Literary Scene: Dancing her way to a first novel
"I like stories where I can seek beauty and meaning even in the darker aspects of life," Kathryn Craft says in a recent interview.
Craft signs copies of her first novel, "The Art of Falling," 4 p.m. Feb. 1, Moravian Book Shop, 428 Main St., Bethlehem.
Craft started dance training later than she wished, at the age of 16 and "realized at once I'd been looking for it my whole life," Craft says.
The struggle of being a dancer and not living up to the expectations of dancers of her age brought about the novel's protagonist, Penelope, who also has issues.
Penelope feels betrayed by her own body. Penelope's hips spread at the age of 14, creating more of a woman's body than a svelte dancer's body, thus the frustration with her own body, resulting in eating disorders.
"In the world of dance, women are really girls and men are boys," observes Craft.
"It is a world where the full development of our biologically-mandated state is discouraged. I wanted to use that world because as a society we are so image-conscious and because it is so severe and the expectations of our bodies are so intense," says Craft.
In the novel's plot, Penelope falls 14 stories, landing on top of a car. Laying in a hospital bed, she contemplates why she can't move. Will she dance again or not?
"The conflict with a war between the body and soul is a no-win situation," says Craft. "My biggest body betrayal was having two miscarriages."
Craft's feelings of betrayal were easily transferred to her fictional character, Penelope. Craft gave birth to two children and is thrilled with their success.
When Craft was a dance critic and writer for The Morning Call newspaper, she wrote a review of a 1997 performance in which I broke my toe on stage while performing with the dance troupe, Danceging.
During my interview with Craft, I mentioned the mishap to her. Craft exclaimed, "I used it in my book. You never know what will end up in a novel."
What a coincidence that my professional career as a dancer led me to be a dance writer and I would read about my own injury in a novel.
Craft was not interested in self-publishing her novel. After submitting 113 times to literary agents, it was eight years later when her manuscript was accepted by an independent publisher, Sourcebooks, Naperville, Il.
Publishing has changed over the years. At one time a writer such as Craft could expect an advance of $11,000 for a novel. After the Great Recession of 2007 - '08, an author is lucky to receive an advance at all.
Luckily, Craft did get an advance for not only her first novel but a second with the working title, "While the Leaves Stood Still," based on events surrounding her late husband, who took his life after an eight-hour stand-off with police. The work will be an account of her husband's suicide in a 10- hour time frame, including her own recovery from "the unthinkable," Craft says.
Craft has led the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group for 10 years. The group meets monthly at the Palmer branch of the Easton Public Library. It holds its 21st annual Writer's Conference March 20 - 22.
Craft is member of a new organization, The Women's Fiction Writers Association, which has about 230 members.
"I've had many different interests in my life such as being a biology major in college with a dance minor that includes the miracle of the human body and how it moves and conveys meaning without using language.
"As a critic, I found a responsibility to translate what I saw into words, and my job was to help people talk about dance as an audience is moved on a deeper and primal level but unable to apply it in words.
"Now I am in an unusual position to be able have this experience writing about movement to bring the beauty and power of dance to the pages in a novel that is about a woman who needs to make peace with her body to achieve her creative goals. I have been so blessed for having this journey to express my creative goals. I am living the dream," Craft says.