Interview with Django Wexler

django_wexlerWe have talked to Django Wexler, author of The Shadow Campaigns.

For the benefit of those not familiar with your series, The Shadow Campaigns, what can you tell us about it?

The Shadow Campaigns is a military fantasy series set in a world with technology roughly corresponding to Europe in the 1800s.  It follows the men and women around Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a talented young officer with an occult agenda, and his rise to power in the Vordanai Royal Army.

The first book, The Thousand Names, was released in July 2013; the second book, The Shadow Throne, is planned for July 2014.  We’re looking at five books in total.

The Shadow Campaigns began with a short story prequel, “The Penitent Damned”, that was released for free prior to the launch of “The Thousand Names”. How much was marketing the driver behind this decision and how do you feel it worked? Did you have any other involvement in marketing the book? Or thoughts about the marketing campaign in general?

Marketing was definitely the motivation — my agent and I were brainstorming things I could do to help with publicity, and one thing he mentioned was that I might write a short we could use for promotion.  I was a little dubious at first, because I’m not great at coming up with ideas for stories on demand, but as it happened something occurred to me pretty quickly.  I’ve been pretty pleased with the results — the story ran in io9 and later I put it out as an e-book, and quite a few people have told me it caught their attention.

I also did quite a bit of guest writing when the book came out, and that’s been my main involvement with the marketing campaign. Aside from that, I was at SDCC (which was a blast) and did a few signings at local stores.  It’s been a lot of fun, and my publisher has been great!

Speaking of “The Penitent Damned”, is that short story necessary to understanding the first book? Are there any more short stories or novellas planned?

The goal of the short stories is to widen the world and our understanding of the characters and their backstory, but not to have anything so essential that those who don’t read them will be missing out.  Some of the characters from “The Penitent Damned” will be back in The Shadow Throne, so it’s a bit of a sneak preview in a way.  But it’s definitely not required reading to understand the book.

I’d love to write more shorts — I’m definitely planning to do another one for the second book release, and maybe more on down the line.  We’ll have to see!

The first book in the series, “The Thousand Names”, is what some call “Flintlock Fantasy” or “Black Powder Fantasy”, what drew you to this category? Any particular works or authors that were an inspiration?

For me the path to “flintlock fantasy” went something like this.  I read George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire in college, and I was really impressed by his world.  He’d taken the standard knights-and-castles fantasy from a fairly abstract trope to a nice, grounded place by sticking fairly close to a historical model, in this case 13th century England.  (Mostly.)

I wanted to do something along those lines, but I thought I’d start with a very different historical model.  I was reading a lot of history at the time, and David Chandler’s fantastic Campaigns of Napoleon really struck a chord with me.  So I set out to write something like a fantasy version of the Napoleonic Wars, although the actual plot got diverted away from its historical course fairly quickly.

“The Thousand Names” contains several diverse points of view, from various cultural, religious and military backgrounds. But it focused most on Captain Marcus D’Ivoire, who seemed a traditional military figure, and Winter Ihernglass, a woman masquerading as a man in order to be a part of that same force. What inspired you to write from such a variety of POVs? And what challenges and/or opportunities did you find as an author?

I knew going in that I wanted only a few points of view, aside from an occasional check-in with the “bad guys”.  Since Janus, the commander, is so important to the story, I needed to spend a lot of time with him, but I didn’t actually want to be in his head.  Marcus serves as the Dr. Watson to his Holmes (or the Captain Pellaeon to his Thrawn) and also provides the “traditional” military view.

For the second POV, I wanted someone who would be marching in the ranks, so we could get a look at what that was like during battles and so on.  I also wanted to get some women into what might easily have been an all-male story.  From that combination, Winter’s plot grew into possibly the most important thread in the entire series.  She helps to give a bit of outsider perspective to the military stuff, since it’s not all second-nature to her as it is for Marcus.

A fair portion of “The Thousand Names” follows a military force, from its downtimes to its skirmishes and battles. What experience might you have had already, and how much research was needed to attain the level of authenticity that you achieved?

