It was my great honor recently to address the Sisters in Crime – Toronto Chapter at their monthly meeting this past April. Not only did the experience tease me out of the relative safety of my writing vault, but it also, as a newcomer to the mystery scene, afforded me the opportunity to examine the challenges faced by funeral directors like me who endeavor to write.
It’s an exciting time for funeral directors in Ontario. Legislative changes in force since July 1, 2012 continue to filter through the industry; the most recent realized April 1 with the creation of the new Bereavement Authority of Ontario. What this new body will mean for service providers and the client families they serve can only be determined through anecdotal experience. Let these be positive as the spirit behind the changes intend. What it means for me—a purveyor of gonzo, paranormal, mortuary, fiction—is how important it is to tell the story of the industry in a way that is accessible without compromising my duty to protect the deceased person and family he/she leaves behind.
A lot of what a funeral director sees and, indeed, does remains confidential for obvious reasons. Human beings do not stop being human beings with the cessation of breath. In fact, their humanity is heightened, given that their ability to protect themselves from harm is now taken from them. Dignity, privacy and integrity of the individual falls under the purview of the funeral service professionals charged with their care. This is the funeral director’s oath and the writer’s oath as well.
It is not surprising then that confidentiality as a mainstay of funeral service lends itself to broad artistic interpretation. As I revealed at the April 21 Sisters in Crime meeting, it is easy to lampoon/throw rocks at something that cannot defend itself. And yet, examination from unusual quarters can only strengthen the dialogue. There’s a lot of fine satire out there to drive the discussion; some older, but classic pieces like Evelyn Waugh’s THE LOVED ONE and the newer gothic horror AFTER.LIFE whet the public’s appetite to ‘know’ what really goes on.
Which is why I turned to gonzo as my genre vehicle of choice when I chose to weigh in not as expose—because I love my industry—but as a spotlight to inform and, yes, entertain those who rarely, if ever, set foot inside a funeral establishment.
Gonzo, as I’ve said before in previous articles, is a kind of first person journalism created and perfected by the late great Hunter S. Thompson of ROLLING STONE fame. Taken off road into fiction, it is both a humorous and slightly subversive means of drawing attention to difficult subjects and making them whole.
Later this month, I will attend professional development seminars at my alma mater. There, I will be brought up to date on the latest innovations in an industry undergoing constant change. I’m looking forward to it. Where there is education, there is dialogue; where there is discussion, there is growth.
Such is the stuff of the journey in both life and art.
It’s with mixed emotions that I say goodbye to another NaNoWriMo season. On the one hand, I’m delighted to have (realistically) come out of it with about twenty five thousand usable words to build on when edits begin; on the other hand, the intensive energy that went into their creation has spilled over into other WIPs that now SCREAM for attention.
It is a happy problem to have. Subjectively, I’m delighted that the muse is so strong; objectively, I’m torn between following them (yes, there is more than one) or putting a lid on it all so that I may clean my house (not pretty after a month of creative).
In a previous article punched out on the eve of this year’s effort, I talked about finding inciting incidents—the ones that make us BURN—and following them to a fiery NaNo conclusion. In every sense, this is what happened in 2015, but with one amazing difference: as SHELL GAME began to take shape, kernels of competing ideas—pop scenes—inured to places of NaNo’s past.
My sparkling diamonds—pop scenes—invaded mid sentence, forcing open new pages and a flurry of keystrokes. In one instance, an entire scene written in just twenty minutes became the ending without a middle fully realized. Relieved to know where my gem was going, I was interrupted by a pop meme that reminded me of my mandate as both a funeral director and purveyor of fiction. That meme, both bon mot and bête noire, took me to a darker manuscript begun in 2010 that had posed many problems in the ensuing years. Thanks to NaNo, I suddenly (and very unexpectedly) had an answer to questions both structurally and tonally. I can’t wait to get back to it.
But wait! After another shining moment sparked by a week-long stay in a gorgeous part of the country, I found myself smack in the middle of a conundrum. Isolated, without internet connection, devoid of fire pallets (burning stuff helps), and only a large hunting dog for a bed mate (Ah Choo) I had another soul saving 15,000 words to add, but for ANOTHER NaNo, this time begun in 2014.
WHAT’S IT ALL MEAN?
As much as I can tell, I have a few options before me: 1) finish the NaNo 2015 project at the expense of all others; 2) put this NaNo on the shelf and follow the meme’s and landscapes that call me to NaNo’s past and previous; or, 3) shut this damn laptop down and get some sleep…
It was with unparalleled delight that I met some chapter members at the WCDR Bookapalooza event on November 21st. I say unparalleled for two reasons: one; the engaging ladies I refer to could not stop grinning at me, which told me I was doing something very right; and two: they somehow saw through my gonzo humor enough to invite me to join the most excellent Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter.
What is gonzo and what does that have to do with crime? I’ll tell you. Gonzo is a kind of subversive social commentary created and promoted by the late Hunter S. Thompson (He of ROLLING STONE fame). Geared at shining a light on things we hold dear (and don’t), gonzo’s operate under a basic tenet: characters can say and do things we cannot do in a civilized society AND get away with it!
I am the author of two published works, both of which touch on the things I know best: funeral directing and sausage making. As a funeral director that both embalms the dead and assists the living in funeral planning, I have been honored to glimpse a world that very few ever see. Thanks to my immigrant background, I am imbued with a sense of irony that I fiercely hold on to as it is the wellspring for my fiction. I grew up in a household that made bratwurst FROM SCRATCH and favored long ARMED walks in the woods, not because we sought protection from animals, but rather from the hoomans that aspire to behave like animals when not under the watchful eyes of others.
