Who’s the Boss?

Eric Flint is the publisher of “Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press.” Eric is a New York Times Bestselling author of works like Mutter of Demons and 1632. But let’s have Eric tell it in his own words:

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.

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.

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. Then, sometime later, I signed a contract for another four volumes in the Joe’s World series.

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.