Mark Leslie lives in Hamilton, Ontario and has been writing since he first discovered his mother’s Underwood typewriter in the spare bedroom closet of the family home at the age of thirteen.
His first published short story “The Progressive Sidetrack” (1992) was a Young Adult humor story, and his first published horror story “Phantom Mitch” (1993) received Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s The Year’s Best Fantasy &Horror.
I heard that the main part of this novel was originally written as a blog post that you serialized years ago. Can you tell us about that?
Part One of the novel The Online Journal of Peter O’Mallick was originally rolled out as a blog using a fake account I’d created for Peter O’Mallick back in 2006. It was an experiment in storytelling because I wanted to test out new forms. I started the blog on January 18, 2006 and all I knew at the time was how it was going to end. I wasn’t sure WHEN that might be or all the details of the story, other than a few key “landmark” moments that I already had in mind.
The blog was rolled out, live, with the blog posts written usually the day of or perhaps just a day or two before they were scheduled and posted, at the times that you see in the book itself. If, for example, a post is dated at 2:58 AM, then it went live on that day at 2:58 AM Eastern time. My time zone (and Peter’s time zone)
It was an interesting experiment because, even though I had a disclaimer at the top of the blog that this was a fictional story, I still had people reach out to Peter, who was a suicidal teenager, to offer him support and comfort. I was impressed and moved by these individuals, but I always reached out to let them know Peter was fictional. Most of them continued to follow his fictional adventure, getting wrapped up in the storyline as it unfolded, to completion, in October of that same year.
How does the bad guy in this novel, Brecht, figure into the story as a cautionary element of exposing oneself on social media?
Brecht discovers Peter’s blog online and uses the intimate information about Peter’s location, his friends, his life, in order to gather information and trick Peter into believing he is something that he is not. This is a very blatant demonstration that sometimes we can share far too much about ourselves and our lives on social media, which can be dangerous for us and for those we love. Yes, this example from Peter is a bit of an extreme one, but consider the digital trail that we often leave out there that people could easily pick up on to prey upon our fears, understand what makes us tick and then use that to manipulate us.
You have also mentioned that Peter O’Mallick has been with you since Grade 10. What did you mean by that?
Peter O’Mallick first existed as the un-named narrator in a story of about 800 or so words that I wrote for a Grade 10 freewriting assignment. I remember the teacher’s comment at the end of the story made a reference to “The Twilight Zone” – a style in my fiction that continues to this day. I didn’t name Peter until I was in third year university and wrote a sequel story to find out where he might be a few years later. That’s when I gave him a name, and where some of the beginning scenes for Part III of the book come from.
It’s interesting to trace the novel I, Death, back to a less than 1000 word story of the same name from my own childhood when I was about Peter’s age. So yeah, he’s been with me this long. But good thing I haven’t suffered from Peter’s death curse. Perhaps I’m immune to it.
There are a lot of references to Hamlet and many scenes that explore and seem to recommend books. What was that all about?
I have long been a huge fan of Hamlet. It’s my favorite Shakesperean play. Because Peter ends up being counselled by some really excellent English teachers in the book (Mrs. Hamilton and Mr. Robinson) I had to write some scenes about Peter being adbsorbed and fascinated by their teaching. I used Hamlet’s suicide speech as a nactural seguay for Peter to talk about that concept on his blog. And then I had a lot of fun including the young and fun new teacher, Mr. Robinson, talking about authors and books that I personally knew, loved and recommended. Those are fun “Easter Eggs” in the book – and, hopefully, some readers will be inspired to seek out some of the other authors and titles mentioned, and read them. Books by friends such as Sean Costello (a actual Sudbury area author from the same town as Peter and me), Robert J. Sawyer and others.
Do characters that you write ever take on a life of their own? I’m asking because I’d heard you talk about Mr. Robinson, who was supposed to be a walk-on character and ends up playing a critical role in Peter’s life.
Oh yeah, I love it when that happens. Mr. Robinson is the perfect example of this. I needed a supply teacher to come in and be fun and to get Peter to like him before something really nasty happened to him. But I ended up really falling for this character, in the same way that Peter was captivated by him, so was I. I ended up writing lengthy teaching scenes, with Robbie (the nickname the students have for him), being a composit of every single amazing teacher I’ve ever had combined with the character of John Keating played by Robin Williams in The Dead Poet’s Society, one of my favorite movies.
Why do you travel with a skeleton?
I travel with Barnaby Bones as a way of marketing myself as a writer. Barnaby accompanies me to book signings and other similar events – he has appeared with me on TV and though he’s not visible, has also seen his fair share of radio stations. When Barnaby is sitting beside me at an author table it’s either a draw for people who understand that my books are likely to include creepy and macabre content, or, it’s a warning sign for those who don’t like scary things to just stay away. It works effectively both ways and also, of course, provides a great ice-breaker for people who come up to me and joke about my skeletal companion.
Because he’s often with me, Barnaby sits in my car. No, I don’t use him to get into the HOV lanes, but boy do I ever get a lot of funny looks at people when I drive about.
Will there ever be a sequel to I, Death?
I’m fascinated by returning to Peter’s universe and trying my hand, again, at using a different digital medium to tell more about Peter’s story. I’m also curious to see what Sarah might have been up to after she left town and left Peter behind – so much time and so many adventures that have likely happened that I could write about in shorter stories as well as in a second novel in what I am calling The Sin Eater universe.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on a few other sequels to some other novels as well as the audiobook version of I, Death, which I hope to release by mid 2019. I spent a good deal of time in the past year on shorter works in a series of mini story collections called Nocturnal Screams – the first one, “Night Cries” is free on most eBook retailers for those who have read I, Death and might be looking for more creepy thrills.
Listen to an excerpt from the book I, Death
I, Death is written by Mark Leslie
Published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing