Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Excel for Writers

A Guest Post by Christie Valentine Powell
Author of The Spectra Unearthed

One afternoon my college roommate, an accounting major, found me pouring over an excel sheet. “You use excel?” she asked incredulously.

“Yes,” I answered. “It’s useful for writing.”

She still stared at me. She didn't seem to believe that a wildlife conservation major with a perchance for fiction would be using the same program she used in her classes.

Excel can be a useful tool for the writer. In fact, I was using it as early as middle school for keeping track of my characters (and their Pokémon—this was 2000).

Here are some of the ways I use excel for writing fiction. Some of these are influenced by genre. I write fantasy and create my own world, so I need to keep track of more information than, say, a romance writer might. Others are useful no matter the genre.


“How do you name your characters?” comes up frequently in writing circles. I am something of a name enthusiast. I read name dictionaries and online lists for fun, and when I come up with one that fits my story, I add it to my name excel sheet. In The Spectra series, I go for names with meanings that tie in to that character’s clan. For instance, characters from the Cole clan have names meaning fire or red. The columns go across the top and then I fill in the information about each name. I include a column for “bearer” so I know if I’ve already used the name.

This way I can sort the names by gender and/or clan to help me narrow down the perfect name for my character. For instance, if a new male Sprite character appears, I can scroll down the alphabet to ‘S’…

And I’ve got a whole list of possibilities.


I also use excel to keep track of the history of my fantasy world. At the top, I have a column per year (around 300 years). This way I have a quick reference for births, deaths and marriages; important events in both kingdoms and characters’ lives; and the reigns of kings. I broke them up by clan to spread things out. It may be chaotic for someone who doesn’t know the world, but I can find what I need and that’s what’s important.


Have you ever read a series where one of the characters switches middle names between books? What about eyes that change color? Annoying, right? A character sheet on excel can be a great way to keep all those little details straight, especially for minor characters. You can add whatever details are most important to you. Here’s an example of mine (by the way, I hid the columns for spouse and children—too many spoilers!). I can sort by book in the series or parents/birth order if I’m looking at a whole family.

Chapter Length

This is a tool I use to help with pacing. I keep track of the name and number of each chapter, and then copy down the page numbers from my table of contents. This calculates the length of each chapter for me, so I can determine if parts are too long or two short, and compare one book in the series to another. Yes, all of the Keita’s Wings books have the same number of chapters—I find it a useful tool for book length, but if this is unappealing to you please don’t. I can be OCD about some of these things. The different colors on the chapter names are groupings I find useful, based off of characters and setting.

Agents and Reviews

I’ve also used excel to keep track of agents and reviewers that I’ve contacted about my books. For reviewers, I listed their name, website, when I submitted to them, and what response I received (information has been removed for privacy). I colored the rejections red and the accepted invitations green:

I did the same thing for agents before I decided to Indie publish, which also included columns for hints I’d dug up about the sort of books they were looking for.


Now here’s the sheet that my accounting roommate would approve of! Where is money going and where is it coming from? It’s important to keep track! At the end of the year I move the total costs, total profits, and year total to another table so that I can compare years and look for patterns… and do taxes (shudder).

What, you don’t think I doctored the profits, do you?

Word Count

I must admit, I had to get my husband’s help to set this up. I participate in NaNoWriMo each year, and one of the most motivating parts is entering your wordcount into their tables and graphs. So we put together a table that can give that same motivation throughout the year, with adjustable goals (let me know if you want a copy and I can email it).

Not Excel, But Still Useful
Here are a few other useful files I keep for my books that are not on excel:


I chose to use ‘Word’ for the calendar, but excel would work just as well. This helps me keep track of the dates in my story. I have to make sure that events are realistically spread out, especially when my characters are traveling!

Oh look, I left out a few death dates...

Family Trees

Main character Keita meets her cousins and other relatives in several of the Spectra books, so keeping track of them all is important. This information is on my excel timeline as well, but it’s handy to see them grouped by family in a linear, visual way. I have one of these for most of the major characters (including Keita’s mother’s side of the family on a separate sheet).


I have a ‘master map’ which shows the entire Spectra continent and all important places. This helps me get traveling dates straight (see calendar) and lets me visualize where the characters are and what directions they are facing. When I publish a book, I take the relevant section of my master map and turn it into an insert for the front of the book. Here’s the map that was included in book 3, The Spectra Uprooted: a map of the kingdom of Spritelands, and a small inset of the whole continent.

