Fiction School

Fiction School
Check out the podcast I host with two other writing professors

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Interview with Author Liz Funk

I interviewed Liz Funk about her brand new book, Supergirls Speak Out. I’ll let her explain the book—and her preternatural obsession with hair products.

1) Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

I’ve been thinking about the pressure on girls to be perfect my whole life. In high school, I saw that the girls who got the most attention—from boys, teachers, others girls, parents… everyone!—were well-dressed, pretty, skinny, self-effacing, mild-mannered girls who also got great grades and led clubs and school sports. And these “Supergirls” made being perfect look effortless (although sometimes they would casually mention that they didn’t go to sleep until 2:30am, or that they woke up at 5:30am to curl their hair). Obviously, this is a terribly high bar to set for all the other girls in school, and there was a ripple effect in that so many other girls made an effort to be Supergirls, too and tried to do everything but make it all look easy. I wanted to see if this was a nationwide thing, and what this pressure to be perfect was doing to girls. I found that the Supergirl drive was, unfortunately, a grave epidemic affecting girls everywhere, and it was so eye-opening and interesting to talk to girls from around the country and hear about the pressures that they faced and the consequences of their frightening drive to overachieve. I met a lot of girls who, to put it plainly, hated their lives and didn’t see any way that they could be happy without being perfect.

2) Any advice for readers who suspect they might be Supergirls themselves?

In terms of the “big picture,” I think young women need to realize that they matter. I think so many young women find their value in their looks and their clothes and their popularity and their grades… but, girls, you are special on your own! As silly as this may sound, I think young women need to take themselves out to lunch, by themselves, with no cell phone or Blackberry or magazine, and find how lovely it feels to devote some time to themselves and listen to their thoughts. I am a huge proponent of therapy, and I think it also helps to take up a therapeutic hobby like painting or journaling, but I think the best thing I personally have done for my mental health and recovering from my Supergirl self was taking myself out for regular lunches—sitting alone at a sidewalk café with a big salad, a cocktail, and my thoughts. I think that many girls may find that when they stop berating themselves, start treating themselves, and make time to listen to their internal monologues, they’ll find that they have quirky, funny, vibrant personalities that have been suppressed by their trying to be perfect for years!

3) I hear you're obsessed with hair products. Want to talk a little about that?

Yes! I love hair products! I have really light blonde hair (which is actually sort of a Supergirl issue in itself, in that I’m obsessed with how my hair looks and feels, and so much of my identity is tied up in being a blonde, which is ironic because my hair is naturally brown) and my hair is totally damaged from years of dyeing it, so I love trying out new products. The best shampoo I’ve found is Christophe Color Extending Shampoo, the best conditioner is Aveda’s Damage Remedy Reconstructing Conditioner, the best leave-in conditioner is this obscure spray called It’s a Ten, and the best protein spray is by Frederic Fekkai. Seriously, these findings are from two years worth of research (and trying literally dozens and dozens of products), so take my word for it!

4) What tips can you offer for young writers out there seeking publication?

I think the most important thing for young writers out there to know is that they can be the experts on so many topics. Sometimes the mainstream media gets things wrong: there have been a lot of media outlets reporting that Generation Y is overentitled at work and that Generation Y is lazy and that the boys today are “suffering” because of girls’ successes in school, and all of this is so obviously untrue, but because the media is mostly consulting adults to weigh in on these “phenomena” and not young people, there is no one to set the story straight! So I think that young writers should feel completely shameless about writing opinion articles and submitting them to major newspapers, pitching columns on Generation Y issues to their local newspapers, or perhaps writing a book proposal! Today’s young people need to be the spokespeople for Generation Y!

5) Anything you want to add?

Yes! I’m doing a lot of events and readings and lectures for “Supergirls Speak Out” around the country, most notably, a reading at the Borders on Wall Street in New York City on March 10th at 1pm. I invite anyone who is interested to check out my web-site,, to see if I’ll be coming to your town as part of my in-person book tour! And I definitely invite people to shoot me an e-mail… I’m totally game for giving writing advice or Supergirl-to-Supergirl advice!

Thanks so much for having me!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Crap and Friggin': The Real Obscenities

I had a professor once who was an extremely controversial writer in his day. His debut was a reportedly autobiographical novel about a young male prostitute, so that gives you some idea of his milieu. It came out in the early sixties, a time when the drag queens and transsexuals he wrote about weren’t pop culture staples like they are now, but super edgy glimpses of subversive fringe culture.

We used to have class in his dining room in LA, even though it was a course offered through a prestigious (and somewhat stuffy) university. That was where he wanted to be, so that’s where we went—he was just like that.

Whenever someone became uncomfortable because of his liberal use of obscenities, my professor used to say in his flamboyant, ecstatic way, “People, language is meant to be free! That’s why I use all of it! Don’t be afraid!” I love this attitude. I know lots of readers are offended when they see certain words on the page, though, which I guess I can understand. If you come from a religious background, especially, it can go against everything you’ve been taught. Still, I long to be as free and unapologetic about language as my professor.

In Young Adult fiction it’s particularly confusing, because the under-twenty lexicon practically revolves around swearing, yet it’s still slightly taboo in print. I guess in part this is because parents flipping through the pages might find it inappropriate and hesitate to fork over bucks for their thirteen-year-old to read language they’re discouraged from ever uttering.

Hence, substitutions like crap and friggin’ now abound, not just in YA but in the majority of commercial fiction, which I find deeply fuddy-duddy and offensive. I mean, if your characters don’t swear, then they don’t swear, but do they have to use those horrible little placeholders?

How do you feel about crap and friggin’? Do they make you want to retch, or am I just totally alone in my abhorrence?