Today, I welcome Kayla Bashe to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about writing out of spite (which might just be the best kind!), Miles Morales and what he means for representation, chronic illness, and their latest book, The Prince and Her Dreamer, a queer retelling of The Nutcracker, out from Less Than Three Press.
Kayla Bashe, currently testing out the name Ennis in their personal life, is a Sarah Lawrence graduate, game designer, educator, and poet/novelist currently based in Brooklyn. Their poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Mirror Dance, Cricket, and Liminality, among others, and their chapbook Glitter Blood was a 2018 Elgin Award nominee. Several of their novellas have been published by Less Than Three Press.
Find more about Kayla and their writing at https://kaybashe.wordpress.com/.
1. What is your writing origin story?
In middle school, I had high-speed internet access, and a lot of free time. So I did what any kid would do: NaNoWriMo. (Okay, maybe not any kid, but my moon is in Virgo.) I quickly realized that reading stories to my class and publishing them in the school newspaper was a great way to get attention from my peers.
2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?
The main thing that inspires me is sheer spite. Star Wars mentioned that Snoke wore slippers and a bathrobe all the time because decades of using the Dark Side had warped his body and given him chronic pain, so I wrote a short story about a space traveler with chronic pain- and then turned it into a novel. Notorious SFF abuser Marion Zimmer Bradley created an entire body of work that portrayed femme people as shallow and flighty, so I wrote a novel about femmes and masc-of-center people working to save a kingdom. Currently, I’m querying both. I keep my inspiration alive by thinking about the people who will be impacted by my work.
3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?
With the new Spider-Man movie out, my favorite thing in the entire world has become watching videos of little kids who look like Miles Morales flipping out about the existence of Miles Morales. Every time some tiny, tiny, perfect human yells “That’s me! I’m ‘piderman!” my heart grows like five sizes, because I genuinely CANNOT EVEN.
When someone sees their self in my work, it’s even cooler: I made someone happy with my words! For me, representation isn’t something I have to think about, it’s just a way of making my writing accurate to my everyday life and the lives of the people around me. Anyone who creates art set in NYC and populates the city with only white people doesn’t deserve to live here.
4. What is your writing process like?
As someone with ADHD, the traditional “quiet room with no distractions” feels like a distraction in and of itself. I do my best writing in stimulating settings: drafting a short story at a raucous house party, writing a novella scene at a nightclub. One of the novels I’m working on publishing, Lyric of the Crystal Planet, was written entirely on the subway and train during my commute to an internship.
5. How does chronic illness impact or feature in your writing?
Chronic illness has forced me to be flexible- not only in terms of my writing schedule, but also in terms of how I write. After each of my hand surgeries, I experimented with new methods; dictation, typing with one finger, telling my stories out loud to a helpful listener. During college, I had such severe headaches and light sensitivity from undiagnosed and untreated Ehlers-Danlos that I believed I was going blind, so I challenged myself to write descriptive prose without using any visual detail. Additionally, being almost entirely homebound (dormbound) during college sparked my interest in meditation and the occult, which is why so many of my characters are witches, psychics, or otherwise outside the norm.
6. What is your best piece of writing advice?
Something that works for me, and that I think more writers could think about, is trying new things. Novel not working for you? Switch to poetry. Short stories feeling dull? Write a game. Whenever I feel burnt out or stuck in one genre, I try writing in another.
7. What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?
I’m a very accommodating person, so the hardest lesson I learned was how to, as the classic vine says, “block out the haters.” Such as the cis queer person who gave me a bad review because my demigirl protagonist didn’t feel nonbinary enough, or the abled queer person who couldn’t understand why my characters had to be “queer AND mentally ill.” I can’t make everyone happy, I just have to write.
8. What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
I hope readers will remember how beautiful, magical, and important they are to the world and to the lives of the people around them, even amidst a society that tries to say they’re not valuable. That they don’t have to be “normal” or “perfect” to get a HEA.
9. What is a great queer book you have read recently?
I read Rose Lemberg’s poetry collection Marginalia to Stone Bird between acts at a burlesque show. The way that they used free verse as a worldbuilding and storytelling tool really made me re-envision what was possible for speculative poetry as a fiction vehicle. I also binged Sassafrass Lowrey’s Patreon stories and queer Christmas Carol retelling and ugly cried in a Bushwick piano bar, which is to say, you should probably read Sassafrass Lowrey.
10. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
At the moment, I’m focused on game design; I just got accepted into a zine focused on the Bard class in Dungeons and Dragons, and I’m going to be a Kickstarter stretch goal in “More Kittens” by Glittercats Fine Amusements. Meanwhile, I’m querying two novels and a chapbook, and looking forward to edits on Courier’s Run, a novella inspired by my love of long-distance running and Scottish accents. It’s set in a world where most of the population has turned into hungry ghosts, and the survivors have lost their memory. The main character works for a professor bent on human extinction- but meeting a dangerous, confident older woman forces her to re-think her goals. It’s super gay.
Clara feels stifled by the life that's been planned out for her, and clings to her only hope that something more might be possible: a mysterious book given to her by her Uncle Drosselmeyer, that recounts the tales of the magnificent warrior woman known as the Red Prince.
Decades ago, Drosselmeyer trapped the Red Prince in the form of a doll to save her from the Rats. When the magic of Clara's selfless admiration restores her to human form, she and Clara must find a way to stand against the Rats once and for all if they hope to enjoy the life they've always longed for...
Buy your copy here: