GUEST POST by Joe Pace: Paper or Plastic; Notebooks, Keyboards, and the Writer’s Brain

The debate chirps on between the print-mongers and the hip cats with their Kooks and Nindles. I’ve always been a print man; I can’t bring myself to read anything more than a newspaper article on a screen. Even that, I suppose, is a concession, and selling books in digital format has forced me to accept the validity of the virtual word. Read however it suits you, I suppose, though there is something to the heft and permanence of the printed page, the texture and scent of it. Yeah, I would have been a cuneiform guy back in the day.

There has been extensive research on how the brain engages with different media, with hard copy or digital, and the bulk of this has related to reading. Yes, it appears, people’s minds do process information differently based on the format it which it is presented. That’s not a value judgment, as noted above, but simple science. A fascinating 2013 article in Scientific American explores the notion that our brains perceive the written word in the context of object recognition, navigating a landscape in which the tactile experience is an important component. Studies have suggested that comprehension and retention of information may be compromised by forgoing tree pulp for electronic bytes.

More interesting to me is whether the difference that researchers have found in reading format extend to the act of writing? There is evidence that it just may. A 2010 Wall Street Journal article discusses how the very act of writing by hand trains the brain. Interestingly, there appears to be a hard-wired relationship between the brain and the hand when it comes to creative composition. When we type, we select a key that produces a whole letter. When we write, we form sequential strokes that build a letter. This process apparently is a vital key to accessing our memory and language areas of the brain.

Beyond how our brains process the act of writing, are we losing something intimate and personal when we swap the notebook for the keyboard? As any fan of the forensic or courtroom drama television genre would tell you, our handwriting is as uniquely ours as our fingerprints. Not so the fonts on our computer.

As for me, I find that when I have pen in hand my mind operates differently than when my fingers rest on a keyboard. When I’m typing, the words appearing perfectly and Times New Romany on that Word Document, it feels like finished product. It feels like it has to be zero-defect. It feels like the punctuation and spelling and grammar and spacing has to be right.

Maybe it’s the silent chides of those pesky green and red underlines, tsking at me (as they just did about “tsking”). Maybe it’s the recollection of my earliest attempts to write with an actual typewriter (yes, kids), back in those groovy 80s. Typing was an unforgiving environment, and it still feels that way. It’s inhibiting. It’s less creation than stenography.

With a pen (or in my case, usually, a blue flair) and a notebook, I am liberated. I cross things out. I scrawl. I make marginalia. Arrows. Underlines, circles, secret symbols denoting enthusiasm or mental shrugs. It feels like I am writing, like I’m vomiting the contents of my brain into a pan and scrabbling about for tiny golden nuggets to separate from the mud. I can’t help it (the vomiting or the affinity for paper). It’s the difference, to me, between watercolors and MacPaint.


JOE PACE is a writer of science fiction and historical fiction, seeking to weave classic sci-fi adventure with political intrigue and memorable characters. His debut novel Minotaur was published in 2012. The first volume of the Harvest trilogy, Lost Harvest, was released in 2015, and the sequel, Against the Stars, is scheduled for release in 2016.

More Books, More Details, and a Reader Poll



Actually, I suppose I would be writing more books no matter what. Let me rephrase that:



The official deal announcement at Publishers’ Marketplace is as brief as it is sweet:


I can shed a little more light on what I’ve got planned through a hypothetical Q&A. Or a real Q&A with a hypothetical interrogator. You get the idea…

Are you writing another trilogy? Not yet. Each of these books will stand alone.

Why aren’t you writing another trilogy??? I want to explore a lot more of the world I’ve created, and I want to try my hand at a shorter form.

I WANT ANOTHER TRILOGY. Sorry. Also, that wasn’t a question.

Isn’t calling a 175K-word novel “short” sort of ridiculous? Not if you’re comparing it to a 290K-word novel, which is the finished length of The Last Mortal Bond.

I want the books to be set in the same world as the Unhewn Throne trilogy. That wasn’t a question.

You’re being an asshole. Also not a question.

