With Jackal, Jackal (paperback, Kindle), writer Tobi Ogundiran is collecting all of his published stories into one handy take home container. In the following email interview, he discusses what went into this collection, including its title.
To start, is there a common theme that ties the stories in Jackal, Jackal together?
I don’t know that I was consciously working towards a theme…except for the fact that the stories are dark and fantastical, as the subtitle suggests. My strategy for putting together Jackal, Jackal was to cobble together all the stories I’d had published over the years in various magazines.
That being said, it’s been interesting reading reviews and seeing how reviewers find themes that ties the stories together. Perhaps my best review so far is Wole Talabi’s in Locus where he finds stories speaking to each other. In many of the stories I weave Nigerian folktales with western fairytales, and Talabi picks up on some interesting hallmarks of fairytales expressed (albeit unconsciously on my part) in the stories: repetition, transformation, and revelation. In that sense I’d say the collection is pretty thematically unified.
So, is there a reason why you named this collection after the story “Jackal, Jackal” as opposed to after one of the other stories? Granted, Midnight In Moscow wouldn’t have fit, but Maria’s Children could’ve, for instance? What’s the significance of the story “Jackal, Jackal” that made you want to name this collection after it?
I love good titles. I feel choosing a title, one that best captures the heart of a piece of literature, is an art form. I give serious thought to titles. As I noted, some core themes expressed in the book are repetition, transformation, and revelation, and perhaps the story “Jackal, Jackal” most embodies these themes. Therefore, “Jackal, Jackal” is particularly apt in the titular story, but also describes the collection as a whole. I think Vince Haig has done a fantastic job of reflecting this idea in the cover art; you can see the mirrored jackal; both the animal and the word itself. At the risk of sounding…repetitive, repetition is a mainstay of magic, expressed in incantations and invocations. Again, something that permeates the book. But of course, this realization has only come in retrospect. In choosing the title for the collection I simply went with the one that sounded good, the one that was bound to make you pause and ask, “why the repetition?” or even, “why this title?” — just as you have.
I am nothing if not redundant. Now, Jackal, Jackal is your first book. But not your last, as we’ll get to in a moment. Who are some of the writers that you think had a big influence on your style as a whole?
Growing up, I read a ton of Stephen King, and his character work is one of the finest in English literature. I try to create vivid characters when I write. I don’t know that I succeed, but it’s something I actively work towards. Neil Gaiman is also a huge influence. I really admire the sheer breath of his imagination, and the versatility of his storytelling as regards medium and age group. He’s a true storyteller. I’ve only come to Ursula le Guin in the last couple of years, and she was a brilliant thinker, an even more brilliant writer and prose stylist. She made me start to pay attention to my prose, weighing each word and sentence. Circling back to King, I like that he is unapologetic about his ideas. On paper, many of them are borderline ludicrous, but what he does is make you invested, and that is a skill. Readers can always smell a phony, and if you, as a writer, don’t exude confidence in your ideas and their execution, why should your reader care? So that’s something I’ve embraced in my writing, that no idea is too far-fetched or ridiculous or transgressive to explore. Doing that would be effectively muzzling creativity. And what good is a writer who plays it safe, churning out dry material?
Are there any writers who are not fundamental influences on your style, but did have a big influence on specific stories in Jackal, Jackal?
Helen Oyeyemi. Though now that I think of it, she does have some influence on my style. I wrote “Isn’t Your Daughter Such A Doll” in response to Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl. What happens when I read a particularly inspiring piece of literature is that I turn it over in my mind, finding ways I can tackle a similar idea or add to the conversation. I had just come out of an Oyeyemi deep dive — reading all of her works — and found that I had absorbed her style. She’s the queen of whimsical, deliciously nonsensical fairytale retellings. Of course, “Isn’t Your Daughter Such A Doll” isn’t a retelling, but it’s fairytale-esque. I recently read a review where the collection was compared to Oyeyemi and I had myself a good chuckle.
How about non-literary influences? Were any of the stories in Jackal, Jackal influenced by any movies, shows, or games?
