Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Author Interview: Kathryn Craft

I met Kathryn Craft on the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Yahoo loop prior to the WFWA’s founding in September 2013. Check out her website—Kathryn Craft. Her wit and craft were evident from the start and her debut book—THE ART OF FALLING—was a revelation of what a writer can do with heart, creativity, and the desire to allow her characters to live damaged lives. True to life situations and emotions rule Kathryn’s story. 

One Wrong Step Could Send Her Over the Edge
All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Kathryn Craft's lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.


ZM: If I could give THE ART OF FALLING ten stars, it might be enough. This is a spectacular story of one woman's struggle with her body as told through her connection to dance. I have no experience with dance, but I understood every nuance of the story told about movement. Kathryn, how did your experience with dance become the heart of your book and become the metaphor for Penny’s life?

Kathryn: Hi Zan Marie! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to think that my story has given insight into the joy of movement to many non-dancers. Like Penny, I found my “voice” through the wordless medium of dance. I had come to it late, when I was sixteen, so I was old enough to see its challenges as more than training the body. Dance was tilling my soul, and teaching me a new way of moving through the world—a metaphor with enough depth to power a novel, don’t you think? The dance world setting offered me layers of conflict that any reader can relate to, even if unfamiliar with the art form. We all have bodies that have at one point or another disappointed or betrayed us. While the pressures on Penny that affect her career are external; her relationship to movement was elemental. So when she survived her horrific fall, I knew that if she could lean hard enough on her training to remobilize, the dance might be able to save her.

ZM: I’ve classified THE ART OF FALLING as women’s fiction. Would you agree? Do you think women’s fiction is limiting for writers? Do you think book club fiction is a better classification for your books or do these two categories crossover? Do you have a favorite genre to write? 

Kathryn: I think the term “women’s fiction” is useful to the publishing industry. By branding our writing as having female protagonists on an emotional journey, we writers can target our work to the right agents and editors. The designation informs everything from the type of cover to the back cover copy in order to beckon the “right” reader to our work—but in its own sneaky way. Most of my readers have no familiarity with the term “women’s fiction” or any use for it.

“Book club fiction” resonates with me because it’s the only way I have of describing the great big world of disparate books that I love (some of which have male protagonists): lush writing that explores important topics from a variety of viewpoints, in a way that allows us readers to fully examine and embrace the paradoxes life poses. Plus I adore book clubs so much I have led several of them. Exploring important ideas presented in literature is such a great way to get to know other people and yourself. Add wine and snacks, and I’m in heaven!

The only classification that fails to help me is calling THE ART OF FALLING a “dance novel.” Perceptions like this were the main stumbling block to getting it published, since “dance novels” have not historically sold well. Because I agree with you, Zan Marie—this is a woman’s emotional journey, set in the dance world to make use of its high expectations of the female body. The trick was finding an agent and publisher who saw it that way, too.

ZM: Tell us about your next book. Is there a publication date for it yet? 

Kathryn: My next novel is The Far End of Happy, due out in May of 2015. By mid-November I’ll be holding an Advance Reader Copy! If that sounds like the excitement of a debut novelist, it kind of is. While it took me eight years to write THE ART OF FALLING, this novel was seventeen years in the making.

In October 1997 my family got caught up in events that still seem shocking to me, when my husband engaged a massive police presence in a suicide standoff on our idyllic little farm. Our sons were just eight and ten. Already a dance critic, I knew I’d one day write about this tragic day. But what would be its final form—memoir? Fiction? I had several memoir essays published (you can read one here), and wanted to stay close to what I knew to be true—but as my storytelling craft matured I realized that fiction has a way of capturing emotional truths even as details are manipulated. I’d always known that day’s events didn’t happen just to me, and that additional points of view would be the best way to convey this. When the notion of telling the story of the downfall of a family within the tight twelve-hour frame of the standoff came to me, I decided to pitch it to Sourcebooks as my option novel, and they jumped right on it.

ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Kathryn: I want important ideas, beautiful language, and deep perspective. A world I can enter into fully, which is a trick for someone who worked as a critic for nineteen years and has been a developmental editor for eight! I sample widely from best-selling literature and fear I have no one favorite author, but I wouldn’t need to even read the back cover copy before plunking down my money for a new book by Ann Patchett, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Janet Fitch, Roland Merullo, Wally Lamb, Khaled Hosseini, and Margot Livesey. Among others!

ZM: Finally, what questions do you wish interviewers would ask, but they never do?

Kathryn: What might readers be surprised to hear about your life as a published author?

Books change readers’ lives. We all know this. But I’m not sure readers realize the way they change an author’s life. That might start by purchasing and reading her book. Or by attending virtual or in-person events. Or by sponsoring events, whether a book club Skype visit or hosting a party and inviting friend they might think would like the book. Or by reaching out through email—like the man who picked it up at the library because of the cover and ended up wanting to shout from the rooftops about it because it was “so true,” or the 69-year-old ballroom dancer who gifted ten copies because he loved it so, or the discouraged dancers and artists and writers my story has bolstered. Readers can help build the author’s career by writing a brief review—believe me, I will never forget the woman who wrote, “If I could give The Art of Falling ten stars, it might be enough…” Or by inviting me on her blog—honestly, you just want to hug someone like that.

Authors go a lot of places and meet a lot of people. Sometimes names fade. But the soul of that reader that engages fully with your work, and tells you about it, leaves an imprint that is never, ever forgotten.

ZM: Thank you, Kathryn! 
 Kathryn Craft is the author of THE ART OF FALLING, book club fiction debuted from Sourcebooks in January 2014. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a career as a dance critic (Morning Call, Allentown, PA). Over the past decades she has served on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and is now involved with the Women's Fiction Writers Association; she hosts writing retreats for women, and speaks often about writing. She is a monthly guest at Writers in the Storm with her series "Turning Whine into Gold," and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Representation: Katie Shea Boutillier, Donald Maass Literary Agency. Follow her on social media at Kathryn Craft Author (Facebook) and @kcraftwriter (Twitter).


Next Week: Mini Book Review! Come find a good book. You know you want to. ;-)