“It’s Harder Than It Looks”
A Conversation with Lisa Lee
While reading 16 books each month for our Book Bytes reviews, I am occasionally struck by “between the lines” impressions of the authors. Two recent titles made an unusual impact upon me. After presenting this writer/artist with her 1999 honorary Book Bytes Award last winter, we struck up an animated email acquaintance.
It is a pleasure to introduce Lisa Lee to Nemo Memo readers. Before or after proceeding, you may choose to spend a few minutes on her quirky website: http://www.flatfishfactory.com
Meet Lisa Lee
John: Greetings, Lisa. Can you please give us a little personal background?
Lisa: With pleasure. I grew up in Oakland, California, a large city adjacent to San Francisco, watching children’s television: Romper Room, Sesame Street, Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Flintstones, Jetsons, and more of the same.
John: Were you deprived of conventional learning?
Lisa: Hardly! I learned to read when I was four, play the piano at five, and draw cartoons when I was seven.
John: Any formal education?
Lisa: I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a
humanities degree in Film.
John: Were you exposed to personal computing in college?
Lisa: My senior year, a friend of mine bought a 128k Mac.
John: Where does this place you in the Generation Game?
Lisa: I’m from the fringe baby boomer/generation x crowd.
John: Does that make you a workaholic or a flake? How about flakeaholic?
Lisa: Cut it out, John. I worked my way through college, graduating in four years.
John: And got a job?
Lisa: I eventually went to work at Apple, wrote some books about Macs (see my website), and now I’m at a startup in San Francisco.
John: The center of the universe, right?
Lisa: No kidding. I’m watching many of my friends get rich either from booming Apple stock, from having their companies be bought by other companies, or from going public with their businesses.
John: Are you in the 24/7 fast lane, Lisa? Not much time for television now, I suppose.
Lisa: I manage to find time for Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons, The X-Files, Ally McBeal, Friends, ER, Law and Order, and The Daily Show, plus eight or ten more, time permitting.
Back to Work, Lisa
John: Lifestyle of the restless techie?
Lisa: My life is run by wireless technology, computers, software, hardware, electricity, IPOs, cable modems, DSL, cell phones, email, packages, websites, and deadlines.
Lisa: I like working in the computer industry because I enjoy working with new technologies. Also, I enjoy being on the development teams. The people I’ve worked with are wonderful. But at the same time there are many things, like painting and drawing, I prefer to do without a computer.
John: Does this mean you think different, or differently?
Lisa: I suppose you could say that, although I’m very much like other creative people who work here in Silicon Valley. I’m working every day at a startup business now, trying to create the next cool thing. I don’t go out of my way to break any rules; it just sort of happens.
John: And in comparison with your cohorts?
Lisa: I think most of the people I work with have their own unique opinions on our product, but we tend to work together to get the best of everything we can squeeze into the project, time permitting. When I work on my own projects, I try to view what I’m doing from different perspectives to see if I’m leaving something obvious out, or putting too much in.
John: Is it fair to describe you as a mouse potato, Lisa?
Lisa: Ooh, that hurts. I appreciate being out in the sunshine, almost as much as I enjoy sitting in front of my Mac. I like playing volleyball, basketball, and other sports such as racquetball, tennis, biking, and swimming. I just haven’t had much time to do these things lately.
John: I’ll be in San Francisco in August. Let’s get together for some racquetball, if you don’t mind playing with a geezer.
Lisa: The pleasure (and victory) will be entirely mine, John. Remember to bring your goggles!
Ahead to the Past
John: You mentioned a job at Apple. Is that where you came up with the idea to write your first book?
Lisa: Yep. I was working at Apple in 1993, and a friend of mine in marketing was starting to write a book about PowerPC Macs (the first ones). I asked him what was involved in writing a book, and he volunteered to help me write an outline. I submitted the outline to Hayden Books (a subsidiary of Macmillan), but it was rejected.
John: Too bad?
Lisa: No, too good! Two years later, I got a call from
someone at Macmillan (an Acquisition Editor) asking me if
I wanted to work on Upgrading and Repairing Macs,
and of course I said yes. That’s how it all started.
John: But that was only the beginning, right?
Lisa: Indeed. I proposed a second Mac book, which was s
upposed to become Mac OS 8 Unleashed, but it was shelved (due to slow Mac sales at the end of 1997).
John: All of this while you were working in Cupertino?
Lisa: You are correct, but soon I left Apple, then got a call from Chris Will (executive editor for Que/Macmillan) who asked me if I wanted to be the technical editor for Teach Yourself Mac OS 8.5 in 24 Hours (you reviewed that book favorably, remember?).
John: Sure. It was a winner. What was your contribution?
Lisa: It turned out some of the chapters in that book were still intact from the lost-in-space Mac OS 8 Unleashed chapters I had written, and Rita Lewis was kind enough to share co-authoring credits with me.
John: Rita is good! Did the OS 8.5 title lead to additional offers?
Lisa: I did more technical editing work for Chris, and eventually proposed an update to Upgrading and Repairing Macs, but that was rejected. Then he asked me if I wanted to write Easy iMac, and I thought it would be fun, so again I said yes.
John: It’s a great beginner book, Lisa. One of my favorites.
Lisa: Thanks. After I had finished Easy iMac, I wanted to write about a different operating system, so I talked to Chris, and we decided to work on Easy Linux.
