Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kathryn Craft and the Mystery of Self-knowledge

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Kathryn Craft, the author of the novel The Art of Falling is our guest today, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am! 

(Full disclosure: I used to be an editor at Dance Magazine and just finished a binge reading of ballet books: Sophie Flack's novel Bunheads (about a young women questioning her place in a company similar to Flack's own New York City Ballet), Jenifer Ringer's memoir
Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet (about her unsteady rise to principal dancer at NYCB), and rereading Toni Bentley's spare and gorgeous A Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal (about the trials and tribulation about life  in the corps of NYCB under dance master George Balanchine.) )

Kathryn's The Art of Falling is a sister book to these, as well as a mystery — as all-too-human dancers measure themselves against the standard of impossible perfection ballet demands of them. But it's not just about the world of ballet — we all "fall" regardless of profession and we all (at least we all try) to pick ourselves up.

Here's a brief description of The Art of Falling:

Penelope Sparrow was fourteen when her body first betrayed her—when her ballet teacher took her aside and said she didn’t have the right build to be a star. All Penny ever wanted to do was dance, and after a lifetime of trying to perfect her body, she’s about to make her international debut despite the odds. Everything seems set for her big break.

But that chance is taken from her when she wakes up in a Philadelphia hospital, unable to move after a death-defying 14-story fall. With a second chance at life and through an extraordinary friendship, Penny begins a journey toward self-acceptance—while piecing together the dark mystery of what happened on that ledge.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Welcome, Kathryn!


I Am the Mystery

When it comes to understanding my own motivations for acting in a certain way, or for making certain decisions, I can only offer my best guess. My wording betrays me: “Maybe I went shopping alone because I was sick of waiting for him to have time. Or maybe it’s because he always pays, so he gets to pick out the gift, and I wanted a chance. Or maybe, for once, I just needed to follow where my nose led, and not be held accountable for that.”

Maybe, maybe, maybe. You’d think I’d know the answer—I’m talking about me, after all!

But there are so many versions of me beneath this
skin. A short list: woman, daughter, wife, lover, sister, mother, lifelong learner, U.S. citizen, dancer, critic, author, biologist, philosopher, believer, optimist, summer home owner, and survivor, each of which influences me in some way. Each suggests its own characteristics; each is the result of different preparation or previous decisions. Any one of these inner folk might respond differently on any given day, and who knows how any two, in combination, might affect one another.

This is proof that the people who say I’m a real character are all wrong.

I am a character set.

As such, it would be asinine to presume that I could analyze the complexities of my behavior in any given moment well enough to come up with one irrefutable answer.

God I love that.

As a matter of fact, I could people several novels with the characters that live inside of me—and have. The way they contribute to the story allows me a prismatic view of its premise, which in turn creates great fodder for book club discussions. Why do these characters act the way they do? That mystery is always hiding beneath the skin of the story.

Each novel I write teaches me more about a woman who is a living, breathing function of her many selves. Nothing excites me more than when someone discussing my book intuits a character motivation that I hadn’t picked up.

To that I say, Welcome to my inner life.

I’ll respond, “Or, maybe she did it because…,” at which time the reader laughs and says, “Don’t you know? You wrote it!”

And to that I say, Yes, I wrote it. All of me did.

I am the story. In The Art of Falling I am the woman who believes she should be more accepting of her body and the woman who still thinks, at middle age, that she can maximize her body’s potential. I am the woman who declares she will eat less and the woman who sneaks a Snickers. I am the woman who loves unconditionally and the woman who expects only the best. The one who holds on tight, and the one who lets go.

KATHERINE CRAFT: Now tell me, Reds and readers, in no less than five listed characters: Who are you?

Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, which went back for a second printing six days after its January release, and a second novel, based on the true events of her husband’s suicide standoff, due Spring 2015. Her work as a developmental editor at follows a 19-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. A member of the Philly Liars Club, she lives with her husband in Doylestown, PA.


  1. First, I have to say how much I loved “The Art of Falling” . . . .
    “Versions of me” is an interesting way of looking at what makes us who we are. As for describing myself, I’ll start out with believer, wife, mother, daughter, sister, American, dreamer, teacher, reader . . . .

