Today's guest is Jeremy Kagan, author of the spiritual book, My Death: A Personal Guidebook. What I find so darn interesting about this author is that he had a NDE. For those who don't know what a NDE is, it's a near death experience. I love reading about these because we all really don't know what happens after we die until we actually do it, then there's no way of telling anyone about it because we're...uh...dead. Jeremy is here to talk about his book and his life as a writer and director.
Thank you for this interview, Jeremy. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I am an optimistic enthusiast. I like the new. New people, new places, new foods, new experiences. I like the old too. Like 13th century stained glass windows and illuminated tests. I like Art and spiritual books and graphic novels. I am also a playful workaholic. I like to laugh and I can get real serious too. My mind is in constant motion and meditation is a challenge. The interior chattering stops when I play music or use Kabbalistic word patterns. I am a clarinetist in some jazz groups. Gypsy jazz. I also am an image maker. I have drawing since I was a kid which led to my becoming a filmmaker which is my profession having directing 9 feature films and 15 television movies and lots of TV series for which I have an Emmy. I also am a tenured professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at USC where I teach directing to the graduate students and run The Change Making Media Lab that specializes in advocacy films for NGOs. And all along I have been a writer doing screenplays and books on filmmaking.
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
Life and death. My life and death. I had what is called a near-death experience and this is the retelling of that experience. I was totally unprepared for it. I’d never heard of a NDE, and up to then was little concerned with the idea of my own dying. This book, set in the context of my own personal story, is meant to be a launching pad for the readers’ reflection on their own lives and inevitable deaths. This book is about learning to be with death, learning to appreciate the miracle of living, and hopefully being a preparatory document for the journey that we all are taking.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
After I had my experience, I immediately wrote it down. I didn't want to forget. In fact a couple days later I remembered other parts of the experience I had forgotten. Then I left it alone and went on an expedition to meet people who had either similar experiences or understood something about the whole process of encountering other worlds while in this world. I considered ways that I might be able to impart what happened so that others could benefit from my experience. It took me a year to write it up as a nonfiction work, but I knew it hadn't really found the appropriate form to make this a visceral encounter for the reader. So I let it alone for a number of years, but was constantly aware of what it happened to me, and finally I began the process of rewriting. After a number of years I thought maybe I should turn this into a third person fictional story and I attempted that as well. It didn’t work. I realized this really was a personal narrative, a memoir, and it needed to be told in that genre. A couple of years ago I began to do some drawings, and found that this was really the form for me. As I am a caricaturist, and very visually oriented, this combination of illustrations with text was the genre that was most reflective of who I am and the best way I could tell this tale.
What was your greatest challenge writing this book?
I suspect that like many others who write, the greatest challenge was just doing it, and then reading it and rereading it and rewriting and recognizing what parts advanced the story for the reader and which parts were a diversion and even an indulgence. You get close to your work and you don't have a good perspective on it. I needed the years to allow me to see what was of value and what could be discarded.
Are you published by a traditional house, small press or are you self-published?
As I am a professor I have many students who have been helpful to me. One in particular was an assiduous editor, and she took a very fierce look at the manuscript. She also did some research for me about e-publishing, as I realized that with 150 color illustrations, and wanting this book to be affordable, I needed to look into alternative publishing methodologies. She found Balboa Press, part of Hays House, which specializes in philosophical and self-help books. After initial vetting, they worked with me for a fee to prepare the book for a variety of online distribution venues.
Was it the right choice for you?
So far Balboa has been the right choice, they also offer publicity help, for a price. And I see that professional publicity can get really expensive. We'll see how well a little of this does in getting the word out about the ebook in the next number of months.
How are you promoting your book thus far?
We've created a Facebook page for the book as well as a twitter account, so this has been the initial social media effort. On my own I have sent out emails to friends and acquaintances to have them spread the word as well. I thought by putting up an image from the book every other day, this might excite some interest.
How is that going for you?
The challenge for promoting my book is time. It's time to do this interview, which I also like with any writing have been rewriting, and it takes time to keep up with social media. But I like reflecting on the process, and seeing what might generate interest from readers, people who may in fact be reading this very blog. So ask me in a few months will see how it is really going for me and the book.
Can you tell us one thing you have done that actually resulted in one or more sales?
I think the Facebook page has actually sold some books. People have responded to some of the images that they've seen and said that they were intrigued about the book. I also created a website called www.theneardeathandlifeofJeremyKagan.com
that has a five minute video with some of the illustrations that was part of a TEDx type talk I gave and people who have seen this have also been buyers of the book.
Do you have another job besides writing?
As I mentioned, I have two other jobs besides writing: I am a professional film and television director, writer and producer and have been doing that kind of work for the last four decades and as a tenured professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California I've also edited two books about the subject called DIRECTORS CLOSE UP and as founder of The Change Making Media Lab, I have been making dramas and documentaries about environmental and social justice issues where we are learning that facts may inform but stories transform.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
Tell everyone you know and meet about your book and ask them to buy it. No shame.
What’s next for you?
I am about to direct a film called SHOT about what happens to an innocent bystander who gets shot and the kid who unintentionally shoots him.
Thank you for this interview, Jeremy. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
And thanks for taking the time to allow me to share information about my book My Death: A Personal Guidebook.