Podcast: Fantasy Fiction with Ennis Rook Bashe
The Disability Download
In this episode, Gwenyth Withers chats to disabled, neuroqueer author Ennis Rooke Bashe. We talk to them all about their debut novel and look at disabled experience of media creation and consumption.
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Gwenyth Withers: Hello, and welcome to the Disability Download. Brought to you by pan disability, charity, Leonard Cheshire. On this podcast, we respond to current topics and events, share stories, and open up conversations about disability. Today, we're talking with an up-and-coming American author. I am speaking to you from York in the UK while our guest is based in Brooklyn, New York, which is a weird symmetry- at least I think so.
My name is Gwenyth Withers (pronouns: she/her) and I work at Leonard Cheshire. I am a disabled, queer literature nerd. So, feel well-equipped introduced today's guest. Ennis Rooke Bashe is a disabled, neuroqueer romance author who has just released their debut novel- A Scheme of Sorcery.
This is a foray into an epic world of adventure and lesbian romance. We'll be discussing Ennis' work, writing intersectionality and magical cats. What more could you ask for? Let's dive straight in.
Hi. Ennis really great to see you. How are you doing?
Ennis Rook Bashe: I'm great. I'm doing my graduate school field placement at a chronic illness patient organization. So, I am just delighted to give back to the community. Honestly, I'm helping people apply for disability, which is this huge process in the United States. And I'm treating mental health content empowers chronically ill people to find therapists. And I am working on my next novel, slow and steady, which is about queer and trans people battling metaphorical and literal demons with the help of talking cats.
Gwenyth: Well, that sounds amazing. Like getting disability in the UK is also an incredibly lengthy process. It took me about 18 months and to end it was not ideal. Now, alongside all of that great stuff, you are out promoting your new novel A Scheme of Sorcery. Could you tell us a bit about it?
Ennis: All right. So, there are two main characters. Edwynne is the only girl training to become a Knight and she wants to connect with her birth parents’ culture, because she's just found out she's adopted, and Sariva is a lady in waiting to a progressive new queen, and she's just really tired of outsiders asking about her culture.
So, when Edwin comes along like, oh, tell me about, you know, your religion and your culture, and your family, she's just furious.
So, it's kind of hate at first sight. And they get kicked out of a lot of things because nobody wants to deal with their drama. But then the queen gets cursed, and they have to work together to save her. And of course, this is a romance, so they fall in love.
Gwenyth: Oh, you have to love an enemies to lovers plot line. It's always such an exciting trajectory. How long did it take you to write?
Ennis: so, I worked on it from around 2016 to 2018, and then I came back to do revisions in 2020 and early 2021
Gwenyth: There was a lot of change in that period. I mean, especially where you are in America, did that change the story or themes at all?
Ennis: Yeah, I feel like it definitely went from a like utopian, socialist fantasy about how hope always wins to something with a significantly darker plot and a lot more real peril for the characters. I was really inspired by the bravery of the activists around me and watching my community create mechanisms for hope and mutual aid.
Gwenyth: That's so interesting. It's such a significant switch. It is great to see that you persevered and ended up with such a great final result. What are your tips for writers who may find themselves struggling to write or slowed down by different circumstances, like the pandemic or disability?
Ennis: You know, I think writing everyday doesn't necessarily work for everyone. And like the way I picture it is that sitting down and writing like a sentence, or a hundred words is a million times better than nothing. I also use dictation software and I've had my physical therapist help me set up an ergonomic computer chair and keyboard set up for when I'm working at my computer. I think that like writing slowly but finishing your projects and submitting them is better than like somebody who writes really fast and finishes a lot of products but doesn’t necessarily polish or share their work.
Gwenyth: That makes a lot of sense. I have trouble as somebody who doesn't even start. I think I'll try a little bit of writing whenever I feel up for it.
Ennis: Just a couple hundred words every day, even a couple sentences.
Gwenyth: That does make sense as I have fatigue. So that will be all I can manage. I am a huge fan of fantasy and read it almost exclusively.
I've come to realize that for me, a huge part of that is about escapism. My chronic pain and exhaustion mean that I have to be very gentle with myself day to day. Which, it turns out it's pretty boring. So, when I have the energy, I want to experience adventure and excitement and lose myself in a different world.
