10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Interviews with Contest judges, past winners, current winners, and entrants

10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Wed Nov 24, 2010 3:15 pm

"One of Eric James Stone’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his life-long fascination with astronomy and space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke.

While getting his degree in political science at Brigham Young University, Eric took some creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but it was rejected and he gave up on creative writing for over ten years.

During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a campaign in New York, and then took a job in Washington, D.C., with one of those special interest groups politicians are always complaining that other politicians are being influenced by.

Then he quit the political scene to work as a web developer for a dot-com company in Utah.

In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp.

A winner in the 2004 Writers of the Future Contest, Eric has since had stories published in Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Baen’s Universe, among other venues.

In 2007 Eric got laid off from his web development job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a different web development job.

In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah."


http://www.ericjamesstone.com/


Brad R. Torgersen wrote:1. Since being a Published Finalist and winning the Contest in 2004-2005, how do you think being an alumni has benefitted your career?

Eric James Stone wrote:Winning Writers of the Future launched my career. My published finalist sale to Writers of the Future was my first fiction sale ever. And while it's certainly possible I would have eventually managed to start selling stories without WOTF, the contest certainly accelerated the process in a number of ways. First, it gave me professional writing credentials to put on my cover letter, and I noticed that I started getting better responses from editors. Second, I learned a lot from Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth (and the other judges who spoke) at the workshops, which enabled me to improve my writing. Third, the networking effect of getting to know the other winners and the judges has given me people to turn to for advice (not to mention a couple of story sales.)

I had a couple of even more direct results from the workshops: I sold the story I wrote at the 2004 workshop to InterGalactic Medicine Show, and I sold the story I wrote at the 2005 workshop to Jim Baen's Universe. Neither of those stories would have existed had I not entered WOTF.



2. Prior to winning the Contest, how many times did you enter? And how many Honorable Mention (quarter finalist), Semi-Finalist, or Finalist placements did you get, before being a Published Finalist and then a winner?

Eric James Stone wrote:I'm a case study in what not to do. I first entered the contest in about 1992, with what I felt was the best story I had ever written. I got a form rejection from the contest.

So I quit writing fiction for a decade.

Don't do what I did. Imagine how much farther along I would be in my writing career if I had kept working at it for those ten years.

Now, as it happens, I was still reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and for my job I was doing a lot of writing in which I had to be concise and understandable. So I was still in touch with the genre, and I was improving my writing skills, even though I was not writing fiction.

In 2002 I felt the sudden urge to write an epic fantasy novel, and I decided to take a community education writing class to help give me writing deadlines. After the in-person class, I continued with an online writing class. The teacher gave us assignments to improve our writing craft, and I almost always put a speculative fiction twist on the assignment. After reading one particular assignment, the teacher suggested that I submit it as a short story. I expanded it and submitted it to Analog, where it got a nice form rejection. I then submitted it to WOTF -- my second submission to the contest, after a ten year hiatus -- and it became my published finalist. My submission for the next quarter, which happened to be the first quarter for the next contest year, ended up being my winning story. (My submission for the next quarter was rejected on the grounds that I was now disqualified, but it ended up selling to IGMS.)

So the fact that I did not have a long string of Honorable Mention, Semi-Finalist, and Finalist placings is due more to the fact that I just wasn't writing and submitting to the contest for a long time. But I don't recommend it as a strategy.



3. Was it difficult to attain additional publication after Writers of the Future, or did it come easily and/or quickly?

Eric James Stone wrote:Additional pro publication came fairly quickly after winning. There's a picture of me getting my trophy from Kevin J. Anderson and Larry Niven at the 2005 awards ceremony. It's awesome for several reasons, but one of them is the fact that the September 2005 issue of Analog (which was already out by then) had stories by Kevin, Larry, and me.



4. Do you feel like exposure via Writers of the Future helped you get additional attention from other editors which you may not have gotten?

Eric James Stone wrote:Yes. (I kind of answered that above, so you may want to just delete the question.)



5. As an assistant editor with Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, what sorts of stories do you wish you saw more of?

Eric James Stone wrote:Stories with premises that make me think, Wow! Stories that are just plain fun to read. Stories that have a satisfying ending. That last one is the most important: For me, the worst experience as an editor is not reading a story that starts off with awful writing, because I can set it aside without reading the whole thing. It's reading a story that is good until it falls flat at the end.

My favorite story I've read in the slush so far was "Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain" by Von Carr (IGMS issue 17), in which a Catholic nun in post-apocalyptic America (in which ALL the possible apocalypses happened) must rescue her zombie-fighting robotic dog from a telepathic cult leader, with the help of an android girl detective and her psychic spider sidekick. To me, the premise itself sounds fun, and the story was written perfectly to fit the premise.



6. Do you think it takes different skill sets to write short fiction, versus novel-length fiction?

Eric James Stone wrote:Unfortunately, yes. Some writing skills are the same with either, but some are not. I'm obviously doing very well at selling my short fiction, but I haven't had any success with my novels yet.



