Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss: Personal and Professional Insights on the Animal Lover’s Unique Grieving Process. Independently published Aug. 2009 by Healy House Books. I am an animal chaplain who works with people to help them prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss, and this book is an extension of those services. This book has garnered the Reader Views 2010 Reviewers Choice Award (spirituality/inspiration category), as well as the IPPY, Independent Publishers Book Award (pets/animals category).
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m Minnesota-born and bred and live in Minneapolis with my husband, Anthony Kaczor, and our seven pets: Blanche, Keely and Ambrose, our rescued West Highland white terriers; Giles and Xander, our rescued cats; and Atticus and Scout, our rescued finches. I am a former high school English teacher and journalist, as well as a freelance writer/editor/proofreader (my business pertaining to this is Proof Positive Editing). I’ve been writing professionally for, all told, well over 25 years and I’ve won awards for both my fiction and nonfiction work.
I’ve also done some acting over the past 30 years, having just finished portraying Mrs. Ellen Banks in the play “Father of the Bride” at Anoka’s Lyric Arts Main Street Stage. I am an ordained nonsectarian wedding officiant (my business related to this is Nonconformist Nuptials) and soon will actually be performing the real-life wedding ceremony for the young woman who portrayed my “daughter/the Bride” in the play!
Last, my husband and I teach private beginning social dance lessons in our home, in our third-floor dance studio that’s been remodeled to look like a ’50s malt shop. The business is called Two Right Feet Dance, and our motto is “Forget Fred and Ginger—we’ll have you dancing like Fred and Wilma in no time!” (This is apropos because we have a Flintstones shrine in our basement that’s been featured in the “Star Tribune” and on “On the Road with Jason Davis,” a local TV show.)
What inspired you to write this book?
Over just a few short years’ time, I lost my mother, stepfather, uncle, dog, two cats, cockatiel and 15-year marriage. (Since that time, I’ve lost two more dear human friends, two more dogs, and five of my husband’s relatives.) Surviving these tsunamis of loss required my developing a more accepting relationship with death/loss. Part of the process of accepting death as a transition rather than an ending came from my experiences of afterlife connections with my loved ones who’d died, both human and animal, that assured me that we do continue to exist after death, just not in a physical sense.
I’d lost my Westie, Ludwig, and held an all-pets memorial for him, which 30 human beings attended, bringing with them photos of their own beloved pets from the past. Sharing our stories and tears brought much healing, and I decided to focus this book on the animal aspect because our culture, overall, denies us permission to properly grieve “just a pet.” I felt we animal lovers needed to have our feelings validated to help us heal.
When I’d finished the book and turned in the pages to my designer, my other Westie, Mortimer, died suddenly. (The irony did not escape me, I assure you.) One dog’s passing set the task in motion, and the other’s brought it to a close as his story became the book’s epilogue. They were kind of like a pair of doggy bookends, each with a divine purpose in my life.
How did you publish this book?
I received two calls from women in different parts of the country around Memorial Day of 2009, asking me to speak on the subject of pet loss at events they were hosting in September. I said my book wasn’t quite finished, and they both said, separately yet verbatim, “Well, get it done!” I knew I couldn’t exactly walk into Random House’s offices and say, “You don’t know me, but I have these speaking engagements coming up in a couple of months, so could you light a fire under this project and publish my book for me by September?”
That meant it was do it myself or kiss these opportunities goodbye. Fortunately, I knew a great book designer who, in turn, knew a great graphic designer, who, in turn, knew a great book cover artist, and I knew someone else who’d make me a website for a reasonable cost, and so on. I felt all the elements fall into place, so I knew it was the right decision to publish it independently. I knew whether I or someone else published it I’d end up doing most of the marketing if it were to be a success, so, why give most of the profits to someone else? I know I’ve taken the financial risk on myself, but I’m hopeful the payoff will ultimately balance that out. So far, so good.
What capped it all off was when I remembered my high school aptitude test results that I’d once laughed off. It showed I was meant either to be in advertising or a funeral director. Now, I get to do both!
