The Story Behind the Stories
The Cloaca Maxima by Rob Steiner
A friend once told me that he was the laziest person at work because he always
tried to avoid hard work by looking for the simplest, most efficient solution to a
That's kind of how Natta Magus and Vitulus came into being.
I'd just finished my "Codex Antonius" series [http://robsteiner.net/], an alt-history
space opera about a Roman Empire that spawns an interstellar civilization, and
was deciding on my next project. I was in the mood for a fantasy adventure and
wanted to write in the first person again.
But good fantasies require thoughtful world building. Well, I'd acquired a ton of
Roman history knowledge over the five years I'd spent on the "Codex Antonius,"
so why not put all that knowledge to good use with a fantasy set in 6 BC Rome?
Thank you, laziness.
Now I needed some characters. As I mentioned, I wanted to write a story with a
first-person narrator. I'm a huge Jim Butcher fan and love Harry Dresden's quick
wit, so I wanted my main guy to be a magus, too, and be just as fun and
I also wanted to write a fish-out-of-water story where the narrator is exploring
ancient Rome along with the reader, staring aghast at the peculiar Roman customs.
I briefly toyed with him hailing from the hinterlands of ancient Germania or
Africa, but that would mean he'd need the same cultural sensibilities as the region
of his birth. Which meant writing a character just as alien as the Romans. That
sounded like a lot more research.
So I decided my magus would be a time-traveler from the twenty-first century.
Now I had a first-person narrator with a modern sense of humor who could
experience the strange Romans with as much bewilderment as the reader.
Score another for laziness.
Then some actual inspiration struck one night. I was reading a Harry Potter book
to my young daughter when I wondered: What if my time-traveling magus comes
from a twenty-first century where a Potter-esque civilization dominates the world?
Where magic, rather than electricity, powers everything? Where everyone casts
spark globes as easily as we flip a light switch? Sounds like my magus would be
even more of a fish-out-of-water among the mundane Romans. I liked it.
But I didn't want him to be a casual time-traveler doing the tourist thing in ancient
Rome. No, he was dropped there against his will. He has to survive somehow,
though, until he figures out a spell that will get him back home. So he sets up a
little shop and uses his magic to find lost items for people willing to pay him a few
coins for the service. He calls himself "Natta Magus" since his real name,
Remington Blakes, sounds too Germanic to the prejudiced Romans.
I now had my crime-fighting magus with a unique background and twenty-first
century quips. Throw in Gaius Aurelius Vitulus, the Roman Watson to Natta's
Holmes, and I had two characters who couldn't be more culturally different, yet
somehow learn to be friends.
With the success of "The Cloaca Maxima" and "The Oath-Breaker's Daemon", I decided to write a novel about
Natta and Vitulus; it's in second draft mode as this article goes to print. I hope
you have as much fun reading these guys as I've had writing them.
Read more of The Story Behind the Stories