, he’s working with romance author Julie Strauss to co-write the next book in the Canadian Werewolf series. “Julie and I are currently working on Book 6 in the series,” he says, “which returns back to the humorous urban fantasy adventure series with Hex and the City, which will come out in March 2023.”
I imagine it’ll be good.
Mark Leslie is the author of more than twenty books that include fiction, thrillers, and paranormal non-fiction explorations. He has also edited numerous anthologies. With three decades of experience in bookselling and publishing, Mark is a seasoned and trusted book industry professional who embraces both traditional and indie publishing options.
You can visit Mark at his website, and connect on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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