This is the first of what I hope will become a series of Red Room posts leading up to the publication of my first novel, Pop Apocalypse, which Ecco/HarperCollins is going to publish in May 2009. First, an introduction: My name is Lee Konstantinou. I'm 29 years old, a grad student in the English department at Stanford, and fiction editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project (a pretty neat radio/podcast program that you should listen to).
I was born to a pair of Greek immigrants in 1978, grew up in New York City, and attended Cornell, before eventually moving to the Bay Area in 2000 to start working as a tech writer for Oracle. After two years of tech writing, I was accepted into Stanford's English Ph.D. program, and I currently live in San Francisco, now at the tail-end of my sixth year as a grad student. My father is a machinist, and my mother works at a Target on Long Island.
I've always known that I wanted to write, but as a high schooler, attending Bronx Science, I was dead certain that I would become a comic book artist, probably creating some iteration of superhero comics, though I was a great proponent of Scott McCloud's more general defense of the medium. I knew that in choosing comics I was dedicating myself to a life of poverty and obscurity, but some part of me reveled in that knowledge. My heroes were the artists (Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, etc.) who had broken away from Marvel to form Image Comics, who, asserting their independence from oppressive labor practices, had leveraged their relative fame in the small world of superhero comics to create artist-owned franchises of their own.
My high school classmates were mostly immigrants--Chinese, Taiwanese, Indian, Greek, and many others--and had the sorts of dreams you expect upwardly-mobile immigrants to have: self-improvement through technical training, a life of white-collar skilled professional labor. Why my parents, anything but financially comfortable, allowed me to nurse impractical fantasies of penury remains obscure to me, but I think it has something to do with the fact that their love of education was abstract. They cared less what I pursued than that I was in a good, name-brand school, pursing something.
While my more sensible friends sought practical degrees in technology, business, law, medicine, I enjoyed knowing that my ambitions had little utility beyond the satisfaction I would gain from making the sorts of things I loved (comics) and giving others the kinds of reading experiences I valued. I suppose I also fantasized about achieving fame in the small community of comics-lovers, but I harbored no illusions that I would be supersuccessful.
When I began attending Cornell, I decided that I could teach myself to be a graphic artist, but that I might need special training to improve my writing, so I did what any rational person would do in my position: I majored in English, thinking that the primary purpose of an English degree was to train people to write fiction. As it turned out, I took only two creative writing classes at Cornell, both of which were mixed experiences, but I excelled in my academic English classes. I had a knack for analyzing stuff, but I stubbornly never gave up on the idea that I wanted to produce fiction, not just consume or study it.
My fantasies of creating comics transformed, that first year, into fantasies of writing novels, specifically epic science fiction, one of the many genres of geekdom I desperately loved, though in my English classes I was being trained to be a thoughtful student of modernist art. By the end of my freshman year at Cornell, I was determined to write a novel, any novel, a practice first novel that would prepare me for more the ambitious literary tasks ahead. It is from this initial determination and the ambitious energies that powered it that I would, detouring through a failed first attempt at a novel, eventually come to write Pop Apocalypse--a book that bears little resemblance to what I wanted to write a decade ago.