A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. Eric is also an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show.
One of Eric’s earliest memories is of an Apollo launch on television. Thanks to his father’s old science fiction collection, Eric grew up reading Asimov and Heinlein.
Eric attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp and the Odyssey Writing Workshop.Eric lives in Utah. His website is www.ericjamesstone.com.
Congratulations on your Nebula win for That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made! Can you tell us a bit about the experience of being nominated and winning the award?
Thanks. Getting nominated was a great honor, and I really did not expect to win because I was up against such fantastic writers. So before the event, people kept asking me if I was nervous, and I could honestly reply that I wasn’t. However, as Gordon van Gelder read the nominees for the category before mine, I realized my palms were sweating. So I was nervous after all, but I was still shocked when John Kessel announced I was the winner. I was in a happy daze the rest of the night–and for most of the next couple of months.
Did you use any of the lessons or techniques learned at the Odyssey Writing Workshop in writing this novelette?
Of course. A lot of what I learned at Odyssey came into play, but the particular thing that Jeanne Cavelos taught me that helped shape this story was to figure out what the main character’s desires and fears were.
When and how did you make your first sale?
When I attended Orson Scott Card’s writing workshop in the summer of 2003, he encouraged us to enter the Writers of the Future Contest, so I committed to entering every quarter. Before the September deadline, I sent off the best story I had. In December, they told me I was a finalist in the contest. In January, I found out I was not a winner, but then in February I found out that they wanted to include my story in the anthology as a published finalist. And that was my first sale. I highly encourage new writers to submit to the Writers of the Future Contest, because that was my first big break.
How many stages does your work go through before you send it out to market?
It varies, but the following is typical: (1) Come up with an idea and maybe outline the story. (2) Write the story. (3) Submit it to my writing groups for feedback. (3) Maybe let it sit for a while. (4) Polish it up after taking the feedback into account and send it out. (Note that my stories tend not to go through multiple full redrafts. That’s because I have difficulty turning off my “internal editor,” so I tend to redraft paragraphs as I’m writing. As a result, my first drafts take a while, but are fairly clean.)
Collecting rejection slips is part of the process of being a writer. Can you tell us some rejection stories? What is your philosophy on rejections?
I have a rejection story that I often share with new writers: Back when I was in college, I wrote some stories for a creative writing class. I thought one of them was good enough to submit, so I submitted it. It got rejected. I submitted it someplace else. It got rejected. And so, after two rejections, I got discouraged and pretty much gave up on writing fiction for over ten years. DO NOT FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE. If I had stuck with it, I would be much farther along in my writing career than I am now.
While most of my published stories sold to one of the first several markets I sent them to, one of my stories sold to a professional market on its 17th submission and another sold on its 15th. One of my unpublished stories is currently on its 24th submission, because I still believe in it. That’s my philosophy about rejections: if I still believe in the story, I keep submitting it to markets I’d be proud to see it in.
How do you feel your writing and process changed as a result of attending Odyssey?
I already had several professional sales under my belt when I attended Odyssey. I felt like I was a competent writer, but I was looking for ways to move up a level. While at Odyssey, I wrote what I still think is my best story, “The Robot Sorcerer,” and that one developed the way it did thanks to Jeanne’s advice about figuring out my main character’s desires and fears. Before Odyssey, my characters tended to be playing pieces put into the story because I needed someone to take the actions in my plot. After Odyssey, my characters tend to be instrumental in determining what the plot is.
Among your Odyssey classmates, your critiquing skills are legendary, and you are now a critiquer for the Odyssey Critique Service. When you read the work of developing writers, what weaknesses do you most often find?
Most of the stories by developing writers that I see nowadays is through my position as an assistant editor for Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. What I look for in a manuscript is (1) intriguing characters (2) facing interesting challenges, leading to (3) a satisfying conclusion. Many of the manuscripts I see by new writers tend to lack at least one of those three elements.
E-publishing is big news right now. How is this affecting your views or plans for the future?
I’ve put up reprints of some of my stories as ebooks, and I tried an experiment with e-publishing a novel, although I shut that down after I got an agent. At this point, while there’s a lot of excitement about e-publishing, I think finding a publisher still holds many advantages over self-publishing. I don’t know if that will still be true in five to ten years.
What are you working on now, and when can we expect to see it?
I’m working on revising one of my novels for an editor who’s interested. If all goes well, it may get published in the next few years.
For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.
Photo Copyright © 2008 by Eric James Stone.