John: ROFL. How can you say “easy” and “Linux” in the same sentence? I’ll have to find that book and see for myself. Why Linux?
Lisa: As I said before, I like working with new technologies, and Linux is at the forefront of newness right now. I thought why not help others learn how to use this new technology, too? As I was finishing Easy Linux, I was working at WebTV at the time (which is owned by Microsoft), and I had read that Microsoft had created a task force to follow Linux.
John: I’m not ready to dig deeper into that relationship, Lisa.
Lisa: ‘Nuff said. Anyway, Apple announced the iBook in 1999, and Chris asked me if I wanted to write Easy iBook, and of course, I said yes once again.
John: You’re box office material! Anything else?
Lisa: So far this year I’ve been the technical editor for How to Do Everything with Palm, and Mac OS 9, the Complete Reference.
John: I just received both those books from the publisher (Osborne/McGraw-Hill). What does it mean, being tech editor?
Lisa: I review some or all of the chapters written for a particular book. I try to make sure all the technical information presented is complete and accurate for the book.
John: Wow. I never knew what was involved. I’m getting exhausted hearing about all your books. Don’t you need to take a breather sometime?
Lisa: I’m not working on any computer-related books right now. But I just finished Easy iMac, Second Edition, which I updated to cover Mac OS 9 and the re-designed iMacs, including the DV iMacs.
John: Terrific. Send me one of those, pronto (the DV
Mac, not just the book). Other changes?
Lisa: I’ve added tasks for Keychain Access, Multiple
Users, and Software Update control panels (and other
new features in OS 9), and I also show users how to
make movies with iMovie and use the FireWire port.
John: This second edition is going to the top, I predict. More goodies?
Lisa: I also added two tasks to cover the AirPort Base Station and AirPort card software. I also managed to include coverage of AppleWorks 6 with the other software bundled with the iMac, all covered in Part 11.
John: You are ambitious, talented, and dedicated to our favorite platform.
Lisa: Easy iMac, as well as the iMac itself, will always have a special place in my heart. I worked with some of the members on the iMac team before I left Apple, and the company I work at uses iMacs as the main computer for every employee.
John: How does the iMac serve as a “workstation” computer?
Lisa: I really enjoy working on my DV iMac. It’s a great computer. I definitely enjoy using it more than any of the PCs I use for work. But the computers I use are driven by the software I have to work with, so the iMac isn’t the perfect workstation for every situation. It’s definitely a great consumer Internet workstation. I myself, prefer to use my FireWire PowerBook to do most of my day-to-day work.
How She Does It
John: Does your publisher give you free hardware and software to help you write your computer books?
Lisa: I either buy the computer and use the software that comes pre-installed on it, or I borrow the hardware from a friend. For the Linux book, I had to buy a computer that worked with the software.
John: And your method?
Lisa: The process I use to write a book is sort of similar to the way I develop software or create a painting. I create the outline first (sort of a sketch or prototype), then start writing the chapters (or, as the Easy series calls them, Parts).
John: Trial and success?
Lisa: Well said. As I write a chapter, I either use the software as I write, or I walk through the steps in my mind to try to visualize what the reader will need to see to grasp what I’m trying to communicate in each task.
John: And your fine-tuning?
Lisa: After I write one or two chapters, I review them and try to find out how I can make them better, and how they fit in with the rest of the book. Then I create all the screen shots for those chapters, and walk through each task once more to find out how my writing fits with the picture.
John: How do you keep track of it all?
Lisa: If I’m not sure how all the elements in the chapter are working together, I run through one or several chapters, and with each pass review a specific aspect of the material.
Lisa: For example, I might check the wording of the steps, or introduction text, or artwork placement. What happens is I end up seeing the chapter over a dozen times, each time looking for a particular element to see how it flows throughout the chapter.
John: Mixture of right and left brains, like artwork?
Lisa: This is sort of similar to the way I put my paintings under different light, and look at them from different perspectives to see if I can tweak something to make them better, or if I’ve missed something, or have too much of something in a picture.
John: I’m impressed. Any more?
Lisa: Since I’ve been working with software and hardware projects for so many years, I think I’ve learned to visualize what I’ll be working on even before I have a prototype created. As the project moves forward, I sort of memorize what I’m working on, and update the image in my memory as different things change either in the hardware or the software.
John: Do you ever get frustrated?
Lisa: Not exactly. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’ve always wanted to be a film maker (remember my university degree?). Not because I want fame or fortune, but because I like visualizing concepts and turning them into something real, hopefully making them even better than what I originally had in mind.
Thanks, Lisa Lee
John: And the road ahead?
Lisa: (Groan. Bad choice of words there, John.) What projects are in my future? I don’t have any book projects in my queue at the moment. I definitely have a few paintings I need to finish, as well as other personal projects I’d like to start or move forward with.
John: Text or image?
Lisa: I’ve finally taken a big step and started writing my novel, a story I’ve had in the back of my mind for almost ten years.
Lisa: Most of my time is spent working at a startup company, Scout Electromedia. Until our product ships, I haven’t planned for a whole lot more to happen, at least in the near future.
John: Thanks so much. I encourage readers to visit your website for more info on your books and art projects. All our best, Lisa.
Lisa: And to you and everyone at My Mac Magazine, John.