And I think quite a few people with disability, you feel that way. Why did you choose specifically to focus on fantastical stories?
Ennis: So, when I was a kid, I was a weird kid who cried a lot and got bullied a lot. And I've always seen fantasy as a genre where like the weird kids who get bullied are the ones who end up saving the world.
Like in Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynn Jones, Gail Carson- Levine, you know, a lot of classics. And it's a genre where ordinary people can change the world in some very big and concrete ways.
Gwenyth: I like that.
Ennis: Yeah. Like what if evil was this guy? And you could kill him by throwing some jewellery into a volcano. What if you could stop the people trying to hurt your home by like sending an army of squirrels to go there... or like destroy the concept of hell and like tell everybody there to go home.
Gwenyth: Yeah. That sounds like the best way to tackle difficult things using magic and other dimensions.
Ennis: It's definitely a genre with like a lot of hope. Oh yeah. Something Neil Gaiman said that's like attributed to a bunch of other authors, but he wrote it ...its, fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.
Gwenyth: I love Neil Gaiman and that's such a valid point, especially watching good omens. That was great. Like it's one of the best things. The show's brilliant. David Tennant and Michael Sheen, creating something utterly magical and charismatic and driven.
Ennis: I need to check out the show.
Gwenyth: You'll love it. So, in terms of fantasy work, your earlier work rescued by the married monster hunter. Is a good example of minority representation, with a queer throuple romance, featuring disabled protagonists. Can you tell us a little bit about the story and why you chose to explore this?
Ennis: So basically, I was like a bit miffed at this super popular TV show called the Witcher, which everybody's probably heard of. There's this character who's disabled and portrayed as like super ugly. And then she gets magically fixed by a wizard and the actress takes off, you know, the ridiculous looking prosthetics. And then she's this hot protagonist who wears eyeliner and flirts with all the men. And.
Gwenyth: Oh- that's not ideal.
Ennis: Yeah. I was like, you know what? That's bullshit. So, then this other show, um, which I'm obsessed with and have written a lot of fan fiction for, Castlevania was like, let's introduce this male character’s bisexuality by having him enjoy a threesome with two characters, who immediately try to murder him and then let's never bring up polyamory ever again.
Gwenyth: That's not a great point to open that social discussion on polyamory with really?
Ennis: Yeah, and so a lot of my writing process is just seeking out stuff that like, as Marie Kondo would put it doesn't spark joy for me. And then just going, okay. I can do better.
Ennis: Yeah. So, both like the Witcher and Castlevania or shows that have like this triad of protagonists and these very like dark Eastern European settings that are almost characters.
So, I wanted to like riff on them and combine them and also make really hot monsters because who doesn't love hot monsters.
Gwenyth: They are a key part of a good story. Your monster hunters, they're all disabled, right?
Ennis: Yeah. It's like the monster hunter schools. There are these places where if people abandoned their disabled children, or if disabled people don’t feel safe in their homes, or if their families can't care for them, they can theoretically run away or like escape to these schools and they'll get treatment and friends and community and training.
And there are a bunch of people who like don't have the physical capabilities to be out in the field fighting monsters. So, they're doing like researching and training and studying. So, it's the school of all disabled monster hunters who don't have to be cured to be bad-ass hot protagonists. And I'm hoping to explore it more in future works in this setting.
Gwenyth: I'm really looking forward to that.
Ennis: Thank you. Me too.
Gwenyth: You never see many stories where the disabled people are either not cured and have a good life or aren't used as a point of pity.
Ennis: Yeah, I actually don't think I've ever seen something with like more than one disabled person, you know, people like have definitely posed the idea of a disability Bechdel test.
Gwenyth: That would be very interesting. Not many things would pass.
Ennis: Yeah. I honestly, I can probably think of like one or two, but of course it's all by disabled authors
Gwenyth: that does unfortunately make sense. Another thing that I wanted to bring up is intersectionality. At Leonard Cheshire. I have recently been given the chance to explore this idea of intersectionality, promoting the stories of those who exist at the intersection of minority identities and taking the opportunity to educate others within the organization and externally. Um, what does intersectionality mean to you as someone who is queer, disabled, Jewish and nonbinary?
