Please welcome Eric Lundgren to the blog! He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his debut novel, THE FACADES, and more!
Your first novel, THE FACADES, just came out! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
It kind of came together when I read Calvino’s Invisible Cities for the first time and moved to St. Louis – these two things happened in 2004. I realized that I wanted to write something about the strangeness of the Midwest, and I was in this new city that was really fascinating to me, largely because of its history, its architecture, and the atmosphere of sadness that pervaded it.
Why do you think readers will connect to Sven Norberg, and what did you enjoy most about writing his character?
Not all readers will connect with him, but I hope those that do will empathize with his sense of loss, his dark humor, and the ways he doesn’t completely understand himself or his life. I really conceived his passage through the city as an emotional journey, the settings are all emotionally charged and I hope the reader finds Norberg a companionable, if not wholly reliable, guide to this landscape.
While the mystery of Sven’s wife’s disappearance is at the heart of the novel, the setting is a big part of it. Will you tell us a little more about your crumbling Midwestern city, Trude?
Yes, while the novel is structured as a mystery, it’s true subject is the fantastical landscape in which it takes place, which I intend to be an emotional landscape as well. Visually, architecturally, I hope it is impressive, fascinating, funny. On a spiritual level, Trude is my attempt to embody the disappointment, nostalgia, and bitterness that has taken hold in many interior regions of this country, particularly in the Midwest. These are also qualities that define Sven Norberg as a character. He is the ideal citizen of Trude in this respect, a perfect fit for his environment.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A “pantser” if that means what I think it means. This was my first novel and part of what made it interesting (and difficult!) for me was finding out what the form could do. This really was an experimental novel and many of the experiments failed. As a result I probably wrote 400 or 500 pages for what ultimately became a 220-page novel.
Has your experience as a librarian influenced your writing? If so, how?
When I tell people I’m a writer who works in a public library, they often say, “what a great source of material.” Unfortunately, much of the stuff that happens in the public library is too absurd and implausible to make it directly into my fiction. However, the library has influenced my work in countless subtler ways. And the Central Library in Trude is certainly modeled on the beautiful Central Library in St. Louis where I work. There is no armed librarian resistance here, though, as yet.
Speaking of influences, what authors or novels have influenced you the most, in life or in your writing?
I love the shimmering intricacy of Nabokov’s sentences. He has been a huge, sometimes pernicious, influence on me. This book was inspired by a number of German writers, including two Thomases, Mann and Bernhard. And the novel would probably never have been finished if not for the support of two amazing human beings, who I also consider two of the very best living American writers, Kathryn Davis and Deborah Eisenberg. Knowing that they saw something in what I was doing helped me through those dark nights of doubt.
What are you reading now?
Right now I am reading Jonathan Franzen’s The Kraus Project, and a really smart memoir of New York in the 1970s, Lucking Out by James Wolcott. My cat Pandora destroyed the Wolcott, unfortunately.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to an aspiring writer?
It sounds cliché but don’t give up. In my case it took three years to find a publisher but since that one brave editor stepped forward and made an offer, the book has found a lot of appreciative readers and advocates out there. In the end, all of the waiting and anguish was worth it.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
Listening to music, watching movies, taking walks in the park with my wife. I am a somewhat obsessive player of online Scrabble. And I’m obsessed with my cats, of course.
What’s next for you?
I am in the first stages of a horror novel set at a fictional Midwestern liberal arts college. Which I hope will also be a novel full of real adult feelings, and subjects like marriage, terrifying stuff like that.
About THE FACADES:
Along the streets of the once-great Midwestern city of Trude, the ornate old buildings lie in ruin. Shrouded in disappointment and nostalgia, Trude has become a place to “lose yourself,” as one tourist brochure puts it: a treacherous maze of convoluted shopping malls, barricaded libraries, and elitist assisted-living homes.
One night at Trude’s opera house, the theater’s most celebrated mezzo-soprano vanishes during rehearsal. When police come up empty-handed, the star’s husband, a disconsolate legal clerk named Sven Norberg, must take up the quest on his own. But to discover the secret of his wife’s disappearance, Norberg must descend into Trude’s underworld and confront the menacing and bizarre citizens of his hometown: rebellious librarians, shifty music critics, a cop called the Oracle, and the minister of an apocalyptic church who has recruited Norberg’s teenage son. Faced with the loss of everything he loves, Norberg follows his investigation to the heart of the city and through the buildings of a possibly insane modernist architect called Bernhard, whose elaborate vision will offer him an astonishing revelation.
Written with boundless intelligence and razor-sharp wit, THE FACADES is a comic and existential mystery that unfolds at the urgent pace of a thriller.