Interview with Eugen Bacon by Renata Pavrey

 African-Australian writer, Eugen Bacon, whose works span across prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, talks to book blogger and staff writer Renata Pavrey.

 As part of the upcoming release of her latest book, Mage of Fools, I got the chance to interview author Eugen Bacon, thanks to the publishing house Meerkat Press. I have read and loved other books from this publisher that specializes in speculative fiction, and had also interviewed Bacon about her previous books. Here, I get to talk to her about her newest dystopian novel that revolves around storytelling.

        From the blurb:

       In the dystopian world of Mafinga, Jasmin must contend with a dictator’s sorcerer to cleanse the socialist state of its deadly pollution. Mafinga’s malevolent king dislikes books and, together with his sorcerer Atari, has collapsed the environment to almost uninhabitable. The sun has killed all the able men, including Jasmin’s husband Godi. But Jasmin has Godi’s secret story machine that tells of a better world, far different from the wastelands of Mafinga. Jasmin’s crime for possessing the machine and its forbidden literature filled with subversive text is punishable by death. Fate grants a cruel reprieve in the service of a childless queen who claims Jasmin’s children as her own. Jasmin is powerless—until she discovers secrets behind the king and his sorcerer.

Renata: Hi Eugen, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. You have written The Road to Woop Woop – a collection of short stories, and Speculate – a co-creation of vignettes with Dominique Hecq. Mage of Fools is a dystopian novel. What’s your experience switching between writing forms and styles?

Eugen: I’ve always found it natural to switch mid-text across forms and genres, wearing different faces, hats, and cloaks.  I think it’s because of the immersion I find in writing, and our world is not black and white. I love experimentation, bending boundaries. I tend to resist boundaries that restrict text, and I approach a work with an openness to how a story may morph and shape itself. 

One of my recent stories is a blend between a short story and a script. Some of my short stories have prose poetry hidden in them. Some of my novels have short stories hidden in them. Some of my creative nonfiction—like ‘Inhabitation: Genni and I’ (Sydney Review of Books), where I talk to my other self, or ‘The New Seduction of an Old Literary Crime Classic’ (LitHub), where I pay homage to Peter Temple—integrates excerpts of fiction or poetry in it. 

I love the fluidity of text, as a literary enthusiast, Roland Barthes would have it.  

Renata: Your books fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction – alternating science fiction, fantasy and horror. Is there a genre you prefer, both as a reader and writer?

Eugen: My favourite genre is literary speculative fiction, where imagination is the limit. An introduction to my upcoming collection, Chasing Whispers by Raw Dog Screaming Press, describes my work as ‘towards an Afro-irreality’. Except for a time travel novel (Secondhand Daylight) that I am co-writing with a European slipstream author, Andrew Hook, I never start a story thinking that this is going to be science fiction, fantasy, or horror. 

Renata: Stories occupy an important place in Mage of Fools, where reading is banned and characters try to sneak in their daily dose of storytelling. The novel is peppered with the names of authors. Who are your favorite authors? Any favorite books you would recommend?

Eugen: I was only recently talking about Anthony Doerr and look forward to reading his latest historical and speculative fiction Cloud Cuckoo Land. Peter Temple’s dialogue is genius. 

And Toni Morrison is subversively in Mage of Fools, where I imagine her language in my stories. Anyone who hasn’t read all this Nobel prize-winning author’s fiction is missing big time. 

I am inspired by selfless people, like Nelson Mandela, who give of themselves so generously. 

I also have on my reading list a hardcover copy of Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings.  

Renata: When writing speculative fiction, what goes into world-building? How do you balance imaginary scenarios with real-world issues; the new with the familiar?

Eugen: The reader must find familiarity in the worlds we create, however strange, through the nature of our worldbuilding, whose intent is to demystify. Credibility is a necessity in any imaginary world. 

It all depends on the size of the story, its nature or setting, where it wants to take me, to determine whether it is a primary world (that resembles our real world) or a secondary world (mostly invented and dissimilar from our real-world). 

