A Conversation with Kathryn
Q: What drew you to fiction after so many years in dance and as a dance critic?
Kathryn: During my first marriage, back when I was a dance critic, I was known for saying, “With so many real stories in the world to tell, why make one up?” Hardly an intro to a career as a novelist, right?
Then, s**t got real. My sons (8 and 10 at the time) and I lived through the unfolding drama of my husband’s suicide standoff against a massive police presence. What does a writer do with an experience like that? Well, if she wants to learn and grow and create meaning, she writes about it.
But what to write—nonfiction? Turns out, I didn’t want to cite statistics or convince or warn. I wanted to write to show how, in the face of one of the most unconscionable acts to be taken by someone who says they love you, the characters in this family sustained hope.
Life can seem random and chaotic. People come to fiction in search of a world ordered through consistent characterization. A carefully constructed story gives us a chance to point readers toward an equally true, yet better ending.
So, in the end, I wrote fiction.
Q: Your novels are informed by your own life experiences (your dance/choreography/critic career and your husband’s death by suicide), yet you succeed in ensuring that they do not feel autobiographical. Your characters are unique, and they own their experiences. How difficult was that, to draw so strongly from your own life, but remain true to the craft of fiction?
Kathryn: Thank you for these kind, very hard-won words!
How I did it is best exemplified by THE FAR END OF HAPPY, since that story was hung on the frame of my first husband’s suicide standoff. For each change away from “fact,” I had to ask myself, “How does this change improve the kind of story I want to tell?” For instance, my mom and dad were sequestered with me during the real-life standoff. It was comforting to see their faces that day, but they could have been framed pictures on the wall for all they did to impact the unfolding drama—that doesn’t fly in fiction. What characters could I create, that could better drive the narrative?
For the novel, I placed in the same room Ronnie, the wife whose self-actualization will cause her to leave her husband; her mother, with an unresolved past as concerns both suicide and elusive love; and a mother-in-law who judged worth through monetary value. I did this to show that the three women closest to Jeff didn’t really know him at all. They hadn’t seen the threat of suicide coming, and yet they were left behind to clean up the mess. Each of them also kept shameful secrets that blow up from the standoff’s tensions, exploring the very real phenomena of blame after a suicide.
Once I changed who Ronnie was with, I changed Ronnie, too, as she interacts with these characters. My sub-genre is called “psychological women’s fiction” and I pay close attention to the development of these relationship arcs.
Q: Do you have a favorite character or scene in either your novels? Could you tell us about it?
Kathryn: I still miss Marty Kandelbaum, the baker, whose car and doughnuts helped save Penelope Sparrow’s life. He believes in comfort food, love, and the unconditional support of and responsibility for people God has placed in his path, even when that becomes exceedingly difficult. His unexpected wisdom delighted me.
As for favorite scene, it has to be the dance that Penelope choreographs for her friend Angela in THE ART OF FALLING. In that one scene, I had to tap my experience as a dancer, choreographer, and dance critic.
Q: You spend a great deal of time giving back to the writing and reading communities. Why is this so important to you?
Kathryn: Because I believe:
The arts are crucial to our humanity.
Without volunteerism in the arts, the world would stop spinning and we’d all fly off.
If you want to live forever, mentor someone. They will never forget you.
Writers may write on their own, but they cannot be published, well, all on their own.
There is no better way to network (find critique partners, meet agents and editors, find published authors who might one day blurb your book) than to roll up your sleeves and volunteer.
So, I do!
Q: I understand you are working on a third novel. Can you tell us more about it and when we can expect to see it one the shelves?
Kathryn: I am not writing this one under contract, so I have no publication date, nor do I know if it will ever get published. (Ah, the vagaries of the writing life!) I do love it though and have been writing it for four years.
In the end, we all must write to please ourselves. Otherwise, writing novels is just too hard to be sustainable.
In its broadest sense, this next one is a story of a woman who seeks to reclaim her true nature after trauma, set within Nature’s own violent reclamation during a Northeastern ice storm. It is a love story grounded in place and belonging, in which trees play major characters.