Indiana graduate pens fantasy novel for children
May 03, 2013 11:00 AM
by ELLEN MATIS
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By combining her love of fantasy, writing and computer science, Indiana native Erica Sandbothe has published her first novel, “Codecrafter.”

A 2005 graduate of Indiana Area Senior High School, Sandbothe wrote the novel for children ages 10 and over, meant to serve as an introduction to computer science and programming.

The novel explores the world of Tagg, a girl “eager to learn the words of power and become a codecrafter,” according to a press release.

“Tagg must face the rigors of her new life all while on the lookout for powerful enemies intent on using her to further their own ends,” the release said.

Sandebothe seeks to inspire a sense of wonder in children, to make computer programming seem “neither hard nor scary,” the release said.

The book, Sandbothe said, started out with conversations and jokes with her and her friends, all computer science majors at Carnegie Mellon University.

“What would an infinite loop look like if it were real?” and “What would a programming language look like? What would it act like?” were all questions Sandbothe said her group of friends discussed.

“From there, it was a simple matter to create the world of Tilde, where these things really did exist, and people had to interact with them on a daily basis,” she said.

In the book, according to the press release, magic is not “your typical wand-waving.” Spells are software and magic is programmed.

Sandbothe started writing “Codecrafter” in 2008 when she was studying computer science at CMU.

“I finished it a year later and shopped it around to a couple of agents and publishing houses, but I got the distinct impression that they didn’t ‘get’ the computer science part,” Sandbothe said.

It wasn’t until recently, with the emergence of self-publishing and e-readers that she “decided to dust it off and give it another go.”

When she got to CMU, she said, she had never taken a creative writing course.

“I love writing,” she said. “It was a good contrast to the heavily analytical work of CS, and I kept taking the classes partly to give my brain a break.”

She ended up graduating with a minor in creative writing.

Her time at Indiana High, she said, contributed to her goals.

“I was very lucky to have a lot of great teachers at IHS who helped me on my way to ‘Codecrafter,’” she said.

Self-directed courses in programming, TV production and design during high school, she said, helped develop an interest in game development, and ultimately “Codecrafter.”

Sandbothe, who now resides in Pittsburgh, said she hopes that one day the novel will be used as a teaching supplement in the classroom.

“Codecrafter is a great way to introduce children to the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) in a gentle way that doesn’t overwhelm,” she said. “In 20 years, I believe we’ll talk about programming the same way we talk about engineering — a big field with lots of different applications, but a firm basis in math and physics.”

She also said the basis of programming is logic and reasoning.

“If you know how to think like a programmer, it doesn’t matter what you are trying to do, you can figure out a way to accomplish it.”

The important message the book has to offer to children, Sandbothe said, is that “everyone must start somewhere, everyone is new at some point. … If you put your mind to it, you can learn anything.”

The book is available on Amazon CreateSpace and is available as an e-book for Kindle, and can be purchased on the “Codecrafter” website at www.codecrafter.org, which includes an excerpt of the novel.

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