Steve Erickson was born and brought up as an only child in Los Angeles. For many years his mother, a former actress, ran a small theatre in L.A; his father (died in 1990) was a photographer. When he was a child he stuttered badly. Because of his stuttering some teachers believed that he could not read. This motif occasionally has recurred in his novels, such as Amnesiascope.
Erickson studied film at UCLA (BA, 1972), then journalism (M.A. 1973). For a few years he worked as a freelance writer for alternative weekly newspapers. His first novel, Days Between Stations, was published in 1985, when he reportedly destroyed all of his earlier work.
Since 1985 Erickson has published eight novels and two non-fiction books, Leap Year and American Nomad, that are chronicles of his cross-country journeys during the presidential elections of 1988 and 1996 respectively. Featuring characters from his novels, they contain Erickson’s comments on politics, current events, music, film, literature and, most of all, contemporary America. Erickson himself appears briefly as a fictional character in Michael Ventura's 1996 novel, The Death of Frank Sinatra.
Erickson has written on a variety of topics in periodicals including The New York Times Magazine, Esquire and Rolling Stone among others. Currently he is a teacher with the MFA Writing Program at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and is the editor of the national literary magazine Black Clock. He has written about film for Los Angeles magazine since 2001. In 2007 he received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. In 2010 Erickson was the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters's Award in Literature and also nominated for the National Magazine Award for his film reviews in Los Angeles.
Erickson's work has been admired and cited by other novelists including Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, Jonathan Lethem, William Gibson, Kathy Acker, Craig Clevenger, Brian Evenson, Paul Auster and Mark Z. Danielewski.
He lives with his family in Topanga Canyon, in Southern California.
Erickson’s novels revolve around certain concepts that appear in almost all his works. One of them is slavery, both actual and metaphorical. Arc d'X begins with the story of the love affair between Thomas Jefferson and a slave girl, Sally Hemings. In a number of his novels the selling, buying, owning and disowning of women appears; as often, the men are the more profoundly trapped by what they seek or purport to possess. In virtually all of his novels, the female protagonist is the catalytic figure who sets events into motion, particularly in The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days where the female characters are dominant. Another important theme in Erickson's novels, particularly in Our Ecstatic Days, is parenthood and the loss of a child. The Occupant from The Sea Came in at Midnight is left by his wife and child. In Days Between Stations Adolphe and Maurice Sarre are abandoned by their mother, and Lauren’s son Jules dies.
Sometimes Erickson relies on autobiographical information, though filtered through an unconventional imagination. Erickson's narratives often take place in Los Angeles. Amnesiascope is almost a memoir in which actual people and events from Erickson’s life mix with his imagination. One recurring theme is filmmaking, presented from the perspective of a director (Days Between Stations), a screenwriter (Rubicon Beach), a critic (Amnesiascope), and a film editor (Zeroville). Sometimes the films are transgressive, misunderstood and rejected by the audience.
Most of Erickson's novels can be described as apocalyptic. They present the slow obliteration of the world in which his characters live. Often it is nature that turns against people (the long winter in Paris, sand storms in L.A. and the disappearance of water in Venice and the Mediterranean region in Days Between Stations; the earthquake in Amnesiascope; the lake that floods L.A. in both Rubicon Beach and Our Ecstatic Days). The characters of the novels usually live in metropoles: L.A., New York, Berlin, Paris or Tokyo, in which the unexpected natural phenomena cause chaos and show how brittle civilization actually is. Erickson makes occasional use of somewhat supernatural elements, such as the extraordinary gifts of some of his characters (Catherine from Rubicon Beach) and bizarre artifacts (a bottle with human eyes from Days Between Stations). The most powerful force of Erickson’s universe is love, often passionate, sensual, overpowering, unstoppable. Lovers hurt each other but at the same time cannot live without each other. When the love is lost, people become empty, bitter or full of hatred. The affection is almost like possession.
Erickson’s characters often appear in multiple books. Adolphe Sarre from Days Between Stations comes back in Amnesiascope and is alluded to in Zeroville. Lauren and Kara from Days Between Stations appear in Arc d'X; Kara also appears in Tours of the Black Clock. Carl appears in Days Between Stations, Tours of the Black Clock, Amnesiascope and The Sea Came in at Midnight. Lauren and Jeanine from Days Between Stations and Catherine and Leigh from Rubicon Beach are mentioned in Tours of the Black Clock, as characters appearing in the mind of the latter book's writer protagonist. Wade and Mallory from Rubicon Beach emerge as major characters in Arc d’X. Kristin features in both The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days. Jainlight from Tours of the Black Clock reappears, in an altered incarnation, in Our Ecstatic Days.