Various computer programs can be a real asset to your writing. These are the ones I’ve found the most useful. Feel free to try out any new ideas and let me know how they turned out!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

COVER REVEAL: Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals and Gizmos!

Today, I’m revealing the cover and story line-up for BRAVE NEW GIRLS: ADVENTURES OF GALS & GIZMOS, coming July 2019! This YA sci-fi anthology (edited by sci-fi authors Paige Daniels and Mary Fan) features stories about adventurous girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) whose science and tech skills get them in and out of trouble. Heroines who build superhero tech, tinker with nanobots, time travel, and more! Proceeds from sales of the anthology will be donated to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.

And without further ado, here’s the cover!

Stories in the anthology (in alphabetical order by title):

BOUND, DETERMINED by Holly Schofield
BRAINIAC by Nancy Johnston
COLOSSUS by Tash McAdam
THE CURSE by JF Garrard
DECODED by A.A. Jankiewicz
A DIFFERENT MATH by Aaron Rosenberg
FUTURE SCOUTS by Phil Margolies
GAME OVER by Nicole Iversen
GEO by Elisha Betts
A GHOST AMONG THE STARS by Joanna Schnurman
HOPLITE by J.R. Rustrian
INDEPENDENCE DAY by Russ Colchamiro
KEPTERMINE by Lisa Toohey
KNIGHT ENGINE by Jelani Akin Parham
MY FAIR CAVELADY by Jennifer Lee Rossman
THE PLANTS OF EREBUS by Victoria Zelvin
THE SILENT DUST by Keith R.A. DeCandido
THE TOWER by Paige Daniels
THE WATER PLANT by Amy Lewanski
ZOWS by Mackenzie Reide

ADD IT ON GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43810391-brave-new-girls


VISIT THE BRAVE NEW GIRLS WEBSITE: http://bravenewgirls.weebly.com/

Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals & Gizmos is the ourth  volume of the Brave New Girls anthology series. The first three, Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets (2015), Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme (2017), and Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack have so far raised thousands of dollars for the Society of Women Engineers Scholarship fund. Find them on Amazon.



Paige Daniels is the pen name of Tina Closser. By day she works as an Electrical Engineer and Mom mushing her kids from gymnastics and violin practice. After the kids go to bed, she rocks out with her headphones turned to eleven and cranks out books. She is an uber science geek. If she wasn't married to the most terrific guy in the world, she would be a groupie for Adam Baldwin. Her books include Non-Compliance: The Sector, Non-Compliance: The Transition, and Non-Compliance: Equilibrium.

Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books—a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil. And what stories she has! Currently, she has three series in progress and likes to think that she has even more in her bag. Her books include the Starswept novels, the Jane Colt trilogy, the Flynn Nightsider series, the Fated Stars novellas, and Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

NEW RELEASE: Wayward Stars!

Hey everyone! Sorry about the lack of posts! Been ridiculously busy lately. Just wanted to pop in and announce that WAYWARD STARS, sequel to my award-winning YA sci-fi novel, STARSWEPT, is now out in the world! Check it out:

E-Book: Hardback:

Sing your truth. Defend your dream. Defy your stars.

A month has passed since Iris joined an underground rebel group to save Dámiul from the brutal prison he was sent to for fighting back against his world’s oppressive system. Here, conformity and compliance are enforced through telepathy, and Earthling performers are brainwashed into absolute obedience.

Word of a merciless crackdown on those who sympathize with their cause leaves both Iris and Dámiul yearning for action. Determined to liberate her kind, Iris volunteers to return to her former patrons and covertly recruit supporters.

A raid on their hideout catapults her plan into action sooner than expected and forces her to leave Dámiul behind. After persuading the authorities that she’d been telepathically manipulated into helping him, Iris assumes the role of a dutiful musician while secretly spreading whispers of a possible uprising among her fellow performers. But the authorities always seem to be one step ahead, and anyone who defies them is swiftly mind-wiped.

Soon, Iris is forced to confront a horrifying fact: there’s a traitor among them. Desperately clinging to her cover, she races to find out who before her true loyalties are discovered—and the search leads her to an unthinkable answer.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

My Farpoint Schedule!

