Susan Howerter Interview

On July 1, 2000, in Features, by Susan Howerter

Doug Noble at The Mac Bookshop did an
email interview with Susan for her book, The
“Stocking Stuffer Steve Book” that was never
published. Doug kept the interview, though,
and was gracious enough to send it to us for
publication.

If your interested in purchasing a copy of the
book, click here (or the picture of the book to
the right) It is only $5.00 plus S/H

Here, for the first time, is that interview
(Thank you, Doug.)


Buy the book here:

http://www.macbookshop.com/stevebook2.html

Where do you live? (describe the home)

We live on three acres by a small lake in
Topeka, Kansas. When not writing or on the
computer, my time is spent gardening, bird
watching and cleaning the “goose google”
off our shoes.

Your background?

I have been teaching young special
education students for the last thirty years.
As very few prepared materials were
available when I began, I developed the
habit of making and writing my own.
Although the early Apples were not very
useful for my needs, due to being
non-interactive, as well as lacking the
necessary fonts, sizes and lowercase letters
(not to mention which they scared me silly),
my first introduction to the LCIII left me
breathless.

My Mac obsession began when that LCIII,
sans any software — not even a set of
installation disks — showed up in my
Kindergarten/first grade special ed room in
the fall of ’93. My first paycheck went to
software and by November I was hanging
around the after school – teacher training
sessions looking for lost souls to introduce to
the mouse.

What prompted you to write this book?

As you know, a couple of years ago, Apple
had fallen on hard times. Suddenly all the
doomsaying seemed like it might be more
than rhetoric. I was desolate. Lose my Mac?
How could I survive? How could I teach?
One night, while arguing with the Microsoft
grammar checker, I had an idea for a story.
A Mac story. It seemed like something to
share with the rest of the Mac community,
but how? Nervously, I sent it off to Tim
Robertson at “My Mac”. One of the happiest
days of my life was when Tim accepted the
story for his Reader¹s Write column and
asked me to join the staff.

There was so much chaos in the Mac world
at that time, with Steve Job’s return to
Apple, the death of the clones, the
uncertainty about Apple’s future with Steve
at the helm and the doomsayers closing in
on all sides, that I wound up writing not one,
but two, columns for My Mac. “Out of the
AppleCart” was more fact based. “Churning
the AppleCart” was an outlet for all the irony
and agony that abounded at that time.

The book is an outgrowth of those columns
and as well as some of the ones done for
MacTimes during ’98 as “The Desktop
Dilettante”.

Are you as wacky as the book?

Wacky? ME? Well, actually, yes. It has
probably kept me from mastering such
essentials as data bases and spread sheets,
but it has been a real plus in coping with my
little special-eders all these years. Bob Hope
doesn¹t know what an audience is, unless he
has tried to keep a dozen hyperactive kids
enthralled for seven hours a day.

I have to admit that “Honey I Sold the
Bed”, for example, is 5% hyperbole and
95% plain, unvarnished truth. And every
time Microsoft or Apple pulled another
stunner, those silly jingles just seemed to
burst into being. It’s awfully hard to drive
through the morning traffic while jotting
down jingles on the back of a left-over
Arby’s napkin.

Did you have an “in” into Apple to get
your info?

I have no “ins” at all with Apple or any other
computer group. And, except for a son who
has done tech support for NewTek, am
pretty much an isolated from any
mainstream computing.

All my “facts” are the sort that are available
to any fanatic who cared to hang out on the
Internet 24 hours a day in fear of Apple’s
imminent demise.

Jack of “As The Apple Turns” was usually
my first stop. He burned the midnight oil
researching the Web and then put it all into
an intriguing context. And he did it night
after night after night. I was so impressed —
and said so, so often — that MyMac now
publishes a synopsis of his columns each
month.

When did you buy your first Mac?

I tried. I really did. After my first paycheck
went to software, I held off until December
of ’93 when the marvelous Performa 476
arrived with its 040 innards and its
whopping 230 hard drive. And it was the
best investment I ever made. There is no
way to become proficient, not to mention to
be really creative, on a computer without
access at home. I got very little sleep for the
next year, but my life as well as my teaching
was truly enriched.

What Mac(s) do you own now?

Don’t ask. I’m not sure I really want to
know. (And I’m sure my husband doesn’t.)
Let¹s see…. does the question include Macs
living and dead as well as those farmed out
to family and friends? Hmmm. I can say that
currently I have a close-out Umax 9000, a
PowerBook1400C and a 5260 at home.

When I realized that I would probably not
be teaching again for some time, I found
good homes for the Quadra 630, the Star
Max and the Performa 5215, originally
bought as close-outs for use in my
classroom.)

