Monday, October 20, 2014

Interview with 'Rhapsody' David Lundgren

David Lundgren was born in “a pokey town in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia)” and spent the first 18 years of his life there. He grew up in an environment “that seemed to combine the best elements of both an American and English heritage with a hybrid African lifestyle.” Lundgren is also a musician, which gave him the creative spark to create the Melforger series. He spends his time in San Francisco “teaching, enjoying frequent – and often frustrating – games of tennis, trying to learn the blues on piano, attacking Sudoku puzzles with relish, and attempting to make some headway with the ever-increasing pile of books that is waiting patiently at my bedside, developing its own gravity.”

His latest book is the fantasy/science fiction, Rhapsody.

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Can you tell us what your book is about?

Rhapsody is the final book in The Melforger Chronicles trilogy. The story follows Raf, a sixteen year old forester boy, who, as you’d expect in an adventure – finds himself
whisked off on a dangerous journey. The reason for this is that his home is dying - his home in this case being the Aeril Forest, which is one of the extreme settings that I think really give the story some energy and originality. The trees are enormous – some over twenty yards wide and more than four hundred tall (the reasons for which are gradually explained in the story) – and the foresters live on a branch platform high up off the ground, inside the trees. When the Forest starts dying and people fall to their deaths through widespread collapses, Raf leaves to try to find someone who knows how to cure the tree-disease, and the first two books follow him as he is spun far off the track to some wonderful and treacherous places. They also chronicle how he discovers an ability in himself - a magic, if you will (this is fantasy, after all) - that gives him a peculiar and powerful control over certain things in nature. Rhapsody follows the final chapter of the story as he returns to the city, desperate to find a way to deal with Pavor, the malignant traitor, once and for all – and before his strange corrosive darkness can destroy everything and everyone.

Why did you write your book?

I grew up as an only child in Africa (Zimbabwe, to be exact) and we had almost no TV. Inevitably, I threw myself into reading, and found myself lost in worlds I came to love. Growing up in proximity to the stunning wilderness there and exposed to such a mix of cultures and traditions and folklore – not to mention music, with which my life has been saturated since I was born – writing seemed an obvious creative output for me. Besides, I love it!
Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Raf is a fairly typical stubborn teen, awkward and unexcited about what the post-school future holds, particularly because both of his parents are important members of the local Council. He is acutely shy and struggles to deal with having this musical, magical gift – especially the responsibility that this talent comes with. Along the way, he meets a fascinating cast of characters who help him shoulder the burden of being a ‘melforger’: from Tiponi, the loyal tribesman; to the Elder who takes him under his wing; to Sylvia, a spirited and beautiful lass from the city who ties both his stomach and his tongue in knots. In Rhapsody, we also meet the kooky cave-dweller, Keppi, and we become better acquainted with the rather unpleasant villain, Pavor, and what he’s capable of.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

I think it’s very hard to not base characters on something real – or someone real, rather. I’m not sure that any of mine are molded entirely on someone I know so much as mixtures, or chimeras, of characters and personalities. Sometimes, all I need is a starting point or a simple anchor, something borrowed from a real person that’s specific and potent: a particular kind of personality trait, or a distinct driving force, or an unusual philosophy; then, when they’re put into the world I’ve created, the rest of the details grow organically from there as they act and react to everything.

Having traveled a fair amount in my life, and being an avid taker of notes and a documenter of odd and entertaining things that happen to me (which are disturbingly many), I’ve found myself in a phenomenal variety of places with wildly different people, looking out for interesting traits and qualities and features and quirks that I can collect like Lego pieces with which to build someone, later.
Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?

For the most part, I plan the books as meticulously as I can, reverse engineering, tying everything up and making it work – almost like a piece of music. With fantasy especially, not only do you have characters and plot to craft out in a cohesive, consistent way, but you also have a whole fictional world that needs to make sense, as well as a magic that must follow its own rules. I definitely knew the gist of the plot when I first started planning the books, and I had a solid idea of how I wanted it to end. Threading together all the elements to connect it all into a comprehensive tale was where copious planning came into it. And then re-planning. A lot.
And having said all that, there were definitely moments while writing when the story evolved under its own steam – sometimes even moving slightly away from what I’d planned. I think that that’s inescapable if you create real enough characters, and some of my favorite moments are when people do or say things that I hadn’t planned – but which they would do – and the story comes alive even more.
Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Absolutely! The Forest setting is unique and wonderful, and very much shapes Raf’s personality – not to mention being the victim of the whole problem – the disease - that triggers the story’s plot. Then there is a vast desert plain which is equally extreme, contrasted with the dense city and its teeming hordes of inhabitants, and one other intense setting which the cover of Rhapsody perhaps gives away.

I love creating the settings; they’re the canvasses on which the story is painted, and in the case of The Melforger Chronicles, they are crucial to both the characters and the plot – and the magic.
Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

There have definitely been a few moments where I struggled with writing, or with connecting parts of the stories. The only way I can get out of it is normally to take a break and do something else for a bit: go for a walk, go cycling, play tennis, clean the house – something fairly active and mindless. I find that sometimes, all your imagination needs is a little time to incubate and work on its own without you trying to force it to do something. I compare trying to be creative or trying to find that novel idea with attempting to catch a butterfly; if you chase it, it always remains just out of your reach, whereas if you relax, it will (more often than not) come to you. Other times I find it better just to write. Get it down on the page. Anything. Even if it’s rubbish. Once you have something written and tangible, you can edit or tweak or just scrap it completely. But even if it’s something you’d never lower yourself to putting in your story, it could be the spark that opens you up to a new idea or solution.
What do you like to do for fun?
I’m a keen sportsman and enjoy tennis, golf and the occasional game of cricket (it’s not as boring as you think!). I also devour books on my kindle (and in paperback form - I still enjoy the feel of a real book in my hands) and find it difficult to get through a day without doing a Sudoku puzzle. I’m also an enthusiastic – but rarely successful – pub trivia addict. I’m very much a traveler though, and as you can probably guess from the trilogy, I have a yearning for spectacular vistas and extreme environments. I just returned from a week’s hike in Iceland and have had the bar for ‘stunning scenery’ moved so high up I fear it won’t be bested by anything other than a base camp hike to Everest…

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