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Meet Daniel Will-Harris

(don't worry, he rarely bites...)

What's a nice, award winning comedy writer like me doing in a field like this, computer books, the ultimate techno-snooze? Well, my first computer book, Desktop Publishing With Style, received much popular and critical acclaim, and I thought I'd try to make a career out of producing entertaining and informative computer books.

I've always been interested in any form of communication, from playing with press-on type in my crib to being editor-in-chief of my college paper. For many years I worked as a writer for television and the musical theater. When I discovered what computers offered a writer, I was hooked and have been a slave to technology ever since. Since escaping Los Angeles in 1989, my wife, Toni, and I live in the Northern California woods with our pet sheep, Selsdon, and our pet chinchillas and chipmunks.

In 1988 I originated the "Using Type" column in Personal Publishing magazine. Along with my wife, Toni, I originated and wrote the only design column in Ventura Professional Magazine. In 1990 I became West Coast Editor of Desktop Communications magazine and wrote the "Trade Secrets" column. I was also the West Coast Editor of PC Publishing and Windows Style magazines, and wrote the "TypeStyle" and "FontStyle" columns. I have also written feature articles for PC Magazine, Publish, PC World, Windows, Compute!, Step-by-Step Graphics, and many others.

My most recent software project was an on-line type advisor and "expert-system" typeface selection system included with ElseWare's revolutionary synthetic font package "FontWorks."

I have served as editor on many books and have designed and produced countless books, including all of my own "best-selling" (I love calling them that) books. I have served as series designer for textbooks at Prentice Hall and designed book covers for Underwood/Miller.

My design firm, Will-Power Ink, specializes in books, packaging, and corporate identity.

As a consultant, I have dealt primarily with people in the entertainment industry and the media, such as Gene Roddenberry, William F. Buckley, Disney Studios, KUSC, Hanna-Barbera, the LA Weekly, Prentice Hall, Xerox, and Time/Design.

I designed all the templates that ship with Corel Draw, many of the templates that ship with Ventura, and have recently completed templates that will ship with the next version of Microsoft Publisher.

I also produced and appear in a line of Signature Series instructional videotapes on Windows, Corel Draw, Word, Ami, Ventura, and WordPerfect. I also developed the first line of Style Sheets for Ventura Publisher and WordPerfect (available here in the Store Room .)

My latest printed book is Dr. Daniel's Windows Diet: a fast cure for your Windows pains (Peachpit Press). Check the Writing Office for my latest electronic titles.

In progress: I am the editor of, the friendly place to learn how to build a better web site. If you're interested in building yourself a web site, it's the only place on the web that can help you without you feeling like your head is going to explode. If you're not interested in building a web site, look at it anyway, it's fun.

Later this year I will publish a book on analyzing personalities (your own and others) using your wallet (Yes, your wallet). More about Wallets...

Q&A through Z

Words of Wisdom: You can't argue with an idiot.

If I were to do it all over again, I'd be a Mouseketeer.

Favorite Pantone Color: 485

How you got into this business: I've been a writer since I was six and would make up stories based on the off-screen lives of TV commercial characters. I sold the rights to these stories to the movies, and used the profits to feed my habit for chocolate.

After discovering the power of computers (while doing temp work in Julie Andrews' office), I wanted one of my own--(a computer, not Julie, though she was very nice) but given my genetic makeup, I don't believe in paying retail. I read a book by Peter McWilliams (of Prelude Press) that offered a newsletter for $100 a year--which, to me was the same as $10,000 is now.

So I wrote him a letter in his style (on stationery I designed), and got myself a job in trade for the newsletter. Within a day I knew more about the computers at Prelude Press than the people who'd worked there a year. Within a week I knew more than Peter (though I couldn't focus my eyes very well after looking up 5,000 zip codes for a mailing list where they'd accidentally all been left off!). I had a natural aptitude for computers--and the ability to copy someone else's literary style, what more could they want?

At Prelude Press, most new hires made it through one day, tops. It was a crazy place to work--cramped, noisy, with orders from the boss that were literally impossible to fulfill. If you made it through three days you could pretty well make it as long as you wanted.

I was offered a full-time job (as I was at every place I ever worked), and, not liking the idea of working full-time anywhere, I suggested that I could do more in 4 hours a day than most people do in eight--and Peter, knowing a bargain, accepted. My other terms was that I would be able to wear shorts and sandals to work (this was L.A. in the summer and it was something like 140 degrees outside, and only 90 inside the air conditioned condo he called an office).

