Author Archives: Eric Edstrom

About Eric Edstrom

I'm an author and songwriter from Wisconsin. I've self-pubbed two novels in The Undermountain Saga. I live in a very cool house with my wife, daughter, a Brittany dog named :Lucky (we call him Muchacho though).

Get Down to Business at the Superstars Writing Seminar


The Superstars Writing Seminar focuses exclusively on the business of writing, so you won’t hear any writing craft lectures.

I’ve attended two of them so far, in Salt Lake City (2011) and Las Vegas (2012), and they were excellent, motivating, and provided great networking opportunities.

You get to hear best-selling authors talk about how they broke in and what publishers are looking for in an author. They take you through the details of real book contracts (Eric Flint’s to be exact) and royalty statements. You’ll hear in-depth discussion of the need (or not) for an agent, the many ways to exploit your copyrights through new media, TV, and film, and practical issues such as writing ergonomics and improving productivity.

That last point was the biggest take-away for me. Superstars reset my standard of productivity waaaaay higher. When Kevin J. Anderson projects a slide showing how many books he released in only one year, one gets the picture that making a living at writing, means writing a lot of content.

If you balk at the registration fee, be assured that the value of the seminar is very high. The days are packed, and the faculty is very accessible for questions and will often join attendees during lunch breaks (or a late beer with Kevin if you’re so inclined.)

The VIP dinner ($150 add-on) is an extraordinary experience. It’s truly a unique opportunity to pepper a best-selling author with questions while enjoying top notch cuisine. If you don’t leave stuffed and inspired, it’s your own fault. If you can swing it, don’t miss it.

Another great benefit of Superstars is the community of alumni. Once you’ve registered, you get access to the private Facebook group, which always has lively discussions. Writers post questions, ask for opinions on back cover copy and cover art, post news from the publishing world, and brag when something cool happens in their career.

The deets:

Who: Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Dave Farland, Eric Flint
Guest Speakers: James A. Owen, Joan Johnston, Jim Minz (Baen), Mark Leslie LeFebvre (Kobo) | Read the faculty and guest speaker bios

What: Superstars Website | Cost: $849 before 28 Feb, $899 after (student and alumni rates available) | VIP Dinner: $150

When: May 14-16

Where: Colorado Springs, CO (Antlers Hilton, block room rates available)

Why: Because if you want to make a living with your writing, it’s time to get down to business.

Book Review: The Emotion Thesaurus

We’ve all heard about showing instead of telling. It’s one of the things my editor catches me on all the time. I end up grousing and repeating the words of Princes Leia Carrie Fisher from When Harry Met Sally. “You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.”

Check out this example:
Anger filled Danny as he strode through the room. He was looking for Shiv. If he ever found his friend, he’d give him a piece of his mind.
There’s a lot of telling about Danny’s emotions in that paragraph. To make the storytelling more interesting, I’m going to turn to The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

The Emotion Thesaurus is a wonderful reference book that’s organized by emotions like amazement, confidence, gratitude, and shame. Each entry has a long list of behavioral cues authors can use to show instead of tell.

When I look up anger in The Emotion Thesaurus I see lists of 36 physical signals like “flaring nostrils”, “Slamming doors, cupboards, or drawers”, and “laughter with an edge”. After that is a list of internal sensations, mental responses, and cues of suppressed anger. All of these offer inspiration to unlock ideas of how I can show my character’s anger.

How about this:
Chin held high and jaw clenched, Danny shouldered through the crowd. He scanned through the room for Shiv. Curses boiled in his mind, building and building in pressure. The only thing that kept him from punching one of these idiots was knowing how happy Shiv would be to see him get thrown in jail for battery.

I built this new version by consulting The Emotion Thesaurus. I didn’t use the entries word for word. Instead, I riffed on them, used them for inspiration.

Check out The Emotion Thesaurus at or Barnes and Noble.

Three Lessons NaNoWriMo Taught Me

In December 2009, my nephew posted a challenge on Facebook. “I’m doing NaNoWriMo next year,” he said. “Who’s with me?”

On impulse I replied, “I’m in!”

I had started many novels over the years, but I had never finished one. The challenge to write a novel in one month, combined with my nephew’s go-for-it attitude, inspired me to complete a significant bucket list item.