  2. Another must-read for my TBR pile, it looks like!
    At least five of these: mother, partner, writer, sister, cook, gardener, dancer, optimist

  3. Kathryn, you need to add "insightful leader of genre chat on book club books" to your list! That was an excellent session, so helpful and fun, even with all the crying. :-)

  4. WOW! Totally engaged by the cover AND the blurb. Sounds like an amazing book and probably something to add to my TBR pile. I'll go check it out happy I stopped by Jungle Reds today!

  5. wow.

    I love the surprises I find at Jungle Red and this one is quite powerful.

    Thank you, Kathryn.

    And oh yes, another book for my TBR pile.

  6. Welcome Kathryn! And, you guys, the book really is amazing.

  7. Susan Elia MacNeal—GET OUT! I had no idea you'd worked for Dance Magazine. What a small, surprising world—you are the mystery, lol!!

    Thank you SO much for having me on your wonderful blog today. I'm so thrilled that you enjoyed my book, especially given your expertise, and the other wonderful dance books!

    Part of the difficulty selling it was the notion that it was a "dance book" though—once I found the agent and editor who saw it as a woman's story set in the dance world, we were cooking with gas!

  8. Joan thank you so much for your kind words about my book, and for playing along. You are a fascinating bunch of characters yourself!

    And Edith, another dancer! Love it.

    Ramona, thank you so much, I'm so glad the session resonated with you. Great to spend some time with you at the conference!

  9. Terri—I know, that cover, right? I was blown away when Sourcebooks first sent it to me, as honestly, I would have had no clue what to put on the cover. This was beyond expectation. I'm glad you stopped in too!

    Kaye, I love that about this blog, too—the surprises. Glad to provide one!

  10. Kathryn, I never danced, but my 9-year-old son went to the School of American Ballet for two years. He (to me at least) credits his current basketball skills to taking ballet.

  11. Yes, and I just want to say that even though it's set in the dance world, THE ART OF FALLING is really about rebirth and new starts and new ways of defining ourselves. Dancer or not, we all fall — and we all need to find a way to pick ourselves back up

  12. Susan—SAB! What an achievement for your young son, and I have no doubt he's right about the basketball. Back when I was taking Tests & Measurements while pursuing my Health & Phys Ed masters, they said that the best single measure of overall physical ability is the vertical jump! At that time I taught dance to the Miami University (OH) football team. What a hoot!

  13. Kathryn, such a joy to meet you last weekend! And to
    watch your fans hover around you.. I'll know you'll be back at Jungle Red to tell your next heart-breaking sotyr.

    SO funny-- I wanted to be MAria Tallchief or Margot Fonteyn. I folk ballet, at age, seven or so? Until the teacher threw me out. She told my mother--"Your daughter is charming, but she'll need be a ballerina.'

    In my mind I was, though--even though my body would not obey.

  14. Hank, thanks so much for inviting me to be a guest on your blog—I enjoyed seeing you as well! The betrayal of the body you describe is at the heart of my novel. Science tells us that with the right combination of diet and exercise we should be able to control how our bodies behave yet Mother Nature has her own quirky opinions about that.

    Kids with the "wrong" body type want to dance, vivacious children receive tough diagnoses, women desperate to be mothers suffer miscarriages—it's not always in our control. But how we find the courage to go after what we want, with the resources we were given, is the best use of creativity I can think of.

  15. Love the Mark Morris Dance Group because not only is his choreography and musicality superb, he picks all those great dancers with the "wrong" body type for ballet — and they are wonderful! The company is so joyful and liberating to watch.

  16. Agreed Susan, although Morris was the most trying interview I ever did in my 19 years as a dance critic. Like pulling teeth to get words from the man! He is well suited toward expressing himself through movement, lol.

    Many modern companies started embracing different body types through the years, including Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks, and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane. A favorite, used as inspiration in the book, was The Dance Exchange (out of D.C.) founded by Liz Lerman, which is intergenerational. Lovely, and so meaningful!

