by Ane Mulligan
Kathryn Craft was a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, following a career as a dance critic. Having served on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers Conference, she hosts writing retreats and is a speaker. She is a contributing editor at The Blood-Red Pencil blog and a monthly guest at Writers in the Storm with her series “Turning Whine into Gold.” She is a proud member of the Liars Club, a Philadelphia-based group of novelists supporting independent bookstores, literacy, and other forms of paying it forward. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.
Kathryn, you've written memoir essays, articles on the craft of writing for blogs and Writers Digest, and hundreds of articles on dance and other arts. How and when did you decide to turn your hand to fiction?
I was a confirmed nonfiction writer—with so many fascinating true stories in the world, I posed, why make anything up? Then tragedy upended all reason when my husband committed suicide after a daylong standoff at our farm. As story slowly brought order to chaos, I learned that sometimes fiction can feel more “true” than reported facts.
How was the process different to your non-fiction, and what is your process? Are you a plotter, a pantster, or somewhere in between?
With a strong anecdotal hook I could often rely upon intuition, interesting quotes, and flow to structure a cohesive feature. Not so for a novel. I drafted both my first and second novels by the seat of my pants, reaching toward perhaps a dozen predetermined emotional turning points as touchstones—then spent years undoing the damage. I needed to find a better way.
Have you discovered some secret that has helped your process for writing?
Thankfully, yes! I recently employed a process touted by novelist Molly Cochran—writing an extended synopsis. She says hers end up about 75 pages; mine ended up being 100. Writing “about” the story really helped me get to the heart of it and stay on track. When I was really feeling the heat in a scene I did allow myself to take down dialogue notes as well, so I wouldn’t lose them. This really worked for me, and boiling it down to 7 single-spaced pages gave me the multi-layered depth needed to try to sell on proposal.
Was there a specific 'what if' moment that sparked The Art of Falling?
There were several. First, I needed empathy for the kind of despair my husband experienced, even though I’m an optimist. What if a woman felt that way? I create a woman who had always wanted to be a dancer but was at war with her body, then started taking away career, lover, and support systems until I thought she might just give up—then, rather pulling her back from the edge, I let her fall right over it.
The fall was the result of the second “What if.” I read in the newspaper that a woman had fallen fourteen stories and walked away with only a broken arm—and this was the second time she’d failed to kill herself! I thought, “What if this happened to my protagonist—would she get the message it wasn’t yet her time to die?”
The third was what if a woman whose body is unstoppable but her spirit is flagging befriends a woman whose body is failing but whose spirit is enduring—what could these women give one another?
With those layers in place I was ready to write.
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
I envision my characters and places, certainly, but I don’t look at pictures. That feels too limiting. I also can’t listen to music! I need as much quiet as possible.
Some say a writer is born and others say anyone can learn. What do you say?
Not sure biological birth has anything to do with it. I believe a writer is born of her desire to order her thoughts through the written word, in whatever form that takes. As for fiction, I think most novelists have been influenced from an early age by older storytellers in their lives.
What are your thoughts on critique partners?
The role of critique partners cannot be underestimated while you are acquiring the early skills of a creative writer. Writing for publication assumes a public, and you need a sample public to see how your work adds up in a new reader’s mind. But at some point you need to commit to writing the book, and have it evaluated as a whole. Because no novel can suspend disbelief over a one-chapter-per-month reading, I now only use full manuscript swaps with trusted readers.
Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing?
Editing. For me, that’s where I fully orchestrate what was once a simple melody.
What's the most difficult part of writing for you ~ plotting, setting, characterization?
I don’t think any of these things are particularly difficult on their own. The real trick is in interweaving them to tell an effective story.
What's your strength in writing?
Those early attempts as a pantser failed because I did not yet understand classic storytelling structure. So I brought teachers into my life—Juilene Osborne-McKnight, James N. Frey, Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, Nancy Kress—and over many years of concerted effort I turned my weakness into my strength. For the past seven years working as a developmental editor my specialty has been in assessing story structure.
Did you have any surprising discoveries while writing this book?
Since this novel reflected my own healing journey, from acceptance through empathy to forgiveness, my protagonist evolved as well. Let’s just say she was once a much angrier, less empathetic character! I knew I’d be done once I’d created a woman who could be pushed to the brink, fall off, and then find new heights—in other words, someone whom I’d admire.
When you're not writing at your summer home in northern New York, where do you write? Do you have a favorite chair at Starbucks or hole up in a cozy attic nook?
I’m usually in my lovely, light-filled loft office at home—a real change for me, because before moving four years ago, my office was in a basement walled with exposed stone—also lovely, but much darker. At least once a week I can be found among other women with open laptops in the second floor café of a Wegman’s grocery store, adding a social element to our solitary work.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
I love this quote from Virginia Woolf: “Each sentence must have, at its heart, a little spark of fire, and this, whatever the risk, the novelist must pluck with his own hands from the blaze.” Not a spark on each page—a spark in each sentence. And when writing fails, I think it’s because the writer did not dare to get close enough to the fire.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Join organizations. Go to conferences and workshops. Network with writers further down the path. Only you can set the words on the page, but a writer’s life does not have to be lonely. Drink in the support that surrounds you and then pass it on to someone else. We are all mentors.
The Art of Falling
One wrong step could send her over the edge.
All Penny ever wanted to do was 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.