Brynn from Warmage. Artwork by K. W. Leone.

Fantasy, adventure and inclusivity: An interview with K.W. Leone

Amy Chen
8 min readAug 18, 2022


It’s time for a new era of fantasy novels that are not only inclusive, but also filled with dragons as protagonists and unlikely friendships forged through countless adventures.

Written by K. W. Leone, the Warmage series is unapologetically inclusive. It bolsters LGBTQIA+ representation within the fantasy realm while championing thoughtful character narratives that connect with readers from all walks of life.

“As a queer kid growing up, I would have died for any kind of inclusivity,” Leone said, recalling his discovery of queer fiction through fan-written stories.

Leone wanted to challenge the prevalence of queer characters either becoming canon fodder or token characters. He did this by self-publishing a series that he could proudly call his own. Self-publication also meant not having to jump through the countless obstacles that opposed queer literature.

Grayden and Tylen from Warmage. Artwork by K. W. Leone.

“The first novel I wrote was snapped up by publishers right away,” Leone said. “But the only way they would publish the story was if I changed one of my gay male protagonists to a female, and gave him a relatable female name.” That was not the only hurdle. The protagonist was also a person of color.

“It went on and on, and I took back my manuscript with a ‘thank you for the opportunity’ and walked out that door,” he said.

It’s thanks to Leone’s firm stance on the importance of representation that Warmage was later written and self-published. Leone sat down to share more insights about the Warmage series.

Brynn and Tylen from Warmage explore a Draconic Temple. Project Warmage concept art. Artwork by K. W. Leone.

Growth, change and acceptance in Warmage

When readers first meet the character Ty, he is a dragon in the guise of a human. This form is intentional in order to protect himself. However, it’s also an exhausting endeavor for him. What is the significance of this in terms of Warmage’s themes?

K.W. Leone: I think Ty’s story is the story of every “other” on the planet. In the initial drafts of Warmage, dragons represented immigrants in American society. Obviously, it’s grown a lot from there. Trans men and women have to hide who they are. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people have to hide their lives, their relationships. Aro/ace people have to pretend like they have a relationship so people will leave them alone. It’s all about “passing.”

In Warmage, a world that is more advanced in its acceptance, “passing” is still necessary. And it tells us a tale of permanent vigilance. There is always a need for growth, change and greater acceptance.

Brynn and Tylen from Warmage. Artwork by K. W. Leone.

Creating a better world for our children is a common world view for many people, myself included, and we can never lose sight of that. We need to challenge the bigotry inherent in ourselves, our genders, our cultures, our roots. We need to confront that darkness, examine it and redesign it so that, hopefully, someday, no child will ever come into a world where they are unloved, unwanted or inferior because of the color of their skin, their land of birth, their trade, their sexual orientation or their gender.

“The real magic happens in the ordinary.”

On this note, what is the significance of the character Grayden, who is a mage, in terms of experiences related to acceptance, inclusion and challenging societal “norms” outside of the story?

K.W. Leone: One of the things that the majority of my readers often tell me is that this book reminds them that there’s nothing extraordinary about being different, and the real magic happens in the ordinary. That challenges their way of thinking. It also challenges their understanding of ability or disability.

A lesbian does the same things that a straight or trans woman does. They live their everyday lives with the same goals as a straight person. Grayden might be a gay man with a disability, but he still does normal, everyday, non-mage things. He’s not helpless or any less part of the society he lives in. He also has bad days when his disabilities make things harder for him. My writing doesn’t shy away from that, and that’s what makes the series different — especially within the genre.

Sarah and Rose from Warmage. Artwork by K. W. Leone.

The other thing my readers remark on is the way Warmage forces them to acknowledge differences. It’s important to understand that not everyone has the same worldview as you. What might be unacceptable to you isn’t to someone else. Sometimes understanding the difference between immorality and difference takes time, and a lot of people never come to that understanding.

Warmage pushes my readers to challenge their beliefs every day. If your belief is a good belief, you can challenge it and it will hold up under the interrogation. That belief, however, shouldn’t have to be someone else’s. Warmage is designed to encourage a reader to find their own personal truth without imposing that truth on others while respecting and celebrating the beauty in differences.

“Young or old, our attitudes and actions affect the future.”

Grayden is also a protagonist who is 46 and is dealing with ghosts of the past while representing a sort of beacon of hope for other characters. Why is it important to have this kind of experienced character?

K.W. Leone: Very often, older adult characters are underrepresented in fantasy and science fiction. The hero has his journey, and then he settles down with 2.5 kids, a wife and a white picket fence… or becomes the villain, and there seems to be no in-between. Older adult readers are also a big part of my audience, and just because you’re pushing 50 doesn’t mean life is over for you or that you don’t deserve to see yourself in media.

I consider the characters Grayden and Lynn the perfect balance to Tylen and Brynn. I have an older couple and a younger couple. This not only creates another means of inclusion within the Warmage series, but it also provides a sort of anchor point for my reader no matter where they are in their life journey. It also helps them see that nothing is “hopeless” because of age, color or orientation. Young or old, our attitudes and actions affect the future.

Brynn and Tylen from Warmage. Artwork by K. W. Leone.

Finding hope in hopelessness

What are some of the other themes within the Warmage series that you would like readers to know about?

K.W. Leone: Warmage toes the line of speculative fiction and dabbles in magical realism. In many ways, it’s been terrifyingly prescient. The launch of the second book happened mere weeks before the worldwide pandemic hit. For a series based on the history of a biological “crisis” that was instrumental in destroying the world of Anteas as humanity knew it, I sort of felt like maybe I shouldn’t have published when I did.

Then again, living through times like these has been instrumental in inspiration, positive and negative, for the series. So I will make lemonade from lemons. It’s all I can do. Finding hope in hopelessness is the engine that drives the Warmage series, and I am optimistic that my readers will take solace in that. Grayden, in particular, teaches us that bad things might be done to us, but we choose how we react to the bad things and our feelings, and that ultimately, we are responsible for our own happiness.

Brynn and Tylen from Warmage. Artwork by K. W. Leone.

What was writing the first volume of Warmage like for you? What about the ones following it?

K.W. Leone: The first volume of Warmage came from a time of real peril in my life — emotional and physical — and from the point of basically being a refugee myself. It spanned a terrible year and was my secret treasure of sorts. I would come home and lock myself away and work on the book. I didn’t talk to many people about it, almost as if I was afraid it would be taken away from me if anyone knew something made me happy.

The second volume came to completion at the start of a new chapter in my life. It was bittersweet, but it was also where I hit my stride and realized I had an entire series to write — not just two or three short stories. I was coming to terms with being a refugee and living in a new country while fighting to make a safe space for myself. For the first time in my life, I was able to actualize, and that was reflected in my writing.

Warmage: Grayden. Image via K. W. Leone.

The future of Warmage and the fantasy genre

What’s next for you and fans of the Warmage series?

K.W. Leone: I can tell you that the series will have a happy ending! And, of course, there will be the “Grayden” prequel series. That’s in the works right now, and I think that our readers are really going to love it. Overall, there’s still a ton of excitement ahead. There is so much exploration, growth and new life in the works, and I hope they are as excited for it as I am!

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What’s next?

Warmage redefines the fantasy genre through an unapologetically queer lens. For those who are ready for a grand adventure, they can visit the Warmage website.



Amy Chen

Award-winning journalist specializing in esports and beyond.