In Which We Force An Author To Succumb To A Really Long Interview

October 4th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Cover for The Funeral Planner by Lynn IsenbergThere is a special joy that comes with laziness — in today’s example, we do an interview, but the interviewee does all the work. How cool is that? With our usual mix of guile and deal-sweetening, we convinced Lynn Isenberg to spill about her latest novel, The Funeral Planner. In fact, she had so much to say, we’re spreading the interview over two days. First, Lynn discusses the idea behind the book and how writing The Funeral Planner lead to the creation of a real-life business (real-life: that’s where you pay taxes). Tomorrow, we’ll get a peek at Lynn’s marketing machine — let’s just say she was born to the role.

What came first: the book or the business?

The novel THE FUNERAL PLANNER came first in that the idea for the business was first and foremost the subject and motivating force behind the
protagonist inside the novel.

At one point did you realize you were creating a novel and a business
plan? How did you juggle the two?

I realized I was creating both a novel and a business while I was doing the research for the novel. I immersed myself inside the funeral industry by attending funeral conventions and workshops and then immersed myself in the University of Michigan’s MBA / Entrepreneurial Studies Program. Part of the plot involves the trials and tribulations of Madison going about starting her new business. In order to write that, I went through a similar process myself. I wrote addendums for the novel, such as Madison’s MISSION STATEMENT, NEEDS/SOLUTION CHART, LIFE BIO VIDEO TEMPLATE, and a TABLE OF CONTENTS that mirrors the anatomy of a business plan. I thought those pieces would be part of the book or be included in an index or footnote. Unfortunately, my editor felt the book was at its bulging peak and suggested I place them on the website instead.

While I was writing the novel and the business plan–there was no juggling between the two. My focus was to first finish the novel. Though I had initial inklings that this could indeed be a business, I had not officially launched it. The juggling act was more a process of writing the novel and coming to understand that the concepts of the business plan were not just fiction, but viable. If Madison believed it could be possible, then why couldn’t I? My own intimidation about starting a business could be squelched by the reassurance of the research and proof of concept that Madison proves fictionally. I believed that “if you can build it, surely they will come,” or rather, “if Madison can build it, and they come, then why can’t I?”

How are you balancing the needs of the book against the needs of the
business now?

Author Debbie Macomber once told me that books have the lifespan of a carton of milk. And it’s true. You only get so much time on stage. Shelf space is limited and there’s always a new crop of books following right behind you. So because the amount of time and shelf space one has to promote a book is limited—The Funeral Planners‘ first three months of life are my priority. I believe that The Funeral Planner will organically promote the business of Lights Out Enterprises. In addition, my book tour affords me the opportunity not only to promote the novel, but the perfect forum in which to promote the business. My clients at Lights Out Enterprises understand that I am on book tour and are fine with it. After all, Lights Out Enterprises caters to the pre-need client (not the time-of-need client — which means time’s up and they need a funeral now). However, before leaving on book tour, I did practice the experience design consultation component of the business and had many meetings with my clients to work out the road map for their end of life celebrations. Doing so has brought me great pleasure and also provided a natural outline for a segment layout for
interest I received from 20/20 to do a story on Lights Out Enterprises (though that has not materialized yet, but if it does, I and my Talent Team will be primed and ready).

You’ve structured The Funeral Planner in a manner that allows readers to view it as a template for creating a business plan. How did you develop this structure, and did you write the story with the structure in place?

I don’t think I realized I was creating a structure that would be a template for how to start a business until after the fact. It was more an organic process, with a linear narrative that dictated the structure. In hindsight, I might have removed that entire aspect of the novel — but I felt it was important to see how Madison overcame both the real and psychological obstacles of this business and that the reader experience those highs and lows with her. Along the way, we learn that tenacity is a key trait required to start any business.

You were working through your own grief as you wrote. In what ways did this affect the story and characters?

I was able to tap into my own personal grief to understand and feel what Madison and other characters were feeling. It was also a way for me, through Madison, to hang on to the spirits of my loved ones, and then to learn how to let go. I’m not sure it’s about how I affected the story and characters as much as how they affected me in my growth around grief.

How did you balance your own feelings with those of your characters?