Excited to return to Farpoint this year! Below is my schedule:


Jean-Luc Picard: The Man, The Legend – Fri 7:00 PM – Salon A

Farpoint Book Fair – Fri 10:00 PM – Hunt Valley Hallway


Autograph – Sat NOON – Autograph Table 1

Diversity Vs Appropriation (MOD) – Sat 2:00 PM – Salon C

Crazy 8 Press – Sat 4:00 PM – Salon C

The Case For A Capt. Worf Series – Sat 5:00 PM – Salon A


Autograph (DeCandido; Fan) – Sun 10:00 AM – Autograph Table 1

The Star Wars Multiverse – Sun NOON – Salon A

Women In Star Trek – Sun 2:00 PM – Salon A

Friday, December 28, 2018

Obligatory Year-End Round-Up

Hey everyone! Been a while, hasn't it? I wish I had some lofty reason for not really blogging much, something about unplugging or stepping back or self care, but I'm pretty sure it all comes down to general laziness. Ah well.

As 2018 comes to an end, everywhere I look I see year-end round-ups of the best things, of worst things, of things accomplished. And also of things anticipated for 2019. So I decided to do a round-up of my own stuff. Why not. Partly because I'm bored, and partly because I've had a supremely unproductive two months (can't tell if I'm burned out, worn out, or just in a funk), and boasting about the things I've actually gotten done seems like it could be therapeutic.

So, here's a list of writing-type things I accomplished in 2018:

Hmm, okay, that was a lot. I actually had to go onto my own Amazon page and look some of this stuff up... I feel better now.

While I'm at it, here are my writing-type goals for 2019:

  • Publish Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon (well, technically the publisher will publish it, but I'll be promoting the heck out of it!)
  • Publish the fourth Brave New Girls anthology (subtitle to be announced!)
  • Publish Wayward Stars in e-book and print (I mean, the work's all done and I'm just waiting for the copies to arrive from the printer, but there will be promoting to do) as well as audio (still have to get on that one)
  • Publish a collection of shorts from the Flynn Nightsider universe starring Aurelia "the Firedragon" Sun (3 of them are already done... just need to write a 4th and compile the thing)
  • Make my YA sci-fi mystery readable and send it to my agent
  • Write the third and final book in the Starswept trilogy
  • Write a horror novella (just because I have an idea for one)
  • Decide which new full-length novel I'm writing next in case neither the contemporary fantasy nor the sci-fi mystery ends up selling
Sounds doable enough... right?

Thursday, November 29, 2018


An interview with author Raquel Rich.


Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

Hamartia was the first story I wrote as an adult. I unknowingly suppressed my love of writing when I was twelve over an uproar when Lisa, a fictional young rape victim in one of my stories, killed herself.

As a first time author, I was scared Hamartia sucked. Most authors don’t publish or do anything with their first works, so why would I be any different? However, to my surprise, Hamartia won the grand prize in a writing contest sponsored by Words Matter Publishing and also received a glowing review from Kirkus, a highly respected industry journal.

What got you into writing?

I honestly couldn’t say. Writing wasn’t something I planned, it was something I stumbled over. I didn’t mean to write a book, at least not consciously.

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

Hamartia was born from a conversation between my son and me at the Science Museum in London, England. There was an exhibit on fears and phobias which explored popular beliefs, one of which was reincarnation. It got me thinking about the idea of a soul dying after enduring too many life cycles. What would happen? What if you could travel to a past life and clone a soul? A scene emerged in my head and I wrote it down, and once I did, it was like a dam had burst, unleashing a long forgotten love of writing. 

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

Grace’s best friend, Kay, is by far my favourite character. She and I would get along like strawberries and whipped cream because I loosely based her on my real life best friend. Kay takes charge whenever Grace can’t. She doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind and has an infectious nature. What I love most about her is her quirky spirit, unwavering loyalty, and her ability to forgive.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

I have many. I’m afraid to detail any of them for fear of giving the story away, please forgive my vagueness. I love the scene when Marc finally tells Grace exactly what he should’ve said to her long before. I find the confrontation between Grace and her best friend, Kay, to be endearing. I’m captivated every time I read the part when Grace finally reveals the significance of her dream. And the chase through the caves in the desert is an action-packed sequence I thoroughly enjoyed stringing together. 

