Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

We have many things to be thankful for this year, especially you! Thank you all for supporting us and our writing. It's because of you that we can continue doing what we love. Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday.

Scotty & Jo

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Magic Age Generator Spreadsheet

One of the hardest things for many authors (and editors) to keep straight when working on a series (or even just a long story) with a large cast characters is everyone's age in relation to one another. I've started work on many books midseries, only to find out there were continuity errors that we had to figure out to work our way around and I've needed an easy way to lay out in front of me who all was how old and then run scenarios to see how ages and birthdays needed to line up.

Enter what I call my Magic Age Generator. This is an Excel spreadsheet I have created that will generate ages based on any given start date for any number of characters. All it needs is at least one birthyear to work from. In the image below, the yellow row is all I have to fill in, and Excel does the rest for me.

A screenshot of my Magic Age Generator at work (with fictional characters, of course.)

The magic behind this spreadsheet comes from formulas. Let me break them down for you.

The first two columns on each row actually both represent the same date, but I have the first column formatted to only show the year and the second column formatted to show only the month. You do that with Excel's number formatting tool. The code for showing only the year is yyyy and only the month in short form is mmm.

I started by setting cell B6 equal to cell A3, which is whatever the user (in this case me) has set as the start date. All other dates cascade from this initial start date. Column A is always just set to the same thing as column B, so A6 =B6, A7 =B7, and so on. I want the dates in column B to increment by months, though, so I have to use Excel's date functions to do this. Cell B7 =DATE(YEAR(B6),MONTH(B6)+1,DAY(B6)).
In English, I am basically telling Excel that B7 should equal the same year, the same day, but the month plus one. The nice thing about Excel is that it will figure out to increment the year automatically if the month plus one takes us over to January. And that is it for the first two columns.

A view of columns A and B with Excels View Formula option turned on.

The next formula I use is to compare the character's birthdate to the date for that row.

That formula looks like:
In English, it is basically saying, if the month of the character's birthdate equals the month of the row we are currently on, increment the age a year. The DAY>1 is to take care of birthdates that fall on the first of the month. I've also used some Conditional Formatting to highlight where the ages change to make them stand out more.

Here we see the optional formula to calculate relative birthdates as well as the formula to increment ages.

The last formula is an optional one, but I've found it to be very helpful, especially when I am piecing together existing series. Sometimes I can't find out enough information to discern an actual birthdate, but I know how many years apart two characters are from context clues. Or maybe I have conflicting information about what date it is, but I need to maintain an age gap. That is when this last formula comes in handy. It allows me to calculate one character's birthdate off of another's, so even if I change the first character's birthdate, I maintain the age gap. In the example spreadsheet, I know that Dick is 12 years older than Tom, so even if I decide later that Tom need to be born earlier or later and I change his birthdate, Dick's will change accordingly.

This formula looks like:

Where the cell number inside the YEAR() is the reference to the birthdate of the character whose birthdate you are basing it on.

But what if it isn't years, but months or days older or younger? Then it might look like one of the following examples:

If the two characters are born in the same year, but the second character is two months older.

If the second character was born in the same year and month, but six days later.

If the second character has the same birthday, but is twelve years younger.

Last thing to cover in the spreadsheet, what about all the formatting around the birthdates? That's my code to myself. Maybe it will help you, maybe it won't. For my own sanity, I tend to bold birthdates that I have specific information from text for and often will put a comment as well so I remember it (that's the little red triangle in the corner of the cell in the screenshot near the top). Birthdates in plainface are birthdates that the year is set for, but I don't have all the rest of the information for. Oftentimes, these are just correct for the year and likely the month, but I just use the first as a placeholder on the day. Birthdates in italics are a reminder to me that these are calculated off of someone else.

So there you have it. My Magic Age Generator. There are tools out there that will do similar things for you, such as Aeon Timeline, but I tend to go old school, since I know almost all my authors have Excel, plus I find it a lot easier to run what-if scenarios with this tool. I hope I have given you enough to go on if you want to try your hand at creating this spreadsheet yourself, but if you want to cheat and just download it, well, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and all, here you go.

Magic Age Generator spreadsheet.

Happy writing and see you next week.

Erika OrrickErika Orrick wanted to be a writer when she grew up, but detoured into computers when she realized she actually wanted to eat. Financial stability established, she eased her way back into storytelling by fixing other people’s words and discovered she had a knack. An admitted geek, she is constantly distracted from resuming her quest to be a writer by all the shiny. Luckily, since she hasn’t yet grown up, no one can say she hasn’t met her goal. She has tried (and failed) to escape Texas twice and in fact now lives on the north side of Houston, less than 100 miles from where she started.
Erika can be found on Twitter at @erikaeditsbooks or email at

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Point of view slips: appearance

Regardless of which point of view you choose to write in, there are many little ways that you can accidentally slip up and break the flow of the narrator. Some of them are really blatant and can become full-on head-hopping, but most are much more subtle. It’s tempting to overlook the smaller ones—and sometimes you have to do just that in order to convey a needed detail to the reader—but almost any POV slip will create additional distance between your characters and your readers, even if the slip is subtle enough that the reader doesn’t overtly notice it. Reducing that distance is what drives readers to really align themselves with and feel for characters, so it pays to look for these little tweaks to smooth out your writing.