But even in a secondary world, an author may want to introduce themes and issues pertinent in our world today, and how the protagonists in those invented worlds deal with them. This is the author as an agent of change.   

Renata: Your writing is often poetic and lyrical, starkly contrasting the dark themes explored. Is this merging of prose and poetry deliberate, or does the narrative lead you?

Eugen: The narrative talks itself, the characters guiding it. Language is important and, in my mind’s eye, is always the musicality of the text. 

Renata: The cover of Mage of Fools mixes the traditional with the futuristic. Could you tell us about the story behind the cover?

Eugen: Ask the publisher, Tricia Reeks of Meerkat Press! She’s the closet designer, discovering herself. She asked for my art preference, and I said something African, maybe a mask. 

Renata: Thank you, Eugen, for taking out time for this interview. We wish you all the very best with Mage of Fools, and other books that follow.

Eugen: The pleasure is entirely mine. 


About the author: 

Eugen Bacon is African Australian—her books Ivory’s Story, Danged Black Thing, and Saving Shadows are finalists in the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards. Eugen was announced in the honor list of 2022 Otherwise Fellowships. She has won, been longlisted or commended in international awards, including the Foreword Indies Awards, Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Horror Writers Association Diversity Grant, Otherwise, Rhysling, Australian Shadows, Ditmar Awards, and Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Eugen’s creative work has appeared in literary and speculative fiction publications worldwide, including Award-Winning Australian Writing, BSFA, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction. New releases: Danged Black Thing (collection), Saving Shadows (illustrated prose poetry). In 2022: Mage of Fools (Meerkat Press), Chasing Whispers (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and An Earnest Blackness (Anti-Oedipus Press). 

Website: eugenbacon.com / Twitter: @EugenBacon

 

Chilling Chat: Episode #195 – Eugen Bacon

Eugen Bacon is an African Australian computer scientist who has mentally re-engineered into creative writing. Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Foreword Book of the Yeareugen bacon - Genni Matty Awards, Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Her novella Ivory’s Story was shortlisted in the 2020 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards. Upcoming: Danged Black Thing, a short story collection by Transit Lounge Publishing (2021) and Mage of Fools, an Afrofuturistic dystopian novel by Meerkat Press (2022). 

NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?

EB: I was seven or eight and it was night. I was sprawled on a couch in the living room with my mother. She must have forgotten I was there, or perhaps she thought I was asleep. She was watching TV, a British horror I Don’t Want to be Born, sometimes titled Sharon’s Baby, starring Joan Collins, Eileen Atkins and Ralph Bates. The drownings, the stabbings, the hangings, the decapitations.

They stayed with me, that trail of death surrounding a sinister infant whose evil refused to give in to exorcism.

NTK: Who is your favorite horror author?

EB: A few, actually. You never really think of Toni Morrison’s works as horror, as she’s stunningly literary. But BelovedSulaThe Bluest EyeGod Help the Child… Scenes in her stories haunt you, like forever.

I am enamoured with multi-award-winning Australian author Kaaron Warren, who’s mastered the art of shadow existence in her fiction, skilfully personifying conflict, the unknowable or evil in her perturbing text that threatens your very sanity in all things spectral. Read Tide of Stone or Into Bones Like Oil, you’ll get what I mean.

I adore J. Ashley Smith, another Australian author, who writes with solemn beauty and malevolent darkness. His text is poetic and ghoulish—Ariadne, I Love You is his latest offering.

But, ultimately, it’ll have to be Mary Shelley for Frankenstein, right?

NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?

EB: So, there’s Shelley’s Frankenstein­—we’ve established thata novel ahead of itself with its promethean theme in gothic horror. Its descriptive narrative approach uses letters and first-person perspectives of primary characters like Dr. Frankenstein and the beast he’s created from the dead.