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

Plotting and problem-solving. I think I’m a bit of a mad scientist. I get a kick out of putting my characters into impossible situations and watching them squirm on the page. When I’ve had enough laughs at their expense, I help them out of the situation.   

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

Hamartia took four years to write. However, I had a full-time day job and therefore only wrote on weekends. I also took lots of sabbaticals from the story, thinking it would never become anything. Now that writing is now my full-time gig, it’s a much quicker process. I managed to throw the first draft of the sequel together in a few months. On the other hand, revising and editing is shaping up to be the most time-consuming step regardless of having all day (every day) to work on it. Between each revision, I tuck the story in a drawer for weeks to let it rest. Fresh eyes are crucial to my process, so the resting period cannot be rushed.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

I don’t have to suspend my disbelief in sci-fi because I honestly believe that anything is achievable with evolution. Humans are capable of the unthinkable and this both scares and awes me. Having said that, it annoys me that sci-fi and fantasy are often lumped together. I see them as completely different genres. In my head, fantasy is something that will never happen whereas sci-fi is possibly possible.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

Madeleine L'Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) is my hero. Sci-fi is a male-dominated genre, and she rocked it in the 1960s.

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

I hadn’t planned for Kay to play such a big part in the story. There were many times that I would tell her (aloud), “Kay, you gotta go now.” And she’d reply (in my head), “If you get rid of me, you’ll regret it.” As for the plot, I was just as surprised with the twists I wrote as many of you will be when you read the book.    

Thanks for stopping by!


Grace’s nine-year-old son, Jordan, is dying. First, the Metagenesis disease will tear his soul from his body, and then it will kill him. Desperate for a cure, Grace agrees to take part in an illegal clinical trial cloning souls. Supported by her best friend Kay, the two embark on the ultimate “Vegas Vacation” to the past in search of the right soul to clone, racing against time to save Jordan’s life. But someone is trying to stop them and when they discover why, Grace must make a choice: let her son die or kill her husband. If she kills her husband she triggers widespread Metagenesis, sealing the fate of the human race with a new plague.

Humanity is counting on Grace choosing to let her son die.
Watch the book trailer HERE.


Raquel Rich is a self-employed English Language Teacher and an author with Words Matter Publishing. She loves to travel, suntan, walk her dog, and is obsessed with all things Beauty & the Beast. She despises cold weather, balloons, and writing about herself in the third person but noticed all the real authors do that. Raquel recently left (ok, got let go from) a career in the travel industry and rather than looking for a real job, she wrote her first book, HAMARTIA. Born and raised in Canada to Brazilian parents, she lives in the Toronto area with her family. Married to the guy she’s been with since she was fifteen (her baby daddy), her superpowers include being a mom to their two awesome grown-ass boys and one fur baby. She’s also an okay step-mom and an auntie to a clan of classy ladies.


Website & blog - https://www.raquelrich.com    

Friday, November 2, 2018

COVER REVEAL: Tar / Taylor Hohulin

Today, I'm thrilled to help reveal the cover of TAR, a sci-fi novel by Taylor Hohulin! And without further ado...

Isn't it cool? I love the bold colors!! Here's more about the book and the author...


Brendan Cobb calls it tar, but there might be as many names for it as cities left standing.

To some, it’s known as filth, or blight. Others call it the Black God in reverential whispers. Whatever name it takes, the effects are the same. Cities left in ruins. People turned into monsters. Living infections with no known cure. The best anyone can do is avoid it, but even that gets harder the more it spreads.

Brendan survives this waking nightmare by trading salvage for shelter and for repairs to his cybernetic arm, until a newcomer arrives, convinced Brendan is the key to ridding the world of tar once and for all. Reluctantly, Brendan and his mechanic join the newcomer on a journey across the desolate highways of a ruined world, where he learns the true history of the tar…and of the dark power inside him, which grows stronger every day.


For all other e-book retailers, click here: https://www.books2read.com/u/mqZPW9


Taylor Hohulin is a radio personality by morning, a science fiction author by afternoon, and asleep by 9:30. He is the author of The Marian Trilogy, Tar, and other science fiction and horror titles. He and his wife live in Iowa, where they are owned by a dog and a cat.