Eric Thomson is the pen name of a retired Canadian army officer and former IT executive who became an author almost by accident in 2014 when, more as a lark than anything else, he decided to test the publishing waters with something he wrote long ago. To his astonishment, he not only found a readership but also a career alternative that allowed him to shed the suit and tie for good.
A: Eric Thomson doesn’t actually exist. He’s the alter ego of someone who published his first books while still working a full-time job and needed a pseudonym. Eric is actually my middle name and Thomson is a riff off my first name. I suppose that since I’m now retired, I can come out as myself, but Eric has taken on a life of his own and refuses to fade away. Who’s the man behind Eric? A mid-fifties misanthrope with a scruffy beard who’s finally found the job he always wanted.
Q: You have a number of hobbies; photography, hiking and scuba diving. Where are your favourite locations around the world for these?
A: These days, the diving and underwater photography destinations are in the Caribbean, mainly the Dutch island of Bonaire and the Caymans Islands, where the coral reefs are still in decent shape. We haven’t yet visited more exotic destinations in the western Pacific because I don’t enjoy flying all that much and the idea of a twelve to fourteen hour flight turns me off. Maybe one day, once my wife has retired from her corporate job, that might change. The hiking and nature photography happen close to home. We’re blessed to live in an area where a short drive takes us into pristine nature, and thus can go every weekend if we want.
Q: I hear you are a bit of a cooking aficionado. Is this true?
A: Guilty as charged, your honor. I’ve always enjoyed eating and over the years, I taught myself how to become a bit of a gourmet cook. My wife likes to brag that she eats in one of the best and most exclusive restaurants in town every evening. Since I get bored easily, I’m always on the lookout for new techniques, new compositions, foods, etc.
Q: Do you suffer from procrastination in your writing?
A: I’ve been elected president for life of the Procrasti Nation. It always takes me a lot of time to get going every day. I’ll do anything but work on my current novel until the clock tells me that time to hit my daily quota is fast evaporating. In fact, I’m procrastinating right now by working on this Q&A!
Q: As a retired army man who writes military science-fiction, how much of you is in your books? How much is researched? How much is fiction?
A: I suppose a fair bit of me is in my books. My characters definitely reflect folks I’ve served with, perhaps not individually to be sure, but as composites of the best and worst personality traits. Moreover, the military environment in which I lived for so many years has clearly influenced the way in which I developed my fictional universe and the situations my protagonists face. A telling anecdote to that effect comes from my father, also a retired military man. After reading my first two books, he told me that he saw in them my life-long attitude towards the inevitable idiosyncrasies of military organisations and careerist senior officers. Any research I do is more of technical nature, to avoid stumbling over scientific facts and to get the naval flavour right. My plots aren’t actually based on historical events or my own life, although I confess to using a Joseph Conrad idea for one of them.
Q: Your books have a space opera slant with murder and intrigue taking place alongside intergalactic battles. Someone has said your books reminded them of Sherlock Holmes meets David Gemmell. Is that an accurate assessment?
A: Being mentioned in the same breath as those two literary giants very much exaggerates my writing skills, but aspiring to meet such an assessment would be a worthy goal.
Q: Your characters are well-rounded, complex and believable. As a result, would you say that your writing is more character-driven than plot-driven?
A: Definitely character driven, which is strange when you consider that I’m not a particularly sociable guy. Or perhaps not so strange, since my life seems to have been one of observing people rather than interacting with them. I very much prefer to write dialogue than description, which tells you something.
Q: What does it mean to you when readers say about your books, “It was the best book I read all year”, “It was the finest space opera I have read in years”, “After 60+ years of reading science fiction books, I was pleasantly surprised by this one.”
A: It’s immensely gratifying and humbling that I found an appreciative audience, and that’s what keeps me writing.
Q: You retired to write full-time. How do you make sure that you have a steady income from your writing? What advice can you give others who are thinking about giving up their daytime jobs to become fulltime writers?
A: I would not have taken early retirement if my books hadn’t taken off in the first place. By the time I decided to hand in my resignation, I had three novels in circulation and doing better than I had any right to expect, with more in development. I think the key for me is not only to meet the readers’ expectations with the genre, but to be prolific. Sci-fi readers like series, and if they find an author they enjoy, they’ll buy what’s on offer. My goal therefore is three full-length novels a year that meet the readers’ expectations. Based on my history so far, that will generate a reasonably steady income. But I wouldn’t even be a full-timer if I hadn’t made a financial plan before retiring, so that if my writing no longer brings me the success I’m enjoying now, I have enough of a cushion to fall back on.
Q: You have written 7 books now, covering two series; the Decker’s War and the Siobhan Dunmoore Series. What is next on the horizon?
A: There will be more episodes in each, until I run out of ideas or fans. I’m currently working on a new series set in the same universe but involving a police investigator who works for an interstellar anti-corruption unit. I’d also like to return to an idea I had years ago of a sci-fi series with more tongue in cheek humour, a sort of homage to the late George MacDonald Fraser, one of the finest historical fiction and humoristic authors of all time, in my estimation.