- Shaun Baines
A. B. Funkhauser - Mortician and Author
There are interesting people. There are fascinating people and then there is A.B. Funkhauser. She is a funeral director, classic car nut, wildlife enthusiast and a multi-award winning author living in Ontario, Canada. Stand back and shield your eyes. This is the Funkhauser.
How did you become a mortician?
It’s not so much a question of “how” but of “when”? I come from an Eastern European background where death and dying was treated matter-of-factly, most likely because my dad and grandparents had lived through war and had seen terrible things. One thing they always assured me of was that there was nothing to fear from the dead. It’s the living you must watch out for! Lol. With this attitude, it came as no surprise that kids went to the funeral parlor just like they did to weddings and baptisms. And I was in thrall—the buildings, the decoration, the staff and what they wore, and the esoteric nature of their work “called out” to me. What goes on behind the velvet curtain? I had to find out and I did at age eleven during my grandmother’s visitation. The senior director found me in the embalming suite having a look around. Everything I saw seemed natural and interesting. The director had another view. He’d been “taking care” of our people since 1945, so we had a long-standing relationship. He asked my dad to keep an eye on me because I was “a wanderer.” That’s the day I became a mortician.
What is the day-to-day routine of a mortician?
My first novel, HEUER LOST AND FOUND, focused on the day-to-day over a four-day period. One of the key things I tried to show was that no two days are ever the same to the extent that a family might spend five days with us at a maximum, or two days at a minimum before disappearing back into the living. A person on average may be involved in planning a funeral once every fifteen years, so the faces we see are always changing and that keeps us and the work we do special and unique.
Tasks are divided up based upon shifts—the night people do different things from the day-timers. This includes visitation, answering questions about the upcoming service, keeping the funeral home clean for the next day and embalming prep. Daytime staff take death calls, meet with families to plan services, assemble staff and outside help for service day, and transfer the deceased from place of death to the funeral home. Other tasks include liaising with clergy, air carriers and consulates (for repatriation), caterers (for receptions) health care personnel (pathologists and coroners), and police and fire (in cases of suspicious deaths).
Different funeral homes will structure tasks according to their business model. In short, there is very little about a day that is routine.
Does it change how you feel about death?
I don’t fear it, but then, I never did. Death is like a math test. It comes, ready or not, and then it’s over.
What made you decide to write your first book?
I had fooled around with writing over the years—journals, essays, short newsletter articles—but these were distractions. My real love at the time was drawing and painting. Then one day I heard a story about funeral directors in small towns having to embalm people they knew and wondered how they coped. I spoke to quite a few colleagues in that situation and then my friend died. When that happened, I knew I couldn’t do it. The reasons why became the basis for HEUER LOST AND FOUND.
You state you write gonzo-mortuary-revenge fiction. Can you explain what that is?
Lol. The gonzo part is easy! I’m a fan of the late great Hunter S. Thompson who pioneered the style through first person journalism. The idea behind gonzo is to shine a light on difficult subjects using outrageous situations as a framework in which characters “play.” Without boundaries, they can get away with the kinds of things we cannot in a civilized, ordered society. The whacked-out humor in gonzo makes the subtext accessible and drives a lasting point home. The mortuary comes from my experiences. I remember giving an interview for American Funeral Director Magazine where I stressed my love for this occupation. Because of the laws and codes that bind us (rightfully) to secrecy, a lot of what we do is misunderstood. This is my way of showing who we are, who we work with and some of the challenges we face. One thing I never do is discuss or mock client families in my fiction. I would never do that. The revenge comes from the inherent satisfaction I draw from seeing the bad folk get what’s coming to them. We see this tendency in film and in the press every day. Then there’s the flipside. The German language has a word for it, Schadenfreude, which means taking uncommon delight in other people’s hardships. This is the darker side of revenge where the target is not necessarily a guilty one, and I explore that too.
You've won numerous awards for your work. Do you feel like a 'proper' writer now?
“Proper” is something that rarely applies to a gonzo. I would say that I feel like a writer every time I crack open my laptop. Whether I’m tweeting, reviewing, blogging or answering some very fine interview questions, I am always writing. But I understand what you are saying. I don’t feel like I’m “proper,” but I definitely feel like I’m growing with each project. I’ve never read a “how to” book, but I have studied character, arcs and act structure through plays and films and I apply these. I’ve also found that with practice, I can write faster, but that’s because I have a better sense of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.
Where has your writing taken you?
A senior funeral director addressing a first-year class said: “We are introverted extroverts.” What he meant was that we make things happen but are not meant to be seen. That’s me to a tee. But writing is a very different kind of world in that it’s always changing, expecting more, and asking the writer to reach. First, we write the manuscript, then we shyly share it with someone in the know, then we re-write it because we didn’t know what we were doing the first time around, and then we get published AND THEN the PROMOTIONS begin. This is where the writer is expected to come out of the shadows through social media platforms, blogging, reviewing, interviewing and attending book fairs. Panel discussions and public speaking become the norm too, and we must do it, like it or not, if we’re to call attention to our work. It’s the best way to get our books out there and known and, yes, even win and award or two. So, the short answer to your question, Shaun, is that writing has brought me out and forward and there’s no going back.
Your third book Shell Game has recently been released. How has it been received?
On release day, I did something I’d not done with the two previous novels: I offered it up for free for two days on Amazon. Was I ever amazed. It made the Amazon Top 10 in Satire for two whole hours, the Top 20 for two days, and held steady in the Top 100 for over two weeks. That’s a lot of downloads. What these translate into remains to be seen, but once a book is out there, it’s out there forever. That’s legacy part one. The other thing is that I’m being found by bloggers like you. Being found is legacy part two. Part three is that I keep writing new things until I have nothing more to say, and if I ever run out of things to say, I’ll have a body of work to promote until the end of (my) days. That’s pretty good, I think! :D
Not only are you a mortician and award-winning novelist, but you're also a wildlife enthusiast. What sort of things could we expect to see in your backyard?
I am so glad you asked this as my nickname at home is “mother nature.” I have a cat (he appears on the cover of Shell Game) who refuses to stay indoors, so I thought that maybe he was the draw until I saw who was coming ‘round. I have four delightful ferals—Philip II, Derpil, Zeeb, and Mini; two skunks; three raccoon brothers; a possum named Eddy; and a gaggle of Blue Jays to keep the Cardinal pair company. And I live in a semi-urban setting!
Animals have always been a big part of my life. Growing up, I had the worst allergies such that the only pets I could have were gold fish. I wanted animal company so badly that I fancied I could attract them. I once had a stare-off with a gorgeous gray wolf when I was out walking the cottage roads some thirty years ago. I should have been scared according to some, but that never occurred to me. Another time, many years later, I was directing a graveside service when an incredible 8 pt. white-tailed deer rose up from behind one of the monuments. The mourners took comfort from its presence. It was an incredible moment. I’ll never forget it.
What plans do you have for the future?
I’m currently working on a new cover for the second edition HEUER LOST AND FOUND. I’m very excited because HEUER’S re-release will happen in the same year as the prequel THE HEUER EFFECT, which I’m also working on for release hopefully in the fall. Second editions are lovely because they give the writer the opportunity to fix the spelling errors and comma faults that snuck through the first time AND I get to include a Foreword from an amazing author I really admire. She has some nice things to say about the work. Following these, I have an unfinished manuscript, POOR UNDERTAKER, screaming for attention, but I won’t be getting to that one until 2019.
A. B. Funkhauser can be reached on every platform, bar the Ouija board. Thankfully.