January 9, 2012

Author Interview: Eric Edstrom

Please welcome to A Three Way Tie, Eric Edstrom! The wonderful self-published author of Undermountain.
Check out his website here for more info. 

When and why did you begin writing?

I started writing when I was about fifteen. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to finish anything back then. It took me many years, many false starts and fragments of manuscripts before I finally cracked the code on how to complete a story. It's funny looking back on all the pain I put myself through with that, because the secret was so simple. I just had to write something I would want to read.

And what I want to read are stories that fill me with a sense of wonder and discovery. I want to read stories where something big is at stake. I want to read about characters who are struggling with the same issues I struggle with.

So the short answer is, I write in order to experience the story.

What was the hardest part of writing your book? What is the easiest?

There are days when I write and the whole time I'm thinking, "This is the worst crap ever written." Pushing through that resistance and writing anyway is the hardest part. Then I'll read it back a day or two later and think, "Hey, that's pretty good." It was a hard lesson to learn—that how I feel when I'm writing has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

The easiest part is when I get to one of those scenes I've had in my mind for weeks or months and I finally get to write it. For me, it's usually a line of dialogue that I know is this super big turning point for a character. In Undermountain, there's a scene toward the end where a character named Shiv delivers a line I had known was coming from page one. I had tears in my eyes when I got to that scene. But it was easy, because I'd been carrying the emotion of that line inside me for so long.

So tell me about your book, Undermountain. What was the inspiration for it?


Now, before I scare people off, this is NOT your run of the mill, Harry and the Henderson's bigfoot. This is a completely different concept.

I was driving along one day, probably after dropping my daughter off at school, and naturally I started thinking about bigfoot. Who doesn't think about bigfoot at random times?

Anyway, I had this flash of inspiration and said to myself, "Self, what if bigfoot wasn't some kind of missing-link ape, but something else? What if he was a member of an intelligent species, living in a great hidden city, deep under the mountains?"

The story is a group of six teens who are on an expedition in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. They're led by a grizzled old mountaineer who knows there are some weird things in the mountains, but who has never been able to prove it.

The two main characters are Danny, a nearly sixteen year old white kid from Nashville, and Breyona, a sixteen year old, rich girl from Chicago. Both of them have difficulties back home, so this excursion is an escape for both of them.

Danny and Breyona are enjoying the beauty of the mountains and have even started up a sweet flirtation, when they encounter some truly amazing creatures in the wilderness. From that point on, it's a race for survival.

I'm calling it a YA adventure. It has elements of fantasy and science fiction, a dash of romance, and a lot of breathless action.

Here's an excerpt:

Danny’s eyelids fluttered open as he became aware of a high, keening noise—like a hawk shriek—in the distance.
Breyona sat up blinking. “What the hell was that?”
The shriek came again, a bit louder. Its echo sent a chill across Danny’s arms. “I think it’s in the woods behind us. Must be a bird or something.” Again the shriek, this time followed by two shorter calls.
“That’s too loud to be a bird,” Breyona said. She scrambled to her feet, then offered Danny a hand to pull him up. Another shriek tore the air. An instinctive impulse backed them away from the trees and toward the stream. “What’s keeping the old man?” Breyona watched the trees and rubbed her elbows.
Danny checked the far bank. No Harvin.
Crashing sounds thundered from the forest. Another shriek, this time loud enough to make the hair stand up on Danny’s neck. Breyona moved close to him, and they stood frozen, listening to the approaching racket.
Shriek. Crash. Shriek. Followed by a deep growl. Danny grabbed Breyona’s hand. “I think we should cross over to Harvin’s side. That sounded like a bear.”
Breyona nodded. “Maybe it’s chasing something.”
They scrambled back to the spot the old mountaineer had crossed the stream. A dozen birds took flight, startled by another piercing call.
Danny followed on Breyona's heels as she started across, stepping from rock to rock. The stream swirled and roiled below him, sending up icy splashes that soaked his boots. Halfway across, his foot slipped from a stone, sinking him knee-deep in the water. The force of the stream knocked him sideways, and he started to toppled.
Breyona caught his flailing arm and steadied him. “I said Shiv was going to fall in, not you!”
Danny tried to step back up onto the rock, but his waterlogged boots couldn’t get traction.
Another shriek.
The icy water had already numbed his leg below the knee. Breyona pulled, and he managed to get one foot up.
She adjusted her feet to get better leverage. “Come on, Danny. Time to get out of the kiddie pool.”
A roar froze him. He looked upstream, then gasped. “Holy crap!”
His expression got Breyona’s attention, and she followed his gaze. “Oh my God!”
Silhouetted against the blue sky, two strange creatures sloshed across the top-tier of the waterfall, kicking plumes of water behind them.
The first creature shrieked again and again as it splashed across. Its two long-snouted heads sat atop sinuous necks, which sprouted at the top of a tall, upright torso. The body stood upon four spindly legs that ended in sharp points; the tips glistened with every step.
Behind it loped an enormous man-beast, tall and fur-covered. Its arms swung in long arcs as it ran.
Both creatures struggled against the rush of water. The shrieker thrashed its way ashore, then disappeared in a blur of speed. The bigfoot paused, seeming to catching its breath, before it too dashed from view.
Danny stared, slack-jawed, then looked at Breyona. Her eyes were as wide as one of Vincent’s poker chips. “What the ...?”
A splash and a growl came from behind Danny. Breyona screamed and let go of his arm. He fell back into the stream. A bone-crushing chill engulfed him. His head cracked into a rock, sending a lightning bolt of pain through his skull. He kicked and clawed for the surface. He fought to get his feet under him, desperate for air.
 Huge hands grabbed and lifted him. He took shivering gulps of air as the water suddenly fell away below. An arm, strong as steel, clamped around his middle. His vision was blurry from the stinging water.
“Harvin?” he asked, half-choking.
No answer.
His hands went to the arm wrapped around his ribs.
He cried out and kicked his legs. He beat at the arm until it released him, and he fell, scraping his hands and knees on rocky ground. Pain and fear told him to run, but he could do nothing but cough, gasp and tremble. He turned his eyes just enough to see a giant, fur-covered foot next to him.
“Breyona!” he called.
She didn’t answer.
What had this—thing—done to her?
He looked up. An eight-foot tall creature towered over him. Black hair covered every inch of its body, shaggy on the limbs but shorter and smoother at the bear-like neck and head. Massive muscular legs and arms dripped with water from the stream. The monster watched him, head tilted to one side like a curious dog. Its wide unblinking eyes, green as emeralds, pinned Danny where he stood.
A scream built in Danny's chest, but only a raspy moan came out.

