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Author Ennis Rook Bashe on How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

An Interview With Ian Benke

I think the reason a lot of people don’t write is that they see it as something difficult with a lot of rules. You have to write every day, or else! You have to read this many books about writing, or else! You have to sell a book by the time you’re this age, or else! I’ve seen fellow writers, no matter how successful, stress about the ‘rules’ to the degree that it gets in the way of their craft. That’s why I’m going to break away from the pack here and say the only thing you ‘need’ to write a story is an idea that you’re passionate about and want to share with others.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are hugely popular genres. What does it take for a writer today, to write compelling and successful Science Fiction and Fantasy stories? Authority Magazine started a new series called “How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories”. In this series we are talking to Science Fiction or Fantasy authors, or an authority or expert on how to write compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ennis Rook Bashe.

Ennis Rook Bashe (they/them) is a disabled queer poet and YA fantasy novelist from the New York area, whose writing centers around themes of hope and community. Her new book is A Scheme of Sorcery.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what first drew you to writing over other forms of storytelling?

I think every other form of creativity requires things that writing doesn’t, whether it’s supplies, a dedicated space to work, or simply people to collaborate with. Writing only requires your imagination. Even having a way to take notes is optional. As someone who was an incredibly shy kid, I loved the idea that my happiness didn’t need to depend on anyone else- instead of standing on the playground waiting for someone to notice me, I could just slip a pencil and a piece of paper in my pocket and make my own fun.

You are a successful author. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’m really lucky in that coming up with new ideas and thinking outside the box has always come easily to me. For example, when I was a kid, I used to volunteer at local holiday toy drives helping to wrap presents. Even though the process made sense to everyone else, I couldn’t understand why I got presents on my birthday and at holidays, but the less fortunate children in the community weren’t getting birthday presents. That’s why, as an elementary schooler, I spent a few years creating and heading up a nonprofit called “Birthday Boxes.” I worked with a local family service agency to identify low-income kids with upcoming birthdays and harangued my day school classmates into handing over their allowances. Apparently, this netted me some kind of award from the state… though of course the ceremony was after my bedtime.

In addition, I’ve never had a problem with doing research for projects, because I love learning. When single-use plastic bags were still popular, I’d go to the local library with a plastic bag… and I’d always check out so many books that the bag would tear when I was halfway home. Luckily, libraries offer e-books now, so that hasn’t been a problem in years!

Finally, I’ve never cared about fitting in, which I think is important for creativity. Another story from my childhood illustrates this perfectly- when I was in second grade, we had to do colored-pencil reproductions of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” The class bulletin board featured 30 pictures with orange flowers in a yellow vase on a yellow background… and one picture with a bright purple gerbera daisy. My mother took a photo of it, and she got a huge kick out of saying “Guess which one is my kid!”

Can you tell us a bit about the interesting or exciting projects you are working on or wish to create? What are your goals for these projects?

Currently, I’m using my experience with mental health — both as a survivor of the system, and someone who’s working towards a degree in order to help others — to draft a novel about trans teenagers struggling with suicidal ideation, with a magical twist. I want to contribute to breaking the stigma and the silence around something so many young people go through. The characters in this project are fighting literal demons threatening to destroy their school and city because I want people surviving mental illness to recognize themselves as heroes.

I’m also outlining a sequel to my 2020 novella Rescued by the Married Monster Hunters. This series is so important to me- it’s not only a loving LGBT romance about recovering from trauma, it’s about a castle full of disabled warriors and magicians and the nonhuman beings who cherish them. Think Shape of Water meets The Witcher, but body-positive. I’m so excited to further develop this world.

Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define sci-fi or fantasy? How is it different from speculative fiction?

I picture speculative fiction as a big party tent. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and other subgenres like paranormal romance, slipstream, and the gothic are under that tent rocking out. Literary fiction might not want to come into the tent, but they keep swiping story elements from the buffet. You do you, literary fiction.

It seems that despite countless changes in media and communication technologies, novels and written fiction always survive, and as the rate of change increases with technology, written sci-fi becomes more popular. Why do you think that is?

Beats me. I’m just glad people are out there having fun.

In your opinion, what are the benefits to reading sci-fi, and how do they compare to watching sci-fi on film and television?

Every author I know has a celebrity or four who inspires their work. I have a Tom Holland fan friend, a Chris Evans fan friend, a “I watched Daredevil on Netflix five times during quarantine” fan friend- and they’re all bestselling authors! I love how a movie like Star Wars can bring people together, even if it brings them together to complain that they didn’t like the ending. TV and movies have really helped make genre fiction part of the mainstream cultural conversation. Where would we even be without the beloved ritual of nerd culture that is “put on your elf ears, we’re going to watch all 3 of the LOTR movies in a day?”

What authors and artists, dead or alive, inspired you to write?

I read Terry Pratchett religiously as an elementary schooler, because no one had bothered to tell me that his books weren’t for kids. The Discworld series taught me that you could write about dwarves and witches and royalty, and still address real, serious issues that resonated with modern people.

If you could ask your favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy author a question, what would it be?

I’d love to talk to one of my favorite authors who’s written several books or a series all set in the same world- Tamora Pierce, for instance, or a prolific series romance writer like Christine Feehan- and ask how they keep track of everything. I often don’t even remember a character’s hair color from one chapter to the next! I have some mild memory problems due to my disabilities, so writing a series may be tough for me, but it’s something I’m passionate about.

We’d like to learn more about your writing. How would you describe yourself as an author?

I’m interested in people. People having bad experiences, people having positive experiences, but most importantly, people connecting with and caring for each other. Genre fiction is amazing at putting people in situations where they have to deal with strong emotions and make hard choices. Maybe not everyone has taken the One Ring to Mordor, but we’ve all had to deal with overwhelming tasks, other people depending on us, or getting hopelessly lost along the way from point A to point B. I try to capture those universal emotions and feelings in my work.

Based on your own experience and success, what are the “Five Things You Need To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I think the reason a lot of people don’t write is that they see it as something difficult with a lot of rules. You have to write every day, or else! You have to read this many books about writing, or else! You have to sell a book by the time you’re this age, or else! I’ve seen fellow writers, no matter how successful, stress about the ‘rules’ to the degree that it gets in the way of their craft. That’s why I’m going to break away from the pack here and say the only thing you ‘need’ to write a story is an idea that you’re passionate about and want to share with others.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Entertainment, Business, VC funding, and Sports read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I’ve been incredibly lucky in terms of my ability to connect with people I admire on social media- but my all-time favorite author, Tamsyn Muir, is no longer online after being the subject of some vicious, unjustified cyberbullying. Her work is so powerful in how it addresses themes of trauma, mental health, and grief through the lens of genre tropes, and I really admire how she’s continued to publish and speak out against censorship. Very brave, very badass, goth as all hell.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is https://www.ennisrookbashe.com/, and I’m @rookthebird on Twitter. I also have a newsletter. (https://tinyletter.com/rookthebird)

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.


Author Ennis Rook Bashe on How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.