A lot of what might be called “research” is just the stuff I read for fun.  I’ve been a history buff, and specifically a military history buff, for a while now, and I read a bunch of Napoleonic Wars books after getting into the period with some of my old wargaming buddies.  When I set out to write the book, I dug a little deeper, especially in terms of finding out what the experience was like for the individual soldiers.  Fortunately, there’s a ton of memoirs floating around from that period, and some great historians have done excellent work collecting them.

There is no question that your story is set in a fantasy world, but it seemed that you strove for a balance, where magic sometimes took a back seat in order to allow the characters, military tactics and accomplishments to shine. How tough was it to decide how much magic should be in the book and how do you feel about the final result?

I decided from the start that I wanted it to be a relatively low-magic world, so that the military stuff would actually be relevant.  There’s no point in going into detail about tactics and formations when wizards can crush armies with a wave of their hands.  The trick was finding a way to make the magic interesting without making it overpoweringly important, but I’m pretty happy with how it came out.  It’s kind of a strange magic system, and there’s a lot more left to reveal over the course of the series!

“The Thousand Names” is set in a desert, what some might call a Middle East stand-in. It appears that your next volume will see a change in venues. What might you be able to tell us about the next book, and do you view its new locale as a challenge, opportunity, or both?

I hope that Khandar is not TOO much of a Middle East stand-in.  The terrain is a bit similar, but I’ve done my best to make it not allegorical, and to keep my fantasy societies with only light associations with real-world locations.

I’m really excited about the next book, actually.  We get the opportunity to delve a lot deeper into the country of Vordan, where our main characters come from, and see more of their culture and politics.  I had a great time mapping out Vordan City (where “The Penitent Damned” is also set) and I’m hoping people are going to enjoy it.  It’s nice to see how characters react when they’re put into a variety of environments.

We see that you have a new book next year, “The Forbidden Library”, which looks to be separate from the Shadow Campaigns. What information can you pass along about that project?

The Forbidden Library is the first book in a middle-grade fantasy series.  It starts when a girl named Alice discovers a fairy in her kitchen.  When her father disappears, she’s sent to live with her mysterious uncle, and she discovers the magical secrets he keeps hidden in his library.

I’m really excited about it, actually.  It’s a very different project from The Shadow Campaigns, and I’m looking forward to meeting a whole different group of people!

With two new books in less than a year it can’t be denied that you’re seeing some success. What can you tell us about how you got to this place in your career? Any tips for those aspiring writers who are starting out?

I’ve been writing, mostly just for fun, for a while now.  I wrote my first novel in 1999, I think, and The Thousand Names is something like the ninth or tenth full-length book I finished.  A couple of earlier ones, Memories of Empire and Shinigami, were released by a small press, but the rest are locked away in a drawer.

Tips for aspiring authors are hard, because process is so personal that what works for me won’t work for everyone.  The one universal is that you have to write a lot, ideally every day.  Another thing I’d add, looking back at my pre-publication career, is not to get too obsessed with a single book — if you’re a writer, you should be able to finish something, put it away, and start something else.  The first book you finish may not (probably won’t be) the first book you sell.

When not writing, how do you fill your time? Any favorite books or hobbies?

I read a lot, obviously, though I have a hard time picking a favorite book — I go through a lot of fantasy and SF, with occasional chunks of military history or economics.  I play tabletop wargames and paint miniatures for them (currently mostly Warmachine, but I have armies for a dozen different systems) and PC games when I have the time.  When I was in college, I got deeply into anime, and I still watch a fair bit of that, too.

For those who’ve not yet tried your work, why would you recommend it to them?

For The Shadow Campaigns, I tried to create a believable world by mixing a dose of historical realism with just a bit of magic.  If you like the idea of a fantasy world with gunpowder, musket volleys and cavalry charges, I think you might enjoy it.

* * * * * * * © 2013 – Thanks to forum member AmethystOrator for his assistance with the questions.

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