I first heard of Eugene Myers through Twitter, when someone I followed mentioned his upcoming YA novel, Fair Coin. With his novel’s publication imminent (next week), I thought it would be a perfect time to discover some more about the book and his thoughts on writing.
As a debut novelist, I thought I’d start off this interview with something easy: Who is E.C. Myers?
If you call that easy, I think I’m in trouble here.
I could give you my standard short bio: “E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts.” Or maybe, “E.C. Myers is a YA writer who spends too much time on the internet.” Both of those statements are true, but they don’t really tell you who I am. I’m really not trying to be evasive; I just think identity is a very complicated thing. I’m a different person to different people, and in different situations — but each of those personas is still me. Identity can be tricky, constantly changing, which may be why I explore the concept a lot in my writing. I would say one thing about me has remained constant, though: I’m a lucky person. I’m lucky to have figured out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and to have opportunities to do it. A lot of success comes from hard work, of course, but I’d be foolish not to acknowledge how much of it is given to chance. And I’ve been especially lucky in having wonderful friends and family to support and encourage me; if you want to know who a person truly is, I think you should look at the people he or she holds close.
Your first novel, Fair Coin, will be published by Pyr Books in March 2012. How would you introduce it to a new reader? Is it the start of a projected series and, if so, where do you see it going in the future?
When people ask what Fair Coin is about, I usually describe it like this: “It’s about a boy who finds a magic coin. When he flips it, his wishes come true — but only when it lands on heads.” That’s often enough to hook them, or they stop me there because they were just asking to be polite. I think when people hear the premise they don’t really need to know more; it’s natural to start imagining what you would do if you had such a coin, or whether you would even use it knowing that there’s a fifty-fifty chance of your wish going wrong. I’ve been very protective of revealing too much about the plot from there, perhaps too protective — but I personally hate spoilers, even if the spoiler is what would make me interested in reading a book in the first place. I love discovering something unexpected in fiction, that moment of realization that changes your whole view of what came before. And I hope Fair Coin delivers on that.
Fair Coin isn’t the start of a series exactly, but there is a sequel. Quantum Coin should be out in fall 2012. There are no plans to continue the story beyond that, and Quantum Coin really is a continuation rather than half of a complete story — Fair Coin does not end on a cliffhanger. I get frustrated when a book ends in the middle of a story, and I never want to do that to a reader! I think of the two books as separate stories that fit together; if readers like the characters in Fair Coin, I hope they’ll want to see what happens to them next. In keeping with themes of identity and consequences and responsibility in Fair Coin, in the sequel, Ephraim and his friends learn that there are significant repercussions of their actions, and they have to decide if and how they can make up for them.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Many of my story ideas begin with an image, like a scene in a movie. In the case of Fair Coin, I saw a boy flip a coin to make a wish and when he caught it, ripples radiated from it, changing the world around him in its wake. That was too cool not to use, and I had to figure out exactly what was going on—who he was, how the coin works, all of that. And somehow I knew right away that this was a novel-sized idea, even though at the time I was only writing short stories. I came back to that idea and added to it over the years, but the real inspiration for Fair Coin came from my wife, when she helped me work out many of the details and encouraged me to stop saving it and just write it.
When an image doesn’t spark an idea, inspiration can come from almost anywhere else: a throwaway comment from a friend, something I read or watch, a misread word, or simply a deadline. One thing I’ve learned is not to wait for inspiration — just write. The more you write, the more open you are to new ideas.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
The earliest genre stories I encountered were probably in cartoons, weird blends of science fiction and fantasy like He-Man and Thundercats. Those probably primed me for science fiction and fantasy literature. As a kid, I basically read everything I could get my hands on in my public library. So I picked up mysteries like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, fantasies like the Oz books and Doctor Doolittle, and even Sweet Valley High and The Babysitter’s Club. The first science fiction book I read, or at least remember reading, is William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig; from then on, I pretty much stuck to the science fiction shelves in the children’s room, and then went upstairs to find adult science fiction.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
It’s rather amazing to have reached this point, where I’m being paid to tell stories and strangers can read my books. I love that. But it’s also a lot of work, which takes some getting used to and isn’t always enjoyable. So much of the business of writing, for an author in the industry, is caught up in not writing: going over page proofs, marketing your work, doing paperwork, paying taxes, attending conventions. Actually, I do like conventions.
