Austin Grossman

Author of 'Soon I Will Be Invincible' and new release 'Crooked'

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 23, 2015

Discussion

Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
I’m a novelist and game designer. I’ve written about the inner life of a supervillain, the secret world of video game development, and my new novel is called CROOKED, about the Lovecraftian truth behind the enigma of Richard Nixon. Notable games I’ve worked on include System Shock, Deus Ex, and more recently Dishonored. You can ask me about books, video games, writing, Nixon, or anything else.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? How about a game designer?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@eriktorenberg When I realized I was being a writer...god that was a long road. There were a few stories I wrote in college, and I stayed up all night writing them, and I'd keep going to bed and then waking up and writing more, like I *had* to get this story down. And my parents were writers, so it felt odd and transgressive and powerful. And then I spent my entire twenties trying to recapture that now-mythologized sense of excitement and irresistible force, and making myself miserable as I failed. And then I absolutely positively gave up on it, and I went to graduate school to be an English professor. And THEN I started jotting down notes in this supervillain voice, and I wrote a random experimental story in that voice, and then another and another. And THEN I sent the notes and stories off to my brother to ask him whether this was worth doing, and he sent them on to his agent, and the agent told me I was a writer. So that was mostly how I knew. Although I continue to have doubts on a more or less hourly basis.
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@eriktorenberg As to when I wanted to be a game designer...well for a long time I didn't realize it was an actual job. Video games came into being somehow, but I didn't picture human intervention as part of it. A few weeks after I started at Looking Glass, I built a level in Underworld (our fantasy dungeon game) and then I placed a walking skeleton in the world. But I had forgotten to turn off Time and AI, so instead of staying put, it just walked off down the corridor, like "So what if you just created me! Fuck you!" Then it came back and kicked my ass. So then, I started to think this might be an interesting job.
Hash_tag_jeff@jeffumbro · Book Marketing and PR - get in touch
Hey @austin_grossman - can you tell me a little about why you seem to cover video games and super heroes and your brother is always writing about fantasy and science?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@jeffumbro The demarcation isn't so solid as you think. Soon I Will Be Invincible was partly inspired by a short story he wrote about superheroes (never published). And his second novel, Codex, involves a fictional video game, which I thought was the coolest part of that book. I think it's a little harder now that we're a little more known for particular things? It starts to seem like we each own certain subjects, but really it came about by accident, it's just what we ended up publishing first. I think it would be fun to write my own magicians-at-a-boarding-school novel, and see what happened.
Hash_tag_jeff@jeffumbro · Book Marketing and PR - get in touch
@austin_grossman is the process of creating a video game in YOU pretty spot on to real life? Also I feel like you took some interesting liberties with the voice and POV for YOU. Any reason?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@jeffumbro short answer, yes - in YOU I wrote the video game development process as close as I could to real life without getting too boring. I sped up the timeline, and took a few liberties with how easy it is to build content, and of course the game engine is science-fictionally powerful at times. But the spirit of it? The frustration and boredom and exhilaration and confusion...I captured it as sharply and truly as I knew how.
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@jeffumbro I definitely played with the POV a lot in YOU - sliding between first, second, third person - because it's what happens in video games, and it's part of what's so unique, and no one has ever talked about it satisfyingly. You're playing, and there's this avatar that's kind of "you" and kind of a separate character, I tried to capture that feeling. When I play video games, it's this weird feeling of telling myself a story about myself...with the computer as a collaborator...and it's a mode of thinking everyone has now, which they didn't before. And it's so new, we haven't even quite adjusted to that change yet.
Kosh@koshirro
How early on did you join the DIshonored writing team and what were your major contributions?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@koshirro By the time I was hired, the main story and universe and the "feel" were mostly set. So my role (and Terry Brosius) was writing the dialogue, getting to know the characters, exploring the details of that universe now that we knew the basics. It's a different kind of writing then being the principal author, but it's fun in its own way, playing with somebody else's toys for a while.
Natalie Frank@nataliepainter4
