Friday, July 29, 2011

Recommended Book: C++ Programming for Kids

Worm Burner, age 10 and resident Tech Support, asked if I would teach him C++ this summer.

Sure, no problem. Except that the last time I used C++ was during my Ph.D. dissertation and my summer plans did not include hours in front of the terminal re-learning how to program.

Normally, I'm all about fiction, but today I want to recommend a non-fiction book, Beginning C++ through Game Programming, by Michael Dawson.

This book is great for beginning programmers, especially if they have some previous programming experience (Worm Burner had already programmed in QBasic on Windows). Even if they had no previous experience, this book would walk them step-by-step through concepts like variables, input/output, loops, strings, and arrays. Best of all, it uses game example programs like Word Jumble, Mad Lib, and Tic-Tac-Toe to hook kids into figuring out the logic behind programming and applying their nascent C++ skills in a way that's fun and entertaining.

And also competitive, when you have more than one brother learning how to program. After all, there was no way Dark Omen (age 12) was going to let his little brother get the jump on him.

Note that this book is not intended for children. It just has a great easy-to-use format and style that lends itself to children who are advanced readers and budding programming geeks. But the programming itself is all solid C++. In other words, they're learning the real deal.

The best part about this book was that I just had to get my boys started with the first few chapters. We sat down, walked through the lessons, uploaded and changed sample code, and played around a bit. After chapter 4, they carried on without me, teaching themselves (via the book) and leaping to new heights with their programming through their own initiative.

Which is how every good hacker programmer gets his start.

(In case you're wondering, we had a good long talk about Using Your Powers For Good. I felt like Spiderman's uncle, but we have the With Great Power Must Come Great Responsibility talk in our house a lot.)

If you have a budding hacker programmer in your house, here's how to keep them occupied get them started:

1) Download Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 (free)
2) Buy Beginning C++ through Game Programming
3) Help your kids start (if you know some programming) or let them loose on their own (if you don't)

UPDATE: Someone asked if this would suit a 16 year old. Answer: YES! My kids are in the uber-geek-class of childhood, so please understand: this book would be equally useful for teens and beginner adults, not just 10-12 year olds.

Other resources:

C++ tutorial website
More C++ tutorials, different website
Project Ideas for C++ programming from the Mega List

If the DoJ comes to investigate, I disavow all knowledge of recommending computer programming books to minors. This message will self destruct in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pop-Ups vs. Embedded Comments - Pop-Ups Win!

Thanks for voting this last week about the comments. Results below:

Pop-Ups Win! 
Wait, that's not what the poll says ...

Sadly, Blogger ate a bunch of votes in the middle of the week, or Embedded would have had more votes. But Either is fine was a strong contender all along, and since pop-ups seem to work for everyone, I'm going with that. If I get complaints about full-page commenting, we can always revisit. And while I like the Embedded option, I think the full-page comments make it easier to read and respond to everyone's comments together.

Also: whoever voted for pastries, *sends virtual scones*

Meanwhile ...

We're nearing the end of my Military Families giveaway (ends July 31st!), where I'm giving away a copy of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit plus a $25 Barnes&Noble Gift card. This is for military families only, a small thank you for all the sacrifices they make, so please direct any military family members you know to enter here.

Thanks for spreading the word!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Author Branding

I've been reading Kristen Lamb's book Are You There Blog? It's Me, Writer and thinking a lot about blogging, branding, and author promotion. (I discovered Kristen via Laura Pauling, whose mere mention of her name sent me scrambling for more information. Laura's just that good.) Kristen's writing style is fun and goes down easy, and it's fair to say I devoured the book. Kristen's got my head whirling about many things, but the starting point for it all is Author Branding.

The concept of an Author Brand is something I've struggled with. After all, I'm not corn flakes, or a high energy drink, or a new and improved type of shampoo. I'm just me, a writer who like to conjure stories for kids and teens, like dozens (nay thousands) of other writers out there doing the same thing.

But my heart knows this is wrong.

Often, we tell ourselves lies that we would never breathe to another soul, especially a child. Sometimes, what we say to others is true about ourselves, but we're not always willing to admit it. (My mom, the psychologist, calls this projection.)

Here's what I tell the kids: You are unique.

So, if I believe that truth about them (and I do), then I need to believe it about me as well. But what makes me unique? 

Kristen makes the excellent point that all of your blogging/writing/publishing efforts should focus and enhance your Author Brand, because you are not selling books, you are selling you. The Unique You. And your brand needs to grow with you as a writer, because you're going to write more than one book, right? She has amazingly wonderful tips about how to profile your target audience, and tag your blogs to create your author brand, and craft your blog in a way that serves your readers (seriously, go read her book), but after two years of blogging, I was still overwhelmed with the idea of it all. How could I possibly do all that

And then I realized something.