The grief we shared was the same, but the circumstances were different. Thus, the circumstances dictated different choices. Had I been in the same circumstances I’m sure I would have done exactly what Madison does, at least I hope so. She shows a lot of courage, vulnerability, and balls, but never at the expense of her integrity.

Were there points when you realized you were working through your own issues
— and did you have to take a step back and or did you allow the characters
to channel you?

Yes to all of the above. There were times I had to go deep into “feeling” my grief which was scary, emotional, and liberating all at the same time. There were times I had to take a step back and allow myself to cry for my losses, and for their losses, who reminded me of my losses. And there were times a symbiotic relationship occurred between my characters and me where
we channeled through each other. I’m not sure if they channeled through me or me through them.

What did you learn about yourself and grief as you wrote this book?

I learned that you never really get over grief, you simply get used to it. Natural life cycle events will always bring up the memories of loved ones who are no longer there to share in the joys and sorrows and that hurts. But what’s important is to feel your grief and to be acknowledged for your grief. That’s something society needs to work on–to acknowledge grievers for their grief, and give them wide open space to grieve without putting time constraints on them. Much of this is explored in the grief guidebooks I wrote with real life funeral director David M Techner, who buried my father and brother. Like Madison, who writes grief guidebooks with funeral director character Richard Wright — I followed her footsteps and did it in reality. The books are GRIEF WELLNESS: A Guide to Dealing with Loss, and GRIEF TRIBUTES: A Guide to Life Celebrations. Like Madison, I e-published the grief guidebooks at And like Madison, I now have publishers who want to publish the e-books as real books.

You were inspired by a solo performance at your brother’s funeral. Lights
Out Enterprises aspires to address the issue of death in a forthright
manner, treating the end as a celebration. What sort of reaction have you
received to this model?

Enthusiasm, Joy, Connection, Understanding. Sometimes shock. Sometimes you see people trying to wrap their brain around the concept. Other times people wonder why it’s taken so long to have this approach to begin with. Most of the time, there’s an underlying expression of relief — to be able to think about it and talk about it openly is a healing in and of itself.
Also, I think people who are genuinely happy with their lives are most open to it. Though there are some people who are modest and simply don’t want a big to-do and that’s fine. No one says you have to go out with a bang. Having a quiet intimate ceremony is just as valid as an extravagant event. During my radio interviews I’ve been asked to give books away to callers. I
suggested having the give away be tied into a question — the question being
HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED? This is the same question I used for
Pre-Need Podcast which you can listen to at:
or The response during radio interviews has been tremendous. We’ve been inundated with people calling in to share their ideas and even more importantly, to share their grief. People want to be
acknowledged for their grief and this was an open, welcoming forum for them to do so. Also, getting people to answer that question forces them to think about their mortality–the result is that by thinking about the end you get to make the beginning and middle that much better.

I know you spent quite a bit of time learning about the funeral industry.
While Six Feet Under fans have a certain view of what happens, what did you
learn that changed your impression of the “dead business”?

I didn’t have an impression of the “dead business” to begin with. Who would even think about that? I suppose I realized it’s a business, like any other business, like the adult entertainment industry is a business, too. I suppose I had a certain amount of humor in my approach. I couldn’t help it. And that humor is part of Madison’s approach as well, without being
irreverent, of course. I suppose it’s a little odd hearing funeral directors talk about funerals as though you might listen to auto manufacturers talk about windshield wipers. But then you realize, that’s their business. How else are they going to talk about it? It doesn’t mean
they don’t care or they’re not sensitive. They’re just used to talking about death and bereavement and we (the general public) aren’t.

Since this is a work of fiction, did you have to deal with elements that
were too real for the story?

I think that part of my job as a writer is to integrate what might be deemed “too real” into a story. After awhile, what’s real and what’s not becomes a blur. A chance piece of dialogue overheard on the street finds its way in, a slice of a memory, a portion of an experience, playing with “what ifs,” being subjected to daily news and advertisements… all find their way inside a story. To paraphrase the famous oral storyteller Donald Davis, he says that life is like taking a pile of bricks (that represent incidents and experiences in our lives) and building a house with those bricks, only in fiction, you tear the house down and rebuild it with the bricks, so the
bricks are all re-arranged. Everything that happened there is real, but it’s been rearranged to call it fiction.

Tune in tomorrow for part two

File Under: Wrapped Up In Books