Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not planning Shadow Campaigns, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts. You can follow Django Wexler on Twitter as @DjangoWexler.
Nick Sharps: Sell me The Thousand Names in as few words as possible.
Django Wexler: It’s epic high fantasy in a Napoleonic setting, with great battles and a complex world. *BLAM! KABOOM!* (Do cannon sound effects count as words?)
NS: Is there a particular theme to The Thousand Names?
DW: I try not to push in a theme up front when I’m writing a book, so they’re often a surprise to me when they turn up. In this book, the closest thing to a theme in the original conception was the nature of loyalty in various contexts-between soldiers, to commanders, among family, between lovers, in politics, and so on. An unexpected sub-theme turned out to be the nature of gender roles, which really gets opened up in the next book.
DW: It was actually disturbingly simple at the very beginning. I was reading Chandler’s The Campaigns of Napoleon, and I thought, “Okay, I want to write that.” I had previously read S.M. Stirling and David Drake’s series The General, which is an SF series retelling the campaigns of the Byzantine general Belisarius, and I got the idea to do something similar in a Napoleonic context. After that it wandered pretty far afield-you won’t get many plot spoilers for the series by reading French history-but that was my starting point.
NS: It is evident from your writing that you know a good deal about old military structure, tactics/strategy, armament, etc. What was the nature of your research prior to writing The Thousand Names?
DW: All through high school and most of college I basically found history boring and avoided it wherever possible. Towards the end of my college career, though, I met up with a group of historical wargamers (via our school anime club). The way they talked about history was completely different from how it had been presented in my classes-as stories, basically, rather than from an academic standpoint.
I started borrowing books from them and reading a lot, just drifting to whatever I found interesting, which mostly turned out to be the military stuff. At the time I didn’t think of it as “research”, it was just the books I read for fun. As I said above, Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon made a big impression on me, as did Schama’s Citizens, about the French Revolution. I also read as much as I could find about the actual experience of battle, which I wanted to get as close to “right” as I could; John Keegan and Brent Nosworthy were helpful in this regard.
Playing wargames helped in and of itself, too.
NS: You graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh — Steelers, Pirates, or Penguins?
DW: As a card-carrying geek, I am required to express a certain degree of bafflement at sports fandom. That said, it would have to be the Steelers. I don’t follow hockey, and nobody I met in Pittsburgh seemed to particularly care about the Pirates, but when the Steelers won an important game they would be out in the streets, setting fire to things.
NS: I noticed from your bio that you paint minis. What are your favorite war games-and most importantly, do you ever war game The Thousand Names, and if so, does this help you plot battles for your writing?
DW: I got into the Games Workshop games in the distant past, but I didn’t really get to painting until after college, partly because the figures can be about as expensive as a solid drug habit. So I’ve played Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, Space Marine/Epic, and a few others. Later I got hooked on the Privateer Press Warmachine/Hordes games, which have a bit more tactical depth to them. My biggest painted armies are 40k Imperial Guard and Hordes Skorne.
As you might expect, though, my real favorites are the historical games. I’m a big fan of the De Bellis Antiquitatis and De Bellis Multitudinis games from Phil Barker-the best wargame campaign I’ve ever played in was a years-long game based on Colleen McCullough’s First Man in Rome, run by my friend Jim Naughton. I’ve enjoyed playing the Napoleon’s Battles system, though I don’t actually own any Napoleonic figures, which would be the closest set of minis to The Thousand Names.
I’ve never actually gamed out the scenarios from the book, but thinking about them in wargaming terms definitely helped me set them up. Playing a historical wargame for a particular period, assuming it’s reasonably accurate, gives you a feel for the kind of decisions a commander faces, what it looks like when things are going well or poorly, and the reasoning behind the maneuvers and marches. You can’t rely on it completely-for one thing, wargame generals know what’s actually happening far better than real generals-but it’s definitely an asset.
NS: How many books do you have planned for The Shadow Campaigns? And, if you can’t divulge that, can you tell us a bit about the sequel to The Thousand Names?
DW: I plan for the series to be five books in total. In the second book (we’re still working on the title) the characters go home to Vordan, where the king’s ailing health increasingly leaves power in the hands of Duke Orlanko, head of the Concordat secret police. I probably shouldn’t say more than that, but I’m working on editing it now, and I’m really excited!
NS: Next a Fight Club question: If you could fight anyone, who would you fight?
DW: Um, someone very small? Fisticuffs have never been my forte. I’d love to get some of the great generals at a gaming table and see if there’s any relationship between the games and the real thing, though!
NS: Say someone wanted to turn The Shadow Campaigns into a television series or movie series. Would you rather they take the HBO Game of Thrones route or the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings route, and why?
DW: HBO, 100%. Obviously I love Game of Thrones, both books and TV show. But more than that, I’ve seen how much needs to be cut out of books to make them work as movies, even books a lot shorter than mine! I’m so happy with how well HBO has captured Martin’s stuff.
Now, I certainly wouldn’t turn down a movie, either! But it would be an expensive undertaking, cast of thousands, etc. I’m a big animation fan, so a third route would be some kind of animated (but decidedly not for kids) kind of affair. I think shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender are an excellent demonstration that there’s room for animated stuff with serious plot and real issues at stake. (And it’s easier to do the big battles that way!)
NS: Lastly (and most importantly) if The Thousand Names were an ice cream flavor, which would it be?
DW: To quote Captain Marcus d’Ivoire: “When we left Ashe-Katarion, the thing to eat was roasted imhalyt beetles in the shell. Under the right conditions they can grow to be eight inches long, and the meat is supposedly delightful.” Can you make that into ice cream?