Kathryn Craft writes stories that seek beauty and meaning at the edge of darkness. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, is now available. The Philadelphia dance world in which the story is set serves as a harsh microcosm of our society, with its celebrity-driven expectations of women’s bodies. Every page of the novel is infused with a dancer’s heightened awareness of the human body and its movement. As a former modern dancer, choreographer, and nineteen-year dance critic, Kathryn knows this world. Her interest in body image is personal and life-long but she researched the issue more academically while obtaining a masters in Health and Physical Education from Miami University, Ohio.
The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
Kathryn Craft: A dancer seeks beauty and meaning despite her body’s betrayal.
TPP: How has your life as a former dancer, choreographer, and critic influenced The Art of Falling? Are there any specific scenes in the novel that were directly or indirectly influenced by your former life?
KC: My background in dance primed my story mind for art. I think of sentences as impetus, pulse, destination. Tension on a page is like a diagonal pass across the stage—a longer path to get from back to front, yes, but one with shadows and partial truths, requiring twists to address the audience. And just as posed dancers never stop moving, but continue to channel energy through their muscles and beyond their fingertips, so a final, well-chosen word can resonate beyond the period at the end of the sentence and into the space beyond. My work as a dance critic not only influenced my ability to evoke movement through prose, but also informed my process by bestowing the patience I needed to fully develop this story before putting it into the world. Books can be re-read, and while I wanted to layer in the depth that would render a second read rewarding, I didn’t want to count on such diligence. In dance you have one chance to make a strong impression, and my developed critical skills encouraged me to continue making the infinitesimal small choices needed to improve the story until it caught the eye of an agent and publisher. The scene in the novel that most directly draws on all of my dance experience is at the end, when I choreographed a dance in my mind, entered my protagonist’s sensory experience while performing it, then stepped back to review it as a critic. That was fun!
TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
KC: That our individuality is a composite of mind, body, and spirit, and that sometimes one of those will create challenges for the other. But you need convince these aspects of self to play for the same team—a contest between them cannot be won, and will indeed hold you back. No matter the medium, we must be fearlessly, fiercely, and fully ourselves to make our truest and most valuable contributions to humankind.
TPP: If your book was made into a movie, who would play the main character? Why?
KC: Thanks for asking! I know I’m supposed to want a movie made of my novel, and therefore have an opinion, but I don’t. Because one of the novel’s themes concerns issues with body image, I never fully describe my protagonist, preferring instead to allow the reader to co-create Penelope Sparrow by inserting his or her own body bugaboos into the images I use. For example, her mother says she has “sturdy thighs” and “mambo hips”—I leave it to the reader to decide what that means, and whether her mother is an authority to be trusted. As the author I only see Penelope from the inside out—as a “confluence of muscle and sinew and bone made beautiful through [her] command of the oldest known language,” and as a creative spirit “hibernating in the darkness within” her, reaching “tentatively for the sun.” In the same way I could never have come up with the spectacular cover designed by Eileen Carey, I’m not the one to design a film look for Penelope Sparrow, or devise a way her body image issues could be portrayed. That will take a film artist with different sensibilities. (Hear that Hollywood? The challenge has been issued…)
TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve gotten while writing your novel?
KC: An early piece of advice I got was “story is conflict.” That is a partial truth that can delay the journey into the true heart of your novel with all sorts of irrelevant side-trips. “Story is a certain kind of conflict” is much closer. Organizing my story conflict around a specific premise sooner would have saved me a lot of time!