David H. Reiss "...The modern superhero fable is just a relatively-recent twist on a very old narrative tradition...."
I have had the great fortune to chat with David H. Reiss, author of The Chronicles of Fid, what Fid is like, where he got his ideas, and finally a bit about the author battling depression. Something that has hit many of uf us in the writing and reading community in the last year hard. Myself included.
Fid is a great read, and one of my favorites reads from 2020. It is the type of story where you have no idea where it is going to go, but you are enthralled and want to know more.
I have had the great fortune of reading Fid’s Crusade; I even bought the Audiobook to get the full effect. It was a hard sell to me originally because this is a genre that I know nothing about. How would you introduce Fid to a new prospective reader?
The roots that underpin superhero stories run deep, and tales about individuals with greater-than-human abilities have been a part of literature for as long as literature has existed. Ever since the Epic of Gilgamesh, some authors have used characters with superhuman traits to illustrate aspects of the human condition. Grand conflicts excite the imagination, but the meat of the tale is always the heroes’ personal arcs: the characters’ moral strengths and very human weaknesses, the choices that the heroes make, and the consequences that inevitably follow.
The modern superhero fable is just a relatively-recent twist on a very old narrative tradition. Even if you’ve never read a single comic book, these stories can—I hope—still have power. Don’t be dissuaded by the colorful costumes and flashy special effects! The real story is about the people behind the masks.
Where did you get the idea for Fid?
He is indeed a fresh take on a villain and the superhero genre in general. I was young when I read John Gardner’s Grendel—a beautifully written and terribly tragic deep dive into the mind of Beowulf’s monster. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by the thought process and motivations of a story’s antagonist.
It was, I think, inevitable that I would eventually pen a tale from the villain’s perspective. I chose to start with a supervillain out of a realization that—even more commonly than in other genres— superheroes are primarily reactive by nature: Clark Kent is content to spend his days as a mild-mannered reporter until someone calls for Superman, and if the Joker stays home to binge-watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel then Batman is just a weird guy hanging out on rooftops while dressed like a flying mouse.
The superheroes generally only swoop into action in response to threats caused by the antagonists’ actions. Almost every time, it is the villain who makes the first move. The serial nature of the comic book industry makes this an oft-repeating cycle. I’d read several stories that focused on the effect that this cycle has on the heroes’ mental state. What, I wondered, would it be like from the villain’s side? With Doctor Fid, I wanted to explore the psyche of a character who’d made that first move…over and over and over again.
What would you think was most influential on getting you on the road to being a writer?
I was a socially awkward, lonely, and depressed kid, and—when the world became too difficult—I usually found a book and escaped into fantastical realms of fiction: where dragons and space-ships flew, where brave heroes proudly faced unbeatable odds, and where friendships born under adversity became lifelong bonds. Reading was my refuge.
Writing served a different purpose. Tom Clancy once said that the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense, and to me that has always felt true. Writing fiction, therefor, became a means for me to make sense of reality. Learning to write characters who felt real and believable helped improve my ability to understand (and interact with) my peers. Learning to write dialogue helped improve my own communications skills. Etc., etc.
Reading was an escape from reality, whereas writing was training to live within it. I was, I think, already well on the road towards being a writer by the time that I learned to write for the pure joy of creation. Is there a book or series that really affected your view of science fiction and fantasy as a writer? I read you were a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga is certainly one of my major influences. So much of science fiction and fantasy focuses on protagonist-as-action-hero, and that’s a role for which Miles Vorkosigan is fundamentally unsuited. Watching him come into his own—learning to live within his own skin and find his own path towards heroism—was incredibly powerful to me. I love those books and re-read them on a regular basis. Another series that affected my view of sci-fi and fantasy was Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson.
It was tremendously refreshing to read stories that focused more on healing than on conflict. Some of the puns were painful, but the underlying message (that kindness, laughter and camaraderie are all fundamentally redemptive acts) was inspiring. That book didn’t just effect my view of science fiction and fantasy…it effected my view of humanity.
What kind of research did you do to write Fids?
I didn’t do that much new research for Fid’s Crusade, but I know that I relied heavily upon past research: years of exploring different hobbies, learning new skills, training in a variety of disciplines, watching documentaries, etc. One nice thing being a writer is that nothing you experience is ever truly wasted; every single thing that you see, hear, smell, taste or feel is stuck in the back of your head, waiting to be used.
The only things that I remember going out of my way to research for The Chronicles of Fid were quantum mechanics and brane theory. Doctor Fid is, after all, a brilliant scientist and mathematician; I wanted to have at least a basic understanding of those subjects before mangling them into comic-book-science.
You are I have talked pretty openly about our battles with depression. Can you tell me a bit about your struggles and how it has affected you creatively?
It should surprise no one that depression can be incredibly debilitating. I’m currently fighting my way out from a long period of seriously impaired productivity. Everyone’s battle with depression is different. For me, though, the way depression tore at me was never simple or straightforward. It never impaired my imagination, nor did it keep me me from world building, weaving plot lines, or constructing characters.
I never lacked for ideas…but still, the words did not come. It’s not that I felt ‘bad’…it’s that I barely felt anything at all. Depression dulled my ability to care, leaving me dull and unmotivated. For me at least, feeling had always been important for the act of creation.
It was always difficult to portray a happy character when I couldn’t remember what happiness felt like. It was difficult to write about a towering rage when even the thought of anger felt muted and distant. That was the struggle: finding a way back to poke a hole in whatever dam was holding back my my emotions. Depression was, is, a battle…but, fortunately, battles can be fought. Over the years, I’d found coping mechanisms that worked for me, activities that broke the cycle of depression and raised my mood.
For a long time, what worked was taking on new hobbies—usually in some way related to possible subjects of future novels: martial arts, drone piloting, flint-knapping, armor smithing, hang-gliding, swordsmanship, parkour, bushcraft, etc.
Being focused on something new provided a spark, an ember that could be nursed until its flame burned away the fog. Sometimes, those old coping mechanisms don’t function as well as I’d like. Sometimes, things are hard. (They certainly are right now; the last year hasn’t been a particularly easy one.) But that just means new methods need to be found. Therapy, meditation, asking for support from friends and family, etc.…there still are lots of things to try. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’m okay right now…but that’s all right. I will be, eventually.
Beth Note: David was very candid about his struggles with depression. Thank you David for shining a light on something that is sometimes a taboo subject, but is a very real thing. We were going to continue going back and forth, but I think he laid his experience out there and what has helped him.
Check Out My Review for Fid's Crusade
If you would like to purchase David's book
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About the Author
While growing up, David was that weird kid with his nose in a book and his head in the clouds. He was the table-top role-playing game geek, the comic-book nerd, the story-teller and dreamer.
Fortunately, he hasn’t changed much.
David is a software engineer by trade and a long-time sci-fi and fantasy devotee by passion, and he lives in Silicon Valley with his partner of twenty-eight years. Until recently, he also shared his life with a disturbingly spoiled cat named Freya.
(Farewell, little huntress. You were loved. You are missed.)
Fear not…Two new kittens have since crept into the household and are working tirelessly to repair the hole left in the author’s heart.
David’s first trilogy, the Chronicles of Fid, has just recently been completed; these were his first novel-length projects, but they certainly won’t be his last—he’s having far too much fun!