7. Has having a pedigree of short publications helped get you extra attention with editors at the novel houses?

Eric James Stone wrote:I haven't really been submitting the novels to editors, but it has gotten me extra attention from agents, although it hasn't been enough to get me an agent.



8. Do you have a 5 year plan -- or plan of any sort -- concerning future work?

Eric James Stone wrote:Nothing so organized as a plan.



9. What are the five things you'd suggest for writers who are entering Writers of the Future, and may have gotten Honorable Mention, but haven't managed to get to the Finalist circle yet?

Eric James Stone wrote:1. Read past volumes to see the kinds of things that are done in the stories that have won.
2. Write stories about sympathetic characters overcoming difficult problems.
3. Put something amazing in your story to give readers that sense of wonder.
4. Make sure your ending is satisfying. (That doesn't necessarily mean "happy." I means that the promise made to the reader at the beginning of the story is fulfilled in a way that the reader feels is right.)
5. Submit your best work each quarter until you win or get disqualified because you've been published too many times elsewhere. (Both results are good.)



10. What are five mistakes that you think beginning writers most often make?

Eric James Stone wrote:1. Not writing enough.
2. Not submitting enough.
3. Spending too much time polishing up that first page, and not enough time coming up with a satisfying ending.
4. Not deliberately trying to improve their writing skills in areas where they are weak.
5. Obsessing too much about responses to stories that are submitted, instead of working on new stories.
(I'm guilty of 1, 2, 4, and 5 myself.)


Many, many thanks to Eric for taking the time to answer these questions!

As with the last interview, if you liked what you read here, please give a shout out to Eric on his blog?

http://www.ericjamesstone.com/blog/
Coming up: "Life Flight," in Analog magazine
Coming up: "The Chaplain's War," from Baen Books
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Re: 10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby Patty » Wed Nov 24, 2010 8:37 pm

Great interview. I put a link to this post on my blog, and will scurry over to Eric's blog as well.
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Re: 10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby A.R.Williams » Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:37 pm

Another great interview! I like the fact that you used the same interview questions, it creates a nice panorama of the different ways the contest has effected each writer.
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Re: 10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Sun Nov 28, 2010 7:25 am

I am glad people are reading these and finding them worthwhile. I will keep it up.
Coming up: "Life Flight," in Analog magazine
Coming up: "The Chaplain's War," from Baen Books
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Re: 10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby ericjamesstone » Thu Dec 02, 2010 8:21 pm

If anyone has followup questions (or new questions) I'll be happy to respond here.
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Re: 10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby ThomasKCarpenter » Fri Dec 03, 2010 4:13 am

ericjamesstone wrote:If anyone has followup questions (or new questions) I'll be happy to respond here.


Thanks for stopping by! :)

How did you get the assistant editor job at IGMS and what do you do on a daily basis at IGMS?
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Re: 10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby ericjamesstone » Fri Dec 03, 2010 7:34 pm

ThomasKCarpenter wrote:How did you get the assistant editor job at IGMS and what do you do on a daily basis at IGMS?


In the first 14 issues of IGMS I had six stories published, making me the most-published ordinary author in the magazine.* So when Edmund Schubert decided he needed more assistant editors, he felt I probably had a pretty good feel for the kind of stories IGMS published. (No, I most certainly did not bribe him with roasted penguin.)

My main duty is to read manuscripts and recommend whether they should be passed up to Edmund or rejected. The managing editor emails me stories submitted by graduates of Orson Scott Card's writing workshop, previously-published-in-IGMS authors, and others who for one reason or another are allowed to bypass the regular slushpile. My email inbox automatically forwards any attachments sent by her to my Kindle, and I usually read the stories on my lunch break from my day job. Later, I send her an email with brief thoughts on each story, along with my recommendation.

Every week or two, I check the regular slushpile to see if there are any stories submitted there by authors who are allowed to bypass it.

Shortly before each issue comes out, I proofread accepted stories -- which is when I finally find out which stories I recommended actually made the cut.

On rare occasions, if the slush reader who handles the regular slush gets backlogged, I pitch in to help get the pile under control again.


Footnote:
*Orson Scott Card had more stories in the magazine than I did, of course, as did David Lubar, who had a regular feature called "Tales for the Young and Unafraid." But since their content was usually listed separately from "Stories" in the table of contents, I feel it's safe to say I was the most-published ordinary author.
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Re: 10 Questions with Eric James Stone

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Thu Oct 20, 2011 8:35 am

FYI, Contest and Nebula-award winner Eric James Stone's got some additional interviews up.

Please do take a look.

http://www.ericjamesstone.com/blog/2011 ... nterviews/

Not only if Eric a friend of mine, he's a superb example of how the Contest can and does launch careers.
Coming up: "Life Flight," in Analog magazine
Coming up: "The Chaplain's War," from Baen Books
www.bradrtorgersen.com
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