E. C. Myers is author of debut novel, FAIR COIN, as well as several short stories. 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. Check out his twitter, @ecmyers , his Star Trek TNG rewatch at theviewscreen.com , and, of course, his author webpage at http://ecmyers.net/ .
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to start writing? How did you begin?
E. C. Myers: I didn’t make a serious effort at writing until 2001. At the time I was working as a technical writer, and one day I decided I needed to write something completely different from user manuals and software documentation. I began with science fiction and fantasy short stories. Back then I really wanted to write screenplays for film and television, but I didn’t want to move to L.A.; I figured I could write and submit fiction from anywhere, and I would publish–or not–based entirely on my own merits.
E. C. Myers: Aside from one class on screenwriting in college, I haven’t had any formal writing training. I learned my craft from a lifetime of reading, first of all. And I also turned to writing instruction books to get started, especially Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Characters & Viewpoint, and tips on his website. I read and wrote a lot of short fiction to try to figure out what did and didn’t work in a story, and what would and wouldn’t sell. The real breakthrough for me as a writer was the Clarion West Writers Workshop, an intense bootcamp for writers that I attended in 2005. It condenses six years of learning into six weeks, through exercises and lessons from established writing professionals like Connie Willis and Octavia E. Butler. That’s where I learned to think critically and apply these observations to my own writing, through group critiques with seventeen other writers. That was all the training I needed, but essentially, I learned from doing and failing–a lot.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did you write until your first sale? What was that?
E. C. Myers: I guess it was about four years of writing and submitting before I made my first sale in 2005, shortly before going to Clarion West. It was a flash story called “Snow Angels” to a flash fiction market called Flash Me Magazine. It was a small sale, but it was a big moment for me, and it came at a time when I was starting to wonder if I would ever be good enough to get published. It’s still out there on the internet.
SFFWRTCHT: What aspect of Fair Coin came first? Characters? Plot? Setting?
E. C. Myers: Plot. It’s almost always a plot idea that starts a story for me. In this case, I had the image of a guy flipping a coin and making a wish. When he caught the coin a ripple expanded from it, changing the world around him in its wake. I knew there was a wishing fountain involved, and that he thought the coin was magic. From there I had to figure everything else out: who he was, what the coin was, how it worked.
SFFWRTCHT: What sort of pre-writing did you do for Fair Coin? Did you outline?
E. C. Myers: The only pre-writing consisted of whatever notes I jotted down in my notebooks over the course of a couple of years. When I decided it was finally time to try to write the book, I looked over all those story fragments and hashed out what I thought were the key moments and concepts. Then I started writing it. I usually don’t outline a book beforehand, preferring to figure the story out organically as I go, but I did outline the book after I wrote each chapter, so I could keep track of everything, which helped a lot in revision.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?
E. C. Myers: A little of both. I have planned time every morning before work for about an hour, but I steal additional time wherever I can–lunch breaks, after work, late at night, and especially on weekends. An uninterrupted weekend where I can write for the whole day is like heaven. One thing I learned after Clarion West is that you have to write when you can; there’s no perfect time, and you have to be able to write under all sorts of conditions. I’ve written on trains, in the hall at jury duty, in laundromats, busy coffee shops… You have to make the time instead of making excuses.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?
E. C. Myers: I’ve been dabbling with Scrivener, but only for revising novel drafts so far. I haven’t used it from scratch on a new book yet, and sometimes it seems like overkill for more straightforward edits. I listen to classical music on Pandora or movie, anime, or video game soundtracks when I need to drown out conversations at the coffee shop–any instrumental music without lyrics will do. Sometimes I’ll discover songs that resonate with a book I’m writing, but I don’t need to listen to anything for inspiration.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you deal with writer’s block?
E. C. Myers: Writer’s block usually means I’m on the wrong track or I haven’t figured something out yet, so I take a break to brainstorm for a bit, or I switch to working on another project. I might also watch a movie or some television just to distract me, or run on the treadmill at the gym to give my subconscious time to work it out. And if all else fails, I push through with brute force and just write something awful that I know will have to be rewritten entirely, just to keep the story moving forward.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play, if any, in your process as a professional author?
E. C. Myers: Beta readers are a huge, essential part of my process. I have a terrific writing group called Altered Fluid which has read pretty much every short story I’ve written since Clarion West, and many members of the group have also read my first three novels. It’s really important to get other perspectives on my work, because I’m too close to it and it’s hard to know if the story and characters make sense outside of my own head. I also get tremendous feedback, insights, and line edits from my agent, Eddie Schneider, and of course, there’s no substitute for a good editor who gets your work. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to become friends with other writers through conventions, workshops, and the internet, and some of those have become beta readers too–so I usually can have different groups read different drafts to give me a sense of how successful my revisions are.
SFFWRTCHT: What advice would you give an up and coming writer?
E. C. Myers: I think the best thing you can do is find a writing group or create one on your own, in person or online. It can help so much in motivating you to produce new work, helping you learn how to critique, and exposing yourself to different perspectives, different stories, and different processes. A mix of writers of different levels is best–you can learn from someone less experienced as well as someone who has been writing and publishing for years. I also say you should just write as often as you can, prioritizing it over things like television and video games. Persist. Don’t be afraid of failure. And you need to read–a lot. Read anything and everything. Don’t limit yourself to just one genre, or things that are like what you write.
SFFWRTCHT: Are you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?
E. C. Myers: I like going to cons as often as I can afford the cost in time and money, but I haven’t been involved in panels and that kind of thing yet. I don’t cosplay, mostly because I have zero talent at creating costumes, and I’m no longer as obsessed with other people’s stories as I am with my own. About the farthest I’ll go is wearing a Superman T-shirt.
E. C. Myers: It probably started as a kid in the cartoons that I watched, but as far as fiction goes, I have to attribute it to William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig, which is the first science fiction book that made a big enough impression on me that I remember it today.
SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?
E. C. Myers: In addition to Sleator, I loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, Beverly Cleary, E. Nesbit, Roald Dahl, L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and Doctor Dolittle. I also adore a book most people probably haven’t heard of: The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien, who is much more famous for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh and Z for Zacharia.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you define science fiction? “Hard” science fiction versus “soft” science fiction?
E. C. Myers: That’s always a tricky one. Science fiction is a story that would not work if you removed the scientific or technological concept. Hard science fiction, to me, places more of a focus on getting the scientific theories right and developing the plot than on the characters, while soft science fiction is more character-oriented and the rules of the technology or science are less stringent–almost magical, really. I think a lot of social science fiction, and dystopias, fall into that category.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
E. C. Myers: I don’t know if you’ll look forward to them necessarily, but I’m finishing up the sequel to Fair Coin now, Quantum Coin, which should be out in the fall. After that I’m going to revise a standalone science fiction/alternate history YA about a world where everyone remembers their past lives. There’s a fourth book in much rougher shape which will be a contemporary young adult book about twins, theater, and soccer.
To read our review of Fair Coin, click here.
Michelle Ristuccia writes short fiction of all speculative fiction genres in between chasing her toddler from tree to tree. The shorter the work, the better, because 200 words looks very long on her cellphone and that keypad is very, very small. You can find out more about her rabid love of Star Trek, podcasting, and raising future geeklings at her blog, wakingdreamsblog.blogspot.com