Nov 23 2011

Credit card apps follow-up: the stress-test!

Published by under reviews,tools & tech

This is an addendum to my lengthy review of the Square and Intuit GoPayment credit card processing apps. I have now used both apps and card readers under a heavy-use and, as it turns out, a poor-signal scenario. I processed over a hundred credit card sales on my phone at the NCTE annual convention last weekend, and here are the results.

In short: Intuit won, because Square choked on a weak signal.

I started out with Square, and the first two transactions worked fine, although they were a little slow because the exhibit hall was IN A BASEMENT (what were they thinking???). I had 1-2 bars of cell, and most of the time no 3G. So anyway, on the third transaction, the Square app froze at the receipt screen (wouldn’t allow any text input), and I had to cancel out the sale and do it on Intuit’s app. This happened again on the next transaction, and that was it for Square. In better signal conditions I expect Square works fine, but not in a basement. Intuit kept working like a champ, so Intuit got all my business last weekend.

Plus, as I mentioned, Intuit lets you set up item prices, so it does the math for you and generates an itemized receipt.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Nov 23 2011

NCTE 2011 recap

A huge thanks to all the great attendees of NCTE 2011 in Chicago last weekend. It was a wonderful show. I sold lots of books, got incredible feedback, and had great conversations with lots of smart, passionate educators, authors, and publishing folks.

If anyone is reading this who took pictures with me, please send me a copy or a link. Also, if you or anyone you know bought a copy of Gifts From the Gods, please check it and make sure it’s signed and personalized correctly. A few people left signed & personalized copies at the table by accident (and presumably walked off with unsigned copies). I’d love to get these books to their intended recipients.

Thanks! More Romeo and Juliet samples coming soon.

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Nov 17 2011

Romeo 3D

Published by under romeo and juliet,shakespeare

I thought it would be interesting to see if sculpting a few of my main characters in 3D would improve my ability to draw their likeness easily and consistently. I built a low-poly 3D base head and used Mudbox to sculpt the details. Obviously I didn’t take it to a fully-finished level, especially the hair, but this is more or less what Romeo looks like.

The jury’s still out on whether this was useful or not, but it was kind of fun anyway, and makes me feel just a little less out of the loop as far as 3D graphics.

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Nov 15 2011

Hamming it up with Hamlet

Published by under shakespeare,sketchbook

I did this micro-adaptation of Hamlet for a bookstore mailer a few years ago, and thought I should share it here.

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Nov 13 2011

NY Sketchbook backlog

Published by under sketchbook

Yesterday I had a brunch with a bunch of Otherworld folks, after which I was planning to head over to draw at the open house at Dalvero Academy, which is run by friends and fellow Dave Passalacqua disciples Ronnie and Margaret. However, the trains were somewhat messed up, and the brunch ran late, and when I got outside I found myself standing at the edge of Central Park with the last brilliant pre-sunset light making the fall foliage (yes, we get that here) glow with brilliant colors, and I thought, sorry Ronnie, I’m just going to sit down and draw this.

Then I went home and scanned a bunch of stuff from this sketchbook — which, as it happens, I started right after moving to NY, and which contains a few nice sketches I don’t think I’ve shared yet. First, there’s The Cloisters:

And two views of the trees and gate house at Fort Tryon Park:

Then the crowd at a Weepies concert we went to:

Then some sketches from the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met:

And finally a couple of sketches from the African exhibit I went to around the same time (it appears this is still up through January).

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Nov 09 2011

Gifts From the Gods – process

Here’s the process post I promised for Gifts From the Gods. This process is an evolution of the techniques I used for The Odyssey.

First I read through the text a few times, then started doing some rough sketches on paper. At the same time, I was discussing the page dimensions, typography, and other design factors with my designer at Houghton — in this case, the extremely talented Scott Magoon. Once we nailed down some of that stuff, I scanned my sketches and started experimenting with the page layouts.

I also made sketches directly in InDesign, using the vector pencil tool, as you can see in the right-most panel.

When the rough layouts were edited and approved, I printed each page in very light blue on cheap drawing paper and did a pencil drawing over it. I scanned that back in and removed the blue lines (using the “black and white” filter in Photoshop), darkened the lines to a truer black, and made any necessary edits to the drawing.

In some cases, I “test-colored” the drawings in Photoshop, so that I could play around with the colors a bit before using watercolor.

