Michael Konik is one of those renaissance men who’s been everywhere, done everything, and somehow keeps finding new ways to make us normals envious of his talents. He’s been an actor, an improv standup comedian, a TV commentator, a jazz musician, a magazine columnist, author of seven nonfiction books (including one of the most acclaimed books of gambling stories in print, The Man With the $100,000 Breasts) and now we get his first novel, Becoming Bobby.
I had the honor and privilege of editing this novel, which meant I got to start laughing a few months before anyone else at Michael’s hilarious and brilliant take on Las Vegas casino culture as a metaphor for America. I caught up with Michael in L.A. for an interview as Becoming Bobby was about to go to press. The novel is available now at ShopLVA.com and will be available at Amazon in about a week. —Arnold Snyder
A.S.: As a successful non-fiction author, why did you decide to start writing fiction?
Michael Konik: Facts interest me, but these days I’m even more interested in Truth—which is a woogie-woogie way of saying that I’m trying to tell stories that are realer than a real story.
A.S.: Why did you want to write this novel specifically?
Michael Konik: To identify and express a longing that few of us ever fulfill, a longing around which our entire culture seems to be built: a desire to be important and powerful and sexy and fabulous and not anonymous. Las Vegas is probably our society’s most metaphorical city; it always felt to me that this longing to be something different than what most of us are—to be Bobby—was on constant display there.
A.S.: Your narrator is one of the most original creations I’ve ever read—a completely new take on the American Everyman. Was he inspired by anyone you know?
Michael Konik: The narrator is an attempt to view the world through three prisms simultaneously: mine, my father’s, and that of hundreds of quietly desperate men I’ve known or observed. If I’ve succeeded, readers might feel that they’re nothing at all like the narrator yet they understand him fully.
A.S.: The most moving scene in the book to me is the narrator’s reaction to his big slot jackpot. It was so unexpected, but so perfect. What does that scene mean to you?
Michael Konik: Relief. Affirmation. Release. Tears of joy are always about more than happiness.
A.S: The scenes involving the casino status system are also dead on the money. I take it you have personal experience with this system?
Michael Konik: I’ve experienced the casino world as a nobody, a Bronze (or lower, if you can imagine such a thing) and I’ve experienced it as a VIP, a VIP Platinum human being. I’ve also experienced our consumerist aspirational culture from both perspectives—the casino status system seems like a perfect corollary.
A.S.: As a gambling writer, television commentator, and jazz musician, how were you able to write such penetrating scenes of your narrator’s humdrum pencil-pushing work life?
Michael Konik: I spent one horrible college summer working as a filing drone in the back office of a large insurance company. The misery and soul-sickness I felt radiating from the employees there—as well as the daily impulse to slash my wrists—gave me some of the reportorial detail found in Becoming Bobby. But the despair, the wondering, the worrying, the inexorable exhaustion of our dwindling time—I think that stuff transcends where you work.
A.S.: How representative of mainstream American life is your narrator? In your view, is our society as a whole as far gone as represented in Becoming Bobby?
Michael Konik: Yes, I think this book is us—all of us who aren’t (and never will be) Bobby.
A.S.: In contrast to the usual platitudes, your novel doesn’t pretend that money and celebrity don’t buy happiness. Is this satire, or hard reality?
Michael Konik: Satire grounded in reality. Money and celebrity have zero to do with happiness and everything to do with a satisfying illusion of happiness. I hesitate to reveal the book’s final paragraph, but it’s fair to say this subject is top of mind.
A.S.: What do you think about the current state of literary fiction and what role would you like to play in it?
Michael Konik: I think literary fiction is better than ever. Smarter. More elegant. The role I’d like to play is the one I’m currently attempting: someone who uses whatever tools he’s been given by the universe (or developed through a solid Midwestern work ethic) to help describe what it means to be alive. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
A.S.: How does your fiction-writing process differ from your non-fiction process?
Michael Konik: Practically speaking, I approach both forms with Marine Corps discipline and rigor, with daily word-count quotas and a strong sense of process. But fiction is easier and more fun. I feel like I have permission from myself to be funnier and looser as a fiction writer, less beholden to the ideals of organization. But my nonfiction experience makes me a better reporter and stronger describer, even when I’m making it up.
A.S.: Your narrator is obsessed with a celebrity referred to only as “Bobby.” Have you ever been fascinated by a celebrity? If you could assume the life of any celebrity, whom would you pick and why?
Michael Konik: I attended NYU’s School of the Arts with Adam Sandler. I live in Hollywood in a house formerly owned by a celebrity, on the same street as Sheryl Crow. The house two doors down was formerly rented by an Academy Award nominee. Watching celebrity happen is more interesting than celebrity itself. I’m fascinated by the weird transformation that occurs when a real human being is repackaged and becomes a real human being playing a character—a version of himself with the same name and body and voice, a “person” that everyone “knows,” but only in the imaginary world of daydreams.
I don’t want to assume anyone else’s life; still, depending on the daydream I’m having, any number of people seem like they have more than their share of fun. Yet as delightful as it would be to make as much sweet love as, say, Rocco Siffredi, I think the omnipresent wish to be someone other than ourselves is exactly what Becoming Bobby is satirizing.
A.S.: All of the female characters in your novel are seen exclusively through the eyes of the narrator, yet you manage to show that they are nothing like the way the narrator perceives them. This contrast is humorous, but I’m wondering if you see the narrator’s delusional perspective on women as something pervasive among men in American society?
Michael Konik: With the understanding that Becoming Bobby is a dark satire, the answer is “yes,” I think the narrator’s perspective on women is common among American men, if not utterly pervasive.
A.S.: Whom do you hope reads Becoming Bobby?
Michael Konik: Everyone who really wants to. I treasure folks who still like to read, who find surpassing pleasure in the act. I’m pleased, honored even, when this increasingly rare demographic chooses to spend a few hours or days with me and my ideas.
(Michael Konik blogs at michaelkonik.com.)
Order Becoming Bobby from Amazon (available roughly December 15).
Available now at ShopLVA.com