The first thing you need to know about E.C. Myers is that everyone wants to be his friend and sort of falls in love with him when they first meet him. He is super kind, geeky, and sweet. He knows everyone and likes everyone but not in a creepy kind of way. The second thing you need to know about E. C. Myers is that he has written a kick-ass YA novel with a boy protagonist that is about quantum physics, love, and adventure gone horribly wrong. The third thing to know about him is that he was willing to answer every single one of my nosy questions about his book and writing life, because that’s the kind of nice guy he is.
1. What was the most painful, awful part of writing this book?
Thanks for easing into the interview with a fluffy, simple question… There were several parts that were difficult to write, logistically speaking or from a craft point of view, but I’m sure you want to know what was hardest on me emotionally; I think it was any scene where something awful happened to someone Ephraim cares about. There are a few moments like that in the book, but the opening scene where he finds his mother close to death was especially challenging. At the time, I had never gone through anything quite like that, but it was still uncomfortable bringing Ephraim to that place, and imagining the fear, shock, and sense of loss that he experiences when confronted with tragedy. Unsurprisingly, I reworked that first chapter over and over again and it never felt right, until just before I submitted the books to agents, when I realized I needed to start as close as possible to the discovery. Maybe subconsciously I was taking my time to work up to it because I was afraid or nervous about dealing with it. Weirdly, last year I found myself in a situation similar to the first chapter of Fair Coin. I didn’t feel any better prepared for it having already written it, but I did wonder that if I’d had that experience before writing the book, whether it would have helped me write it more authentically or made it impossible to share on the page. I have to say that, from my perspective at least, I got it just about right.
2. Which character in Fair Coin are you most like and how?
Probably Ephraim. I share his sense of decency and responsibility, as well as his inherent awkwardness. But I’ve thought about this a bit since writing the book, and if every author can’t help putting him or herself into the work, then I think it’s just as likely that there are parts of me in three characters: Ephraim, Nathan, and Jena. Nathan freed me to put in most of the puns and inappropriate jokes that I wanted, and Jena—in addition to the most obvious similarity of her being half-Korean—was the nerd and booklover that I was through most of my young adult life, although she was far more popular for it. Wish fulfillment, I suppose.
3. Do you ever use drugs when you write? Which ones?
I hit the caffeine pretty hard when I write. Not only does coffee and tea keep me going in my permanent state of sleep deprivation, but it’s how I “rent” space at the coffee shops I frequently write in. Writing on very little sleep is often beneficial to my writing, because it cuts down on some inhibitions like certain drugs might, but I’ve never been interested in any sort of artificial aids to my creative process.
4. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
When I look back on my life, it seems like I was always meant to be a writer, even when I didn’t know it. If I could choose any other career though, I’d like to direct and edit films. I’d still be telling stories, just in a different way.
5. What’s one piece of advice for new writers, that you’ve never heard anyone else give?
Don’t share your work-in-progress with anyone until it’s done. As with any writing advice, everyone has their own preferences, and some people need the motivation and encouragement that comes from sharing chapters and scenes as they write them, but I find that sort of thing crippling. If I get feedback too early on work that isn’t yet complete, my natural self-doubt about it magnifies and I may never be able to finish it. While I’m writing, I’m still figuring out what I want the story to be, which isn’t necessarily the same as what it should be, and I have to do that part all on my own. I usually need to look at the whole thing before I even understand what it’s about. Maybe that’s not the most efficient process. I just can’t think about other people’s expectations of the work while I’m writing it—unless I solicit advice on a specific problem—so I won’t show anyone even a rough draft until I’ve revised it once without any feedback. Critique and revision is often a collaborative process, and I just need write alone for a while before I can involve other people.
6. Why did you write this book? What do you hope it will do in the world?
I wrote it because I had a cool idea for a story and I wanted to share it with readers, and I set out hoping to surprise them. When I completed the first draft, there were few books that, in my opinion, had explored this concept in a satisfying way; however, as often happens in publishing, by the time your book appears on shelves, the idea that seemed original three years ago is now the popular thing—which isn’t actually all that bad timing.
Now that Fair Coin is out in the world, of course I hope that lots of people read it and that it makes them think a little, or it inspires them in some way to do something positive or creative or interesting that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Is that too lofty a goal? I’ve been considering how I would define this book’s success, and aside from the practical concerns of book sales and building a career and all that, I think I’ll be happy if even one person discovers this book and feels like it was written just for her. Or if a kid picks it up one day and still remembers it years later. Or if someone who read it finds himself thinking about a character or a scene he liked from time to time. These are how my favorite childhood books affected me, and I would be honored if my own books ever make that kind of an impact on a reader.
7. What are three books that changed your life?
In an entirely non-religious way, the Bible; my older sister used it to teach me how to read, and that practically defined by life. Also in a non-religious way, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Ironically enough, I first read the Chronicles of Narnia while I was in Catholic school, but I was completely oblivious to the blatant Christian imagery. The book taught me a true sense of wonder, from the moment Lucy wanders through the wardrobe and discovers the lamppost in the woods, and was probably my first introduction to a sprawling fantasy world—even before I visited Oz or Wonderland for the first time in literature. (The Magician’s Nephew probably had even more of an influence on Fair Coin, and it also showed me how one story could change a reader’s understanding of another one, as it’s a prequel to Wardrobe that I read many books later.) Finally, The Interstellar Pig, which not only introduced me to the wonderful oeuvre of William Sleator, but may have been my first science fiction book. There was no going back after that.
8. What the hell is going to happen in Quantum Coin (the sequel!)?
As usual, just when Ephraim thinks he has the life he’s always wanted, it all goes horribly wrong. An old friend returns to make things even more difficult for him. The stakes are much higher in the second book for everyone involved, and they all have important roles to play. Which is a roundabout way of saying I’m probably not allowed to tell you too much at this point, but I can promise that you do find out more about where the coin came from.
9. Do you really believe in the multiverse? Doesn’t it make any decision in our lived life completely void of meaning? How do you sleep at night, man?
I want to believe. It isn’t a perfect theory, and we may never know if it truly exists, but it’s a nice fantasy to have. I think so anyway, because I take comfort in knowing that this world isn’t all there is, that all of us and everything we create can continue to exist beyond us, or that another version of me might have been spared some pain or loss or troubles in his life. This doesn’t minimize our decisions at all, because they still have weight in our own world—the only one any of us can directly observe. Our actions, the lives we choose to lead here in this universe, have consequences that affect the people around us, strangers and loved ones alike. But that’s one of the central questions, and I leave it to readers to decide on their own. Some might believe that there’s only one “real” universe, considering the rest expendable or interchangeable, while others might attribute worth to every life in every world.