In this lush interplanetary tale, Novic is an immortal Sayneth priest who flouts the conventions of a matriarchal society by choosing a name for his child. This act initiates chaos that splits the boy in two, unleashing a Jekyll-and-Hyde child upon the universe. Named T-Mo by his mother and Odysseus by his father, the story spans the boy’s lifetime a from his early years with his mother Silhouette on planet Grovea to his travels to Earth where he meets and marries Salem, and together they bear a hybrid named Myra. The story unfolds through the eyes of these three distinctive women: Silhouette, Salem and Myra. As they confront their fears and navigate the treacherous paths to love and accept T-Mo/Odysseus and themselves, the darkness in Odysseus urges them to unbearable choices that threaten their very existence.
After reviewing Claiming T-Mo for nbmagazine.co.uk and commenting that Eugen Bacon’s “eloquent, elegant and lyrical prose gripped me from the very first sentence of this immensely passionate, moving and thought-provoking story, and it continued to do so until I closed the final page”, Linda Hepworth was keen to find out more about Eugen’s world building and character development:
Linda Hepworth: Thank you for agreeing to answer my questions Eugen, but before I ask the first one I’d like to say how much I enjoyed reading Claiming T-Mo. My immediate, involuntary WOW as I read the final sentence may not have been the most eloquent way to express how I felt about reading your truly fabulous story, and my appreciation of your elegant, poetical and imaginative prose, but it was a heartfelt exclamation. The power of your writing really did leave me feeling momentarily bereft of words.
Eugen Bacon: Linda, your words mean a lot to me. Let me tell you a story: one of my author crushes—Kaaron Warren—confesses to her writing Kryptonite being imposter syndrome, an idea that she’s only as good as her last story. I don’t know if you’ve read Warren, but her writing has won enough awards to fill a fortress! Yet I understand what she’s saying about this Kryptonite.
Writing is a somewhat private thing and there’s a certain trepidation when the work goes public. Imagine a writer as being in a fragile place, one that is also sacred. Consider the emotional attachment to a creation, and equate advising a writer that their work is inadequate to telling a mother that her baby is ugly. To be published, the writer must give others entry to their precious world. Imagine the writer’s joy when a reader affirms that the text has rendered the author’s vision. This is your gift to me.
LH: Before asking you about your novel, I notice from your bio that you have an impressive academic background in computer sciences but now describe yourself as “a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing” – something which brings to mind the hybrids you write about! I’d love to know something about when you first realised you wanted to be a writer, how that mental re-engineering evolved and whether computer sciences play any part in your life now.
EB: I wouldn’t call it an impressive background. I did a master’s degree in distributed computer systems: websites, databases, programming… This means I was a jack of all trades and a master of none. I worked in IT support for a while, then moved to ITIL incident management, which is about best practice in resolving incidents. I also worked briefly in service management.
But I’ve always found pleasure in text, reading from when I was a child. Stories created a place I could get lost and find myself. I loved English literature and writing essays where imagination soared. Later, I realised you can get professional writing training, free readership in tutors and peers—they helped me hone the craft. Today I steal from the everyday—the world is full of stories! Speculate, extrapolate: this is what I do.
And though I don’t actively practice computer sciences, I’m surrounded by techies.
LH: Your creative writing history is impressive, with many of your speculative fiction short stories having won, been short-listed and commended in numerous international awards. When were your first short stories published and can you recall how you felt when you saw them in print for the first time?
EB: I’ve told this story several times…because I am so proud of it. My first published piece was ‘Morning Dew’, and I have a certificate from the Writers Bureau in the UK to show for it! I later republished the story as ‘The Writer’—it’s a cathartic piece that is also autoethnographic, fictionalised. It was my first earnings as a writer.
In between that accomplishment and others, I made the mistake many young, impatient beginners make, and put work out there that wasn’t ready. There’s no magic to erase those early publications.
Doing a PhD in writing opened doors. Suddenly I could see my work from an exegetical eye. Then I gave myself permission to experiment. And I understood quality.
LH: Claiming T-Mo is your debut novel and I wonder whether writing a full-length novel had been a long-held ambition, or whether something specific triggered its genesis?
EB: I’m a short story writer. Claiming T-Mo was the creative artefact of my PhD in writing where I explored a model of stories-within-a-story for a writer of short fiction to productively apply to a novel. I also looked at how literary writing might contribute to the quality of works in speculative fiction. In Claiming T-Mo I embedded layered vignettes that amounted to a cohesive novel. Each hidden story is self-sufficient yet interlinked into a composite—a sum of the parts.
LH: Given your well-established history of writing short stories, did writing a much longer story face you with any particular challenges?
EB: Impatience. It killed me already to write a longer story that I wanted finished yesterday. The novel demanded structure. It helped that my model of embedded stories welcomes the writer whose form is experimental. In applying it, I was able to take advantage of my familiarity with the merits of the short story—such as economy, intensity, succinctness and moments in time. Writing story by story, I was creating in a discipline already familiar, while layering the novel.
LH: I enjoyed your imaginative development of each of your characters and wonder how clear each of them was in your mind when you started writing, or whether they took you in unexpected directions as the story progressed?
EB: As part of the structure that writing a novel demanded, I generated a chart that told me about character attributes, their strengths and weaknesses. Like memories, these attributes stayed at the back of my mind as each character steered their course, told their story in a manner that startled me.
LH: Thinking about the imaginative development of your characters, one particular creation I very quickly came to love was Red, the singing plant who was capable of sulking – where did he spring from?!
