Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Kenneth Kim.
Kim is the author of “The Superhero Memoirs” (F.W. Fife/Zharme)—a lyrical work of literary fiction that attempts to illuminate the art of storytelling while at the same time paying loving homage to the science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and films that have had such a profound influence on him. His background includes an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. Kim currently makes his home in Los Angeles.
“The Superhero Memoirs” was published late last year and is currently averaging a 5-star rating on Amazon.com. Reader Karen H. Wetmore noted: “The stories are fascinating, the characters are vivid and intriguing, the writing fast-paced and fun. It is one part science fiction, one part mythology, one part modern-day life, all woven together effortlessly. I couldn’t put it down …” Further, Mysterygirl praised:
“This is a fantastic novel … I was captivated and intrigued by the stories in the novel … It’s one of the most creative works I’ve ever read. I highly recommend this book!”
From the publisher:
Christian awakens in a mental institution to find a manuscript beside his bed detailing his own amazing adventures…as Captain Cosmos, intergalactic superhero. Nobody believes the manuscript is true except Molly, a young patient who also appears in its pages. To unravel the mystery of their identities, they must escape the asylum and connect the clues hidden in the manuscript’s intertwining stories.
The Superhero Memoirs is an epic tale that that unfolds like a house of mirrors to take the reader on an incredible journey that blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality, from modern-day Manhattan to the realm of the gods, from the far reaches of space to the back streets of Hollywood.
Christian, Molly, and Cosmos spin a dizzying web of intersecting tales that take many different forms—all of them illuminating the universal connection between our dreams…stories…and lives.
Now, Kenneth Kim reveals the origin story of “The Superhero Memoirs” …
John Valeri: What inspired you to write “The Superhero Memoirs” – and how do you see the work as transcending genre?
Kenneth Kim: My father was a writer, so he had me reading all the literary classics at a really young age. But at the same time, he also introduced me to science fiction, Marvel comics and all the great movies of the 70’s. I think it was that influence that inspired me to want to write something that on one level could be read as a wild sci-fi ride – just an epic yarn, you know? – but at the same time, on another level, could also be considered a legitimate piece of literary fiction. It was a pretty ambitious undertaking, and over the years I wrote bits and pieces here and there, but it wasn’t until after my father passed a couple of years ago that I really pushed myself to finish it. And the response I’ve gotten from readers so far has been great – there are some people who take it at face value – it’s about the adventures of this superhero named Cosmos who along the way, spins all these amazing stories – and nothing more than that. And then there are other readers who have a notion of the larger designs of the book, with its meditations on love, loss, relationships, remembrance – even the art and artifice of the novel – of storytelling itself. But regardless, they all seem to really enjoy it, which has been immensely gratifying for me.
Obviously with my upbringing, I love genre, I always have – so I wouldn’t say my book is any kind of attempt at transcending genre. There was a time when “serious” writers who forayed into genre were considered to be slumming, but I think in this age of the internet and the mash-up, those days are gone forever; in fact, in recent years we’ve seen an influx of really highly-regarded literary writers venturing into genre. As I mentioned before, my intent was to write something that kind of blurred the boundaries between sci-fi and literary fiction. In the process of doing that, I found myself introducing other genres and disciplines as well, like YA, dramaturgy, screenplay, journalism, short story, novella, memoir. Which interesting enough, is actually not an uncommon technique in post-modern literary fiction – it even has a name – “fractious fiction.” What is unique is the manner in which I’ve been able to blend all of these different forms into a structural and thematic whole – while at the same time still remaining eminently readable – something that was always really important to me.
JV: Why does the idea of the superhero intrigue us – and in what ways can immersing ourselves in their stories help us to realize our own abilities and potential?
KK: Well, the concept of the superhero goes all the way back as far as the Greek gods and Gilgamesh and Beowulf, right? So I think as humans we’ve always been fascinated by the idea of these super-charged versions of ourselves who embody both our heroic ideals – and our frailties. In my book, I wanted the superhero to be a metaphor for the problematic nature of the masculine role in our culture – the sheer impossibility of it, really – but also as a metaphor for all of our roles. Because in one context or another, that’s how we see ourselves – each of us has our own personal mythology – which when you come right down to it, is really how we manage to deal with all the trials and travails that life throws our way. The little movies – the stories of our lives – that unspool inside our heads each night in those fleeting moments before we fall asleep – we always cast ourselves as the hero.
JV: What is the importance of storytelling – and how does this project pay homage to the creative works that have influenced you?