Fine. Will these books be set in the same world as the Unhewn Throne trilogy? At least some of them, yes. In fact, you can VOTE in the comments below if there’s something you’re particularly keen to see.

Are these books going to be about the same characters? Some yes. Some no. There will be a blend of new and familiar faces.

Is Gwenna alive at the end of The Last Mortal Bond? I can’t answer that.



Kaden? Look, all I can tell you is that some of the characters die and some of them live.

DO NOT KILL THE CHARACTERS I LIKE. Apologies in advance for killing any characters you liked.

KILL THE CHARACTERS I DON’T LIKE. This is starting to feel less and less like a Q and A…

What are you going to write about in these new books? I have a whole batch of exciting ideas, but I also really want to hear from you…

ME!?! No, not you. I want to hear from everyone else reading this. IF YOU HAVE A REQUEST, or idea, or even a brazen demand, feel free to LEAVE IT IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. Obviously, I can’t promise that I’ll write a book about everything everyone wants, but you never know – if enough people weigh in on something I’m already considering, that might be enough to shift the scales. Also, feel free to ask any other questions you might have.

Finally, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over to all of the wonderful readers who have read the books, sent encouraging email, posted reviews anywhere and everywhere, pushed the novels on their friends and family, and generally supported this whole endeavor. I’m so grateful to be doing this for a living, and for the chance to keep doing it – a chance I owe to all of you.

Beyond Trumpeting and Ejaculation; Other Uses for Dialogue Tags

I dimly remember an exercise from middle school in which we spent the better part of an hour coming up with synonyms for said:

She chortled…

He sobbed…

She gasped…

They chanted…

Long before we got to that pinnacle of 19th century linguistic excitement – He ejaculated – the limitations of the exercise were growing painfully clear. While it’s neat that we have a lot of words in English, imagine a piece of prose laboring beneath the weight of these dialogue tags:

“I love you,” she prevaricated.

“You don’t,” he expostulated. “You can’t.”

She stared into his eyes, then hissed, “Yes, Ronald. I swear.”

“No,” he trumpeted. “No!”

Some writers seem to think the example above is something to which all of us should aspire. Having graded thousands of high school stories and essays loaded to the margins with I lisped, and she labored, I can’t agree.

Often, of course, it’s best not to use a dialogue tag at all; carefully crafted dialogue can usually haul its own emotional freight without too much extra help. On the other hand, we’ve all had that vexing experience of losing our place in the dialogue and being forced to count down the lines with our fingers muttering, “John said this, then Jane said this, then John said this, then Jane said that…”

Contrary to the standard high school dictum, said and replied can be great options. Both are virtually invisible, inaudible; we read right past them into the heart of the quote itself, which is surely what we ought to be doing most of the time. At the same time, they help us to keep our place.

There is another function to the dialogue tag, however, one that has nothing to do with either clarifying the speaker or explaining the tone in which the words are delivered, one concerned almost entirely with pacing. Consider this exchange from A Dance with Dragons (unless you’re worried about MINOR SPOILERS. In that case, AVERT YOUR EYES!)

She narrowed her eyes. “What is our heart’s desire?”

“Vengeance.” His voice was soft, as if he were afraid that someone might be listening. “Justice.” Prince Doran pressed the onyx dragon into her palm with his swollen, gouty fingers, and whispered, “Fire and blood.”

I love this passage, but let’s play with it a bit. Imagine it went like this:

She narrowed her eyes. “What is our heart’s desire?”

Prince Doran pressed the onyx dragon into her palm with his swollen, gouty fingers. His voice was soft, as if he were afraid that someone might be listening: “Vengeance. Justice. Fire and blood.”

All the essential elements of the original are there, and yet this seems to my ear immeasurably worse. The problem is that the quote itself is rushed. Vengeance, as both a notion and a word, deserves its own space. If this were a film (and I haven’t watched the show far enough to see if it plays out this way) the actor would pause after the word, but an author can’t write explicit instructions to the reader: Pause here to consider my genius. Linger on this carefully chosen word.

Instead, the author controls the pace of the reading in other ways, in this case, through the dialogue tag, which is extended to include a single action and a description of Doran’s voice. My altered version, on the other hand, sounds like a grocery list: While you’re picking up the Captain Crunch, bananas, and milk, don’t forget the vengeance, justice, fire, and blood.

