Monks, Cartographers, Death: a Blog Round-Up

I haven’t published anything on here for a while, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy writing posts for other blogs. Here’s a round-up of the latest crop:

We’ve All Got It Coming: On the role of death as the ultimate, inevitable spoiler.

Cartography and its Discontents: Exploration of the role of the fantasy map, and a chance to make a little fun of my constantly disoriented wife.

Fire Lookout, Monk, Water Skier, Teacher: Some thoughts on the best career for an aspiring writer.

Read or Die: On the importance and difficulty of reading while writing.

Huffington Post Interview: In which I explain why I don’t like to break things, then discuss a vicious, sadistic wizard.

Algebra for Fantasy Writers: Self-explanatory, really.

The Log Goblin: An original short story. As opposed, I guess, to an unoriginal short story?

That ought to keep you busy for a while. Oh, and if you missed it somehow, the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne is finished! The final book, The Last Mortal Bond, dropped two weeks ago. Happy reading!


Upcoming Appearances

Updated tour dates, complete with west coast stops! Come one, come all. Putting together some secret special guest appearances at a few of these stops. Stay tuned!

Tuesday March 15, Phoenix Books, Burlington, VT

Friday March 18th, Northshire Books, Saratoga Springs, NY

Thursday March 24th, Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA

Friday March 25, WonderCon, Los Angeles, CA

Monday March 28, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA

Tuesday March 29, Borderlands, San Francisco, CA

Thursday March 31, University Bookstore, Seattle, WA

Friday April 1 Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM

Saturday April 2, Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ

Tuesday April 12, Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, VT


GUEST POST: Strapped to the Couch, by Marc Turner

Characters are the building blocks of any good book. The events of a story, no matter how dramatic, won’t touch us in a major way unless we care about the characters, and the feelings for those people will hang around long after the clever plot twists fade from memory. How do you make your characters rounded and interesting, though? The first step is to get to know them as intimately as possible.


Before I start writing a book, I create detailed notes on each character. That includes their physical attributes, but more importantly it also covers their sociological and psychological traits. Where did character X grow up, and what is his social class? What was character Y’s relationship with her parents like? The first step towards understanding a character’s motivations is to understand their upbringing and development.

There are also a few special elements I look for in creating a character biography. Since I write fantasy books, I’ll ask whether a character has a particular ability or aptitude (magical or otherwise) that makes them stand out from the crowd. In addition, I’ll ask whether a character has a secret. Secrets are great for springing surprises on the reader. They also create suspense, because the more a character tries to keep a secret hidden, the more a reader wants to learn what it is. In my debut, When the Heavens Fall, one of the four point-of-view characters, Parolla, begins the book as an enigma. We know that she has “tainted” blood, but we don’t know how she got it, or what powers it gives her. The answers are revealed during the course of the story.

Next, when I’m creating characters, I search for an inner demon to torment them with! I like my protagonists to have to struggle against themselves, and that means finding some source of internal conflict. Ideally that conflict will make life particularly difficult for the character as they experience the story. In WtHF, for example, one of the POV characters, Ebon, is a prince struggling to reconcile his duties to his people with his duty to the woman he loves. So obviously the book is going to put him in a position where he is forced to choose between them.

Finally, I’ll check to ensure that none of my characters are stereotypes. Stereotypes are created when all of a reader’s expectations for a character are fulfilled. I try to guard against them by combining traits that a reader doesn’t expect to find in the same character. So, the dutiful prince that I mentioned above? I have him battling against spirit-possession, following an ill-advised journey into a haunted forest a few years ago. Another of my POV characters, Romany, is high priestess to a goddess called the Spider. Unlike most priestesses, though, Romany has a weak spot for the finer things in life, and is utterly irreverent to the goddess she’s supposed to serve.

At the end of the character-creation process, I’ll have a detailed biography that will include information about the handful of events in a character’s life that have most shaped them. Of course, not all of that information will work its way into the book – in fact the greater part won’t. I’m a firm believer that the adage “show don’t tell” applies as much to my characters as it does to any other aspect of my writing. That’s why you won’t find any long character histories or flashbacks in my books. Instead, you’ll have to read between the lines and make your own mind up as to what sort of person each character is.

There’s one final step to creating my characters, and it’s by far the most enjoyable: the interview. Yes, it’s time to strap my characters to the psychologist’s couch and give them a good grilling. I can learn a lot about my characters through hearing them “talk”. Take Romany, for instance. Romany is a mixture of ruthlessness and entitled haughtiness, so I should probably be concerned at how easily her voice came to me. Here are a couple of (abridged) excerpts from our “shrink session”:

Me: You’re in a prickly mood today.

Romany: Of course I am! My goddess just paid me a visit.

Me: You don’t like having her around?

Romany: It’s not the fact that she’s here exactly, it’s the way she drops by unannounced. Why can’t she knock at the door and present herself like other visitors, instead of treating the temple as if she owns it?

Me: You don’t care what people think of you?

Romany: People think very little, in my experience. And before they can think of me, they first have to know that I exist.

Me: And what about your goddess? You don’t worry she might expect a little more reverence from one of her priestesses?

Romany: I hope not. Any person that wants to be worshipped is the very last person deserving of the honour. Now, can we hurry this up, please? That bottle of Corinian white won’t drink itself, you know.

Some of the lines from my character interviews even find their way into my books.

It isn’t always easy to establish a character’s voice. Each character should experience the world around them in a unique and interesting way, and it can take a while to learn how they think and feel. Sometimes it’s only at the end of a first draft that I understand what makes them tick. Sometimes their personality emerges slowly during the course of my writing, and my first task in editing the manuscript is to add the same personality to the opening sections that exists in the latter sections.

Of course, some characters will always be more challenging to write than others. A while after WtHF was “finished”, I wrote a short story that features the final POV character, Luker. (You can read it – or listen to a free narration by Emma Newman – here.) In it, I wrote Luker the way I’d remembered him from the book, but when I went back to look at When the Heavens Fall, I found he was different in a number of respects. I preferred the “short-story Luker” to the “novel Luker”, so I did another edit of the book to make him how I wanted him to be. I like him much more now with his black sense of humour, and I hope you like him too.

Just don’t expect him to like you back.


Marc Turner is the author of the epic fantasy series The Chronicles of the Exile. The first book, When the Heavens Fall, was acclaimed as “Truly epic” by some guy called Brian Staveley – whoever he is. The latest instalment, Dragon Hunters, features Chameleon priests, dimension-hopping assassins, and sea dragons being hunted for sport. It is available now in the US from Tor Books and in the UK from Titan. You can find Marc at his website and on Twitter (@MarcJTurner).

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.