Finding your Author Brand is like finding your Voice.

It's not so much that you craft your Voice, you discover it. The authentic, UNIQUE YOU comes out in your Voice. Yes, you need to learn the craft as well, so that you can hone and shape and sharpen that Voice. But like Dorothy's way back home, it was there all along, just waiting for you to discover.

Author Brand is the same way, because your brand is YOU - the authentic, UNIQUE YOU that comes out when you focus on your passions (because you're blogging about what you're passionate about, right? If not, fix that first). Yes,  you can use your blog and your writerly skills to hone and shape and sharpen your brand, but first you have to discover it. Once I realized this, I sat down with my notebook and pen and crafted my author brand in less than an hour. 

My Logic Brain wanted data, so I scoured my past blog postings to see what I had already created, where my passions had already taken me. My Creative Brain stormed up a bunch of words associated with those blogs, future tags to describe what I would produce in blogs to come. Then Logic Brain took over again (it's pushy that way) and created this:

And there it was, staring me in the face. What I'd known all along - that I'm a geek at heart who loves kids and books and all the ways those things intersect. Any one of those circles (writing books, finding gadgets, talking to kids) will get me excited. Two circles combined (getting kids to read, putting books on e-readers) will fire me up. But put the three together (my younger son reading my older son's self-pubbed book on the Nook?) and I'm on a thrill ride to the moon.

I'll no doubt be putting many of Kristen's suggestions into practice. I've already changed my blog name to MY name -  my author brand. I was sad (very sad) to see Ink Spells depart, but I realized that the tag line still fit perfectly (Conjuring Tales for Young Minds = kids, books, and a little bit of brainiac flavor). Even before I started blogging, I already had that brand tucked inside, because it is who I am.

Thank you, Kristen, for helping me find the wizard (and the way home)!

And fellow author-blogger friends, I encourage you to tell yourself the truth: You Are Unique. 

Now go find yourself. :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ink Spells Goes Dark ... Just for a Moment

First there was the flood. That was looking bad when the water was coming in faster than I could bail it out, but we recovered and only the ugly basement carpet was sacrificed.

Then there was the power outage. That was looking bad when the temperatures were rising and the kids were hot and antsy, but we were back out of the dark ages by dinner. Could have been a lot worse.

Then they took my internets (I'm blogging from the Baker's Square, because they have free WiFi).


The Fates know where it really hurts. :)

Be back as soon ...

... UPDATE: I'M BACK! OMG I HAVE INTERNET! *calms down* *breathes deeply*

I love how everyone thinks I am dedicated by getting my blog here, all the while I'm thinking Boy, my readers are really going to see the depth of my internet addiction when they see me posting from the Baker's Square.


Ok, I promise a less insane post on Wednesday. :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pop-Ups vs. Embedded Comments - What Say You?

It was brought to my attention that some people have trouble with the embedded comment option, i.e. they have to click through a bunch of times, switch browsers, do a small dance, and make an offering to the Blogger Gods ... just to leave a comment.

Now I think it's terribly important that everyone leave comments, but really, Blogger? It's not worth that much trouble.


I want to make things as easy on my readers as possible, and I'm going straight to the source!

Since asking you to leave a comment could be a tricky business that could taint the results, I'm using even trickier technology...a poll!

I'll let this poll run for a week, to give everyone a chance to vote. Check it out on the sidebar! (Man that place is getting crowded)

UPDATE: HOLY CATS, it's Friday. Um, no Friday post today, folks...sorry! Sometimes the week gets away from me. See you Monday!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Which I Am Wrong. Again.

I wasn't going to post today (life and writing are interfering with blogging), but I came across this:

Two District 15 Schools Awarded Laptop Grant

This is my local school district (which has 20 schools and of which I was an elected board member for four years). It doesn't sound all that exciting until you scroll down and realize that these aren't laptops the kids are getting ... they are iPads.

Two schools in my suburban district will now give every child, Grades 3-6, an iPad. That's 900 iPads. In my district.

I'm still letting that sink in.

There are suddenly at least 900 kids in the district that have a mobile device for reading in their hands every day.

(It's important to note that these are not affluent schools. In fact, the grant was based on having 40% free and reduced lunch.)

Every time I think it will take some time for the e-revolution to reach some aspect of the industry (middle grade books, for example), it turns out I'm wrong.

