The Incredible Michael Todd Gallowglas

Let’s see… what did I schedule myself to write about tonight?  Another challenging topic on writing where I have to dig deep into my writer’s brain?

Oh goodness.  I’m talking about Michael tonight?  I’m going to need Scotch for this one.

[pauses to get a 21 year old single-malt that tastes like a campfire and dreams conjured beneath a forest sky]

I’m going to refer to my friend as Michael throughout this post.  Some of his fans know him as Todd.  Some of his fan-friends may even know him as “Mmm. Todd.” He’s an independently published author that recently completed his first Masters of Fine Art at Sierra College, and you can find him most Wednesday evenings in a Starbucks sitting across from me, either writing or talking to me about writing, or both.

That’s a super quick, superficial bio.  But if you’ve traveled this far with me, you’re not here for the surface level stuff.  You want the deep dive.  You might even want a list of topics I’m going to cover as I write this 1500 to 2000 word essay on my best friend.  Well, I aim to please, so let’s get right to it.

  • The Early Days
  • The Complexities
  • The Writer

 

The Early Days

In order to appreciate what kind of miracle it is that Michael and I are friends at all, I have to dial back the time machine to the early ’90s.  I’m also going to have to talk about where I was in my life, some of the things that were going on that affected me, and how Michael fit in.

My first journey to Sacramento was the summer of ’91.  I stayed with my Mom in her apartment in Citrus Heights near Birdcage, and I only planned to be there for that one summer.  By the Fall, I knew I’d be moving back to S. Oregon and going to college in Ashland.  My girlfriend at the time, Christine, lived in Medford.  I hated being away from her, but I tried to make the most of my time away from what I considered my “real home.” While in Sacramento, I looked for some people to game with.

I went to the gaming store at Birdcage and put my name up on the bullet board.  I think what I wrote was something along the lines of, “Experienced gamer, interested in most systems.  No D&D.” That last part caught the attention of David Mullin.  When he read that little note, he imagined that I must be a gamer of exquisite tastes and disposition, much like himself.  Thus he invited me to join him in a game he was running in Rancho Cordova.  I accepted his invitation and soon after, we became good friends.  When the summer ended and I was getting ready to head back to Oregon, David said, “Don’t worry.  You’ll be back.”

How prescient of him.

After a somewhat abysmal year of college, after the money ran out and the car-less commute between Medford and Ashland became too big a pain in the ass, I moved back in with my Mom.  I hated it.  My Mom and I didn’t get along that well.  I hated being separated from Christine again, and if I wanted to get around the suburban sprawl, I had to walk.  But I still had gaming with my friend David, which helped me get through the loneliness.

This is 1992 we’re talking about, before the internet was really a thing.  David introduced me to a gaming discussion group called Techno-Gnomes.  The group consisted of 20 to 30 regular members.  I’m not sure how most of them found the group in the first place.  Some might have found it through Usenet or BBS’s.  Maybe it was simple word of mouth or through the gaming stores.  My avenue into this illustrious group, which met at the Roundtable Pizza in Roseville once a month, was through David, who was kind enough to pick me up and drive me there those Saturday evenings.

And that’s where I first met Michael.  That’s also where I met Richard and Jason, a couple of other wonderful folks that will feature in this story in just a moment.

At the end of Techno-Gnomes meetings, we’d break off and head to someone’s house and engage in a huge, usually terrible one-shot game.  Michael ran a couple of these.  And as much as I love Michael today and would hate to say bad things about him, his games back then were horrible.  Not all of them, but the one-shots were particularly bad because he was a cruel, adversarial GM, and even back then, I wasn’t into that kind of conflict.

Adversarial is a good adjective to describe our early relationship.  We were opposites.  I was a bit high strung, wound up tight in jeans and a T-shirt most days.  He was relaxed, a frequenter of Ren Faires and dressed in garb all the time.  I was a conservative Christian boy, a virgin waiting to marry my long distance girlfriend.  He… like I said, he was the opposite of me.  He was a flamboyant charmer with confidence oozing from his pours, and he had no problem meeting women interested in the same things he was looking for.

I didn’t know at the time that we were both writers.  He didn’t talk about any writing hobby with me back then.  I remember showing him one of my short stories.  I don’t remember if he was particularly impressed or not.  I don’t think we exchanged much in the way of compliments to each other back then.

He was present the night Christine and I broke up.  Jason had an apartment in the same complex as my Mom, and Michael, Richard, and I were at Jason’s house playing Car Wars.  I had just gotten off the phone with Christine, not really able to move or grasp what happened.  The game kept going in the other room.  Jason’s cat sat on my chest, keeping me company until I had the strength to get up and rejoin the game.  I don’t remember much else that night, other than I blew everyone’s mind when I rolled a 1 on a 6 sided die four times in a row.  That was a pretty rough night.

I remember another night about a month later at that same apartment complex.  My departure time for the Air Force was rapidly approaching.  Michael Gallowglas, someone I’d gamed with several times but still felt guarded around, asked me to step out into the night so we could talk away from the others.

“Dude, I think you’re making a mistake,” he said.