I was so excited about the idea I didn’t even want to wait. I had a vague concept for my book, something that had come to me during a long drive. Bigfoot is an alien, part of an advanced civilization hidden deep beneath the mountains.

I decided that if I was going to write a SF novel in one month, I needed to do a certain amount of world building and outlining to get myself ready. I bought myself a blank notebook, and began scribbling down notes and ideas, letting my mind to go where ever it wanted. By the time November rolled around, I thirty hand written pages of cool details about the world in which my story would take place.

On November 1st, 2010, I sat down with my MacBook, a can of Diet Coke, and a heart full of enthusiasm. I think I wrote about 150 words before the sad trombone sounded in my head.

Lesson 1: Thirty pages of world building is not a plot.

I hadn’t even thought up a main character! The clock was ticking, and so I plowed forward, making up names on the fly (one was named Beyonce for a long time) and finding out what happened next at the same time my characters did. That first day I wrote north of 10,000 words. The second day 3000, the next day 1200. A pretty easy trend line to graph.

I kept going. On November 14, 2012, almost halfway through NaNoWriMo, I ground to a stop. I was stuck. I ignored the advice to just plow forward and not worry about continuity. I felt that my story was fundamentally broken, so I went back.

I deleted about 10,000 words-at least a third of my manuscript-and got a running start. To that point I’d had a comfortable lead on my goal, but now it was behind. But failure to reach my ultimate word count was not an option. I continue to write every single day, many days watching my total word count remain even despite the fact I was writing thousands of new words.

Lesson 2: Sometimes meeting your daily word count comes at the expense of yesterday’s word count. It can feel like failure, or treading water. But writing is not about how many words you get. It’s about telling a story.
There is a necessary and valuable tension between deadlines and one’s artistic standards. The deadline prods the author forward and provides urgency which lends the writing pace and urgency. And sometimes it forces the brain out of the way so that the muse can operate with less friction.

NaNoWriMo recalibrated my standard of productivity. Prior to participating in NaNoWriMo, my gut instinct told me 50,000 words would take half a year. The goal of doing that in a month seemed ridiculous. And now, having written several more books since then, the NaNo pace seems a bit unambitious.

Lesson 3: To write a novel, learn how to start.

I don’t mean learning how to write the first sentence, or page. Or learning how to sit down on the first day and begin typing. What I mean is learning how to start writing each day. NaNo is like a bootcamp to teach this discipline.

What lessons has NaNoWriMo taught you?

Book Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

The subtitle of Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder is The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need. So why, in the midst of NaNoWriMo, am I recommending a book on screenwriting?

It’s because this is the book I wish I’d read when I was writing my first novel, which I did during NaNo in 2011. Why? Because Save the Cat! provides a story structure template that is both more specific than the three act structure and not so comprehensive that one feels overwhelmed by the model itself. This makes it the perfect story craft entry point for newbies and a great reference for veterans.

Based on Snyder’s experience as a pro screenwriter and his analysis of hit movies, STC details a sequence of 15 beats that every good screenplay must have. These beats overlays the three act structure and work as a sort of connect-the-dots framework. You can download the Save the Cat beat sheet for free from:

Snyder would insist you not start writing until you figure out all 15 beats. If you do, you’ll end up with a high level outline for your story. This is a great start for outliners.

If you’re a pantser, the STC model can still be of great use for analyzing your finished first draft and troubleshooting story problems. Alternatively, if you get mired down and can’t figure out how to get unstuck, the template may give you some ideas.

An important part of the STC methodology is creating what Snyder calls “the board.” The board is a layout of index cards (no more than 40) that lets you see how your story fits together. When I used this method on my most recent novel, I was shocked to find I had an overloaded second act and a very thin third act. With this insight, I identified an alternative Midpoint (one of the 15 beats) that had better dramatic effect than what I’d originally planned. This allowed me to shift some things to act three and unlocked the story for me. I was off to the races.

NaNoWriMo is a big challenge, and if you’re like most, getting your daily word count is a hard enough without having to also read about story craft. But if your up for it, go Save the Cat!

Buy Save the Cat at Amazon,Barnes and Noble, and other fine bookstores.