Publishing big dreams in a small town

Photo by Ashley Loza / Kern Valley Sun; Venis by Kate MacDonald and A Journey with JJ by Stephen Doorlag are the first books to be published by Mountain Mouth Press.

By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun

The Kern River Valley not only has two new authors, but a publisher as well.

Kate MacDonald, widely known in the KRV as the co-founder of FYDO the Fix Your Dog Org, just published her first book, Venis, through her own publishing imprint, Mountain Mouth Press.

MacDonald describes Venis as a coming-of-age story whose main character, Kaimi Monroe, is born intersex – a person born with the sex organs of both a male and a female – and has to grow up navigating a world where gender determines much of our identity.

MacDonald says she was inspired to write the story after watching a documentary on intersex people and realizing how society places them so far outside of the norm although the condition is not especially rare.

“It’s basically a novel that’s a thought experiment about ‘what if you can’t fully identify with either gender, and you don’t really know what you are?’ And how would it be to go through the world in that condition?” says MacDonald.

The book didn’t happen overnight, though.

MacDonald says she started writing in 1987 when she worked in the film business.

“It was getting really stressful, and it was feeling like I wanted to spend all that energy I was spending editing other people’s movies on something that was my idea,” says MacDonald. “So I just got a wild hair to start writing.”

She has written four books, three to be published by Mountain Mouth Press, and a number of screenplays. She spent time freelance writing for both The Sun and The Fencepost, where she had a column, “The Mountain Mouth,” that would inspire the name of her publishing imprint.

She wrote Venis in 2003 and says that while the book itself took 4 months to write, it took the next 15 years to publish.

The timing of the story had a lot to do with MacDonald’s delay in publishing. She discovered that around the same time she was writing Venis, another book was released that also explored gender identity – the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

MacDonald says she heard about Middlesex on NPR one day.

“I was like, wait a minute, that sounds awfully like the book I’m in the middle of writing,” says McDonald.

Eugenides, who rose to fame as the author of The Virgin Suicides, saw wide success with Middlesex. Unfortunately, when MacDonald sent Venis to publishers, the timing caused many to see her work as derivative. MacDonald finally ran out of steam and shelved Venis for the next 15 years.

“I was just so burned out trying to get the approval,” she says. “Their imaginations are thwarted by commercial realities, and if they can’t see a commercial reality right at that moment, it’s very competitive.”

The inspiration to finally publish came last year when MacDonald’s partner, Stephen Doorlag, discovered that she had four unpublished books that she had written over the years. Doorlag says he read Venis and knew right away that it deserved to be shared.

The inspiration was mutual. Doorlag also had a story to tell, A Journey with JJ, a non-fiction piece that centers on a dying friend’s visions for world peace. Doorlag had never published because he ran into similar trouble with publishers.

So MacDonald and Doorlag made a pact and pushed each other to keep going. Doorlag insisted that MacDonald learn the ins and outs of self-publishing. MacDonald says that the process was not easy, but the option did not used to be so accessible.

“It was the thing that you couldn’t do,” says MacDonald. “It was so looked down on that if you self-published your book, it was like saying, ‘This book is so crap that no one will publish it.’”

“But over the years, a lot of self-published books have gone on to get traditional publishing deals,” she continues. “The stigma has kind of fallen away.”

It required more details than either of them expected. “It was definitely a pretty steep learning curve at first,” says MacDonald.

“There’s a lot of decisions you have to make,” Doorlag agrees.

MacDonald notes that the cover of Venis was designed by her friend, Diane Hume, using a painting from local artist Kelly McLane. MacDonald hired an editor Hume recommended and was able to pay her by the hour.

But while MacDonald was able to network to complete the larger tasks, some of the smaller details she ran into were new to her.

“We even had stress over dingbats,” laughs MacDonald. “It’s like, oh, do we want dingbats? What do dingbats look like? How often should you use them? And just all of those little design elements. I was constantly running to my shelf and checking books to see what they had done. I’d be measuring them and looking at page counts and how their chapters are laid out,” she says.

But rewards for self-publishing have been positive. Royalties that normally go to a larger publisher go to MacDonald in a much larger percentage. Royalties from Doorlag’s book go entirely to FYDO.

And it gives the two of them a sense of accomplishment after working for so long on a process that is expensive and emotionally tiring.

“We’re really old, and we did it anyway,” laughs MacDonald.

MacDonald is open to publishing works for other local authors as well. As a self-publisher, MacDonald will be able to provide information about how authors can find an editor, how to handle cover design, and provide them with an ISBN number and barcode.

“You don’t have to be afraid of the process anymore,” says Doorlag. “If you have a story to tell, tell it. You’ll never regret it.”

For inquiries, Mountain Mouth Press can be reached at mountainmustangs@gmail.com.