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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Stephen J. Wolf talks about the inspiration behind his new fantasy book, Kershin The Fire Mage.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Stephen J. Wolf about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the story of his latest release, Kershin the Fire Mage.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi, I’m Steve, and first, I want to thank you for having me here. Since 2001, I’ve been a middle school and high school science teacher, specializing in chemistry and physics. I earned my PhD in Science Education in 2006 from Curtin University in Perth, Australia. I have always had a penchant for fantasy, even as a child. I always loved the use of magic and watching sword fights. When I saw Mr. Wizard’s World, mysteries of the world were revealed, such as why fireworks burn different colors, and it linked my love of fantasy with a burgeoning desire to pursue science.
When did you first want to write a book?
In 1994, I was badly injured in physical education class in my freshman year of high school. I was tackled by an angry student who smashed the back of my head on the ground, earning me a severe concussion that put me on home teaching for the rest of the school year. It was a lonely time, despite my mom and sister being home as well. I craved friends, and so I wanted to create a set I could hang out with. I was also enamored with movies and books containing magic, and I felt I could write my own stories.
When did you take a step to start writing?
In eighth grade, my English teacher challenged us with a three-part writing task. We chose an object from a box and were asked to write about it. I pulled a teardrop-shaped crystal from the box and decided to give it magic powers, no surprise. She then tasked us with describing a person and a place. I linked all three together and tried to start writing a short story.
The next year when I was on home teaching with my concussion, my brother brought his computer—a fancy Commodore 64—downstairs to the living room I was essentially confined to. In my yearning for friends to spend time with, I decided to create my own. I loaded up a word processing program, Omniwriter, and started typing away. This was not a rendition of The Teardrop Crystal, but a new tale, the Legend of the Starsword.
How long did it take to complete your first book from idea to release?
The Legend of the Starsword took a couple months to complete. It was a chaotic fantasy mess spread over 169 pages, and I loved every word. I rewrote it in high school, then again in college, each time improving it. I set it aside for many years and decided to retell the story in 2020. After roughly six months, I finished the story, went through editing, and released it.
My first publication, however, started in 2009. I began writing a story based on a series of crystals that had meager powers, such as a never-ending water crystal that provided only one drop of water at a time. This developed into a much larger work that I ended up splitting into two, then three, then four novels. For my 40th birthday, after loving the ride of crafting the stories, Kevin, my husband (then partner) pooled resources from family and friends so I could utilize the services on CreateSpace to run through three rounds of edits and revisions, leading to the release of Journeys in Kallisor, Red Jade book 1, in 2015.
How long did it take to complete your latest book from idea to release?
I’ll stick here with my second to most-recent book, Kershin the Fire Mage. It’s my first stand-alone novel. This began as a single scene I wrote in college as I struggled to accept being gay. In it, a man runs from a fire he created, hating it for destroying everything around him, trying to escape its destruction, but unable to. He has a flicker of a thought that he should, perhaps, draw the flames into his heart to accept them, but he casts it aside. It matched what I was feeling.
I set the scene aside until a pen-pal, Christian, read it in 2006. He wanted to know more about what happened to Kershin, so I imagined a new story, incorporating the original scene, and shared it with him over the three months it took me to write it. The story still needed work, however. It was dreadfully slow at times and highly melodramatic. It wasn’t until late 2021 that I brought the older story to light, kept a few details, and rewrote a new tale with the characters. I released it in July 2022.
Focusing on your latest release, what made you want to write Kershin the Fire Mage?
I wrote it for Christian. He went through many medical issues at the time and needed an escape. He loved that first scene, so I picked up the story from the aftermath. I tried encouraging him to heal and grow as I wrote each chapter, putting my characters in similar situations. The rewrite scraps much of these concepts as they were no longer relevant. My heart broke when Christian passed away in 2013. He never had the chance to see the new version.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Kershin the Fire Mage?