It's taking no time at all.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Authors Promoting Themselves

This last couple of weeks, there has been a lot of promotion on Ink Spells! Between the Anthology Promoting Breast Cancer Research (see my guest post on PK Hrezo's blog), the Military Family Giveaway, and the just concluded BlogFest 2011 (Winner is Alison! Congratulations!!), there's been a lot of giveaways going on here.

Nathan Bransford recently suffered some backlash for promoting his book on his blog, which I think is a bit silly, especially given that the Great NateB is the original Mr. Nice Guy (see corndog on the sidebar). I mean, authors have to promote their work. It's a part of the business. It can be unpleasant (if you are excessive about it, or obnoxious), but it doesn't have to be. It can be fun and rewarding and a great way to meet readers, writers, humans, and possibly even cats. (Ok, maybe not the cats.)

The key, in my mind, is making sure you provide some value add to your readers (of your blog, of your book, of your author newsletters), whether it's entertainment, information, or just a connection where you share something in common. Connection, in my opinion, is the most powerful way to go about it. Because, in the final analysis, that's what writing is all about: connecting with other people, through your words.

This is true for accomplished writers, as much as for debut novelists.

I love when big time authors like Scott Westerfeld still tour and take time to give his fans a thoughtful presentation as well as a signing. Or mega-hit authors like Suzanne Collins are so gracious when the mobs are lined up for her signature.

My favorite author promotion story is about best-selling mystery writer Michael Connelly, an author I don't even read. But my mom adores him and stood in line at the LA Festival of books, where Connelly was still putting in the hard work to meet fans and sell books. When the line closed just before her turn, she couldn't believe her (bad) luck. Another fan walked away with a handful of books and when my mom cast a longing look at the stack, he gave her a signed copy of The Scarecrow, refusing to take payment for his thoughtful gift (thank you anonymous Connelly fan!). As my mom was about to depart, happy to have at least come away with something, the lady handling the event noticed her dejected look and ushered my mom over to meet Michael Connelly personally. He shook her hand and allowed her to gush on and on about his books. My mom is a psychologist. She knows people. She could tell this man was tired, having spent hours greeting fans and signing books. And yet he made a little time for her, a connection she will remember the rest of her life.

Thank you to Michael Connelly for being so nice to my mom! And to all the authors out there, new and veteran: remember that connecting with people, through our writing, through our presence, through the simple human gesture of taking time to shake hands with a long-time fan, even when you're exhausted ... this is what our writing is all about.

You can call it promotion. Or you can think of it as the amazing work we're lucky to do.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of a BlogFest 2011

Welcome to BlogFest 2011, with over 200 giveaways in a series of linked blogs.
I get dizzy just thinking about it.
Here's the master list, or just check out the next five blogs at the bottom of the post.
Epic love doesn't have to involve paranormal creatures.

This singular thought inspired me to write Life, Liberty, and Pursuit. My 13 year old niece (at the time) was enamored of Twilight, and I enjoyed sharing that experience with her, but I wanted to write a story where the obstacles to love were based in real-world choices.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against paranormal novels. (In fact, I wrote one.) But I wanted to show my niece that people could fall in love, quickly and completely, but still have real, tough choices to make.

Because life is all about choices. And the choices make the person.

In Life, Liberty, and Pursuit, college-bound Eliza and Navy-recruit David meet on a four day cruise, with no intentions of falling in love. They each had serious dreams they were pursuing, and literally fall into each other's lives. But after fate made the decision to put them together, they had to make a choice: follow their dreams or possibly give them up for love?

Sometimes a simple choice can lead to many others. The path I'm on today is the result of the many choices I've made in my life. If I hadn't chosen to pursue engineering, would I have started writing novels sooner? Or would I have never written them at all, taking a completely different path that wouldn't land me here, today, writing this blog?

I wanted my niece, just entering the time of her life where choices would become profound, to think through the options that lay ahead of her.

Life, Liberty, and Pursuit is about making choices in life and love. Every time my novel finds its way into the hands of a young woman facing important choices, it warms my heart.

For the BlogFest, I'm giving away a copy of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit

To enter to win, just be a follower and leave a comment between now and 11:59 EST on Sunday, July 17th. Open only to the U.S. UPDATE: Now open to Canada. Winner will be announced Monday.

Add Life, Liberty, and Pursuit to Add Life, Liberty, and Pursuit on Goodreads

Or buy Life, Liberty, and Pursuit onBuy from Amazon

The next stops on the blog hop:

104      Lille Punkin' Reviews
105      Lisa M Potts
108      Live To Read ~Krystal

UPDATE: Blog Hop officially closed and the winner is ... Alison! Thanks everyone for stopping by!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Secret Ingredient: Confidence

"The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." -Sylvia Plath

This is one of my favorite quotes, and time and again, I feel the strength of it. If I wrestle with the path I'm on, self-doubt creeps in and my ability to write takes a hit. While there are many things that can cripple your confidence, there are only a few that can truly build it.


