E.C. Myers is the author of two YA speculative fiction novels – Fair Coin & Quantum Coin – out now from Pyr. When he isn’t writing, he reads, plays video games, watches films, sleeps as little as possible, and spends far too much time on the internet. Luckily, he let me steal him away to answer a few questions …
1. You’re a prolific reviewer of television, film and video games. One of your current projects is The Viewscreen, where you’re rewatching every episode of Star Trek TNG. How does that kind of writing fit in with the rest of your writing career?
Sometimes I worry that writing for The Viewscreen or even my own blog might be too much of a distraction from my fiction career. It may not make the most sense to devote so much of my limited writing time to work that doesn’t pay, but economics aside, I do think it’s valuable. Writing regularly—any kind of writing—helps me grow as a writer, and the regular deadlines are powerful motivation to sit down at the keyboard and work fast. I love stories in all their forms, especially in television and film, and these re-watches are opportunities to examine fiction critically and think about what makes it brilliant, a spectacular failure, or an interesting effort that just falls short of success. I also think it’s important to be able to write many different things, just as it’s important to read widely, and one day perhaps I will be able to support myself from a variety of freelancing projects like these. It’s also a lot of fun, and I enjoy discussing Star Trek with the smart, engaged community at The Viewscreen.
2. You have a wife, a day job, friends, pets, and hobbies – and you still wrote four novels and several short stories. How do you find the time?
I steal the time wherever I can get it: by falling hopelessly behind on my favorite TV shows while dodging spoilers on the internet, watching the stacks of unplayed video games and unread books grow, getting by on four or five hours of sleep a night so I can stay up late and wake up early, writing during my lunch breaks, and unfortunately giving up too many hours I could be spending with family and friends. I don’t feel like I’ve been as productive as I used to be, so I’m experimenting with new writing routines to counterbalance all the recent changes in my life. The changes are all good ones, but they’re also challenges when you’ve become accustomed to working a certain way. I think if something’s important enough to you, you make the time for it no matter what else you have going on.
3. You’re a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. How did you get involved with the group, and how has that influenced you as a writer?
One of the founding members of Altered Fluid, Kris Dikeman, was one of my classmates at Clarion West in 2005. When we both returned home to New York City after the workshop, she graciously introduced me to the group and sponsored me for membership. I went through their rigorous screening process and happily was accepted. Second to Clarion West, Altered Fluid has probably improved my writing the most. Everyone in the group is deeply committed to the craft of writing and has diverse strengths, areas of expertise, and perspectives. The constant demand for new short stories to critique made me more prolific, and it’s very helpful to not only receive critiques from such smart, experienced writers, but to think critically about each others’ stories and hear everyone else’s reactions and suggestions on every piece. I also appreciate what supportive, fun friends they’ve become—we keep each other informed about story markets, share publishing news and advice, help each other with various projects, and we even go on writing dates and retreats together.
4. What short fiction publication are you most proud of, and why?
Every one of them is a victory, but I’m especially proud of “All the Lonely People”, which appeared in Shimmer issue #13 in April 2011. I think it’s one of my best published pieces, but it took a long time for it to find the perfect home; Shimmer is one of my favorite fiction magazines, and I had been trying to break into the market for years, with several close calls. I also had the privilege of reading that story at the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series, which was definitely a highlight of my career so far.
5. You’ve published two YA novels, Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, and have two others you’re revising. What stage of the novel/publishing process do you enjoy the most?
Naturally I am particularly thrilled by the part that puts my books in the hands of readers! But as far as the writing process goes, it’s a toss-up between writing a first draft, when there’s still so much potential, and revision, when the book is creeping closer to what I want it to be. I like revision when I know what to fix and how to fix it.
6. You’ve mentioned working out ideas for your novel by talking them over with your wife, and you often discuss ideas with other writers. What’s your favorite breakthrough that you got from talking about your stories with others?