And, of course, in none of this is there a role for trumpeting, gasping, prevaricating, or any of the other tags I spent that childhood morning listing. Doran’s tag is punched up from said to whispered, but the verb doesn’t draw attention to itself. Its function isn’t to tell us how Doran is speaking – we’ve just had a description of his voice – it is, like all the other words around it, to slow the line of dialogue, to let each one of those brutal nouns hit home with all its force.

TLMB: What does it mean? A contest.

EDIT: CONTEST CLOSED. COVER REVEAL COMING SOON. But you should still scroll down and see some the hysterical entries…

After much consideration, I’ve finally settled on a title to the third book in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. And it is… drumroll… drumroll…


Ok, that’s not it, exactly. That’s the acronym. We’re not revealing the title until we can reveal the cover, which is probably a couple of weeks out. In the meantime, this strikes me as a great chance to run a contest. Below, in the comments, put in your guesses for the title of this third book. There will be three different divisions, each with a different prize:

Division 1: My wife’s favorite title. Prize: KETTRAL ATHLETIC DEPT. T-shirt

Division 2: My poker buddies’ favorite title. Prize: KETTRAL ATHLETIC DEPT. T-shirt

Division 3: The title that’s closest to the real title: Prize: An ARC of TLMB (although they probably won’t be printed until late summer).

Rules: Only three entries per person. Contest closes whenever we do the cover reveal. And no, I’m not exactly sure when that is, so get on it!

GUEST POST: Connecting the Dots by V.E. Schwab

When it comes out writing, one of the most common questions I’m asked about process is whether I’m a “plotter” or “pantser”—whether I outline my books before starting, or fly by the seat of my trousers. As a fantasy writer, I have to imagine the majority of us fall into the former camp (the thought of setting out on an adventure WITHOUT a map is quite frankly terrifying). At the same time, I’ve found that knowing too much about my story diminishes the excitement of actually WRITING it. I need the kindling to light the fire, but discovery keeps it alive.

Because of this, I’ve realized I’m neither a plotter, nor a pantser.

I’m a connect-the-dots-er.

What this means is that before I start writing a book, I create five to ten plot points that absolutely must be present in order for my story to be, well, my story. Some of these are pivotal plot moments, some are twists, others are moments that reveal the nature of a character, but each is vital in its way, and together, they make a loose road map for my book. A way to keep one’s self from wandering 50,000 words in the wrong direction.

With A Darker Shade of Magic, for instance, the very first plot point I had was the inspiration for the entire book: the moment when a magician walked through a wall, and ran into a street thief who picked his pocket. This intersection of the two main characters, Kell and Lila, was a pivotal moment, a crux, and I knew that without it, the story wasn’t the one I wanted to tell, and I ended up working outward from that moment to find the other ten points.

But the important thing about connecting the dots is that I start with these marks, but not the lines between. Finding my way from point to point, that’s the blank space, the place for discovery. I might stray, explore, write myself down wrong paths, but I never stray so far that I loose the pattern, and I can always back up to the last plot point or work backwards from the next.

The advantage of plotting is that you have a detailed plan, but little room for inspiration. If you do have an idea that leads you astray, you risk setting off a chain of events the ripple effect of which disrupts if not negates your entire outline.

The advantage of pantsing is that everything is a mystery and anything could happen! The downside is that anything could happen and you might write yourself down a path of no return and have to rip out thousands upon thousands of words worth of plot stitches.

Connecting the dots is a way to introduce a controlled measure of chaos into the creative process. To stray without straying, to keep the story in your mind, the next plot point a guiding light in the distance, but the way from here to there filled with possibility.



V.E. Schwab is the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, which was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013, an Amazon Best Book of the Year (as well as Best Book of the month), a semi-finalist in the Goodreads Choice 2013 Book Awards, and the ALA top pick for Fantasy for their 2014 reading list. She is also the author of several books for children and teens, including The Archived series. You can check out her website here, then go buy her new book, A Darker Shade of Magic, here.