Given my history and the imagination it feeds, it came as a logical step that my characters would, at times, do strange things, including engaging in criminal acts, all in the name of what they saw as ‘righteous’ or ‘fitting’.
Can anyone really get away with murder anymore? I don’t think so. The scope of forensics being what it is makes it impossible for even the craftiest humans to dispose of evidence completely. The second and most compelling reason, I think, is human nature and its fundamental frailty in the need to confide. We absolutely cannot keep our mouths shut; believing that sharing will somehow justify or at least ameliorate the consequences of our actions.
Which is why crime fiction is so much fun! Pair suspension of disbelief with the author’s own commitment to the character on the page and a murder undetected becomes wholly possible.
Can a funeral director get away with murder? They’ve tried, and they always get caught. When I meet everyone at the next meeting, I’ll tell you why…
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
In a little under a week, I’ll be blog touring all over continental North America. What this means is that I’ll be answering a barrage of questions about what makes me tick and how much, if any of it, winds up in my characters. I’ve already proven that I can get inside the head of a rat, so I suppose anything is possible, non? But what is psyching me a tad, are some of the insights culled out of thin air, like they were there all along just waiting for an opportunity to be heard.
Author, friend and fellow Brooklin 7 alumna Connie Di Pietro offered one such opportunity when I dropped by her blog, a macabre place stocked with plenty ‘o bone chilling literary cocktails guaranteed to make you freeze.
“You have described your writing style as gonzo” Connie, asked. “Can you describe what that means.”
Yikes! I’d rather share my grandmother’s recipe for Hungarian gulash. But seeing as I was on the spot, I took my best shot, and I didn’t even have to cheat with Google.
A Chat With Connie Di Pietro, Queen of the Macabre
You went from politics to funeral director to author. Can you tell me how the previous two paths led you into writing?
It’s kinda like all roads leading to Whittamore’s berry farm in Durham Region. When you have something ‘good’ it won’t keep. It just draws you there. Every job I had informed the next one, until I wound up at my dining room table cranking out fiction. The sum total of all of my experiences simply outgrew my grey matter. I couldn’t house it anymore, so I started to write it down.
How much time do you dedicate to your craft?
When I was working full time at the funeral home, I wrote by night, which meant that for about two and a half years I was flying on four hours sleep. This, I think, accounts for some of the mangier dream sequences and the ability of some characters to see in the dark. Now that I’m on hiatus, I treat this as I do any job: I get the family out the door and am at my desk from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. Whether I’m blogging, tweeting, promoting myself or others, or working on the latest in the series, I am always up to something.
You have described your writing style as gonzo. Can you describe what that means?
Look at the lady in the hat…that’s pretty gonzo! Now, I could cheat and Google a definition for you, but I won’t. In my own words, gonzo is a recognized literary style
created by the late Hunter S. Thompson, whose fantastical non-fiction embraced whimsy, absurdity, political activism and out and out civil disobedience where necessary. For quick reference, I recommend two films: The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, both starring Johnny Depp. Amidst all the chaos, you will see a clear message, like an Aesop Fable. So while gonzo may appear comedic, it is actually pretty serious stuff…only, you may not know it until much, much later. 😀
Tell us about your latest book Heuer Lost and Found. What was your inspiration?
Heuer Lost and Found is a metaphysical journey of two people: one living, one dead. In an elevator I would say that it’s about a dead cooze hound lawyer trapped in an idiosyncratic funeral parlor who relies on a boozy undertaker and a smart alecky spirit guide to set him free.
Inspiration? Wow…if I continue from the previous question, I’d say that Hunter S. was clear and present every step of the way along with the great Kurt Vonnegut. While I didn’t attempt consciously to mimic, I would call upon their inane sense of the ridiculous when negotiating heavy subjects. Humor in a tough spot as theme, trope, what have you, was first in line. Next, there were some old bones of contention I’d been chewing on for about thirty years: 1) the notion that nostalgia hurts more than it helps 2) the idea that kindness can be found in the oddest places 3) prying is a lousy thing 4) some things don’t need answers 5) insular people will, sooner or later, give in to others because we are social and 6) find that thing you need, then let it go to keep it forever. Yep. These needed addressing, so I did it through ‘Heuer’.
What has been the most challenging part of writing Heuer
Letting go. He’s been in my head for over five years. We were getting quite comfortable.
What are you currently working on?
Heuer Lost and Found is the first in a six volume series called “Unapologetic Lives”. The fourth in that series POOR UNDERTAKER is my mission now. It begins in 1947. Funny how I seem to be moving backwards. 😀
Who do you read?
I’ll list what’s on my work table right now:
The Essential Anne Wilkinson, Selected poems by Ingrid Ruthig
The Curse of the Purple Delhi Sapphire by Rachael Stapleton
Greek Tragedies Edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore
Will Rogers, Wise and Witty Sayings Of a Great American Humorist
The Republic and The Laws by Cicero
Reminiscences by Gen. Douglas MacArthur
How Not to Lose a Librarian by Sherrry Loeffler
You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers
And the excellent pamphlet “The Dignified Transfer and Post-Organ Harvested Embalming and Preparation” from MacKinnon and Bowes Ltd., Toronto.
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.