E.C. Myers is a writer who earlier this year released his debut young adult science fiction novel, Fair Coin.
Fair Coin is published by Pyr, the science fiction and fantasy imprint from Prometheus Books.
An interesting side note regarding Fair Coin is that the love interest of the main character happens to be half Korean.
HalfKorean.com had a chance to talk with E.C. about his background, his writing and Fair Coin.
What is your mix?
I’m Korean on my mother’s side and German on my father’s.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Yonkers, New York. And yes, I got lost there all the time!
What is your current occupation?
In addition to my fiction writing, I also write nonfiction at my day job. I work as a development writer for a nonprofit hospital, providing writing and editing support for my department and writing articles for the website and various organization publications. So I pretty much write all the time, but in very different styles for disparate audiences.
Growing up, what was your mixed Korean experience like?
There were no other Asian Americans in my school until I went to junior high; it wasn’t until college that I met other Korean and mixed Korean students. It was somewhat isolating at times, but not really a source of significant concern. It was just my reality: I only encountered Korean culture at home, and at school, I mostly identified as simply American. (My father was out of the picture early on, so I am even less connected to my German heritage.) I never felt like I had to hide that I was Korean, but I also didn’t advertise it. Most of my classmates couldn’t even tell that I was Korean—they either assumed I was Chinese or Filipino, or oddly enough, some figured me as Hispanic. To some people I look very Korean, and to others I just look different. I was fortunate, I suppose, that I was rarely teased or bullied because I was Asian. Instead, I was a target because I was basically a nerd.
I did occasionally interact with other Koreans while growing up: the children of my mother’s friends, kids at Sunday school the few times my mother dragged me and my older sister to Korean churches, and distant relatives on two trips to visit my mother’s family when I was too young too appreciate it. I never felt comfortable with them and had a hard time fitting in, not through any fault of theirs but because I didn’t speak Hangul. It was torture to sit through a sermon with no idea what the pastor was saying. It’s awkward when I meet my mother’s friends even now, because she still has to translate for me. I’m embarrassed because I feel I should be able to converse with them—especially since they’re often talking about me. You can always tell when you’re the topic of conversation, in any language.
I became friends with some Koreans at college, when I started studying Hangul, but we never really got close. We all grew up with very different experiences and relationships to our shared culture. My discomfort from my interactions when I was young also discouraged me from seeking out many peer groups in college, and sometimes I was put off because they often were far more religious than I am.
How long have you been interested in writing?
To some degree, I’ve been interested since I was 11 or 12, but I didn’t pursue it seriously until late in college. I initially wanted to write screenplays and television scripts, but a year after graduation, I started writing science fiction and fantasy short stories and I kept working at them for years without selling any of them. But after I attended an intensive writing workshop, I finally started getting published.
Have your parents and family been supportive of your ambitions?
My mother has always been proud and supportive of anything I wanted to do, and she couldn’t have been happier whenever I published a story in even the smallest market. Now that I have a book out, she goes around telling everyone she meets to buy it—which is kind of embarrassing, really, but I appreciate her enthusiasm. She’s better at marketing it than I am.
Has being of mixed race played any role in your writing?
I don’t think it has had much impact on the publishing opportunities available to me or influenced my successes at all; one of the nice things about writing is that in general, your work speaks for itself. With persistence, talent, and a little luck, most good writing will get noticed and published. The author’s background doesn’t necessarily come into it until you’re trying to market the work, if at all—because then you’re also trying to sell the person. And in that respect, being of mixed race has helped get me a little more attention (with interviews like this, for instance) than if I were simply another white male author with a new book.
I’ve always been conflicted about using that to my advantage, but it hardly ever comes into play; at least on paper, you wouldn’t know I’m Korean unless you saw a picture or met me in person, and even then, I’m not sure that’s something that people think of right off, or how I even self-identify all the time. At one point while my wife and I were dating, I e-mailed her an interesting article I’d run across about interracial couples, and she wondered why I’d sent it until she eventually realized it was about people like us!
