Meet the Team: Mike Wolfson, Assistant Editor

In this series of blogs we meet the team who bring you Firewords. Next up is our Assistant Editor, Mike. (Interview by Dan Burgess, Editor.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Eek, did I say I wanted to do this interview? Ha ha - I’m one of those private individuals that hates talking about themselves. That’s partly why I hide behind the pen name M. J. Wolfson. Very few people know that the real me leads a double life and I write fiction.

M. J. Wolfson came into being circa 2008. Before 2008 I was an occasional scribbler. I’d write down ideas for stories, and sometimes I’d start writing them but I’d never finish them. Confidence was always the killer. I used to go through months where I’d supress the urge to write. Why was I thinking about writing? Me, a writer, who was I kidding? Each time I gave up I’d start to get a little bit down, a little bit grumpy, and a little bit moody. I realised that the only way to shift those blues was to write. So M. J. Wolfson was born along with a conviction to not give up and to take writing seriously.

My early efforts were, ahem, not very good. But I didn’t care. I took the knocks and kept on writing and re-writing. In 2009 I had my first acceptance, but the story never made it into publication. In 2012 a young university student stumbled across, and quite liked, one of my stories. They told me they were producing a literary fiction magazine as part of their degree course, and they wanted to know if they could include my story in the magazine. I said ‘yes’ and I finally got to see my work in print. I think the name of the magazine was something like Firewords*.

Since then, year on year, I’ve been lucky enough to have my work published in e-zines, magazines, or themed anthologies. I’ve had the opportunity to work on five issues of Firewords Quarterly. I’ve somehow managed to get a gig co-writing a feature length indie horror script. I’ve also got another publishing project on the go which should surface in 2016. I’m still churning out prose fiction too, and yes I still get rejected from time to time.

So the moral of the story is don’t give up. Ignore the detractors, work hard, take the rejections on the chin, keep writing and prove all those detractors wrong. Believe in yourself, because the only person who can stop you achieving your goals is you.

*The incredibly rare issue zero.

Why did you get involved with the magazine?

Because I was invited to take part and I was far too polite to say, ‘No!’

Joking aside, there were a myriad of reasons. I liked the concept behind Firewords. Many indie magazines are visually uninspiring. I was also bored of reading the same kind of stories in countless indie magazines that were technically well written, but weren’t really that entertaining. Being part of Firewords has given me some scope to be part of something a little bit different.

How do you describe Firewords to someone who has never heard of it?

If I’m in marketing mode: “A visually stunning literary magazine where the words and illustrations intertwine into a complimentary artistic experience.”

If I’m sitting in a bar with a pint: “It’s a bloody good read.”

Do you think this project has helped your own writing?

Yes, but it has been a double edged sword.

It’s always easier to spot weaker elements of prose in other writers’ fiction. The submission periods are so intense that common weaknesses start to be apparent. You become so mindful of those pitfalls that you avoid making them with your own work.

I also read all the rejection comments from all the other team members which gives me a useful insight into how other people think and interpret fiction.

On the downside the submission periods are so all consuming that it’s difficult to get any writing done when we’re open for submissions.  

How do you feel about judging other people’s writing?

The Darth Vader in me loves it. No, only joking. For me all writing is personal. I’m reading characters’ thoughts and emotions that may well have their origins in the writer’s life. You have to feel privileged.

The rejections can make you feel pretty lousy though. I try to be as constructive as I can, but it’s difficult because you don’t know the writer behind the story. Sometimes I wish I had the opportunity to sit down with the writer and talk through the rejection.

Has anything surprised you since taking on this role?

Yeah, the sheer array of talent that’s out there. Stephen Thom and Die Booth are two names that spring to mind straight away.

What is the best advice you can give someone who is considering submitting work to Firewords?

  1. Read the submission guidelines.
  2. Be original. We receive a huge amount of stories regarding older people reflecting back on life. It’s a universal theme and we’re all getting older day by day so I understand why writers are inspired to tackle the subject, but try and be original in how you approach the subject.
  3. Buy a back issue to get a flavour of the type / quality of the stories that make the final cut.
  4. Keep it simple, let the prose flow, and don’t overwrite. “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” – Stephen King.
  5. Don’t use your covering letter to explain what the story is about. If you do then editorial alarm bells will start ringing before we’ve even read the submission. A well written coherent story needs no explanation.
  6. Embrace the old writing maxim of 'Show don’t Tell’. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekov.
  7. Finally the most important piece of advice I can give to any aspiring writer is… Don’t be afraid of rejection. A rejection means that a group of editors didn’t fully appreciate your story. Another group of editors at a different magazine might love it and publish it. If the story gets bounced by multiple publications you know it needs a rewrite. I’m a writer and the majority of my accepted works started life as rejected works. Believe in yourself. Always!

Interview by Dan Burgess, Editor

Check back soon for the next Meet the Team interview, or head to our About page for info about each member of staff.