The closed world of a funeral director is rarely glimpsed owing to the strictures of confidentiality scrupulously maintained by industry professionals. In SCOOTER NATION, the second novel in A.B. Funkhauser’s Unapologetic Lives Series, confidentiality, or more keenly the silence naturalized by a desire to protect the privacy of others, leads to inflated misunderstandings underpinned by a culture of myth and lore. What follows are a chain of events both comic and chilling.
E X C E R P T
Krause looked like she was going to cry: “Don’t you knobs get it? We’ve been sold to the Flexor Group. I just know it.”
Carla stiffened. “What did you see? Who did you see?”
The death business was a small, closed community with few strangers. Everybody knew everyone else and their business too.
“I only saw their feet,” Enid replied. “Black shoes. Square toes.” Her face whitened. “Loafers!”
Scooter Creighton dropped his lighter. “Are you sure? No mistake?”
“No mistake. I was wearing my bifocals. There can only be one person behind this.”
The ancient intercom on the garage wall crackled to life. Jocasta Binns had found them: “Put the damned cigarettes out. Meeting starts NOW.”
Scooter Creighton nodded meaningfully at his companions. The rude bitch was clearly on a roll. Like most funeral homes that hadn’t caught up to the twenty-first century, Weibigand’s had a front door equipped with a tinny doorbell that sounded whenever the door swung open. More modern establishments employed greeters or hostesses that manned large semi-circular hotel-lobby like desks for a more personal touch. But Weibigand’s, experiencing a steady decline in business year over year, lacked funds to pay for such a person. So the bell, on duty since the 1930s, was the only way to know that someone had come in. It had not sounded.
“Jocasta turned the bell off!” Enid shouted. “Why the hell would she turn the bell off?”
There were only two possible explanations: Either some non-staffer had been assigned to stand watch at the door and had shut the bell off, or the doors were being locked and the bell wasn’t needed.
“My god,” Carla gasped, thinking of the square-toed, black leather shoes that, beyond any doubt, now stalked the hall above. Though there were many, only a single pair held any relevance.
Every profession had its own share of false gods and banal superstitions. Those, carried forth on a wave of feverish gossip backed by assertions that everything said was ‘true’, gave rise to fantastic mythologies that made a chosen few more significant than they actually were. Graeham Grissom of B.H. Hoage, for example, was the undisputed embalming god of their age while “Count Floyd” Aiken could ‘will’ new business into being with a stroke of a pen. That old age, arthritis, early-onset dementia and the public’s annoying preference for cremation over medieval embalming procedures decreased the field of competitors, and so guaranteed Graeham’s mantle in the first instance, had nothing to do with the stories spread: he made esoteric concoctions in the old Hoage basement that rendered his people ‘pliable’ ‘natural-like’ ‘soft to the touch’ and even ‘warmer’ without the slightest sign of decay, even after a fifty-four day hold. The same held for Count Floyd. No one could turn a prearranged funeral into an ‘at need’ simply by sending a get better card, yet Floyd’s people did die suddenly whenever he did, whether sick or not. That the deceased had crossed the century mark in every case had little to do with a great tale.
But there were other stories out there: stories not so benign and infinitely more sinister. Some, it was said, enriched themselves through the weak willed. These were the mendacious pocket-liners who evaded the law and curried favor with popular opinion regardless of talk.
These were the ones to watch…
The little group assembled in the Weibigand garage knew that fear and felt it now because it was right on top of their heads. Scooter Creighton, jaws clenched, ground the words out first, like a metal vise in need of oil: “It’s Clayton. He is in the building.”
A fellow scribbler recently asked if I’d thought about working in other genres and I had to take a moment before answering. After a couple of slugs of coffee, here’s what I said: Anything’s possible, but do YOU consciously sit down and say ‘I’m going to write a romance today’?
It’s true that we have an idea what we are about on the page after a few false starts and a meme or two. But if you’re like me, you give your characters a wide berth and let them do the driving.
The tale of halting mortician Enid Krause and her charge, the badly decomposed Jurgen Heuer (read ‘Heuer’ as in ‘lawyer’) for me was a platform from which to launch some stories about what it’s like to be a funeral director in the space of a few precious days. The minutae, the stuff we as directors take for granted, like getting the flowers from visitation suite to church to grave without the family and mourners seeing us do it, became a subject of intense interest for some readers. The fact that the work was so physical, along with the long hours often spent waiting for something to happen seemed to be a jump point for discussion as well.
That HEUER went from conversation piece about an atypical job to an award winner under the HORROR category in this year’s PREDITORS & EDITORS reader poll did not surprise readers, but it did surprise me in the best possible way.
HEUER LOST AND FOUND is many things to me: it is a platform from which to rhapsodize about things near and dear, but it’s also a staging point for exploring complicated grief, guilt, addiction, false love, false starts, and, yes, embalming while under the influence of all of the above. Most exciting to me, was that I was able to present difficult and often horrific subjects under the umbrella of gonzo fiction; that is to say: by making the tough accessible through humor.
I’d like to thank my publisher Summer Solstice, a line division of Solstice Publishing, for believing in what I was trying to do. Solstice gave me the courage to press on through the hard slog that is editing and promoting. Most importantly, they gave me what I needed to keep creating NEW WORK. Thank you Melissa Miller, Kate M. Collins and K.C. Sprayberry for keeping me on task.
