Guest Post: “Writing the Revolution” by Django Wexler
It’s an exciting day, for it is a pleasure to welcome one of my favorite authors to The BiblioSanctum. Last year, Django Wexler blew me away with The Thousand Names, his epic military flintlock fantasy. Now, in the sequel, the thunder of muskets and the clang of steel are replaced with the cries of revolution. The Shadow Throne hits the shelves in the US today! Be sure to check out our review, and join us as we go behind the scenes for this compelling look at the second novel of The Shadow Campaigns.
WRITING THE REVOLUTION
by Django Wexler
A friend of mine, after reading the early draft of The Shadow Throne, said that the parts describing the inner politics of the revolution made him laugh. “I know some people who were in Occupy Wall Street,” he said, “and you’ve nailed it exactly. It’s so clever that you used that stuff in a fantasy book.”
As Janus comments in the book, it’s easy to look like a genius when you take credit for everything that coincidentally goes your way. Grudgingly, I had to allow that the real-life basis for the politics of the Vordanai revolutionaries was not New York in 2011, but Paris in 1789. That fact that one could be confused for the other, after more than two hundred years, is a tribute to the fact that the basic dynamics of human interaction never really change.
When The Shadow Throne opens, King Farus VIII of Vordan is on his deathbed, fighting a losing battle against a wasting illness. Princess Raesinia is young and (in the view of the court) weak, which means that on the king’s death the true power in Vordan will pass into the hands of Duke Orlanko, the Minister of Information and master of the all-powerful Concordat secret police.
But Raesinia is tougher and smarter than the Duke can understand, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep his hands off the reins of power. To get there, she has to work with rebellious elements in the city, and that’s where the revolution comes in.
When it comes to writing The Shadow Campaigns, the most important thing I try to take from history is the feel of events. In The Thousand Names, for instance, I tried my best to capture the feel of eighteenth-century warfare from the point of view of the participants — the choking smoke that covered everything, the way cavalry would charge in a rush but flow away from steady bayonets like water breaking around a rock, how an attack would either press forward and drive the enemy before it or falter and break down in disorganization and terror. While the military element is still important in The Shadow Throne, there’s a big political component as well, and what I wanted to try to do was think about how that ought to feel for the characters.
Reading history is essential for this, and in particular narrative history — not just listing of names and dates, but a story that treats historical personages as fleshed-out characters, preferably backed up with primary sources. Narrative histories are sometimes disdained by serious historians, which is fair, but for my purposes they’re invaluable; not only are they entertaining to read, but as a fantasy writer I don’t have to fret that some historian might choose a more dramatic interpretation over a more likely one. Bring on the drama! (For The Shadow Throne, my most useful source was Simon Schama’s Citizens, on the French Revolution, and I highly recommend you take a look at it.)
Looking throughout history, though, it’s easy to see that revolutions share some common elements, and those were always going to be part of the feel I was trying to capture. Revolutionary groups (meaning popular revolutions, rather than a coup d’etat by the elite) are almost always disorganized and heterogeneous, with hundreds of tiny splinter factions forming and dissolving alliances with bewildering speed. Sometimes this cripples them, and they fall into infighting and chaos. More successful revolutionaries find the one thing that unites them is their desire for a change; whatever their ultimate aim, every group can agree that the current situation is intolerable.
The almost inevitable result is that in the event the revolution is successful at gaining power, it almost immediately fractures into warring factions, since the only thing that provided any unity has been lost. It’s this dynamic, the coming-together of bitter ideological foes and their difficulty in staying together at points of decision, that I tried to capture in The Shadow Throne; it’s also the dynamic that sets up the similarities between Occupy and Paris in 1789, or for that matter Paris in 1830 or Moscow in 1917. The ideologies are different, the goals and motivations are different, and the trappings change, but people are always people.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, so I won’t talk about the ultimate fate of my revolution. But it was a lot of fun to write, and I hope it turns out to be a lot of fun to read!
* * *
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 writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.