Monday, June 25, 2007

Soon I Will Be Invincible - Austin Grossman Interview

Austin Grossman is the author of Soon I Will Be Invincible; a fantastic new book published mere weeks ago by Pantheon Books. Soon I Will Be Invincible is a genre-twisting look at superheroes, their villainous counterparts and the everyday struggles that don’t go away just because you can lift a semi over your head. Soon I Will Be Invincible is Grossman’s first book, and all the more remarkable for that fact. He graciously agreed to take some time during his promotional tour for the book to answer some questions through the magic of electronic mail (I believe the kids are calling it e-mail).

How is the book tour going?

Anyone who's ever gone on a book tour knows it's a chancy proposition. Everyone who has come to the readings has been awesome - people ask great questions! But there aren't always that many of them. I'm writing this from the Portland, OR airport, where I had a great reading at Powell's. New York, Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis lie ahead.

Your author bio states that you’re a doctoral candidate at the University of California - Berkley with a specialty in Romantic and Victorian Literature. Given the (frankly appalling) lack of cyborgs and scientifically-enhanced megalomaniacs present in Romantic and Victorian Literature, I’m going to guess your inspiration for this book came from other sources. What inspired you to write a book set among the mythology of comic books? Are you a comic book fan yourself?

I think no one will be surprised to learn I'm a comic book fan - I got hooked in the 1980's on Chris Claremont's X-Men and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, even before I saw stuff like Watchmen. Apart from Moore, I think the biggest inspiration was just wanting to combine all my favorite stuff in one place - superheroes as filtered through the more detailed language and richer emotional palette of the authors I was studying in school. I grafted it all together and the monster lived!

Is Soon I Will Be Invincible the first book you’ve written for publication?

Yes. I edited Postmortems from Game Developer, an extremely useful anthology, but apart from video games I've never published even a scrap of fiction before.

Comics, while adored by tons of literate readers, still have a bit of stigma to them. Was there initial resistance from publishers regarding a ‘comic book story’?

Well, I think that was balanced by the prevailing wisdom that "superheroes = $" - so if anything comics served as a good hook to get people interested. I was a little unsure who would want it though, whether it would go to science-fiction imprint or mainstream-fiction or what. Pantheon has both a literary line and graphic novels, which is perfect.

The book’s cover and chapter break images are really cool. Of course, it should come as little surprise that Chip Kidd is the designer. How much input did you have in the look of the book?

I spent about half an hour chatting with Chip, and he took it from there. I expected a more vintage-comics look, which has started to become fairly common, but he took things in a totally new direction. Most of my input consisted of sending emails saying "Go Chip! Yay!" By the way, the other designer was M. Kristen Bearse, who I hear great things about - I have no idea how they divided up the work.

(by the way, I think Chip is going to publish something on Amazon's blog about how he did the design for the book - I'm as curious as anyone!)

Along the same lines, the website for the book is a nice touch. Did you have a hand in the design?

The credit there goes to Robert Scott, who took Chip's cover image as the basis for a mad-scientist/Art Deco look that is totally original. I did most of the text and consulted on the features, but as with the book design, it was a case of finding a talented person and staying out of their way.

Who are your major writing influences?

It's pretty eclectic. Alan Moore is obviously a huge model, especially his work on Watchmen, Swamp Thing, and Miracleman (note: Miracleman is a hugely influential, near-impossible to find Moore work caught in legal limbo). There's something of William Gibson's super-compacted prose as well - I've read Neuromancer about a hundred times - and of course his character Molly Millions influenced the idea of Fatale. In a character like Doctor Impossible I'm sure there are echoes of Peter Shaffer's Salieri in Amadeus, and before that Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground.

I’ve heard some writers say that they write every day. Personally, inspiration comes in fits and starts. Are you an every day writer? What’s your process?

Well it's my first book, so I can barely dignify whatever it was I did as "process." Most of Soon I Will Be Invincible was doodled into notebooks between (and sometimes during) classes in graduate school. Only the last year or so was "full time" writing. When I read about famous writers they always get up at 6AM and get everything done by noon; I generally made it to a coffee shop by 11AM and struggled on until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.

Given your background in video game development, is there any chance of a Soon I Will Be Invincible video game?

A video game adaptation could conceivably follow a film release; if it happens, I'd love to have a direct hand in it, and help author something that really works interactively, rather than just pasting the characters/storyline onto the latest game engine. It would be really fun to work with my own IP to do something genuinely original.

The world you’ve created in the book seems ripe for further exploration. Are you looking to write more about these characters?

I'm working on some new material that may fit into this world - I'd love to develop some of this book's minor characters, and let Doctor Impossible and the Champions lurk in the background for a while.

Have you read anything worth recommending lately?

I got an advanced copy of Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics, which compiles and adds to some of the critical pieces he's published over the years. It's incredibly smart and enriching treatment of some tough material - the Hernandez brothers and the dreaded Dave Sim, for instance, hugely benefit from a careful critical overview. (and yes I'm reading with him in Minneapolis, but I'm not just being nice - I was blown away)

To read the review of Soon I Will Be Invincible, click here.


Post a Comment