Monday, January 25, 2010

Interview with Kathryn Craft

by Jodi M. Webb

The Black Diamond Writers Network is honored to have author and developmental editor Kathryn Craft as the keynote speaker for our first annual Write It Right conference. Kathryn is the owner of [], a service that helps clients hone their work for publication through manuscript evaluation and developmental editing. Over a 19-year career, she wrote hundreds of arts features and reviews for The Morning Call daily newspaper (Allentown, PA) and other publications. While writing novels and memoir over the past decade she served in a variety of positions on the board of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, including two terms as president. She also serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers' Conference. She speaks about writing and the publication process, and hosts writing retreats for women at her summer home in northern New York. She is a contributing editor at the popular Blood-Red Pencil blog []. Here, Jodi Webb catches up with Kathryn to talk writing, editing, and living the creative life.

BDWN: Many authors who write memoirs say it helps them to understand their life experiences. Do you feel all types of writing, not just memoir, reflect a writer's life?

Kathryn: It is impossible to separate your writing from your life experience. From the words you choose to the rhythm of your sentences to which ideas and perceptions juxtapose to spark creativity, your worldview will define your project. That’s why we may want to read two biographies about the same person—the writing will be different. That’s why writing workshops are so stimulating—the same assignment will be fulfilled in myriad ways. This is a message of great hope to writers, because there is room in the world for all our voices. But it also makes rejection tough. With our life’s DNA woven into each project, the rejection feels personal.

BDWN: I know you've done newspaper writing but you also write fiction. How does your fiction reflect your life?

Kathryn: I like to think of each writing project as staging a drama. The writer is peopling the stage with characters who will come to life when the author shines the bright white light of her creativity upon them. But creative energy must be channeled properly or it will spill all over the place. To properly direct the audience’s attention a writer must use a housing to focus the light—that’s your craft. The writer’s life experiences, then, are like the gel that slips down in front of the light: experience colors everything the light shines upon. So if I am shining my light toward a certain story, that story is not necessarily “reflecting” my experience—my experience is the lens through which I see my work.

BDWN: Do you feel your writing is a celebration of your life or an escape to something different?

Kathryn: For me writing is not an escape. In fact it’s the opposite, for it calls upon me to turn around and face the conflicts that most people avoid or deny. I must unearth emotional truths and find a way to effectively convey them so a reader I’ve never met can share the same journey. Some days the work is fun and some days it is extraordinarily difficult. Some days I crank out several new pages and some days I sit and steam over one paragraph because I’m just not sure that I’ve yet found or communicated the truth I sought.

But my writing is absolutely a celebration of life. I am not the type of person who will flit through her days partying. I need to figure some things out. I need to leave a footprint. I need meaning, and my writing is how I create it. And, because writing offers me so much of what I seek in life, I think it is fun!

BDWN: Is there one type of writing you prefer over the others?

Kathryn: I love interviewing other creative people about their lives and writing features about them, because representing a slice of life as a compelling story within a word limit is a fun puzzle. And my life has been greatly enriched from all the choreographers and other artists I’ve interviewed along the way.

Writing fiction, on the other hand, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It challenges me on every single level that I value. I love to research and gain new knowledge. I love to ask questions until I find answers. I love to tell stories. I love to figure out why people do what they do. As much as I love interacting with other people I also enjoy long stretches of time alone. I am hopelessly enamored with words and I love the way good writing communicates on multiple levels. I love that fresh burst of creativity that becomes the first draft but even more I love applying craft during revision. I love the complexity a novel allows. I love the inherent paradox of writing tight while writing long.

Because I love a good challenge, I’ve got to answer “novel-length fiction.”

BDWN: Care to give us a peek at what you're working on right now?

Kathryn: What I’m working on right now is the same novel I’ve been working on for the past six years: “The Sparrow that Fell from the Sky.” That’s right, 6 years! It’s the story of Penelope Sparrow, a modern dancer whose distorted body image has plagued her career. She wakes up one morning in the hospital among strangers, unable to move, with no memory of the “accident” that put her there. It’s a story about second chances, and what we can make of them.

I address this story through the lens of my experience: I was a dancer and choreographer, I was a dance critic, and my first husband committed suicide when our sons were 8 and 10. Two resulting story questions—“How might despair accumulate to the point that a dancer would want to end her life?” and “What if self-destruction wasn’t under her complete control?”—inspired Penelope’s interweaving storylines in my novel.

I also have a draft of a book-length memoir about the experience of raising my sons on the farm where my husband was determined to die—“Standoff at Ronnie’s Place”—but haven’t yet decided if I’ll continue developing it for publication. But the memoir form resonates with me. Chaos may challenge us in real life but it cannot rule in an effective story. In stories, things happen for a reason. A memoir is an opportunity to wrestle with life’s chaos until you see the pattern and the meaning. It’s a chance to show that you have risen above circumstance and grown as a result. It’s a chance to create, from the chaos of life, a story.

BDWN: I hope we won’t have to wait another six years to learn the story of your wounded sparrow. Give us one last piece of advice for our readers.

Kathryn: If you identify the emotional turning points that are relevant to your story and spotlight them properly, your reader will hang on for the whole ride.

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