Well hello, and welcome back to another edition of MONDAY!
Hopefully we can get your day off right, as we talk to award-winning author Todd Fahnestock!
Todd Fahnestock is the bestselling author of The Wishing World, Fairmist, and Wildmane. He was born in Culver City, California, the middle child of a sign painter and a New Age mom. His father has a Herculean work ethic, and his mother is magic. She taught him that perspective changes a person’s world, which is why he writes stories about heroes and hope. A true Gen Xer, Todd navigated his parents’ divorce and subsequent poverty when he was fourteen, leaping into a series of adventures that would shape him into a writer.
Jumping from job to job, he hitchhiked across the country. He has been a Price Club cashier in Long Beach, a video arcade attendant in Durango, and an investment banking Powerpoint operator in New York City. He has waited tables in Colorado Springs, hung safety cables for crack-inspection teams inside oil tankers in Portland, and helped raise millions of dollars for diabetes nonprofits in Denver. While attending The Colorado College in 1993, Todd published his first two short stories in TSR’s Dragonlance anthologies. In 1997, he began writing with Giles Carwyn, published another couple of short stories and won the New York Books for the Teen Age award for True Love (Or the Many Brides of Prince Charming). In 2006, Todd and Giles began The Heartstone Trilogy under HarperCollins’ Eos imprint, completing it in 2008.
Later, Todd moved on to solo projects, publishing the bestselling Fairmist in 2015, The Wishing World in 2016, and The Wishing World II: Loremaster in 2017. The epic fantasy Threadweavers series was released in 2018, including Wildmane (book 1), The GodSpill (book 2), Threads of Amarion (book 3), and God of Dragons (book 4). His latest work, Charlie Fiction, is a time travel urban fantasy novel about a vengeful ghost and an amnesiac time jumper determined to save the world. Stories are his passion, but Todd’s greatest accomplishment is his quirky, fun-loving family. When he’s not writing, he teaches Taekwondo, goes on morning runs with his daughter, wrestles with his son, and plays board games with his wonderful wife.
DCU or MCU?
I gotta go with MCU over DCU. Now don’t get me wrong, I love all things comic books. I dig Batman. I like Superman. And Wonder Woman is iconic. But I was a diehard Marvel comics fan from way back. I used to walk down to the corner store with my brother back in 1976 to get whatever Marvel comics they had on the rack. As a kid, I definitely preferred all things Marvel. Captain America was my first favorite superhero. I still remember carrying the John-Byrne-penciled storyline of Cap and Baron Blood. I also read a lot of The Hulk (High Evolutionary storyline anyone?). And, of course, Spider-man, who grew to be my favorite and still is one of my top two favorite Marvel characters of all time, matched only by the little-known Longshot (from the mini-series. Not so much from his run in the X-men).
So I had been waiting a long time for a good superhero movie when they finally nailed it right with Iron Man. Tony Stark wasn’t even close to being one of my favorites, but the movie was so well done that I was blown away.
Then they put out Iron Man II. ‘sigh’
But I forgave them for that, because Thor was pretty good and Captain America: The First Avenger was amazing. So with a few dips in the program (Thor: The Dark World) I was on a high all the way through the Avengers: Endgame run. It’s been a geek’s paradise.
‘Course, once they moved over Disney+, it’s been hit or miss. I’ve enjoyed some of the offerings, and some I’ve been less jazzed about. And the movies that came after Endgame have been… okay. I’ve enjoyed them, too. But my blood hasn’t gotten pumping again like it did with that sweet run of movies. I don’t know that Marvel will ever hit the cultural zeitgeist that it did with it’s run up to and through the Infinity Stones Storyline. We shall see. I’m always willing to jump back in if they cater to that childhood heart of mine that loved the original Marvel heroes and storylines.
A book you’re looking forward to release (by someone else)?
I’m looking forward to reading Worldbreaker by Becca Lee Gardner. It’s a book in the Eldros Legacy, a one-shot on the continent of Noksonon. I’ve had a chance to glimpse some of the plot that’s part of the story, and I’m super excited.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
But when I get to these moments where I get disinterested, I think it’s my intuition’s way of telling me to stop following “the map.” Though I have begun to use structures in my writing, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool punster.