In my book, Life, Liberty, and Pursuit, David goes through confidence training in boot camp. As a sailor recruit, he trains on emergency exercises including a gas-mask drill that leaves him with lungs full of tear gas. It's called confidence training, because only by experiencing it first hand can you avoid panicking when the real emergency comes.

Experience = confidence.

At some level, you must have faith in yourself as a writer. The navy recruits had faith in themselves enough to enlist in the first place. This is fundamental, and something I expressed to the teens in my Writing While Teen workshop this weekend: You are unique. Your take on the world is valuable. Bringing your stories into the world is worthwhile.

Note, this is not saying "you have talent." I think telling someone they have talent is akin to telling them they are smart. Rather than instilling true confidence, it actually limits their ability to have a growth mindset that leads to actual improvement, which leads to real confidence based on experience.

Faith in yourself as a writer is the start, but it will not give you the confidence to take risks, whether with your storytelling, or in offering up your work for critique, or daring to publish (whether traditional or self-publishing). Confidence has to be grown, through effort, experience, and accomplishment. The sailors' confidence was grown only by sucking in great gulps full of tear gas and surviving.

(Sounds a lot like querying to me.)

When I look at writers who break the rules (whether in craft or in publishing), I see people who are confident. They may be fearful as well (the two are not opposites), but their confidence carries them through the wall of fear to the other side, where experience can help them learn. John Green is brilliant and funny and fun, but all of that would be nothing without the confidence to post 900 vlogs and share them with the world. John Locke is irreverent and prolific and possibly a genius salesperson, but all of that would be useless without the confidence to break all the publishing rules and do things his own way.

I want to be one of those writers.

No, I'm not changing my name to "John" or starting a vlog or adopting Locke's hyper marketing plan. I'll learn from them what I can and make it my own. But most importantly, I'm going to try to hold onto the confidence that I'm unique, that I have stories worth telling. And grow that confidence bigger, through effort, experience, and accomplishment.

That confidence will free me to write my books and share them with the world.

UPDATE: I'm hip deep in work, so I'm taking a pass on my Wednesday post this week. See you Friday!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Wild West of Publishing

First, don't forget the Summer Breeze Anthology to support breast cancer research, and my giveaway for military families (a copy of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit and a gift card) - please spread the word!

John Locke (not really)

I've read a lot of blogs this last week about changes in the publishing industry. As the fabulous Laura Pauling says, it's enough to give you whiplash. But something real is happening.

Beginning writers are advised to learn the industry. But what if everything about the industry is changing before your eyes? My first glimmer of the consequence of this was back in April, when I posted on writing to trends and asked, "What if everything we've been told is wrong?"

Then I read Robin Sullivan's insightful post about the NEW RULES, where she says, for authors to be successful, they need to write a series to establish themselves - the exact opposite of an industry that discourages you from writing the second book in that series you've started until you've got a book contract (from that industry) in hand.

Then I read a post by Indie author Susan Ee about how the industry couldn't move fast enough to get her angel book (which is awesome, BTW) into readers hands, so she did it herself, and was wildly successful.

Then I read John Locke's book (How I Sold a Million e-books in 5 months) and this quote smacks me in the face:
"When I invested my own money to start my insurance agency no one accused me of making a vanity investment. ...When Bill Gates and Paul Allen invested their time and money into developing code for the Altair computer, no one accused them of writing vanity code. But if Bill Gates and Paul Allen invest their own money to write a book, they're no longer businessmen, they're vain!"
And a lightbulb goes off in my head.

When a businessman can come into an industry and turn it on its head by ignoring the rules, and be wildly successful, then change isn't coming. It's already here.

And the thing that has changed is our VALUES.

Now value (read: money) is found in writing a series quickly, building a fan base, and ignoring all the rules heretofore set by the industry. Value is found in giving customers (i.e. readers) what they want, quickly, not two years from now.

I know I'm sounding like a self-publishing advocate. And maybe that's the path I will end up on (I'm still pursuing traditional publishing, as of this moment).

But my point is this: More than ever, writers need to trust their own intuition. Take risks. Envision the career you want to have. Then go make it happen.

Because it's a Wild West out there, people, and you don't want to be a stuffy East Coast scribbler hiking up her petticoats and saying "Ew!"

