There are a lot of reasons why authors collaborate. But in the following email interview with writers Eugen Bacon and Dominique Hecq, the latter explains that their new collection Speculate: A Collection Of Microlit (hardcover, paperback, Kindle) came together after the former issued her a challenge.
Eugen Bacon, Dominique Hecq (Photo Credit: Michael Reynolds)
The subtitle of Speculate is A Collection Of Microlit. For those unfamiliar with the term, what is “microlit”?
Dominique: The term “microlit” encompasses everything in the spectrum between flash fiction, sudden fiction, poetry, and prose poetry. It deliberately blurs the distinction between forms and modes of writing. So, Speculate showcases flash fiction and prose poems, but also mini essays and fictional vignettes that take the piss out of the very notion of genre. You’ll feel the epic drive in lyrical prose and the brooding tone of anti-realist prose poems.
And then aside from being a collection of it, is there a theme to the pieces in Speculate?
Dominique: If there is a theme to the collection it’s subliminal. We were reacting to the zeitgeist. On edge and hair on fire, we felt for the edges of genre. Looking out to new possibilities and looking in at genre itself, all the better to cross its borders. But I guess there are thematic threads: relationships, politics, inequality, #MeToo, global warming.
Eugen: I guess we’re two literary rebels who resist “rules” and are at a stage where we can get away with it. In Speculate, we talk about choice, climate change, liberty, love, hate, sadness, joy…anything that makes us human, inhuman. The approach is mostly with irony, the absurdity of life.
So how did this book come about?
Dominique: Poetic justice. Call it an accident. We were part of a prose poetry chain where we’d post short pieces, riffing off each other’s words, testing each other’s limits. We noticed there was a synergy between us. Then Eugen, best known for her cross-genre speculative fiction, challenged me to write Speculate. Yep, she’d dreamed up the title. No aficionado of sci-fi, dear me, I took up the challenge.
And what not only made you realize it could be a book, but a book people would want to read?
Dominique: Simple answer is that we had so much fun writing it, we took the risk.
Eugen: Dominique and I had already placed individual pieces in literary and other magazines, with astonishing reception. It became thinkable that, in prose poetry, we had something special.
As you’ve said, the pieces in Speculate are not stories but prose poetry. What do you each see as the difference?
Dominique: For starters, there is no plot. Sorry, teasing, Paul. So, the narrative is driven by word association, rather than logic. Because of the differences in tone and register, the pieces are closer to the prose poem.
Eugen: A story generally has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Prose poetry could be an end, a beginning, even a middle. Or simply a promise, a yearning, or a warning, tucked in the belly of something more. Or less.
One of the interesting things about Speculate is that we not only get prose poems by both of you, but you each write direct responses to each other’s pieces. But how much influence did you each have on the other one’s responses? Like Dominique, if you hadn’t liked Eugen’s response to “Call me scar” or “Ariadne dreams of a new reality,” could you have made her rewrite it?
Dominique: No way. The pleasure of the text (le plaisir du texte) — think of Roland Barthes. Our creations sprang from the effect of surprise. The weirder the response, the better. In fact, it became a pleasure-filled duel.
Eugen: Imagine a wooing — you can’t predict with certainty your lover’s response, but you know there’s chemistry. I would have been unsettled if, reading Dominique, I felt nothing. There was never a need to rewrite. This manuscript was the easiest edit and proof-read ever. Ask Tricia Reeks, our publisher.
Some pieces in Speculate were previously published elsewhere. Eugen, four of yours previously appeared in the journal Other Terrain, while Dominique, a couple of yours appeared in Western Humanities Review and An Anthology Of Microlit. Are those versions the same as the ones in Speculate?
Dominique: The pieces you mention were republished with no amendments. A couple of others were reprinted with changes to the punctuation. In one case I deleted a word here or there. It was really a question of rhythm.
Eugen: “Blood and sweat,” “The bury ball,” “Unprecedented,” and “Neither a kitchen nor a sky” are verbatim as originally published. The beauty of prose poetry is that you can pen it under a minute in its finished form. It’s writing that’s sentiment, tempo and retort — to rewrite it is to cheat, as that was not your primary instinct.
A lot of the prose poems and responses are also presented on pages with graphical images, as opposed to just plain white pages (though there are a lot of those as well). Whose idea was this and what made you think this would work with these pieces?
