Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apple: A Love Story

My first glimpse of a Macintosh was in my theology teacher’s classroom. 

“You can type up your graduation speech on this,” Mr. Reyes said, as I eyeballed the strange box. “That way, you can make corrections or changes to it.”

In 1986, this seemed like magic.

And the Mac Plus sitting on my hippy-dippy teacher’s desk looked crazy cute. I mean, it even had a handle! I couldn’t resist. I’m sure there were some glitches as I learned how to cut and paste, drag the cursor over text, and use a mouse. I don’t remember any of that.

I just remember I was hooked, what you would call an "early adopter" in today's tech terminology. And when I moved onto a Big 10 university, I was giddy to discover that all the newly created computer labs sprinkled around campus were tricked out with rows and rows of Mac Pluses and Mac SEs. If my eyesight was bad, it went to shit staring at those tiny screens at 2am. But I didn’t care. In fact, I loved it.

By my senior year, I had become editor of the college yearbook and decided to fire our yearbook publisher and take our $100,000 account to Jostens because they promised that we could produce the pages using Pagemaker, a few Macs, and a bunch of 3 ½-inch disks. I still can't bear to crack open the finished product because of all the mistakes up in there, but I am proud that I jumped into the world of desktop publishing feet first.

I didn’t stop there. While Steve Jobs was off working at NeXT, I entered the workforce, getting a job at a small design and production company in Fairfax, Virginia. One of our biggest clients was the National Association of Postmasters of the U.S. (or NAPUS). Every year my boss would handle all its convention planning, including creating a daily newsletter on site. I persuaded Ray to take me with him to the NAPUS national convention in Niagara Falls that year, promising I could edit and lay out the newsletter every day on an SE. It must have worked out okay, because I attended two more conventions before moving on, armed with crack editing and typesetting skills.

In every place I’ve worked since, the computer platform has been Mac, which was normally a dream. Whenever I’ve visited my parents, however, I’ve had to hobble my way through the Windows PC up in spare bedroom-turned-computer room. Right click, what?

And now I’m doing a part-time gig with Microsoft. They supplied me with a laptop—a PC—and I’ve had to learn the logic behind Windows OS, as well as the shortcuts that seem like second nature to my coworkers. But I’ve taught them a few things too, because using a Mac has made me nimble. Some say Apple computers are easier to use, that you can see everything and click on whatever you want or need. That’s true. But there are the secret handshakes, the hidden staircases, the key commands, and typesetting shortcuts that have been in place from the beginning that make me feel as if I’m part of the cool-kids club. Maybe knowing how to make an em-dash or smart quote doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things, but it—as surely as using a Mac for 20-plus years—has shaped how I approach my work and how I regard myself. My professional and personal identity has been colored with the crisp white world of Apple.

And for that, Steve Jobs, I thank you.

(photo: The Michiganensian's sports editor with one of the Mac SEs we were using for editing and design.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

10 cool books for hot days

This week I tackle books that will help you chill out even if the mercury is climbing. What cold-climate book do you love?

10 cool books for hot days

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

10 books you really should have read in high school

10 books you really should have read in high school

Check out my latest piece on, where I detail the 10 books I devoured in school that I think merit a reread. What book do you recommend revisiting as an adult?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Crafting a Craft Proposal

It's been a while, like, a seriously long time, since I've blogged here. But that's not to say I haven't been spreading my words all over the place. In addition to writing various freelance pieces (my recent favorite is this sea glass essay in the May issue of Horizon Airlines magazine; p. 104), Kerry and I have been helping others to shape their ideas into viable book proposals and overall educating folks on the Business of Books.

Judi Ketteler is helping to spread the word. A fellow craft author, I met a then very pregnant Judi at a craft trade show last summer, where we were doing all sorts of make and takes. And I was just blown away by her book Sew Retro:
25 Vintage-Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl & A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution, a reading book as much as a project book.

She recently invited me to do a Q&A on her blog about the unique challenges of putting together a kick-ass craft book proposal. If you're crafty at all, I'd recommend checking out what I have to say on the matter, and spending some time on Judi's blog. You'll be inspired in more ways than one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

We should all be so lucky to find meaningful work that makes us happy. To work with a close friend is just pink icing on a very tasty cake.

For the past decade, I’ve been writing books, usually ones that tickle me, well, pink. Now, Kerry Colburn, my friend of 15 years, and I are imparting our collective knowledge to other authors-in-progress. We delivered a talk last September to a full room at the Hotel Andra and things just started to snowball. We created a proposal workshop and partnered with the Hotel 1000 for a series of publishing talks. In just a few short months, we have a whole new business and it’s more fun than a bushel of kittens.

I mean, I get to help people realize their dream AND do it with a pal. That’s pretty darn dreamy.

If you are interested in finding out more about our publishing talks, workshops, and consultations, check out our blog, The Business of Books. Our next workshop is coming up on Saturday, March 5. If you are ready to develop your book idea into a viable proposal, this 3-hour class is for you!

(photo: Gregg Snodgrass)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reader feedback: one of life's best gifts

I got the greatest gift this week: feedback from a reader.

Every time one of my books hits the market, I feel as if I just sent a kid off to college. And the worst thing? I don't know how he's doing or who he's hanging out with. I have no idea if anyone's reading my book, let alone enjoying it.

And then, one day, an e-mail shows up.
I don't recognize the name but curiosity gets the best of me and I open it. And my world gets a little—nay, a lot—brighter. A reader talks back, closes the loop, begins a two-way dialogue with me. Yesterday was one of those days.

Subject line: BTFT (for Beyond the Family Tree, my latest book)

I just wanted to thank you for the book. My wife, who is trying to determine family fact from family fiction, is proud that she has filled out all the boxes on your tree page (and then some). The book is kind of turning into the only family heirloom anyone is likely to inherit in her family. Of course, when your great aunt is born in a cave en route from Mexico some things get left behind… Thanks again, Scott

Scott, wherever you are, know that hearts are coming out of my grateful head towards you and your wife. To know that my book is not only being read, but used and cherished, well, I'm a crier so you can only imagine what's going on up in here. Once I kick my book out the door and off to the printer, it's far too easy for me to get caught up in the next thing and the pressures of the everyday. Hearing from a reader is way to take a pause and take in what I've put out in the world. And that is what makes my writing truly worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Press for The Business of Books

As the year gets under way, I'm contemplating a few meaningful resolutions. Being kinder to myself, pursuing a healthful lifestyle, backing away from Bravo, developing deeper relationships with family and friends, and finishing two massive book proposals. I also want to help you with your publishing aspirations. To that end, Kerry Colburn and I are continuing to bring publishing talks, workshops, and private consultations to Seattle's burgeoning authors. You can find our complete schedule of events here. To learn a bit more about our philosophy behind The Business of Books, look no further than Nicole Brodeur's column in the Seattle Times. She quotes me as saying "There's always room for new book ideas and fresh voices. We're taking back the New Year's resolution as something that's achievable, and does not involve self-loathing." Sounds about right. Kick that cabbage soup diet to the curb and get busy writing. You'll feel better and you won't have hunger pangs.

Now I just have to kick my Real Housewives habit to the curb.

A sampling of my books