After almost two decades, author and Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Jeffrey Thomas released his first novel in March 2019 — a military science fiction tale named Osiris. The title comes from the name of the giant spaceship the characters travel on throughout the book.
A sci-fi story fits as Thomas’s first publication, given his lifelong love for the genre as well as fantasy, history, dystopian tales and action-adventure plots.
“I think I was 5 when my dad took me to see Star Wars in the movie theater. So, I’ve always been a fan of science fiction,” he said. “And my dad also took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, I love the action. I just, I love stories.”
Thomas remembers creating fictional worlds as early as middle school when he lived in Lexington, Oklahoma; yet, he only wanted others to read his work within the last few years. As a young adult, he attended college at the University of North Carolina Wilmington for biology and chemistry.
While in college, a girlfriend wrote him a poem. Thomas felt he needed to reciprocate the gesture and gave it his best shot. The poem to her was the first thing he let anyone else read.
“I was impressed that she was impressed because I was so embarrassed to write it. I’m not a poet by any means,” Thomas said and laughed.
He began coming up with stories as a side hobby after entering the workforce, and passion struck him.
“After college is when I really said, ‘You know what? I want to write; I’ve got all these stories. I’ve got all these things going on in my head,’” Thomas said. “And it was funny because by this time, I had started going back and looking at old things that I had written, and it actually didn’t sound bad.”
He decided to take a night class as UNCW in the fall of 1999 to brush up on his grammar and learn how to construct a story. His instructor’s high praise increased his confidence, which he needed to finish Osiris.
“After the first two or three assignments, she asked me, ‘Why are you in here?’ And I said, ‘Because I want to learn how to write.’ She just kind of looked at me. She said, ‘You already know how to write,’” Thomas recalled.
“But it took me a long time to finally get to, ‘OK. I want complete strangers to read my work.’”
Osiris is the first in an upcoming line of books Thomas calls the Derek Cross series.
Cross is a military commander with a complicated past who made some difficult decisions. He ended up aboard a spaceship named Osiris, traveling in a cryogenic state to a new colony with other military personnel. A doctor also on the ship awakens Cross after hijackers seize the ship en route to the new solar system.
Thomas describes developing the novel as “an exercise in ‘what if.’” While the military sci-fi piece takes place a century in the future, he strove to keep it comprehensible.
“Instead of having spacecraft that just float in the air, I have helicopters, I have aircraft, airplanes, that kind of stuff — still recognizable technology,” he said. “It’s more grounded than something that’s set 500 years in the future.”
Thomas thought of the idea years before he started pushing himself, and he completed Osiris during National Novel Writing Month 2002. During NaNoWriMo, authors use the internet to keep track of and challenge each other to finish 50,000 words of a manuscript each November. The supportive atmosphere helped him finish the novel; however, it sat on the shelf unpublished until spring 2019.
“I just was too afraid and too paranoid, and I didn’t really feel comfortable getting it out there,” Thomas said. “And finally after all those years, I finally was like, ‘I’ve got all these other stories I want to write. I’ve got to do something.’”
Since it came out in March, readers have given Osiris five-star reviews and said they enjoyed the plot and characters. One reviewer likened it to “Die Hard in space,” given the humor incorporated into each chapter. Thomas considers the comparison a compliment.
He is currently working on the second Derek Cross book, which has led to ideas for a spinoff series as well as a companion series.
As an author, Thomas draws ideas from all facets of his life — dreams, work, family heritage, and likes and dislikes. He also uses opportunities like NaNoWriMo to cultivate whatever strikes him, and the added pressure of a deadline helps keep him composing.
He carries a hard drive in his pocket with him everywhere. It holds about 35 outlines and manuscripts for everything from historical fiction to techno-thrillers, some of which come from his day job as an IT and systems engineer for a pharmaceutical company where he lives in North Carolina.
As a descendant of the Higbee family, Thomas also outlines stories for fictional pieces based on Potawatomi history and lore. He and his family attend Family Reunion Festival, Potawatomi Gathering of Nations and powwows when possible, and he teaches his children what he knows.
“I’ve been inspired by the resilience of the Tribe and how the Tribe has overcome adversity, and the stories of the Trail of Death and how we look at the Tribe now, and I get kind of emotional,” Thomas said.
He hopes to publish full novels with historical acknowledgments, allowing readers to learn more about Potawatomi and Native Americans.
“That’s a story that people need to know about. People just don’t, and if I can change that through telling these stories … that would be fantastic,” he said.
More than anything, storytelling itself keeps Thomas going.
“I just enjoy that, and I like to tell the story. Even if I’m not writing, I like telling people about the story that I wrote or that I’m writing,” he said.
Expect more from Thomas, including the second Derek Cross book coming in 2020. Find Osiris online, as both an eBook and paperback on Amazon at cpn.news/osiris. It is also available in paperback at all online book retailers, including Barnes & Noble. Keep up with Thomas on his website at jeffreythomas.net.