INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR OF "WAVE ME GOODBYE" & THE ANTHOLOGY, "DANCING IN COMBAT BOOTS", TERESA FUNKE
Hello Teresa! It is so wonderful to have this opportunity to interview you. How was it you began to find interest in World War II history and what spurred you to begin writing these wonderful and educational books?
Thank you for having me! I’m so impressed with the work you do to showcase authors. We appreciate you very much!
I often get asked how I got “stuck in World War II.” Actually it all started with Remember Wake, which is based on interviews with men and women who actually lived the experiences depicted in the book. I first encountered them when I was working for a PBS series and was sent out to interview one of the men. I was amazed that anyone could have survived the Battle of Wake Island (which was attacked the same day as Pearl Harbor) and then four years in horrific prison camps in Japan and China. And I was also amazed to discover that no one in 50 years had ever asked the women what they went through. So I decided to tell the story as a novel, but it’s 90% true, and I think that’s the reason most people tell me they couldn’t put the book down. Sometimes, truth is more engrossing than fiction.
That book then led to Dancing in Combat Boots and Other Stories of American Women in World War II. I wanted to tell the stories of ordinary women living in an extraordinary time. There are eleven stories, each based on real women I interviewed. They could have been living next door to you during the war, but they had fascinating experiences to share. One flew planes for the military, one was an African-American woman in the army who was segregated by gender and by race, one was in a Japanese-internment camp, one was an artist who sketched 3,000 wounded soldiers in their hospital beds, etc. There’s an epilogue in the back of the book that tells you what happened to each woman after the war. The women’s voices proved so powerful, that I now do a one-woman show based on that book.
After Dancing, I started getting invited to speak to classrooms of kids--mostly fifth graders--and these children knew nothing about World War II. Many had never even heard of Adolph Hitler! It was the kids themselves who asked me to write books for them, so I started the Home-Front Heroes series. There are four books now and will be six or seven all together. They are fast-paced page-turners for middle-grade readers, but each is based on a real person that I interviewed. The kids get to learn more about the real people in the back of the book, as well as more information about how kids helped us win the war. The first book, Doing My Part, deals with a girl working in a war factory in Illinois. The No-No Boys tells the story of the Japanese internment. V for Victory is about a Mexican-American boy working in the family store who helps a wounded veteran. And the newest book, Wave Me Good-bye, is about a Jewish girl in the Bronx who befriends an English evacuee.
You have also worked as a researcher for PBS which we all know has phenomenal programming for the younger generation. What was it like to work for them and how much knowledge did you gain from that time in your career?
I started with PBS as a college intern working as the research assistant for a 13-part series on the history of Idaho. I was hired after college to finish the job. I was extremely lucky to have that experience. It taught me more about how to do research and how to conduct interviews than I ever learned in my classes. It also introduced me to how a series works and what it takes to make good television and to tell a good story. And, of course, as someone who was graduating with a history degree, I was proud to be part of the PBS legacy because I KNEW we were doing something important.
You are also a speaker, presenter and writer's coach. Do you have a writer's blog or services that you offer?
I do not currently have a blog. Why? Because I’m too busy! As artists and entrepreneurs, we have to keep many balls in the air in order to make a living, but I’ve built my business around the things I love to do and am good at. I’m a professional speaker and member of National Speakers Association, so I’m lucky to get to speak to all sorts of groups including businesses and entrepreneurs, women’s groups, youth and senior organizations, arts organizations, and writer’s conferences. I’ve also been working as a writer’s coach since 2005, and I created a style of coaching that differs greatly from most writing coaches. For one thing, I’ll work with writers of any level with any goal for their work. Whether they are hoping to hit the bestseller list or to publish a book just for friends and family, I think their goals are valid and I strive to help them meet those goals. Any visit to my website will bring writers to pages with my writing tips, my “career coach” videos, and descriptions of my workshops, including my popular all-day workshop That Book Inside You: How to Write It, Publish It, Sell It. That workshop has proven to be so successful that I’m going to be turning it into an exclusive weekend workshop this fall.
Tell us more about your school visits and how can schools benefit from this?
I love doing school visits. Working with kids is spontaneous and fun. Unlike many writers, I offer all-school assemblies, which are challenging, but so rewarding for me. I also conduct writing workshops for children ages K-12. Many writers work only with the older or younger kids, but I’ve been around kids so much that I understand and enjoy the challenges of each age level. When teachers book me for a school visit, they receive the added advantage of getting history education as well as solid writing advice. And kids LOVE my World War II topic. I also have a character component to my assemblies that I feel is important. I talk to kids about how vital they were to helping us win the war and how we still need kids to help in our communities today. They really respond to that message.
