In Memoriam Susan Howerter

In June 2000, five years ago, lost one of our own. Susan Howerter, columnist and author or the “Stocking Stuffer Steve book” passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Susan first came to my attention in August 1997. At the time, we had a column titled “The Reader Voice” in which we let our readership send in their own samples for publication. This was one of the best ideas I had ever had, as it netted us not a few regular columnists, reviewers, and indeed friends for years to come. Susan sent it an article titled “DUEX ex Machina” in August, hoping I would print it in the magazine. She had sent it to another Mac publication as well, but they passed. I was blown away! It was a brilliant piece of writing, so I not only published the piece in our September 1997 (#29) issue, I also asked her to join our staff as a regular writer. Happily, she agreed.

In October 1997, Susan began writing her ever-popular column “Out of the AppleCart.” Susan had so much ambition, in fact, that in November 1997, she also wrote a second column at My Mac, “Churning the AppleCart”

Churning continued on for a year, ending in October 1998, while Out of the AppleCart continued until May of 2000.

Susan did not limit herself to just, however. She also wrote for the once popular “MacTimes” website for a half year. Her column there, From The Desktop Dilettante, was very popular, and gained Susan even more fame in the Macintosh arena. Sadly, MacTimes feel on hardship, and Susan was forced to quit, focusing solely on and her new project, the book “The Stocking Stuffer Steve Book”

This month, years after her death, Kate Ancell, Susan’s niece, contacted me. I had never met Kate before, and she was the first relative of Susan’s to contact me since that sad day five years prior. I was happy to hear from Kate, and we started up a dialog. I told Kate how I had planned on writing something to commiserate Susan’s death, what she meant to us here at, and invited Kate to write something herself.

Thanks, Kate, for sharing the following with us.

To Susan, five years on: in memoriam by Kate Ancell

In many ways, I think I was a disgrace to my aunt Susan. The first of our family to purchase – and love – a Mac (way back in 92, when the screens were only slightly smaller than a postage stamp), I remained ignorant of their finer qualities, out-of-date with their emerging technologies, and resolutely uninterested in why they did what they did, so comprehensibly and so well. I never even mastered clip art. In fact, though I used QuarkXpress all day every day for years, I never learned to layout pages. I tell you all this so you will know – and those of you who knew Susan will especially understand – that, although Susan’s Mac journalism was what propelled her into the world of publishing, for me it came late to the party. This, of course, is not the Mac’s fault: Susan was always writing, long before the home computer, and even before the advent of the electric typewriter.

When I picture the Susan of my childhood, I see her always surrounded by pages: lesson ideas and plans for her special Ed students (and if ever there was a teacher who went the extra million miles, it was Susan – her kids’ parents have no idea, I’m sure…), poems, songs and stories. (When my family was in a plane crash in 1978, my mother must have read Susan’s opus “Broken Bones Only” a hundred times to my patched-up little brother.) Some of you may know that Susan loved traditional English mysteries; she wrote two children’s mysteries (full, book-length manuscripts) that I thought then and still think now are wonderful – like Susan, they were academic, entertaining and slyly funny.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the publishing world couldn’t see what we all saw in Susan’s writing. Susan was not a self-promoter in any way, and I’m sure she followed the prescribed route for getting a book editor to consider her work – I don’t think she even approached agents. So, due perhaps to a combination of her diffidence and the height of the slush pile – and much to the children’s book market’s loss – her books were never published. In fact, it took a confluence of events to burst her, like a roman candle, into flaming, eternal print: in the early nineties, Susan discovered the Mac; the Internet publishing revolution came along; and Tim Robertson took the time to see what was in front of so many faces for so long – here was a Talent, searching for a medium.

Susan had a knack for speaking to her reader in engaging prose that also taught a lesson – no doubt the result of her years in the classroom. She also loved the fact that, on the Internet, you could be who you really were. The same casual anonymity that allows bloggers to post online journals for years without anyone knowing their names gave Susan the confidence to be who she was without worrying about what, for example, her mother might say. The Internet, and My Mac, allowed Susan to write in her true voice, and to be heard. It was undoubtedly the greatest gift that anyone could have given her, and I can state unreservedly that it gave her more happiness in her last years than any of us could have imagined.

I wish that Susan could have seen how much the online community has grown and evolved. I suspect that she would have had a blog – it seems like the sort of thing that would have appealed to her, very much. I know that she would be writing – it was what kept her moving forward, more than anything else. And I’m confident that she would still be in the thick of things in the Mac world, burning the midnight oil, keeping up with the controversies, and being forever disappointed that her niece was so far behind the times.

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