Or maybe that's just me.

Please leave your erudite thoughts in the comments! I very much want to hear what you think of all this.

p.s. and there's this post by the amazing agent Rachelle Gardner (via Nathan Bransford), that is the driving force (I believe) behind so many quality authors choosing e-publishing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guest Posting on Summer Extravaganza Giveaway

I'm guest posting today on Lisa Sanchez's blog for the Sizzling Summer Author Extravaganza. There I talk about Long Distance Romance and how our military families sacrifice so that their loved ones can serve.

As a small thank you to military families, I'm giving away a copy of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit, plus a $25 Barnes&Noble Gift card - but I need your help!

The winner must be part of a military family (with a loved one in the military, active duty or retired). So please tweet, FB, and share this with everyone you know, so we can reach as many military families as possible.

Click here to enter!

And thanks for spreading the word!

p.s. Don't forget to check out my short story in Omnific's Summer Breeze Anthology (all proceeds support Save the TaTas)!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Breeze Anthology

My publisher, Omnific Publishing, has partnered with the Save the Ta-Tas Foundation to release two Summer Lovin' Anthologies - Summer Breeze (young adult) and Summer Heat (adult). These romantic short stories will whisk you away on a sweet escape, and all proceeds will be donated to Save the Ta-Tas to support breast cancer research! 
WIN and WIN.
Here's my short fiction piece in the Summer Breeze collection:
Full Speed Ahead
When Teagan's Navy linguist boyfriend pulls extra duties a thousand miles away at the Great Lakes Naval Station, she suspects he's stepping out on her. Or worse, the Navy is acting like a demanding mistress again, something she can't compete with. But when a charity fashion show turns her suspicions upside down, she has to face whether she's cut out to be a Navy wife.

Full Speed Ahead is a light-hearted romantic read and a fun afterstory with the crew from Life, Liberty, and Pursuit, my first novel.

Summer Breeze includes stories from six other Omnific authors. You'll find "breezy" romantic reading in Carol Oates’ Irish mythical storytelling, Jennifer Lane’s sassy swimmer, and Hannah Downing’s second chance at first love. Nicki Elson spins a beautiful tale of remembered love, Killian McRae employs a modern twist with her technology-based romance, and Sarah Glover tells the story of best friends’ summer discovery.

Summer Heat offers steamy tales for adult readers. The Anthology website gives more information about both Summer Breeze and Summer Heat, available for a limited time through September 30th.

I'm so excited about the anthology and the Save the Ta-Ta's charity it supports, that I'm offering free hand-made bookmarks to the first 48 people that purchase the Summer Breeze Anthology, in either e-book or paper book. These Life, Liberty, and Pursuit bookmarks have a small lifesaver attached, just like Eliza's charm in the story.

This is as crafty as I get.

Just email your purchase proof to, and I'll put a bookmark in the mail! Good while supplies last!

Buy Summer Breeze from Omnific Publishing
$4.99 for e-book (PDF)
$6.99 for e-pack (EPUB, MOBI, PDF)
$14.99 for paperback
Thank you for BEING A LIFESAVER and supporting Save the Ta-Tas!
p.s. You can find Summer Breeze on Goodreads.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sizzling Summer Author Extravaganza

Oh, my lovelies, I have so many cool things in store for you this hot July.

(Well, maybe it's hot in your neighborhood. Palatine's still trying to break 80. And avoid premature-death-by-hail-stone.)


The Sizzling Summer Author Extravaganza is here!

Fellow Omnific Author Lisa Sanchez is hosting a month of guest interviews and giveaways. Here's the complete list of upcoming author guest posts, and you can see my name is tucked in there. In fact, I'll be posting next Wednesday, and doing a very special giveaway for military families - and I will need your help! So please pop over then, and every day, for some great interviews and helpful posts from Omnific authors and a chance to win books, swag, and other cool stuff.

Hop over today, and every day in July!
(I'll keep the button up on the side post to remind you.)

Omni author-to-be Linda Cunningham (her novel Small Town Girl is under contract with Omnific) is up first today with some tips and encouragement for aspiring authors!

Why are all these Omni authors banding together in this sizzling extravaganza? Beyond the fact that they are generally fun and extraordinarily cool to be around?

*whispers* We have an Anthology coming out (two actually).

On Tuesday, after you've had all the hot dogs and parades you can stand, check back. I'll be making the big announcement then!

Meanwhile, Happy Fourth of July to all my U.S. friends! And for those of you non-U.S. types, feel free to eat a hot dog in honor of the birth of our country.

Or not. It's all about the freedom, people.