Today here we have E. C. Myers, the author of the fantastic novel Fair Coin! At the bottom of this interview is a great giveaway, so keep an eye out for that!
I go wherever the story demands, and it was clear early on that Fair Coin had to be a young adult book. I always had a teenage male protagonist in mind, and I don’t think the story would have the same meaning if an older person acquired a wishing coin; an adult book with the same premise would probably be more about looking backwards and fixing mistakes, instead of looking ahead in life and embracing possibilities. I was more interested in a character that was learning the consequences of his actions in the moment instead of dealing with them years later after living a life of regret.
But I hadn’t read young adult fiction since I was a teenager, so before I started writing Fair Coin, I read all the YA I could get my hands on. I rediscovered my love for the genre and the broad range of experiences, themes, characters, and backgrounds it offers. Though I’m well past my teenage years, questions of choice, identity, and finding your place still resonate with me as a reader and writer; exploring these big questions in the books I read as a kid had a huge impact on the person I am today, and I’m still examining them in the books I’m writing now.
What do you look for in a book?
I look for big ideas and quiet moments, high personal stakes, honesty, and experiences that are very different from my own. I love a story that grabs hold of readers and lets them imagine another world, another life, another perspective. Most of all, I look for characters I can relate to or care about, who respond in interesting and illuminating ways to extraordinary events, whether it’s a science fiction story about saving the universe or a teenager discovering something new and important about herself or the world around her. I look for genuine connections and relationships between characters and heartfelt emotion. I want to be entertained or moved or pushed into thinking about something in a surprising way.
Spicy food is the best food, and any food that isn’t spicy can be fixed. I recently discovered Sriracha, and I’m getting a lot of use out of it. For a while I even considered carrying around capcaicin spray like a character does in Cory Doctorow’s excellent YA book, Little Brother, but I haven’t quite reached that extreme. Yet.
Do you think there needs to be more diversity in young adult fiction?
Definitely. Always. I understand that marketing concerns make some publishers hesitant to take chances on books that represent different races, genders, and sexual orientations in fiction, at least in their main characters, but I think YA is one of the most honest forms of literature out there, and ignoring the rich diversity of readers is disingenuous. Teenage readers can handle non-white protagonists, different cultures, and “non-traditional” family structures, I promise you. We should all trust our readers. All they want is a good story, well told and with interesting, relatable characters — and I think one of the best ways to deliver the latter is through a broad selection of perspectives.
Sometimes we read to recognize ourselves in fiction, and sometimes we read to become someone else entirely. By limiting books to a narrow perspective, we may be shaping a limited, artificial worldview in the kids reading them. I think the only Asian character I remember in books when I was young was Claudia Kishi in The Babysitter’s Club. I always thought she was my favorite because of her quirky, artistic personality, but now I wonder if I was identifying with more than that.
I’ve realized that after a lifetime of reading and watching television and movies, my own “default” for fiction characters, as a reader and a writer, is white male. I’m certain that’s fairly common and that has to change. Worse still, I didn’t think the lack of Asian characters bothered me much until I saw the Pixar film Up, which features Russell, a young Japanese boy; I was surprised by his appearance and by how happy it made me to see an Asian lead onscreen, in a role that wasn’t about him being Asian.
So yes, we do need more diversity in YA: in book covers, in content, and even in the authors writing it. It’s always good to offer more perspectives and experiences to young readers. Truth is, we still need wider representation everywhere.
Not as close as I want to be, and feel I probably should be. My mother is Korean, and because she raised me I was exposed to the food and some traditions, which are fine things but are still fairly superficial aspects of the culture; I don’t know much about Korean history or the people’s deeper beliefs and customs. Despite studying the language in college for a couple of years, I still don’t really speak or understand it, though I can at least read Hangul. Mostly.
A couple of years ago, I researched modern life in South Korea when I decided to write a fantasy story set in contemporary Seoul. I was surprised by all the differences in the Korean mindset and how foreign their customs seemed to me. Even though I claim Korean heritage, I had the uncomfortable impression that I was “appropriating” my own culture for fiction. A lot of this is from growing up in America without much contact with other Koreans. I didn’t have any Korean friends until I went to college. I self-identify as an American, but I’d like to learn more about what it means to be Korean. I’m working on that.
What is your favorite Asian dish?
Whatever’s on the plate in front of me, but I’m partial to kalbi (Korean barbecue), chapchae, and kimbap. I also love fried dumplings!
Oh yes, but I have fallen really far behind anything remotely current. I tend to favor anime over manga, and some of my all-time favorites — again, mostly older stuff — include Kimagure Orange Road; Irresponsible Captain Tylor; Future Boy Conan; Now and Then, Here and There; Haibane Renmei; Cowboy Bebop; and Full Metal Alchemist. Of course, I love almost everything Studio Ghibli produces, especially Whisper of the Heart, Laputa, and Mononoke Hime. Some of my recent favorite anime films are The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. Almost all of these are also very good YA stories.
Do you feel like your Asian heritage influenced your writing at all?
Of course it does. Whether or not I’m conscious of it, the experiences I’ve had because of it are part of me, and they influences the choices I make in my life and in my writing, and particularly how I shape my characters and portray their interactions with each other.
The most obvious influence on Fair Coin is in Jena Kim, who is half-Korean, just like me. I didn’t go out of my way to show lots of Korean things in her house or have her talk about it in casual conversation, because that doesn’t reflect the way I grew up. You can identify with a culture without letting it define you. But her background is a little more prominent in the next book, where it felt more appropriate to address it in how people respond to her appearance and her family.
Ephraim is also of mixed heritage: He’s half-Puerto Rican and half-Irish. I find that I’m interested in writing about characters that straddle two worlds, without quite fitting in either. There’s a sense of alienation that comes from other people categorizing you in a certain group that you don’t feel you really belong in. So I like to engage with questions of identity and perception and the difficulty of choosing your own place in the world, regardless of how you look or how others treat you.
Thanks for stopping by!
E. C. Myers is also giving away a great package to one lucky winner, open to the US and Canada. Enter to win a signed copy of Fair Coin, bookmarks, post cards, AND a package of chocolate coins!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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