So, you’re deep into planning your nine book epic space fantasy focusing on twelve equally important families from different planets. What’s that you say? There are divorces and adoptions, and bastards? Oh My!

How are you going to keep all that straight? How much graph paper will you burn through trying to lay out this tangled web of genetics?

The answer could be “a lot” or “none.” I swear. Here, check this thing out.

I get jazzed about ancestry both in my books and real life. It’s like a scavenger/treasure/easter egg hunt all in one. I got deep into a search of my own heritage a few months ago and found a simple, streamlined family tree website called Family Echo. It’s easy to use and does a great job of organizing your info. I’ve managed to trace one of my family lines back to the 1500’s and the program handled the volume of data just fine. It would let me go on forever if I was able to do so.

The best part is, none of the people you add have to be real. Zorkblat born on Bleetnar Prime in 6743 P.C. can fit just as nicely as Bob Jones born in Akron, OH, in 1974 A.D. There are no restrictions to the data you enter and if you sign up (free, no spam) then you can save your progress and edit as you go. Here’s a quick mock-up to give you a taste of some of the features.


Family Echo Demo


If you’re a planner or more likely an over-planner, then you need to put this baby in your digital tool belt. Check it out, have fun, and you know, if you want to write me in as the grandparent of the mistress of the cousin of the main character, I’d be okay with that.

Once upon a time in a land across the sea, I lived a different life and earned my bread as a teacher. There are many quick, useful, and above all cheap tricks of the trade that I gathered along the way but one that has translated well into my writery endeavours has been electrical tape.

And before you even ask. No, it’s not for researching a torture scene.

Electrical tape alone won’t do much for a writer outside of fixing a broken pencil or inspiring yourself by making a stick on Poe mustache. However, if you apply said electrical tape to every writer’s favorite office eyesore, the whiteboard, it’s a game changer. Well, really it’s a minor fix to a minor problem. But wait until you try it. At that point the skies will open and a T-Rex on a dirt bike will do a double backflip over the heavenly rays shining down on your new awesome whiteboard. Or you’ll just feel satisfied with your work. You know, either/or.

Big charts on whiteboards have endless uses. Easy to see, impossible to avoid, I use mine to track the hours spent doing various writing tasks. Also I use it to chart how often I work out. Please ignore the X below. Monday was a busy day. I really should have gone to the gym but I was cleaning up the house and rearranging some furniture and you know how hard life is.

ANYWAY, a chart made solely of dry erase marker ends up being redrawn over and over and over and over and… As a teacher, I’d die a little inside every time my eraser clipped the edge of a carefully drawn box.


I discovered, while making a grid for my classroom schedule, that electrical tape makes awesome straight lines, it never erases, and unlike duck tape (look up the history you “duct” devotees) it doesn’t leave behind any of that ungodly ectoplasm. You can take it off, rearrange it, restick it. or start fresh and the white board will always be good as new.

This may be old news to some but if not, give it a shot. Electrical tape is cheap and can often be found collecting dust at your local dollar store.

(Note: I don’t get paid to endorse this stuff. I just like it and think that you will too.)


Hero Machine 3 is useful. Really. It’s not a productivity destroying distract-o-tron that makes for a great excuse to not write. Well… I mean, sure yeah, okay but it’s also a great character planning tool. Honest.

There are two ways I find Hero Machine 3 to be helpful when I write. My main use is for character modeling and design. Specifically for characters that already exist in my stories.

It’s hard for me to keep track of how I’ve described the looks and attire of all the characters in my novels or short stories or whatever. Did the priest wear slacks or khakis? Was there a blood stain on the microbiologist’s lab coat or her shirt?

I fix this problem by building my characters in Hero Machine then printing them to make visual quick reference cards. These keep my words flowing rather than having to stop and remember or search for details I’ve written about chapters ago. It’s very easy to save .jpeg, .png, or .pdf versions digitally but I have specific reasons why I prefer printing the cards and I’ll get to that at the end this post.

Heromachine 3 Demo1 (more…)