Posted by Literary Titan
Scooter Nation follows two funeral directors trying to hold things together as events spiral out of control. What was the inspiration for the setup to this entertaining novel?
The funeral industry, as it is now often called, is an interesting one in that its policies and practices haven’t really changed since the “modern” funeral home came into being in the 1970s. By that, I mean, larger facilities with multiple visitation suites and staff trained to accommodate not just European traditions, but traditions from around the world.
As a caregiver, the director is tasked with providing services to both the living and the dead; the people left behind need as much care and concern and, yes, expertise as the person who has passed. But approaches are changing in keeping with how society has changed with the arrival of the digital age. Families are now savvy consumers who demand to know what is going on behind closed doors at what cost and why.
All reasonable questions/expectations.
For me, as a funeral director, I was intrigued by the notion of how staff locked down by tradition—the funeral home in Scooter Nation is 70 years old as is a lot of the furniture—would react to change and how far they would go to hang on to the only thing they think they know.
They are a great deal wiser by the end of the novel, I think.
Scooter and Carla were unique and well-developed characters. What were some driving ideals behind their development?
Scooter and Carla are career funeral directors, which means they have been doing their work since high school. Unlike the Weibigands who own and operate the funeral home, Scooter and Carla were not born to it. Because of this, they take a peculiar proprietary interest in the place. In other words, they think they care about it more than the family that started it. This may or may not be true depending on who the reader sides with. What is true is that they have been altruist funeral directors for a long time and resent the appearance of a new owner who wants to change everything for the greater good. They challenge this assertion, believing wholeheartedly that the new owner is merely out for revenge and self-aggrandizement. The journey for them and for me as the writer was to wade through the misconceptions, mistakes and moments of enlightenment that take not just them, but all the characters to a rational, thought-provoking conclusion. Very satisfying to get there.
I understand that you’re also a funeral director. Was there anything from your own life that you put into this novel?
I was a hybrid in mortuary school in that I was not a funeral home kid. My family weren’t directors and certainly didn’t like the idea, at first, of me becoming one. I was drawn to it, maybe the way some astronauts dream of going to Mars even if it means never coming back. I love and believe in the work and the intrinsic good it does. But there’s no way to write about death and dying and make it “nice.” I tend to shy away from novels that go there. But I’m influenced by the satirists and gonzo writers and like the idea of shining a light on tough subjects and making them accessible through humor.
We don’t joke a lot at work, but many of us have that dry sense of humor that carries us through after a tough day. Murder victims and children are especially tough—no one gets used to that—so I guess I bring that mix of dread and the promise of a new and different day to the novels.
What is the next novel that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have three half-finished manuscripts and all three demand my attention. It’s a tough choice. Self-Defense, the first in the Kirsti Brüner Mortuary Mysteries series, follows the ups and downs of a first-year licensed mortician not quite in tune with the practices and traditions of her chosen profession. She has a nose for inconsistencies and knocks foreheads with the formidable chief coroner, who isn’t really a bad guy but claims to know much more than she ever could. Self-Defense is a murder mystery.
Next, there’s The Heuer Effect, which is a prequel to Heuer Lost and Found, my first. Effect goes back forty years to 1979, where protagonists Enid Engler and Jurgen Heuer are alive and well and doing as much damage as possible. It’s a coming of age story set against the reality of growing up first generation Canadian with questionable German relatives. Enid lands a job at Seltenheit and Sons, the enemy funeral home of Weibigand’s referenced in Scooter Nation. It’s fun giving that side of the story.
The last one is Poor Undertaker and this one really calls out. It is the story of Jocasta “The Jocastrator” Binns and Alma Wurtz, her nemesis in Scooter Nation. It begins in 1947 when the Weibigand funeral home is in its prime and staff are venerated for the good work that they do. Poor Undertaker shows Scooter readers why the home declines and why the Weibigand family staff become the way they are in the current novels. There is a murder and a doomed romance as well as a matriarch who is equal parts racist, alcoholic, brutal and very, very sad. This is a three-part novel that treats equally, the matriarch, Jocasta Binns, and Alma Wurtz. It’s very exciting to write.
Aging managing director Charlie Forsythe begins his work day with a phone call to Jocasta Binns, the unacknowledged illegitimate daughter of Weibigand Brothers Funeral Home founder Karl-Heinz Sr. Alma Wurtz, a scooter-bound sextenarian, community activist, and neighborhood pain in the ass is emptying her urine into the flower beds, killing the petunias. Jocasta shuts him down. A staff meeting has been called and things are about to change.
The second novel in the UNAPOLOGETIC LIVES series, SCOOTER NATION takes place two years after HEUER LOST AND FOUND. This time, funeral directors Scooter Creighton and Carla Moretto Salinger Blue take center stage as they battle conflicting values, draconian city by-laws, a mendacious neighborhood gang, and a self-absorbed fitness guru whose presence shines an unwanted light on their quiet Toronto neighborhood.