JAMES HATTORI, host:
First time writer Austin Grossman had, in one sense, a conventional education; high school, college, grad school. But his real education came outside the classroom. It didn't get his a degree but it taught Grossman what he did to know how to write his debit novel.
Rick Kleffel of member station KUSP offers up this chapter in our occasional series First Books.
RICK KLEFFEL: Austin Grossman's first novel, "Soon I Will Be Invincible," has been called a great American superhero novel. It's a comic book world approached with a memoir-like sensibility.
Unidentified Man: I'm the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes. I fought core fire to a standstill and the super squadron and the Champions. Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who try to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser and whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life.
The story is told in alternating chapters, the musings of Doctor Impossible and the anxieties of Fatale, a junior super heroin who has just been invited to join the Champions.
Grossman is now pursuing a PhD in literature, but that wasn't always the plan.
Mr. AUSTIN GROSSMAN (Author, "Soon I Will Be Invincible"): Point, in fact, in undergraduate, I was an psychology major. Things took a bit of a left turn when I graduated - this was in 1992 when computer games weren't quite the hot stuff they are now. It was a little more of a hobby industry. That is when it all went so wrong. I'd literary answered an ad in Boston Globe in the classified section. I went in interviewed at the office and it was all summer, it was full of nurse toys and they had this amazing game they had just done.
KLEFFEL: And there Grossman found an unusual place to begin his education as a novelist, creating elaborate scenarios and writing snatches of dialogues for video games.
Mr. GROSSMAN: Computer game sort of became my substitute MFA program. That was kind of my long sort of apprenticeship as a writer. I've got to write this crazy sort of pulp stuff (unintelligible) fiction and science-fiction and it was enormously liberating.
KLEFFEL: But not liberating enough.
Mr. GROSSMAN: I wanted more. I wanted to step into that world as fully as possible. And also to sort of spoil down the storytelling process a little bit to really savor how cool it is to hang out with superheroes.
KLEFFEL: The result was "Soon I Will Be Invincible," a comic book without the illustrations. In this reading from the novel, super villain Doctor Impossible, residing in a jail cell, offers readers his resume.
Unidentified Man: I'm not a criminal. I didn't steal a car. I didn't sell heroine or steal an old lady's purse. I built a quantum fusion reactor in 1978, and an orbital plasma gun in 1979 and a giant laser-eyed robot in 1984. I tried to conquer the world and almost succeed 12 times and counting.
KLEFFEL: Grossman started the book in the late '90s while still working in a computer game industry.
Mr. GROSSMAN: It didn't really get serious until I went to graduate school at Berkley and I just kind of wanted to write something different, so I started writing about super villain and so forth, and I wanted - I want to see people got or if they went screaming from the room and people actually, sort of, liked it.
KLEFFEL: And so, Grossman continued jotting down the thoughts of his imagines superheroes wherever inspiration struck.
Mr. GROSSMAN: I actually drive with it. (Unintelligible) on the passenger side because of that - I was much of a (unintelligible) writer at that point, but I would do anything, so I - the (unintelligible) this side of the road and started scribbling down what became chunks of the first chapter of this book.
KLEFFEL: Grossman's eccentric education gave him the insight to understand comic book character's psychological hang-ups, computer game expertise to map out their battles and the writing chaps to give readers the experience of hanging out with superheroes.
For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.
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