Eric B. Thomasma was born and raised in West Michigan, USA.
He still lives in the area with his wife of 35 years, Therese, and
together they raised two sons, Eric Jr. and Nicholas. Eric spent most
of his adult life working as an electrician and service technician in the
telecommunications industry, with side interests in computers and
Time to chat with Eric!
I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?
My children’s book, The Wizards of the Body Shop, was recently selected for the 2013 KART Kids Book List Award. The Kids Are Readers Too (KART) Foundation is the private philanthropy division of PediNatural®, dedicated to children’s literacy. This is the second time one of my books has been selected for the list. My first children’s book, Sam And The Dragon, was chosen for the 2011/2012 award.
What is your latest book?
My most recently released book is Yeti In The Freezer. A children’s book about a brother and sister that come home from school and discover they have a new refrigerator that has an ice maker. But when they try to take ice out, the ice maker growls and throws ice chunks at them. Turns out this ice maker isn’t too happy about people taking his ice without so much as a thank you.
What else have you written?
In addition to the children’s books already mentioned, I have one more, Billy’s Family. It’s a story about an only child that wishes he had a big family, but learns that family includes far more than just Mommy and Daddy. It’s designed to expose kids to some of the terms and concepts used in modern genealogy.
I also write novels for grown-ups. I’m nearly finished with the fourth book in my Sci-Fi series, SEAMS16. The first two books in the series, SEAMS16: A New Home and SEAMS16: Arrival, follow Charlie and Susan Samplin as they move to, and make their lives on, the Space Equipment Authority’s Maintenance Station number 16 (SEAMS16). With the third novel, And So It Begins…, I took a leap back in time to the beginnings of the society that SEAMS16 comes from. It takes place roughly 1000 years before the station is built, so it’s not really a SEAMS16 novel, but it is part of the series. It’s designed as a standalone story so it can be read out of order without relying on, or spoiling, the first two. The novel I’m currently working on, as yet untitled, returns to the station and the lives of Charlie and Susan. It picks up about a month after Arrival leaves off, and includes family dynamics, religion, politics, espionage, kidnapping, intrigue, action, and more.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
Very often! I am what’s referred to as a “pantser”, meaning I write by the seat of my pants. This is opposed to a “plotter” who carefully outlines the story before writing the first word. I tried that with my first novel but by the end of the first chapter the story no longer bore any resemblance to the outline, so I ditched it and have been a pantser ever since. It’s a fun way to write because you’re entertained by the story as you write it, but it can also be challenging without a clear view of where the story is going or how it’s going to end.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I tend to edit as I go. Oftentimes the story takes an unexpected direction that either conflicts with an earlier part of the story, or makes it irrelevant. Sometimes, the conflict can be resolved in subsequent chapters and makes the story more interesting. But other times, the story needs to be rewritten to remove the conflicting or irrelevant information. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a few words here and there, but other times a whole chapter needs to be scrapped and rewritten.
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
I personally don’t think names define personality. I’ve met too many people that share the same name, but are polar opposites, so I can’t say I put a lot of research or thought into a character’s name. In most cases, I just use whatever the character tells me his or her (or its) name is. But I did once change an alien character’s name because it sounded too close to the name used for a baby, and I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that the baby was named after the alien. As the narrator in my stories, I sometimes don’t even know the name of a character until another character says it. I remember referring to one character as “the blonde” for a whole chapter before I found out her name.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
The amount of research varies for each book. All of my books are fiction, and some people think I don’t have to do much research since I’m just “making stuff up”, but that just isn’t the case. Even made up stuff has to have a connection to reality to be believable. And the length of a book has little to do with how much research is required. I’ve found that sometimes a children’s book requires as much research as a novel. For example:
For my children’s book, Billy’s Family, I had to do research on modern genealogy to gain a better understanding of second cousins, third cousins, and cousins-once-removed. I had heard the terms all of my life, but never really understood them. And in questioning some of the people I’d heard use those terms, they didn’t really understand them either. They knew that so-and-so is a second cousin-once-removed, but when pressed they didn’t know the relationship that makes so-and-so a second cousin-once-removed.
For my novel, And So It Begins…, I had to research what happens as a spaceship enters an Earth-like atmosphere. This is no longer speculation. We’ve been to space and we know what happens, so it’s important to understand it before writing about it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow the rules, but you have to understand what the rules are before you bend them, or you risk losing credibility.
In both cases, it took hours of research to be able to properly represent the events for what will be read through in just a few moments.
