Sunday, March 1, 2009

Author Q&A: Liz Funk, 20, speaks out on "Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls"

Liz Funk is the 20-year-old author of “Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls,” a new non-fiction book about the pressure on young women to be perfect and please everyone, being published by Simon and Schuster on March 3rd. She is a journalist who writes about Generation Y (particularly gender, social class, and education) and has been published in USA Today, Newsday, the Christian Science Monitor, CosmoGIRL!, New York magazine, the Nation, the New Jersey Record, the Baltimore Sun, the Huffington Post, Tango, and Girls' Life. She writes regularly for, where serves on the youth advisory board. Her web-site is, where she also writes a blog on Generation Y and whatever else crosses her caffeine-addled mind.
Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls Touchstone/Fireside, March 3, 2009. 256 pages.
In the tradition of bestsellers, such as Ophelia Speaks and Quarterlife Crisis, Liz Funk’s Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls sheds a disturbingly bright light on a condition that is spreading quickly from Generation X to Y—and even to little girls. Funk calls this being a “Supergirl,” i.e., a girl who believes that in order to be happy, she must excel at her job or career, have the best grades, wear the coolest clothes, date the best-looking boy, and have the perfect body size.
Drawing from investigative research, candid interviews, personal anecdotes, and medical evidence, Funk discusses the dangerous effects of the phenomenon. Her book reveals ambitious, stressed-out women whose drive overwhelms every aspect of their lives: their body image, diet, exercise, school schedule, career choices, romantic relationships, and interactions with family and friends. By closely following five girls and interviewing almost a hundred more, Funk explains the root causes of the phenomenon, illustrates how it is affecting society at large, and shows other Supergirls how they can recover from their overzealous tendencies and habits.

Where did you get the idea for this book?
I’ve been thinking about the pressure on girls to be perfect my whole life. In high school, I observed that the girls who got the most attention and the most positive reinforcement were well-dressed, pretty, skinny, self-effacing, mild-mannered girls who got great grades, but made it all look easy. Obviously, this is a terribly high bar to set for all the other girls in school, and I wanted to see if this was the norm everywhere and what it was doing to girls. 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. And because this book is partly investigative journalism, I had a blast traveling and intimately observing 5 young women’s daily lives, as well; these five girls are a central focus of the book.

What do you love about this book?
Although I know that I’m going to take some heat for it, this book has a very youthful, rather informal tone. I wrote the bulk of this book when I was 18, and I think that a teenager’s narrative voice really comes through in the writing; I was also really careful not to censor my teenaged and twentysomething sources and to convey their slang and jargon and occasionally sexually explicit ideas on growing up girl in Generation Y.

What is one of the nicest things someone has said about this book/your writing?
Getting the blurbs for this book was honestly one of the most flattering and exhilating experiences of my life. Some of my favorite authors—Leslie Bennetts, Laura Sessions Stepp, Jance Erlbaum, Abby Ellin, Leora Tanenbaum, Gloria Feldt, and E. Jean Carroll—gave me some really wonderful advance praise.

What writers do you like and why?
I really like Jonathan Franzen; he writes the most spectacular novels of social criticism. His book Strong Motion is my favorite book. I also really like Alexandra Robbins (who wrote Quarterlife Crisis and the Overachievers); she’s someone whose career I’ve tried to model mine after. I’m a big fan of Maureen Dowd, the New York Times’columnist and author of Are Men Necessary? I think she strikes the perfect balance between being feminine and stylish, and also being a serious political journalist. She’s so cool! Also, I really admire Dan Brown; the amount of research that he clearly put into the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons is positively staggering. Actually, “Angels and Demons” made me think very deeply about religion and my life, and I really applaud Dan Brown for bringing such deep books to the mainstream.

What is some of the best writing advice you have received?
In terms of writing fiction (which is the next project I’m working on—a novel), one of my college professors encouraged me to take the scenes that I was struggling with illustrating and write them as scenes from a screenplay. I’ve found that to be endlessly helpful. In terms of writing non-fiction, I can’t think of any advice that I’ve received from someone specific that was particularly prophetic, but what I can recommend is buying the book “Getting Your Book Published for Dummies.” It’s the best $15 I’ve ever spent in my life! It’s how I initially learned the ins-and-outs of this industry.

What advice would you give to writers hoping for success?
It sounds cliché, but really, if you want to be a published writer, don’t give up! There were three specific instances that I can think of where I was like, “Forget this. Writing full-time is so hard, I’m just going to be a French professor/ bed and breakfast owner/ tanning salon owner and read for fun and write for fun on the side.” Obviously, I’m so glad now that I stuck with writing. So my advice to writers would be to find your niche, build your brand, and stick with it.
J. Louise Larson is the author of The FabJob Guide To Become a Party Planner (FabJob Publishing, 2006). She is seeking representation for her novel, High Tide. She is the managing editor of a weekly newspaper in Texas, and has contributed to major magazines and newspapers.
Larson features Q&As with authors on her blog, The Writing Porch. To inquire, contact her at jackielarsonwrites at gmail dot com.

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