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Clients Crushin’ It: Kathy Kleiman

Madison Utley speaks to Kathy Kleiman following the release of her first book, Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer, a detailed history–and, perhaps more importantly, a celebration–of the female pioneers who triumphed against sexism and technical challenges to invent computer programming.

 

Q: I understand that Proving Ground is the first writing project of this scale you’ve undertaken, so can you tell me a bit about what motivated you to write this book?

I am a public interest internet lawyer and a professor of intellectual property and internet governance. Normally I write legal things: comments, articles, advocacy pieces. Writing books is not my forte, so a full-length narrative story was quite the challenge. 

That said, I knew this story–the story of the programming pioneers who worked on a secret Army project during WWII–had to be told. These six women programmed the ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer, which is the grandfather (or, dare I say, grandmother) of today’s laptops and smartphones.

I had known for many years I was sitting on a great story that contradicted the one I was taught in my computer science courses. The truth is the history of early computing, and the ENIAC project at the University of Pennsylvania during WWII, was quite diverse. The team included women and men, new immigrants, and people with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. That diversity was key to the team’s success in creating a new technology and ushering in the Information Age.

Whenever I hit a snag while writing, and I encountered many, I thought about my students and my desire to attract the next generation of young women and young men to STEM and STEM policy work. There is so much opportunity in these fields, with many jobs open today and millions more projected to open in the next few decades. This history inspired me to seek my career and I hope Proving Ground will inspire others to explore this space too.

Q: Can you talk about how the research process unfolded?

My undergraduate thesis at Harvard centered around the women at the heart of Proving Ground, the ENIAC Programmers. But 10 years after that, I found out most of those women hadn’t even been invited to the 50th anniversary of ENIAC because no one other than the original generation they worked with knew their story. As I saw it, that was a big problem. 

In 1997, I got a grant to continue my research. I spent six months in the Library of Congress, among other archives, researching materials. I then interviewed four of the original six ENIAC Programmers, resulting in 20 hours of broadcast quality oral histories. I wanted to turn the cameras on them and let them tell their own stories. They did it wonderfully, beautifully, creatively. They’re funny. They’re brilliant. They were in their late 70s and early 80s at that point in the late ‘90s. They really became my mentors and role models. It’s their voices that I try to bring out in the book.

These interviews resulted in my co-producing the documentary, The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers. We premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival and then won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short from the United Nations Association Film Festival.

The demographic of a typical audience for a PBS documentary is 50+ year old, well-educated, white people but I explained, “No, we’re making this for everyone 12 and up.” So in telling the story, we didn’t assume any prior knowledge about the war, and we didn’t assume any technical knowledge either. We really wanted the film to be accessible to everyone, and that was something we tried to carry into the book as well. 

It was an honor to watch the surviving programmers finally get some of the recognition they deserved, to watch them light up, to watch the audience at the screenings light up, and to watch the young women converge around them after, laughing and crying at the same time, wondering how they had never known this history.

Q: How did the process look different as you then prepared to tell the story through the medium of a book? 

I had thousands of pages of research in my house, much of it in paper form. And while it may have been challenging to organize, thank goodness for that, because during COVID the libraries and archives were closed. I took over the den. The floor space became my filing space. I had piles of papers sorted by chapter spread across the room, that I was trying to arrange into a sequential story; at the same time, once I got into the later, technical chapters, I was really trying to break down a rather obscure method of direct programming which is both modern and esoteric at the same time. I was writing for a general audience, so I knew I had to make it accessible and I couldn’t “talk tech.”

Q: What role did Stuart play in getting Proving Ground out into the world? 

Stuart was many things. He was an editor, but he was also the audience. He is someone who was incredibly well prepared to read this book on its different levels–the technology, the history, the law–and help make it accessible. He could answer: Did I get it right? Was I explaining this all well? 

