Last month, we announced Kathryn Craft will be conducting one of the Friday half-day workshops to explore MAXIMIZING THE EMOTIONAL POTENTIAL OF YOUR NOVEL, and two additional working sessions on Saturday at the GLVWG WriteStuff Writers Conference™ , March 24 and 25, 2017.
GLVWG member, Tammy Burke, had the opportunity to interview Kathryn about her upcoming seminar at the conference.
What a delight that you’ll be at the 2017 GLVWG “Write Stuff” Conference as a presenter. You have been a motivating inspiration for GLVWG for many many years in various capacities. We’re happy to have you!
Kathryn Craft: Thanks Tammy! It will be so fun to be back home. I attended this conference every year straight from 2000-2012, when it was my honor to host my brand new agent on the agent panel, and then returned as a presenter in 2013. I’ve missed it.
Could you tell us a little bit about what got you into the writing world? Was it when you became a freelance dance critic for the Morning Call or was it before then? What was the spark?
Kathryn Craft: In 1983, when a company I was dancing with approached The Morning Call about a review, I learned they needed a dance critic. I wrote a sample review. The editor read it and said, “Don’t write in the first person because we don’t yet know who you are. Don’t say, ‘It seemed as if’—it weakens your writing. Don’t use more than five sentences per paragraph. Can you start this weekend?”
When you have an area of expertise and know how to string sentences together, it can sometimes be just that easy to get paid to write nonfiction.
Fifteen years later I entered the longest labor of my life when my family suffered the kind of tragedy that can make a novelist out of you: my first husband committed suicide after a day-long standoff on our idyllic little farm. In the years to come, it grew clear that for me, the medium of story would be crucial to finding hope within this darkest trial of my life.
I quickly met the first of many fiction-writing obstacles, and each came stamped with the word “humility.” I took a voluntary downgrade from the nominal pay of a dance critic and wrote fiction without pay for a decade. I learned that stringing lovely sentences was no longer enough. An informed opinion was no longer enough. Desire was not enough. I needed to make a substantial investment of time and money in a storytelling education. I quickly realized I could no longer go it alone, and came to my first GLVWG meeting in 2000.
Would you mind giving us a bit of a teaser about your Friday’s half day workshop “Maximizing the Emotional Potential of Your Novel?”
Kathryn Craft: Lifelong readers intuitively know a lot about writing. Like when to insert a dialogue beat, or a bit of backstory. Yet as writers it can take us a long time to figure out the most elusive aspect of effective fiction, which is creating an emotional bond between the reader and her proxy—your protagonist. The answer is not as easy as having an unlikable character save a puppy. With examples from effective passages in bestselling literature, we are going to identify many factors that contribute to this bond so that you have the tools to give your reader exactly what she came for: a full emotional ride.
Reading ‘The Far End of Happy,’ (a book I read straight through because I couldn’t put it down), and knowing that it’s based on your family’s experience, do you have any advice for others on 1) how to tap into and harvest sometimes overwhelmingly brutal emotions and 2) how to be brave enough to get them on the page without extra fluff around them?
Kathryn Craft: Thank you for your kind words, Tammy.
1) I have to admit, my draft was pretty superficial. Over the seventeen years prior to getting the contract for The Far End of Happy I’d verbally told the story of my first husband’s suicide standoff many times. Like a river taking its same, inevitable course, over time my story grew predictable, tumbling over obstacles so familiar their edges had smoothed. I learned where to pull back so as not to make my listener quite so uncomfortable. Where to breathe so I could make it through to the end without sobbing.
So while novelizing my experience, I wasn’t necessarily surprised to hear from my trusted first reader that I had skimmed over the emotional surface of the story. Her critique of the dark moment, in particular, reflected my worst fear: that I might default to this verbal telling mode and fail to use the full power of literature to evoke my characters’ experiences.
I almost let myself off the hook. I mean, who could blame me if I couldn’t bear to bathe in the blistering tar of memory? No one would. But my reader would not be served. Here were some of the ways I pushed through my own resistance to bring the story fully to life.
- I immersed myself in source materials (such as in-person interviews with people who knew my husband, news coverage, photos, journal entries, his suicide note) and listened to music that evoked that period in my life.
- I allowed setting to enhance meaning.
- I dug beneath the obvious (such as the horror that he had killed himself) until I found more revealing emotions (such as relief that this trial was over).
- I got creative with motifs (such as the color red) and the rhythm of sentences. Just as I clamped down on emotion in my verbal telling by controlling my breathing, I found I could let emotion fly by omitting punctuation and not allowing the reader a breath at all.
- I reviewed and tweaked emotional turning points so the reader could follow each phase of my protagonist’s inner journey.
2) For me, removing fluff is easy. I overwrite until I nail the essence of what I want to say and then pare down to the barest essentials. A critique partner with a brutal red pen can be quite handy at this point. I’m not a person who has trouble killing her darlings. A novel is comprised of many wonderful words, and the ones you take out will not be missed by a reader who never knew they were there.
What are you working on currently?
