Steve Libbey 6 February 2008
Novelist, guitarist, personist
Steve Libbey was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, a few months before mankind landed on the moon, and ever since his head has been elsewhere. Childhood was a blur of superheroes, reruns of Star Trek, science fiction book club hardcovers “accidentally” received, and early exposure to punk rock. Legend has it that he taught himself to read at age two because his parents had gotten bored rereading the same Black Panther comic book to him. He resolved to become a writer when he grew up – then ran outdoors to play with action figures.
As a teenager he discovered what punk rock entailed, which fortunately gave him an escape from escapism, and he acquired social skills. Steve attended an accelerated public school and fared well, while scrawling punk rock logos on his clothes. He flunked out of the University of Colorado (which he attended unknowingly with a future collaborator, artist Douglas Shuler). 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 remains unsubstantiated) while he played guitar in manifold rock bands.
In the early nineties, he published short fiction and journalism in magazines, newspapers and journals. Then he decided that rock and roll guitars offered more feedback than fiction. The writing career was put on hold while he spent a decade writing and performing various sorts of rock: punk, jangly punk, shoegazer, grunge, indie, and finally new wave with an Atlanta band, the Shut-Ups. In quiet moments (daylight hours), he made a living as a web developer, and squandered his money on running an independent record label.
It was during this final flirtation with the music industry that Steve befriended Mercedes Lackey, and the two began to collaborate casually on some superheroic fiction, which eventually evolved into The Secret World Chronicle novel series. As the Shut-Ups were on the verge of securing a major label record contract, an epiphany helped him realize that he had no taste for a life on the road, so he quit the band and moved to Portland, Oregon, to focus on writing at last.
Steve’s solo novel publication career opens with the first volume in the Aqua Pura Trilogy: The Bloodbaths. It’s a story of a plumber in dark times who seeks redemption for his mistakes. The second volume in the series, The Quartz Odalisque, is due out in 2008. Also forthcoming is The Inspector, an attempt at a literal depiction of a Richard M. Powers cover painting.
Unable to escape his musical past, Steve plays guitar with a seven piece funk band known as The Golden Greats (featuring fellow author Mykle Hansen) and the rock band The Scree. He has been spotted around Portland with a famous one-eyed pug.
What are you up to?
Ramping back up on my four novel projects after a holiday of moving and recovering from an appendectomy. Also preparing for the promotional campaign for my first book, The Bloodbaths, which came out late last year.
What are you into?
Less than you’d think! Even though I write science fiction and fantasy, my reading diet largely consists of research for my books. I feel distanced from my genre. Music probably means more to me than reading, strangely enough.
In either art form, I feel compelled to create a sense of place that is divorced from reality in some way. It’s surely an outgrowth of all that childhood daydreaming.
What do you like most about Portland?
Portland is an oasis in a country increasingly closed-minded and sheeplike. It amuses me to see the backlash amongst the jaded hipsters against the very hipness that drew them here in the first place. PBR and all that.
First and foremost, I appreciate the thriving culture here. Apparently Oregon is at the bottom of the list of states that provide funding for the arts; I think it’s because we’re all engaged anyway.
What are your books about?
I am fascinated by the responses of ordinary, flawed people to extraordinary circumstances. My first novel (and the first of a trilogy) makes an ordinary plumber/civil engineer into a fugitive and sends him to a mysterious continent. The Secret World Chronicle is a novel series that I write with Mercedes Lackey, and features heroes with both superhuman abilities and human flaws — essentially posing the question, “what would YOU do?”
Then I have a book in progress about a sociopathic Siberian cowgirl… she might break the mold a bit.
What frustrates you?
This may sound funny coming from someone who would like to sell novels, but the consumerism that drives our society troubles me deeply. We revel in movies about corrupt 18th century aristocrats, yet we have the same lousy habits. At what point did Americans buy into the idea that their identities are defined by their material possessions and their ability to collect more?
I don’t advocate a property-free, communist utopia, but I would like to see us move towards a lifestyle that placed greater value on thoughts and deeds, rather than material goods.
And fewer billboards, please.