Having recently met fellow Pennwriter, Kathryn Craft, on-line, I thought I’d do a little digging and find out a bit about her writing. After hearing about her work and life, I am looking forward to meeting her at our Pennwriters/Reading Reads event on October 21. I do hope you will join us at the Speckled Hen (30 South 4th Street, Reading). Below is a little bit about Kathryn’s personal story and her writing. Enjoy!
Sue Lange: Your book “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky,” features a dancer. Tell me about your dance background.
Kathryn Craft: I came to dance late—when I was 16—but it became an important part of my life in college when Miami University Dance Theatre accepted me and I began to choreograph. Ironically, it was in this wordless medium that I learned I had a voice. I started to translate movement into words in the early 1980s by working as a dance critic for The Morning Call. I remained a critic for 19 years, filling my mind with oodles of creative images and inspiration from the amazing people I interviewed, until the call to honor my inner fiction writer made writing criticism less palatable. That, and I couldn’t take one more Nutcracker.
SL: Are any of the characters or scenes in the book taken from your own experiences?
KC: Only indirectly. My character has body image issues that make her feel as if her body has betrayed her, and while I think many women can relate to that on some level, I actually tapped feelings about my miscarriages for that, since I felt like my body was rejecting a deeply desired outcome. And the speech dance critic Margaret MacArthur gives at the luncheon the dance community gives in her honor was pure fantasy—“Despite what you might fool yourself into believing, I am not, and never have been, against any of you. I am an advocate”—but I would have said every word!
SL: So you’re using writing to make statements you wouldn’t be able to make any other way?
KC: Hmmm…didn’t set out to, but I guess I can’t deny it now! One of my favorite movies (and one of the few cases where I liked the movie better than the book) is Cider House Rules—I love the way it explores all sides of the abortion decision. Likewise, within me there is both artist and critic. In this novel, both sides have their say.
SL: At what point in your life did you decide to start writing?
KC: My public school education in Maryland was writing-intensive and I always enjoyed it. I slid into criticism when the man handling public relations for a performance I was in tried to get it reviewed by The Morning Call and they didn’t have a dance reviewer. Because I had the education (Masters in Health and Physical Education with a Dance Concentration), went to many performances, and always had opinions about them, I applied.
SL: What other background do you have that informs your work?
KC: Writing became a more creative, conscious choice after my first husband’s suicide in 1997. I had a lot to come to grips with and, faced with raising two sons on my own, I needed to do it quickly. Writing helped me do that.
SL: Do you do any non-fiction writing? If so, what?
KC: I am currently writing a memoir about the time of my husband’s suicide. His external action—to choose death after a full-day standoff with a massive police presence at our idyllic country home—provides a strong counterpoint to the inner battle I waged that resulted in the courage to choose life.
SL: Suicide is a very heavy topic. It is part of your fiction and now your memoir as well. Does the subject consume you at times or have you been able to get to a more clinical place with it?
KC: I can be in a clinical place and a deeply emotional place with the topic within moments, yet I would not say it consumes me. It has, however, provided a “ground zero” for my philosophical musings. I now give myself credit for something I used to take for granted—every day, I choose life. This notion is empowering. You see I am, at heart, an optimist. So far I have written about suicide because this brush with it is the most profoundly dramatic thing that has happened to me in my life, but also so I might have a little bit of control over it. While both books gain dramatic tension from this life/death aspect, both are ultimately uplifting works infused with redemption and hope.
SL: Will you stay in the dance world?
KC: I love writing about creative people but I don’t foresee them all being dancers.
SL: So what other topics do you write about?
KC: Since 2006 I’ve been doing a lot of writing about other people’s writing. That’s when I started www.writing-partner.com, a manuscript evaluation and editing business. After years of critiquing manuscripts for fellow writers for free, I discovered a natural aptitude for analyzing where stories go wrong and how to address fixing them. Not all writers have the ability or inclination to look at another’s work deeply enough to find the multiple sources of a problem that might manifest, say, as “boring.” So rather than continuing to squelch the inner critic that is clearly a part of my makeup, I decided to honor it. The work is a perfect amalgam of my interests, experience and aptitudes—and still gives me a reason to churn out those 15-page papers I wrote back in school.
SL: Why would someone use your services as opposed to going to a workshop?
KC: The evaluation I write is like taking an entire workshop on your project alone. As writers we are constantly submitting work into the ether—did anyone read it? What did they think? If we get any feedback at all it tends to be either a form rejection or, if we are lucky enough to be published, a pat comment from a family member like, “Very nice. Enjoyed it.” But a writer wants to know, What did you like, specifically? I wrote 100,000 words here—can you only come up with four? I honor my clients’ work by analyzing what works and what doesn’t in great detail.