Ennis: So, I'm in social work, graduate school and something that's brought up a lot in my program is that it's easier to think about our oppressions than our privileges. And like in addition to being all of those lovely things you've just described; I am financially stable. I'm thin. I'm white. I can like pass as an able person.
And intersectionality means listening to people who don't have those advantages and striving to be, you know, an accomplice to collective liberation. And I've had some amazing friends, call me out when I was like ignorant and that's something I really appreciate. I see that as kind of an act of love.
Gwenyth: Yeah. Because they feel safe enough around you to say, Hey, put the brakes on. You need to learn about this. So, you're in a grad program at the minute?
Ennis: I love it. Um, I am studying social work at New York University, um, which is beautiful. And it's honestly been my dream school ever since I was a high school freshman.
Gwenyth: That's so cool. What was it like for you trying to complete your undergrad degree while struggling with disability?
Ennis: So, I had migraines which was misdiagnosed as Lyme disease. So, I was very high on anti-malarials and basically all I did was go to class, do homework and sleep. Um, my social life really suffered, and I had a lot of people drop out of my life entirely, once I became too sick to party.
Gwenyth: That's something I had similar experiences with when my M.E. got worse while I was at uni.
Ennis: That sucks.
Gwenyth: Yeah. Trying to keep on top of everything and anything beyond the work was a lot. Like, so you guys are going out partying, but that's not an option for me. It was a big disparity and it built in those situations, like it kept building
Ennis: and I faced a lot of BS from teachers. Um, there was this one teacher who threatened to fail me because I couldn't read the footnotes in the book with tiny font, that he'd assigned. I had a teacher who didn't write me in the writing class who didn't want me in the writing class he was teaching because I couldn't hand-write. I spent a lot of the time listening to audio books in bed with the lights off and, um, writing with the lights off with like the minimum screen brightness on my computer.
Gwenyth: Yeah. So, some lovely ableism.
Ennis: Oh yeah, absolutely. Just, you know, spectacular.
Gwenyth: Oh dear. So, did, did it improve later on in the degree?
Ennis: Yeah, a bit. Um, I was able, I got some answers and a diagnosis. And medication that actually worked and I was able to care for a delightful, emotional support animal.
Gwenyth: Yes, that's your cat, Peanut, isn't it?
Ennis: Yes. Peanut is an 18-pound light ginger little man who loves, um, screaming and hates everybody except me. His favourite game is to jump onto the bed and try to get my face.
Gwenyth: That is classic cat. I similarly found that getting animals made a huge difference. I got a dog that became eight dogs then went down to two, uh, unexpected pregnancy that started before I rehomed her, but nobody knew. We found six puppies good homes. And I kept the only one she liked. So now I have two dogs!
Ennis: Oh, that's nice!
Gwenyth: Right, animals, cat. Let's talk about what you're currently working on.
Ennis: Yes. Um, as I mentioned before, I am working on this story about queer and trans people fighting mental illness and also demons from another world with the help of talking cats. Um, it's sort of like Mercedes Lackey, but instead of horses, it’s cats- because I don't know anything about horses and it's also kind of a magic school story because they're going to college.
So, it's sort of like this idealized college experience that I've never gotten to have and I'm living vicariously through these characters. Um, I workshopped it in Francesca Leah Blacks, magical realism class. And I don't want to have a title yet. I, am, 40, 50,000 words into it.
Gwenyth: I'm sure a title will come later if you've already delved like this far into the story
Ennis: and I'm trying to work on it a little bit every day.
Gwenyth: Right? So, what real world problems are your characters dealing with in this one? Because I realized that in all of your fantasy work, these relatable issues are well addressed.
Ennis: Uh, yep. So, they're, the characters are dealing with issues like depression, PTSD, negative self-talk, um, having to worry about like, you know, am I good enough? Do I really deserve to be in a place where I'm happy and accepted? And the fantasy genre provides a really interesting metaphorical lens to explore all of that through.
Gwenyth: That sounds like it's going to be great. My imagination is piqued by all the stories you're putting together.
Ennis: Yay, thank you! I've been writing and publishing since I was in high school.
Gwenyth: Is the work we discussed available online?
