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Friday, September 27, 2013

Interview with Django Wexler (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Thousand Names and The Penitent Damned
Read Django Wexler's guest post about the planning of a series
Read the prologue and chapter one HERE 

Django Wexler's flintlock fantasy debut The Thousand Names really made an impression on Liviu and me at Fantasy Book Critic. I was thoroughly amazed by the scope of the story and the way it was presented. A particular highlight were the POV characters especially Winter Ihernglass. Django was kind enough to accept my invite for this interview & so read ahead to find what makes Django tick. What's upcoming in the Shadow Campaign series as well as what he has previously written..

Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, could you please introduce yourself, and tell us what inspired you to become a wordsmith? 

DW: Hi! I’m Django Wexler. I’ve been doing writing of one sort of another as long as I can remember, first for elaborate table-top RPG campaigns and eventually making the jump into fiction. If there was something specific that inspired me, it’s lost in the mists of time. Doing it professionally is a pretty recent thing, though -- I always thought I’d be a programmer with a writing hobby.

Q: Could you elaborate more on the journey you went through in finding a publisher, what you think of Ace-Roc? And what you think the publisher saw in your book? 

DW: Depending on how you count, The Thousand Names was either my ninth or tenth novel. After doing a couple of books with a small press (I’ll talk about those in a minute) I decided I wanted to write something new that I could use to try and get a literary agent. My first attempt at that book, Gaze Into Shadow, didn't quite cut it, so I left that universe to sit in a drawer for a while and took on The Thousand Names. It was around this time I moved from Pittsburgh to Seattle, too, so between changing cities and changing jobs it took me a long time to get things going again.

Once I had a draft, I went through what I was always taught was the standard process. (It turns out that probably more people deviate from this than follow it.) I made a list of agents who I thought might like my work, and sent query packages to each of them over the course of a couple of weeks. I think out of fifty queries, I got two positive responses, and one of those was on the second try -- Seth Fishman, who ultimately became my agent, passed the first time around because he didn't have room in his schedule. (I’m glad he got to take another look, because he’s awesome!)

After Seth took me on as a client, I did another draft of the book with his advice and wrote synopses for the rest of the series, and he took those out to the publishers. As to what Roc saw in the book, you’d have to ask them, although I know the length was a potential sticking point. My experience working with them has been wonderful, from start to finish -- my editor, Jess Wade, did a great job and worked hand-in-hand with my UK editor so I didn't end up with two competing sets of notes, and their publicity has been excellent.

Q: So when and how did the idea for the Shadow Campaign series first come about, how long have you been working on it, and how much has it evolved from its original conception? 

DW: The Shadow Campaigns has gone through quite a few iterations over the years. It was originally conceived as a kind of fantasy history of Napoleon Bonaparte, and bits and pieces of that conception have stuck around, but the overall series has changed a lot as ideas are wont to do. The first thing that’s recognizable as part of the idea is from 2006 or so, but I tend to grab bits and pieces of failed project to use in new ones, so it’s hard to put an exact time-frame on it.

I wrote a little bit about going back through my notes for the series here.

Q: I was very intrigued by the character of Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich. He seemed to be a curious mixture of Sherlock Holmes and A.X.L. Pendergast. Pray tell us how his existence came to be and what is his character arc? I’m also curious as to whether he will be getting his own POV in the future books? 

DW: Janus was originally the Napoleon character, the military genius whose presence would dominate the scene. Again, I've moved on a lot from there, and his character definitely has big doses of Sherlock Holmes and Grand Admiral Thrawn, along with many others. My original plan was for him to be the main character, seen through the POV of a loyal follower, somewhat like Holmes and Watson, but it didn't work out -- Marcus, and later Winter, acquired personalities of their own, and the story became as much about them as it was about Janus. (This is probably a good thing. Winter’s story in particular has become one of my favorite parts of the series.)

