Eric James Stone
How did you get started as a writer?
I wrote my first story in first grade. My teacher typed it up for me, and I still have it. But while I wrote creatively for classes throughout my school years, including college, I didn’t really pursue it seriously until I was in my thirties. I started work on a novel, and because I’m a little on the lazy side, I took a community education writing class to give me some deadlines for writing. My teacher suggested that I should write some short stories to get my name out there while working on my novel, so I took one of the exercises I had written for class, expanded it, and started submitting. It garnered a nice rejection from Analog, and then I submitted it to the Writers of the Future Contest. It was chosen as a finalist, and although it did not win, it was included as a published finalist in the anthology. That was my first publication, and the beginning of my professional career as a writer.
Why science fiction, fantasy, and horror? (Both as a reader and as a writer.)
My dad had a large collection of Golden-Age science fiction, so I grew up reading Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. When it came to writing, science fiction was a natural fit for me. Although I had read some fantasy here and there, it wasn’t until one of my brothers introduced me to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series that I got seriously interested in fantasy. In fact, that was what probably stirred me to write that first novel. As for horror, I went through a Stephen King phase in law school, but haven’t read widely in the genre since. But when Kevin J. Anderson asked if I could write funny horror for the first Blood Lite anthology, I said I could, and I did.
Your story “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” which won a Nebula and was a Hugo finalist, is about plasma beings in an LDS branch in the center of the sun, and is a great tale. What’s the backstory?
I went to a writing workshop run by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch. The main assignment while there was to write a complete short story based on a person, a location, and a problem that they specified. For a reason that will become clear in a moment, I don’t remember what the person was, but the location was “the middle of the sun,” and the problem was “can’t get a date.” Once we all had our assignments, they pulled a switcheroo and said that instead of the person they had specified, we needed to write our stories with main characters based on ourselves.
Well, one of the most important aspects of my personality is my LDS faith. And I could not recall ever having read a story with a faithful LDS protagonist in a high-tech future. (Orson Scott Card had written some post-apocalyptic stories with faithful LDS characters, but that’s somewhat different.) So I decided to write about a faithful Mormon in a high-tech future. The setting in the middle of the sun led me to imagine intelligent plasma beings who lived there. And the problem of not being able to get a date led me to introduce the attractive atheist scientist as a foil for the protagonist.
The story I wrote at the workshop was a failure. My friends who read it said something to the effect of “Okay, so where’s the next 5,000 words?” They were right: I had the beginning of a story, but it didn’t really have an end or even much of a middle. Over the next few months I figured out what the rest of the story needed to be, and I wrote it. When I was done, I sent it to Stan Schmidt at Analog, and I was very pleased when he accepted it.
Other than the Leviathan connection, how does the gospel influence your writing?
Some of the themes I tend to write about, such as free will, prophecy, and faith, obviously spring from my religious beliefs. I’ve also made the personal decision not to use certain profanities or vulgarities in my fiction, and to limit how graphic it gets to what might be considered a “PG-13” level. (Please note that I do not mean to imply that LDS authors who have decided differently from me were wrong to do so.)
What is your current writing process for a story?
Generally it involves typing on a keyboard, which causes characters to appear (and sometimes disappear) on a computer screen.
Ha. But really: outliner or pantser or both? Do you have a writing routine?
For short fiction, I generally don’t write an outline, although I generally (but not always) have a good sense of where the story will go before I start. For novels, I’ve found I pretty much have to outline, or I’ll start wandering after a few chapters and never finish. I don’t really have a writing routine other than sitting at a computer and writing.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite series of books is the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. Other favorite authors are Orson Scott Card, Jane Austen, Brandon Sanderson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Dan Wells, James Maxey, Elizabeth Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Larry Correia.
You talked about starting out working on a novel—any plans to get into writing novels again, or are you happy sticking with short stories?
My agent is currently shopping around one of my two completed novels. I do plan to write more novels. Short fiction is what I feel more comfortable writing, but that may be because I haven’t written enough novels.
A few years ago you became an assistant editor for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. Can you talk a little bit about how that happened and what you do as assistant editor? Also, how do you feel short stories are doing nowadays?
Edmund Schubert, the editor of IGMS, invited me to become an assistant editor because I’d had more stories published in the magazine than any other author other than Orson Scott Card, so he figured I had a pretty good idea of the sort of stories IGMS publishes. Basically, as one of the assistant editors, I read manuscripts and recommend whether they should be passed along to Edmund or rejected.
For a while in the early 2000s, there was a lot of doom and gloom about short fiction venues dying off. Fortunately, thanks to electronic distribution, I think short fiction is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. I doubt it will ever become as popular as it was in the days before television, but I think there will always be a demand for it.
How do you see fiction in general and science fiction, fantasy, and horror in particular helping to build the kingdom?
I don’t know that I see fiction as directly helping to build the kingdom. But there’s research showing that when people read fiction, they experience emotions similar to what they would feel if the events in the story were happening to them. This gives fiction writers the power, for good or ill, to influence people’s emotions and give them virtual experiences. I try to use my power for good. Fiction can inspire the reader to emulate positive character traits. It can increase our understanding of other people. It can teach the consequences of certain behavior without us having to actually experience it. Good fiction leaves the reader better off for having read it.
I think science fiction, fantasy, and horror offer some extra avenues for storytelling that are more difficult to achieve in ordinary fiction, such as a sense of wonder, exaggeration, or extrapolation of aspects of our world, and exploration of how things might be different from our world. ❧