  17. Your book sounds like something I must read, for many reasons. (A niece was a professional dancer for a number of years, until she decided to go back to school. She still occasionally dances professionally, on vacations, etc.) Her mom is always recommending dance books to me - which are on my TBR pile at the moment. Now, however, I think I must begin reading them, along with your own book!

    And I just like the concept that we are all different sorts of people. For many years, I visited people in a nearby nursing home,as part of a church program. A frail looking, stooped over man suffering from dementia, who didn't recognize his grandson, was a former professional golfer. A man who had to use a wheelchair was once very active in the civil rights movement. Yet the people who worked there or visited friends and relatives there knew them only as nursing home residents.

  18. Your book sounds like something I must read, for many reasons. (A niece was a professional dancer for a number of years, until she decided to go back to school. She still occasionally dances professionally, on vacations, etc.) Her mom is always recommending dance books to me - which are on my TBR pile at the moment. Now, however, I think I must begin reading them, along with your own book!

    And I just like the concept that we are all different sorts of people. For many years, I visited people in a nearby nursing home,as part of a church program. A frail looking, stooped over man suffering from dementia, who didn't recognize his grandson, was a former professional golfer. A man who had to use a wheelchair was once very active in the civil rights movement. Yet the people who worked there or visited friends and relatives there knew them only as nursing home residents.

  19. Sorry for the double posting. Blogger told me it didn't go through the first time because of a Capcha error!

  20. HI Deb, thrilled to topple your TBR pile! :)

    I love your nursing home story. One of my first jobs was in a nursing home, and one of the residents was named Miss Koontz. Such a sad case—her eyes had been removed, her hands were clenched shut, incontinent, no teeth, didn't communicate. Couldn't walk. She never had visitors. All of her clothes had someone else's name crossed off on them. Most days I wondered why she was alive.

    Then one day, while I was feeding her, she started to murmur. I leaned in close and she started to tell me details about a BANK ROBBERY! And I though wow, who knows who is living in there?

  21. Hi Kathryn--So nice to have you here, and your book cover is fabulous! I'd pick it off the shelf knowing nothing about it. And a very intriguing premise, too.

    I love the idea that we are all made up of different people. I think most writers know this instinctively, but this is the first time I've heard it articulated so clearly.

    I am, just for starters; daughter, mother, wife, friend, writer, dreamer, reader, homebody, adventurous traveler, introverted, extroverted, Texan by birth, Brit by imagination--and I am, at least in some small part, all the characters I have ever written...

  22. Deborah, thanks so much. The designer of that fab cover is Eileen Carey at Sourcebooks—they do such wonderful covers.

    I love the inner you's, especially the "Brit by imagination"! I also love that you embrace both your introvert and extrovert selves, as do I. Those who see these descriptive terms as mutually exclusive miss out on a deeper understanding of self, in my opinion.

  23. Kathryn, I agree with others here that the cover of the book is amazing. I have a category on my Goodreads shelves for great covers, and this one will definitely be going there. Along with the clever cover, the title and description make The Art of Falling the newest addition to my TBR list.

    Kaye, you captured the magic of this blog in your statement about the wonderful surprises to be found here. And, I agree that my discovering Kathryn and her new book is a most delightful surprise.

    Susan, is there anything you haven't done? You just blow my mind with all your pre-author life careers, each so intriguing and requiring great talent. I am working my way toward blocking off a period of time to read your novels and catch up on what I know will be a favorite series. What an interesting life!

    Five characters. Wife, mother, grandmother, friend, reader, teacher, learner, traveler, dog lover, coffee addict, list maker, book reviewer. I should add boundary breaker, as I never could limit myself to a certain number of anything. My research paper for my Masters was 70 pages long instead of the required 30. Of course, you dear participants on this blog are familiar with my verbosity.

  24. Susan what a fun idea for a Goodreads shelf! My cover will be most proud to be displayed there, as well as in your TBR list!

