St. Louis librarian had shelved his first novel; then came an e-mail ...
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Eric Lundgren could tell you a bit about delayed gratification these days. The book he worked on during and after getting his master’s in fine arts at Washington University earned him an agent, but never a deal. A few years passed, Lundgren kept writing and working as a library technician in St. Louis, and then, last year, thanks to some recommendations from a fellow writer, the people at The Overlook Press came knocking (OK, they came e-mailing.)
Now, “The Facades” got Lundgren onto the editor's buzz panel at Book Expo America 2013, was selected for Barnes and Noble's Discover Great New Writers Program for the fall, was named a must-read by Flavorwire, and was chosen as a September pick by the Midwest Independent Book Sellers Association.
Lundgren, who works at the Central Library in St. Louis with reference, programming, author readings and running a monthly writer’s group, will read from and sign his new book at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 9, at Schlafly Library in the Central West End. (Books will be available to purchase from Subterranean Books.) Before that event, Lundgren spoke with the Beacon about his own life in the library, what it’s like to see “The Facades” get a second chance, and shades of St. Louis that show up inside its pages.
“I wanted to play with mixing up some of my experiences in different cities, so I used many elements of both Minneapolis, where I grew up, and St. Louis, of course,” Lundgren says. “People who live here will definitely notice some small details.”
Beacon: I read that your mom was a librarian and you basically grew up in the library. What kinds of memories do you have as a child about the library as a place?
Lundgren: The library was actually the site of my first existential crisis. I can vividly remember when I was a kid, at our neighborhood branch, going to the old-fashioned card catalog; and it had cards for all of the patrons in the library, and there was another person named Eric Lundgren in there. There were two cards that read Eric Lundgren. That was kind of confusing to me as a kid.
Beacon: In “The Facades,” the libraries in the town of Trude are getting ready to be torn down. Please tell us more about this book?
Lundgren: It was a really weird coincidence because I had started the novel as a graduate student and continued to work on it for several years afterward, after I’d gotten a job at the public library. I was working at the branch on South Grand for several years.
But this idea about the library being closed had kind of just come out of the blue. I think it was kind of a response to my anxiety about the future of books and the future of literature. It’s something I think a lot about. It’s something that unsettles me.
So those images of librarians holding shotguns and wearing ski masks kind of just popped into my head, and several years later the Central Library in St. Louis was closed for renovations. So it was a really strange sense of the book and my life intertwining.
Beacon: You currently work at the Central branch. How do you view libraries now as places and institutions from your perspective as an adult?
Lundgren: Now that it’s become an aspect of my everyday reality, I don’t romanticize it as much. It’s not necessarily this place of quiet and contemplation all the time.
There are times where it’s a little bit more like a social service agency. I’ve really come to appreciate those elements of it.
I love being around books of course, and that’s never changed. It still thrills me to be in a beautiful building with all these wonderful, out-of-print books and all the treasures that the library has. At the same time, the human interaction -- and actually helping people deal with real problems -- is something that’s really grown in importance for me as I’ve worked here.
Beacon: This book was nearly published, then sat unpublished for a few years, but since has gotten a pretty great reception. How does it feel for “The Facades” to get a second chance?
Lundgren: It’s amazing. I never would have predicted this. Two years ago, I pretty much moved on and just resigned myself to the fact that this wasn’t the one that was going to get published. I was still writing, but at a certain point you have to say, well, it feels like I’ve tried every possible option and it’s just not going to happen.
So now, not only is it being published by Overlook Press, which is a press that I really respect a lot, but it seems to be getting some traction with people I respect. It’s remarkable. I’m getting a little bit of a sense of vertigo from it.
Beacon: What are you working on next?
Lundgren: I have the very first embryonic stages of a new book. You never want to talk about it too much to jinx it. I’d like to do a Midwestern horror novel set on a strange college campus. That’s my basic idea.