We recently connected with Todd Fahnestock and have shared our conversation below.
Todd, appreciate you joining us today. We’d love to hear about the things you feel your parents did right and how those things have impacted your career and life.
My parents were both hugely influential in my chosen life path.
I’ll start with my Dad. He’s the hardest working man I’ve ever met. He’s the guy that, when met with adversity, would growl and curse and fight, but he always found a way to get on top. He showed me that strength and a bulldog tenacity can achieve just about any outcome. Just don’t give up.
He was also an amazing artist who made his living from his talent. I think that’s what inspired me to do the same later on. We moved to Durango from Los Angeles when I was a kid, and he and my mother bought a restaurant called Rosewater’s Deli. His background was in outdoor advertising (painting billboards back when artists, rather than computers, painted billboards), and in the end he wasn’t much of a restaurateur. Almost immediately, my mother took on more and more of the restaurant management and my dad started painting signs on the side. That little side work quickly grew, making more money than the restaurant, and it turned into a lucrative career that shaped the rest of Dad’s professional life.
He was the first person to show me that you can make a living through artistic talent. And though he mostly painted signs for local businesses (that’s where the money was), he was also an amazing pictorial artist. He’d do paintings for his parents from time to time, and I always thought that if he’d dedicated his life to that kind of art, he could have been the next Norman Rockwell.
I think all sons want to be like their Dads when they’re young, and though I didn’t aspire to be a sign painter or a portrait artist (for very long, anyway), I did want to be a creator, an artist of some stripe, for my career. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to pursue my passion for stories if I hadn’t watched my Dad create his own career like that.
Now let’s talk about my Mom. The woman is straight-up magic and was probably the single-most influential person in my young life. When I was fourteen, she and my father divorced, and without a career or marketable skills herself, she navigated a twisty, unlikely path through that time.
We were pretty damned poor during that stretch. We went from a nice house on Florida Mesa when my parents were married to a nice rental house after they divorced to a less-nice apartment and finally to a trailer in a year and a half as we downgraded to fit what Mom could earn.
I remember the first time I ever felt a bone-deep, gasping fear about my future. It happened in that trailer. I was laying on a makeshift bed comprised of a camping pad and two blankets on the floor at the end of the mobile home. I overheard my Mom talking to one of her friends down the thin hallway. She was explaining how she had to sell a piece of furniture (left over from our old house) every month just to make rent on the trailer. That was when I realized we simply couldn’t go on like this. And what did that mean after? In that unknown darkness crouched terror for me. There was a hard stop coming for us, coming soon. And I had no idea what we would do when we couldn’t even afford to live in a trailer anymore.
My mom, however, always had a bright thing to say, no matter how dark it seemed.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said. “You watch. The Universe will provide. We just have to keep our eyes open and take the opportunities we see.”
She pivoted and danced through that frightening time, still parenting and supporting me, my brother, and my little sister. And she always seemed to come up with just enough money to make it through. After my moment of fear in the trailer, I was dazzled by how she always managed to keep going and how, just like she said, everything seemed to turn out all right.
That was magic.
Her attitude—that unfailing optimism—shaped my attitude. These days, when I’m fairly insulated from that kind of financial struggle, I tend to stress about small things that aren’t, in the grand scheme of life, very important at all. But whenever the big things hit—things that could be potentially catastrophic for me or my family—I get really calm, even excited at the possibilities. That’s my Mom coming through.
She taught me that life is a magical adventure filled with possibility, and that the only thing stopping us from doing the miraculous is choosing to freeze in fear instead of embracing change and the opportunities that come with it.
When things got rough, she would always stop and say to me:
“But Todd, are you enjoying the journey?”
Whenever I get down, I hear her voice saying that to me. I always smile and relax, and I remind myself to keep my eyes open, see those opportunities, and enjoy the journey, no matter what happens.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I got into writing because I wanted to create heroes. Well, when I was a teenager I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to gallivant around the countryside upon my noble steed, wearing armor and wielding a sword that would see me through any challenge.
It did, of course, strike me as impractical from the start. This wasn’t the 1280s, it was the 1980s. Heroes were rock stars, computer programmers, and millionaire stockbrokers. There were no want ads for a knight in shining armor searching for magic in a land of money. No one needed one.
Except, apparently, me.
Delivered to me through the novels of Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Piers Anthony, and Terry Brooks, fantasy heroes saved my life.
