Today Mulholland Books announced it bought the next two books from Austin Grossman, whose 2007 novel Soon I Will Be Invincible won critical praise and devoted fans for its tale of a melancholy, neurotic supervillain. Grossman, an io9 contributor, talked to us on Friday about the six-figure book deal, what the books are about, and what's happening with an Invincible sequel.
io9: Before we talk about your upcoming books, tell me a little about what's happening with the Invincible sequel. Will there be one?
AG: I had the idea to do a second book set in that world. I spent a lot of time doing an awesome job psyching myself out and spinning my wheels for an embarrassingly long time. That book still exists and it's cool, but I had these other two ideas I was kicking around too. So my agent put me in touch with John Schoenfelder [editor of Mulholland] and I pitched these books to his imprint and they said they wanted them both. So we made a deal and now I'm writing two whole different books. At some point I will get back to an Invincible sequel.
What about the movie?
It's still in development, and still might happen. It's part of what I've been involved with [over the past few years], and I'm still involved in the writing of it. More than that I can't say.
Alright, fair enough. Tell us about your next two novels. One is about the videogame industry?
I'm still writing it, and right now it's called You, as a reference to those Infocom games that would say "You are likely to be eaten by a grue" or "You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door." I grew up liking the subgenre of books with games in them like Ender's Game, [Iain M. Banks'] Player of Games, and Larry Niven's Dreampark. I read Dreampark millions of times - it was written in the 1980s and it's about a futuristic amusement park. Also, I worked in videogame development for a while, so I decided to do a novel set in a videogame company.
In a way, the template is the first season of Mad Men – what if Don Draper were a game developer? The main character is a mysterious guy and something about his mysterious past makes him good at his job. Don Draper would be an awesome videogame designer, so what if we moved him into 1998 in a videogame company?
Will it have some of the humor of Invincible?
With Invincible, I wanted to create my own version of the Marvel or DC universe, with my own heroes and villains. In this book, I want to do the same thing with games - to make up a whole role playing game system or set of systems. You know how TSR had a constellation of role playing systems? I wanted to do the same thing but make it up myself. And then write about the people who are making and playing it. After all, people who make games also game together a lot of the time.
So will this book partly be set in game worlds?
Totally – a lot of it will be set in the game worlds. I don't know if I could get myself to write a heroic fantasy novel, so this is the closest I'll get. I'm sneaking my way in the back door by having people playing heroic fantasy in the novel. There will also be a Cold War spy world and a scifi world. They'll move in and out of the game worlds.
Sounds great. What about your horror novel? What's that about?
This one is called Crooked, and it's horror partly inspired by [Neil Gaiman's] American Gods. I wanted to do a novel with magic in America. It's based on the life of Richard Nixon, and is basically a secret history of Nixon's role in the twentieth century. He was born in 1911 in Orange County, so I decided to make Orange County my version of Lovecraft's Massachutsetts. It's a dark landscape, though superficially bright and cheery, and conceals horrors rooted in the nation's history. So he grows up there and has a darkness in his life that he carries with him.
This is the first novel I've ever done research for. I'm retelling familiar scenes from Nixon's life and filling in the parts we don't know with Lovecraftian horror. I'm not changing history, but we learn to see that Nixon's actions were a desperate, heroic defnse of our reality against mindbending demonic forces. He's juggling his political and personal life and his horrifying secret magical conflict. Henry Kissinger is of course a non-human being from darkest Europe. I also have big plans for Eisenhower.
It sounds like you're rehabilitating Nixon, making him a hero. Is that right?
No - there's only so much you can rehabilitate Nixon. The Watergate recordings are so damning – just in terms of racism alone. It's not so much rehabilitation, as saying there are worse things in the world than him.
Nixon is fascinating because he's our most alienated president. Everybody felt that they never knew who he was – that's palpable in the histories. His face is so cartoony that he's become this cartoon figure. I never really related to the romanticization of JFK, and I knew too much about Reagan to idealize him. Nixon falls in between. I can have fun with him without the disillusionment that comes from having lived under his rulership. I was too young to remember that time.
I'm really curious about the memory of Nixon for people who grew up under Clinton. What do people remember of him? In his day, the definition of a conservative right wing president is more like a centrist in our own time. He's also one of our funnier presidents - just a really good character to write about.
When will your novels be coming out?
You is coming out in fall 2012. Crooked will probably come out in fall 2013, but that's just an estimated date and could change.