It was difficult to separate Kershin’s old story from the new, deciding which pieces to keep and which to discard. I also made a major change, giving the antagonist her own point of view. I kept the structure consistent throughout, alternating between Kershin and Hessia. I struggled with giving her a redemption arc that made sense, while pursuing her ultimate goal of taking Kershin down. After the rewrite was complete, something felt missing. I added a second villain but didn’t give him a POV. I wove him throughout the book, though his appearance comes in the second half. It was a major shift and it altered Kershin’s and Hessia’s stories.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Kershin was originally based on me and what I went through finding acceptance being gay. I wanted the fire to be a metaphor that not everyone would pick up on at the time I wrote it. As I grew and found my own acceptance, I leaned heavily on those past feelings of believing I was denied by the world around me. I wanted Kershin to be a voice for others experiencing a similar journey to mine. One ironic twist is that Kershin’s magic isn’t accepted by everyone, but his sexuality is.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Hessia was born of the people who disrespected, alienated, and discriminated against me for being gay. She fights against Kershin with a blind ambition to end his magic, even at risk to her own position in society. Perhaps she has her own reasons for her actions, but are they justified even with that? I needed someone who would pursue Kershin relentlessly, regardless of his travels and attempts to control his power.
What is the inciting incident of Kershin the Fire Mage?
Kershin is at the market peddling his wares when another man crashes into him. During the course of their discussion, Kershin’s fire blazes suddenly. They flee the scene, but Hessia is called to pursue them. She sees Kershin light a shed on fire and her resolve firms to find him and take him down.
What is the main conflict of Kershin the Fire Mage?
Kershin’s power rages beyond his control, but he seeks training to control it. Hessia despises fire magic in particular and forms an obsession to stop Kershin from causing any more destruction. The two cross paths throughout the story, their interactions growing more intense along the way.
Did you plot Kershin the Fire Mage in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I generally fly by the seat of my pants, but this time I created an outline ahead of time. I wanted to keep track of the two points of view and ensure the actions of each character made sense and flowed. Still, that free-flowing version of me snuck in there frequently, challenging me to update the outline to accommodate changes I didn’t feel I could lose. In essence, for this novel, I used both techniques.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Kershin the Fire Mage need?
I made use of beta readers first to get overall feedback on the story. This prompted a number of changes to make the story more coherent. I then sent the work to my amazing editor, Rochelle Deans, who scraped through the manuscript and offered me several points to work on. This was when I introduced the second antagonist. From there, I sent the story to two more beta readers, then back to my editor who offered a few minor changes before release. This is my typical process for my releases.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
As many others say, just sit and write it down. Having ideas in mind isn’t enough. It needs to be tangible, something you can look at and be proud of—because it really is an accomplishment to write a story, big or small. From there, you can make changes, but if you never write it down, there’s never anything to improve.
A second piece of advice, which is truly important, is that you have to share it with others and be prepared for feedback that will hurt. It always hurts. Don’t be defensive. Keep in mind that most readers in this situation are looking to help you improve the story, maybe find plot devices that don’t work, plot holes, character inconsistencies, and so on. Take this feedback and be willing to examine it objectively. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice, but more often than not, you’ll have a stronger story for it.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
In addition to my novels, I have a series of choose-the-fate stories. The first one, I wrote in a crazy six-week sprint, and it’s massive. Each pathway to the end reads at about 100 pages, assuming the character doesn’t die. More recently, I crafted a set of four smaller stories, each focusing on a single element of magic. I plan to write a fifth book that revolves around lightning.
As for a novel, I’m looking to do something different than I have before, incorporating religion into my work. I have avoided it thus far, as I’m not religious myself. I plan to have a cleric who tries to convert everyone to her beliefs along the journey, with some success and some failure. Others in her group will deny her teachings outright, leading to conflict along the way. It may be a more philosophical book than I’m used to, but it’s only in the initial stages of planning.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
That’s a tremendous amount of work and I’m deeply proud of my accomplishments. It’s definitely all worth the effort, from the conception of the idea, to the writing, to the feedback, to professional editing, to working with artists on covert designs, to converting each book into audiobooks. It’s a long road for each story, but an amazing one.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Main site: red-jade.com
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