So when I have those moments where the vigor is slowing down, I shift gears. Whatever plot I thought I was going to have, I chuck it. Whatever endpoint I thought I was heading toward, I chuck it. I go wild. I shake free of the doldrums at all costs. I write something bizarre. Something that’s straight from the creative well, something that may not make ANY sense to my rational mind. I just write it down. And I run with it. I let it surprise me and keep surprising me.
And here’s the gist of this situation: My rational mind cannot comprehend everything I’ve putting in motion. It can’t. But my subconscious can. My intuition can. My creative well knows exactly what I’m doing, it’s just that my rational mind, while in the thick of the creation, can’t see the 10,000 foot view.
I have done such crazy things in the middle of a novel that I literally rolled my eyes at myself and told myself to “STOP!” But I kept going.
And at the end of the novel, I looked back and said, “Holy crap. That was exactly what needed to happen! I totally couldn’t see it, but it was what needed to happen.”
I have introduced ridiculous elements that I had been THIS close to eliminating that readers then later told me, after the book was published, that it was their favorite part.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Not making it to the end. Getting so invested in making the “perfect novel” that they can’t even finish something.
Because let’s face it, it’s hard. Writing novels is not an easy occupation. Getting from the beginning to the end, then revising it to the point where you are satisfied, it’s difficult. Like, really difficult. Next level difficult. Every time.
Now that said, writing more does make a writer better. That is truth. No matter what you’re doing, if you keep writing, you’re going to get better. Sadly, this increase in skill and ability does not make the process easier. It makes some parts of the process faster. As my skills have increased, I’ve gotten better at jumping the hurdles and circumventing the obstacles.
But I can honestly say that for every novel—EVERY novel—I have ever written, I go through the grinder. There’s always a moment when I think I can’t finish it. There’s always a moment where, having finished it, I think it’s crap. There’s always a moment where I say to myself, “Why the hell am I doing this? Who wants to read my stuff anyway? What is the point of doing ANY of this? What a freakin’ waste of time this is!”
Every time. Every book.
And this pitfall is something I think a lot of young authors fall into. All I can say is: keep going. It’s always hard. It’s always going to be hard. But man-o-man, is it worth it.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I hear from readers every time I go to a comic con, which is usually once a month or more. And sometimes online. Mostly what I get is: “When is the next Tower of the Four book coming out?” or “When is the third Whisper Prince book coming out?” (Answer: This week!)
Sometimes I get praise for stories, which is wonderful. One of my favorite things in the world is listening to a reader who has gone deep into one of the worlds, be it Threadweavers, Eldros Legacy, The Whisper Prince, Tower of the Four, whatever. I’m a true geek, even of my own stuff, and I will talk about story until the cows come home.
One of the things that gets said a lot is the page-turning nature of my stories. I was finally convinced that my brand is “Edge of Your Seat Epic Fantasy.” All of the wonder, character building, deep world building… None of the boring bits. ;)
Is there a trope you find yourself going back to in multiple works? Or one you avoid?
I love tropes about heroes. It’s one of the main reasons I write high fantasy. I want to see heroes who go through a true journey, transform, and use their revelations to drive them to a final victory.
That’s my favorite trope.
Having said that, I don’t like coming at it conventionally. I try to come up with original angles to that trope. J
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don't listen to the doubting voices. Push through, keep on writing. I sometimes wonder how much time I wasted dancing around, wishing I was a “better” writer and putting projects down when of course, the primary way to get better at writing is to write.
So yeah, the hardest part is stopping my own demons from undoing what my creative mind wants to do. Those doubt demons tear at me every chance they get. The moment I hesitate, they leap on me like dingoes, ripping and tearing at my confidence.
This can happen at just about any stage of the book.
But more often for me, it happens around the middle, where the demons start saying things like, “You don’t know where this is going.” Or “This is stupid. Fantasy readers are going to roll their eyes at you.” Or “You have completely changed the story in the middle and there’s going to be no cohesion throughout. You’ve lost the thread of the story and created fatal flaws. All this work you’ve done is going to have to be scrapped.”
