“Steve Libbey gives the ‘sword-and-sandal’ epic a kick in the tunic and propels it into the gestalt of the 21st century, with an everyman hero whose brains triumph over brawn,” says author Mercedes Lackey. She should know; Lackey and Libbey have been co-writing the upcoming The Secret World Chronicle novel series. Libbey’s first solo foray into novels has all the marks of a landmark debut: a fresh perspective, an evocative-yet-familiar world, and a protagonist to whom readers can relate.
Crixus Oraan is an ambitious plumber in Rond, a Romanesque world of spoiled nobility and thriving trade. In the hopes of financing the dreams of him and his fiancée, he wagers his guild’s money on a sure win—and loses. Crixus escapes as a fugitive to the ancient and mysterious continent of Minq, where he hopes to regain his status and return to his beloved.
In the first book, The Bloodbaths, Crixus hires out to the Lamiae of Nistru, a literally bloodthirsty aristocracy. Though desperate, he is a man of conscience who cannot long tolerate their parasitic reign of terror. But what can one plumber do?
A conversation with author, Steve Libbey
So. Why a plumber?
I am bored by the usual heroes in fantasy fiction. They’re either Aragorn (tough and competent and secretly a king) or Frodo (not so tough but chosen to be at the center of the quest for some arbitrary reason). We’re all capable of getting into plenty of trouble on our own without the help of ancient prophecies, dark clouds over the realm, or magic jewelry.
Did you base your cities and regions on any particular places in current or ancient times?
I stole liberally from Ancient Rome, because I think it’s far more interesting than the vague European medieval time that most fantasy fiction uses as a default reference point. Roman stories also have a greater connection to the society they take place in because it was a civilized world. This was critical so that Crixus had something to lose by leaving his home.
The Bloodbaths is all about water. Why touch on that particular symbol? What does water represent for you?
Water is the most critical resource we have. All living creatures require it and seek it out. A man who works with water is welcome everywhere, even in the private bathing chambers of sexy naked aristocratic ladies.
One also associates water with life, pardon the cliché. Crixus’ story is a journey through the branching streams of life, where a decision must be made at each branch. Our lives are guided by our own hands and our own oars.
Often writers are gifted with a talent for either character or plot, but not necessarily both. When writing The Bloodbaths, which did you find most difficult and why?
I found it most difficult to be gifted! Just kidding. I hope you are implying that I in fact can handle both elements [Of course, Steve! Is that your delicate writer ego rearing its ugly head?], but I will readily admit that plotting was both the most challenging and the most exhilarating. I consider the book to be character driven, but only because every character has an agenda that they act upon—much like real life. But ensuring that everyone responds to their environment in a plausible way is critical to achieving some semblance of reality in a fantasy book. I like fantastic settings, not fantastic characters. Well, sometimes.
What is the overall theme of the Aqua Pura Trilogy? Why that particular theme?
Believe it or not, it is actually rather political in a human way. Crixus encounters people with power, and because he is a plumber and brought into their close proximity, he sees up close the abuses or lack of abuse. To bring it back to water, we can choose whether or not to pollute the same stream from which we drink.
How far along are you on the last two books of the trilogy? Have you plotted them out yet?
Ahem. Sort of. I know generally what’s going to happen, but I leave a lot unspecified to allow for inspiration to take root. The character of Barida was born in such a moment. Book Two is perhaps one-fifth done. I’m actually trying to knock out the first book of another, contemporary series before I return to Minq.
What is your writing process like? What are your strengths as a writer, and how have you overcome your weaknesses?
I recently quit my job to work full time on writing and part-time on freelance web sales. This doesn’t mean I’m writing full time yet. That appears to be a greater effort of willpower and discipline. But usually I try to get all my freelance work out of the way in the morning and then start writing in the afternoon. Often I head out to a coffeehouse to write, and quite frequently I write late at night in bars. It helps to be around people who are active but ignoring me. The apartment can be a bit stark, even with a friendly, doting dog at my feet. I’m still trying to get to a point where I write 2000 words a day.
You’ve often worked with fellow scifi/fantasy writer Mercedes Lackey. What is it truly like working on a collaborative project? Can you describe some of the pitfalls and unique benefits?
It’s a challenge, for sure, because of all the possibilities that two or more minds can come up with. Misty is an incredibly supportive and generous collaborator, which she doesn’t have to be, given her fame. We mostly use instant messaging and email to exchange ideas and brainstorm. Right now we’re plotting all five books of the Secret World Chronicle, then we’ll be shopping it around.
It often reminds me of playing with action figures as children. We each have our characters in our hands, and we’re shouting out what each is up to (“Handsome Devil climbs up the side of the volcano and throws lava at the bad guy! Spooooshhhhh!”) and sometimes when they overlap we have to come to an agreement about what will be plausible and also advance the story arc. We offer ideas to each other, with the awareness that the “owner” of the character can nix it (“Handsome Devil does NOT catch AIDS from a metahuman hooker”). It’s actually fairly smooth, and brainstorming with Misty is pretty exciting, though I am more apt to suggest blowing up entire countries or breaking stuff. That’s the little boy in me, I think.
If the Secret World takes off, it will be a tremendous career boost to me, so I am being very flexible with my ideas and writing. If nothing else, I have learned a ton of tricks and techniques.
Tell me a bit about your adventures in podcasting. I hear tell you are letting readers listen before they buy.
That’s true! Subatomic Books has a rather forward-thinking marketing strategy, one that has become increasingly common in the last few years. Without the opportunity to browse a book at a bookstore, users have little idea whether a book is worth purchasing. They rely on word of mouth, both from friends and strangers: the Amazon Reader Reviews.
Subatomic takes this one step further, and gives away a free eBook and audiobook of their works. The idea is that readers can sample the work, in full if they wish, before they make a purchase decision. Some may listen or download and then not buy, but if they enjoy it, they are new fans who will recommend it to their friends (that word of mouth thing I mentioned). And that’s marketing gold, to reach that grassroots level. Plus, Americans like to own things, and books are best enjoyed as a physical product in one’s hands. We’re tracking the results and so far it looks promising, but it’s definitely not a typical book marketing approach.
Steve Libbey was born in Cincinnati, Ohio a few months before mankind landed on the moon, and ever since his head has been elsewhere. He tricked the University of Cincinnati into giving him an English degree (cum laude, according to those who bothered to attend the graduation ceremony; this is unsubstantiated) while he played guitar in manifold rock bands. Somewhere in the 90s he founded and published Evil Dog Magazine.
The lure of easy work—first as a graphic designer, then as a teacher of computer graphics, and finally as a web designer (and let’s not forget about rock & roll)—distracted him from serious writing until he moved to Portland, Oregon from Atlanta to escape a major label record contract. He succeeded.
It was during this flirtation with the music industry that Steve befriended Mercedes Lackey, and the two began to collaborate on some pulpy hero fiction, which eventually evolved into The Secret World Chronicle. Meanwhile, he’s releasing The Bloodbaths, a story of a plumber in dark times, and plotting the second book in the Aqua Pura Trilogy, The Quartz Odalisque, as well as finishing a book of rock & roll humor.
Steve occasionally plays guitar with a seven piece funk band. He has been spotted around Portland with a one-eyed pug. Author site: www.stevelibbey.com