Today I am going to talk about POV slips of appearance. But first, I am going to tell you a real-life story. We are fortunate to live very near my brother-in-law and his family, so we see them often, including his in-laws when they visit. Recently, my in-laws were in town staying with us, and it happened to coincide with my brother-in-law’s in-laws being in town as well (did you get all of that?). Long story short, Linda and Brynn were both in my living room at the same time, talking. I looked at both of them and chuckled. They turned to look at me and asked what was so funny. I pointed out that they were wearing pretty much the same thing—khaki shorts and a pink T-shirt. In unison, they both looked down, then looked at each other, and both said, “Huh, I didn’t even notice.” And that is your lesson for the day.

One of the things that I end up cautioning authors about a lot are minor POV slips of appearance. Generally speaking, the POV character, regardless of whether you are writing in first or third person, does not think about their appearance unless their attention is specifically drawn to it. This can be because another character points something out (as in the anecdote above) or because they are performing an action that naturally draws their attention to their appearance, such as getting dressed, brushing their teeth in front of a mirror, etc. But in the normal course of their day, a POV character is not going to run their hands through their hair and think I ran my hands through my long blonde curly hair. They are going to report I ran my hands through my hair before pulling on it, frustrated. 

This same “appearance blindness” holds true with facial expressions. Once again, generally speaking, a POV character has no idea what their facial expression actually looks like, so they cannot report what it conveys. Instead, if you want to have your narrator talk about a facial expression, do so from either the perspective of their intent or an involuntary response. 

So instead of
I looked shocked.

Instead say
My mouth dropped open. (Involuntary action)
I tried to school my expression, but I had no idea if I was successful. (Intended action.)

A narrator reporting on their own appearance is just one of the many minor POV slips that can weaken your story, and we’ll explore others in future posts.

Erika OrrickErika Orrick wanted to be a writer when she grew up, but detoured into computers when she realized she actually wanted to eat. Financial stability established, she eased her way back into storytelling by fixing other people’s words and discovered she had a knack. An admitted geek, she is constantly distracted from resuming her quest to be a writer by all the shiny. Luckily, since she hasn’t yet grown up, no one can say she hasn’t met her goal. She has tried (and failed) to escape Texas twice and in fact now lives on the north side of Houston, less than 100 miles from where she started.
Erika can be found on Twitter at @erikaeditsbooks or email at

Are You A Wannabe Novelist?

Five Mistakes To Avoid in Your NaNoWriMo Novel Infographic Please Infographic via Grammarly

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cover Reveal & Excerpt from My Hometown

I was honored that Jennifer Tanner allowed me to use her amazing photo of Gary Leo Taylor for the cover of my upcoming release My Hometown. This photo is just... just.... I don't even have words do you?