Stuart was also a sounding board; he was an encourager–Encourager, capital E; he was an architect. A lot of times, I felt like I was writing for him as I shared these stories. Then we’d get together and discuss if I had hit the marks and he would help me make sure we got it even better. We were working on a fast timeframe and he was turning things around very quickly, which I appreciated. 

But perhaps most importantly, Stuart encouraged me to say what I wanted to say. With so many historians pushing against this story for so many years, telling me not to say what I wanted to say, it was powerful for me to hear, “Go ahead and say it. We’ll massage it into the right words after. For now, just say what you need to say.”

Q: Your book came out a month ago now. How does it feel to have it circulating in the world, and what kind of feedback have you been getting?

It’s very exciting. Publisher’s Weekly was the first to come back and say nice things about it. They loved it. Across the board, people seem to really be diving into this book and they’re seeing what I saw–that this is an inspirational story. My book has also made it onto some ‘Hot Summer Reads’ lists which I could have never have conceived happening, seeing as it’s a story about six techy women programming a 30-ton computer nearly 80 years ago. But it’s great.

I’m also getting a lot of fan mail, including from men. Many are telling me how moved they are by this history and others are asking questions, but my favorite are those who have been inspired by the book to tell me the stories of their own mothers, grandmothers, or great aunts–the women they know in tech who encouraged them to go into the field.

Stuff We Love: Read This if You Want to Be A Great Writer

Writers of craft books on writing still read craft books on writing. It would be dangerous to think you know everything. Of course, it’s easier when that book is published in the UK. There’s not so much competition.

Read This if You Want to Be a Great Writer - BIS PublishersOr maybe I’m wrong. Have you heard of the book Read This If You Want To Be a Great Writer by Ross Raisin? The title is pretty sales-y, although I hear aspirational marketing works wonders. (For the record, I did not come up with the title, Blueprint Your Bestseller, either.)

Then I found out that what’s they call all the books in the series, Read This If… you want to be great at drawing, at taking photographs, etc. I was contemplating the move to writing my first fiction in thirty years. I better buy a book.

Broken into roughly sixteen categories, ranging from Place to Sex to Planning, I learned new things throughout. I also felt empowerment to apply what I already knew across the looming bridge from creative nonfiction to made-up storytelling. 

But hey, that’s my process. You will have your own experience of this book by the British novelist, Raisin. To entice you further to buy it (note absence of affiliate links), here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“The plan you drew up at the end of your first draft will have more value than any plan you make before the first draft.”

“If you are stumped for the point at which to enter the narrative it may be helpful to forego, for now, an adherence to writing in a linear way from beginning to end.”

“Some works of fiction that play with preconceived notions of what fiction is supposed to look like can be so compelling that they create their own market. When form is bent to something new, your previously programmed way of reading a text can be, too.”

I think I realized that — as perhaps is true in all genres — it is the voice that beckons to us first. Ross’s expertise is combined with his confidence and warmth to make it feel like it is not such a cold world. I recently heard from one of my readers, “I just read your first book and I’m on your second book. I just wanted to let you know that I loved the graphics, humor, and voice. As I read, I felt as if a real person was talking to me and explaining the process. Most books I’ve read thus far have yet to have that same effect…”

I mean, that’s why we write craft books. It doesn’t send the kids to college. But maybe it helps a few lifelong learners along the way.



The BA Band: Michele DeFilippo

 

Madison Utley speaks to 1106 Design founder Michele DeFilippo about how she got into the business of book designing, what seems to most surprise people about what it is she does, and why she’ll be forever grateful for the Catholic nuns of her youth. 

 

Q: To start, can you give us an overview of what it is 1106 Design does?

A: We provide authors a variety of services to self-publish their book when they don’t want to do the work themselves–and we do it with traditional publisher quality. I started my career at Crown Publishers in New York and every person on my team has 20 or more years of experience in the publishing industry. That’s how I’m able to say with confidence that we’re equipped to go about producing a book the way a publisher would with careful editing, careful proofreading, and collaborative design. 

