Welcome back to Civilian Reader! It’s been a little while, so for newcomers let’s start with an introduction: Who is Django Wexler?
Hi! I’m Django Wexler. I’m currently an author of fantasy series of various kinds — military, middle-grade, and young adult. Before that I was a software engineer and worked on AI research and programming languages. I’m very into games of all sorts (tabletop, board games, wargames, video games, etc) and watch a fair bit of anime. I read a lot, anything SFF on the fiction side and history, economics, and science on the non-fiction side. I’m a big fan of cats.
Your next novel, Ashes of the Sun, is the start of a new series and is due to be published by Orbit. How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
Ashes is an epic fantasy set in a post-fantasy-apocalypse — the aftermath of the collapse of a powerful magical civilization, with survivors living amidst the ruins. It’s about two siblings named Gyre and Maya; at a young age Maya is identified as having the potential to be a powerful wielder of magic and taken to be trained with the Twilight Order. A decade later, their paths cross again. Maya has grown into a committed believer in the Order’s mission of defending civilization, while her brother Gyre has sworn revenge on the callous authority that destroyed their family.
What inspired you to write the novel and series?
I talk in a little more detail about it in a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds, but the basic concept comes out of Star Wars, which I love deeply. (I’m even in a new anthology!) It was interesting to me how our supposedly heroic Jedi get their trainees very young and give them somewhat irresponsible amounts of power, so I wanted to examine something similar in a setting where we’re not as automatically on the side of the Order as in Star Wars.
Setting-wise, I wanted to set it in the ruins of a fallen civilization, but a different kind of ruins then you often see in fantasy novels. Lots of settings have ancient empires in their past, but usually all that’s left is a few dungeons and maybe some magic superweapons. It’s kind of the Middle Ages-looking-at-the-Romans model, where there’s a few huge buildings and some legends but that’s it. Instead, I wanted my ancients (who have magic that lets them duplicate much of modern technology and beyond) to be closer to a modern civilization in their scope, so with their fall there’s just stuff everywhere, even centuries. The resulting setting is more Mad Max than Lord of the Rings, with people still regularly scavenging detritus from the ancients and repurposing it.
This is, I believe, your fourth series – your others being the Shadow Campaigns, The Forbidden Library, and Wells of Sorcery. What lessons have you learned writing these other novels, and have they changed the way you approached this new series?
That sounds about right! It’s amazing for me to think about. My process has definitely changed over time — I outline a lot more than I used to, and I think it’s helped me learn to think through plots and spot potential problems at the stage where changes are still pretty easy. It’s also broadened my range a little. The middle-grade and young adult series are interesting because they pose different challenges and constraints than adult fantasy does.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I’m really happy with where the genre is at the moment and where it seems to be going, which is in the direction of greater diversity — both in the social sense, which is very welcome, but also in the sense that more kinds of things are being recognized as falling under the fantasy umbrella. When I was growing up, it felt like the genre was dominated by Tolkien re-treads (although looking back now there were plenty of neat things I never heard about) but today even headlining fantasy displays a wonderful mix of stuff, and it’s only getting better.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Not too much that I can talk about! I’m just about finished with the first draft for Ashes 2, and I’ve got Wells of Sorcery 3 coming in January. There are some new things in the pipeline but I don’t think we’re at the reveal stage yet. Stay tuned!
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Non-fiction-wise, I read a few books on the Russo-Japanese War, which is a fascinating period, and I’ve got Mayor’s The Poison King on the stack about Mithradates the Great. Fiction-wise, currently I’m doing some beta-reads for friends, but in my spare time I’m listening the The Witcher series in audiobook, which I highly recommend.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
I can never answer this question seriously because there’s just too many! But one that I feel like has gotten overlooked recently is Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever, which I absolutely love. (It may be because Max and Amal El-Mohtar also came out with their fantastic This is How You Lose the Time War this year, which has been dominating the award circuit.) If the description “lesbian Journey to the West in the Deep Future” or “there’s a scene where the Monkey King fights Facebook” appeal to you, definitely go check that one out.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
People always seem surprised that I don’t use a pen name — Django is my real name! I’ve been spelling it for people my whole life.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
It seems a little odd to say “the release of Ashes“, but that may be it! This one has been in production for what feels like a really long time, and I’m very excited to show it to everybody. (Also, in fairness, many of the things I usually look forward to have been cancelled.)