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. Visit him online at djangowexler.com.
It’s not exactly true that I wrote this novella by accident. Obviously some amount of planning was involved, especially after I got started. But it’s not completely untrue, either.
Novels don’t happen by accident. Sometimes the initial idea comes to you in a flash of inspiration, but no matter how late you stay up the amount of work you can push through in one sitting isn’t enough to make much of a dent in a novel. They require a great deal of structure in order to function — pacing, character development, and plot over such a large space are usually too big to keep in your head. They also take up big slices of my calendar year, at least six months for something the size of a Shadow Campaigns book. So, for me, sitting down to do a novel is always a pretty deliberate affair.
Novellas — shorter fiction in general, really — are a little bit different. For one thing, I usually spackle them into the cracks of my writing schedule, typically while I’m waiting for someone else to send me something. That means it’s not something I plan in advance to do. They’re also short enough that I can knock out a significant chunk of story, enough to set the tone and structure for the whole piece, without having to get up from the couch. So while I knew I wanted to do a Shadow Campaigns piece that in some way followed up on Alex’s story from The Penitent Damned, the actual thing that took shape surprised me.
The original idea, actually, was to write a piece for Blackguards, the Ragnarok Publications anthology of stories about assassins, thieves, and mercenaries. I figured this was a good place to continue Alex’s story, since she’s a master thief. By the time I was done, though, it became clear that while Alex appears in this story, she’s not the main character, and thus “Shadow of Elysium” was a) not about an assassin, thief, or mercenary, and b) way too long, even for the mighty tome that Blackguards had become.
So I wrote another story for Blackguards, “The First Kill”, which quite definitively features assassins. (If you’ve read The Shadow Throne, it’s about the first meeting between Andreas and Sothe.) I sent The Shadow of Elysium to my editor at Roc, Jess Wade, not with any particular expectation but just because she likes to see all the Shadow Campaigns stuff.
To my surprise, Jess said she wanted the story. This was a bit shocking because as far as I knew, Roc didn’t publish novellas, and also because The Shadow of Elysium ended up being something very different from any of the other Shadow Campaigns stuff thus far. It doesn’t have cannon fire, cavalry charges, magical battles, or the fate of nations on the line. It’s a little slow, and a little sad. But I like it, and Jess liked it, and so I’m happy to have the chance to show it to you.
(It does have a scene where a dog fights a shark, though. That’s something!)