I knew from the very moment I finished The Thousand Names, Book 1 of The Shadow Campaigns, that this series would be very close to my heart. Now, three months of reading Books 2-4 as slowly as I possibly could, they are all sitting firmly on my favorites shelf!
As I neared the end of series, I knew I wanted to ask Django if he would do an interview with me. I wanted to spread the word about the series & it's final installment, but even more I wanted to chat with the author of the books that had struck me in such a positive, refreshing way. Django was kind enough to say YES!
And so it is my pleasure to present to you my interview with Django Wexler about his life, his writing, and the creation of The Shadow Campaigns!
Q: We will start with something easy! Tell us the story of how/when you first discovered you wanted to be a writer?
DJANGO: I always been a huge reader, especially of SFF. When I was in high school, I got very into tabletop RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons and a game called Rifts. I was often the GM, and I really liked crafting scenarios and laying out plots, but I got frustrated with being unable to put together really complex stories. Ultimately, a friend of mine organized a writing group, and I wrote my first short story for it; it scratched the same itch as GMing, but with more control, and I realized this was what I was looking for. From that point I was off to the races, although I spent a lot of time doing fan-fiction and private stuff before I convinced myself to try to write for publication.
Long ago, I even wrote an essay about it! (Link to Django's essay here!)
Q: According to your author profile, you graduated with degrees in both Creative Writing and Computer Science. Would you consider yourself more writer than techie, more techie than writer, or an even mix of both?
DJANGO: I think it’s changed over the course of my life. Early on I was definitely more techie than writer; when I graduated, writing was kind of a fun hobby, but I was going to make my living as a programmer. As the years went by I realized that writing was more important to me, and I was lucky enough to be reasonably successful at it. So now I’m probably much more writer than techie – indeed, I’m sure my technical skills have gotten a bit out of date!
Q: Who are some of your biggest writing influences?
DJANGO: Some of my books have a stronger influence from a particular writer than others. On The Shadow Campaigns series, for example, I was heavily influenced by George R. R. Martin – the whole idea was to do something like his close-to-historical fantasy in a very different historical period. For The Forbidden Library series, on the other hand, I got a lot of influence from classic portal fantasy like Narnia, mixed with quite a bit of Harry Potter.
Q: In your essay, you briefly mentioned your inspiration for The Thousand Names. Take us through how The Shadow Campaigns came to be?
DJANGO: It took many iterations to arrive in the form it finally took, but the basic idea was pretty straightforward. I have always loved George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and in particular I liked how he brought the classic knights-and-castles fantasy closer to its historical roots, grounding it in an analogue of 12-13th century England and Scotland. I was really interested in doing something similar, not so much replicating Martin’s darker style but his approach to secondary world-building drawing on history. But, I knew I didn’t want to do a traditional fantasy, because he’d largely covered that ground.
Sometime in 2006 or 2007, I was doing a lot of reading through the libraries of some of my wargaming buddies. I read S.M. Stirling and David Drake’s The General series, which is a retelling of the campaigns of Belisarius in a fallen empire SF setting. And I read David Chandler’s The Campaigns of Napoleon, which is an enormous, engrossing history of all of Napoleon’s military adventures. The combination of these two pretty much got me started – I knew I wanted to do a General-style retelling of the Napoleonic wars, in an Ice and Fire-style world based on the appropriate historical period.
As I said, things went through a lot of changes before the final version. (For one thing, it took almost four more years until I finished a first draft.) In particular, The Shadow Campaigns ended up being much more loosely based on actual history then I had envisioned – there’s bits and pieces left, and a few interesting details, but the chronology and narrative no longer match up with the career of the historical Napoleon. But the basic idea of using a historical setting as a basis for a fantasy world is still something I’m excited about – there’s so much of history we barely draw on!
(The Shadow of Elysium, A Shadow Campaigns Novella)
Q: One of my favorite aspects of The Shadow Campaigns is the characters! Do you have a favorite? If so, who & why?