What music do you listen to while you write?

I dictate my first draft, so I don't listen to music at all during that process. But once I get into revisions, it's mostly instrumental, usually soundtracks. I'm addicted to The Last Samurai soundtrack. It's got a great rise and fall to it, which suits many different kinds of scenes. During the editing/revision phase I tended to put on Spotify and just listen to random stuff. Anything from epic progressive metal, to weird electronic stuff.

What inspires you?

I know that sounds kind of twisted, but it's true. It may be true for all writers because we create these characters we love, and then we put them through extreme pain. But that's the reason people read, because we want to witness the struggle, and we want to see how these characters triumph—or fail. I'm an optimist, so I see the suffering as the cost for learning or growth, so in the end the pain is a gift. Maybe I am bit twisted, but that's how I see it.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I try not to hide them too much. I spent several years travelling to Nashville, TN writing and pitching country/pop songs, and I've been told I'm a decent songwriter. I changed course and turned my attention to fiction because there's a greater outlet for it through Amazon, Nook, etc. That said, I'm planning on releasing some free mp3s as supplemental treats for readers. For instance, I've got a song on my website (www.ericedstrom.com) that's like a theme song for the romantic sub-plot in the  book.

What are your current projects?
I'm deep into the "pre-production" on the final two books in the Undermountain series. The first book stands alone pretty well, but there are some big issues remaining for the characters to deal with. I'm planning on writing straight through to the end of book three and releasing them both pretty close together.

I have a couple novel ideas and short story ideas percolating as well, but this is the time to focus on the world of Undermountain. I know readers hate waiting for the next book, so I'm moving as quickly as I can to get it out.

What book are you reading now?
My to-read stack is so high I'm even tripping over ebooks. My kindle weighs thirty pounds, and it's all electrons! That said, I'm starting a big Space Opera by Kevin J. Anderson, Saga of Seven Suns. I'm half-way through the first book, Hidden Empire. I'm also reading Alloy of Law by Branden Sanderson. I guess I'm in a genre fiction phase right now. I'm a very slow reader, so I don't get through nearly as much as I want to. I really envy people who read fast.

Quick: Vampires or Shapeshifter? Why?
Vampires. And I like them in all flavors: sweet and sparkly, or evil and pasty. For me shapeshifters are all Teen Wolf.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes. Dictate your first draft.

I learned this from Kevin J. Anderson at the Superstars Writing Seminar (which is awesome, BTW). My first reaction was, "I could never do that!" But I was intrigued enough to give it a try, and I was amazed at the results. I had a fairly decent outline to work from, so I print out three chapters of it and headed out for a long walk on a bike trail. I was pretty self-concious at first, walking along and talking to myself, but two hours later I came home with the first draft of those chapters. That would have taken me a couple days to do sitting at my computer. Over five thousand words in two hours! Were they polished prose? No. But it's way easier for me to fix existing writing, than it is to create it from scratch.

I use a transcription service [wescribeit.com,] and they type up the recordings and send me a Word file in about 24 hours.

The first time I did it, I was sure the chapters were going to suck. And although that first draft was far from clean prose, the storytelling was actually pretty good, which is the most important part.

The reason it worked well for me was this: when I'm dictating, I can't look back at what I just wrote and mess with it. I have to keep going forward, so I get a lot done in a short period. I'm not sure how it would work for a seat-of-the-pants writer, but for outliners, it's an amazing productivity boost.

Short of dictating, my advice is get your first draft done as quickly as possible. Forget about grammar, forget worrying about passive voice or other, forget worrying about how what you just wrote is inconsistent with something you wrote three chapters ago. Just get to "The End."

Then fix the problems.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I feel immense gratitude when people choose to spend their hard-earned money on my book. I'm a complete unknown at this stage, so I recognize that people are taking a chance on me. I encourage people to download a sample and see if it appeals to them, and if it does, tell everyone you know!

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