Eugen’s top tip for aspiring authors: Edit, edit, edit. If your first draft is so bad, you can’t give it a second read yourself, how do you expect someone else to read it? As a writer who is also an editor, I treasure good editors or peer reviewers who understand my work—their feedback helps me to bring out the best form of my work before it goes public.
Eugen M. 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 Foreword Book of the Year, 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 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards. New releases: Danged Black Thing, story collection by Transit Lounge Publishing (2021), Mage of Fools, an Afrofuturistic dystopian novel by Meerkat Press (2022), Chasing Whispers, story collection by Raw Dog Screaming Press (2022). Website: eugenbacon.com / Twitter: @EugenBacon
Why do you write? My writing is a curiosity. It is a search, a journey, a coming through… I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and the writing shapes itself.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I do have a day job and probably always have a professional career on top of writing. I am a mother, a scholar, an educator, an editor, a reviewer, and once held a career in computing. I’ve woven writing so intricately around everything else I do, I don’t see myself not writing.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Breaking through was really tough. I guess it’s a commercial industry of networking, marketability, relatability—and I’ve always been… different. I write… different. Non-conformist. It took two masters degrees and a PhD in creative writing for publishers and editors to begin to notice, and I guess things picked up from there.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Transit Lounge Publishing is one of the best publishers I’ve ever worked with. The publisher, Barry Scott, was earnest, accommodating and inviting from go. Soon as he determined he wanted to publish Danged Black Thing, it felt like an amazing partnership that I hope is the beginning of more.
I fondly remember the cover design process. I said, ‘Something black? African and Australian, maybe?’ Barry sent me a link to Kara Walker’s stimulating and complex art, and I was enamoured. Kara Walker is an American contemporary painter, silhouettist, filmmaker, and professor who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence, and identity in her work. She’s best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes, and Barry suggested a silhouette that was just perfect for Danged Black Thing.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Creating is cathartic, it’s immensely fulfilling. The road to publication, first cresting with publisher acceptance can be truly amazing. Working with a skilled editor rocks. Kate Goldsworthy was my remarkable editor!
The thrill climbs to book release, promos, interviews, blogs—like this one, reviews… I am always astonished, seeing what readers distinctively take from each read.
—the worst? Rejections—they are never personal, but some feel like they are. An agent once replied, ‘Please remove us from your spam list.’
Not winning an award—being so close and not winning can suck, but it’s an honour to nearly make it when you do.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Early on, I was eager and put out work that wasn’t ready. Now I’m older, a little more patient, perhaps wiser, and have a good instinct on quality. I’m also bolder and can experiment more with my writing.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Never do it for the money. But I knew this already. I do it for the love.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? When I was doing my PhD, my supervisor looked at me and said, ‘Write, or perish.’ She meant it in terms of having publications across my candidature as part of my portfolio. I wrote like I was possessed. And was published, published… which set me right on my odyssey as a writer.
How important is social media to you as an author? I am inherently quite private, but writing has compelled me to have a presence online. I mind it, and I don’t. It’s priceless for networking.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’ve had rare periods of deep trauma in my life where I couldn’t write, and others of deep trauma where I wrote as if a daemon was doing the writing. I deal with the blank page with distraction: I watch a movie, listen to a song, go for a walk, read my favourite author, write prose poetry—it always helps.
How do you deal with rejection? Early on, I taught myself not to keep a shrine of rejections. I don’t save rejections and move on. If I believe in the work, I move to next mode. I find the right publisher for it and, mostly, I find one.
My book Writing Speculative Fiction by Red Globe Press (Macmillan, now Bloomsbury) was once rejected. By Macmillan. I reworked the proposal, draft manuscript, resubmitted. Someone liked it.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Lyrical. Abstract. Immersive.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Toni Morrison. I’d ask her, how? Sula, Jazz, Beloved, Tar Baby, Love, Mercy, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye—how did you do it?
Danged Black Thing is an extraordinary collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, patriarchy and womanhood, from a remarkable and original voice. Traversing the West and Africa, they celebrate the author’s own hybridity with breathtaking sensuousness and lyricism. Simbiyu wins a scholarship to study in Australia, but cannot leave behind a world of walking barefoot, orange sun and his longing for a ‘once pillow-soft mother’. In his past, a darkness rose from the river, and something nameless and mystical continues to envelop his life. In ‘A Taste of Unguja’ sweet taarab music, full of want, seeps into a mother’s life on the streets of Melbourne as she evokes the powers of her ancestors to seek vengeance on her cursed ex. In the cyberfunk of ‘Unlimited Data’ Natukunda, a village woman, gives her all for her family in Old Kampala. Other stories explore with power what happens when the water runs dry – and who pays, capture the devastating effects on women and children of societies in which men hold all the power, and themes of being, belonging, otherness.
Speculative, realistic and even mythological, but always imbued with truth, empathy and Blackness, Danged Black
Thing is a literary knockout.
Buy the book here.