January’s interview is with M Todd Gallowglas, the author of the Tears of Rage and Halloween Jack series, which have spent time on various bestseller lists. Both Kindle and paperback are available on Amazon.
In addition to being a bestselling author, you’re also a professional storyteller at renaissance faires and medieval festivals. Do you tell your own stories when you perform? And how do you decide which stories to tell?
I tell a mix of my own stories and traditional folk tales and myths from around the world. I don’t decide on which stories to tell—I let the audience do that. I have a cloak with swatches of cloth sewn on the back. Each one of those represents a story I know. I’ll have a member of the audience come up and pick one. Whichever swatch they pick, that’s which story I tell. Sometimes when I’m feeling especially creative, I’ll have three people each pick a swatch, and I’ll weave those stories together in one new story.
How has your career as a professional storyteller influenced your career as a writer of fiction?
That’s actually a great question, and it has several answers. First, it gave me a great platform and a built-in audience for my books when I decided to publish. If not for my fans of my storytelling show, I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as I was when I first published.
As for the craft of writing, the storytelling show taught me to get to the point. I know a lot of writers, especially in fantasy, that tend to wander around in their prose. With oral storytelling, because of all the distractions at faires and festivals, you can’t waste time getting to the good stuff, or people will wander away. It’s the same thing with today’s mass-media, short attention span audience. A writer has to get out there and grab the reader or they will find some reason to put your book down and go do something else. The flip side of that, you’ve got to end with a bang. The destination has to be worth the journey. The payoff has to satisfy, whether it’s someone watching my show or reading one of my books. I want them to come to another show and read the next book.
You have quite the impressive list of published works. One of your novels, Halloween Jack and the Devil’s Gate, is described as Steampunk with a dash of Irish Mythology, and another, Tears of Rage, is described as gritty fantasy. Do you get interested in a certain genre and consciously choose to write a work in that particular genre, or do you write the story first and figure out genre later?
I write what I think is interesting first and foremost. If I do my job right, and by that I mean I craft an engaging story that grabs the reader and holds them to the very end with a satisfying payoff, all those nifty catch-phrases and marketing blurbs should pretty much jump out, ready to go on the book’s product description page and the back cover copy. A couple of times I’ve tried to write something for the sole purpose of tagging it to a particular genre to try and hitch onto some of that genre’s heat…and…well…let’s just say that you’ll probably never see those books in print. One, they aren’t very good. Two, I never finished them because I got bored. They didn’t excite me enough to see them to the end. I know some writers who can write to genre and sell a lot of books doing so. Not me. I gotta be engaged in my stories, and if I’m not, I gotta move on to something that does excite me.
I connected with you through a writer who met you at Convolution, where you were Toastmaster this year. What kinds of benefits do you think aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers can get out of attending conventions? And do you recommend any specific conventions (or conferences) that writers should attend?
I feel it’s imperative for aspiring writers to go to genre-specific conventions. If you write mysteries, go to mystery conventions. I could go on, but I’m sure people get the idea. The networking opportunities alone are worth the price of admission. You rub elbows with other writers, agents, editors, not to mention hundreds upon hundreds of potential readers once you get your work into the market. If someone is specifically set to write science fiction and/or fantasy, they should attend the World Science Fiction Convention and World Fantasy Convention every year they possibly can. It’s the most welcoming group of pros and fans of any genre I know.
Stay away from writers conferences. These may seem friendly to the up-and-coming hopeful writer. This is not the truth. You will be one of hundreds of other hungry writers all competing for whatever scraps of attention you can get from the attending pros. Fan-based conventions are much different. They are first and foremost social events focused on the love of a specific genre, so fans and pros alike have that in common. In my experience, pure writers conferences are in the business of making money off the dreams of hopeful writers.
Who is your favorite mythological figure, and why?
I don’t think I could choose just one mythological figure, but I can say that my favorite mythological archetype is The Trickster. I like the characters who are clever and cunning, usually too clever for their own good. Those who think quickly on their feet, but don’t always consider the long-term ramifications to their actions. I love to play with these types of characters in my fiction.
Out of all the characters you’ve written, who is your favorite, and why?
I can’t imagine any writer liking this question. I have at least a dozen characters who leap to mind, each competing for the spot in this answer. Yeah, that’s not happening. I like so many of them for so many varied reasons. So, what I’ll do here is say that one is especially dear to my heart that has been referenced in several of my books, yet hasn’t appeared in any of them…yet…
For those who have never read your work before, what book do you suggest they start with?
That’s a tough call, as my work goes all over the place as far as tone and genre. If people join up for my email list, I give them a link where they can read one of my novellas for free. This is a good way to see if they will like my writing. The Halloween Jack books are intended for all-ages of writers. Tears of Rage is definitely a more mature story.
What advice do you have for the writers out there who are still trying to get published?
Keep writing. It’s a skill as much as it is a talent. It’s one of the few art forms that people imagine as being good, if not brilliant, without putting in the mileage. Practice, practice, practice. And that means keep writing. Don’t rewrite. Once you finish something, go on to something new. You’ll learn more from writing five new stories that you will by rewriting the same story five times. If you’re working on a series, and you’re going to traditionally publish, don’t write book two until book one sells. When you finish book one, start shopping it around while you work on book one of another series. That way, when it’s done, you have two books to shop around. Repeat until one of your book ones sell. And write. A lot.
M Todd Gallowglas has been a professional storyteller at Renaissance Faires and Medieval Festivals for over twenty years. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in 2009, he used his storytelling show as a platform to launch his fiction career. He is the author of the Tears of Rage and Halloween Jack series, which have spent time on various bestseller lists. He was a fiction contributor for Fantasy Flight Games and developed creative content for the reboot of the children’s classic Reading Rainbow. Now he spends most of his time trying to find the perfect balance between family, writing, airsoft (because it’s not as messy as paintball), and gaming while he’s not off somewhere telling stories.
For more on M Todd Gallowglas you can:
Visit his website
Like him on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter
Follow him on Google+
Read his reviews on Goodreads
Buy Tears of Rage on Amazon