The Real Story


Okay, the truth: Mr. Bunnyís Guide to ActiveX was actually written by Gary Swanberg.

So who is Gary Swanberg? Heís me, of course. Iím a software engineer, musician, writer, and part time science project for the good folks at DFCI .

I was born several decades ago. Then, in 1995, I was talking with a colleague who expressed annoyance at technical book writers who attempted to spice up their writing with something called "humor." Always one to take things to extremes, I said, "Why not take things to extremes? What if there was a book called, say, ĎMr. Bunnyís Guide to OLE 2.í"

Yes, this was before the term ActiveX first rolled trippingly off some marketing managerís tongue (or whatever it rolled off of). My colleague and I laughed and laughed at the playful juxtaposition of jargon and jackrabbit. It was truly one of those you had to be there moments. Maybe you were there. The room seemed unususlly crowded.

It took but a few thousand man-hours (and several additional kiddie-hours) for me to slap together Mr. Bunnyís first adventure: a three page story called "Adventures in Structured Storage."

It was truly awful. Hereís an excerpt:

"I can never remember what OLE stands for," complained Farmer Jake.

"Let's sing a little song to make it easy," trilled the clever bunny.

'O' is for Object
Tra la la la la
'L' is for Linking
Tra la la la la
'E' is for Embedding
Tra la la la la

"That's a big help, Mr. Bunny," beamed Farmer Jake.

You get the idea.

Yet as putrid as this story was, those few who agreed to read it (for food) seemed to laugh a little longer and louder than called for by mere obsequiousness. And so it was that the idea stayed alive until, a few weeks later, I forgot all about it.

The Pixel

Flash forward twenty years. Now flash back eighteen and a half years because you went too far. Itís spring of 1997, and Iím writing technical documentation for some ActiveX controls Iíd developed on speculation. The cadence of this sort of writing can drill its way into your head like a drill drilling its way into your head. You know the drill.

After one of my grueling writing sessions, while I sat bleary-eyed in front of the TV waiting for the wood putty patches to dry in my skull, I saw The Vision.

It was a pixel, six-inches square.

I knew this was Mr. Bunnyís desperate attempt to find his way into print, for what other kind of technical book would so obscenely magnify the lowly pixel? But why me? Why was I the one to give life to yet another cartoon rabbit? Because it was my idea, dammit, so I had to like it.

The next morning I uninstalled my source control system, tossed my technical writing into the recycle bin (the periods can be reused as plush toy stuffing), and started to work on Mr. Bunnyís Guide to ActiveX. The book practically wrote itself.

So donít blame me.

Carlton

Blame Carlton.

I wasnít about to let the book go out with my own name as the author. Who knows, I might want to write a real book someday. So Carlton Egremont III stepped in to take the heat, and I relegated myself to the role of technical editor, mostly because thereís no real technical info in the book so I figured it for an easy job.

Thanks, Carlton. Oh, and my apologies that you donít really exist.

Self-Publishing

My business partner at the time, Sean, was inexplicably enthusiastic about the book. Somehow it seemed like a better idea than curing cancer. Now that I actually have cancer, I regret deleting all that research to free space for the book. More's the pity that it wasn't my research. For what do I know of cancer? Only this: what doesn't kill me makes me sillier. Sean found the artist (Steve Francis) who faithfully rendered Mr. Bunny based on my concise specifications. (Draw a rabbit.) Sean printed a few hundred books. And in late November 1997, he dared to approach the Treitmans at Softpro Books in Burlington, MA with the first copies.

They took five.

So this is my advice about self-publishing: Talk to Sean.

SoftPro

SoftPro sold the five books.

Somewhere out there five people were reading the book, and possibly even believing in an author named Carlton Egremont III. Possibly even SoftPro believed in Carlton. Regardless, they ordered more books.

And those sold, too. And one of those books found its way into Microsoft. Soon the west coast was ordering Mr. Bunny books from SoftPro, which was the only place you could find the darn thing unless you knew where my cubicle was at Digitalís LKG facility.

By the spring of 1998 every Mr. Bunny book not sold out of the trunk of my car had come from that single store in Massachusetts. Thatís how it became the best selling computer book in the Boston area.

The downside to all this: people were calling me Carl.

Jim and Charlie and Don and Alex

My aggressive marketing plan consisted of the following: Wait and see what happens.

What happened was that people started to discover the book. First a guy named Jim Yocum called into Christopher Lydonís nationally distributed radio show, The Connection. Amid discussions of Proust and the yearís greatest novels, Jim recommended Mr. Bunnyís Guide to ActiveX as "the only book Iíve read cover to cover since Windows 3.0 came out."

Then Microsoft "COM guy" Charlie Kindel favorably mentioned the book on a Microsoft mailing list. And COM author Don Box started distributing the book at his workshops. (To this day Iíve never had contact with Charlie or Don. Let me just say: Thanks for laughing with me, not at me.)

Things culminated with an article by Alex Beam in the Boston Globe, in which he called the book "a bona fide publishing phenomena." Thatís when Addison Wesley called. And I suppose this is where Mr. Bunny turns into a conventional publishing venture, contributing to that hotbed of mediocrity we know as the mass market.

Now if it just earns back the advance, I'll be all set. I wonder if I'll have to pay it back. Does anyone know if parking meters issue refunds?

 


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