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Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!
Eugen Bacon is an African Australian author gradually growing her black speculative fiction writing in novels, novellas, short stories, essays and prose poetry to a global gaze. She was recently announced in the honor list of the 2022 Otherwise Fellowships, and appears in four works shortlisted in the 2021 British Science Fiction Awards, including her collections Danged Black Thing (2021) by Transit Lounge Publishing and Saving Shadows (2021), a collection of black speculative prose poetry and microlit by NewCon Press, for Best Art.
Publishers Weekly listed her newest novel Mage of Fools in the Top 10 SF, Fantasy & Horror Books Spring 2022.
Eugen is fond of poetry for its abstract, fluid and subversive nature, and says, “Poetry is timeless, intense, insistent and metaphoric. It comes with immediacy and you can write it from the gut.”
Let’s chill out with Eugen, find a little more about her interests:
Why speculative fiction?
I’d define my writing literary speculative fiction, where poeticity, musicality of the text and playfulness with language is a penchant. In a form of subversive activism, speculative fiction empowers a different kind of writing with its unique worldbuilding that has, over decades, emboldened writers like Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison to write a different kind of story that’s also about writing oneself in.
Where is your writing space?
My writing begins in the head and on scraps of paper, scribbles in notepads everywhere. By the time I settle down to the writing, it’s about putting the pieces together.
Increasingly I find myself experimenting with prose poetry that sometimes slips into the opening, closing, sideline or core of a story. Sometimes I write to music, or the news—where else would I find stories of carnage?
Toni Morrison. In shaping my own voice, I was drawn to writers of literary fiction, counting Anthony Doerr and Michael Ondaatje, and found commonalities in riveting dialogue; in the depth of characterisation; in the ambition, adventure and variability of writing that discourages bad writing. These favourite authors seduce me with bold writing that spotlights mood, reorients prose and courts characterisation. They anticipate me, the reader, until I mislay questioning and instead find curiosity.
Are you structured or unstructured as a writer?
It’s increasingly a balance of both. I am an experimental writer. I love to explore the uncanny and step beyond traditional expectations of genre. I am enchanted with language (Morrison), and playfulness with text (Roland Barthes), each taking me to a space where I can be, become, and my characters can be, they can become.
It is intentional when I write a novella or a novel, because I chart its skeleton and have an idea of its core players, of the events that might drive them and, vaguely, why. Often, I tuck little stories and poems inside, layered vignettes invisible to the reader, but they carry the mutability and intensity of a short story, which seems to power my longer forms.
If you could improve your writing right now…
A part of me would love to have the craft and patience to write a series maybe. But that’s not telling it straight. The short form is my love and, at 49,000 words of a novel, it’s Mt Kilimanjaro.
When I’m not writing…
I am reading—I love short stories, collections, anthologies, black spec fic poetry. I love watching a film or documentary that moves me or triggers my mind (nothing is waste), and fine dining (but, the pandemic).
Reading right now…
Susan Midalia is a titillating Australian short story writer, and she brings me back to my fondness of the short story. She’s not a speculative fiction writer and her literary shorts—about 2,000 words each or so—are something else! My favourite is An Unknown Sky and Other Stories.
I’d like to start with Matrix, which I love, but no. John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs A Princess of Mars, moves me in many ways.
In your writing, what are you most proud of?
I’m truly happy with where I am at in my writing, the global visibility that my work is getting and the publishers it is attracting. Danged Black Thing was my biggest breakthrough in Australia. I’m excited about Mage of Fools by Meerkat Press, the publisher who made me.
I like how my upcoming collection Chasing Whispers (2022) by Raw Dog Screaming Press is turning out. Despite the pandemic, I have managed to be incredibly prolific, and I am grateful to my ancestors and all the generous readers, critics, writers, editors and publishers who extend to me many opportunities that thrive me.
Releases March 15, 2022
Speculative Fiction | Dystopian | Afrofuturist
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.
Outside the double-glazed window, a speck grows from the moonless night and yawns wide, wider, until its luster washes into the single-roomed space, rectangular and monolithic. One could mistake the room for a cargo container.
The space, one of many units neatly rowed and paralleled in Ujamaa Village, pulses for a moment as the radiance outside grows with its flicker of green, yellow and bronze. The cocktail of incandescent light tugs along a tail of heat. Both light and heat seep through the walls of the khaki-colored shelter, whose metallic sheen is a fabrication, not at all metal.
Light through the window on the short face of the house—the side that gazes toward Central District in the distance—rests on the luminous faces of a mother and her two young children, their eyes pale with deficiency in a ravaged world. It’s a world of citizens packed as goods in units whose short faces all stare toward the Central District that will shortly awaken in the dead of the night. The light drowns the toddler’s cry of wonder.
As sudden as the ray’s emergence, it evanesces and snatches away its radiance, leaving behind hoarfrost silence. A sound unscrolls itself from the darkness outside. First, it’s a thunderhead writing itself through desert country—because this world is dry and naked, barren as its queen.
The lone cry of a wounded creature, a howl or a wail reminiscent of the screech of a black-capped owl, plaintive yet soulful, rises above the flat roofs screening the wasted village. The cry is a dirge that tells an often-story of someone in agony, of a hand stretched out to touch an angel of saving but never reaches. A second thunderhead slits the sound midcry, nobody can save the mortally wounded one.
Jasmin closes her eyes. She needs no one to tell her. She knows.
Everybody knows—except the children. That King Magu’s guards—so few of them, yet so deadly—have found another story machine, and its reader.