When I was fourteen, my parents divorced. There were a lot of divorces in the 1980s, and I had a few friends in the same boat who made dark choices because of it. Drugs. Crime. Explosive anger. Ruining their grades. They salved their pain or upstaged it with these larger dramas.
I could easily have followed suit, but I didn’t. Instead, I escaped into fantasy fiction. In high fantasy stories, the good guy always wins. He starts with very little power while the villain starts with immense power, but then a journey brings these two opposites together and the hero—as unlikely as it seems—wins. Think Frodo and Sauron from Lord of the Rings.
My Sauron was the divorce, and those fantasy books made me believe that maybe I, too, could somehow win through, could fix what was broken in my life.
In the end, fantasy novels didn’t get my parents back together, but they did pull me through that dark time. They distracted me, took me away to better lands of heroism and hope just long enough for me to find stable ground again.
I didn’t understand what those stories did for me at the time. It took years and a more mature perspective to see how they buoyed me up, showed me how heroes could win through if they just held true to their ideals and kept going. Those books created a hope that I held to, that made me strive for better days.
So yes, my role models were fictional characters, but the hope I felt was real. And that hope profoundly changed my life.
When I was old enough—and considering there was no work for a knight in shining armor galloping down Broadway—I decided to become the next best thing: a fantasy author. I thought maybe I could give the same hope to others that had been given to me. Maybe some kid who was going through a rough time would pick up one of my books and see a panoramic view of fantasy lands and heroes exemplifying virtues that, if emulated, could help that kid in real life.
That is why I write high fantasy. My stories are filled with epic struggles and heroes who, while battling wondrous monsters and traveling through forbidden lands, discover the thing they need may not be the thing they wanted at the beginning of the story.
How do my stories stand apart from others? That’s a hard question for me to answer, so for I’ll turn to the feedback that I’ve received from readers to help me. I feel stories are actually a collaborative project between author and reader, anyway. I build the framework, but they fill it in with their imagination. The reader filters my words through their own frame of reference, see what they want to see, create attachments they want to have. In essence, we create the story together.
Because of this phenomenon, a story becomes exquisitely intimate to the reader who falls in love with it. It’s the reason you’ll never hear a diehard reader say, “They made my favorite book into a movie, and the movie was so much better than the book!”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slamming movies. I LOVE movies. But with movies, I am a voyeur. I feast on the visuals and the performances of the actors who intricately define the experience. But when I read a book, I’m a co-creator. It’s my imagination making the visuals, my voices playing the parts.
So on to the answer, as promised. What do my readers say about my stories? Why do they think my stories stand out?
I have been told by fans that my characters seem real to them, like people they might actually meet on the street (assuming our streets were filled knights and dragons). I have also been told that my writing moves at a quick, engaging pace.
“The story sucked me in and kept me reading late into the night!”
“I couldn’t put it down!”
These are all comments I’ve heard many times. So if you’re looking for high fantasy where heroes prevail, the story pulls you in and won’t let you go, and wondrous monsters come to call, you’ll enjoy what I do.
The last aspect of this many-pronged question is: What am I most proud of?
I have a daughter and a son, both teenagers, and they are the absolute joys of my life. They are bright-eyed, talented, and engaged with the world. They use their minds to decide what to believe in and how to present themselves in the world. They are everything I could have hoped for.
My son and I share a love of physical activity. In 2020, he and I hiked The Colorado Trail together (5 weeks and 450 miles on foot over the Rocky Mountains), and we bonded for life. My daughter—who was a published author herself at the tender age of seventeen—and I geek out over stories every single day.
“Elo, I need help with the All Is Lost Moment in my book!”
“Dad, you’ve just GOT to listen to The Magnus Archives.”
“What did you think about this episode of The Witcher?”
“Got time to watch some Arcane tonight?”
And finally, my wife Lara…
What can I say? I am going to have to lean on a snippet of wisdom I once heard:
“When there is too much to say, be brief.”
In short, Lara is the creator of possibility, the supporter of dreams, and the love of my life.
I realize that maybe this question was angled toward what I was most proud of in my professional life—which book I’d written that I think is the best, or at least my favorite—but without my family, there would be no books.