The PREDITORS & EDITORS Reader’s Poll is my first award and as such my most precious, not just for the validation it gives me personally (shades of Sally Field at the Oscars back in 1985 dogged me, but only for a moment) but for the acknowledgement that the book and characters are MORE than they appear. What seemed incredibly funny to some, mortified others and vice versa. Tissue boxes, I’m told, were reached for in the closing chapters, while others cheered for Heuer, a “strange and complicated” character, to succeed in spite of his sometimes odious behavior.
Will I try another genre? Most probably, but only if the characters allow me to do so. If HEUER LOST AND FOUND has taught me anything, it’s that everything is subjective at all times.
Thank you one and all for your tremendous support on the journey. I am incredibly grateful.
Adult, unapologetic and wholly cognizant,
NEXT UP: SCOOTER NATION Releasing March 13, 2016 through Solstice Publishing
A.B. Funkhauser is a funeral director, classic car nut and wildlife enthusiast living in Ontario, Canada. Like most funeral directors, she is governed by a strong sense of altruism fueled by the belief that life chooses us and we not it. Her debut novel HEUER LOST AND FOUND, released in April 2015 after five years of studious effort, has inspired four other full length works and over a dozen short stories. SCOOTER NATION, her sophomore effort, is part of her UNAPOLOGETIC LIVES series. Funkhauser is currently working on POOR UNDERTAKER begun during NaNoWriMo 2014.
HEUER LOST AND FOUND
Unrepentant cooze hound lawyer Jürgen Heuer dies suddenly and unexpectedly in his litter-strewn home. Undiscovered, he rages against God, Nazis, deep fryers and analogous women who disappoint him.
At last found, he is delivered to Weibigand Brothers Funeral Home, a ramshackle establishment peopled with above average eccentrics, including boozy Enid, a former girl friend with serious denial issues. With her help and the help of a wise cracking spirit guide, Heuer will try to move on to the next plane. But before he can do this, he must endure an inept embalming, feral whispers, and Enid’s flawed recollections of their murky past.
“Eccentric and Funny. You have never read anything like this book. It demands respect for the outrageous capacity of its author to describe in detail human behavior around death.”
—Charlene Jones, author THE STAIN
“The macabre black comedy Heuer Lost And Found, written by A.B. Funkhauser, is definitely a different sort of book! You will enjoy this book with its mixture of horror and humour.”
—Diana Harrison, Author ALWAYS AND FOREVER
“This beautifully written, quirky, sad, but also often humorous story of Heuer and Enid gives us a glimpse into the fascinating, closed world of the funeral director.”
—Yvonne Hess, Charter Member, The Brooklin 7
“The book runs the gamut of emotions. One minute you want to cry for the characters, the next you are uncontrollably laughing out loud, and your husband is looking at you like you lost your mind, at least mine did.”
A story about identity, finding your place in society, and treating your fellow man with dignity…and GONZO!
Begun during NaNoWriMo 2013, SCOOTER NATION is the second in the series UNAPOLOGETIC LIVES…
Aging managing director Charlie Forsythe begins his work day with a phone call to Jocasta Binns, the unacknowledged illegitimate daughter of Weibigand Funeral Home founder Karl-Heinz Sr. Alma Wurtz, a scooter bound sextenarian, community activist, and neighborhood pain in the ass, is emptying her piss bucket into the flower beds, killing the petunias. Jocasta cuts him off, reminding him that a staff meeting has been called. Charlie, silenced, is taken aback: he has had no prior input into the meeting and that, on its own, makes it sinister.
The Series is called Unapologetic Lives for the reason that I wanted to see grown-ups careening out of control with little or no concern toward limited liability, torts, class action lawsuits or political correctness. They’re of age, and they have one crack at this life. SCOOTER is completely different in tone from the first novel HEUER LOST AND FOUND. Set two years after HEUER in the same funeral parlor, it focuses on Scooter Creighton and Carla Moretto Salinger Blue. Both are funeral directors, and both have critical walk-ons in the first novel. This time, they take centre stage as they battle conflicting values, draconian city by-laws, a mendacious neighborhood gang bent on havoc, and a fitness guru whose presence shines an unwanted light on their quiet Michigan neighborhood.
Now entering fourth draft, I hope to have SCOOTER READY for publication in 2016.
To learn more, check out #1lineWed on Twitter for weekly Wednesday SCOOTER blasts and THIS PAGE.
In support of HEUER LOST AND FOUND releasing on April 23 on all Amazons, Bookgoodies, Solstice Publishing and wherever else Createspace is sending it, I will be popping in on fellow authors through to May 18 (with weekends off—I need my beauty sleep!) Here’s the roster for week one. Feel free to stop by.
Monday, April 20
Interview and Review with Shyla Wolff, Shyla Wolff’s Thoughs
Covering off the home desk www.abfunkhauser.com while I’m away are some amazing guest authors who will be answering a Proustian questionnaire of my own design as well as showcasing their latest projects, blogs, interviews and more. Check them out. First up, John DeBoer, author, medical doctor and duffer (that’s golfer for those of you not in the know). Welcome, John.
Biography: John DeBoer
After graduating from the University of Vermont College of Medicine, John L. DeBoer, M.D., F.A.C.S. completed a surgical residency in the U.S. Army and then spent three years in the Medical Corps as a general surgeon. Thirty years of private practice later, he retired to begin a new career as a writer.