I think most of my stories have ended up being a collaboration of sorts, with feedback from my writing group, beta readers, my agent, or my editors shaping the final work. When I do my job right during revision, it’s hard for me to distinguish where individual ideas came from—especially because I have a terrible memory and all the drafts start to blur together. But I can think of one very clear exception that represents a true collaboration.
After Altered Fluid critiqued my story “Masquerade,” which was about body swapping at futuristic sex parties, Mercurio D. Rivera said that it was a compelling and provocative concept but my approach was too light. He suggested we work together on a new piece with the same basic idea, so we scrapped the original plot and reworked the story entirely. Drafting that was one of my most enjoyable and educational writing experiences yet, combining each of our strengths and styles into a surprisingly effective and edgy story. It took us a while to revise it and even longer to find a market for a graphic, sexy SF story about yearning, obsession, and identity, but happily, we just sold “Lost in Natalie” to Space & Time Magazine.
7. You’re of mixed Korean and German ancestry but have refrained from writing about Korean characters from a concern about “appropriating” your own heritage. How do you balance being American with being Asian, while mining your own life for writing prompts, as we writers always do?
Being Asian is something I’ve always been distantly aware of as a characteristic, like the fact that I wear glasses, rather than what I would consider an integral aspect of my identity. That’s ridiculous of course, because whether I was conscious of it or not, it is part of who I am—and it has affected the way I’ve interacted with people all my life, how other people see me, and how I think of myself. I was raised by my Korean mother, but she wanted me to fit into American culture, unfortunately at the expense of me not learning much about my Korean heritage. I’m well-acquainted with the delicious cuisine, I can read the language (but not converse in it beyond the basics), and I know about some of the customs and holidays, but I very much feel like an outsider. So the balance is heavily skewed, but I can still write honestly about Asian-American characters that might have some of the same experiences and perspectives that I had. I’ve only occasionally tried to write settings and characters with closer ties to Korean mythology and culture, using them as opportunities to research my own background and try to understand it — thus the feeling of appropriation. I hope to do more of that whenever it’s right for the stories I want to tell. I feel a responsibility to add to the diversity of the field, and I’d also like to know more about where I came from.
8. If you could have dinner with any one author, who would you pick, and why?
I feel like I should pick one of my author friends because I like having dinner with them and it would be nicely low pressure — I still get a little starstruck around writers I admire. In the hopes that I still might meet or even dine with the living authors I might want to talk to—and failing that, there’s always Twitter—I’m going to choose a deceased one: William Sleator. His novel Interstellar Pig is the first science fiction book I remember reading, and it and Singularity have stuck in my mind since I was a kid. I’d like to thank him and talk about writing and his career and life, because I think he has helped shape a lot of my own sensibilities in writing young adult fiction.
9. I adore the original Twilight Zone series, and I hear you do too. What’s your favorite episode? Why?
What an unfair question! I have so many of them: probably the ones you’d expect, the classics most often rerun in those holiday marathons. I referenced several episodes by name in Fair Coin, but I was a little more subtle in calling out what I think is my favorite, “Time Enough at Last.” In the episode, a bookworm, brilliantly played by Burgess Meredith, is the sole survivor of a nuclear attack which leaves him blissfully alone and unhindered by his nagging wife and his irritating day job as a bank teller. He stumbles across the scattered books from a library and realizes he can finally read as much as he wants to. Then he breaks his glasses! I can certainly identify with both his love for books and his myopia. There’s a scene in the episode where he sorts the library books into piles for each month, and I have one of my characters do the same thing in my novel.
10. If you could live in any celluloid universe – television or film – which would it be? What makes it a more appealing universe than the one we live in now?
Are they still using celluloid? I’ve often said that I want to be a Miyazaki character. Not only are his animated worlds lush and beautiful and fun to play in, but his protagonists operate under cartoon physics, so I’d be able to run up walls, fall from great distances, and demonstrate extraordinary strength. No matter how high the stakes are or how dangerous the challenges, his characters seem to take joy in simple pleasures: good company, tasty food, and unspoiled nature.