Django Wexler, author of The Thousand Names and the recently-released John Golden novella, has been kind enough to join us here for a guest post where he talks a bit about his newest release.
John Golden is something that has been kicking around my head in one form or another for quite some time. I even decided on the name fairly early, so I have a few old drafts of “John Golden Something Something” that I never got more than a few thousand words into.
Inspiration, as usual, comes from a million different places, but I can trace a few direct threads. One of them is to Terry Bisson’s Wilson Wu stories. These are wonderfully strange short stories in which our first-person (and unnamed, I think) narrator gets involved in strange problems and is helped out of the by the intervention of his friend Wilson Wu, a scientist/mystic/crank/genius/guitar player, whose universe operates according to a strange mangling of the laws of physics. (If you have never read a Terry Bisson story, two of these are in his collection “In The Upper Room, And Other Likely Stories”, which I cannot recommend enough. Another collection, “Bears Discover Fire”, and his novels are also excellent.)
From these stories I mostly wanted to take the tone, the cross between a semi-serious scientific problem and the light, humorous approach with its charming weirdness. I had this concept of a hero who goes around placating magical creatures, somehow, and I knew that he’d usually end up doing in a not entirely straightforward way. (The other element I borrowed from Bisson is the references to other, nonexistent stories, creating the illusion of a glimpse into a grand, ongoing canon.)
Humor is hard, though, and I don’t have anything like Bisson’s skill, so I could never quite get it to work. I tinkered a bit, over a couple of years, but nothing really clicked. Eventually I hit the second major inspiration in the form of Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus books, the first of this is “The Amulet of Samarkand”. These are young adult fantasies featuring a boy wizard and his wise-cracking, put-upon demon servant. (Also excellent, by the way.) One of the ways the demon communicates with the audience is by footnotes; at one point he explains that he thinks in seven dimensions at once, but footnotes are the best he can do for us.
From there, somehow, I got to central conceit of John Golden: a first-person adventure story, with footnote comments from a different, sometimes contradictory first person. I’ve always loved footnotes and other meta-textual devices — Terry Pratchett uses them for some of his best jokes in Discworld, and Susanna Clarke does wonderful things with them in “Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrel”. For me, there’s something wonderful about them when they’re used sarcastically — it’s like a Shakespearean aside, in a way, allowing the author or a character to speak directly to the audience and comment on or contradict the main text.
With this in mind, I took another crack at John Golden, and somewhat to my surprise it all flowed out pretty naturally from there. Figuring out who was providing the commentary gave me the character of Sarah, and years spent listening to the stories of people from the IT world gave me plenty of ideas about how fairies and computers might interact. It’s not actually much like the Bisson stories at all anymore — it’s much closer to a parody of a classic pulp adventure story, the same well that Indiana Jones draws from. (Indeed, apart from the first one, all the John Golden stories are titled similarly. The second one is “John Golden and the Heroes of Mazaroth”.) Having two separate narrators lets me indulge in the tropes of these stories and comment on them at the same time, to (I hope) humorous effect.
It’s something I’ve had a great time writing, and I hope you’ll have a great time reading. As novellas, they’re perfect for filling in gaps in my writing schedule while I wait through the inevitable delays of publishing. The second story will be released in August, also via the wonderful people at Ragnarok Publications, and the next time I get stuck in hurry-up-and-wait mode, we’ll see what else turns up!
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 writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.
His new novella, John Golden: Freelance Debugger, can be purchased for the Kindle via Amazon.com.