I enlarged and printed out the darkened-and-corrected pencil drawings on a piece of 140lb. cold-press watercolor paper, using my Epson Stylus 2200 printer, which prints up to 13×19″ and uses ink that is waterproof under most conditions. Actually, it kind of repels water, so I often have to go over each stroke twice to get the paint to cover the linework. I painted the art with watercolors, scanned it back in, and made any additional corrections — for example, I decided later to remove Achilles’ helmet, since he was bare-headed in the previous battle scenes.

Lastly, I had lots of fun creating the decorative borders at the beginning of each story. The linework for these was drawn directly in InDesign and cloned for symmetry. Again I printed them out on watercolor paper, and I painted them with acrylic. I composited the faux-stone painted texture behind the borders using Photoshop, because I didn’t want to accidentally splatter paint over the border art.

That’s it! Sorry, I didn’t take any videos this time — but I AM taking videos of Romeo & Juliet as I go along, and I will start posting a few tidbits from that soon.

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Nov 05 2011

Teen Read Week (better late than never)

Published by under press,Uncategorized

Wow, I’ve been so busy, I think I forget to advertise that I was the featured artist for YALSA’s Teen Read Week materials this year. I did a painting for them which is on the official Teen Read Week poster (pictured), bookmarks, and other swag (available in their store). They also interviewed me here.

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Oct 31 2011

Gifts From the Gods now on sale

Published by under Uncategorized

My new book, Gifts From the Gods: Ancient Words & Wisdom From Greek & Roman Mythology, is now available at bookstores everywhere.

Initial reactions have been extremely positive, and my understanding is that it has already been reprinted to meet demand.

If it is reasonably convenient, I encourage — nay, urge — you to buy from an independent retailer. They are the lifeblood of the industry, and your patronage is their lifeblood. I’m well aware of the convenience and price advantage Amazon offers, and that many people don’t live anywhere near an indy, but buying indy is seriously an investment in your local community and, in a more abstract way, in the future of books — or more specifically , a future in which there continue to be professional “book people” who help bring attention to wonderful and quirky books that might not otherwise find their audience. I have a lot more to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for another day. In the meantime, I hope you’ll find a bookstore and get a copy of Gifts From the Gods for each of the mythology fans in your life.


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Oct 21 2011

Credit cards via iPhone – two great apps that work great together

Published by under reviews,tools & tech

I have a bunch of trade shows going on this fall and winter, particularly NCTE‘s annual convention, and customers frequently ask if they can pay by credit card. I now have an iPhone, and one of the main reasons I got it was because I knew I could use it to take credit cards (via any of several apps.)

I only go to a few shows a year, so I ruled out most of the services which require an actual merchant account, as those involve a monthly fee*. The leading services with no monthly fee are Square and Intuit GoPayment. I decided to sign up for both of them, try them out for myself and compare the results.

Both services require personal info such as your birthdate, SSN/EIN, and bank account, so they can pay  you, and presumably also so they can run a credit check. GoPayment also called me to verify some information before they would complete processing on my first batch of transactions. Both services also have a weekly maximum, and this is a sore point in many of the negative reviews. Square will only release $1000 per week, and anything over that they hold for 30 days. Intuit does the same thing, but the limit is $1250. If you do a lot of large sales, you may want to go with a merchant account for this reason. If you’re like me and you have small sales that occasionally exceed those limits in aggregate, you can split them up between the two services, which is what I’m planning to do next month at NCTE.

The software:
I went to a small trade show last weekend where I used both services without the card-swiper hardware. I found that both apps performed very well. My customers were amused that we live in the future, and not at all squeamish about entering card info on my phone. I definitely captured at least a few sales that would have otherwise escaped.

Square starts up quickly and allows you to immediately punch in any amount for a charge, but it does not allow you to keep a list of individual products and prices, so if you sell multiple products like I do, you’ll have to do the math elsewhere — in your head, on a piece of paper or a calculator — and then enter the total. You can also enter any description you want for the transaction. The signature box is nice and big, which is important because it turns out to be a challenge signing with your finger.

GoPayments requires you to log in every time you start the app (even if you switch back and forth using the tray; though not when going in and out of standby mode while still in the app). This is annoying when you’re in a hurry. However, they DO allow you to create a product list, so tallying up a multi-item sale is much easier, AND the receipt it generates is itemized. This is a huge advantage for my purposes. If you want to charge an arbitrary amount, however, you need to add a new item, which is a bit of a pain.