And the doubt demons ALWAYS jump on me at the end. When I’m 90% done with a book, I’m usually giddy about it. I think, “this thing is freakin’ awesome!”
And then when I finish the last chapter, I sit back, now with nothing left to do, and the doubts roll in…
“I could have done more here, couldn’t I? But if I do more there, would that mess up the pacing? Slow it down? Or maybe slowing it down is what I NEED to do! What if my pacing is too fast? What if people need a break?”
It’s endless. And that part is emotionally hard.
So what would I say to my younger self? Strap in, sonny. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, every time, but you will get better with every book.
What does literary success look like to you?
Having thousands (millions?) of readers who love the stories that I do. I have this dream of someday writing something that hits readers just so and makes an impact with them forever. It’s the book they want to go back and read and re-read. It’s dog-eared and tattered, but they won’t give it up because that was the copy they read when it hit them the first time.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is that book for me. I still have the mass market paperback I bought in the 1980s, tattered and worn as I described. I re-read it every year or so, and it holds up. I fall in love all over again every time.
That. I want to do something like that. That would be my vision of literary success.
What’s the best way to market your books?
I’m not sure what the cosmically correct way to market books is, but there seems to be a dozen different ways that have made careers for other others: Traditional publishing that can take your book to bookstores across the world. Going laser focused on a small niche genre. Chasing a trend and cranking out ebooks to service that exploding readership. Leveraging advertising through Amazon or Facebook. I’ve heard success stories for each of those avenues.
Selling books face-to-face at comic cons works well for me. According to a Meyers-Briggs personality test, I stand on the middle of the line between introvert and extrovert. So closeting up for a month writing books then taking a few weekends to swim in the all-extrovert-all-the-time ocean of a comic con balances me out quite well. I get to talk to superfans, meet new readers, and make a little money.
And I usually leave charged up and ready to write. So it’s a win-win.
What do you have coming next?
So The Slate Wizards, the third and final installment of The Whisper Prince trilogy, comes out this week. If you haven’t read Fairmist and The Undying Man, you’ll want to get the initial story before jumping into The Slate Wizards.
The third (though not final) installment of The Eldros Legacy: Legacy of Shadows storyline comes out on February 1, 2023. It’s called Rhenn the Traveler, and it’s part of the rollicking roller-coaster that starts with Khyven the Unkillable and Lorelle of the Dark.
Books coming out without a definitive deadline in 2023 would include the second and possibly third installment in The Wishing World series (my middle grade portal fantasy story), starting with Loremaster.
Are you traditionally or self published? Or both? Do you feel there are advantages to one over the
I publish most of my own work at this point. I have an indie press called F4 Publishing, and I have learned the ins and outs of the process top to bottom. I have built relationships with my cover artist (Rashed AlAkroka, who does all of my covers at this point) and my editor (Mandy Houk). I contract with them book by book. Then I publish what I do through Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
These days I mostly focus on meeting my readers face to face at comic cons, but I also work with local bookstores to have my books on the shelves.
If you want to get nationally distributed in brick and mortar bookstores, having a traditional publisher is probably the quickest way to go. They have the relationships with the Barnes & Nobles, Tattered Covers, and so forth of the world.
Getting traditionally published (which I have done a few times) is a different road. The way to indie publish is very different than the way to traditionally publish.
There are really hard aspects to both. Just depends on what you’re up for, and where your skill set lies.
Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Oh for the love of—! Han shot first! Why? Because he SHOT FIRST! And then they re-did the movie, softening it to please… I don’t know. To please the people who can’t have a hero who would save their own life by getting the villain before he gets them. C’mon, if you’re a smuggler in a wild and woolly universe where your life is only worth as much as the price tag on your head, you’re going to have a quick trigger finger. And if some skeezy-lookin’ alien bounty hunter sits down across from you with a gun in your face and you can tell from his bug eyes that he doesn’t care whether he brings back you or your body to Jabba, you’re gonna shoot first!
Revisionist history can go jump in a…
Okay. Sorry. Um, what was the question? Yes. Han shot first.