And there are so many books now. I’ve included a list below:
Legacy of Shadows:
Khyven the Unkillable
Lorelle of the Dark (forthcoming)
Tower of the Four
Episode 1: The Quad
Episode 2: The Tower
Episode 3: The Test
Episode 4: The Nightmare
Episode 5: The Resurrection
Episode 6: The Reunion
Omnibus 1 (Episode 1-3) The Champions Academy
The Threadweavers Series
Threads of Amarion
God of Dragons
The Wishing World Series
The Wishing World
Spheres of Magic (forthcoming)
The Whisper Prince Trilogy
The Undying Man
The Slate Wizards (forthcoming)
The Heartstone Trilogy (with Giles Carwyn)
Heir of Autumn
Mistress of Winter
Queen of Oblivion
Summer of the Fetch
Ordinary Magic: A Father-Son Journey on The Colorado Trail
In the end, I write—and will continue to write—because it makes me happy. And I love to hear from fans who are invested in my work, that tell me the books made them happy also. So please don’t ever hesitate to contact me. Hearing how my writing affects other people is a highlight in my life.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
I had to unlearn the insidious the notion that there is “good” and “bad” writing.
Sounds backward, right? I mean, if I’m not focused on creating “good” writing, what the heck am I doing?
Allow me to explain.
When I was in high school, we college-bound students learned a smattering of the classics. Dickens. Hemmingway. Steinbeck. Whether the teachers ever said it outright or not, the very act of choosing these books over others indoctrinates students with a notion of what “great writing” is and, more importantly, that some types of writing are inherently “better” than others.
When I got to college, it was more of the same, though the worshipped fare was edgier than The Grapes of Wrath or Great Expectations. One college professor even instilled me with the notion that fantasy wasn’t real fiction. He almost had me convinced.
And of course, because college is a time for young people impress their friends with how much they know, many students reinforced what they heard in the classroom. So I got it from both sides.
It made me feel like my love for the wildly creative, fantastic works I’d read as a kid—Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lloyd Alexander, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Piers Anthony, Terry Brooks—was somehow a mistake. A flaw in my judgment. A lack of cultured taste.
In my collegiate circles, I hid the fact that I didn’t understand how Toni Morrison’s Sula was great writing but Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana was not. To my credit, I did try. It just didn’t resonate with me.
This juxtaposition caused me to limp along, half-writing like these literary masters, whose genres I did not like, and half-writing like my dismissed fantasy writers whose genres I adored. Even today after years in my chosen career, I’m still untangling that knotted tapestry.
My point is: Be careful whose bread you buy.
Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people said that 50 Shades of Gray is horrible writing. Trashy, pulpy garbage. But hundreds of thousands is only a fraction of the millions of people who plunked down their money to buy that book because it gave them something they wanted.
Find your voice. Find your audience, because it is out there. Don’t let someone else define “good” and “bad” writing for you. Define it for yourself.
And then aim for that mark every day.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
That I’m in love with what I do. I mean, I don’t just love it. I’m in love with it. It’s a passionate affair that gets better with every year.
That I get to spend this much time creating. I’m still astounded by it. Ever since I left my day job in 2017, I feel like Tom Sawyer ditching school to paddle along the Mississippi River on adventure after adventure. I keep expecting some authority figure to walk into my office one day and say, “Okay, kid, vacation’s over. Get back to the real world!” Miraculously, that hasn’t happened. And I am grateful every single day.
That I get to imagine heroes I want to be like, and then I bring them to life for others to see, to be inspired by, to live vicariously through. I want to live their lives so badly sometimes it aches. Of course, if these characters were aware of me, they’d probably swap lives with me in a heartbeat. I do tend to put them through the wringer. ;)
And yes, of course there are times I get frustrated when I can’t resolve a story problem. And yes, I’ve been terrified when writer’s block strikes. But these are miniscule issues compared to the euphoria of creating, of crafting a world I want to visit, of orchestrating a scene in a character’s life that saturates me with fear or excitement or posits a certain life wisdom.
In fact, when I’m down, I will sometimes go back to favorite parts of books I’ve written and re-read them, just to get a wisp of the feeling I had when creating it. The ending of Summer of the Fetch is a personal favorite. No matter how bad I feel, reading the ending of that book always sends a tingle up my spine and picks me up again.
So what’s the most rewarding part about being a writer?
It’s the very privilege of getting to be a writer.
- Website: https://toddfahnestock.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/todd.fahnestock
- Twitter: @Todd_Fahnestock
Georgiana L. Gheorghe
The interview was amazing.
I read a short story written by Todd and it was amazing.
Congratulations Todd on your achievements and lots of luck in achieving your goals!