When not creating new plot lines for his novels, Dr. DeBoer pursues his interests in cooking, films and film history, politics, and the amazing cosmos. Though he’s an avid tennis player, his yet-to-be-fulfilled goal is to achieve a level of mediocrity in the frustrating game of golf.
The father of two grown sons, he lives with his wife in North Carolina.
There’s that old saying that one must never put the cart before the horse, so what if I just leave the cart at home and carry on? First reviews for HEUER LOST AND FOUND are in and so far, THEY’RE GOOD. So I think I will leave the cart at home and have a once around. As Lord Grantham would say: “Steady On”.
Every now and again you come across a treat and this book was as good as chocolate, mostly because of its originality. It takes a serious premise and gives it a light touch. The author is a word technician. The unusual catalyst? We have a man who dies but is still extremely vocal and active. But if his experiences beyond the Grim Reaper are typical, then I advise you, new readers, to stay in this life – or find some parallel universe.The writing style is racy with no words wasted. Early example: “May had given over to June with its outdoor patios and brain blasting surround sound systems—zesty realities that didn’t always mesh with work.” Midway example: “A tall lamp of ancient origin flickered in a large room ahead of him. Piled high with boxes and debris—a compendium of past lives—the space reminded him of a place he’d just come from and was not anxious to see again.” Late example: “Heuer looked at his smooth hands—a musician’s hands—with their perfectly tapered fingers filled with music that went unplayed. Peace? There was no peace to be made with Werner.”
It’s all tidily edited and I didn’t keep tripping over typos.
The characters are painted clearly right from the start, not in laborious detail, but in the little hints and the ways in which they do things.
A lot of care, background knowledge and zest with the pen has gone into this book.
—David K. Bryant, Author, Tread Carefully on the Sea
This beautifully written, quirky, sad, but also often humorous story of Heuer and Enid – one living and the other a spirit stuck between this world and the next – gives us a glimpse into the fascinating, closed world of the funeral director. Years after their relationship ended, the past catches up to both of them in the most unlikely place – the funeral home. Fresh writing filled with rich vocabulary, this story features a vivid cast of colourful, living-breathing characters. This one will keep you reading late into the night until the final page.
—Yvonne Hess, Charter Member, The Brooklin 7
Ms. A.B Funkhauser is a brilliant and wacky writer incapable of dumbing things down and amen for that. Her distinctive voice tells an intriguing story that mixes moral conflicts with dark humor, not too mention booze and cigarettes.
The book’s title refers to the lead character, a lawyer who dies in his home. As the body decomposes, the man’s spirit experiences euphoria, rage, disappointment and eventually hope. One of my favourite characters Enid, an employee of the Weibigand Brothers Funeral Home where Heuer now resides just happens to be Heuer the dead lawyer’s former girlfriend, and as we re-live the flawed recollections of their murky past—it really poses the question. How do we deal with death?
—Rachael Stapleton, Author, The Temple of Indra’s Jewel and Curse of the Purple Delhi Sapphire
The macabre black comedy Heuer Lost And Found, written by A.B. Funkhauser, is definitely a different sort of book! Her protagonist Heuer dies but his spirit hangs around as he waits for his body to be collected a week later from his dirty, litter strewn flat. In the funeral home, ready to be embalmed, he finds out it’s an ex-girlfriend, now alcoholic, who will do the process. Add to that a talking rat…
You will enjoy this book with its mixture of horror and humour.
—Diana Harrison, Author, Always and Forever
Heuer Lost and Found is a quirky and irreverent story about a man who dies and finds his spirit trapped in a funeral home with an ex-lover who happens to be the mortician. He has to come to terms with his hoarding, degenerate past before he can escape. I love the character of Heuer, the Lawyer. He’s not a loveable character, but he’s as fascinating as watching a bug under a microscope. I found myself rooting for the guy, which is always the mark of a strong character. The characterization is rich the story well-told.
—Cryssa Bazos, Writer’s Community of Durham Region, Ontario, Canada
Author A. B. Funkhauser strikes a macabre chord with her book “Heuer Lost and Found”. Written from the perspective of an undertaker, she gives her readers a ringside seat at the Weibigand Mortuary where Enid, a middle aged woman with a taste for scotch, arrives on a Monday morning still in a stupor from the night before. Initially, the reader learns a bit about Enid and the history of the mortuary, its original owners and their heirs who continue to operate the family owned business, along with all of its eccentric employees. Early in the day, a call is received and there after a not so typical day in the life of a mortuary begins. Heuer, a well known middle aged attorney has been found dead in his apartment, where he laid for several days. The story now moves between present day and flash backs to a time when Heuer, Enid and others in the story are intertwined in one way or another. Heuer appears as a ghostly spectre to enchant us with his own take on his past, and his current impressions of what is being said and done as his body is prepared for burial. I for one like this book. I found it to have a similar feel to the HBO series “Six Feet Under”.
Ms. Funkhauser is a wizard with words and did a fine job of weaving this story of Greek, German and English speaking families that bounced back and forth throughout the entire book.
—Young, Author, A Harem Boy’s Saga Vol I, II, and III
Heuer’s difficult relationship with women and his mother seems to be a focal here, but so are references to friendship, loneliness and feelings of inadequacy. The irony that it’s an old girlfriend with a ton of problems taking care of him as his funeral director, is startling. The author depicts the flaws and human nature in both characters. This book is an incredible read that does not allow the audience to “fall asleep” at any time. A MUST READ!
