Mary Patrick Kavanaugh recently launched her first novel, Family Plots: Love, Death and Tax Evasion, at an outrageous public funeral event. A writer since the age of eight, Mary’s award winning creative non-fiction has been published in Alligator Juniper, Room of One’s Own, San Jose Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her professional writing has appeared in numerous trade journals. She is the recipient of the nonfiction award from the Soul Making Literary Competition sponsored by the American Pen Women and was awarded writing fellowships at The David and Julia White Artist Colony, Hedgebrook: Women Authoring Change, and The Vermont Studio Center. She has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of San Francisco.
NOTE: Mary’s altar ego, “Cemetery Mary,” will be hosting a lively Funeral Event and Resurrection Workshop on December 31, 2009, and January 2, 2010. Participants will bury dead dreams, dashed hopes, and old habits and grudges to make room for all the good that’s coming in 2010. For information about attending, please visit her blog at www.crapintocompost.com.
Funeral & Website:
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Mary. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
A: Family Plots: Love, Death and Tax Evasion is my first published book. I’ve published smaller pieces in many literary and commercial journals prior.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
A: For the longest time I wrote short stories for a compilation of semi-autobiographical fiction I wanted to write called Losers I Have Known, but in the end, I moved toward telling a compelling true story that held my interest long enough to get through the rollercoaster of writing a full length novel.
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
A: Like many writers, I’ve faced a gazillion rejections, but for my first novel, it was a modest sixteen. While that’s “nuthin” for a writer, a confluence of events, ranging from my agent throwing in the towel to the economy, led me to erupt with a great idea to launch my book without a mainstream publisher. The book launch publicity stunt of holding a public funeral for my dead dream of getting a mainstream book contract, garnered more attention initially than the book itself. (The backstory of this stunt can be found here.)
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
A: Ah, rejection. They made me feel like a pulverized puddle of gutless pity, and I wallowed in each and every one of them, while often pretending it was no big deal. With each recovery, my skin thickened a bit more, which I understand is useful in middle age as it can also prevent wrinkling.
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
A: I chose iUniverse because they were quick, affordable, and I didn’t have a lot of time to research it as I had a book funeral scheduled.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
A: At the risk of repeating myself, I celebrated with my whacked-out, crazy, public funeral for my dream of mainstream publishing, inviting friends and strangers to also bury their dead dreams and at this event, sold hundreds of books. How did it make me feel? Best answered on this Feel Good Youtube from the event, showing me and the rest of the room dancing in the aisles.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
A: Besides the funeral, I hustled some radio and TV interviews, and readings at local independent bookstores, which resulted in being a book group pick for some great groups, including the Pulp Fiction Vixens. (Authors really like book groups with lively names. Who wouldn’t want to speak to a bunch of Vixens?)
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
A: Nope. Though this isn’t how I’d imagined my trajectory into publication, it now seems perfect.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
A: Yes, I’ve published articles about the wild experience of this unusual book launch via funeral. I’ve grown enormously as a writer in the process, because I no longer focus on the expectation of succeeding in the mainstream, and instead will write only for the pure pleasure of connecting with myself and others.
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
A: I was completely dedicated to getting my book published, and never dreamed that the process—start to finish—would take seven years. That said, I think my process, like all natural processes on the planet, had a life of its own, and because I was always doing the best that I could by doing the work, welcoming feedback, and pursuing all leads, looking back, I don’t think I’d change a thing. This experience has, in fact, given me much more patience in all areas of my life. Trying to speed things up (which I always tried to…) is like standing in front of your rosebush or your child screaming “GROW! GROW!” Creation has a time and rhythm of its own, and I’ve learned to just accept that and make the best of it by being happy at whatever stage I’m at.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
A: A deep understanding that my happiness will never come from external success, and knowing it is available to me no matter what the state of my publishing career.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A: I’d like to be Terry Gross on the NPR show, Fresh Air, but I’d have to be a much faster reader to be able to bone up for the daily interviews.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
A: I have a job now where I get to meeting and interview authors, politicians, and thought leaders and I can still write when I want to (if only I were more disciplined!), so that combined with a great partner, kids, animals, and health – I’ve got it all. This means much more to me after having gone through periods where I felt I’d lost it all…
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
A: Happy, settled, and debating whether to spend some of my publishing proceeds on Botox and a chin lift.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
A: Don’t think someone or something is going to do it for you. Make the commitment, and make it happen. There are no excuses in this multi-media world NOT to find your perfect place for publishing and self expression.