But my heritage and experiences as a mixed Korean are very much a part of me. That’s something I have been thinking about more and more lately, and even trying to explore in some of my fiction. One reason for that is I strongly feel that we need more multicultural fiction out there, representing more diverse experiences, especially for young readers. And there are still far too few people of color getting published, or at least getting noticed.
Who are some of your writing influences?
One of my biggest influences is William Sleator, who wrote the first science fiction book I remember reading, Interstellar Pig. My book is kind of in the tradition of the stories he wrote, which were frequently based around an exciting science fiction idea but focused on young characters coping with extraordinary circumstances at great personal cost. I was also heavily influenced by Rod Serling, who is best known for creating and writing many episodes of The Twilight Zone. The stories on that show captured my imagination when I was young, and at the heart of the best episodes was a flawed protagonist wrestling with hard decisions, personal demons, and bizarre events.
Let’s talk about Fair Coin. When did you start writing it and what motivated you to write the book?
I started writing it in March 2007, but I had been thinking about it for a couple of years before that. I had been writing short stories for six years and figured I would have to try a novel eventually, but I never felt quite ready for that. I told my wife (my girlfriend at the time) about the basic premise for Fair Coin—a kid who finds a magic coin that seems to grant his wishes when he flips it, depending on whether it lands on heads or tails—and she encouraged me to pursue it. She helped me work out more of the plot and gave me some recommendations for good young adult books to re-familiarize myself with the genre. So I decided to just start at the beginning and see how far I could take it. It also helped that I’d been hearing for a while that my writing had a good YA style, and this was a project where I could let that come out naturally instead of struggling against it in the stories that were intended for adult readers.
What kind of reception has Fair Coin received since being released?
The reviews from critics for some of the trade journals for librarians and schools have been mixed but overall favorable. Happily, more readers seem to like it than not, and some have even said they loved it; it’s terrific when someone connects to the book that much. I’ve always felt that if even a single person thinks of one of my books as fondly as the ones I remember as a kid, then I would consider it a success, regardless of everything else that might happen with it. Fair Coin hasn’t had a lot of press coverage, but a glowing review on io9.com in April more than made up for that. They called it “pure awesome crack,” which convinced a lot of science fiction and fantasy fans to read it.
I’ve been paying more attention to reviews and ratings then I probably should, but it’s exciting to have people reading and responding to my work, so I can’t help myself. I knew from the beginning that the book would be tough to market because I want to preserve as many surprises in the story as I can. I expected readers would be split evenly on whether they like it or not, but thank goodness, that isn’t the case.
What projects are you working on currently or in the future?
I recently finished my last round of edits on the sequel to Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, which should be published in October 2012, so now I’m revising two other standalone young adult novels that have been in the works for a while. One is a science fiction alternate history titled Who We Used to Be, about a version of our world in which everyone remembers their past lives when they’re teenagers, and the other is a contemporary story about identical twin brothers tentatively called Understudy.
What kind of goals have you set for yourself?
In the short term, I’d like to get Who We Used to Be ready for my agent to submit, hopefully by the fall, and I’m trying to get a draft of Understudy into shape for a writing workshop I’m attending in August. But I’ve been pretty busy with book promotion these days, and will be again come fall, so progress has been slow. My long term goal is to start writing a brand new novel by the end of the year, and maybe a short story or two.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just that embracing the mixed Korean part of me and thinking about how that has affected my work and might influence it in the future is still new to me. In some ways, I worry that when I write about Korean culture, I’m appropriating my own heritage, because I still have so much to learn about it. But I want to explore it more and I’m trying my best, because I’ve come to realize just how powerful the experience has been and that it’s important to share it with others. I hope I can accomplish that in my writing.
Any final words to the mixed Korean community?
Thank you for welcoming me here! I had no idea that such a wonderful community even existed until a friend directed me to this website. I wish I had discovered it a lot sooner. I’m grateful and excited that after all this time, I have finally connected with others who know exactly what it’s like to grow up with a mixed background. And I’m planning to buy the T-shirt.
We want to thank E.C. for discussing with us his background, writing and book, Fair Coin.
We wish the best for him and look forward to the sequel, Quantum Coin, as well as all of his future books. For more information regarding E.C., please check out his official website and follow him on Twitter. For more on Fair Coin, please check the official website and Facebook.