Sparking the Flame of The Art of Falling
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, which was released on January 28 and has already gone back for a second printing, and While the Leaves Stood Still (due Spring 2015). Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New YorkState, leads Craftwriting workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Doylestown, PA.
Now, here’s Kathryn …
Writing The Art of Falling was not at all like striking the match of inspiration, holding it to the candle of story, and taking care that the fire never went out. Birthing my debut novel was longer and messier, like surrounding the candle of story with a bunch of flints and striking my steely resolve against them time and again until the sparks were strong enough to arc to the wick and ignite it.
Here are the aspects of my life that comprised those flints:
1. Motivation. I turned to writing fiction after my first husband’s suicide, sixteen years ago. I had a lingering need to use my writing to form a more hopeful story from the chaos of those events. Anyone familiar with the stages of grief knows of its anger, and with our sons only eight and ten at the time, I had a slow burn of it that for years I just couldn’t purge. I sensed I needed to forgive him, and that the path to forgiveness lay in empathy. Yet I’d always been an optimist, looking for the silver lining in every situation. I had no way to relate to someone getting so low that they’d consider self-destruction. Penelope Sparrow was my path.
2. Permission. When I met my first husband I was a 24-year-old dancer with many aptitudes but no idea of what she wanted to do with her life. The offered job as dance critic allowed me to get free tickets to the performances I frequented, to quickly accumulate bylines, and get paid for it. I was thrilled. My husband was less than impressed, and derided my “career” as “volunteer work.” But when I met my second husband I was a 42-year-old writer. He’d had poetry published, and knew that writing this book and seeking its publication was good for my soul. He loved it right into existence.
3. Three ideas. I usually need three unrelated elements to spark the kind of creative leaps that will start a story percolating. In this case those were 1) a newspaper account of a woman who walked away from a 14-story fall with only a broken arm; 2) an anecdote about a man with a never-say-die spirit whose body was failing from heart disease, but whose hospital roommate was a young man with a flagging spirit whose body would not succumb when he put his head in the oven, blinding him instead; and 3) our society’s intense obsession with the body beautiful. I put those notions in the mental pot and let them stew.
4. Mentors. I needed living, breathing role models. Great literature to show by example. Mentors unknown to me but whose books on writing guided me. Dead writers whose lingering wisdom adorns my writing space, such as this from Howard Thurman: “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
5. Feedback. To be published presupposes a public, so the art of literature is not complete without a consumer. I needed test consumers—a lot of them. Through critique groups, manuscript swaps, professionally guided workshops, and an independent editor, I collected the feedback I needed.
6. Pressure. I took on leadership opportunities that allowed me to create the programs I needed, while helping the writing community at the same time. As time went on, I wanted to succeed not only for me but for us all. And I wanted to succeed for my sons, to show them that we need not wallow in our personal hell but can create the life of our dreams. And I wanted to succeed for Dave, to bring to fruition his belief in me.
7. Yearning. Yearning is that tug on your heart that keeps you going when logic cannot provide another argument for it. Thank the Great Creator for it, because the arts could not exist otherwise—without its pull, the work is just too hard. We create because we yearn for something we need that does not yet exist.
8. Faith. I do not believe that life is chaos—I believe it is story, but that while in this earthly realm we only have access to a part of that whole. We may never know how, or why, because we can’t see the way the big picture fits together, but I know we’re all important characters. I have faith in this story that allows me to elevate the use of my allotted talent to the importance of a calling. Faith allowed me not only to write The Art of Falling over its eight-year journey, but to picture its success. Okay that part about going into a second printing when the novel was only six days old threw me, but you see the point: I had thirteen years of preparation for this “overnight success” and I can’t wait to see where else this crazy ride takes me!
I can’t wait see where it takes you either, Kathryn. Thanks so much for visiting Birth of a Novel. I have no doubt your words will inspire other writers, some who may be on the verge of giving up on the dream.