Coming to Dreamspinner Press December 2015


Chapter One
Growing up on a small cattle ranch, James Calhoun Brink III—Jimmy to his friends and family—had always dreamed of the bright lights and excitement of the big city. At the ripe old age of eight, he’d sworn animal shit of any kind would not be in his future. It was part of the reason he’d turned down the academic scholarship from the University of Tennessee—much to his parents’ dismay—instead heading for the University of Chicago to begin his studies in premed.
Now as his tires tore up the pavement leading to the old homestead, his heart was beating fast in anticipation of returning to the place he’d yearned to escape for much of his life. He’d had the same physical response the day he headed for Chicago, strange that. But this time he wasn’t just returning home for a visit. Jimmy couldn’t help but wonder if the years had lessened his dislike of farm. Hell, maybe it was the fact that his mom and dad had sold most of the cattle last year in anticipation of retiring to Florida and the only shit Jimmy would have to clean up was from a couple of old coon hounds.
He glanced over at Oliver, who was staring out the window with wide blue eyes as he took in the scenery, his longish blond hair blowing wildly and accentuating the expression of excitement on Oliver’s delicate features. Jimmy reached over and entwined their fingers, smiling at his boyfriend’s animated glee. The two of them had had their problems—the last year had been a struggle, to say the least—so it was great to not only feel his own happiness, but witness it in Oliver too.
He’d met Oliver Francesc during his second year of med school and it had been lust at first sight. Jesus, had it been nearly two years already? Oliver was at UC studying history, a subject that seemed out of character for the flamboyant, full-of-life man. Jimmy would have thought Oliver would be more suited for studying song and dance or theater, but ancient history…. Nope, he wouldn’t have ever guessed that one from looking at Oliver. Jimmy also never would have guessed he’d have such a powerful physical reaction to Oliver. He’d always liked more bearish men, a preference he’d had since a young teen, but there was something about Oliver that had drawn Jimmy, and even with their ups and downs and glaring differences, they were still together. Jimmy still scratched his head over it, rarely finding the answers why. While Oliver might not have been studying dance and theater, he was still passionate about it, and the most infuriating aspect for Jimmy were the show tunes Oliver constantly listened to and sang aloud.
Recently Oliver had been hinting of marriage, but Jimmy wasn’t sure how he felt about it. It was one thing to spend the weekends together and the occasional weeknight, but marriage? Living together for the first time would be a test. If they could handle each other on a daily basis and fears and trust issues could be resolved, then maybe he’d consider marriage. But first there was the little matter of getting settled back home.
“Oh my God, that is the cutest little country store ever,” Oliver squealed.
Jimmy slowed the car and looked to where Oliver was pointing. “That’s Old Man Burker’s store.”
“Can we stop?”
“Sure, but it’s really nothing special, just your typical convenience store.”
Oliver cocked his head and grinned. “It’s not like any convenience store I’ve ever seen. It’s adorable.”
“You’ve lived a sheltered life. You need to get out of Chicago more often if you think this is special.”
“I get out plenty, just rarely out in the country.”
Jimmy pulled to the side of the road in front of Burker’s and cut the engine. “Well, you don’t get much more country than this Podunk town.”
Oliver brought their joined hands to his mouth and placed a kiss to the back of Jimmy’s knuckles. “Good thing I’ve always had a thing for country boys, huh, sweets?”
Jimmy gritted his teeth. He hated it when Oliver called him sweets, such a stupid endearment. But he wasn’t going to point it out again, not today. He sighed silently, knowing it wouldn’t do any good anyway. Rather than respond with words, Jimmy nodded and smiled before opening the door and stepping out. He ran around the front of the car and opened the passenger side door and held out his hand.
Oliver took Jimmy’s hand and allowed him to help him out of the car. “Do I look okay?” Oliver asked as he smoothed his hands down his tan shirt and slacks. “Road trips are hell on linen.”
“You look great,” Jimmy assured him.
“Thanks, baby.” Oliver pecked Jimmy on the cheek and then slicked back his hair, tucking it behind his ears before sashaying into Burker’s.
Lord, the folks in the little town of Hale weren’t going to know how to take Oliver Francesc. “Should be entertaining,” Jimmy muttered and pressed his lips together to keep from laughing.
While he was content to have Oliver with him, he’d be lying to himself if he said he wasn’t nervous about the reaction people in town would have to Oliver’s over-the-top ways. Hell, he was freaking out over wondering how said folks would react to him. When he’d left home for college, he hadn’t actually been out. His family and close friends knew he was gay—he’d never hidden the fact—but he’d never thrown it in their faces either. Until now. Having Oliver with him was definitely throwing it out there.
“Well, I’ll be. If it isn’t Jimmy Brink,” Charlotte Burker said in greeting as soon as Jimmy stepped through the door, causing the little bell to jingle.
Charlotte was sitting with a book in hand on one stool, feet propped up on another. He and Charlotte had grown up together, graduated from high school the same year, but had never been what he’d call friends. Not that there was any kind of animosity between them, but Charlotte was a true introvert, would rather read than interact with people. Being an only child, however, she was expected to work in the family store.
“Hi, Charlotte.” Jimmy stepped up to the counter and fingered the binding of the book. “Reading anything good?”
Charlotte pushed her glasses up on her freckled nose and brushed her mousy brown bangs out of her eyes. “Umm… nothing special.” Her cheeks turned pink as she shoved the book under the counter. Her gaze settled on Oliver, who was wandering among the homemade pastries.
“That good, huh?” Jimmy teased.
“Who’s that?” Charlotte nodded in Oliver’s direction.
“A friend from school. He thought the store was and I quote”—he made air quotes—“adorable.”
“This old place?” Charlotte sniffed without taking her eyes from Oliver. “He doesn’t get out of the city much, does he?”
“Oh. My. God! Jimmy, we have to get some of these,” Oliver declared, holding up a mini jar of jelly. “They are so cute.”
“That obvious, huh?”
Charlotte giggled. She seemed fascinated by Oliver as he scooped up jar after jar. Her expression one of amusement rather than distaste.
Walking out of Burker’s with a bag full of mini jellies, local pastries, and an organic energy drink, Jimmy had to admit, Oliver’s first introduction to the folks—or in this case, folk—of Hale had gone well. Mind you, it was only Charlotte, who had never been one to join in on rumors or talk negatively about anyone. That’s not to say he had any false hope that the rest of the town would be as accommodating; most didn’t like strangers. Plus, being smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, for many, Oliver wouldn’t only be a stranger, but a sinner.
Still, Jimmy let out a small sigh of relief and smiled as he held the passenger door open for Oliver. Jimmy handed him his bag, ran around to the other side of the car, and slid in behind the wheel.
Next test—stop—home.