Mary Claire Mahaney ’79 Enjoying Career as an Author
As a child in Warren, Ohio, Mary Claire Mahaney ’79 envisioned a career as a small-town general practice lawyer, just like her father. She made the announcement to her parents in the car as an eighth grader, joking to her father that it was “something you can do without having to be good at anything.”
Today, she is a member of the District of Columbia bar, although she is retired from the practice of law and is actually an award-winning author.
Road to her J.D.
Mahaney came to Cincinnati to study at Mount Saint Joseph, where she graduated in 1976 with B.A. in sociology, with a concentration in social work. During the summers, she worked at the Trumbull County courthouse and the county prosecutor’s office in her hometown.
The summer following graduation, Mahaney married Cincinnati native Herb Walter. She planned to attend law school in town and decided on the College of Law, as it was in walking distance from their apartment.
Mahaney, the youngest of four children, called her first two years at the College of Law “miserable.” She said she dreaded classes and “made it a point never to make eye contact with the professor and try to sit behind someone tall.”
When grades came out, Mahaney had difficulty understanding why she earned what she did, whether good or not so good, she said. Following a year and a half of “grade anxiety,” her husband opened her grades and Mahaney never looked at her grades in her final three semesters.
3L year for Mahaney was “finally bearable,” she said, during which she took mostly “elective” classes. In that final year, Mahaney worked with a local finance company to fill out income tax returns in a working-class neighborhood. She also got the College of Law to approve an internship in which she taught an upper-level white collar crime course through UC’s College of Business Administration.
“I titled the course, worked out the syllabus, studied textbook options, led discussions, brought in speakers, assigned readings and papers, prepared and graded exams, and gave out grades,” Mahaney said. “I had total autonomy, and I loved it.”
An Alternative Career Path
Early on as a 1L, Mahaney realized her vision of being a small-town, general practice lawyer like her father – who had recently passed away in 1975 – would involve both civil and criminal work. But she was not interested in criminal law, in particular because of the prospect of representing people she believed were guilty.
In 1978, she and her husband moved to Madeira and, after passing the bar in the summer of 1979, Mahaney had three clients at her home office. Outside of her mini law practice, Mahaney was a business law instructor at UC’s business school.
“I taught three sections of basic business law – contracts, torts and so on, the subjects covered on the CPA exam,” she said. “I enjoyed the preparation and felt comfortable in the classroom.”
Mahaney eventually published a comment on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1981 in the American Business Law Journal. Before getting published, however, she became an Assistant Professor of Business Law at the University of Michigan. While up in Ann Arbor, Mahaney co-authored a piece that made the 1983 Administrative Law Review.
Despite a three-year contract to teach at Michigan, Mahaney’s first pregnancy put her on bed rest. After recovering she decided not to go back to a career for many years, she said.
Finding her Niche in Writing
When her sons, Ed and George, were young – today, they are both graduate students – a friend of Mahaney’s recommended that she be a writer. Mahaney began writing short fiction, and then took jobs writing performing arts columns for various newspapers. Soon after, she had columns published in Chicago’s Irish American News and then for the Herald in Sharon, Pa., where her parents grew up.
Today, she continues to write poems, essays and other fiction, including a short story to be published in an upcoming issue of an anthology called Defying Gravity. It was in 2007, however, when Mahaney published her most well-known work, Osaka Heat. The inspiration for this romance novel came from a trip she took, chaperoning her son’s high school group for a month-long stay in Japan.
“It was after I got back and had time to reflect that I realized living with two Japanese families during that month, and travelling within Japan to boot, had been the experience of a lifetime,” she said “My inspiration for Osaka Heat was Japanese culture and geography. It was the setting, so different from America – but similar in unexpected ways – that caught my attention, that caused me to think, ‘I could write a book-length story set in Japan.’”
It took six years for her to write the book, which won a Gold Medal in Romantic Fiction from Independent Publisher (for the e-version of the book), and two Silvers in Multicultural Fiction from the same organization (one for the paper edition, one for the e-version).
“Many readers have asked for a sequel, but I haven’t written it – yet,” Mahaney said.
Although Mahaney is not practicing law, her law degree has still been beneficial to her more recent writing career.
“I see the writing process as a persuasive process, whether I’m writing fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. The reader needs to empathize with my point of view, even if in the end he or she disagrees with it,” Mahaney said. “So as I write, I’m making a case, as an attorney would.”
She said her law degree also gives her credibility as a writer, editor, and speaker.
Today, Mahaney and her husband live in McLean, Va. Herb is now retired from a 32-year career with Price Waterhouse/PricewaterhouseCoopers. He does financial consulting from their home, where the couple has two orange tabby cats, Rusty and Julius.
In her spare time, Mahaney knits dishcloths, plays the piano, sends paper and email correspondence to family and friends, and enjoys scenic walks around the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, Mahaney reads “extensively.” She also has “500 flicks in my Netflix queue,” she said.
Mahaney said she has three professional fantasies: 1) having Osaka Heat picked up by Hollywood; 2) seeing college instructors assign her book as required reading, and ask her to speak to their classes; and 3) to have a home stay in Bavaria.
“I’m studying German, in part as preparation for setting a story in Germany; in part to be able to speak the language of my Bavarian cousins,” she said.
By Jordan Cohen, ‘13