I'm interested in the representations of women in your three books--protagonists and villains alike! They're all strong characters--what kind of women can we look forward to in your next books?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@nataliepainter4 Hi! It's really hard to write a novel and think about "how am I representing women at this moment," because it starts to feel like I'm being forced into a script of some kind..."uh-oh, is this a Strong Female Character? am I verging into Manic Pixie territory?" and then you lose all the spontaneity and you're over thinking, and oh god. But of course you don't want to ignore the questions either. To be honest (terrible secret) the character of Fatale was originally male, and it was only a fair bit into the writing that I started to think, "all these situations would be so much more interesting if this were a woman." But I'd already gotten comfortable with the character's voice, and the whole leap of I'm Writing a Different Gender was a lot less fraught for me. There's probably a good lesson there. As to what's in the future...I can only promise more mistakes, last-minute changes of mind, and improvisations.
Bruce R Cordell@brucecordell · Writer
@austin_grossman Any chance you'll return to the Invincible universe? If no (as I assume), are sequels just something that don't fit your writing DNA?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@brucecordell That's exactly what I'm trying to figure out at the moment! I'm writing a novel right now where people have powers...but are they "superpowers"? "Paranormal powers?" "Magic powers?" And if it's the former, do they live in the Invincible universe? I'm writing and waiting to see which answer fits...does it feel interesting if somebody with a cape flies past? Should somebody name-check CoreFire? And yes, does it fit my writing DNA? I really love that phrase. My answer thus far in my career has been "no," given that when I write a novel I don't hold anything back, I have questions about the material and I'll keep writing and writing until I feel like I've told the story and gotten my answers. And then it feels like there's nothing left, I've got what I came for - so why write a sequel? (and then, oh god, do sequels make this less "literary" - is that why there's no Moby Dick II? I guess there are plenty of counter-examples, though - Iliad/Odyssey, or Balzac's Comedie Humaine.) And then of course, sequels are a good move from a finance and branding perspective...should I even be having these thoughts? My final answer: I think I will come back to the Invincible universe. Because it's been almost ten years, and the material is starting to look different because I'm a different person than I was. But perhaps, given my writer DNA, it takes about ten years to get there.
Kosh@koshirro
Who are your favorite superheroes/villains? And what do you think about this current wave of superhero movies?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@koshirro Favorite superheroes/villains. Well it's mostly on the villain side, let's face it. Lex Luthor is, of course, #1. He's putting himself in the ring against an alien being of literally incalculable strength, speed, and determination. No powers, just "fuck this, I'm smarter than you are." Moral questions aside, I'm always going to think that's thrilling.
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@koshirro re superhero films... I wrote Soon I Will Be Invincible because I wanted to learn more about superheroes than the comics were telling me - I wanted to picture them breathing, I wanted to picture their faces, see the tiny little social awkwardnesses, see what they were like when they got sad and bored and everything else people are. Superhero films are another way to let superpowers be an interesting angle into being human...I just want them to get more interesting and experimental. I want to see superhero films made for $200K as well as ones made for $200,000,000. I want to see new and different directors and actors and writers brought in. I certainly haven't lost faith in the genre's power.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Who are some of the writers you most admire? Why?
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@eriktorenberg Writers I admire... it's easy for me to get trapped in the 19th century on this. I started Invincible with people like Tennyson and Keats and Dickens for models, and Dostoevsky. Kafka was my undergraduate writing-crush, the one who really made me think "I have got to do what this person does." And T. S. Eliot, which is maybe the most boring possible answer? Lately I've actually made it further into the 20th century...most recently I've gotten some astonishing moments out of Shirley Jackson, Marguerite Duras, Donald Barthelme. Of course my writing is all soaked in the genre and pulp traditions and I'm leaving them out...those were the people who taught me what story was and that it was inexhaustibly both enjoyable and a way of thinking what the world was about. Some days, all I really want is to discover more Fritz Leiber novels.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
what advice to you have for the 25 yr old aspiring writer? (or you when you were 25?)
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@eriktorenberg Oh good lord, I don't even want to think about myself when I was 25. But if I were to pick one piece of advice it would be...I don't think it's going to get interesting until you draw a little blood. And that can mean risking getting awkward and maudlin and a lot of other things, but for me it's the only way forward - finding the risky place. Think about what it takes to make a room go quiet. Try that.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@austin_grossman @eriktorenberg i love this answer. can you give an example in your own writing of when that changed for you?
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@eriktorenberg i know i'm cheating a bit, so no worries if you can't get to this right now :P
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Huge thanks to @austin_grossman for taking the time to do a LIVE chat with us today!
Austin Grossman@austin_grossman
@eriktorenberg Thanks everyone!