    "Listmaker" doesn't surprise me, lol. This is a great list, and no wonder your thesis had to be so long, Susan, if all of your inner selves had to weigh in! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  25. Beautiful post, Kathryn. And along with all those versions of me I bring to the table - comes along the versions of the versions along the way.
    The daughter, self-absorbed, young and inexperienced with a blank life ahead to the older daughter, a caretaker, wiser and more compassionate.
    The mother, new and anxious and all consuming to the mother more flexible, able to let go when needed - and also find her own separateness.
    The artist, not fully formed, seeking a dream not outlined yet to the artist in full blossom embracing her talents.
    The wife, newlywed and idealistic to the wife who knows pain and defeat and the forging on to stronger bonds.
    The friend, nomadic and wild who runs away to the friend, stable and reliable who stays.
    The loner, embracing sadness and depression to the loner, embracing aloneness and all its gifts to return to the world of people and embrace them too.
    The survivor, who barely survives with defeat to the survivor who champions themselves on to a new stronger self ready for the next challenge, the next dream.

  26. Donna, wow, girl, that's one heap o' self awareness there! Awesome—the version of the versions—I'd like to say you sound more nuts than I am, but I think you've artfully shown what it is like to be an evolution in progress. Thank you so much for this comment.

    Authors: there are so many you's, and so many iterations of the same! Next time you have writer's block with one of them, call another forth!

  27. Kathy Reel, that is very kind. There's that side, but there's also the side where I ate a lot of spagetti-o's in tiny apartments, dated sociopathic men, and was a disappointment to my parents for not getting married and having kids...

  28. Susan, did you read Silent Dancer when you were a child? I think Jill Krementz took the photos.

    Kathryn, thank you for sharing the mystery of self-knowledge. I love dancing. I took ballet classes for another reason. Not all of us aspire to become ballernias. As a child, my doctor was worried about my balance due to my hearing loss. So they suggested that I take ballet classes to help me with my balance.

    I would describe myself as daughter, reader, writer, hopeful and optimistic.


  29. hmdt: The first time around I didn't take dance to be a ballerina either. My mother enrolled me. It seemed important to her that her children be able to converse about the arts—you know, at cocktail parties with the other doctors and lawyers—but then all five of us mortified her by falling in love with music, dance, visual or literary arts and living lives based on those passions.

    I'll never forget the time she told me, "All you kids work for non-profits! What's the matter with profit?"

    Sometimes one of my selves asks the same question...

  30. Hi, Kathryn. It's nice to know I'm not the only one with so many contradictory selves living inside of me. Some of my inner selves include: mom-of-four, daughter to an aging (but still sweet) mom, loner, people-person, mentor, student, go-getter, couch potato, vocal health advocate, major chocolate and caramel fan, list-maker, and procrastinator. I could go on and on (one of my selves is a talk-a-holic), but I think you get the idea.

    I can't wait to start reading your book! It's downstairs next to my comfy recliner.

  31. Hi Donna B, thanks for stopping by! I love picturing my book in your house. ;)

    One of my selves is an untiring misunderstander. I think that's why I'm a good freelance editor: if it can be misunderstood, I'll do it! For instance, are you an advocate for vocal health (my opera son would appreciate this) or a vocal advocate for health?

    I also thought that Major Chocolate (a man with a sweet mustache) and Caramel Fan (she's Chinese) would be nice character names in a kid's book. :) Either way, they combination of words have made me hungry. And I love go-getters—thanks for sharing some of your many selves here!

  32. Kathryn, your book sounds fantastic! I'll have to get a copy.

    Selves? Singer, writer, poet, fiber artist, mother, wife, survivor, Cherokee woman, Choctaw woman, Latina, Celt, sister, dreamer, organizer, feminist, teacher, victim, free spirit, activist, hippie, protector, academic, tomboy, earth mother, administrator, mystic, healer, gardener, cook, granddaughter. I've been and still am, somewhere inside, all of these things and more. I have a poem I wrote about it.


    I come from crocheted dishrags
    and hand-me-down clothes from cousins
    on the “good” side of the family.
    I come from canvas cotton sacks (200 pounds for an adult
    “but you’re a big girl now, eleven,
    you can pull enough cotton to fill that ol’ sack”),
    from Lifesavers and Nehi Orange
    and salty peanuts dropped into sweating-cold bottles of RC Cola
    and traded among us kids for back rubs
    when we couldn’t quite stand up straight after a day in the cotton rows.

