Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Eugen Bacon
Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Award, Australian Shadows Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Her creative work has appeared in literary and speculative fiction publications worldwide, and 2020 sees the release of: Her Bitch Dress (Ginninderra Press) The Road to Woop Woop & Other Stories (Meerkat Press), Hadithi (Luna Press Publishing), and Inside the Dreaming (Newcon Press).
Welcome to the Hive, Eugen. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Martin Goodman’s Forever Konrad (PS Publishing) took me places in its unforgettable dark fantasy richly layered with connected stories. Think of no ordinary baby, shiny black eyes that snap open to stare at your mind.
But mostly I love anthologies and collections, and can’t stop raving about Kathe Koja’s Velocities (Meerkat Press)—that woman can write! She has a way with words, her voice is spectacular in this literary dégustation of dark fiction. And Lisa L Hannett’s Songs for Dark Seasons (Ticonderoga Publications)! Such music, metaphor and dirge in her mesmeric tales.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Was there any piece of advice which you strongly disagreed with and therefore did the exact opposite?
Restraint. A trusted editor who was also a mentor taught me to pull back a little as I can get a bit lush. Less is always more. My worst experiences are with intrusive editors who insert themselves into your text. I remember a fiction I’ve never touched since it was published—frankly I hate it. The writing is not me.
Which do you find is the toughest element of writing in general? Is it the plot, characters, dialogue or action scenes?
None of those, as my stories steer themselves. It’s more the length—I am intrinsically a short story writer and find a safe zone in something taut. Novels are hard work and I loathe wordiness for wordcount sake. As part of my PhD in creating writing, I invented a way that works to write a novel by embedding vignettes, stories within a story. A chapter could be a short story in itself, or a composite interlinked and layered. Text held together and seamlessly flowing.
We love great world-building at the Hive, could you tell us about the inspiration and process behind yours when you begin planning each story?
Worldbuilding is integral to creating a convincing imaginary world. I research earnestly, fascinated by place and setting. The more rural or remote, the better. I often start with a real place that could be the ambience of a café, a botanical garden, a river by dusk, a village, the copper lights of a city after midnight, the snow-capped peak of a mountain… And then I extrapolate, what if?
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I love N.K. Jemisin’s work—The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was my first introduction, and I’d love to read more of her. Toni Morrison’s fantastical within the literary, as in Song of Solomon is a beautiful haunting. If Morrison were alive, I’d love her for my mentor.
Since this is our Women in SFF month, who were the women in SFF (or beyond) that influenced or inspired you? (Authors and/or characters!)
Halle Berry as Storm in X-Men. Nichelle Nichols, and Zoe Saldana as the Uhura characters in Star Trek. Lindsay Wagner as The Bionic Woman—I was nuts about her because I had the hots for Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man. I loved the Amazonian ways of Xena: Warrior Princess, and only recently learnt it was filmed in New Zealand. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, awesome, right?
What are your favourite kind of female characters to write?
Bold, clever, willful, giving.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I’m shit at video games, rotten, rotten, hopeless. I saw Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, which is not SFF, I know, but it’s so bad, it’s good. I love the song. But one of my favourite Netflix series is Sense 8 for its diversity across all fronts, including castings and locations in eight countries: eight countries: Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, Reykjavík, San Francisco, and Seoul
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Before COVID, the answer was obvious: the big screen, right? I’d go to the movies and—gobbling a hand-made choc top or sipping a prosecco—get lost in something weird. But now, my time is lost reading stories, imagining. I’m a lost case.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I have a novella coming out in December 2020—Inside the Dreaming by NewCon Press. It’s black speculative fiction that’s also detective, an origins story about finding oneself. I’m writing a collection of black SF—it’s amazing, this coming out, a freedom to write characters that are others like me. If all goes well, I have an afrofuturistic dystopian novel with all female protagonists, set in a social country.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
…we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?
… A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
I listen to Kafka and go find a book that wounds or stabs me.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Precolonial Africa—I’d love to discover my story, my roots.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I can’t think of one right now, but I know that short stories collections and anthologies are underrated, unappreciated. I’ve discovered authors I might never have read in their SFF ‘Best of’ cameos.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
My writing is a curiosity, unconstrained by form or genre. I take on aspects of my characters, immerse myself into their worlds. The writing is a search, a coming through. It is also an invitation. Be at ease with my characters, with the places and languages I have shaped in ink.
Thank you, Eugen.