Kathryn Craft is the author of The Art of Falling (Sourcebooks, 2014) and The Far End of Happy, due May 2015. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com follows a 19 year career as a dance critic.
A longtime leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women's Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women, leads writing workshops, and is constantly looking for other ways to bring people together using literature, wine, and snacks.
When did you know you were a writer?
I was in an accelerated public school track that required that I write a lot, so I always wrote. My earliest writing memory was a third grade essay. The prompt was, "If you could have anyone for parents, who would it be and why?" I chose Mrs. McIntyre, my third grade teacher, because I loved her so. She was a real hands-on teacher, teaching us math with items purchased in a classroom store with fake money, teaching science by making butter and maple syrup pops in class, that sort of thing. I counted it as a failure that I couldn't think of anyone other than my own that I might want as a dad -- then was mortified when my teacher's favorite essays were from those children who picked their own parents. Oops!
How did you get started publishing?
I began to write professionally when I filled an opening as dance critic in the Allentown, PA area, a position I held for 19 years. I remember I quit on Dec. second because I couldn't take writing about another round of Nutcrackers! I'd always said I was a confirmed nonfiction writer -- with so many amazing true stories to be told in the world, who needs to make anything up?
Then I got caught up in the type of drama that demands full attention -- the final deterioration of my depressed, alcoholic husband, and his standoff against a massive police presence on our idyllic little farm that resulted in his suicide. A writer already, I knew that one day I would write about it. I didn't have the credentials to write nonfiction, and feared no one would read memoir about a nobody like me.
Ultimately I paid homage to those novels that had consumed me every free moment of my life by choosing fiction. Writing fiction is nothing less than magical. You can visit the tragedy, yes, but you can also make a greater point than can the sum of true events. The power to conjure a more hopeful ending is yours. And if there's one thing we could use more of in this world, it's hope.
You published your first book after 40; what changed for you after 40?
The quick answer is "publisher interest." But that obscures a deeper truth: if you are going to write about personal experience that profoundly changed your life, you first need to allow yourself time to gain perspective. You need to see where your life went after that turning point so you know how to develop the full story arc. Many estimates say seven years, but in the case of my first husband's suicide it was longer for me.
My husband died when I was 41. The Art of Falling helped me find empathy for a character pushed to the brink of self-harm, so I could forgive my husband for what he'd done. That freed me to write The Far End of Happy in a more prismatic, compassionate way.
What roadblocks or obstacles did you face?
My agent was my 113th query submission. I persevered because my writing felt like a calling, and I had faith that the path would open when I was ready. I also refused to embrace the term "rejection" for letters that read "this isn't right for me" -- they were misalignments. Why would I want to hire an agent who wasn't in love with my work? After all, this business is subjective on every level. Instead, while continuing to improve my craft, I reframed such letters as permission to continue the search for my perfect fit.
What are you most proud of about your writing?
It's the courage to finally speak my personal truth through my stories, and honor the emotions that make us human. I was an empathic, emotional child -- and my mother would have been happy to iron those qualities right out of me. She even tried to dictate a "no crying" rule at my wedding, when I was 26 years old! She had her own reasons for this, but let's just say it's no wonder I love to write emotionally evocative women's fiction.
What's next in store for you?
My second novel, THE FAR END OF HAPPY, based on the tense 12 hours of my first husband's suicide standoff, and how the women closest to him sustained hope, is due out in May 2015 from Sourcebooks.
Every writer has their favorite books or sources to turn to about writing; what are your top three?
1. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
2. A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson
3. Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon