Hey everyone, yes, I’m finally back! 🙂 After some CRAZY problems with the internet and the bank, everything has been sorted out. 🙂 I’m really sorry that I haven’t been able to update the blog so far this week! 😦
Anyway, back to the interview!
Brian Libby is the author of the Epic Fantasy novel, Storm Approaching (reviewed here) that uses practically nothing that we’ve come to take for granted in the Epic Fantasy we’re used to and still stands as a proud example of the genre. 🙂
I interviewed Brian via email, wanting to get a bit more info about him and the novel, and here’s the result:
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work:
I’m a historian, age 60, single, who has taught at a prep school in southern Minnesota for many years. I attended Johns Hopkins, UMass, and Purdue (Ph.D. 1977); my fields are European military and diplomatic history and modern Germany.
I have always enjoyed writing; I have a fantasy “trunk novel” tucked away, along with the nice letter Lester del Rey wrote me when Ballantine rejected it in 1978. I don’t really know why I did not continue to try writing for publication, but it was probably because I was too busy teaching. In the late 90’s I published (POD) And Gladly Teach, a satirical novel about life at a (fictional) prep school, which has been well received by a discriminating (i.e. small) audience. But having loved fantasy since I read Tolkien, and many others, in my teens, I decided I wanted to try something along those lines again, so I went part-time in 1999 and took up a pen (literally). The result is four books in the Mercenaries series, the first of which, Storm Approaching, is now out. I was fortunate to get a very good agent for it (the same agent Patrick Rothfuss has, in fact) and unfortunate in his not being able to place it, despite a good recommendation from the first reader at DAW. I decided to publish it myself. I hope to publish Gold and Glory in the next few months, and the others later.
I also write occasional humorous items for the amusement of colleagues, and am now posting these on a blog. (Humor and satire are my favorite genres, although you might not guess it from my answers to these serious questions.)
Will you please give readers an introduction to Storm Approaching?
The first three books—Storm Approaching, Gold and Glory, and Resolution—are a trilogy; the fourth, The Free Lands, is a stand-alone. They are set in a pre-gunpowder world whose society and technology roughly correspond to late-Medieval/early-Renaissance Europe. Storm Approaching concerns a young orphan, Andiriel, who wants to see the world; she winds up being sent on an espionage mission, which gives her more excitement than she bargained for, and getting involved with a broken-down mercenary infantry regiment. (There are no standing armies in the New Empire, so mercenaries are the usual military forces.) Her adventures are set against a backdrop of growing friction between the New Empire and a foreign state, Sarenia. Although Andiriel and her surroundings are the focus of the book, some chapters are set at the Imperial court and do not concern her.
What was the spark, the idea, which gave birth to Storm Approaching?
About fifteen years ago I wrote on a slip of paper, “She was running as fast as she could, but it wasn’t fast enough,” and I said to myself, this will be the opening line of a novel. I do not know why I did this, but I kept the slip of paper. I knew I wanted to try writing something extensive; I did not know exactly what would happen when I started writing. (And that first line was changed, of course, in one of my later edits.)
What themes did you want to explore in Storm Approaching?
I wanted to deal with war and diplomacy more accurately than, so far as I am aware, these topics are usually treated in speculative fiction. I wanted to explore the inner workings of a mercenary regiment. I wanted to look at the importance of friendship, honor, education, and intelligence. I wanted a book that was character-driven, not plot-driven. (The trilogy has a story arch and develops plots, but there is no “main quest”—as I say on the back cover, there are no prophecies or magical trinkets in sight.)
What kind of research did you do for the novel, and how do you approach research?
As a historian, I was trained to do research. But I have not had to do much for the books. I’m conversant enough with my field so that I have little trouble “designing” countries, royal courts, or military units, or including logistics and economics. The polity of the New Empire, for example, bears a resemblance to that of the Holy Roman Empire. The Internet is a very handy source for minor but important matters like the parts of a horse or some detail of heraldry,.
You’ve given readers a fantasy novel that is practically devoid of the usual tropes found in Fantasy – why did you take this risk, and why was it important for you to write this way?
I am very glad you perceive the book that way, because prospective readers, hearing that it centers on an orphan who goes looking for adventure, might well groan, and exclaim, “Ick. Pooh. Not again.” After all, the number of adventurous orphans in Fantasy could populate a small town; they should form a union. But “fantasy” to me means a created world not requiring the inclusion of non-human races or much magic. (Surely dwarfs, elves, etc. have been comprehensively covered by others. None of my major characters is a mage, though magic does exist.) New novelists are told they must do something different, so I tried. They also say to write what you know, and what I know is history: military, diplomatic, political. (And I keep nearby Diana W. Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a wonderful prophylactic against clichés.)
I hope that Mercenaries is written with a lightness of touch—not zany or satiric, but with a certain joie de vivre, jeu d’esprit, or other quality we sober English-speakers often use foreign words to describe. My books, though their theme be war and politics, are not meant to be depres-sing. There are enough novels like that in circulation. Good actors, jewellers, farmers enjoy their work. Why shouldn’t good soldiers?
As it happens, I’m writing this on the 203rd birthday of Robert E. Lee, who embodied all that a good soldier can be.
In Andiriel, you’ve created a strong female lead that surprised in more ways than one – what about Andiriel impresses you the most, and has she surprised you in any way, deviated from the path you planned for her?
There are more characters in the books than I expected. All except Andiriel appeared as I wrote; she is the only (human) character I knew about when I started. So her actions have not been too surprising to me, although her, um, friendship with Lana took me a bit by surprise. Andiriel’s sex was not vital; my wish to write about a decent, well-educated person who proves to have talent as a leader could have been done with a man. But I thought that having a young woman in her position, in a society where women are rarely (but not uniquely) found as soldiers, would make things more interesting. Andiriel is not a natural fighter (although she’s good with a bow), nor boisterously aggressive (except on a battlefield), and certainly not like the usual mercenary in a fantasy novel; her strength comes from her intelligence, quickness, and courtesy. Baron Gurlarga sums up her attitude when he uses the famous quotation “No glory without honor.”
The characters who most surprised me in Volume I—first by appearing at all, then by their development—are Lana and Dagget. I’m still learning about them after four volumes.
Lastly, can you give us some info about the sequel to Storm Approaching?
Why yes, I can. 🙂 Gold and Glory finds the Pelicans Mercenary Regiment looking for a contract and getting more than one. Readers who might have been a bit disappointed that Storm Approaching did not contain more war will not be further disappointed. And affairs in distant Sarenia develop in ways that involve some subjects of the New Empire. Gold and Glory is considerably longer than Storm Approaching, and, I guess, contains more “action.”
Thanks very much for this opportunity to speak to a large audience. I hope that your readers will investigate my books, and my blog (http://andiriel.blogspot.com) and website (http://www.blibby.com), or drop me a line if they have questions (brnlbb(at)gmail.com.)
Brian has also kindly agreed to let me post excerpts from Storm Approaching, which should start appearing on the blog from next week onwards. 🙂
P.S. I’m meeting Liz and Mark De Jager tomorrow, the fine folk who run the awesome blog My Favourite Books! 🙂 They’re in South Africa for a visit! Looking forward to it!