When it comes to self-publishing, there are unfortunately a lot of providers out there now who will just slap something together, but we know that our authors have put their heart and soul into their books and it’s important to us that we handle their project with the highest level of care. 

Doing a good job with this work is a balancing act; our team takes the lead, making each step clear and driving the process, while also ensuring the author understands they have full freedom to collaborate and are encouraged to use their voice to tell us what they do and don’t like. We always hope our clients listen and respond to our experience, but ultimately what matters most is that the author feels able to execute their vision for the book and is happy with the final product. 

Q: What do you most enjoy about this line of work?

A: Authors put so much of themselves into their books. When they’re done with the writing process, a lot of them are scared to death. They have this treasured manuscript and they’re not sure what to do with it. They’re overwhelmed with all of the things they’re finding online about how to publish a book. They’re worried about how they’re going to manage the design process when they’ve never done anything like it before. 

When we step in, we like to think we bring a sense of control and calm to this internal chaos. We’re able to say: “Don’t worry. We know you don’t have the experience. We know you’re going to have a lot of questions. The good news is we do have the experience and we do have the answers. All you have to do is communicate with us, and we’ll guide you through every step.”

Q: What do you wish people knew about the work that you do?

A: Authors are often surprised by the amount of time, effort, and interaction it takes to produce a book. I think the perception before they come to us is that you just click a few buttons and everything magically comes together. When I recently gave a quote to an author she went, “You can’t fool me! I know it takes 15 seconds to make a book cover. You just slap a title on a picture and you’re done.”

That’s obviously an extreme example, but it does seem like a lot of people underestimate the time designers put into each job. The truth is that we’re analyzing every aspect of the process continually, trying to come up with a cover design and an interior design that’s going to best serve the author and most appeal to the buyer. 

There are so many pieces to that. Somebody has to decide how the book is going to be formatted and why, down to the smallest detail. We consider questions like: What’s the book about? What’s the mood of the book? What’s the age of the audience? That one is particularly important with typesetting because if your audience is older you don’t want to use type that’s too small and make it difficult for them to read. The point is, there are a lot of considerations that go into this process that can be overlooked if you don’t know to address them.

Q: What’s something you’re most proud of about what you’re doing at 1106 Design? 

A: We don’t take a commission on each book our clients sell like some of the other entities in this space do. Many other self-publishing companies structure it so authors’ books are sold through their account, meaning that they take the revenue from every book sale, keep a portion of it, and then pay the writer a royalty. The way we set it up, all of the financial transactions go directly to and through our clients. 

This is something we encourage authors to be on the lookout for. These companies might quote a lower price up front, but unless you know to ask explicitly, they won’t make clear that they will actually be taking a couple of dollars out of your pocket every time a copy of your book sells. I have to give some credit to the nuns with this one. I survived Catholic school, but I believe the nuns who taught me–and taught me well–are still watching so I wouldn’t dare do anything that’d upset them. At 1106 Design, we believe the author can and should control their own finances when they decide to go into publishing.

Knowing Your Why: 2022 Tucson Festival of Books

Book Architecture’s very own Stuart Horwitz had the opportunity to moderate two panels at the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books. The authors who participated in the sessions have published novels across a swath of genres but, in their own way, each linked the success they have found in their careers to having identified and articulated the why behind their writing. Without that clarity and conviction, it becomes much harder to get a work over the finish line and into readers’ hands. Below is a compilation of some of their key thoughts from the TFOB panels and beyond. 

 

 

Beasts of a Little Land, Juhea Kim

Juhea is a writer, artist, and advocate based in Portland, Oregon. Beasts of a Little Land is her debut novel, but she is also the founder and editor of Peaceful Dumpling, an online magazine at the intersection of sustainable lifestyle and ecological literature. 

Juhea says, “Why do [I] write? No one ever asks me this but I repeat this every morning while taking a walk in my neighborhood. I write to save nature and reduce animal suffering. That’s the throughline of my work across genres (essays, journalism, short stories, novel) even when the writing in question doesn’t look like it has anything to do with nature. 