—Daisy Kourkoulakos, Mississauga, Ontario
Not really horror or occult, this book mixes soul searching with some pretty off the wall humour. When a lawyer dies in his home with his spirit body for company, he must pass the time reminiscing with the walls while learning to move objects with his mind. Once his body’s found by a sexy coroner he madly wants to date, he finds himself stuck at a funeral home with a bunch of odd strangers including an ex girlfriend who likes to drink. What does a guy have to do to get on with his after life? Scaring the crabby neighbor is a start. I enjoyed this book because it’s extremely witty and the characters do really unexpected things like house breaking and scaring mourners at funerals. Perfect for anyone who likes gallows humour!
—Suzanne Fairbrass Stacey, Lake Simcoe, Ontario
Having received my copy of the work personally from the author, the first thing I have to mention, is that although not my usual cup of tea, but Heuer Lost and Found, is without a doubt a great story to get into and stay captivated by.
The setting may seem a little unorthodox and considered slightly macabre, but that is what made this work. This is a story that to me, felt like it abides by its own set rules and the pace is brilliantly maintained by the ever wordy A.B. Funkhauser. Even with an extensive vocabulary, the variety of words used were more of a pleasure than a pain and reminded me of the works by Bram Stoker, a personal favourite author of mine.
The story is lovingly crafted and is full of noteworthy lines that just stick in the memory, such as the phrase: Was sein wird, wird sein und was hineinschaut, schaut auch wieder raus—What will be, will be, and what looks in, looks out.
And if that’s not enough to entice, maybe the ensemble cast of Enid, Charlie, Clara is. A trio who although feel like a mix-matched bunch that shouldn’t be in each others lives, author Funkhauser bound them together just so.
For a story centered around death, it is full of Life.
—Rocky Rochford, Author, Rise of Elohim Chronicles
I didn’t know what to make of this at first, and then I was half way through it, and then I was at the end…but I didn’t want it to be over. Funkhauser made me learn new words like “aegis” and then I was laughing too hard to notice that I was actually at a sad part. Like Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Heuer is not a likeable man, but I somehow found myself rooting for him. A strange, complicated character. I have to look at him again. I hope there’ll be more where this came from!
—Kasey Balko, Pickering, Ontario
Multifaceted characters layered into a modern plot with plenty of sub cues based in the past. Heuer and Enid in their own way are similar so it makes sense that they’d come together again even if the circumstances are strange. Though spirit and funeral director never meet face to face, their simpatico is strong and their conversations are heartbreaking and real. The staff at the funeral parlour are good for laughs! Charlie, Dougie and poor old Robert the intern, who has to put up with a lot, break the tension and keep this thing rattling to a poignant conclusion.
Many years ago, I hooked into a public television series that brought to life the detective novels of Dorothy
L. Sayers. WHOSE BODY? CLOUDS OF WITNESS and UNNATURAL DEATH to name a few brought we, the devotees of Masterpiece Theatre and MYSTERY!, face to face with an immaculately dressed, preternaturally wealthy English nit named Lord Peter Wimsey. Fussy, feckless and a bit grating in his dedication to detail, he was the ideal sleuth, rambling freely against a background of country houses, ornate gardens and immaculately tended lawns. Fans couldn’t get enough of him and neither could his creator Sayers, whom aficionados said was actually in love with her creation.
Lord Peter might not be my type, but I certainly get the notion of a writer getting more out of the character than mere words on the page.
A lot of people have asked me where Jürgen Heuer comes from, and my answers vary, depending on my mood. Yes, he’s a work of fiction, but every fiction, to paraphrase Ian Fleming, “is precedent on some kind of fact.”
Heuer, like Sayers’ Wimsey, is incredibly real, although I doubt very much either she or I would make it through a meal with him without an outburst or two. Maybe it’s a condition of what inspires. The bad, the badder, the really, really broken. Good guys—perfect guys—just don’t pack the same punch. Heck, even Rhett Butler hung out at Belle Watling’s house of extraordinary extra circular activities, and NOBODY held that against him.
I did not set out to warp Heuer as much as I did. In fact, he plays rather nicely in the opening chapters of THE HEUER EFFECT which traces his early life. But there was something about the later man, the mature man, that courted the darkness. He’s been through the wars and has been affected by them, such that he screamed “go darker” and so I did.
The idea that the bad side of a character is more compelling than the good follows me to this day: The anit-appeal generated by the real life figure of Capt. John Graves Simcoe on AMC’s excellent TURN: Washington’s Spies, is a case in point. Excellently portrayed by actor Samuel Roukin, Simcoe wreaks havoc among Republican forces in Setauket Long Island, hangs innocents without a blink, and composes creepy love sonnets to a winsome lass who’d shoot him herself if she could. And all the while, the lanky red coat finds time to prep for higher office north of the border as the First Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. (True stuff and crikey, we even named a lake and a civic holiday after him.)
It’s not the rich sets, protagonists and dialogue that brings me back. It’s Simcoe, and it pains me to say so.