Janus probably will not get a POV. When you've got a character who is supposed to be a genius, it can be very difficult to dip into his head without ruining some of the magic. We’ll definitely find out a lot more about him, though!

Q: Tell us about “The Penitent Damned”? How long ago is it set in the series and will any of the characters featured in it be playing a major role in the sequels to come? 

DW: For those who haven’t heard of it, “The Penitent Damned” is a prequel short for The Thousand Names, available as a free ebook (Here) or for $0.99 on the Kindle store.

It’s set just before Janus departs for Khandar, which puts it roughly six weeks (sailing time from Vordan to Khandar) before the opening of The Thousand Names. The characters from the short will definitely be making appearances in the series -- we’ll see Andreas and Orlanko again in The Shadow Throne, in fact, when the action returns to Vordan City. (I actually wrote the first draft of The Shadow Throne before writing the short, so I had all the maps and references for Vordan City handy!)

Q: I noticed on Fantastic Fiction that you have two other books listed as your previous publications, Can you tell us about Memories Of Empire and Shinigami? What genres are they set in and how did those books come about to be? 

DW: I wrote Memories of Empire as my first attempt at getting a fantasy novel published, after a string of fan-fiction and other internet stuff. It takes place in a world where a Roman- or European-style civilization has been conquered by a Japanese-style one, and revolves around a mysterious, invincible swordsman named Corvus and a girl, Veil, who he rescues from slavery. I’d probably call it swords and sorcery, I guess?

It was printed by a small publisher, Medallion Press, and did well enough that they asked me for another one. What I came up with was Shinigami, a dark (at times, very dark) fantasy. It’s the story of two sisters from our modern world, Lina and Sylph, who die in a car accident and find themselves in a world called Omega, ruled by tyrannical Archmagi. Before long, Lina is proclaimed the prophesized Liberator who will free the people from oppression and leads the fight against them, while Sylph tries to figure out who engineered the whole setup. Both books are out of print now. I do have the rights back, though, so it’s quite possible we’ll see them again at some point.

Q: For someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write? What would be your elevator pitch for the Shadow Campaign Series? 

DW: I write all kinds of stories (I have a middle-grade fantasy, The Forbidden Library, coming out in April) but The Shadow Campaigns specifically I would call military fantasy. I vary the elevator pitch depending on who I’m talking to -- I've used both “Sharpe with magic” and “Game of Thrones with guns”, though I always quail at comparing myself to awesome writers like Cornwall and Martin.

A slightly longer version of the latter goes like this: when I read A Song of Ice and Fire, I was really taken with what Martin did, bringing the “traditional” fantasy setting with knights and castles and so on back to its realistic medieval roots. That idea of blending a dose of historical realism with magic really appealed to me, and so I eventually decided to give a try. Instead of 13th century England, I used early 19th century France, loosely scaffolding the story around the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Q: Speaking of the series, how many volumes are projected, how far along are you in "The Shadow Throne", and is there anything you can tell us about it (additional POVs)? 

DW: The Shadow Throne is actually finished, and has been for some time. I wrote the first draft last summer, while I was waiting for edits to come back on The Forbidden Library. Right now I’m working on the first big edit pass, which is due to my editor in a couple of weeks. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but now it’s coming along nicely!

I’m really excited about it, I think there’s a lot of cool stuff in there I can’t wait to show everyone. There’s one additional POV character, Raesinia Orboan, Princess of Vordan and heir-apparent to the throne. She was part of my very first drafts of The Thousand Names (which included big parts of what is now The Shadow Throne) so in a way this is kind of a completion of that original story.

Aside from a few short “asides” (like Jaffa and Khtoba in The Thousand Names) she should actually be the last POV character added to the series. I planned The Shadow Campaigns to be five books, and thus far it seems to be sticking pretty close to the original outline, so I think that’s fairly solid.

Q: You also have a middle grade title coming out next year “The Forbidden Library”. Tell us about it and how do you plan to write in two different genres? 