Both services allow you to send a receipt by email or text message, and both keep a transaction history which you can refer back to.

This week I received the card-swiper hardware for both apps. Square’s hardware is a tiny white square. Intuit’s is a sort of half-circle. They both plug into the headphone jack. They both feel a little flimsy, partly because they’re small and light, partly because the jack allows them to rotate. Intuit’s has a little bar that catches on the phone and keeps it from rotating in one direction, but it still freely rotates in the other, so this doesn’t make much difference. Intuit also includes a potentially handy plastic case and a lanyard, so it might be harder to lose. Both readers worked well in initial tests. I did about half a dozen swipes using 3 different cards, and square only made me re-swipe once, while Intuit made me re-swipe twice on one card and once on another.  I will let you know how they hold up after I stress-test them at NCTE next month.

Bottom line, I think these are both great little services. If your primary use is selling a bunch of products with fixed prices, GoPayment is easier and gives an itemized receipt. If you are selling a service and want to easily charge arbitrary amounts and enter custom descriptions, Square is easier. I should also mention that Square’s support is basically email-only, while Intuit has phone support.

Since there’s no sign-up or monthly charge, there’s also no reason you can’t get them both and try them for yourself.

On a side note, I find that this technology fills me with glee. Perhaps it simply appeals to the greed and techno-lust which lurk in the twilight parts of my psyche, but I find myself excited to “play” with them more than any game on my phone. It’s a game where you make money! I just need to get more people to play 😉


(*Merchant account services have a lower percentage fee for processing each transaction; you can see which route makes more sense based on your monthly sales using this handy calculator.
GoPayment offers two pricing plans, one like Square and one like a merchant account.)

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Oct 20 2011

Travel Fatigue

Published by under appearances

I recently returned from back-to-back appearances at the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts annual conference, and the Algona, IA Public Library. Both events were very successful and smoothly run, and I was glad to be invited, but now I’m home and I am beat. I get a week at home before it’s time to go off on another east-coast series of author visits in CT and MA. Oh, and I have a cold, and I was hoping to attend an aikido seminar this weekend. Yikes! I’m sure it will all work out.

PCTELA is a great organization, and I’d like to thank everyone involved, especially Glenda Daulerio, who made it her mission to get me there, Allison Irwin, who chaired the conference with Glenda and organized a great author breakfast, and Bob Dandoy, Executive Director of PCTELA. I was also pleased to meet local authors Phillip Beard, David Ihde, and Daniel Burns, as well as Shari Maurer, and award-winning, HILARIOUS, and often-banned author Chris Crutcher.

I’d also like to thank all the great teachers who talked to me, bought all the books I brought, and said lovely things about my books and my presentation. The conference was in Pittsburgh, which is quite a nice town, of which I got to see almost nothing (from ground level, though I got a great fly-over on the way in). Here’s a picture of me at the “author’s table”, courtesy of Dave Ihde.

Left to right: David Long, Daniel Burns, Chris Crutcher, David Ihde, Glenda Daulerio, me, Allison Irwin, Philip Beard.


On Monday I turned around and flew to Algona, IA. Where, you may ask, is Algona? Well, it’s sort of in the middle of nowhere, or rather it’s in the middle of a lot of corn fields. A town of less than 6,000, forty-five minutes from the one-room Fort Dodge airport, it definitely qualifies as one of my most remote author visit destinations. But it has charm! The people were super-friendly, the kids were enthusiastic, well-behaved and full of questions, and I thought the visit was quite a success, despite the small turnout for my grown-up presentation in the evening. That was fine, because I talked to almost 300 kids during the day, in the course of four different presentations & workshops. I’m told there will be an article about me in the local paper to share at some point. I’d like to thank Librarian Sonyah Harsha for setting the whole thing up, and Library Director Kyle Neugebauer for going along with it and playing chauffeur at all sorts of ungodly hours. Sonyah’s daughters Carrie, Hannah and Jennifer also helped out with room reconfiguration before and between presentations. I’ll also thank the schools who came to see me — Seton MS, Garrigan HS, Algona MS and HS. Some of the students from Seton (hi, Caitlin!) came back to hand-deliver a very artistic “thank you” note, too. So thanks, everyone, for making me welcome.

I have more to post this week, but I’m trying to balance it with catching up on my schedule, which is in bad shape with all the travel I’ve been doing. Good thing I love my job!

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