Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! Your story is the first collaboration we’ve published since our relaunch. Can you tell us how the idea for “The Failing Name” came about?
EB: I’d read Seb Doubinsky’s City-States series by Meerkat Press and really loved his bullet style—he’s in, he’s out, doesn’t linger. Having done story collaborations with other writers, I wondered how it might be to write an Afrofrancophone story with Seb. I knew it would be a migrant story, didn’t know where it would go. It was an amorphous creation.
SD: Eugen Bacon contacted me with the idea of working on some story together. I was really happy and flattered, as Eugen is a writer I hold in high esteem. She wanted to write a story set in a Francophone setting and her ideas were great so I said: OK! Avec plaisir, madame!
Can you tell us more about your collaboration and how it worked?
EB: Merci! Absolutely; thank you for this question. Collaborations are about trust and respect. I appreciated that Seb, like me, is bilingual, cross-cultural, and I felt that this would add texture to our story. I wrote the first part, sent the story, nudging itself out in iterations, to Seb—who was immersed in setting up for online learning (he teaches at a university in Denmark) in the crux of the pandemic. He sat on it a bit, apologised a lot. When I saw what he did with our story—he wrote the part where Jolainne’s creation comes alive in a swift and shattering appearance that shifts the story’s tempo—I forgave him. Seb did the bullet.
SD: It was a wonderful collaboration. Eugen is first, very patient, and second, very dedicated. She sent me, I think, two or three versions of the first part in its growth, in which I could see the character and story develop. It was beautifully crafted and written, and I was very afraid of not being at her level! Then we discussed the homonculus/spirit role and identity and it became clearer and clearer, and I did my part.
As the story progresses, the reader learns that there is a connection between the boy that Jolainne saved in the opening paragraphs and the gingerbread boy she creates from soil and clay. Can you describe that connection?
EB: Jolainne has a yearning and a longing, for spaces in her lost childhood, and this boy—Alain, Divin, Rivlin, Yavan? She can’t remember—first reminds her to be a child again. Later, she recreates him to assuage another need. She doesn’t expect that his thinking is still a child’s.
The adults in Jolainne’s life seem to fail her in many ways. Can you talk to us about how this impacts her?
EB: I wrote an article “Push—a prototype of displaced fiction: Breaking the circle of silence” about adapting adult themes into fiction with young protagonists. In it, I cast a crucial gaze on the child Precious in Sapphire’s novel Push (1998). What happens to Jolainne is terrible, worse that adults have a role in it. “The Failing Name” is not only a migrant story, but a story that breaks silence on dreadful things that happen to young people—no wonder some walk around with all-manner-of-hopelessness and some take matters into their own hands.
In Push, Sapphire spotlights the writer as an agent of change—whatever plight you mean to thrust on the young protagonist in your story, don’t devastate them to no end. There are no Macbeths. Give them a rake, a hose, a pruner, a pair of secateurs, a portal, a magical fist, a creation they can summon . . . give them something, anything, someone. For Jolainne, this something, anything, someone is Alain, Divin, Rivlin, Yavan—the failing name. She plays maker in a Promethean shift that’s as creative as it is rebellious. Toward closing, she wonders why no mango hit a head to save her—this is what she did for the boy at the start of the story, saved him. Yet at her deepest need, no one is there.
Toward the end of the story, Jolainne’s creation comes to life and we shift to his perspective. Can you tell us what message you were trying to convey in this brief but impactful appearance?
EB: Seb wrote this part—let him speak to it.
SD: Well, the most difficult part was, for me, the identity of this creation, because of Jolainne. I told Eugen that I didn’t want to “blackface” my character, as it would have been, for me, a complete insult to Afrocentric culture and people of color, so I had to come up with another strategy, which was to make “him” an “it”, that is to say, a spiritual being whose shapelessness is molded into being by Jolainne. This is why he is waiting in the end. In my eyes, he is more of a protective Golem than a guardian angel or an alchemical prince charming.
What are you working on now, and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
SD: I have a novel, Paperclip, coming out this August through Meerkat Press, which is part of my City-States series, and a collection of horror stories, co-written with J.S. Breukelaar, The Turn Of The Seasons—A Dark Almanac, which will come out through IFWG Publishing Australia in 2022.
EB: Danged Black Thing by Transit Lounge Publishing (November 2021) is a literary speculative collection that reflects my hybridity and pays attention to love, migration, climate change, gender, class, and patriarchy. It casts an important gaze on women and children.
Mage of Fools by Meerkat Press (March 2022) is an afrofuturistic dystopian novel with a black female protagonist in a socialist country where climate change has killed the men.
Saving Shadows, out from NewCon Press (December 2021), is a compilation of micro fiction, vividly illustrated by Italian artist Elena Betti. The collection is about climate change, Black Lives Matter, the pandemic, covfefe, and how about bleach?
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