Funeral Girl: An Interview with Author Emma K. Ohland

Sixteen-year-old Georgia Richter feels conflicted about the funeral home her parents run—especially because she has the ability to summon ghosts. Funeral Girl follows Georgia as she reckons with her relationship to grief and mortality.

Today author Emma K. Ohland joins us on the blog to answer some questions about her writing process and her hopes for the book. Don’t forget to download the free discussion guide!

Where did you get the idea for Funeral Girl?

Georgia’s story came to me when I was about her age, struggling with very similar issues. It was incredibly difficult for me to find any peace from my all-consuming death anxiety, but one day I remember thinking, “Well, at least I don’t live in a funeral home!” and it made me feel better. From that little thought, I started asking myself questions: what would I do if I did live in one with fears like this? What is it like to grow up so close to death? Georgia’s story grew over many years into what it is now and turned from a small moment of peace into a novel that’s helped me grow and cope with those anxieties on a much larger scale.

What is your writing process like?

I like to outline the main beats of my story and then pants my way from one beat to the other. I know where I’m going, but I also get to explore along the way – the best of both worlds. I’ll be honest, I really hate drafting, so I get it over with as quickly as possible. Zero drafts are my go-to. The first time I work through a story, I do a lot of skipping around, have a lot of [INSERT SCENE HERE] brackets in the document, and usually end up about 30k words short of where the book will eventually be. I love editing, though. That’s when I really get to sit with the ideas and make them what I know they can be, and it’s where I spend most of my time. I do a lot of rewriting entire scenes (since my first draft is just the skeleton of the idea), and even though I skip around in drafting, I work very linearly when editing. The process does change every single book, so I often end up breaking these patterns.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?

I just want readers to enjoy it. I don’t think anyone needs to take anything from it other than thinking it was well worth their time. But I do hope it is able to help someone who needs it with death anxieties the way it helped me. I would love it if a reader closed the book and was one step closer to finding their way through those fears.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing stories with the intent to be a published author since I was ten years old. I started out writing a lot of fan fiction and short stories, but I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo when I was 12. I’ve either won or attempted NaNoWriMo every year since. Funeral Girl was my 2017 NaNo project, and it was the first one that I believed was good enough to be published. Thanks to ten-year-old Emma’s big dream, I’d been researching the publishing industry for almost a decade by that point. So, I edited (and edited and edited), queried, and made that dream come true.

What’s your favorite place to write?

Coffee shops coffee shops coffee shops. At least, before COVID. I am a little hesitant to sit so long in them now, but most of Funeral Girl was written in a coffee shop during college. I recently bought a giant foam bean bag that takes up half of my living room, and sitting on it feels like being on a cloud. When my dog isn’t on it, I’ll do some writing there.

What do you do to combat writer’s block?

A few things. If I’m drafting, I just skip it and figure it out later. (Future me often deeply resents past me for doing that to myself.) If I’m editing and I really do need to figure it out immediately, I talk to trusted critique partners about the issue. Hearing the words out loud helps to see where you’re going wrong. And sometimes, a friend can spot it better than you can. If I’m really struggling, it likely means I need to let the idea simmer on the backburner a little longer, so I’ll work on a different project until I have that “A-hah!” moment I’ve been waiting for.

Free Educator Resources

Download this discussion guide to start a conversation with young adult readers.

Watch this Introduction Video

Praise for Funeral Girl

“[G]ive Ohland’s first novel high marks for its unusual premise and vivid characterization of its imperfect protagonist.” — Booklist

Funeral Girl is a touching debut about ghosts, grief, and the relationships we have with people both living and dead.”—Nita Tyndall, author of Who I Was with Her

“An extraordinary debut; an extraordinary new voice.”—Saundra Mitchell, author of All the Things We Do in the Dark

Connect with the author

Emma K. Ohland (she/they) is an author who has been telling stories since before she knew how to write them down. She grew up in the middle of a cornfield in Indiana, but her imagination often carried her away to other worlds. She graduated from Purdue University with a B.A. in English literature. She currently lives in Indiana with her partner, their cat, and their dog. Funeral Girl is her debut YA novel.

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