Knowing the reason I write was what kept me from giving up whenever I was staring down yet another rejection. And it will continue to inspire me through the ups and downs of writing life.”

 

The Scribe of Siena, Melodie Winawer

Melodie is a physician-scientist and associate professor of neurology at Columbia University. She has published over fifty academic articles and contributed to several anthologies. For her, fiction writing is an invaluable outlet that brings balance to her otherwise fact-bound life. 

“The way I do scientific research goes something like this: I come up with a question I don’t know the answer to. I try to look up the answer. If I don’t find an answer, I look harder, and in more sources. If I still don’t know the answer, I ask colleagues with expertise. If no one knows the answer, or even better, if there is disagreement, or even controversy about the answer, that’s when I know I’ve found my next research project… 

“But in fiction, uncertainty is a foundation for invention. That means I get to make things up. And that is intensely pleasurable.”

 

Our Woman in Moscow, Beatriz Williams

Beatriz got her MBA in finance from Columbia University and worked as a corporate strategy consultant in New York and London for many years. 

She said, “The business career was something I was doing to be successful at, until I had the nerve to try what I really wanted. I was always writing. I was literally writing books on company laptops and scrubbing the files before I turned the laptop in. It was always what I wanted to do.”

Once Beatriz stepped away from her career to have her children, she decided it was time to prioritize her decades-long urge to write with more commitment. 

“I thought, it almost doesn’t matter now if I crash and burn — at least my kids need me and love me. Now that writing was no longer the most important thing, I had the guts to go ahead and try it.”

 

A Ballad of Love and Glory, Reyna Grande

Reyna crossed the US–Mexico border to join her family in Los Angeles as a young girl, a harrowing journey chronicled in her memoir, The Distance Between Us. For Reyna, the why behind her dedication to her writing career had a real urgency to it. 

She said, “When I discovered books, I felt that I had been saved. My childhood was full of things that were beyond my control. Books gave me an escape. I was able to hide in the pages of those books and for a moment get away from all the chaos around me. 

“Once I discovered Latino Literature when I was in college, the books I read helped me to define myself. I was Mexican and American. I could celebrate my Mexican culture while at the same time also feel at ease in the American culture. They helped me not to feel torn between the two.”

Both of these things helped equip Reyna with the tools she needed to write her memoir. 

“A lot of books about immigration are from third parties who are researching the topic, and they’re interviewing immigrants to write their experiences down, but it’s very rare when that immigrant gets to tell that story herself without having somebody else tell it for her. That’s what I’m really grateful for—that I can use my own voice to tell my own story. I wish more immigrants had that opportunity,” she said.

 

Island Queen, Vanessa Riley

In addition to being a novelist, Vanessa has an astounding number of degrees (like we’re talking: a doctorate in mechanical engineering and a master’s in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Penn State University). While her published novels are rich and varied, they are united in putting women and people of color–groups that have largely gone voiceless in history books and historical fiction–in the spotlight, reminding readers that they too lived and loved fiercely, and had complex and rich lives and legacies. 

Vanessa said, “Female-centered historical novels are having a moment, particularly when uncovering little-known histories. Resistance to these narratives, which cast heroines with agency, hidden talents and extraordinary achievements, has declined, but only after a hard-fought battle. 

“Perhaps women have won the war and we can pen stories of our ancestors without the dreaded attack of the old guard — a patriarchy accustomed to controlling the narrative and wielding the term “historical accuracy” like a weapon.”

 

The Christie Affair, Nina de Gramont

Nina is a professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She is the author of The Last September, several young adult novels, and The Christie Affair which was her first New York Times bestseller. 

Nina diligently worked at her writing career for years, motivated and sustained by the why that was entrenched deep within her. 

Upon the success of The Christie Affair she said, “If this had happened when I was 25, I’d think that it meant I was really brilliant. Happening at 55, I know it means I’m really lucky. So I’m appreciating it, for sure.”