Who is your favorite book/author?

In the Mac realm, I loved Steven Levy’s
“Insanely Great” and used it for
background and ideas for several of my
stories. As far as general reading, I like
British mysteries and science fiction, but find
I almost always prefer things written well in
the past when the emphasis seemed to be
less on sex and psychos and more on irony
and good writing.

What other books have you written?

I have always written stories, plays, songs
and poems for my children and students, as
well as most of the materials for my
classsroom, but have not “written” anything
in a published sense. My daughter, Meg,
who illustrated the Steve Book, has worked
with me to illustrate some short “Get Well”
books for children, but whether we will
pursue them at this point is doubtful. They
might be reasonably good sellers if they
were easily available, but distribution is the
key.

I enjoy writing “poetry” and short stories,
but there is very little commercial outlet for
that sort of thing. Wasn’t I lucky to have a
captive audience at school for all my
energies. And MyMac has been a joy!
Another captive audience to write for every
month. And about my favorite subject, at
that.

Favorite color?

Blue!!! My car is blue. My house is blue.
My clothes are blue. Even my kids eyes are
blue. You can see why that first iMac was
the Mac of my dreams – until Apple went
USB and invalidated everything I had
acquired over the years.

Favorite food?

Chocolate. My favorite caffeine has always
been Classic Coke, but, alas, I have had to
give it up.

Favorite Mac program?

HyperStudio! Within a day of discovering it,
I was on my way to a creative binge that
lasted for years. It even saw me through my
mid-life crisis and into the future. ColorIt,
Printshop and ClarisWorks are also
mainstays.

But, secretly, Microsoft’s Bookshelf is a
program I could not do without. And, on a
Mac with plenty of free hard drive, it can be
installed directly to disk using ShrinkWrap
for instant access. Try that with Window
’95.

Best or Worst tech support experience?

When the school district bought several of
the first iMacs, they badly needed At Ease to
keep sticky little fingers out of the works,
especially as this was for a school housing
our disturbed middle schoolers.

Apple was clueless. Useless. Totally inept,
incompetent and uninterested. We were told
to download it from the Internet. But the
school had no Internet. Then we were told
to download to another computer and Zip it
over? But, there were no USB zips at that
time. Apple did, at last, mail out some hard
copies. For the iMac. On disks!!! When we
explained they were of no value as we had,
ahem, floppiless iMacs, we were told
“Sorry. No return. The software has been
opened!”

Tell me about the challenges of self
publishing

First, be prepared to lose the money. Do not
self publish in the hopes of making your
fortune, or even breaking even, unless you
are awfully savvy about marketing.

My daughter, who is an Ink technician in
Minneapolis, took care of lining up the
printing, covers, inks etc. And between us
we put the book together using Quark. Well,
why not, she had taken a night school
course, could set a template up for me and
we were both on AOL. Oh, how little we
knew.

We know a lot more now. But, if we had
not gone ahead with the project, we
wouldn’t have learned how much there was
to learn. Until you do something ‘for real’
you never really tune in to all the things the
manual has to offer. Talk about a “learning
experience”!

Daughter Meg carried the lion’s share of the
work, turning my rough clip art
conglomerations into real art, handling
Quark and worrying about the physical
details involved in the actual publishing. She
was also a really tough editor, constantly
checking for errors.

Daughter Amy helped out with the initial
edits and tried to figure the best ways to
punctuate my overly original use of
language. Son Chris, our family computer
expert, kept the technical details straight.
And husband Gene was great to help mail
while handling real life for the rest of us.

Since we did not expect to make our
fortune, we were able to be creative and
enjoy the process. It was undeniably
stressful, but, at least for us, having the
finished project was worth it.

I knew that marketing is the biggest hurdle
in self-publishing, but had hoped that by
using the Web for a Web based book, we
could handle things ourselves. We did sell
several hundred books – and gave away
about that many more – but, as 2000 was
the best break-even number, we still have
plenty left for another season.

Did you try the major Mac publishers?

Peach Pit was the only outlet that seemed
likely and I have always loved their things. I
did get a nice “Thanks, but no thanks”
back from their graphic department. But, as
the Steve Book had nothing to do with
graphics, that’s not surprising.

What are your plans once you recover
your strength

I would like to think I would do more
writing and, even better, be a little more
forceful in trying to market the children’s
things I have already done. But one thing
this has taught me is that I am not business
person. That is why it is so nice to have an
alliance with Macbookshop that makes it
possible to see a few more sales. What
writers really want is readers!

 

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