Todd Fahnestock is a writer of fantasy for all ages and winner of the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age Award. “Tower of the Four,” “Threadweavers” and “The Whisper Prince Trilogy” are three of his bestselling epic fantasy series. He was a finalist in the Colorado Authors League Writing Awards for the past two years, for “Charlie Fiction” and “The Undying Man.”
His passions are fantasy and his quirky, fun-loving family. When he’s not writing, he teaches Taekwondo, swaps middle grade humor with his son, plays Ticket to Ride with his wife, scribes modern slang from his daughter and goes on morning runs with Galahad the Weimaraner. Visit him at www.toddfahnestock.com.
The following is an interview with Todd Fahnestock.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
The fans. “The Undying Man” is the second book in The Whisper Prince series, and the fans have been wonderful. They are a small but passionate group, and they kept asking about the next in the series. The first book, “Fairmist,” left some big questions unanswered and despite the fact that I was chomping at the bit to return to the world of “The Whisper Prince,” I had a list of other projects that cut in line. But the fans kept insisting, and they inspired me to return to the Thiaran Empire once those other projects were done.
The upside of taking so long to bring out the follow-up to “Fairmist” was that, by the time I did, I’d been thinking about the story for years. I also had the opportunity to incorporate some of the wonderful feedback I received from readers, like who their favorite characters were. I was able to highlight those characters even more.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
I like beginning at the beginning. But more than that, in the prologue we get to witness a minor character evolving into a major character. The prologue showcases Ree, a professional assassin and a fan favorite from “Fairmist.” Ree is in recovery from her last mission. In book 1, she was mentally ravaged and physically crippled after her encounter with the main villain, who was far beyond her ability to handle. We catch Ree in the middle of an almost impossible choice: to stay loyal to the protagonist Grei, who saved her life in the first book, or to betray him for a chance to rejoin her order of assassins.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
I went through multiple rough drafts of this story before I got it right. It was brutal. That was another reason it took four years to bring it out. I threw away at least 50,000 words as I wrote a bunch of chapters and scrapped them. I kept going into bizarre places that didn’t work. Like Princess Vecenne developing a crush on Grei. Like Baezin becoming a giant cat. It was a hot mess. I wrote, doubled-back, came at it again, scrapped everything I’d done a third time, tried again until I finally hit the right story.
But once I got through the first 20 chapters, I knew I had it. I hit a flow that was amazing. The last half of the book zipped along.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
When I started this story, I had a fabulous idea of where I wanted to go, plus a few detailed scenes in living color in my mind, ready to write. I began to meticulously follow the Grand Plan, which might have been why I struggled so much in the beginning. Finally, the characters yanked the reins away from me and the horse went wild. The characters—full of their own ideas about what this story was—kept me galloping along, engaged and resilient. This “wild horse” form of writing created character development, plot twists and world building I never saw coming (like the subterranean labyrinth where Grei fights Lyndion and Ree’s face-off with her Ringsister Liana). I considered it all a boon. Unexpected bursts of creativity fill me with excitement and wonder, and I get to pass that feeling along to the reader.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
I’m a morning writer. I get up around 5:30 a.m., and if I’m in a groove (i.e. I’ve been writing every day for a month straight), I can crank out 2,000 words before 9 o’clock.
But I don’t always write in the morning. When I was creating my most recent novel, “Summer of the Fetch,” I got on an unbelievable roll and wrote all the time. I wrote in the morning. I wrote in the evening. I wrote at midday (which usually I hate). I averaged 5,000 words a day for two weeks straight; the inspiration just wouldn’t stop, so I ran with it.
My office is a little second story room with a window that looks out over the Rocky Mountains, and that’s where I write 99% of my books. I’ve tried writing in other places (cafes, friends’ houses, hotels, while flying or riding in a car), but while I’ve managed to put up words in those other places, my office is my creative haven.
I often write to blaring music, and it’s usually a pop chanteuse like Taylor Swift, Halsey or Billie Eilish. Of course, while writing my latest novel, I listened to 1980s music (because the book is set in the 80s). I like to have something going on in my ears while my mind is exploring other worlds. And it absolutely must be something predictable, something I’ve heard a hundred times so it doesn’t pull me out of my zone by making me concentrate too much on the music. Music I’m not familiar with can be horribly frustrating. The right music can set the mood and lift me up. It can also take my critical mind hostage, leaving the creative-me free to pound out the words.
What’s your next project?
I just finished a summer road trip story set in Colorado in 1988 called “Summer of the Fetch.” It’s about a 17-year-old boy named Eric from Durango who has a 1967 Chevy El Camino, a wise-cracking best friend, and one summer to live. This epic road trip takes Eric rock climbing in Canyonlands, Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Yosemite National Park and finally back to Colorado. It published on August 22. I’m super-excited about this story. It spent its entire first month as a #1 New Release on Amazon. I usually write epic fantasy, but this coming-of-age story (with a touch of magic) hijacked my brain in May and just wouldn’t let me go until I wrote it down.
I’m currently at work on the fourth episode in an epic fantasy series called “Tower of the Four.” In this quasi-medieval world, one must bond with three other magic users in order to work magic. Four unlikely students (a princess, a rebel, a builder’s son, and a street urchin) must go to the Champions Academy, an insidious not-quite-as-it-seems school for magic. Our heroes must overcome their prejudices without killing each other and ultimately bond if they are to become a “Quad.”
My tagline for “Tower of the Four”’s Champions Academy is:
It’s Hogwarts with an edge, because what’s a little bloodshed among friends?
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