Likewise, there’s the affable, ne’er do well Saul Goodman from BETTER CALL SAUL, another AMC offering on hiatus after just ten episodes. Unlike Simcoe and Heuer, Saul is sweet, rubber faced and apologetically dishonest. With every bad deed, Saul struggles to do good and we love him for it. But each time he backslides into the old life—that of Slippin’ Jimmy from Cicero, Illinois—we’re on our feet, cheering. Shame we know how it ends: Saul is a prequel to BREAKING BAD. But the end’s not the point. It’s the “how” of the getting there that does it.
Heuer’s story isn’t over yet. The third book in the series “Unapologetic Lives” offers hope. But given this writer’s penchant for her creation, redemption is highly unlikely.
Who we are and what we are depends on how honest we choose to be. At least that’s how my character Jürgen Heuer (pronounced ‘lawyer’) likes to play it out in life and death. Born in Bremen, Germany with summers spent in the Austrian Tyrol he is literally preprogrammed to be a romantic.
His mother, a dreamer raised on Schumann, palinka shots and weeping Hungarian violins demands it. “Love, my love, and desire—Sensucht—longing: These are the things that make the history, the things upon which great legends are built. Without these, you have dust in your mouth.”
Yet Heuer’s love for things musical “the cicada’s song” or lyrical “… her tangs of violet commixing with scents of must, like the old place back home in Europe” are squelched by history and a profound belief that he is “born bad” and cannot undo it.
“Small, both in mind and body, he had tremendous appetites, all of which skewed towards becoming more than what he actually was.” An apropos description not of the man, but of the father, Werner, whose tastes “… classic in [their] narcissism, embraced the moldy old ethos of ethnicity over geography, and, as such, he was first in line when Anschluss came to Vienna…”
Werner Heuer has no time for art or music: “For him, the rhythmic tapping of jackboots on pavement went beyond forced occupation; it was the end of the road after a long trek.”
Eschewing his parents’ hang-ups, Heuer does his best to build a life in America that is, by all accounts, immensely successful and hardly lonely. But it is contrived. Dodging promotion, cruising the outer banks that frame society, he keeps to himself, except when he toys with the lives of others. When a young colleague joins the firm Heuer takes action, not swiftly, but slowly, the way he likes it: “The decision to ruin a young man half his age was taken lightly and on purpose, as if giving weight to the decision conferred unjust power on the youth. To Heuer, it was personal, but also a test to see if he could actually do it.”
All business, Heuer reminds me of another character, Irmtraut Weibigand, currently under construction in POOR UNDERTAKER, a work in progress. A woman of business, she wrestles with secret doubts about the veracity of her citizenship, place in the community, and the integrity of the people she tries to call friends. A raucous Chamber of Commerce luncheon exacerbates this, when she rises in defense of her frenemy Hartmut Fläche, whose effete manners and pomposity alight the simmering hatred of fellow Chamber member Conrad Hickey. Defending Fläche’s right to exist, Irmtraut loses her cool as she’s reminded that she’s as ‘foreign’ as he is even though she has been a part of the community for nearly thirty years. Well read, she cannot help but think of Shakespeare’s monster Caliban from the Tempest making a subtle but conscious comparison to her own place on the ‘island’ that is Portside, Michigan. Thinking back to her mother, her provenance and her roots, she is cut at the knees, reminding herself that no matter how fine she becomes, she will always wear homespun.
Like Irmtraut, like Werner, Heuer wrestles with his identity which takes centre stage anno domini. His inane Germanity no longer an issue, Heuer wishes only to be cared for and remembered.
FOLLOW THE BLOG TOUR BEGINNING APRIL 20 THRU MAY 18
It was with great pleasure that I appeared recently on fellow Solstice author Malay Upadhyay’s blog AUTHORZ & CHARACTERZ in support of the upcoming release of HEUER LOST AND FOUND. You may recall that Malay was featured here recently to promote his work Kalki Evian: The Ring of Khaoriphea. Like yours truly, Malay has no problem whatever assigning qualities magical and mystical to humble creatures. In that spirit, he endeavoured to interview me IN CHARACTER; in this case as the incomparable Rat, whose influence in Heuer’s funeral parlor exceeds what one might normally expect. Reproduced today…
Interview with A. B. Funkhauser
Hallo, guyz! Today we are going to teeter around a deathly zone – a fine line between thiz and that world. Az our ezteemed guide, we have A. B. Funkhauser, a funeral director cum wildlife and clazzic car enthuziazt from Ontario, Canada.
Zhe takez uz through her debut novel, Heuer Lost And Found – which combinez Adult, Paranormal and Dark Humor in a fiction – az a rather unexpected creature.
Fly: Welcome, Mz. Funkhauser. I zee you are in a different mold today.
AB: You bet, Fly. Rats have a nasty reputation, but there’s more to me than good looks and an above average competency in Latin. We are clean, clever and very friendly, which is why my life and death in HEUER LOST AND FOUND is celebrated favourably by most of the characters.
Fly: That’z awesome! If it’s any support, flies get a bad rap too. But here we are in a funeral parlor. What’s new?
Rat: Silent. More than usual. The guys – Enid and her manager, Charlie – are trying to make ends meet because deaths have been few and that has robbed them of their payroll! Heuer’s death, while hard on Enid, was the first death call in weeks. He really saves the day.
Fly: I find a zcary zenze of irony in all this! But let’z talk about the novel. Heuer Lost & Found beginz with the death of Jürgen Heuer. How did your alter ego come by that idea?
