I love introducing debut novelists at Women’s Fiction Writers! Not only is Kathryn Craft a debut novelist, but she lives in Pennsylvania not far from where I grew up. Isn’t it always fun to find out that you have something extra in common with other writers and readers besides the love of books? Today, Kathryn shares with us her true life and fictional coming-of-age story. Both are different than you might expect, and will grab your attention!
Please welcome Kathryn Craft to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Women’s Fiction and A Coming-Of-Age Tale
by Kathryn Craft
When I mention a “coming-of-age tale,” you might think of an aboriginal boy on a walkabout, or a teenage girl being introduced to polite society at her debut. Such events are considered rites of passage between childhood and adulthood.
My passage was longer and hazier. I’m a late bloomer—I didn’t really come into a full definition of self until I was past the hormonal frenzy that was falling in love, reproducing, and pleasing my husband. I tinkered in my professional life—home renovator, dance teacher, dance critic, desktop publisher. In life as in story, in order for me to set a new course it took extreme pressure—the suicide of my first husband, when I was 41.
Only in his sudden, violent absence did I realize how far I had stretched my own definition of self to compensate for his increasing depression and alcoholism. Already a writer, I knew story could serve not only as the path to my healing, but as the rite of passage I’d been seeking for so long. Within three years of his death I latched onto the most fiercely passionate goal of my life: becoming a published novelist. The chance to leave behind a story with a more hopeful ending than my husband’s—for my two sons, my extended family, and our community—became my calling.
Many types of forces can hold a woman back from coming into a true sense of self. With the protagonist in my debut, The Art of Falling, it’s because she grew up in the insular and demanding world of dance.
Once her mother saw Penelope Sparrow’s natural talent and great love for movement, she arranged the early, specialized training Penny would need to make her mark in this competitive world. By the time her body betrayed her at the age of fourteen, with widening hips and sprouting breasts, she was already eight years into what she anticipated would be a lifelong endeavor.
Her bodily changes mortified her. Choreographers loved the prepubescent Penelope Sparrow, but had no use for the womanly lumps and bumps that would detract from the aesthetic line they sought—and Penny’s private war with her body began.
Our full engagement with life requires that we face the fears that hold us back. In creating a twenty-eight-year-old character with the potential to self-destruct, and then watching her claw her way back onto life’s stage after miraculously surviving what should have been a deadly fall, I faced my own fears about death and defined what I wanted the rest of my life to stand for.
Penny must face the unexpressed fears that caused her food issues and imploded her most important relationships. In story, as in life, the only way to get to the light at the end of the tunnel is to tolerate its darkness, seeking what small moments of beauty and grace and hope that can sustain you along the way.
My own life is an adult coming-of age tale: this is my debut. I am 57, and my first novel releases today. Penny and I suspect we’ll find other women out there who have fallen, and failed, yet still yearn for passage into their rightful place in life’s great story.
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling (you can read an excerpt here) and While the Leaves Stood Still (due Spring 2015). Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she speaks often about writing, and blogs at the Blood-Red Pencil and Writers in the Storm.
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