Ah. “The Goatkeeper’s Harvest.” This one is my Lovecraft mythos in Nigeria story There’s a Yoruba movie called Eran Iya Osogbo which translates to Mama Osogbo’s Goat. Listen, that movie traumatized me as a child. But I was always that way, watching horror movies I probably shouldn’t, and then suffering nightmares for weeks. Anyway, this particular movie, I don’t remember much of the plot, except for the fact that there was a sinister black goat (à la Black Phillip in The Witch) that sometimes climbed roofs. And that image stayed with me and became an integral element in the story. “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” and “In The Smile Place” are two stories that were inspired by pictures I saw on Twitter — one whimsical, one sinister — and I go in depth into the origin of these stories in the Story Notes section of the book.
Speaking of the back of the book, in the “Publication History” section of Jackal, Jackal, you mention where most of these stories were published before, but specifically say that “The Lady Of The Yellow-Painted Library” was published “…in slightly different form in Africa Risen: A New Era Of Speculative Fiction.” What’s different about this story from the original version, and why did you make those changes?
Mainly wordcount constraints. In the submission guidelines for Africa Risen, they had a 5000-word limit, so I had to (very painfully) chop off some words to fulfil requirements. But since Jackal, Jackal is my book, I got the opportunity to present the full version — an author’s preferred text, if you will — and thankfully Michael [Jackal‘s publisher] was receptive. The changes aren’t earth-shattering, mainly some extra scenes which crank up the absurdism on an already absurd and funny story.
And is that the only story in Jackal, Jackal that was changed in any significant way?
Yes. Barring some minor sentence-level stuff, the stories are pretty much as they appeared in initial publication.
Now, along with Jackal, Jackal, you also have a duology coming out called Guardian Of The Gods, which will launch in spring or summer of 2024 with In The Shadow Of The Fall. First, is Shadow a novel or novella?
It’s a novella. Both books are novellas.
Second, do you know what the other book is going to be called and when it will be out?
Ha! If I told you, my editor would flay me. But no, I’m still considering titles. I’ve mentioned my love for good titles, so I’m being very deliberate in selecting the right one. The second book will also be out next year. They’ll be released in quick succession, spaced apart by a couple of months. A good thing, as readers won’t have to wait too long for the story’s completion. There are readers out there who won’t start a series until it’s complete —understandably so as they’ve been…em…burned a couple of times.
Yeah…by dragons. So, what is this duology about, and when and where is it set?
Ah, the money question. Well, Guardian Of The Gods is about faith and its insidious manipulation, it’s about secrets and lies and the delicate balance in which they exist. It’s about orisha, Yoruba gods, and the beings that hunt them. But it’s also about a young woman, who is an acolyte, training in a gloomy and secluded temple in the middle of the forest. She’s remained there for years because she cannot hear the gods and therefore cannot graduate and become a full priest. Desperate, she builds an idan, an effigy, to trap a god and demand answers. As you can imagine; a very bad idea. And everything goes to shit from there. She soon learns that the temple is secluded for reasons, and her act has alerted a powerful enemy sect to their location. She learns that there is more to the world than what she thinks, and she is caught in the center of events that been centuries underway.
I like to describe it as [Ursula K. Le Guin’s] Tombs Of Atuan meets Norse Mythology (wearing my influences on my sleeve here). The duology is a secondary world fantasy set on an archipelago of ten islands with Ten Kingdoms. The islands and world at large are inspired by pre-colonial West Africa.
It sounds like In The Shadow Of The Fall and the Guardian Of The Gods duology are dark fantasy stories in the same vein as some of the stories as Jackal, Jackal. Or am I wrong about that?
I believe they’re high fantasy. But they also have elements of dark fantasy, thrillers, and mystery. I’m not really pedantic about genre. Well, except for the fact that I don’t really write Afrofuturism. But that’s a yarn for another day.
Going back to Jackal, Jackal, Hollywood loves making movies out of short stories. Are there any stories in Jackal, Jackal that you think could work really well as a movie?
I think they all work as movies. You hear me Hollywood? I’m taking calls. [laughs] “The Lady Of The Yellow-Painted Library,” which is the one about an otherworldly librarian haunting a salesman who’s lost a library book, would make for a very good, Ghibli-style animation. LeVar Burton did a fully immersive narration of the story on his podcast.
But yeah, I think each story lends itself well to adaptation. Seeing that they are thematically united, they could work well adapted in a Love + Death & Robots manner.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Jackal, Jackal?
My mom told me it’s a great book. You should listen to her.
Finally, if someone enjoys Jackal, Jackal, what short story collection of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for In The Shadow Of The Fall to come out?