Hi, I’m Eric Flint, a writer of science fiction and fantasy. My “official” 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. However, I’ve been writing off and on most of my life. 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 write seriously, 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, perhaps for lack of a better term, 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 what you might call 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 1993.
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’ll 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 take a simple form: He develops the story and the plot; I write ‘em. But what Dave also does is work with me closely throughout the writing, and, over that period of three years (and still to this day) has served me in the same way that a master craftsman trains an apprentice. Dave and I write very differently, in many ways. But as time went on I found myself absorbing and internalizing from Dave what I think of as the craftsmanship of being an author: such things as plotting, handling viewpoints, direct vs. indirect discourse, etc. Between Dave and Jim Baen and Baen’s executive editor Toni Weisskopf, I went through as good a training school 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. Well enough, in fact, that what I had originally intended to be a stand-alone novel (and does work as such) has now become a burgeoning series. Later this year, I will be writing two sequels to the book — entitled 1633 and 1634 – the first of them in collaboration with David Weber. And there will probably be others coming after that, as well as at least one spin-off alternate history entitled 1781.
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 recently published his first novel The Forlorn through Baen Books. (It appeared in September of 1999.) 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. Our second collaboration, Pyramid Scheme, will be coming out in October of this year.
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 four-volume fantasy/alternate history series (“Heirs of Alexandria”), the first volume of which is entitled The Shadow of the Lion and is nearing completion.
My — pardon me if I pat myself on the back for a moment — patient and systematic approach to becoming a writer also eventually paid off in terms of my comic fantasies series. Baen Books bought The Philosophical Strangler and it will be published this spring. Then, some time later, I signed a contract for another four volumes in the Joe’s World series. Two of those volumes — Forward the Mage and Sword on Canvas – I’m writing in collaboration with my friend Richard. (Forward the Mage is finished but needs a rewrite, which I’m working on right now; Sword on Canvas is about half-written at the moment.) The other two I will be writing as solo novels.
I’ve also written a few shorter pieces designed for various anthologies. One of them, a short novel entitled “From the Highlands,”is coming out in March 2001 as part of the third anthology of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, Changer of Worlds. Another, a novella set in David Drake’s Ranks of Bronze universe, is coming out in June in Dave’s new anthology Foreign Legions.
In addition to my own writing, I’ve also been working as an editor for the past couple of years, bringing back into print what I consider the best works of some of the great writers in science fiction’s past. In collaboration with Guy Gordon, I’ve been editing the major re-issue which Baen is producing of the writings of James H. Schmitz. The first three volumes of that re-issue are now in print — Telzey Amberdon, TnT: Telzey and Trigger Together and Trigger & Friends – and there are at least three more in the works. Those are The Hub: Dangerous Territory, which will complete all of Schmitz’s Hub stories; a re-issue of the four Agent of Vega stories along with seven other of Schmitz’s stories; and a re-issue of his novel The Witches of Karres.
Recently, I’ve begun editing a major reissue of the writings of Keith Laumer, of which at least three volumes will be produced by Baen Books. One of the volumes will consist of Retief stories, the other two will consist of other writings by Laumer which I think are among his best stories.
Beyond that, I’m under contract for a number of novels, some of them solos and some of them collaborations. In short, I’m busy. Too busy, I sometimes think — but then, when I grumble to my friend Dave Drake about it, he laughs and reminds me of the most fundamental piece of wisdom for an author: There are only two states of existence for a freelance fiction writer — too much work, or too little. Which would you prefer?
Well… when you put it that way…
I’ve also recently become involved in a project called Read Assist, as a result of my stance on the future of electronic publishing. You can read my opinions on this topic by going to www.baen.com and clicking on “Introducing the Baen Free Library.” This has led to the formation of a group of Barflies (science fiction readers who “hang out” at Baen’s Bar) who are helping a disabled science fiction reader by the name of Jimmy to stay connected to life. Jimmy can’t even hold a book in order to read. Check out the website at www.ReadAssist.org for the latest information.
I suppose I should include some of my personal history.
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 eventually completed my bachelor’s degree at UCLA, graduating in 1968 summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. (Which was undoubtedly the high point of my respectability in modern society. From there… well, you’ll see.)
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, 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 went to work as a longshoreman and then a truck driver, working mainly 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, and, as is generally true of members of that organization — whose traditions go back to 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. (I ran for Birmingham City Council when I lived in Alabama back in 1979.) (No, I didn’t win the election.)
By 1992, to bring this little story back to its origins, I decided it was time to forgo 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 daydream as a young man — write science fiction and fantasy.
And then… so far, so good. We’ll see what comes next.
Today, I live in the industrial center called “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.
As of the summer of 1999, I’ve been making my living as a full time writer and was able to quit my factory job. 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 — not much in the way of gray hair but I need glasses now — grandfatherly status, and what seems to be considerable success at the (comparatively) reputable trade of writing science fiction and fantasy, it seems that the social respectability which I cheerfully pitched overboard thirty years ago may be returning to haunt me. 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 in his seventies, 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.
And I think I’ll stop here. While I’m still more or less ahead.
Eric Flint (February 2012)