KK: I was just talking about the stories of our lives – and that’s something else the book is very much about – because there might be nothing in the world more human than the act of telling a story. We’re all storytellers, if you think about it. Your spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever asks you how was your day; your co-worker at the drinking fountain inquires how was your weekend – how do you respond? You essentially tell them a story. Sure, you give them the facts, the events – but they’re all colored by your interpretation, your spin. Maybe you leave some things out, maybe you embellish certain things, alter the chronology – what you’re really doing is creating a narrative. And not only does that narrative usually have some kind of theme or message or punchline (if you’re so inclined) – but in all likelihood, in some way or another, you end up being the hero of the story.
And in so much that all of us are storytellers, there have been, of course, many incredible storytellers throughout the history of literature. Another of my ambitions was to expound on some of the same themes many of those great writers have explored, particularly the so-very universal themes of reinvention, rebirth, identity, illusion. And for better or worse, we live in an age where almost everything is a reference to something else – guilty as charged – I wanted to not only reference some of the authors and works that influenced me, but to also leave a few “Easter Eggs” that pay homage to some of the books, literary stylings, and fictional characters I’ve loved over the years.
JV: You’ve crafted a story-within-a-story. What about this set-up appealed to you – and in what ways does the narrative benefit from such a construct?
KK: One of my intentions for the book was to be an exploration of why we tell stories and how our reality shapes our stories – where our stories come from. As well as the opposite – in what way do our stories influence our lives? Each of the three characters has their own story – and within that story, tells their own stories – which interweave, overlap, even repeat at times with the stories of the others. A mosaic that gradually reveals to the reader the complex relationships between real life and fiction as they move through the book.
I also very much wanted the novel to be an examination of male/female duality – and disconnect. How so many of our feelings and introspection can fall within the bandwidth of a shared spectrum – and yet so often, we seem to be running on parallel tracks in the dark, never intersecting, never merging – never even seeing each other for what we really are – if at all. The three main characters each have a story-within-a-story – each even appearing in some guise or another in one another’s stories – these layers of perspective – through which we see the objectification … idealization … missed connections.
And finally, like I mentioned earlier, while on one level I wanted to entertain everyone with a fantastical science fiction adventure, I also wanted to present a literary mystery, a puzzle – a challenge, if you will. All of the three characters’ stories are open to interpretation – I think ultimately, the question I wanted the reader to ask themselves – if they chose to go down that road, at any rate – is whose story is it, really? Cosmos? Christian? Molly? Or someone else entirely? And I’d like to think there isn’t one answer – there’s isn’t a correct answer – in the end, it’s up to the reader to decide.
JV: You have a master’s degree in creative writing. In your opinion, how much of the discipline can be taught versus what is intrinsic – and in what ways can resilience impact success?
KK: I went to Penn as an undergrad – and although a lot of famous writers have emerged from there, I could never seem to find my way. So I basically wasted an incredibly expensive college education (sorry, mom and dad)! Strangely enough, even though all my life I had always written stories, it wasn’t until I went to San Francisco State University and attended their master’s degree program in creative writing that I finally started to think of myself as a writer. I’m not sure exactly what it was – maybe just being around like-minded people for once – and being able to read and learn first-hand from other students who were much more technically advanced and knowledgeable than I was. And to get the support and affirmation from my peers and professors that I had some degree of talent and that yes, I could do this. I was also incredibly fortunate to have the support of a mentor there, Professor Bill Weigand – who was head of the creative writing department at the time – who was always so encouraging and positive, even when I was churning out absolute rubbish. He saw something in me and my writing that no one else did, and I think that’s something – and someone – every writer needs.
As far as success goes, I had been writing for so long – without the slightest glimmer of hope of any kind of recognition or even acknowledgement of my efforts – let alone success – that friends of mine – friends! – as well as myself – had almost come to think of me as an “outsider artist.” I’ve always worked lousy “survival” jobs – mostly because I wasn’t qualified to do anything else! – but also because – I recently read an interview with the novelist Nell Zink where she talks about her early years and how she never wanted to commit to any kind of career that might be detrimental to the development of her voice as a writer – and I think I’ve always felt the same way. At any rate, I kept on writing – whether it was on the back of clipboards while doing front door security, on message pads while answering phones at a receptionist’s desk, on the blank side of a sheet of advertising copy, between takes as an extra on a movie set … sometimes just revising and polishing the same sentences over and over … I don’t necessarily think I’ve “made it” now that I’ve had a novel published, but whatever your definition of success is, there’s definitely no substitute for resilience.
JV: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?
KK: Everyone’s been asking me about a sequel! – and to be honest, that was the last thing on my mind when I was writing the book. I know that’s kind of become the “template” these days – write a trilogy, get a movie deal … I guess I’m just not that calculated of a writer. I don’t claim to have a higher calling, but my ambitions are bigger than that – I feel like I have a lot more stories to tell and I’m just getting started.
With thanks to Kenneth Kim for his generosity of time and thought and to Karen Ammond, President/Founder of KBC Media, for facilitating this interview.