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All Things Asian Interview and Giveaway: E. C. Myers

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!

What made you choose to write the genre you do?

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.

What is your opinion on spicy food?

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.

How close would you say you are to Asian culture? 
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!

Do you enjoy anime or manga? If so which ones?

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

To follow the rest of the event, go to our All Things Asian event page for all the posts and giveaways! Click HERE to see more awesomeness. (And no, you don't have to be Asian to participate!)


We Heart YA said...

"Sometimes we read to recognize ourselves in fiction, and sometimes we read to become someone else entirely."

Yes. That.

"I find that I’m interested in writing about characters that straddle two worlds, without quite fitting in either."

Ditto. Probably also because I'm a halfie. ;)

Great interview! And mmm, kalbi. You should check out the anime Fushigi Yugi - so good!

- Kristan

E.C. Myers said...

Kristan, I probably should have mentioned Fushigi Yugi--definitely one of my faves! Chichiri is the best. :)

Christina said...

Gah! I love Cowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist, but I hated Now and Then, Here and There with a fiery passion. We watched it in anime club. I made it through the first couple episodes and then decided to cut out before watching those, staying only for Ouran High School Host Club. But I guess it's not for everyone.

I love anime, and approve of pretty much all of these things that you've said. Though I'm not Asian, I love the increased diversity in YA fiction. I've come to expect Asian characters because of my obsession with anime, manga and kdrama.

I'm really looking forward to seeing where your story took you in Fair Coin!

Kelly Andrews said...

Always nice to see YA with male protagonists, and interesting to see how your heritage came in.

E.C. Myers said...

Christina, to be honest, a good portion of my love for Now and Then came from the animation and character designs. But the show gets dark and creepy, and the protag gets annoying with his single-minded drive to protect La La Rue, while yelling her name every chance he gets. It was just very different from most things I'd seen at the time, which is one of the things I love about anime--it often takes the familiar and twists it into something new and interesting. I also appreciate shorter series that tell a tight, complex, and complete story in 13 or 26 episodes!

Christina said...

It GETS creepy? I was thoroughly creeped out by the time I stopped watching. There had already been a brutal cat murder and a seriously implied rape. Eesh. It also bothered me how long the characters looked. Stop doing that to a child!!!

Also...Hamdo. Sure, he's hella creepy, but I laughed every time I heard his name. He sounds like you could bake him into a meat crust, perhaps to go around the pies baked in Titus Andronicus.

thespectacleblog said...

Claudia was always my favorite BSC character too. :)

Great to see more YA science fiction. I totally agree that YA readers can be trusted more than adults would guess. You would not believe some of the amazing literature my students read--from all different countries. Sometimes they have to explain it to me because I haven't heard of it--stuff from Taiwan and Japan and everywhere.


thespectacleblog said...

Claudia was my favorite too!

Glad to hear from a YA science fiction writer. And I agree that YA readers deserve a lot of trust. My students read all kinds of books from all kinds of countries.

Lilian said...

I miss my anime crazy days of Fullmetal Alchemist...and I remember reading the manga as well. But then I got bored of waiting for releases after like ten volumes

I LOVE fried dumplings!

Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

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