What do you have planned for the future, what other great works can we expect from you?
Oh, if I could just give up sleeping, all the things I could do! I have three books left to write in my children’s series, then there’s a YA series I’d like to write (with a twist on the history themes). I’m also working on new talks, including one centered around how we as “creatives” can work within our communities to affect change while supporting ourselves at the same time. I’ve made it a mission for my company to grow in conjunction with community service and I do that through several programs including my Do Your Part School Kit Program and a literacy program for the Boys & Girls Clubs, etc. I’d like to get other artists and writers thinking about how they can contribute in unique ways while still paying the bills.
Tell us about the books you have out now and where we can find them.
All six of my books are available at all on-line outlets and as e-books or you can order them from any bookstore. But if you REALLY want to help an author, order from us directly when possible. If one of my children’s books sells on Amazon, I make about 57 cents per book. That’s it! It’s scenarios like that one that create the whole “starving artist” stereotype, and trust me, there’s nothing romantic about starving. Ordering directly from me allows me to cut out the middle men and actually make a decent profit. You can find any of my books or products at www.teresafunke.com.
Tell us a little about your childhood, did you have a rampant imagination like so many at such a young age?
My mother says I didn’t have a first word, I had a first sentence. I’ve been talking and thinking and creating ever since. I had an overly active imagination as a child, and I knew from age 10 that I wanted to be a writer. I was given a lot of encouragement from my parents and teachers and other adults all through junior high and high school, but when it came time to go to college, everyone changed their tunes. They told me I couldn’t have a career as a writer. That I had to choose something “real.” So I chose history because I knew if I ever did write, I’d want to write about that. So now when I speak to young people, I tell them they CAN do anything they want to, regardless of what anyone says, as long as they are willing to work hard and make sacrifices, and as long as they understand what they are REALLY choosing before they set foot on that path.
Who are some of your favorite author inspirations?
Oh, what a great question. I was an odd child. When I was a teenager I went through my classics stage. I read as many of the classics as I could. I loved Shakespeare and Dickens and Mark Twain, and my favorite books were always historical fiction, things like The Scarlet Pimpernel and Gone with the Wind. In retrospect, I was responding to writers who had strong, distinct voices. I still love those authors, the ones who write the lines you wish you had written. Ironically, though, my own prose tends to be much more tight and spare than the greats of old. I couldn’t write those lovely, long, descriptive passages if my life depended on it. But I think the love of language they instilled in me enabled me to write in such a way that you can picture my scenes, even though they take place in the 1940s. Course, that might also have come from my deep love of cinema. I’ve often been told my stories are cinematic. I hope that’s a compliment.
Tell us a little about your family now and their involvement in your work.
Great question! My husband grew up on a farm and he once said he was kind of sad to think his kids wouldn’t experience a family business, but then he realized they were experiencing that through me. My kids are my first readers on my children’s books and they are getting to be as good at critiquing me as my writers group. My husband helps me with everything from schlepping books to creating Power Point slides to helping me figure out the aspects of running a business. My kids come with me to events and help run the book sale table and answer questions about my books. I love having them involved in every aspect of what I do, but I especially love their help with the writing.
Do you have any advice you'd like to share with other authors, or in general that you think would be beneficial to our readers? Also we'd love you to share your links and let us know where we can find out more about you.
My best advice is to find your own path. There is no one right way to succeed in this business. Any time you hear a writing tip that starts with “always” or “never” throw it out. I wasted a lot of time in the beginning of my career (and I’ve been doing this for 20 years now) listening to other people tell me what I HAD to do in order to succeed. I also heard a lot of people tell me what I couldn’t do—World War II stories don’t sell; short stories don’t sell; children don’t like historical fiction, you should write fantasy; you’re a liberal arts major, you can’t run a business—but I was stubborn. I always followed my passion and did what I was called to do. The tag line of my company is, We make what matters, matter. Figure out what matters to you in your writing and in your career and make it happen. Learn the craft, learn the business, work hard, and hold onto your passion. You can find me at www.teresafunke.com or as an Expert Guide for Children’s Book Insider at www.cbiclubhouse.com
Thank you again Teresa for this wonderful interview. We hope to do this again in the near future!
I’d like that! Thank you again for the interview. This was fun!