    I come from the heady, dangerous ozone smell
    of summer thunderstorm nights
    when I walked alone across town
    to buy my mother’s cigarettes.
    I come from rain-soaked redbuds and lilacs and irises,
    from mesquite and cottonwoods,
    from beachfront bougainvillea and date palms.
    I come from drive-in movies and drunk fathers and mothers
    and singing in the church choir
    and stone-headed stubbornness.
    I come from Sequoiah and John Ross,
    from “Cielito Lindo” sung everywhere
    (I thought to me since it had my name in it),
    from driving out in the dark to see the desert bloom after a rain,
    from altruism and diabetes.

    I come from “get your nose out of that book”
    and “if it’d been a snake, it’d bit me”
    and Grandpa’s sermons in the pulpit on summer Sunday visits.
    I’m from the Great Smokies and Tahlequah and Broken Arrow,
    from Highland crofts and Dublin slums and England’s younger sons
    from San Diego and Coronado and El Cajon,
    I come from snobdodgers and frybread for breakfast
    and from fried chicken I helped kill and clean for Sunday dinner.
    I come from the month the money ran out,
    even my illegal paycheck from the drugstore after school,
    and the grocer wouldn’t give more credit,
    when some angel left a bushel basket of turnips on our kitchen doorstep.

    I come from Aunt Joan and Uncle Glyn on their dirt-poor farm
    who took us in on a moment’s notice, six kids deserted by both parents,
    and raised us with our four cousins
    in that house the size of my living room with never a cent or a thank-you.
    I come from those nights on the mattress on that kitchen floor,
    waking to take little ones to the outhouse in the dark,
    from cooking for harvest hands and combine crews
    while Aunt spent the day on the tractor with the men,
    from her dark Indian spitfire and his tall, Indian peace.

    I come from all the photos of us kids in places all over the country
    where Dad dragged us around like a tail behind him,
    from all the photos of the five babies after me
    and the photos of all of us with grandparents and cousins
    and my school photos from San Diego, Kenosha, Arlington,
    and so many others I don’t even remember,
    stored only in my brain, except for the handful
    Aunt Joan saved for me all those years until we found each other again
    when Uncle Glyn was dying in his quiet way
    and cousin Dickie’s abused son, raised by his grandparents,
    bussed and hitchhiked back from the Navy to sleep
    on the floor at the foot of Uncle’s bed like a faithful hound.

    I come from my grandmother’s Cherokee teaching stories and stubborn strength,
    from that grandfather’s wild goose chases and big dreams and fine talk,
    from my other grandmother’s domestic fussing and ambitious nurturing,
    from that grandfather’s preaching and Bible values,
    from my father’s hatred of his Indian half and tolerance toward everyone else,
    from his bright, inquiring mind, his hope for humanity, and his drunken violence,
    from my mother’s cold beauty and rewriting of the past,
    from the short tragedy of her life, and the strength with which she bore it.
    I come from a long line of male preachers and teachers, drinkers and dreamers,
    from conjure women, curanderas, women with the Sight,
    and women who survive and make do.
    I come from fallen gentry and half-breed hill trash, from parsonages and trailer courts.
    I contain all of these,
    and I choose,
    I say,
    who I will be.

  34. Wow Linda, you are one complex woman—I'm glad you get to choose. It's interesting to see the inner conflict some of those might create. It's quite a portrait of life and I'm glad to have read it.

  35. Wonderful discussion today--thanks to all of you Reds, and to Kathryn for showing us the way! that's a must-read book...

    Like Hank, I took dancing for years because that's what girls did. Tap and ballet--I never amounted to much, but then I never practiced either. I think the vertical jump theory could explain it:). the best part was the costumes we wore in recital--I sure wish I'd saved them. My mother sewed them all by hand as we didn't have the extra $ to pay to have them done. 3 girls each with 2 costumes, that's a lot of time at the sewing machine!

  36. Hi Lucy, the reason I can't type better is because I dropped the course in college because I spent all my time in the dance studio. The dancing years faded but I could have used typing every day of my life...

    I'm impressed by your mother's fortitude with all that puckered fabric the old tutus were made out of—that was dedication! Thanks for sharing.