Author Charles Bastille On How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

An Interview With Ian Benke

Ian Benke
Authority Magazine
10 min readNov 14, 2021


A sense of history helps with fantasy, too. Game of Thrones is almost a history lesson in medieval behavior. Second, you need to allow your characters to imagine their way out of their predicaments for you. Breathe enough life into their personalities that they take over the writing process from you and dictate their behavior. If your writing becomes almost a channeling, I think you are really in business.

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 anyone who is a Science Fiction or Fantasy author, 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 Charles Bastille.

Charles Bastille wrote and self-published his first major works when he was in sixth grade. Using notebook paper, he created palm-sized comic booklets, The Adventures of Dr. Maums, which circulated around several classrooms. He has been writing fiction ever since. Most of his fiction has been stored away, as he worked day jobs, first in the advertising industry as a creative director and later as a software engineer. Charles has published several software development books for publishers such as Sybex, IDG, and Wiley and was a co-author of the industry classic HTML, XHTML, and CSS Bible. MagicLand is Charles’ debut novel. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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?

Well, this goes to the author bio I use. When I was still in grade school I made these little palm-sized comic books out of notebook paper, and they got distributed among my classmates. The comic books were about a galactic conqueror named Dr. Maums who bore an uncanny resemblance to the Addams Family’s Cousin It. You’d think a nerdy kid making these little comic books would get bullied, right? But the opposite happened. My classmates loved them. I did about 30 of them, and they all came back to me in one piece, although sometimes a bit beat up. Classmates started asking me when the next one would come around. I wasn’t a good enough artist to do comic books for a living, though. And I also knew that a lot of artistry can come from the written word. So I focused on that. Life got in the way, and I maintained day jobs, but I kept writing. The result is I have a backlog of stories and novels ready to burst out.

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?

Successful in the sense that I have completed and published a novel. And I guess that publishing a book should be considered a form of success. Time will tell how far that success ends up going. But I think that all writers who have published anything share one specific trait: persistence. We just keep writing, no matter what. A lot of us do that because it isn’t a chore to do so. It’s what we do, part of what defines us. I’ve worked in software development for nearly 20 years but I’m not a software engineer. I’m a writer. I would say a bit of rebelliousness is the second trait. If you tell me not to do something, it makes me want to do it. This comes in handy if you’re a writer, because there are always people trying to discourage you from doing it, even if their methods are sometimes passive aggressive.

The third trait isn’t so much a trait as an approach I took to finishing MagicLand. In the software biz we employ a process called agile development — interested readers can google it. I used that approach to focus on writing 5,000 words a day, no matter how bad they were. I figured I could clean it up later. So basically, I did an agile “sprint” to finish the book, because I got stuck early on. Once I started the sprint, the characters took over, and before I knew it, I was done.

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?

I’ve got two projects under development. One is the follow up to MagicLand, with a working title of Maoch’s Realm. It’s a bit grittier than MagicLand, which is this sort of sweet tale about a young couple in love within a dystopian existence. The second project I’m working on is called Restive Souls. It’s an alternative history novel in which the colonials lost the Revolutionary War and a massive slave rebellion, under the winking eye of the British, results in slaves taking several important Eastern Coast ports — since they were the ones working them. The ultimate result is that a great African empire rises in the Carolinas and becomes a dominant world power. This will be a three-part trilogy. The first book is almost done, and it covers the colonial rebellion and its aftermath. Think Ken Follet meets Black Panther.

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’m going to go with definition by example. MagicLand is both science fiction and fantasy. It is science fiction in that it involves the emergence of a human race of androids. It is fantasy because it involves a race of magicians. But it is also speculative fiction, because it contains a worst-case scenario if we continue to ignore the science behind climate change. My writing on the Medium platform could be interpreted by some as being written by a hard-core leftist or progressive, but the truth is that there was a ton of speculation during the 1970s about what might happen to the environment if the warnings were not heeded. Many of those warnings have come to life as real events. Those speculations were mainstream at the time, and the science wasn’t disputed. But now, for some reason, as the predicted events transpire, suddenly the science is in dispute by some. I’m a 1970s centrist living in Ayn Rand’s world, and my writing reflects that fact. So, my supposed far left leanings are just an illusion and a reflection of the times we live in.

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?

I think we have Gene Roddenberry to thank for that. There have been many sci-fi writers who have sort of predicted the future, but Star Trek initiated story lines that real world scientists have actually been trying to emulate. How many nonfiction stories do we see about attempts to create a warp drive or a transporter device? Star Trek characters were staring at and thumbing devices that looked like smart phones long before Steve Jobs planted them into the hands of most of the planet.

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

I don’t read as much sci-fi as I did in my youth. As I’ve gotten older, I have gravitated more towards real life and the classics. But I still do enjoy the occasional science fiction read. Having said that, no matter the genre, I’d say that the advantage of the book over the movies is the nuance of plot arcs and character development.

