Who is Eric?

Hi, I’m Eric Flint, a writer of science fiction and fantasy. My writing career began with the publication in 1993 of a short story entitled “Entropy, and the Strangler.” That story won first place in the Winter 1992 Writers of the Future contest, which was founded by L. Ron Hubbard. The coordinator of the contest in 1992 was Dave Wolverton, and the panel of judges consisted of Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Algys Budrys. The story was published in the 1993 anthology, which the contest puts out on an annual basis.

I’ve been writing fiction off and on most of my life, starting when I was fourteen years old. But this was my first sale, and led me to the point where I am now a full-time author. “Entropy, and the Strangler” was a small piece of a major fantasy series which I’ve been working on since 1969, some of the books in collaboration with a friend of mine by the name of Richard Roach. I didn’t really buckle down and start writing seriously, however, until 1992. By then I was 45 years old, and realized that if I was ever going to get published, I’d better get cracking.

By early 1993, Richard and I had finished one volume in this fantasy series, a novel entitled Forward the Mage, and I’d written a large part of the novel which would eventually become titled The Philosophical Strangler (which was published by Baen Books in May, 2001). A rewritten version of “Entropy, and the Strangler” now serves as the Prologue to that novel.

The universe in which The Philosophical Strangler and Forward the Mage are set is something which Richard and I simply call “Joe’s World.” For better or worse, the novels (of which there are at least five either written or partially written) don’t fit all that neatly within the normal parameters of the fantasy genre. As I soon discovered when I started piling up rejection slips…

At that point, I realized I’d do better to concentrate, at least for a while, on writing more straightforward science fiction or fantasy. So, toward the end of 1993, I wrote the novel Mother of Demons. That novel was eventually bought by Baen Books and was my first published novel, appearing in September of 1997.

Although I started Mother of Demons mainly for the crude practical purpose of getting established as an author, I soon discovered that I enjoyed writing science fiction stories as much as I did comic fantasy. So when Jim Baen asked me if I’d like to collaborate with David Drake on a series of alternate history/military SF novels based on the historical figure of Belisarius, I readily agreed.

I spent most of 1997, 1998, and a good chunk of 1999 writing the first four books in the Belisarius series (An Oblique Approach, In the Heart of Darkness, Destiny’s Shield and Fortune’s Stroke). Looking back on it, I think of that period as my apprenticeship as a writer. As I discuss in more detail in the “Frequently Asked Questions” of this web page, once it gets set up, collaborations vary from one set of authors to another. My collaborations with David Drake took a simple form: he developed the story and the plot, and I did the writing. But what David also did was work with me closely throughout the writing and over that period of three years served me in the same way that a master craftsman trains an apprentice. David and I write very differently, in many ways. But as time went on I found myself absorbing and internalizing from David what I think of as the craftsmanship of being an author: such things as plotting, handling viewpoints, direct vs. indirect discourse, etc. Between David Drake and Jim Baen and Baen’s executive editor Toni Weisskopf, I went through as good a learning process as anyone could ask for.

By early 1999, I felt I was ready to tackle another solo novel again, and so I sent in the proposal for what became the novel 1632 to Baen Books. Jim bought it immediately, and I wrote the novel in the summer of 1999. 1632 came out in February of 2000 and has since sold very well. What I had originally intended to be a stand-alone novel (and does work as such) has now become a sprawling series, with twenty-three novels and a dozen anthologies of short fiction in print, as well as a long-running electronic magazine devoted to it. And, starting five years ago, a publishing house of its own called Ring of Fire Press.

In the meantime, in the course of various chats and arguments in Baen’s Bar, I had run across a South African author by the name of Dave Freer, who had published his first novel The Forlorn through Baen Books one month after my first novel came out. In the course of an email correspondence, Dave and I became friends and decided that we would enjoy collaborating together. The first product of that collaboration was the novel Rats, Bats & Vats, which was published in September of 2000. Since then, Dave and I have co-authored many more novels, along them Pyramid Scheme and Slow Train to Arctururs.

That collaboration, in turn, led to a three-way collaboration between Dave and myself and Mercedes (“Misty”) Lackey. The three of us are working on a fantasy/alternate history series (“Heirs of Alexandria”), six volumes of which are now in print.