It would be nice to just write and have my books magically appear on shelves and find their way into the hands of readers. I basically want to write and be read, and have someone enjoy what I’ve written. All that other stuff gets in the way of putting new words on the page and discovering the stories I want to tell — that’s the most enjoyable part for me — but it’s a necessary part of the process in order to get your work out there. It’s particularly frustrating when my writing time is already so limited: I have a day job, which is also writing, so to accomplish everything I want to, I wake up early and go to bed late; cut back on TV shows, movies, videogames, and most tragically, reading; and am pretty much just working all the time. I wouldn’t want to do anything else, but I wish I could do more of it.
My writing process is to keep moving forward with the first draft. I don’t go back and revise anything until I have a completed draft, though I’m taking notes on what needs to change later. I do enjoy research, but again, it takes time away from everything else so I sometimes get antsy and just want to start writing and look up what I need later.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I was probably 12 or 13 when I decided I was going to become the youngest novelist ever. I loved books and figured it couldn’t be that hard to write one. Ha! Every now and then I think back on the premise of that science fiction novel fondly, in all its clichéd glory, but I knew even then it was terrible, which is why I abandoned it. That wasn’t my first foray into writing, though; I’ve been writing all my life, before I even realized it was a career to aspire to. My earliest recorded attempt was some Thundercats fan fiction I wrote — and illustrated! — in the first grade, and I wrote some short stories for English classes and things like that in junior high and high school. I didn’t make my first real attempts at writing, revising, and submitting stories for publication until a year after I graduated college, and I’ve been working at it since.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think that some of the most exciting, moving, and provocative ideas in science fiction and fantasy today are happening in MG and YA. I love reading it and I’m privileged to write it. But at the same time, as innovative as the genre can be, I’m also seeing a lot of sameness.
Some of this is just coincidence — one of the idiosyncrasies of publishing, where similar ideas come out at the same time — but a lot of it seems like an attempt to discover the next trend, or create one. I’m not saying it’s a problem necessarily; there are a lot of great books coming out. And fortunately, even with similar ideas bouncing around, the best MG and YA fiction usually focuses on character over plot. That’s where these books truly stand out and what makes me most interested in reading and writing them.
Where does Fair Coin fit? That’s always been a tricky question because it straddles a few lines that make it difficult to describe. I guess I hope it will find an audience interested in reading something different, with a fresh spin on some familiar ideas.
What projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’m completing revisions to Quantum Coin now. After that, I’ll do another round of revisions on my third novel, a standalone science fiction YA which will hopefully go on submission to publishers soon. And then I have a rough draft of a contemporary YA that I want to get back to. It’s weird to think that it will be at least another four or five months before I can start writing a new book. It’s been so long since I’ve been in the drafting phase of a novel, and I miss it. I have a few ideas that I feel ready to write, so we’ll see which of them grabs hold of me when it’s time to pick one.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I just finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, which explores some familiar ideas and plays them against readers’ expectations. It has some great world building, including a nifty and surprising magic system. Now I’m about twenty pages into Kelly Barnhill’s The Mostly True Story of Jack and I’m completely hooked.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m an introvert, which is fine for a writer who spends most of his time alone with a computer, but not great for an author who should go out in public to talk about his work. I’m now more comfortable with that side of writing, and I like meeting new people and spending time with friends, so I think many people think of me as outgoing—but I also need solitary time to relax and recharge.
What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
I’m looking forward to whatever comes next in my life and career. Really, I’m just hoping for something different and good, something exciting to come along. I love Fair Coin, but I’ve lived with this book for about five years. It’s taken a lot of hard work, from a lot of great people, to get it out into the world. It’s time to let go, and I’m ready to move on. I have so many more stories in me, and I hope I have the chance to share them.