My co-author is dead. Many years ago, on Baen’s bar, a monkey and a Red Bear got into a fight about writing. The monkey was his usual cheeky self. A relative newcomer to the bar, I had literally sold my first book to Baen a few months before. It wasn’t public knowledge yet, or due out for a while. The bear – who was now several books into his career, informed the obstreperous monkey, that when he could sell a book, he could opine about how this writing thing should be done.
I sent him a private message… saying well, actually, I had, and it was due out in a few months. I got a message back : with a ‘well, what an idiot I have just made of myself. I am sorry.’ And he proceeded to apologize in public too. Well, where I come from a man who can admit he was wrong gracefully, is a gentleman. Eric Flint and I differed on many issues, but there was a basis for mutual respect. We were both new authors, him a few years on from me, and he was much more savvy about the the business of publishing than I was. Not hard, I was abysmally ignorant. I got a fair amount of advice… and then when I was failing to sell a next book to Baen (my first had sold well enough, but not brilliantly) or any other publisher (I had Baen-cooties) most of which have been sold since and done well – he came to me with a question.
Biological, you understand. It was as a result of his submitting a short to I think Asimov’s and getting back a terse answer: “The story is impossible. A bat’s cranium is too small for uplift.”
Eric was irritated and asked me what I thought. Was the editor right?
Huh. Impossible. Just my favorite word. I wrote back and said I could think of three ways to make it possible, and explained the best. And he said: That is a book we should write together. And so RAT, BATS & VATS was born, and somehow Eric talked Jim into it. We got a really lowball advance, and the sort of promo you get with that, and went ahead and sold far better than we should have. From that a lot more collaborations followed. The Karres books, the Heirs books, SLOWTRAIN TO ARCTURUS – which got its genesis in Eric’s basement which was also his library. It was our first trip to the US and Barbs and I were very intimidated, driving through Chicago with Eric, dealing the immensity and differences… Shell-shocked. But the basement was a refuge: it was a library. And it was a library which gave me lot of insight into my co-author, who differed in politics, background, origins – everything just about… but we shared the same low taste in books. Oh yes, both of us read everything and anything… but he had a huge collection of… Louis L’Amour. And Simak. And Heinlein, and of course, Schmitz. Pulp and populist. And, honestly, as American as apple-pie. Politics aside, Eric was very much an American.
He was a historian. I was a biologist. We saw things very differently. I’d worked in Africa, on fishing boats, trawlers and fish-farms. He’d worked in US in meat-packing plants… Working with our hands, and backs, in what were in both places, surprisingly egalitarian work-places. As he said: working brutally hard next to someone you soon lose your delusions about what difference skin color makes. He was a socialist – I, for the nearest translation, was a libertarian and hopeless idealist. We kind of met on the idealist. I could respect him because he knew real work, real working people – not like so much of the modern left. And we could agree, and disagree, and still do business together – about which he was honest, unlike the publishing world in general.
Down in the basement: We got talking about slow-ships, with Eric saying they’d fallen out of favor, and I pointed out the weaknesses of slowships (it takes a long time to accelerate, a long time to decellerate, and he said when you get there the place may suck. Oh and supporting a biologically viable human population either means a very big ship mostly full of nothing or a breeding and technological system that doesn’t fall apart in a 500 year trip… impossible. and Lo: there was another book.
I was not very keen on the collaboration with Misty Lackey, as I felt I saw things quite differently to her. Eric talked me into it on that trip. He pointed out that I saw things very differently to him… but that we both saw it from a bottom-up working people point of view, not a Nobility and Generals point of view, and that I could work with Misty because she did that too.
Eric’s big success came with 1632 and his career and mine drifted apart. But we kept working together. He came up with the Baen Free Library and mine was the second book donated (his own the first). Jim Baen’s Universe… well I got suckered into being art director, not that I knew a damn thing about art. But when you get a call, you say yes. And we learned to differ but co-operate.
He introduced me to Sarah Hoyt – another unlikely connection that I owe him for, forever. And somehow across a range of people, he built connections and got many other people up into publishing their own work. You know, one thing I always felt about Eric was he was not entirely welcome on right and even center – but they gave him space and many of the people he published through 1632-verse were anything but his political bedfellows. The other side: well, he had credentials that none of them do. But he wasn’t of them. He loved America – they don’t, he liked fun, uplifting books, they don’t. He lamented the loss of US manufacturing to me, and he was part of working-class hoi polloi that the modern left of publishing despises. And he dared publish with Baen! So: he got little or none of the push they gave their chosen ones.
And yet he remained, and succeeded. He was a bridge of sorts.
And now he is gone. The bridge has fallen. And I will not get a chance to argue with him again, not in this world anyway.
There will be no more Flint and Freer collaborations.
No more coconuts from the Monkey.
We talked about a lot of books we never wrote.
Vale, Red Bear.