Offering personal insight through this first-person point of view, Shelley shares with the reader her curiosity in the characters she has developed: like Dr. Frankenstein and his clinical attitude but deeply feeling nature; he is a scientist who feels heart and soul, ardent in his pursuit of an experiment that brings to life a monster. Like the creature Frankenstein has created, that is drawn to him but whom he abhors, calling it a daemon. It is shaped in the figure of a man, runs bouncy. It is yellow-eyed, muscles and arteries visible through yellow skin. It is proportionate-limbed, its hair a lustrous black, its lips straight and black. And it too feels, just as deeply, and becomes fiendish when it is miserable. And the doctor’s abhorrence keeps it miserable. The reader understands its solitude, its longing, its repugnance with itself and its deformity.

There’s world-building, aesthetic descriptions of valleys and glaciers and hill summits and vast mountains, precipitous ascents and places of desolation. Frankenstein elicits a mild kind of fear, largely arising from its dealings with a creature resurrected from the dead (paranormal effect), one that the reader can both relate to (in its pining) and loathe (in its manipulations).

NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?

EB: Blade, Blade, Blade. It can’t be Blade without Wesley Snipes: half-human, half-vampire.

I love all adaptations of Dracula, Frankenstein, and totally Underworld—Kate Beckinsale is my secret crush.

NTK: What is your favorite television show?

EB: Roots—horrific, as it was. I’ll never forget Kunta Kinte—how is this story not a horror. I feel rage each time I think of those days of slavery. Arabs did it too in East Africa, dhows full of famined slaves—scarecrow thin—to Oman.

Sadly, we still have all forms of slavery still happening today, and people who unsee it.

Lovecraft Country took me places, to gloom, hope, and fuck you, Lovecraft, and every friggin’ white supremacist.

NTK: Where do you find inspiration?

EB: Stories are everywhere! I write on a longing, a memory, a trigger. It may be a word, a phrase on TV, at the train station… Ideas float everywhere, and something just strikes, refuses to let go. I feel, I smell, I listen, I see… my mind locks onto something that won’t let go.

NTK: What inspired the story, “Unlimited Data”?

EB: It was a commissioned story for a Cyberfunk anthology. I was walking along the Tan track in Melbourne, when suddenly I remembered seeing this job ad: ‘Must have a smart phone’. It inspired this story of a woman in the village in Old Kampala—she gives all for her family, because her husband’s job needs unlimited data.

NTK: As a person of color, how has your experience been in the horror community?

EB: I’ve been blessed to be part of a community of writers, on and off social media, for example the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA), Writers Victoria, Writing NSW—where I sometimes teach, Horror Writers Association (HWA), Science Fiction Writers Association (SFWA).

I offer something different as a person of colour in Australia, who is also a migrant. There’s some openness to my writing, but I feel that Australia is not quite there. I have a bigger community of support in the US, UK, and the rest of the world, I think.

There’s a big community of black speculative fiction writers, and a sense of homecoming with the African Speculative Fiction Society that administers the Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans.

NTK: What is your best piece of advice for the new writer, someone who’s just started in the business?

EB: Edit, edit, edit. Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to find voice, to mature.

Join a supporting organisation of writers fascinated with the genre(s) you write, for example Horror Writers Association. See also if there are local writing organisations that offer you valuable resources and a sense of community. You’re not alone.

Rejections are never personal, sometimes they feel like it. One literary agency replied with the line: “Please remove us from your spam list.”

Guess who’s laughing at them now?

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

EB: I have a literary speculative collection, Danged Black Thing, out by Transit Lounge Publishing in November 2021. It has stories with urgency about love and migration, gender and class, patriarchy and womanhood, climate change and bad politics… about women and children in societies where men hold all the power.

I also have an afrofuturistic dystopian novel, Mage of Fools, out by Meerkat Press in March 2022.

In work is a dark, illustrated collection of microfiction—the illustrator Elena Betti is something else! I wrote it during the peak of the pandemic and events surrounding Black Lives Matter. Interesting conversations happening right now, I hope to announce a placement soon.

Addicts, you can find Eugen on her Website and on Twitter.