Ennis: Yes, it is available wherever eBooks are sold. A Scheme of Sorcery is available on the website of my publisher, nine-star press. And there are links to the majority of my books on my website ennisrookbashe.com.
Gwenyth: Great. Online books are so accessible. Do you think the internet has improved opportunities for writers?
Ennis: Yes, absolutely. Um, when I was a kid, you know, I wrote my first book and my parents wanted to like show support by helping me self-publish it. And it costs like hundreds of dollars and like there were problems with the cover and it was like, Ugly looking and hard to get. And we just had to pay like so much just for this cardboard box of copies in our basement. And now I see kids, you know, self-publishing with their families and people of all ages, self-publishing, and it just like takes a couple clicks.
Gwenyth: Now, are there any good websites for people to look at who are getting into publishing some of that?
Ennis: Yes. Um, there's something called the submission grinder, which is a submission tracker and market database. Um, and then there's duotrope, which is very much the same sort of thing. And I've also got, um, Trishhopkinson.com. Um, this poet has this list of, um, small presses and magazines.
Gwenyth: Well, hopefully some of our listeners will take the chance to submit their work.
Ennis: I love like just dashing stuff off and submitting it to Zines, anthologies. It's very fun. I would definitely suggest like writing a poem or a short story or a novella before you like try and push yourself through a whole novel.
Gwenyth: Yeah. That's a much bigger project to take on. It probably is worth taking smaller steps to get there first. Are there any books or authors that you would recommend to our listeners?
Ennis: Yeah. So lately I've been reading this contemporary author called Reese Morrison who writes like just these really lovely, wholesome, gentle, and, you know, dare I say it, sexy, modern, queer romances. Um, and also my favourite book of all time is Gideon the Ninth, which is about a lesbian necromancer and a lesbian swordswoman who were sort of thrown together by circumstances. And it's also very enemies to lovers- with a lot of unexpected, funny things happening.
Ennis: Um, and I also edited this polyamorous monster romance novella that I think it's just come out. Um, it's called mirror monster on the wall or mirror monster on my wall. Let me, let me look this up. Yes. Okay.
It's called Mirror Monster on My Wall by Tam Anne McNevin.
Gwenyth: Okay. Brilliant.
Ennis: And I edited it and it's really good.
Gwenyth: We'll look to get all of these recommendations put up somewhere on our website or social media, so listeners can engage with them if they want. I don't want anyone to miss the opportunities that you're mentioning.
Ennis: Thank you. I really love helping other writers.
Gwenyth: I love the community spirit that you're trying to bring to writing and how much you seem to want to help other writers.
Ennis: Thank you.
Gwenyth: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. It's been really great, and I wish you the best and I hope, really hope that your novel, A Scheme of Sorcery, gets all the attention it deserves!
Ennis: Thank you! I am very hopeful.
Gwenyth: So, make sure to check out Scheme of Sorcery. You can follow Ennis on Twitter @rookthebird. For more information about this author, including other work, you can check out their website, www.ennisrookbashe.com.
If you want to learn more about intersectionality, take a look at our recent blog series, At the Intersection. you can find links to this on our Twitter, or you can look on our website under stories. Any views and opinions expressed in today's episode are the thoughts of the individuals involved.
If you have any thoughts relating to what we discussed today, feel free to get in touch. You can do this by emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can DM us on Instagram or Twitter @LeonardCheshire.
My thanks to go to Steve at Finn partners for getting in touch and introducing Ennis. I'd also like to thank Erin and Sam at Leonard Cheshire for producing and promoting this podcast as well as our wonderful volunteer editor, Sally Raper and Rob Withers for the initial edit.
This has been the Disability Download. I have been Gwenyth Withers.
Please check out our other episodes, such as our previous episode from retail to record label, where we interviewed Grace Capaldi about founding her own record label, during the pandemic. Or perhaps, if you're after something a little nerdier, check out our 2020 episode about video games.
If you have a guest in mind that you think we should interview, tag them on social, tag us and let us know, you could also email us thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful rest of your day.
Recommendations from The Disability Download
During this episode, disabled, neuroqueer author, Ennis Rook Bashe made some useful suggestions and recommendations. We've pulled together a document with all the links mentioned in the podcast.