I went to work and actually, at that time no one was writing for Peter except for Peter. But as he became more successful he had less time to write, so my friend Chris Meeks, his editor, started to write some things for him. I saw lots of software and hardware in magazines and wanted to try it (but again, not buy it), so I would call up and get review units for Peter, review it myself, and give Chris the reviews. Soon we were writing much of what he wrote about computers (unfortunately, we can't take credit for his best-selling non-computer books, though, because it wouldn't be true).

After two years of this, I realized that I was a complete and total idiot because I was making all of $8 an hour and getting no credit. I had the eighth LaserJet printer ever produced--the PR person representing it couldn't understand why anyone would want one, but I saw what looked like typesetting codes in the manual (even though there were no proportionally spaced fonts for it yet), and I saw the future. I saw a thing called "Desktop Publishing" coming about, so I quit to write my own book on the subject.

What I didn't know then is that you don't write the whole entire book before looking for a publisher--which is what I did. I sent the complete book to 30 publishers, got a number of form letter rejections, got a number of very nice letters from people who'd read it and liked it but were informed by their typesetters that it was a fad which wouldn't last. Finally it was accepted by a company in South Bend Indiana run by what I later found out were not very ethical people. They published the book, it got great reviews and sold pretty well, and then they forgot to send me little things, like royalty money. It was then that I learned that our legal system made it cost more to get the money they owed me than the money they owed me.

From there I was spotted by Ted Nace, who made me the first Peachpit author (other than himself). The rest, of course, is history. I've written a bunch of books, produced and appeared in a number of videos and CDs, and even appeared in a movie (or six).

  • If I weren't a computer book writer I'd be: Much happier. :)
  • Favorite Web Site: My own, (well, what did you want me to say?)
  • What do you love about computers: They make it possible for me to share things with others I previously could only see in my head. And they check my spellling.
  • What you hate most about computers? Hardware. I wish it could all be just software--you ate something that looked unlike a chocolate chip cookie and suddenly you could do all this without the aid of a machine and electricity.
  • If you were on a desert island: I would take: my wife, Toni. Plus a yacht with a lifetime supply of food, water, and power. Plus 10 million dollars in unmarked bills.
  • The three oddest things on my refrigerator door are: 1) Tomato Sauce from 1990 (for its sentimental value). 2) a giant foamcore snowflake. 3) Chinchilla hair.
  • All my heroes are: Architects, artists, or downstairs watching TV.
  • Favorite Quote: If you're in the here and now then where am I?
  • Do you have another job?

Yes, to end world crabbiness by making people laugh, to feed the hungry rodents of Marin County, to replenish the earth's depleted supply of trilithium, and to discover a cure for MTV. And do some graphic design work on the side.

  • What do you see from your Window?

Society Garlic pampas grass bamboo. Blue star creeper weeping cedar forget-me-not fiber optic grass. Chipmunk lizard deer vole mice snake blue jay woodpecker owl vulture eagle hawk sparrow finch. Bobcats. Sunshine. This reminds me of my favorite Yoko Ono poem: Sunshine. Freedom. Diphtheria. Makes you think, doesn't it?

  • Your computer's measurements: How dare you.
  • 1) Is the info-highway revolutionary or all hype? 2) Will it become completely commercialized? 3) Is it creating a computer-literate elite? Your thoughts:

1) It's revolutionary hype. 2) So what if it becomes commercialized--we all know that often the commercials are more entertaining than the programming. Actually, so long as anyone like me can create a Web site (we don't want people unlike me doing this, however), then I'm not worried. It's only when someone can say who can and can't start one that we're headed down the potholed path of Cable TV. 3) It's really created a computer- illiterate elite.

Oh please, this whole thing is just one more way for people to communicate--one more way for people to interact without having to smell each other. It's a place where you can only discriminate against people's ideas, not their looks, or color, or size, or taste in garb. It's wonderful in that it brings people closer together. It's terrible in that it's one more substitute for real relationships and experiences. It's bad enough that once you see some place on TV, then go there, we all say "Gee, this is just like on TV," because it is, but we add "Only on TV, it wasn't so hot or crowded or expensive or smelly." Now we'll meet someone and think, "Gee, I liked them better when I couldn't smell them."

We're creating a world where the best place to find companionship (and the safest sex) is alone in your room. That's fine for people like me who have never quite understood how reality works--but I had always thought that most people didn't care how it worked, they just wanted to play golf, shop, or have sex. Now I'm finding out that most people don't get it, either, so I'm no longer unique. Damn.

