I met Author David H Reiss at WorldCon in San Jose. He had a great table and an interesting story. I am delighted to feature him here on No Wasted Ink.
My name is David Reiss, author and sci-fi/fantasy fan. While growing up, I was that weird kid with my nose in a book and my head in the clouds. I was the table-top role-playing game geek, the comic-book nerd, the story-teller, and the dreamer.
Fortunately, I haven’t changed much.
Most of my hobbies revolve around exploring the skills and crafts that I’ve read about in fiction, ranging from primitive stone-age technology to modern robotics. I’ve forged medieval armor and built replica lightsabers, programmed autonomous drones and knapped an arrowhead from flint, started fires by rubbing sticks together and started fires with lasers. I’ve fought with swords, picked locks, taken combat-driving courses, jumped from bridges, and studied a half-dozen martial arts. And I’m mediocre at all these things.
But I’m having fun, and that’s what counts.
When and why did you begin writing?
The first part is a difficult question to answer. I may as well have been born with a pen in my hand because I certainly have no childhood memories from before I started writing. I was a socially awkward, lonely, depressed kid and I had difficulties interacting with my peers; at a very young age, reading became my preferred method for escaping from reality. I disappeared into fantastical worlds of fiction…where dragons and space-ships flew, where brave heroes proudly faced unbeatable odds, and where friendships born under adversity became lifelong bonds. Fiction made sense to me in a way that the real world did not…and thus writing fiction became a means for me to make sense of the world.
As I matured, my focus shifted to honing my craft – to establishing effective communication, to wordsmithing, to coherent plotting, to theme, and to character growth arcs. But my process of writing is still, at some level, one of therapeutic self-evaluation.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was ten or eleven, I stumbled across the red-boxed Dungeons and Dragon basic rules and pored through the contents. I didn’t have anyone to play with at first, but even so the mental shift was jarring; I suddenly realized that stories weren’t just something to be consumed…they were something that could be SHARED. Prior to that moment, I’d primarily considered myself to be a reader who happened to write. After that, I was a writer.
Can you share a little bit about your current book with us?
I’m currently working on a trilogy that falls within the difficult-to-categorize sub-genre of superheroic prose and follows the adventures of one of the world’s most feared supervillains…the notorious Doctor Fid. While there is plenty of action to propel the plotlines forward, much of the focus is placed upon the protagonist’s personal evolution: his history and motivations, his moral strengths and tragic flaws, his grief and his spectacularly bad coping mechanisms. The novels are as much about Doctor Fid’s humanity as they are about his actions.
What inspired you to write this book?
In a weird way, this series happened by accident.
I was experiencing some difficulties while writing a science-fiction novel and decided to write a short story to clear my head. With the recent explosion of comic-book themed cinematic blockbusters and television shows, I thought that a superhero story might make for a fun little project.
But, here’s the thing: from a fairly young age, I’d been fascinated by antagonists and their motivations. I’d wanted to know more about Smaug’s, about all pain and loss that must surely have shaped the dragon into the greedy wyrm that had claimed the Lonely Mountain. Years before Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical, I wrote stories about the tragic childhood of the boy who would grow up to be the Phantom of the Opera. Etc., etc. And as I started jotting down notes for my superhero story, I found myself becoming enthralled with the villain.
Instead of a light romp, I ended up writing a deep dive into the mind of a villain: a non-linear stream-of-consciousness piece in a style informed by the works of Faulkner and Vonnegut. It was chewy and technically well-written…but it wasn’t enjoyable. So, I tore it apart, poked and prodded until I eventually realized that I’d unearthed the bones of something much larger than a short story.
All this occurred at about the same time that I acquired some new software that helped me to better organize my thought and writings. And so…even though the vast majority of my prior projects have been ‘traditional’ sci-fi or fantasy, my first actually-completed novels ended up being superheroic prose.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Yes, and no. I have a ‘default’ writing style, but I often make a conscious effort to alter my delivery depending on the project that I’m working on. So…The Chronicles of Fid has a specific voice that I’m attempting to maintain, which will likely be different than the narrative style that I use when I eventually finish my sci-fi novel, The Floating Cities, or my planned fantasy epic.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The protagonist in these stories is ultimately a tragic figure, haunted by guilt and grief; it is only when he starts making connections to others that he slowly regains his own humanity. So, I guess that if there is any one thing that I want my readers to take away from these novels, it is this: If you’re hurting, don’t try to go it alone.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Lois McMaster Bujold, because Miles Vorkosigan is such a brilliant, flawed and nuanced protagonist that I am constantly inspired to look deeper when creating characters of my own. And as a short, awkward guy who struggled for years with constant crippling back pain, it was inspiring to read about a hero who wasn’t six foot two and didn’t solve every problem with a punch to the jaw. Wits and forward momentum made for a far more compelling hero.
Mercedes Lackey, for writing The Last Herald Mage. Also, for being incredibly kind, gracious and supportive when I happened to visit her in person a few decades ago.
Finally, Spider Robinson. I read Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon at a time in my life when I desperately needed to. It saved my life, and completely changed my conception of who I wanted to be and what I wanted from life. In between all the terrible puns and shaggy dog stories and in-jokes, he managed to make me believe in humanity.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
The cover for my first novel was illustrated by Hampton Lamoureoux from TS95 Studios; I’d reached out to several artists, and of all those who responded he was the one who sounded most enthusiastic about the project. This style of cover doesn’t really play to his strengths, but he did an excellent job and I’m very happy with his work.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to work together for subsequent novels. I created the cover for Behind Distant Stars myself.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read outside your preferred genre(s)! Your own narrative voice will evolve as you gather exposure to different styles and patterns.
Spend time studying marketing and salesmanship. Even if you go the traditional publishing route, many publishers are now expecting for new authors to do a lot of their own promotion. Writing a great book is only the first step…the hard work starts after you type ‘The End’.
Don’t give up. Not every project will succeed. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll get rejection letters and you’ll get bad reviews. Life ‘ll knock you down. Learn from every setback and then get back to work; I promise that it’ll get better.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
First, I’ve recently discovered that my debut novel, Fid’s Crusade, has been selected as a finalist for the 2018 BookLife Prize; to celebrate, I’ve decided to make the eBook available for free for the dates between 11/5/18 and 11/9/18.
Second, I would like to tell my readers that my web page has a ‘contact me’ webform, and I would love to hear from them all!
Finally…I want to thank each and every one of them. I hope that they’ve enjoyed reading my work as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
David H. Reiss
San Jose, CA
Behind Distant Stars
Book Two in the Chronicles of Fid