Hawai‘i Writers Almanac: M. Thomas Gammarino

A companion to our feature “The Hawai‘i Writer’s Life.”

A companion to our feature The Hawai‘i Writer’s Life, this compendium of writers, platforms, resources and more intends to map out our literary communities and individuals. It’s just getting started, but we hope it will grow to help them, and you, find each other, scheme together and maybe get some writing done. 


WHO: M. Thomas Gammarino, 41, Punahou teacher.


WHAT: Author of four novels and father of three children.


WHY:  M. Thomas Gammarino writes novels of deadpan surreal fantasy—imagine Philip K. Dick having a drink with Kurt Vonnegut in the Star Wars Cantina. As a sixth grader, Gammarino, a boy born in Manoa, Pennsylvania, and raised in New Jersey, wrote that he would like to attend the University of Hawai‘i, surf the North Shore and be an artist—oh, and get married and have children.


Mission accomplished. The Punahou teacher, 41, won the Eliot Cades Award in 2014 after publishing Big in Japan: A Hungry Ghost Story in 2009 and a 2012 novella, Jellyfish Dreams, which was a successful Amazon Kindle Single. He followed up with 2016’s King of the Worlds with Chin Music Press.


Gammarino started with ambitions to sell some books and gain an audience, despite mining an uncompromising vein of the avant-garde. But, he says with a sigh, “Only Jellyfish Dreams made any money—enough to buy a used car.” The son of a union electrician, he grew up reading comics and surfing magazines and went on to be the first in his family to attend college.


In March, 2019, after decades of a furious writing, parenting and teaching life, he paused to reflect and weigh his next step in an uncertain, even unwelcoming, literary landscape. Though amazed at how things turned out, with three kids he also questions his next step. “I love living in Hawai‘i,” he says. “I also wonder what the costs are. I had such a bad experience with my last manuscript”—which was rejected everywhere he sent it—“my confidence is a little shaken.” 


A couple of months later, however, he emailed that he’d embarked on “a realistic novel that I’ve had on the back burner for some years. … What a joy to get up several days in a row and get to work on it.”


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Read more stories by Don Wallace