  • When did you get your first computer and what kind was it?
It was, I don't remember the year, but it was a KayPro II that I got at manufacturer's cost (not wholesale--less than that!). It was a fabulous machine because a single 180K disk could hold my word processor, spell checker, file manager, and communications program. It was built like a very large armor plated bread-box and it made a great weapon. It was also a hip blue-greenish color--I resent that computers are now only available in beige--that might have been fine in the Architectural Digest Monochromatic 80's, but now I want my machine to match my eyes--green. Blue. Gray. Green. (it changes depending on what I wear).
  • Most inspiring book/author:

    I can never remember. I love reading books but generally forget them a few days after I read them so I can read them again later and it's always a new experience. Woody Allen wrote some really funny stuff when he was young and carefree and had jackets with suede patches on the elbows (I once I had a jacket like that--I never knew what the patches were for). Donald Westlake writes my favorite novels because they have no redeeming social value but they still have characters and plot and make sense and are very funny.

    • Do you always/sometimes/never write away from the keyboard:

    I love writing at the keyboard because I can type faster than I can write, which is usually faster than I can think. I write with a pen when I'm away from a keyboard and absolutely desperate that otherwise I'll forget whatever my thought is, which I will if I don't write it down. What was the question?

    • If so, what kind of pen or pencil do you use?

    If I could, I'd use plain white chalk because I love the way it tastes--creamy, yet insouciant. In college I went through my fountain pen stage and had a number of beautiful antique fountain pens I bought for next to nothing because they didn't work very well. I got sick of having to refill them with a syringe and having people think I was mainlining Pelican Blue #2. I also got sick of getting the ink under my fingernails so that I looked like I had the disease you get if you mainline Blue #2. I also tended to lose nice pens and then get real depressed. So my absolute favorite is the Pilot Precise V7 Rollerball. First, it's the smoothest pen on the planet. Second, it uses liquid ink so that when you're really bored you can tilt it back and forth and have a tiny version of one of those 70's-style wave machines. Third, it's really cheap, so you can lose it without requiring professional help. Fourth, it's really cheap, so you can give it away to people who are always very grateful. Fifth, it's really cheap, so when your friends steal them from you, you can just laugh and think you got the better part of the deal from when you stole their Mont Blanc pen because you liked the little wavy white thing on the cap.

    • What kind of music do you play on your CD-ROM drive?

    Nat King Cole. Sondheim. Debussy. Gershwin. Copland. Holst. Maureen McGovern. Accidental Tourist and Out of Africa soundtracks. And that great new group, Testosterone and the Estrogens.

    • Talk about your family or pets:

    Family--hmmm. Well, I've been married so long that next year I will have been married longer than I was unmarried. And I'm happy about that. My wife, Toni, is a genius--absolutely brilliant--yet with practical talents like parking space divining, taxi-conjuring, lasagna creation, and the ability to communicate with rodents telepathically. My sister, Lisa, is a saddle maker who was an Indian but then became white again when she got indoor plumbing. Her husband, Loren, can do anything mechanical; he built their house from scratch, water and hydro-electric power supply, and electric car. He also makes saddles in his spare time. They have two wonderful kids, Ocea 16, and Ari 13, about 18 horses, and assorted goats and pigs and dogs and flies.

    My brother doesn't look anything like me, so it's natural for me to sometimes wonder if we're really related. (Actually he looks almost exactly like my grandfather, so we probably are related.) He has two great kids, Richard and Alexander, and I won't include how old they are as they get older every year.

    My mother is very bright and doesn't have nearly enough to do. She makes chocolate and is a professional baker (self taught) of great renown. My father is retired from his construction company (which I was supposed to take over but didn't because while I love architecture I don't much care for construction). That's why I like the WWW--all the architecture is virtual.

    Gee, I haven't even mentioned my beloved pets--the inside pets are Mr. Buns, a chinchilla (very bright animals, rodents), and a sheep named Selson who I did mention earlier (or he would have eaten my keyboard). Outside we have trained chipmunks and other assorted rodents and birds who come when called by name. This is awfully long, isn't it?

    Contacting DWH:

    If you'd like to contact Dr. Daniel with questions or diet tips, You can reach him here.

    If you haven't yet electrified your mail yet, you can also contact him via U.S. Mail (though you risk having your letter fall behind a credenza where it may or may not be discovered until months later on one of the doctor's semi-annual dust-bunny forays). Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope and your favorite cookie recipe.

    Dr. Daniel Will-Harris
    Box 1235
    Point Reyes, CA 94956

  • Copyright © 2003 Daniel Will-Harris,