Author Interview: Charles Bastille

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with Charles Bastille, author of MagicLand: A Novel.

FQ: First of all, congratulations on your debut novel that is both groundbreaking and entertaining. Aurilena is quite a vivid character, free-spirited and courageous. Can we expect to see more of her in any other upcoming novels?

BASTILLE: Thank you. She deserves most of the credit. She took over my head as I wrote. She did things I wasn’t expecting. I had a feel for her in my head, so of course her actions had to honor that, but that seemed to happen naturally.

I am planning a follow up to the novel tentatively titled Maoch’s Realm. Or maybe Journey to Gath. I haven’t decided which yet.

FQ: Aside from the ordinary reading for entertainment, what else do you hope readers take away from this novel?

BASTILLE: Many might argue we already live in a dystopian existence, maybe not as extreme as the one portrayed in MagicLand, but bad enough. The novel is designed to remind readers, especially younger readers, that humanity has experienced existential threats before and survived them. Can you imagine what World War 2 would have been like if covered by social media? The despair would have resulted in unbearable Twitter feeds.

I’m hoping I can help readers keep in mind that the reason that generation got through that awful period in history is that even so-called ordinary people are capable of extreme acts of heroism.

The bad people we see are a tiny sample of humans, most of whom are good. But the bad people walk with a very large footprint and can do incredible damage. At the end of the day, though, they are no match for the rest of us. I tried to convey that philosophy in MagicLand.

FQ: MagicLand: A Novel is certainly a pedal-to-the-metal novel that successfully blends in biotech, romance and magic. Did you have to do any research before writing this book to determine how the three features would fit in?

BASTILLE: Not really. But I’ve always been well versed in current events and history. I’m also well-grounded in previous works of the science fiction genre, especially older stuff. I confess to having not read a lot of 21st century science fiction, though.

Anyway, the genesis of the idea came to me after reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Now in which he posits that humans will be bioengineered into a new species with deep augmentations. Two thoughts sprang to mind. One, what if some people don’t want that? What if, in fact, they turn the opposite way and embrace magic or some other form of spirituality, or both? Sort of the whole Luddite thing on steroids. And what if the magic they embraced became central to who they are?

Second was, one day I saw a supplement for anti-aging called NAD, which is said to have some demonstrably scientific evidence of being effective. I’d love to take it. But I can’t justify the monthly cost. If that is the case now, how much more will the augmentations Kurzweil speaks of cost? Who pays for these things? Obviously, the way our society is currently structured, only the wealthiest will be able to afford the real slick stuff. I foresee a lot of conflict if that happens. In MagicLand, the conflict doesn’t end well for the majority. They’re left behind, and then much worse.

FQ: What inspired you to give readers the personal history of Hilkiah, the High Priest in the prologue, and not any other character?

BASTILLE: I wanted to tell his childhood story but I honestly couldn’t think of a way to fit it in, but then the idea of putting it in the prolog as to how he learned the hard way not to try to control everything sort of came in a flash. And I thought of it as a nice way to grab the reader.

FQ: The story is written in the third person narrative and in a dystopian world. Was there a particular reason for your choice?

BASTILLE: I felt like third person was the best way to handle the romance angle on this. I wanted to give the two protagonists equal time, and I wanted the reader to be able to get inside both their heads. Especially because at the beginning, they’re on opposing sides and have a confrontational relationship.

FQ: Do you intend to continue writing books of this genre or will you consider exploring other genres as well?

BASTILLE: My next novel, Restive Souls, is quite different, although it does contain a lot of magical realism. It takes place in an alternative universe in which the British win the Revolutionary War and emancipate the slaves in 1778. So it, too, is speculative fiction, but a very different kind.

FQ: In the novel, was there any favorite section you enjoyed writing most?

BASTILLE: That one is easy. I won’t say too much because it’s a spoiler, but the climactic scene where Aurilena and Belex confront the villain was fun to write because I didn’t plan it at all. Aurilena took charge of that scene, and when it was over, I was like, what just happened? What the hell did she just do? That’s crazy. I definitely did not outline that. I also wasn’t expecting Belex to go after Sherealla when he saw her after Belex and Aurilena kissed. It was a surprise for me, and it became a turning point in the novel that I had to make adjustments for in my original plot lines.

Another favorite part of mine was a very minor scene where Belex adjusts a man’s eyeglasses and points out that the man, too, is augmented. I wasn’t expecting Belex to do that, which was why I liked it, I think.

FQ: The naming of places and people in the book is incredibly imaginative. What was the motivation behind the creativity?

BASTILLE: Thanks! I’ve always enjoyed coming up with creative names in my writing. Aurilena actually started out as Arilean, but I didn’t think readers would know how to pronounce it. And I liked Lena for short as something her friends and relatives could use.

A lot of the naming is intentionally Biblical. Gath was the name of the place Goliath came from in the Biblical David and Goliath story. Hilkiah was a high priest in the Old Testament who found a lost copy of the Book of the Law in King Solomon’s time. Maoch was a Gath king. Fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien books will recognize the name Moria, which was a great subterranean dwarf city responsible for the mining and production of a great and magical metal. MagicLand has a number of easter eggs. For example, one of the strata mentioned regarding the collective makes an obligatory ode to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I won’t say what that is, because that defeats the fun of easter eggs.

And the name stoven.net, well, that was just silly. It was an allegory to how inaccurate information can become over time.

FQ: How were you able to determine the red herrings to give readers and at what point in the book?

BASTILLE: The red herrings were mostly accidental. When I write, the characters take over. Sometimes it seems as if I don’t even have any control over them, like when Belex adjusts the man’s eyeglasses. I’m just reporting on their activities. I wasn’t expecting their kiss to have so much significance. There were a few instances of these, “wait, I wasn’t expecting this to happen!” moments as I was writing. The discovery that the two make in the library was planned from the beginning, but that wasn’t really a red herring moment. Most of the surprises were as much a surprise to me as it will be to my readers.

FQ: I noticed the dialogues in the book were natural and deftly crafted. Did you at any point wrestle with how much concentration you gave to these dialogues while writing the plot?

BASTILLE: I think dialog is a very important element to any book. It needs to sound realistic. I didn’t want to try to imagine any kind of new dialect or word choice people 2,000 years from now might be using. Doing something like that would have just gotten in the way of the story.

History tells us that language will be very different than ours 2,000 years from now. So I decided to just mimic the kind of dialogue we use in our society today, without the F bombs. The narrative voice in MagicLand really operates as a translator when it comes to dialog. I purposely chose euphemisms you’d hear today, rather than try to get cute and make up my own.

As for what they were actually saying, it’s like plot twists for me. I don’t plan it out. What they say just sort of pours out of my fingertips as I write. I don’t give it much thought.

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