DJANGO: This is a tough one, obviously! All the characters are my favorite for one reason or another – I love writing Janus’ dialog, and Marcus’ bluff obliviousness can be delightful. But I think Winter is probably my favorite, if only because she was a late-comer to the story. I knew from the beginning I needed Janus, who would be the Napoleon figure, and Marcus, who serves as a Dr. Watson-esque POV for him. The other POV had to be a low-ranking soldier, and I tried various iterations. I wanted to get more women into the story, but I was initially wary of the “women disguised as a man” plot because it’s been done so many times. But, I learned in my reading, it happened for real – not once but literally hundreds of times during this period. So I went with it, and Winter’s character kind of grew from there – her backstory, her steady rise through the ranks, her romances. Her character came about kind of organically and ended up being probably the most important part of the series. I love that about writing – it can surprise even the author.
Q: Speaking of characters, it's no secret this series is absolutely BRIMMING with badass women (something we don't always see in High/Epic Fantasy.) What inspired you to write such strong female leads?
Were there any particular challenges writing so many female characters into a normally male-dominated setting?
DJANGO: I’m not sure there was a specific inspiration, it seemed pretty natural to me. Working it into the setting was a bit of a challenge, though. I considered doing a less historical setting with more gender equality, but once I decided to go with the disguised-woman-in-the-army story keeping the setting more traditional seemed to work better, since that story then pushes back against it. The same thing is more or less true of Raesinia’s story – because it’s about her being in a place where she’s assumed to be powerless, and having to push for powers in unusual ways, the male-dominated setting fits with her story. Later, once it became clear Winter was a lesbian and her love story would play a sizable role in the plot, that obviously meant having a few more women around!
Q: The Shadow Campaigns is a series with lots of moving pieces. Political & personal motivations clashing all over the place! How do you know where strike the balance between politics & magic? & how do you keep it all straight?
DJANGO: Keeping things straight is definitely a challenge! I do a lot of outlining before actually writing the books, because it makes it easier to tweak the story without doing a ton of rewriting. I also try to keep careful track of time, which is very important when characters are widely separated. The Price of Valour in particular I have a day-by-day chronology to make sure it’s vaguely plausible when the characters finally meet up again.
In terms of politics and warfare vs. magic, part of that is built in to the world design. When I was setting it up, I knew I wanted a world where the 18th century warfare was actually relevant, which meant that the magic couldn’t be too powerful. So the magic of The Shadow Campaigns is subtle and personal, compared to the battle-magic of something like The Wheel of Time. That keeps the focus on the politics and warfare for the most part, which is the story I was looking to tell.
(The Penitent Damned, A Shadow Campaigns Story)
Q: Discovering The Shadow Campaigns has been my best find of 2017! What's it like for you to see this almost 5-year journey finally come to a close?
DJANGO: It’s kind of amazing! Obviously I have some mixed feelings – I’ve been living with these characters for a long time, after all. But we’re actually pretty close to the original outline I wrote for the story way back in 2012, so in some sense it’s filling in the conclusion to the story that I always knew was coming. It’s shocking to me, actually, that things have gone so smoothly.
On the whole, though, I think I’m really happy about it. I like the fifth book a lot, and I think it wraps the story up nicely. And I’m really eager to do some new stuff, I’ve had tons of other ideas and inspirations in the mean time. Honestly the wait for the book to come out can be as hard on me as it is on the readers!
Q: BONUS ROUND!! We absolutely cannot end this interview without asking "The Question That Must Be Asked," but let's modify it to fit the spirit of The Shadow Campaigns! If you found yourself playing host to a demon, what powers would it bestow upon you?
DJANGO: Honestly, the powers I would most LIKE are pretty mundane. Not having to sleep would be great, I could use the extra hours in the day! Or maybe something to answer e-mail super-fast. With my luck, though, I’d end up with an unhelpful one that enhances my sense of smell or gives me super-human penmanship. Or one of the combat ones – in my daily life, I honestly don’t need to cut many people in half, so I don’t think that would be all that useful.
Haha, but having a gorgeous signature is such an underappreciated talent!!
Well Django, thank you so much for doing this interview with me. It's been a pleasure to pick your brain! We will all be eagerly awaiting the release of The Infernal Battalion, the final installment of The Shadow Campaigns, as well as looking forward to seeing your future inspirations come to life!
DJANGO: Excellent, this was fun!
You can visit Django's official website here!
The Infernal Battalion will release on January 9th, 2018! Pre-Order your copy of here!