By now, I’ve written over sixty novels along with a lot of short fiction, mostly published in anthologies. Among those novels are the ones I’ve written with David Weber as part of his very popular Honor Harrington series, as well as the two volumes so far published in an alternate history set in the Jacksonian era of American History. (1812: The Rivers of War and 1824: The Arkansas War.). 

In addition to my own writing, as an editor I’ve brought back into print the works of some of the great writers in science fiction’s past, which includes publishing the complete works of James H. Schmitz, Christopher Anvil and Howard L. Myers [NOTE CHECK SPELLING]. Other authors I’ve reissued are Murray Leinster, Randall Garrett—the complete Lord Darcy stories—Tom Godwin and Keith Laumer.

As far as my personal history goes, I was born in southern California in 1947, and then spent five years (from the ages of five to ten) living in France because of my father’s business. As a teenager, I lived a good part of the time in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, not too far from the city of Fresno.

I finished high school in Los Angeles and completed my bachelor’s degree at UCLA, graduating in 1968 summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. I then spent three years at UCLA working toward a Ph.D. in history, my specialization being the history of southern Africa in the 18th and early 19th centuries. My very first publication actually dates from that period. I wrote an article with the suitably academic title of “Trade and Politics in Barotseland During the Kololo Period,” which was published in the Journal of African History in 1970 (Volume XI:1). A perhaps arcane little piece of my history — but, oddly enough, I wound up using episodes from the history of the southern Bantu in the early 19th century as the model for various parts of Mother of Demons. I’ve always suspected that the old saw “waste not, want not” was first coined by a freelance writer (or, more likely, a bard — same thing, different era).

It was also during that period, from the fall of 1969 through the summer of 1970, that I started writing the Joe’s World series.

By the summer of 1971, after acquiring a master’s degree in history, I decided to leave the academic world. The reason, in a nutshell, was that after years of being politically active (mainly in the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement) I had become a socialist. And the truth is that I didn’t have much use — still don’t — for academic socialists. It seemed to me then — still does — that a socialist political activist belongs on the shop floors of American industry and in its union halls, not in the ivory tower.

So I packed up my bags and first went to work as a longshoreman, which I had already been doing on a day labor basis to help pay my way through grad school. I then worked as a truck driver out of union hiring halls. By 1974, needing more stable employment, I became a machinist’s apprentice and wound up spending most of the next quarter of a century working as a machinist. At various times, however, I also worked as a meatpacker, auto forge worker, glassblower — quite a few things. During most of those years I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party, whose traditions go back to the Solcialist Party of Eugene Debs and the footloose Wobblies. I kicked around the country a lot. At various times I lived and worked and was politically active in California, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia and Alabama.

By 1992, to bring this little story back to its origins, I decided it was time to forego my political activity and try my hand at writing. After more than 25 years as a political activist, I figured I’d paid my dues and I could in good conscience spend the rest of my life trying to see if I could succeed at what at been my original ambition a teenager, which was to write science fiction and fantasy.

And then… so far, so good. We’ll see what comes next.

Today, I live in northwest Indiana, just across the state line from Chicago. We moved here from Chicago because my wife Lucille worked in one of the area’s large steel mills. Like myself, Lu was a political activist. When she retired from political activity, a short time after I did, she became a licensed clinical social worker and remains active in that profession today.

Since the summer of 1999, I’ve been making my living as a full time writer. My daughter Elizabeth and her husband Donald are both high school teachers for the Chicago public school system and live not far from us. Lu and I now have two grand-children, Zachary and Lucy.

It’s an odd world. Between my creeping age, grandfatherly status, and considerable success at the (comparatively) reputable trade of writing fiction, it seems that the social respectability which I cheerfully pitched overboard half a century ago has slowly returned. On the other hand…

One of my socialist mentors as a young man was a tough, canny old machinist named Morris Chertov. Who, till the day he died, always kept his tool box. “You never know, Eric, when the bastards will make you go back to work.” It seemed a good philosophy of life to me then, and it still does. So my tool box is sitting in the basement, just in case.

Eric Flint

January 27, 2020