For example, there is just no comparison to me between Stephen King’s gunslinger series and the movie The Dark Tower, which sort of, in my opinion, infantilized the novels. Stephen King is also a poster child for why authors should not get involved with movie adaptations. Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of The Shining was artistry, but King hated it. The recent version of The Stand, which King was heavily involved in, resulted in a product that denigrates the story line as it devolves into a silly focus on the bad guy. All of the nuance of the novel, which I loved, disappears.

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a fabulous novel, but the beauty of the novel was the intricate weave between Shadow and Wednesday. The film doesn’t even come close to capturing the essence of that relationship, in my opinion. But Gaiman was an executive producer on the film — or more accurately, streaming series, at least at the beginning, so he was obviously involved. I liked the book so much I should give the series another chance — I was only able to get through a couple of episodes.

Alternatively, I felt the Handmaid’s Tale series’ first season did a nice job of conveying Margaret Atwood’s dystopia, and it managed some fantastic character development, and she was involved in that. So it’s not all bad news. And although some The Lord of the Rings fans my quibble with Peter Jackson’s adaptation, it was still a wonderful set of movies. Would Tolkien have approved of Jackson’s final cuts? I don’t know, but I think there is great value in seeing other artists interpret works.

I’m really enjoying this new trend of cinema-quality streaming. It changes the game somewhat. The Handmaids Tale showrunners were able to take their time and develop characters that were true to the spirt of the novel.

But if for some reason I am lucky enough to see any of my work go to film, I hope I am smart enough to step aside and let someone else interpret what I wrote. I think that would be fun.

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

I was a voracious consumer of science fiction as a kid, but I would say that there is one story that led me to writing: Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Sound of Summer Running. Heinlein was also a big deal to me, as was Harlan Ellison.

Of all the modern sci-fi writers, Neal Stephenson just drives me crazy because he is so good. I wish I could write with one tenth his detail, but it’s just not in my skill set. I feel like I can conceive very interesting and creative plots, but his attention to detail is off the charts and almost not fair to the rest of us.

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

I think our modern Western societies place too much emphasis on celebrity. So I’d ask, “Wouldn’t you just like to write and hide?”

We’d like to learn more about your writing. How would you describe yourself as an author? Can you please share a specific passage that you think exemplifies your style?

I’m a romantic and optimist at heart. My writing tends to reflect that. So despite the dystopian setting of MagicLand, heroes emerge. The heroes of Restive Souls are more heroic in nature than they probably would have been had the scenarios that transpire in the novel actually come to fruition. The leaders of the slave rebellions are extremely altruistic in the novel, for example. But I’m not sure that their circumstances would have truly allowed for that.

I enjoy an anti-hero as much as anybody does, but I think that in these times we could use a few more stories about heroes that overcome the odds and act decently, otherwise, how are they different than anyone else?

Stylistically, my instinct as a writer is to be more Norman Mailer than Hemingway — not that I’d compare myself to either one — and in order to get published I’ve had to dial that back a bit. Like a lot of newly published writers, I tend to enjoy word play, and it can get in the way of the story. I think MagicLand is mercifully free of it, but if I had my way I’d probably write like this passage from the novel all the time:

“He looked at her hand and was amazed at the extent of the journey such a simple thing could take him. The smoothness of her skin captivated him. He found himself following the contours of her fingers, wrist, and knuckles and becoming indescribably lost, and discovered that science could not describe the essence within her startling composition.”

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.

Having a sense of history is important in sci-fi. More so than a strong technical background in science, in my opinion. Philip K. Dick was a master because of his sense of history and the sociological impact of historic events more so than because of his famous illustrations of scientific possibilities.

A sense of history helps with fantasy, too. Game of Thrones is almost a history lesson in medieval behavior. Second, you need to allow your characters to imagine their way out of their predicaments for you. Breathe enough life into their personalities that they take over the writing process from you and dictate their behavior. If your writing becomes almost a channeling, I think you are really in business.

I don’t think any science fiction or fantasy authors need to be told to be familiar with prior art. They seem to universally love their genres, and it would be insulting to them to state such an obvious truth. But that’s a third.

The fourth would be don’t talk down to your readers. Trust their intelligence. Even young readers, if they struggle with any of your writing, will probably feel challenged enough to push through it. Readers all share a common trait: They love to read.

Finally, don’t ever stop learning. Whether it is about improving our own writing or just learning more about what we write, we can’t ever learn too much.

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 :-)

Obama. I like to think big, and I got awfully misty eyed when he won.

How can our readers further follow your work online? and

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



Ian Benke
Authority Magazine

Writer, artist, origami enthusiast, and CEO and Co-Founder of Stray Books