Dominique: We didn’t give it a thought. It was Tricia’s idea. I reckon she’s a closet artist slowly coming out. I’d seen some of Tricia’s work on other publications, including Eugen’s The Road To Woop Woop [which you can learn more about by clicking here], and thought it was interesting for a publisher to so actively participate in the design of a book. I thought nothing more of it. Then she sent alternatives for the cover and I was enthralled. And soon enough, we had proofs of the book with this visual commentary on the work. A kind of playful metalanguage, if you like.
Eugen: It takes something to be a successful publisher. Meerkat Press is in a distinguished circle, renowned for quality. This doesn’t happen overnight. Tricia has a vision, and a mission. She’s open-minded. She takes a chance. Tricia does what Tricia wants to do. We had no idea she was going to do images, but we saw them, and loved them.
Unless I’m mistaken, Speculate is the first time you two have collaborated…
Eugen: We actually have collaborated, in part, before Speculate. Dominique, then an associate professor, was my PhD supervisor in creative writing. In fact, I’d met her before, when she was the course convenor of a writing unit in my Masters degree. Without personal investment or even knowing me, she battled for my scholarship to do the doctorate. My PhD experience taught me her passion, kindness, and commitment. They say your supervisor shapes your PhD journey — I finished my doctorate in two-and-a-half years. I’d email Dominique a chapter at 11pm; by 6am the following morning she’d have emailed it back, complete with tracking and suggestions of further referencing. When I invited her to collaborate with me in Speculate, there was already trust and respect.
Oh, cool. So, Eugen, what did Dominique bring to this book that you did not?
Eugen: Dominique brought to this partnership a sense of adventure — she is daring and pushes limits. She also brought her dexterity as an award-winning poet because I’d never imagined myself as a poet before then. Our multi-lingual miscellany was ancillary to our Tower of Babel.
And Dominique, same question to you about Eugen.
Dominique: I had to pull up my socks a couple of times: show, don’t tell; passive voice; tighten; use contractions, especially in dialogue; hmm…this is a bit abstract. Let’s just say there’s an uncanny editor in Eugen, and it haunts. Above all, Eugen rekindled the sense of fun I’d lost writing academic papers.
Eugen, you’ve written microlit before, including in your recent collection The Road To Woop Woop. But who do you see as being the biggest influences on the ones you wrote for Speculate?
Eugen: Ah, Paul, assuming again… I actually hadn’t written this kind of microlit before my venture into prose poetry. True, I’d written flash fiction, but never in the caliber of prose poetry. I would say the reverse: Speculate motivated the poeticity in The Road To Woop Woop.
The Prose Poetry Project in Australia, run by the University of Canberra and led by Professor Paul Hetherington, is certainly the biggest influence on Speculate. If I were to draw names, I’d say Oz Hardwick (audacious and prolific), Jen Webb, Cassandra Atherton, Paul Hetherington…
Dominique, you’ve written a novel, some short stories, and poetry. Who do you see as being the biggest influences on the prose poems you wrote for Speculate?
Dominique: Hard to tell, Paul, but I’m likely to have absorbed the lessons of Baudelaire and Rimbaud during my youth and, later, those of the great experimental Canadian writers Margaret Atwood, Nicole Brossard, and Anne Carson. Most recently I’ve discovered the work of Oz Hardwick after taking a master class with him at a poetry festival. He taught me the simple art of defamiliarization. His prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet certainly deserves a look.
Now, not only are the prose poems in Speculate short, but so is the whole book; it’s only 136 pages long. Given that, do you think people should read Speculate in one sitting or should they spread it out like they might do with a collection of short stories or poems?
Eugen: I wouldn’t dare prescribe an approach to the reading. That’s the thrill of Speculate.
Dominique: I’d say pick and choose at your leisure like you would do with a collection of poems.
Eugen: Though to get the essence, mischievousness, and repartee, read the prose poems in pairs.
Finally, if someone enjoys Speculate, they’ll want to read more of your stuff. So, Eugen, what book of Dominique’s would you recommend they check out and why that one, and Dominique, same question to you about Eugen.
Eugen: Easy. Tracks. Tracks is an elusive thing that leaves you wondering if it’s a collection of poetry, a series of microfictions, a riddle of vignettes… It resists labelling but is a powerful migrant’s journey into a real and imagined Australia. A playful, fragmented poetic resistance to othering. But I also love Kaosmos and Dominique’s experimental writing in general.