Kathryn Craft: Another psychological women’s fiction novel that will force a woman to confront her culpability for her husband’s shocking murder by the way she discounted her childhood friend who killed him. It is set in northern NY State, where my protagonist spent many happy summers with this friend, only her reckoning comes during a winter ice storm.
How would you say that networking within writing communities and volunteering your time and energy have helped you grow as a writer?
Kathryn Craft: Through the various positions I held on the GLVWG board (president, workshop chair, program chair) and for The Write Stuff (conference chair, publicity, agent & editor chair) I was able to build the programs that gave me the support and education I needed. I literally brought my teachers to me. Critiquing for fellow GLVWG writers led me to a career as a developmental editor that is now ten years old. I found mentors among the published authors in our community I hired as lecturers and workshop leaders. I got to know peers as we worked side-by-side, and our shared sweat and tears gave me an audience to cheer me on once I finally got an agent. I would have floundered on my own. And when I joined the Philadelphia Writers Conference board, where I serve for six years, my contacts expanded all the more. This is the very definition of building an author platform.
Both your books ‘The Art of Falling’ and ‘The Far End of Happy’ are great selections for Book Clubs and based on your website, book clubs can see if they can schedule a visit, either in person or via Skype, with you. Being able to interact with your readers has to be a delightful time for you. Any stories you’d like to share?
Kathryn Craft: Reader interaction is the very best, you’re right! The biggest surprise has been how often there is someone else in the room whose world has been rocked by suicide. Often they are the quiet one in the corner, pointed out to me only later by the book club host. At bookstores and libraries, people have held up the signing line because they simply had to tell me about a loss in their own family that they’ve never before spoken about, but they felt my talk gave them permission. I’ve even had people approach to tell me about their own suicide attempts, and how my books have brought a sense of understanding and hope. The first time that happened it gobsmacked me. All I could think to do was give the woman a hug and tell her she is living a story that is worthy.
Would you be able to give us a teaser about one of your Saturday’s sessions, ‘Engaging Backstory Techniques?’
Kathryn Craft: We’ve all had the experience: we are reading along and suddenly the story screeches to a halt while we are regaled with old news of a character’s youth. “She grew up next to a post office…” and now as a reader you are derailed by wondering what this has to do with the book’s premise. The reader will assume the post office was important, and when it isn’t, you feel cheated. This is one of those intuitive inclusions I spoke of earlier, but there is real craft behind what to include! We’ll look at how to determine relevancy, how to help the reader sustain interest from this departure from your story, and look at a variety of ways you can seamlessly interweave this all-important story element.
Out of curiosity, when you are not writing, what sort of books do you like to read?
Kathryn Craft: If I get to choose, it will be a literary bestseller, since reading “up” inspire me to write. But traditional publication is a game-changer as concerns reading. Now there are books to blurb, colleagues’ books to read and recommend, research books to read, comparable titles to read for marketing purposes, your next blurber to identify, contests to judge…the list is endless. I probably only choose 4-5 books per year, and they will probably be for my neighborhood book club.
I understand that you are a part of Tall Poppy Writers who seem like a collaborative bunch. Could you tell us a little more about it?
Kathryn Craft: The Tall Poppy Writers is yet one more writing community from which I benefit. This is a marketing cooperative of women writers who believe that we are stronger together. We are debuts and experienced bestsellers and everywhere in between, traditionally published in multiple genres at publishing houses of all sizes, so it is rare that one of us won’t know the answer to a question posed in our private Facebook group. We do in-person events, joint social media promotion, philanthropy for literacy causes that benefit girls and women, and have an online book club with frequent giveaways.
And last question, Kathryn… for an aspirating writer hoping some of the stardust from successful writers rub off on them through interaction, what advice would you give him or her?
Kathryn Craft: This is so darn easy people think it won’t work: support that writer whose stardust you seek. Go to their in-person events and introduce yourself and ask questions. Attend social media events such as Facebook book club events and do the same. Read their books and recommend them on Facebook, tagging their author page. Write an early review on Goodreads and copy it to Amazon on release day. Shout out the release. Share their Facebook posts and consistently retweet them. Stop short of downright stalking them, of course, but any of these measures constitutes a huge show of support. I have helped out my supporters in so many ways, from reading chapters to recommending them to my agent to RT-ing them when their big day comes. People notice when you do nice things for them and they won’t forget you.
Thank you taking time out for this interview. I look forward to seeing you at the conference!
Kathryn Craft: Look forward to seeing everyone soon!
Kathryn Craft writes stories that seek beauty and meaning at the edge of darkness. Rich with material for further thought or discussion, her novels make a great choice for book clubs.
Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, Kathryn served for more than a decade in a variety of positions on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, and volunteers as time allows with the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Kathryn also hosts writing retreats for women and speaks often about writing. She writes a monthly series, “Turning Whine into Gold,” at the Writers in the Storm blog, and freelances as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com. She is a proud member of the Tall Poppies Writers, a marketing cooperative of women’s fiction writers.
Kathryn is the author of two books, The Art of Falling (2014, Sourcebooks), and The Far End of Happy (2015, Sourcebooks).
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines and is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window. When not writing, she works in the social services field to help community member in-need, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a rapier fencing cadet and marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).