M Todd Gallowglas wrote his first fantasy story for a creative writing assignment in the third grade. Ever since, he’s loved spinning tales that take the reader off to the far future or away mystical worlds.
After graduating from San Francisco State University with a BA in Creative Writing, Todd returned to his career as professional storyteller at Renaissance faires and Celtic festivals. His first professional sale was to Fantasy Flight Games, and he has a run of stories for their Call of Chthulu game line. His story “The Half-Faced Man” received an honorable mention from the Writers of the Future contest. Embracing the paradigm changes sweeping through the publishing industry, M Todd Gallowglas used his storytelling show as a platform to launch his self-published writing career. Nearly all of his eBooks have been Amazon bestsellers, and First Chosen spent most of 2012 on Amazon’s Dark Fantasy and Fantasy Series lists.
He currently lives with his wife, three children, more pets than they need, and enough imaginary friends to provide playmates for several crowded kindergarten classes.
I like this question. Usually, I get the “what got you into writing?” which has a different answer than this one.
When I was a kid, we had basically two fantasy series available: The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Reading these two series at such a young age – I’d finished both by the end of fourth grade – shaped my literary tastes for decades. The problem was, I didn’t discover another fantasy book until junior high when I started reading the Shannara books by Terry Brooks and the D&D Dragon Lance series. With years of wanting fantasy, and not having anything new to read, I imagined what happened in those other worlds after the published stories ended. So, yeah, my earliest fantasy work was fan fiction. Eventually, I branched into my own stories, first by writing about my D&D characters, and then creating all new characters as I discovered more and more fantasy through high school. Even today, while my reading tastes have grown to encompass all areas of fiction, my writing brain still works in the realms of the fantastic.
If you were tasked with chiseling a Mt. Rushmore of fantasy authors, which four writers would you include, and who would be the most difficult omission?
Holy moly… what a question. Tolkien for sure, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, and Glen Cook.
The Challenging omissions: Tim Powers, Robert E. Howard, Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, and Steven Erikson.
In your opinion, what distinguishes great writing from good (or mediocre) writing?
Attention to detail and a love of the English sentence. Great writing comes from great sentences. People quote specific sentences more often than paragraphs or phrases. I can usually tell when a writer grasps this basic fundamental fact, and when they do not. When a writer gets this, I don’t stumble over their prose, correcting word choices in my head as I read. This doesn’t mean that I try to reinvent their style, more that their style is so captivating that it doesn’t invite me to question why the author made specific choices. I usually start analyzing an author’s verb choices, especially if they use “was” a lot. I’ll most likely pass on a book if I see too many linking verbs on a book’s first two pages.
From your early short stories, through the Tears of Rage and Halloween Jack series, to your most recent work, how have you evolved as a writer?
Wow. That’s a potent question, one that opens up a lot of introspection. It’s tough to answer because I’m so close to my work, it’s challenging to separate from what I used to do from what I do now. However, I can say that my love of crafting great sentences has grown. I used to not really care about the building blocks of my writing, and paid more attention to how everything fit together on a grand scale. Now, I really groove on putting together dynamic and interesting sentences. A lot of that has to do with understanding the foundations of grammar, which I didn’t have, and now I get to have as much fun playing with the building blocks of my writing as I do the over-arcing story.
You’ve stated that your most recent work, Dead Weight, is at its heart a war story. How is this different from your previous works? Were you inspired by anything in particular, or is this simply an angle you’ve been looking to explore?
I think in stating that, I’ve done DEAD WEIGHT a huge disservice. It’s far more than just a war story. It’s a story of friendship, loyalty, duty, family. In various places, I’ve stated that DEAD WEIGHT is a “this kind of story at its heart” or variations on those words.
That being said, DEAD WEIGHT is very much a war story. The inspiration for it came as a direct result of reading “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, which is a short story about Viet Nam. It’s different from my other works because I’m putting more of myself into this than any of my previous works. Sometimes in my other stories, I come up with something some readers consider profound. Each time it has occurred, it’s pretty much been by accident. Most of my other work is story first and all the “human condition” stuff kinda falls into place in the telling of it. With DEAD WEIGHT, I’m working from the human condition first and wrapping the story to fit within the contexts of my observations. As I’ve stated in at least one blog post somewhere, this is the closest thing so far on what it’s like to be in my mind as I’m composing, complete with all the nerdy/geeky references that I always edit out of the rough drafts of my other works.
This is the first work where I’m putting in seeds for something big that people who read across all my works may begin to notice.
Which of your works has been the most enjoyable to write? And which has been the most challenging?
Halloween Jack and the Devil’s Gate is probably the most fun I’ve had writing anything ever, though I also enjoy the occasional rant on my website. Thus far, DEAD WEIGHT is the most challenging.
All of your books have been remarkably well-reviewed. How much attention do you pay to such things? Do you allow reviews — either positive or negative — to affect your writing?
I occasionally read reviews, but I tend to take them with the proverbial grain of salt. I know a lot of the people who have given me reviews, as my reader/fan base is still relatively small, and so it’s easy to keep track of who they all are across my various social media.
What accomplishments are you most proud of? And what is your biggest regret?
Most proud of my kids.
I try not to regret anything. My life is pretty grand, not perfect, but I have a wonderful family, doing the writer thing. I’ve got great friends, probably better than I deserve.
Yeah, I’ve had some unpleasant and sucky moments. Everyone does. However, if not for everything that I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be in this uber cool space.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Three way tie: The steak dinner I had the night I decided to ask my wife to marry me. When I had lunch at DeVere’s Irish pub with the guy who bought my first four short stories. And the lunch at DeVere’s I had a few weeks later where I wrote the first words of fiction I ever got paid for.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
More books. I’m hard at work on DEAD WEIGHT: Paladin. Coming soon: my own YouTube channel.