A couple days ago I put up my review of Brian Libby’s latest fantasy novel, Gold and Glory, and also reviewed his previous novel, Storm Approaching, a while ago. I thoroughly enjoy Libby’s novels, and was delighted to have the chance to sit down and ask him a couple questions.
Thanks for the interview, Brian!
First off, I want to congratulare you on your first novel, Storm Approaching. It has garnered some wonderful praise and solid reviews! I know you went through a bit of an extended process getting that first novel out there, from having it in the hands of publishers to deciding to publish it yourself. How was it trying to get your first book published?
Many say that getting an agent is harder than getting a publisher, but that was not true in my case. In 2004, after about a hundred query letters, I succeeded in getting a very good New York agent. (This did not result from the query letters, but, oddly, from his irritated response to a review of one of his authors that I posted at Amazon. But ‘a soft answer turneth away wrath;’ after an exchange of e-mails, in which I mentioned my writing, he asked to see my book; I made a number of changes along lines he suggested; he accepted it.) In 2005 and 2006 several fine publishers declined Storm Approaching. At one it was recommended for publication by the first reader, but then languished until mid-2008 (!), waiting for the supreme editor to read it. Whether or not she ever did remains a mystery; after a note in which I said I was planning to self-publish if nothing good happened soon, the last word from my agent (August 2008) was, “I don’t think she is going to do it. From what I gather, she started it but lost interest. And then she said she would try again. But she never does. So go self publish. We tried. I think it is a fine book. It’s just not where the market is in fantasy. With some exceptions the market for new authors is ‘urban fantasy.’ Vampires, zombies, and werewolves.”
So I decided to produce Storm Approaching as a print-on-demand book, its unfortunate lack of vampires, zombies, and werewolves notwithstanding.
I had already published a satirical novel about education, And Gladly Teach, in 2001, with AuthorHouse, so the POD process went as expected, although I used another publisher for Gold and Glory.
Who are the biggest inspirations for your work, both literary and otherwise?
Inspirations? In my high school and college days (the late 60’s and the 70’s) I read much fantasy: Tolkien, of course, and earlier writers (e.g. George MacDonald, William Morris, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison), and many books in the fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. I largely stopped reading it in grad school and beyond. When I decided to write Storm Approaching I wanted to see what sort of fantasy was now popular, so I read many pages from contemporary authors, and many more reviews; I have to say that few of them inspired me. (I do not read much contemporary fantasy now; studying history provides enough blood, sex, and misery.)
Authors I admire for their style and brilliance include George F. Kennan, Telford Taylor, S.J. Perelman, Thomas Mann and Dostoevsky (in translation), Edward Gibbon, and Alexander Pope.
Now that the first two books of Mercenaries have been released, a kind of over-arching theme in the world around your characters is becoming apparent. Do you have plans for the rest of the series? Will it be something you want to be ongoing, or do you have a set beginning, middle, and end in mind?
I know that many readers, rightly irritated by series that never end—or whose authors seem to have abandoned them—are reluctant to start reading anything new until it is complete. Well, good news here: the first three volumes of Mercenaries is a trilogy (i.e. a complete story, not just three books), and I plan to publish the third volume later this year. There is a fourth, a stand-alone volume, set in the same world with some of the same characters.
Can you give us any hints on what the next Mercenatires novel will be about?
Resolution continues the story of the first two and brings it to a definite conclusion. I should not like to say more, as it might spoil things for the readers—myriads, I hope—who will be starting Mercenaries. :)
Do you have any non-Mercenaries or non-novel plans for the near future?
I have already published And Gladly Teach, a satirical novel about prep-school life. Most readers find it very funny. There is also Miscellanea, a small book of humorous pieces on various subjects such as education, the LOTR and Star Wars films, and the nutritional benefits of eggplant parmesan. I don’t have plans for any non-Mercenaries novels. I post essays (mostly humorous) on my blog.
Your series has a very strong sense of history to it. Have you drawn a lot of details from the past, in particular the middle ages? Does your background in history help you work with the large political and global struggles that are the underpinnings that create Andiriel's world?
I’m a historian; my fields are European diplomatic and military history. Without professional knowledge I could not have written the books. I have, for example, striven earnestly to present diplomacy as it actually works—not as the lying and backstabbing that some uninformed authors seem to think it is. Military matters (found more in Gold and Glory than in Storm) are mainly described from the Operational level—that of regimental commanders in small armies—which I think is something new, as it avoids both the vagueness of a merely strategic description and the dreary, repetitive homicide of minor tactics. (It strikes me as odd how some writers seem to feel an obligation, if not an obsession, to emphasize the brutality of small-unit combat, as though readers were unaware of it. I will leave incessant carnage to these masters; it has been done enough, and new authors are supposed to do something different. More interesting, perhaps, to see how battles are planned and fought and won, or lost, from the viewpoint of those in command.)
Certainly there are parallels between my books and historical events and situations. The New Empire, for example, has certain features of the Holy Roman Empire; the possible inheritance crisis is similar to the situation before the War of the Austrian Succession and involves an equivalent of Charles VI’s Pragmatic Sanction. However, the world I am trying to create has nothing directly to do with Europe at any particular time. The society contains features from early and late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, and, I hope, many original things. Mercenaries is not historical fiction.
Any final comments?
Thanks very much for the opportunity to say something about my writing. I hope readers will be sufficiently intrigued to take a look at my blog, perhaps to get in touch, maybe even to take a chance and read something I wrote. Some print-on-demand books are better than others!