Rat: It was in the winter of 2010, and after a long day at the funeral home she looked down the long hall joining the director’s office to the back door leading three steps up and out into the parking lot. The back door on the cover is a more than accurate representation of it. It’s from a real funeral home, you know? Anyway, a thought occurred to her at that moment: What if a slightly life-challenged mortician tripped over her man shoes and landed squarely on her posterior, only to learn that someone she once knew and cared about had died, and that she was next on the staff roster to care for his remains? Freaky, no? But there it is Ad infinitum
Fly: Tell uz about Heuer?
Rat: Beyond a word rhyming with “lawyer,” Heuer the lawyer is a very conflicted man. Intensely private, he craves recognition, but doesn’t want anyone to get too close. When he finds my shattered body on the floor of the Wisteria Slumber Room, he approaches, commenting on the exceptional beauty of my fur. At that moment, he recognizes beauty in an unlikely thing. I found this particularly charming about him. I must confess, however, to being more than a little put out when he confronts my murderer. I had great hopes for moral redress; instead, he takes pity and tries to help her. What can I say? Ecce homo.
Fly: That’z exciting. Where can the readerz get accezz to theze?
Fly: Zome inspiration that. What would you zay haz inzpired A.B. Funkhauser in real life?
Rat: She has an amazing support group—her family, her writer’s group The Brooklin 7, and pretty well everyone she comes into contact with, from friends at the grocery store and local coffee house to the lady who helps her with her printing at Staples. She also maintains close connections to friends and work colleagues in funeral service, a business I must say that can easily be misunderstood with little effort. She believes in the work, and through writing has tried to shine a light on it.
Fly: And any author or artizt can vouch for how important thoze things are. Working as a funeral director, what iz Mz. Funkhauser’z take on life?
Rat: Like most funeral directors, she is governed by a strong sense of altruism fueled by the belief that life chooses us and we not it. She celebrates it daily, from simple chores to writing new chapters. And she loves the outdoors. It’s been a long winter here in Canada. She needs to get outside and roam.
Fly: In the ztory, we have Enid on one zide, who lozez zomeone important to her – Heuer – without a chance to zay a final goodbye. On the other zide, we have Heuer whose ztory, and in zome way, life itself unfoldz after hiz death. In a zingle ztroke, you introduce uz readerz to both our greatezt fear and our greatezt wizh!
Take uz through thiz experience with regardz to getting zecond chancez in life. Which perzpective would you zay you lean more towards in real life?
Rat: The first thing Funkhauser got rid of after her thirtieth birthday was the idea that all she had in front of her was second chances. She decided instead to roll with the idea that it’s all a continuum…good days, bad days, successes and failures. She refuses to see the end. She sees the next day and all the promise that comes with it. On a micro level, if she suffers less than three disappointments in a day, it’s been a pretty amazing day!
The character Heuer in life goes through the motions of working and acquiring “stuff”. His house is literally packed to the ceiling with ‘treasures’ signifying a life in progress. But there is no real human contact. He avoids his neighbors wherever possible, does not have a spouse or significant other, and lives through what he sees on the television and in old photos. After death, being found is prime to him because his objects can’t call for help, and there is no one out there looking for him.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Enid. She has done everything her society expects of her: she has a career, a spouse, family, friends and hobbies. But her life is changing. Her eyesight is blurred; her step, less sure footed. “There is unfinished business here,” Heuer says, and it’s to that business that the book turns; so not so much a second chance, but a recognition that the drama and comedy are still continuing.
Fly: That anomaly iz a work of art! I have to bring up a literal one at thiz point, though – The Lamp. Very much living, myzteriouz and absolutely fascinating! Care to introduce uz to it?
The Lamp embodies the spirit of the funeral home matriarch who died decades before. Anchored to the floor by her griffin’s feet, she can travel in the minds of others, but cannot leave her place in the dusty, cramped funeral home basement. There is a parallel here; that her domicile closely resembles Heuer’s and that their predicaments are similar. It was inevitable that the two should become allies, although their relationship is a strained one.
Fly: And you embody one of them?
More Heuer, I think. As I said earlier, rats have a bad rap owing to history and human malfeasance. The same is true for Heuer. He carries with him the sins of his father. Just by being born, he is convinced that he is bad, and rather than try to overcome it, he embraces it in his twenties. The tragedy for him is that his life is a lie and all the angst that ruled him in life was completely without merit.
Fly: Alright, don’t say anymore! I can barely control my urge to flip through the pagez right till the very end. When doez the book come out?
Rat: It hits all the AMAZONS April 23, 2015. Presales began March 26, 2015.
Fly: Time to mark our calendarz then. For now, we make do with the preview. Thank you, dear Rat, for your attendance today.
Rat: You can call me ‘The’. That’s my first name.
Fly: Really?! Mine too! Damn, what are the chances??
Rat: (laughs) That’s my point, dear friend. You and I share the same hang-ups. Of course we’d align. Amicitiae nostrae memoriam spero sempiternam fore.
Fly: The Fly, mind you. It’s time to get out of the funeral parlour! And to all the readerz, enjoy the excerpt from Heuer’z pozthumouz world!
AN EXCERPT FEATURING “RAT”
Rat should have seen it coming. He was a rat after all and therefore genetically predisposed to a shorter life. As such, he should have taken better care. But tender concern for his friend obscured his view, and this deprived him of a rodent’s perfunctory need to avoid detection.
