Ever since I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction in 1999, I’ve believed that reading an author’s short stories is a great way to get to know their writing. Which is why I’m excited to read Eugen Bacon’s The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories (paperback, Kindle). Doubly so after doing the following email interview, in which she discusses how this collection came together, what inspired and influenced these stories, and which of her other books I, uh, I mean you should read after you finish reading Woop Woop.
The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories is, obviously, a short story collection. But is there a theme to it, something that connects all the stories?
I wanted the stories to have an overarching theme of someone, something dying — even if it was a past, a memory, a future, a connection — in addition to actual deaths in some stories, for example “A Nursery Rhyme,” “Scars Of Grief,” “Dying,” and a “Pining.” In the end, I wound up with the literary strange.
If you’re a parent, you know what I mean by we love all our babies. Not all the stories I started off with made the final cut. An intimate partnership with Meerkat Press was integral to this, and we agreed on stories that didn’t quite “do it,” or were too short or fragmented and left questions. I promised Meerkat Press that I’d replace those with original stories, and we were both thrilled with the seven new ones.
What genres are represented by the stories in The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories?
You know, I write across genres, and what I love about this collection is its strangeness — they are dirges that bend genre. They fit in the speculative realm and most, like “A Good Ball,” “The Enduring,” “The Animal I Am,” and Touched” are rather unconventional.
Having recently read Andrew Hook’s Frequencies Of Existence — he’s one of the most exciting authors I’ve read — and my dialogue with him on his impressions on my writing, I’m increasingly convinced that some of what I write falls into slipstream fiction, the literary strange.
The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories is not your first published work. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on these stories but not on anything else you’ve written?
Toni Morrison’s poetic language has always been an influence in my writing. Peter Temple’s dialogue (taut, propelling the narrative) helped me shape the character of my detective protagonist, Lawfer, in “A Case Of Seeing.” I’ve immensely grown since my first publication those many years ago — there’s so much I’d tell my younger self if I could. And one of those lessons is patience. Like a surgeon, you hone your craft as you practice.
How about movies, TV shows, or games; did any of them have a particular big influence on any of the stories in The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories?
Nothing stands out from movies or TVs, I don’t think. But most writers absorb their world. We steal from the everyday — people, events, conversations — to extrapolate and invent weird stories. I write on a trigger: a word, a thought, a question, an emotion… A curiosity or a longing pulls me to the text and a story births itself.
Also, is there a reason you called this collection The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories as opposed to calling it Snow Metal And Other Stories or Scars Of Grief And Other Stories or something named for one of the other stories in Woop Woop?
Ha ha, you’re too nosy! The collection started with the name A Pining, based on that longing, that curiosity, that loss of something… There was also a theme story in it named “A Pining.” But one day I wrote one of my original stories, “The Road To Woop Woop,” which opens the collection, and it just felt perfect. Meerkat Press thought so too, even though we’d announced the acquisition under A Pining.
Of the 24 stories in The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories, seven are new, while the other 17 were previously published in magazines or anthologies. Are the versions of those stories in Woop Woop the same as they were when they were published before?
As I started collating the stories to go into the collection, I looked at them with new eyes, tidied and sharpened them. It always works, when you put something away a few months, and pick it up, suddenly it’s all so clear what you need to do with it to bring it out. In most, it was small tweaks, but others like “Playback, Jury Of The Heart” were a major rewrite to bring out the characters and the tension. It’s also the longest story and needed to stand its own among the shorter, sharper titbits.
It also helped very much seeing each story anew through my publisher’s eye. Tricia Reeks of Meerkat Press is very engaged, and you know when your story has won her.
As I mentioned earlier, The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories is not the first book you’ve had published. Are any of the stories in it connected to any of your novels?
I would love to write a speculative crime novel based on “A Case Of Seeing.” Detective Chief Inspector Lawfer McDaniel, who has a gift of seeing, is one of the robust characters I’ve ever written. But it worries me I may not capture her voice, her persona…as perfectly in a subsequent story.
It’s been my experience that short stories are a good to get to know a writer’s style. Do you think that’s true of you and The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories?
Absolutely! The diversity of forms and writing styles you’ll get in The Road To Woop Woop give you a flavor of my range. The stories are so different. There’s definitely also the “otherness,” the cross-cultural, where my African-Australianism shows itself. I adore the accompanying illustrations, especially the black speculative ones.
So, if someone enjoys The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories, which of your novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
I’d propose to read my novella, Ivory’s Story, which is an African Australian black speculative fiction that’s also a detective story. The protagonist Ivory Tembo is as close to my heart as Lawfer in “A Case Of Seeing.”
But I’ve also been so productive, and have a graphic collection of microlit or flash fiction titled Black Moon, that a reader looking for something strange, something different, might enjoy.
That said, my debut novel, Claiming T-Mo, was also very well received, and is likely the best litmus test of my voice.