After everything I’d gone through that Spring, Michael was the only one of my friends that took the time to take me aside and try to talk some sense into me.  He tried to warn me off of going into the Air Force.  He wasn’t trying to make me feel bad about it.  He wasn’t trying change my mind for his own selfish reasons.  He thought I’d be damaged or changed by this decision I was making, and he was looking out for me.

Even though I disagreed with him, it touched me that he was looking out for me.  He didn’t know, couldn’t know, what I was capable of.  The kind of friendship we had at that time didn’t give him any insight into the wells of untapped strength I possessed.  But he still tried to look out for me, and I still remember it 25 years later.

 

The Complexities

I think that’s as nice a way as I can put it.  It hasn’t always been easy to be Michael’s friend.

Let’s carve out some facts.  Michael taught dance for a while until a car accident messed up his back.  He made himself a name and a career telling stories at Ren Faires, a long chapter of his life that’s only recently come to a close.  He has a son that’s a Marine, a son in High School, and a precocious daughter that’s about 5 or 6 that has him wrapped around her little finger.  He’s bearing the weight of some trauma from early childhood, the details of which I’m not completely familiar.  This trauma has led to PTSD, borderline personality issues, depression, suicidal thoughts, and difficulties with his marriage.  All of his relationships, including his friendship with me, have experienced severe rough patches.  Some of those rough patches have been so severe that reconciliation became impossible.  He loves whiskey, especially Scotch, but because he’s working on getting his life together, getting his career off the ground, and most importantly, getting his mental health in order, he doesn’t drink nearly as much as he used to.

Those are facts.  Now I’m going to give you some opinions based on those facts.

He has a deep appreciation and respect for the truth.  I’m starting with this because some of what I’m about to say about him might seem unkind.  But since I’m holding to the truth, and since I’m approaching these subjects with respect, I know that he’ll forgive me for some of my less flattering statements.

Harlan Ellison was his hero for the longest time, and Michael styled himself after the man in many ways.  That means that like Harlan, Michael could sometimes be a complete asshole.  He’d pummel someone with the truth, shaping his words like a blunt instrument and driving them home with strength and eloquence.  He was an unrepentant, self-describing asshole with a chip on his shoulder and a need to prove something.

That’s who he was.  He’s changed over the last decade or so.  He’s grown a bit more wise, a bit more caring, and he makes an honest effort to be a better man.

He still prefers the truth, but he isn’t trying to hurt people with it as much as he used to.  He’s taken on the role of a teacher and a mentor, and that’s changed him at a profound level.

I’m proud of him for who he’s become.  He’s more generous than he used to be.  He doesn’t look at things through the selfish lens of youth anymore.

I can honestly say he’s a good man.  I’m not sure I could have said that 15, 20, or 25 years ago.  I’m interested to see how he continues to grow.

 

The Writer

I read First Chosen during Worldcon in Reno.  I bought it through the Kindle app on my phone and read it between panels.  It had some interesting ideas, but honestly, I saw too much of Michael in all of the characters.  I also didn’t like some of the choices he made with changing tense and perspective briefly at the start of one of the chapters.  It felt artificial, like he was trying to do something clever that didn’t really serve the story.

I remember trying to talk to him about some of those choices he made, but he didn’t really give me much of an opening.  He didn’t want to hear it, and I didn’t press him on it.  I also didn’t go and buy the other stories in the series.  Not at that time.

Renovention was August, 2011.  In the grand scheme of things, that’s not really that long ago.

And yet, for Michael, that could have been a lifetime ago.  He’s grown as a writer.  I listened to Jaludin’s Road in 2015, and found that story to be much more accessible than First Chosen.

I’ve read other work by him, and his growth as a writer is clear.  He’s constantly looking for ways to improve and his craft is getting better and better.

This is the year 2018 and he can talk with eloquence, passion, and logic about the qualities and pitfalls of Pulitzer prize winning stories.  He’s constantly reading craft books by people like James Wood and Donald Maass.  He studies.  He questions.  He experiments.  And he passes on what he’s learned.

I’ve had to learn a little bit about lit theory in order to hold up my end of some of our conversations on Wednesday nights.  I think his true passion for writing really caught fire after he’d already put out a couple of books.  I think his best work isn’t out there yet, and I can’t wait to see it when it arrives.

He’s started an online community If you’re interested in growing as a writer, you should check it out.  Some very talented and passionate people have already joined, and Michael is looking to pass on what he’s learned through that community.

 

Why Am I Writing This?

The short answer is: When I asked him and Melissa for topic suggestions this month, he threw out “M. Todd Gallowglas is Awesome” as a joke.

The longer answer is that he’s my friend and I think he deserves this kind of attention.  I want to point the spotlight on him for a moment and talk about how much he’s grown.

He and I have both come a long way, in every way.  We’re different people than we used to be, we’re better writers than we’ve ever been, and I think we’re both better people in general.

In 2007, during my birthday party, he and I got into an argument that ended with me yelling, “Get the fuck out of my house!” It took us a couple of years to reconcile.

Now I’m featuring him on my blog.  And he deserves it.

Thanks for being my friend, Michael.  I’m proud of you.

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