Thursday, February 7, 2019

8 Django Wexler, author of SHIP OF SMOKE AND STEEL, on treating writing advice as a recipe book

We're excited to have Django Wexler here to share more about his latest novel, SHIP OF SMOKE AND STEEL.

Django, what is your favorite thing about SHIP OF SMOKE AND STEEL?

I had a lot of fun with Isoka’s voice in this story. It’s written in a very tight first person, which means we’re very closely in her head, and it gives me a chance to let people see how she sees the world: very calculating, sometimes brutal, a bit of cynicism and humor. Her journey in the novel is towards a greater empathy, and I wanted to make people feel how difficult that is for her, how it’s counter to how she thinks of her identity.

It also just led to a lot of fun language stuff! She has these little verbal tics that turn up in the narration, swear words particular to her culture, and so on. I always have a blast working all that stuff out.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

It depends on how you count, specifically if you count unfinished work. If we only include finished, full-length novels, this is book number seventeen. (Yikes! Can that really be right? *counts on fingers*) The tally runs, in roughly chronological order:
  • my first novel ever, now buried in a dark dungeon far from prying eyes.
  • three fanfiction novels
  • two novels that saw small-press publication (Memories of Empire and Shinigami)
  • one novel (Gaze Into Shadow) that was supposed to be the start of a massive multi-volume epic that ended up never really getting off the ground
  • five novels in The Shadow Campaigns (adult military fantasy)
  • four novels in The Forbidden Library series (middle-grade fantasy)
And now Ship of Smoke and Steel! Interestingly, the original idea for SSS was part of the massive project I started with Gaze Into Shadow, and I rescued it (a decade later) after that didn’t go anywhere to be its own thing.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

When I was still working software development (prior to about 2012) I mostly wrote in the early mornings, before work. I’m not naturally a morning person, though, so once I started doing this full-time my work hours migrated to mid-afternoon. In my office I have my main computers (where I do e-mail, social media, games, etc) and then a laptop, and for actual writing I like to sit on the couch with it. I have a playlist of music that’s so familiar I barely hear it, which acts as a kind of white noise.

I’ve never been able to write in public, though I know many people who do!

Sometimes my writing assistants come to help me, though.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Here is the first thing I always say when I’m on panels about writing: process is personal. Books and the internet are absolutely full of people, mostly well-meaning, who will tell you tips and tricks for how to write. The important things to remember are a) no tip or trick is going to make writing easy, because fundamentally it’s not easy, and b) all that matters is whether a particular technique works for your process. 

So you don’t have to write your novels with a fountain pen because Neil Gaiman does. You don’t have to write every day, or only once a week, or outline, or not outline, or use the snowflake method or the diamond method or the hydrostatic shock method. You should view all writing advice, tips, and techniques as a kind of recipe book, from which you can try things, mix and match, and modify to your liking. It’s not that none of these things are helpful; it’s that they’re all helpful, but often to different people at different times.

What matters is that you find a process that works for you – if your goal is to write novels, that it lets you produce novels, and so on. If your goal is to write novels and you aren’t producing novels, then maybe you should think about tweaking your process; buy a fountain pen, sit in a coffeeshop, stop outlining, whatever, and see if you can find something that fits. But no need to be devoted to one particular thing just because your hero or a best-seller does it!


Ship of Smoke and Steel
by Django Wexler
Tor Teen
Released 1/22/2019

In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka enforces the will of her criminal masters with the power of Melos, the Well of Combat. The money she collects goes to keep her little sister living in comfort, far from the bloody streets they grew up on.

When Isoka's magic is discovered by the government, she's arrested and brought to the Emperor's spymaster, who sends her on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship―a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.

On board Soliton, nothing is as simple as it seems. Isoka tries to get close to the ship's mysterious captain, but to do it she must become part of the brutal crew and join their endless battles against twisted creatures. She doesn't expect to have to contend with feelings for a charismatic fighter who shares her combat magic, or for a fearless princess who wields an even darker power.

Purchase Ship of Smoke and Steel at Amazon
Purchase Ship of Smoke and Steel at IndieBound
View Ship of Smoke and Steel on Goodreads


Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in creative writing and computer science, worked in artificial intelligence research and as a programmer/writer for Microsoft, and is now a full-time fantasy writer. Django is the author of The Shadow Campaigns, an epic fantasy series for adults, and The Forbidden Library, a classic fantasy series for middle-grade readers. You can find him online at and on Twitter as @DjangoWexler.


Have you had a chance to read SHIP OF SMOKE AND STEEL yet? Have you tried different writing tips and techniques? What is one that works for you? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Jocelyn, Halli, Martina, Erin, Shelly, and Kelly


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