EB: Ah, Red. I’d love to tell you a whole theory suggestive of elaborate planning that conjured this singing plant that knew something about a person who squeezed its leaves. But I suspect the persistent tannins in a spiced Shiraz straight from the Barossa Valley and washing down my throat had something to do with it.
LH: The character of T-Mo/Odysseus carries much of the Jekyll and Hyde theme in the story, but what I found fascinating was how you explored apparently contradictory personality traits in many of your characters. Is this something which particularly interests you in your observations of how people behave and interact?
EB: People, especially babies, fascinate me; you can see it in Claiming T-Mo. The novel takes advantage of the Freudian application of the psychoanalytical—the dynamic unconscious, one that slips out of a character to reveal the hidden, the repressed.
In T-Mo/Odysseus, the child’s unconscious is ‘structured like a language’ as French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan might call it if he were alive. There is something of the Oedipus complex, where the father inducts the child into a world of rules, prohibitions and authorities. In his controversial naming of the child that initiates chaos, it is clearly not genetics but something about the father, Novic, that introduces the complex-unpredictable, the paradox of the anti-hero.
LH: Your story starts with a very powerful account of how Salem reacts to the “puzzle-piece woman with fifty-cent eyes”, a character who has one perfect eye and one which has been disfigured; whose “singular parts were easy to file, were possibly real ….. but all put together, cohesion was lost.” How individuals react to, and cope with, difference is a recurring theme throughout the story and I wonder what attracts you to write about this?
EB: There’s something about the nature of selfhood and the ‘other’ in Claiming T-Mo that I sought to explore. It was a curiosity about the Freudian analysis coupled with Jung’s analytical psychology of the ‘personal’ and the ‘collective’ unconscious.
LH: Linked to the theme of difference, through the character of Tempest (daughter of Myra and her husband Vida) you explore her precociousness in a very moving way, as you do Vida’s recognition that whilst he would like to give his child a “normal life”, normality is not his to bestow. Although Tempest’s precocious abilities have a supernatural element to them, the basic lesson about allowing people to be themselves is such an important one, so did it feel important for you to explore this?
EB: Each character, including Tempest, plays a role in interrogating the challenges and possibilities of being different. Most characters, like Myra, find themselves between worlds in situations of dichotomy, where they could try to ‘belong’, or ‘be’. As a child of multiple cultures myself—a sum of many—it was a theme that was important to explore.
LH: Your descriptions of eyes feature throughout the story and I wonder about their significance for you when you are describing your characters?
EB: The eyes are the windows to a soul, clichéd—right? If I were a serial killer, my trophies would be the eyes.
LH: I was fascinated by your very detailed descriptions of how letters and words sound, and how we use our mouth and tongue to form them. Most of us are inclined to take this for granted so I wonder what is it that fascinates you so much about the “mechanics” of speech?
EB: I love poetics, rhyme, rhythm—how things sound. There’s a musicality in text that I find charming.
LH: I found your prose very visual and wonder whether you have you always had the vivid imagination necessary to create such powerful “word-pictures” and, linked to this, I wonder why writing speculative fiction holds such an appeal for you?
EB: I dream in colour, smell, sound—the sensual is an integral part of me. And speculative fiction breaks the boundaries of traditional genre fiction. It allows ‘extraordinary’ storytelling in the literal sense of the word: odd, unexpected? Speculative fiction takes you to an immeasurable frontier where nothing is a limit. The exploratory writer in me finds affection in this.
LH: There are so many other very specific questions I’d love to ask you about your novel but fear that they would pose a danger of introducing spoilers for anyone who has yet to have the pleasure of reading it, so I’ll concentrate now on a few more general questions, ones which will allow your readers some insight into factors which have influenced your writing.
EB: Sure thing.
LH: Do you have a set routine for writing, and how do you deal with those days when the words just don’t seem to want to cooperate?
EB: I’m rather spontaneous, yet most focused when it comes to writing. Authorly mentors like Toni Morrison and Ray Bradbury remind me what I love about text.
LH: Were you a keen reader as a child and if so, which books/authors do you recall enjoying?
EB: Enid Blyton—I cut my teeth on this woman.
LH: Is there a particular author or work of fiction you feel has influenced your development as a writer?
EB: Most definitely Morrison.
LH: What are you reading at the moment, and do you have any favourite authors you would like to recommend to your readers?
EB: I’ve just finished Kaaron Warren’s Into Bones Like Oil (2019)—it’s fab, just so you know. Exploring Dark Fiction #3: A Primer to Nisi Shawl (2018)—it’s something else. Nathan Ballingrud’s collection Wounds (2019)—truly fine, totally disturbing.
LH: If you were marooned on a desert island, which book would you like to have with you, is there a particular piece of music you’d like to listen to, and what would your luxury item be?
EB: I’d have a collection of short speculative fiction—there are titillating short story writers out there so don’t make me choose. I’d listen to Sia. And you won’t catch me dead without an eye pencil.
LH: Are you working on a new novel and, if so, are you able to share with us what it will be about?
EB: A few projects I’m excited about—a cultural novella currently called Inside the Dreaming set in Australia; a graphic collection of speculative flash fiction; a prose poetry collaboration… I also have a collection of speculative fiction out with Meerkat Press in 2020.
LH: Thank you so much for your patience with answering all these questions Eugen.
EB: God, you killed me, woman. These questions are a book, seriously.
LH: I hope that once Claiming T-Mo is published in August, reading it will bring as much pleasure to other readers as it has to me.
EB: Bless you—ask me more questions.
Our thanks to Eugen Bacon and Linda Hepworth for this excellent Q&A.
Claiming T-Mo by Eugen Bacon
Meerkat Press 9781946154132 pbk Aug 2019