Mrs. Emmy Shawson-Cooke-With-An-”E” late of The Springs by way of Baycon Hill had died quietly in her bed in her ninety-sixth year. Owing to her advanced age, her family decided that a little-more-than-this-side-of-nothing was required to get her on her way as quickly as possible. To that, arrangements were concluded between Teddy Shawson-Cooke-With-An-”E,” her great nephew and heir, and Charles Emerson Forsythe, funeral director extraordinaire.
“I’m very sad to hear of your great aunt’s passing,” Charlie said somberly, for he liked Emmy very much. A wealthy woman, she was a doyen, a neighborhood fixture, raising funds for world wild life, Christian children and Ethiopian famine relief. But she was more than just money. At the heart of her was a genuinely good human being who said what she meant, and acted on her commitments. In the early years, she was a constant fixture at Weibigand’s, resplendent in a magnificent suite of emeralds that Charlie never tired of commenting upon. “I bring in the business, don’t I Charlie?” she would say through cherry lips under a pillbox hat. Indeed she did, and Charlie encouraged her familiarity. Both shared a special bond. Even after her (some said) forced relocation to the nursing home in The Springs, she never failed to fire off emails to her Charlie to make sure he was okay. And Charlie always visited her on her birthday and at Christmas.
Emeralds? Rat was barely two years old and so had never met Emmy Shawson-Cooke. But he knew well enough about gemstones and other things too, and so it was to this that he turned his attention as he repositioned himself inside Charlie’s monk strap Prada slip on. They were in the front office, Rat’s favorite room by far. It faced the street, was pleasantly lit, and with its high coffered ceiling, offered stunning acoustical advantages. Charlie was reminiscing with Teddy about the gemstones: They sparkled blue at their centers, spanning outward only to be confined devilishly in beveled frames of seawater green. Spectacular—like the Bering Strait meeting the Caribbean Sea. Emmy’s late husband Cecil joked that they could shame Tsars and tease laughs from stone.
“I beg your pardon,” Charlie said noticing Rat beneath him. It was Charlie’s habit to remove his shoes in mid-afternoon to promote better circulation, but they were in the way now under the large desk and he took care not to disturb the Weibigand mascot as he moved the shoes off to one side.
Teddy Shawson-Cooke shifted from haunch to haunch, his incredible heft straining the pound for pound capacity of the Faux Toscano Victorian Rococo wing chair he was sitting on. Forsythe, sensing the man’s discomfort, did his best to speed up the meeting. Emmy had prearranged her funeral and Teddy was undoing as much of it as he could because, he said, “there was no one left” and “doing her up for nothing was just plain stupid.” Truth was, Teddy had the power to add the money saved from a cheapo funeral to his aunt’s estate, from which he could pay himself as executor.
Charlie smiled down at Rat who, in an act of implicit trust, dozed off in his shoe.
“Allow me, if you will, to think out loud,” Charlie said, in anticipation of what Teddy wanted to serve up next. If the meeting went on much longer, Emmy’s casket choice would be undone too and no one at Weibigand’s—Charlie most all—could bear to put Emmy into anything less than the mahogany she’d paid for years before. “Your great aunt put her faith in us to carry out her wishes. I understand where you are coming from, but I must insist on the single night of visiting she paid for.”
Shawson-Cooke, in saying nothing, red-flagged Charlie, and he picked up speed. “Now the emerald suite. I trust she will be wearing it, as always?” Teddy replied that it was “long gone” save for the ring which, he hoped, “found its way out of the nursing home before someone else got to it.”
Down on the floor below, Rat dreamed of Carla and, more particularly, her less than utterly no-good spouse Danny Blue—a musician in a band that had, in the space of two years, eroded the family fortune on protracted road trips through northern Canada. Designed to boost the band’s profile and hopefully springboard them into other gigs in Manitoba, the latest tour had bogged down south of Parry Sound and Danny Blue had forgot to come home. The issue at hand was money. Plain and simple. And in dreams, Rat searched for a solution.
Thank you Malay for your kind hospitality. All the best to you and much success for Kalki Evian.
I’ve been dancing around for weeks here on the blog and finally, at long last, I can release DAS BOOK TRAILER. Months in the making, I can say, without a hint of irony or fiction, that HEUER LOST AND FOUND, THE TRAILER, is all mine and made with my own two hands. Another milestone on the path to publishing. The learning curve has been incredibly steep and it is only the beginning, but I’m ready…I think. 😉
NOW AND FORWARD
Adult, unapologetic and cognizant, I wish you good day.
In the spirit of brave self-promotion, I continue today’s post (see Heuer AdvanceReview) with an interview given by yours truly to the ever intrepid Bernard Foong. It’s another first for me, and another reason to do a victory lap around the neighborhood (after I shovel the sidewalk), because self promotion goes against everything I was taught growing up. Careers in politics, the car business and funeral service notwithstanding, I have managed to stay under the wire…until now.
Heuer, Heuer. What have you done?
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
That’s always a bit tough for me. I was raised in another time where shouting out accomplishments was
considered rude. But I’ll try. I’m a Pisces that celebrates the Year of the Snake, but unlike dear vain snake, work extremely hard not to be mendacious. (Laughs) I have a furtive imagination, love art in all its forms, and cannot live without music playing somewhere in the background. If forced to choose between comedy and drama, comedy wins…every time.
What do you do when you are not writing?