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I’ve always been very verbal, loving words and communicating ideas. Being involved in theater, too, has given me an ear for dialog, a base of humor, and a sense of pacing, too. Being a former teacher, too, has made me appreciate how good stories can both reach and teach people new things. And, being a former journalist, I knew how to interview people and/or cull important details from things I’d researched to bring out the most salient things or items that packed an emotional punch.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Withstanding the computer glitches. Oh, the trouble I had with Quark crashing and losing my changes after hours of labor!!! Computers know I’m not a big fan of them and thus act up on me…a lot.
How do you do research for your books?
I read 40 or more books on the subject so I could get an idea of what was out there on the market and find a way to make my contribution a bit different from the norm. I also solicited personal stories from people the world over to illustrate and expand on my points. This also drove home the point I wished to make to readers that they are not alone in how they feel about their companion animals.
Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?
That a computer keyboard can withstand a lot of shed tears without short circuiting. Try spending two years reading heartfelt tales of pet death. I figure the day I am not moved to tears over such stories, however, is the day I need to move on to another career.
I also learned that when a project is sanctioned by the Universe, you’ll get “green lights” you’d never expected. You’ll be given the time to do the work (for instance, I was laid off from five publications for which I’d proofread for nearly 10 years thanks to the recession—and this turned out to be a blessing). You’ll meet the people you need (as I mentioned earlier about the designers coming together effortlessly). You’ll find an ease and a lack of obstacles when the timing is right. You can really trust that something bigger than yourself can judge the timing for these things better than you can, but you have to make yourself go with it when that opportunity is there, despite any fears or self-doubt.
What are you reading now?
Nevada Barr’s “Borderline.”
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I’m a mystery fan. I love Ms. Barr, Diane Mott Davidson, William Kent Krueger, P.J. Tracy, and many local Minnesotan authors. I also enjoy a bit of irreverent humor, such as the “Undead and Un…” series by MaryJanice Davidson.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I’m still working to pay off the expenses from this one, but I’ll start something new when an overwhelming inspiration strikes. I have some ideas for a mystery of my own, but it’s far too soon to talk about it.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Once you’re ready to go to press, don’t skimp on professional help for a last look. I hired two of my Professional Editors Network colleagues to look over my manuscript because despite the fact that this is what I do for a living, I know that once I’ve read something 600 times, I can’t be trusted to see anything that’s wrong with it. Our brains fill in for us what we “meant to write” and we form blind spots to what’s actually there. Nothing says “hack” like a bunch of typos.
After you’ve published, expect to live, eat and breathe marketing yourself and your work. Let go of the fantasy that you’ll become rich overnight and just rake in the royalty checks or that Oprah is going to beg you to be on her show. Something like 98 percent of all books written never sell more than 500 copies.
Be realistic about your competition, too. Think of how many books, movies, video games, billboards, etc. are vying for people’s finite attention. If you make it big, and I hope you do, hooray! But more likely, you’ll do the writing because you’re compelled to and need to do it for your soul. There’s richness and reward in that process alone that can’t be measured by your ranking on the New York Times Bestsellers List.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
I’m getting on as many radio (both on-air and online like BlogTalkRadio) shows as possible. I’ve done some local television shows. I’m writing and submitting articles about the topic wherever pertinent, both online and in print magazines. Every day, I get Google Alerts about my topic and try to respond to blogs and articles out there, not to overtly sell, but just to keep my name and my book’s title out there as I contribute meaningful content to people’s publications. I do speaking engagements/animal blessings when I can, and I participate in pet-related business networking, online social networking (Facebook Fan Page, Twitter, etc.), and public events related to pets. I donate books to silent auctions aimed at raising money for animals. I am approaching veterinarians, vet schools, pet photographers, pet-sitters, and pet cremation companies with my animal chaplaincy services and book, encouraging them to carry copies of the book to resell to and/or give to their clients. I send copies to reviewers in exchange for their writing about the book. One caveat here, they may hate it and write a terrible review. (So far, no one has, but that is the risk one takes.) I also swap links to other pet-related products’ websites.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My site is www.goodgriefpetloss.com. There are book reviews and archived radio interviews on the blog page there. My book is available through my site (where you can have it inscribed to you personally and know that $2 of the purchase price will go to support a no-kill animal shelter). It also can be purchased/ordered through Borders Books, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Magers & Quinn, and you can even request that your local library add it to its shelves.
Learn more about my dance instruction or wedding officiant businesses at www.tworightfeetdance.com.