When your story takes place on a space station, field research is not really an option. (But how cool would that be?) So I primarily have to rely on the internet for my research. There is information out there on nearly every subject, for nearly every purpose. Of course, there’s a lot of misinformation as well, so I try to find multiple sources for the information and do cross-referencing. I do searches using different search engines and it’s amazing the different results that can come up depending on the search engine used. I’m not going to mention names because they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I just think it’s important to use more than one when researching a subject.
It takes time and effort to sort through and determine which is good information and which is bad, and which is just a rehash of someone else’s work, but it’s worth it. I once had someone thank me for making him sound like an expert in a discussion. Imagine if the information I’d used was wrong. Instead of thanking me, he’d have cursed me for making him look like a fool.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
It’s important to remember that reviews are written for readers, not writers. The best course of action is to not read reviews at all, so there’s nothing to handle. But since we writers are human and tend to be a curious lot, few of us are capable of following that advice. That includes me, so even though reviews aren’t written for me, the author, here is how I approach them. Don’t do anything publicly. Don’t reply to the review. Don’t try to explain what you were thinking. Don’t point out where the reader is wrong, or missed the point. Don’t run to social media and whine about it. Don’t even try to be gracious and thank them for their review. None of it will reflect positively with other readers. My tip for handling a negative review is to punch your pillow, have a drink, cry, rant, pray, search your soul, do whatever you do to release your frustrations, but do it in private.
From a philosophical standpoint, I like that you phrased the question as “negative” rather than “bad” because to me, there is a difference. My definition of a bad review is one that does not explain why the reader formed the opinion they did. When a reviewer writes, “I love it, I love it, I LOVE it. You HAVE to read this book!” it may inspire other readers to give it a try, but there’s nothing there I can use. Likewise, if a review says, “This book sucks! Don’t waste your time.” Other readers might give it a pass, or it might make them wonder just how bad it could be, but either way there’s nothing there for me. A bad review can be positive or negative, but while it may it be helpful to other readers, it offers nothing to me as a writer and so I dismiss it as nothing more than one readers opinion.
A good review can also be positive or negative, but it will contain information that can be used to improve my writing. There are often lessons to be learned from the person who didn’t like the story, but is generous enough to explain why, even if they deliver it in what appears to be a mean-spirited way. I take whatever information from the review I can use to help improve my craft, and leave the rest alone.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
Writers want reviews because readers telling readers about the book is the primary reason books sell. Not commercials, not book signings, not awards, and not posters on the wall; it’s readers telling readers. And that’s what a review is. A book with a lot of reviews is generally more interesting than a book with few or no reviews, regardless of the content of the reviews. Even books with a high number of negative reviews draw interest, and interest is the author’s best friend. But that offers very little incentive for readers to write them.
Fortunately for writers, reviews are important to readers too. I’ve heard many reasons sited, but most of them boil down to the fact that there is limited time available for reading, and we don’t want to waste it on books we won’t like. A flashy cover and attractive blurb may catch our interest, but how many times have you been disappointed by a book that looked interesting? The better way to know a book without actually reading it is through reviews. Discussion is what brings a book to a reader’s attention, and reviews are nothing more than a discussion in written form. Everyone that writes a review contributes to the discussion and is helping their fellow readers make better decisions about their reading material. It makes little difference whether the review is positive or negative because what some find off-putting, others find attractive. You may think that your review doesn’t matter, but every contribution increases the pool of knowledge. Have courage to be the lone voice, bucking the trend, because a discussion is moot without an opposing point of view. But even if your voice echoes what others have said, there is strength and reassurance in numbers. Continue the discussion because without reviews, decisions are made in ignorance. And history shows that good decisions are seldom made in ignorance.
Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program?
I think it’s a well thought out strategy for Amazon to grow its dominance in the marketplace and as some of my writer friends can attest, the rewards for the authors who decide to participate can be substantial.
But for me, the exclusivity clause of Select as well as some of the other restrictions are unacceptable. There are many readers who I think would be interested in my books, who don’t have Kindles, or for reasons of their own don’t want to buy from Amazon. I believe in allowing readers that choice, and the Select program is designed to take it away, both in the short term and the long term.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t hold any ill will towards anyone involved in the program. I’m quite happy with my dealings with Amazon and their print subsidy, CreateSpace. And I still consider the writers participating in the program to be my friends. But the Select program is not for me.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
I place a great deal of importance on the cover design, but I don’t think it’s the same way that publishers do. See, my covers have all been designed by my brother Lanin, who also does the illustrations for my children’s books. I love the covers he has done and I’m proud to display them. But it has been suggested that I might gain more sales with a different cover design, so I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the SEAMS16 series covers. Perhaps when my current work in progress is ready for publishing I’ll look at redesigning the whole series using a common pattern, but for now I’ll keep them as they are.