That’s easy! I’m outside. Unlike you, dear friend, I live in the four seasons (hint of jealousy here) and have the coats, boots and sunscreen that goes with them. I have a large wild flower garden that I tend in summer, and a very long driveway I shovel in winter. And I love classic cars, particularly those from the muscle era. Summer and autumn are for road tripping to see the shows. I try to get to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, Michigan every other year.
Do you have a day job as well?
Yes, although I am on hiatus and that has paid off, as you see (big grin). I’m a funeral director, licensed to practice in Ontario, Canada. For me, it ranks as one of the best jobs I’ve ever had next to seeing to my family.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I began writing in 2010 in response to the loss of a dear friend. In funeral service, the families we serve ask how to cope with the pain. One way to manage is to seek out others—groups, counselors—those who have walked in their shoes and really know how it feels. Another approach is to write a grief journal. My friend and I went through school together, and during that time we became sympats where comedy was concerned. We laughed at the same things. It didn’t take long for my journal to take a comedic turn before straying off into outright fiction. I finished Heuer five years later.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
The characters decided it for me. They are bossy, incorrigible and I completely adore them. They were impossible to ignore.
Where do you get your ideas?
I put a foot out the door and live day to day. You wouldn’t believe the kind of trouble you can get into at the grocery store.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Absolutely, but it’s more likely because another story or character is nagging at me. My first teacher called this popcorn writing, where you just push away from the current project and go on a tangent with a wild horse scene. It’s exciting and informs the other projects.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I mull for about a year, and then churn out the first draft during NaNoWriMo in November. I don’t plot per
se, but I do know where I’m going before I begin. This is also where some of those popcorn scenes find a home. After the first draft is complete, I return to the previous project in line to revise and refine. It’s a whole system that works for me. You see why I had to go on hiatus?
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Absolutely everything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote. From him and Dr. Seuss, I learned the value of having outrageous character names. My current fiction includes a hysteric named Sigrid Bork. I love her.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I worried a lot about having one book followed by writer’s block to shut me down for good. So I decided to
get some manuscripts down—four to be precise—so that I’d have a body of work to play with when pitching to agents and publishers. The last four years were dedicated to pure creation without pressure to produce to a contract. It was sensational. During that time, I plugged into Twitter pitch parties on the recommendation of a writer friend, and that’s when things really started to happen. I queried, synopsized, wrote dozens of tag lines and met hundreds of amazing people who got me to Solstice Publishing. Now I have to learn about and engage in—boots first—marketing, which is very challenging because of the way I was raised (see question one). I’m enjoying Twitter parties and blogging. Frankly, I didn’t know I had it in me. A great surprise.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Nope. It was all organic. I tripped, I fell, I studied, and I applied. I got better.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
It’s early in, so stats aren’t there, but I will direct a lot of applause to the writing groups I belong to—The Booklin 7, Writers Community of Durham Region, and amazing teachers at Writescape—for plugging me in with others dedicated to the same goals. Marketing is a learning curve and a steep one, so look to others engaged in the same activity; ask questions and try things on. Tweet, Tweet, Tweet. Blog, blog, blog, and follow your publisher and agent advice. Support other writers by reading their work, reviewing and attending their promotional events. If you want society to know about you, you must socialize.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
I love them all, but can only dedicate my energies to one at a time. The others? Their day will come.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Heuer Lost and Found is adult, unapologetic and cognizant with a hint of dark humor. At 237 pages, it is a
compact study that rocks ’n’ rolls with the help of an erudite Latin speaking rat and a wise-cracking floor lamp with ulterior motives. They’re off beat and badly needed to help my protagonists: a dead, unrepentant cooze hound lawyer, and his very much alive boozy lady undertaker who he used to know back in the Eighties.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I think all fiction is informed by real life experiences, but I have yet to meet sentient rats or floor lamps. (laughs) The funeral home in Heuer is actually a composite of four different establishments, none of which survives today. As to the characters, some guy buddies insist that they are Heuer, but they’re not. There’s actually a little of me in him, but I guess it’s to be expected if I’m the one behind the keyboard.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
SPOILER: The very end, because it’s where the Kleenex box comes out. When that happened, I knew I’d got it right.
How did you come up with the title?
From the short story. Heuer actually made it into three separate shorts before becoming a full-fledged novel character.
What project are you working on now?
Poor Undertaker is next in the series, which tracks the ups and downs of the Weibigand Brothers funeral establishment. Its every bit as much a joy as the first, second and so on, because I see this remarkable building go through all its incantations. At one point, it’s actually bought up and is not a funeral parlor any more.
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
We’re at least a year away, I think. Scooter Nation is next, but I’d like to give it another go over before setting it free.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
Absolutely. My series is non sequential, so the character that dies in one is born again in the next. They’re
never far away. There are a number of themes I return to, but some of my favorites include: the negative impacts of nostalgia; the problem with prying; insular people coming out into the light; finding kindness in peculiar places; and letting go of that thing you need so that you can keep it forever.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I’m an upbeat person, so if I’m criticized, I turn it into a plus by learning something from it. The best compliment I ever had came from a teacher who said my voice was “strong and unusual”. That really made my day.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Get it all down before trying to make sense of it. It’s a journey and often a very long one. Enjoy every leg of it knowing that there’s more just ahead.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Observe, listen, and do not ignore the excellence to be found on HBO, Netflix, Showcase, etc. This is your university.