SL: What type of clients do you get? What experience level? Have they been receptive to your critiques?
KC: I have critiqued a great span of projects, from first stabs at short story writing to novel rewrites for people who already have MFA’s. I’m currently helping a man translate his memoir, already published in Ukrainian and Russian, into English. I am thrilled to say that authors who are self-publishing have hired me, because I care about the standards of all literature found on our country’s bookstore shelves. Many of my clients use my service to put an extra spit-shine on work being submitted to agents and editors, because let’s face it—in today’s publishing climate, you need all the help you can get. In response to my feedback I have witnessed everything from simple gains in authorial confidence to major “Aha!” moments to changes in subsequent projects that are so glorious I cut straight to writing a blurb. I love the relationships I’ve formed with my clients; most keep in touch and many submit new work because each piece contains its own challenges. Each manila envelope I open feels like Christmas; editing can be almost as fun as my own writing.
SL: What genres do you critique? Fiction, non-fiction?
KC: I do both fiction and nonfiction. My own interests are diverse and I read widely, but I would not take money to critique something I would have no interest in reading (gratuitous horror, for instance). I’m up front about that—if your book isn’t a fit, I’ll tell you. It’s only fair that an author presume some interest on the part of the person who picks up the book.
SL: How long have you been a member of Pennwriters?
KC: About six years now, I believe. Former Pennwriters president Peggy Adamczyk, a fellow member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, recommended it to me.
SL: How do you see Pennwriters helping you with your writing goals?
KC: While GLVWG meets many of my needs, Pennwriters extends my network to the state level. I am a huge believer in the power of working together to meet individual goals and have devoted many volunteer hours to bringing writers together.
SL: What are you doing for Reading Reads, the Berks Literary Festival?
KC: I will be reading a backstory scene from my novel THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY where my protagonist, Penelope Sparrow, first realizes—at age 14—that her body is betraying her by taking on the characteristics of a woman. This excerpt won first place in the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2008 Novel Theme & Plot Contest.
SL: Are you still in the Philly area? If so, is there a literary scene there? Tell us about it, if there is.
KC: I only set the novel in Philadelphia to create a pressure cooker of activity in time and space. If there is one thing that has driven me nuts in my 26 years of living in rural Berks County, it is the amount of time I must spend in the car to get anywhere! Philadelphia is only about 75 minutes from me, though, and I recently joined the board of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, which has been serving that community for 60 years now.
SL: Any other thing you’d like to talk about?
KC: I just got back from hosting my first Writing Partner Retreat for Women at our newly rebuilt summer home in northern New York. I’ve been “retreating” myself lately—I’ve found it too difficult to transport my sensibilities back and forth in time to generate material for this memoir using only a few hours a day. I’ve been more successful with devoting larger blocks of time to it as you would at a retreat. It occurred to me that other women might need such a getaway as well, and the retreat seemed a natural manifestation of my interest in bringing writers together. There were five of us, writing by day and sharing readings with popcorn in front of the fire at night. We took breaks for yoga, hiking, and paddling on the lake. It was a blast and I hope to continue hosting them twice a year up there.
SL: How can people contact you if they are interested in participating a future retreat?
KC: Three ways: At my website you can sign up for my free quarterly newsletter with self-editing tips, “Nibs,” that will have details; you can check for updates at my blog, http://healingthroughwriting.blogspot.com; if you want to be put on a mailing list for retreats without the newsletter, contact me at kathryn (at)writing-partner (dot) com.
Kathryn, thanks for taking the time to talk about what you’ve got going on and your writing. I’m enjoying reading The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. Can’t wait to hear you read it.
For the readers: Stop by the Speckled Hen on Tuesday, October 21 to hear Kathryn read. We’ll be starting promptly at 6pm. Five of us Pennwriters (Carol Haile, Liz Clarke, Pam Garlick, Kathryn, and I) will be reading. A limited menu will be available and the bar will be open. Speckled Hen is a cozy little old-style tavern complete with log construction. Yes, a car did run into it a few weeks ago. The front of the restaurant was pretty well demolished but they’ve got a temporary wall in place and the atmosphere has not changed a bit. It’s a slight bit tighter, but still warm and inviting. Come and join your fellow members and visit this historic building. We’re hoping to organize more events such as this one in the future and it will be helpful to know who all we have in our area.