DW: The Forbidden Library is the story of a girl named Alice and the evening in 1931 when she comes downstairs to find a fairy talking to her father in the kitchen. When her father disappears soon after under mysterious circumstances, she’s sent to live with an uncle she’s never heard of, who lives deep in the woods with an enormous library Alice isn't allowed to enter. When she does sneak in, trying to find out what really happened to her father, she discovers that fairies are the least of her problems.

Writing in two genres, or at least for two different audiences, has been surprisingly easy, which I think is mostly because I have really excellent editors. When I started The Forbidden Library I didn't really know it was a children’s book, and I mostly wrote it just the way I would normally write anything else. (Once I caught on, I decided to leave out any explicit gore, sex, or swearing, but the rest is the same.) Kathy, my editor, helped me go through it and make it a little more appropriate for the audience, but we honestly didn't change that much.

Q: For some authors it’s easier writing their second novel, while for others it’s more difficult. How are things going for you with “The Shadow Throne” and did you learn anything when writing “The Thousand Names” that helped prepare you for the new book? 

DW: It’s a little bit harder now that I’m going through The Shadow Throne to make sure it’s consistent, because I have to keep checking details against my notes or the text of The Thousand Names. In another way, it’s easier, because I have a much better grasp of Winter, Marcus, and Janus than I did when I started writing the first book.

Every book is a learning experience, but it helps that The Shadow Throne isn't really my second novel. (Depending on how you count, The Thousand Names was something like #9, and I wrote The Forbidden Library in between them.) I have learned a lot about the publishing process, and I think working with my other set of excellent editors, Jess and Michael, has done wonders. The one thing I've had to work on most of all is patience -- everything in publishing takes forever!

Q: Can you tell us more about the world (nations, lands, religions, etc) that “The Thousand Names” is set in and some of the series’ major characters? 

DW: I could fill a book with the backstory and world design of The Thousand Names, easily, but obviously I can’t put all that here. One major aspect we’ll see come to the fore in the next book is the division in the Vordanai religion, between the Sworn Church (whose members swear loyalty to the Church hierarchy in Elysium) and the Free Church, made up of hundreds of small, independent congregations. Vordan is officially a Free Church country, which puts it at odds with Borel and Murnsk, its neighbors to the north, where the Sworn Church is the state religion. To the east is the Six Cities League, led by Hamvelt, a rich, mountainous city-state.

Q: In epic fantasy, some authors like to put an emphasis on characters or worldbuilding; others on storytelling. Where do you fit in this picture and what do you feel are your strengths as a writer? What about weakness or areas that you’d like to get stronger in, especially in future books? 

DW: Characters are always foremost for me, because I think they’re really what sticks with the reader. I’m probably better at worldbuilding (it comes from years of GMing) but creating memorable characters is really the heart of fiction; the world is just there as scaffolding to hang them on. It’s something I’d like to be better at, although I suspect that will always be true no matter how many books I write.

Q: Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to? 

DW: I mentioned George R. R. Martin above, who more or less directly led to my current series. Another big influence was a series called The General by S. M. Stirling and David Drake, where they retell the campaigns of Belisarius in an SF setting. Getting a jacket quote from Stirling was a huge thrill. I’d also have to mention David Chandler, whose non-fiction is as exciting as any epic fantasy. His Campaigns of Napoleon is probably most directly responsible for The Thousand Names and its sequels.

Among current authors, there are way too good ones to list, so I’ll restrict myself to mentioning fellow Penguin debut M. L. Brennan, who was in writing class at Carnegie Mellon with me more than a decade ago. Check out Generation V, it’s a great, unique take on urban fantasy.

Q: In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers? 

DW: Only to thank them for staying with me through all of that! And if you’re going to be at New York Comic-Con, make sure to drop by and say hello!

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of M.L. Brennan. All other pictures courtesy of the author.


Blodeuedd said...

I must wait for the but I cold try to get the library to buy the hardback. I am so curious


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