Please help me welcome Kathryn Craft as today’s Wednesday’s guest. She has a different kind of post for us today, a charming story from her childhood she calls, “Novelist in the Making”. So grab your beverage of choice, and a donut, and enjoy the story. When you are finished here, you might want to hop over to The Blood Red Pencil where I’ve shared a little fun from the comic strips.
In memory of my father, who did not live long enough to see me complete my journey to publication.
Sandy sits at the kitchen table with an impressive array of art supplies in front of her. I pull out a chair and sit down to watch.
“A long-range project. All the sixth graders have to do one.”
The way she says this burns me up. I am in fourth grade, and whatever she’s doing I could do too, I bet, but I have no idea what a long-range project is. So I say, “What is the objective?” (One of my spelling words, used in a sentence.)
She tells me she has to research a country and write a report about it. Here’s the best part: she must glue pictures onto construction paper and make the whole thing into a book. She has already colored in a map of Africa using Dad’s forbidden Prismacolor pencils.
Sandy picks up the scissors and starts to cut a picture from National Geographic.
“Dad is going to kill you for cutting that up.” National Geographic is a keeper. Ripping pictures from it would be like tearing a page from the dictionary. Even worse, she has torn off the covers.
“These aren’t Dad’s.”
So Sandy has her own source for National Geographics and gets to do a big project to impress her teacher and make a book and get attention from Dad?
I want in.
My father is not the type to leave love lying around the house where you might trip over it; you must rise to where he keeps it. I want to make that climb, so at dinner I always make sure I have something to report. “Daddy, I got the fastest time in the obstacle course.” I always scramble as fast as I can, as if he were cheering me on, and it hurts that he doesn’t acknowledge this achievement.
But Sandy has my father’s attention; she is talking about her long-range project. Jacquie is jiggling her leg until the whole table shakes because she wants more mashed potatoes and my mother is telling her she can’t have more until she eats her vegetables and Nancy is saying Jacquie can have her mashed potatoes. I don’t know it will suddenly get quiet as Sandy takes a bite of her meat, my mother wipes mashed potatoes out of Nancy’s hair, and Jacquie spits chewed vegetables into her napkin and I say, “DADDY, I GOT A 104% ON MY MATH TEST.”
“You don’t need to speak so loud, Kathy. I’m sitting right next to you.”
My cheeks burn. This is not how I hoped this would go.
So I have to do it.
“Guess what, Daddy?” I look at Sandy out of the corner of my eye. “Mrs. Arnold gave us a long-range project today. We have to research an African country and write about it and make a book.”
“But that’s the same assignment Sandy has. You’re only in fourth grade.”
“I know,” I say, rolling my eyes. “Can you believe how hard she makes us work?”
“Well, pick the Congo. You can use the same magazines I bought for Sandy.”
Sandy is looking at me as if she was the queen of the Congo, and I just invaded it.
“I already signed up for Tanzania.”
The next night Dad comes home from work with a stack of National Geographics—this time, for me. I savor every moment of this project. My father leans in close to show me how to make bar charts and I love that he shares his art supplies with me. When the magazines don’t have enough pictures of Tanzania for the scale of my project (I interpret “long-range” to mean I will be working on this a very long time, since, strictly speaking, I have no turn-in date), he goes out looking for more.
Finally he’s had enough and calls Mrs. Arnold to complain about the amount of work she’s asking me to do.
My long-range project came to an abrupt termination date. But he couldn’t exactly punish me for wanting to work too hard, could he?
Kathryn Craft applied this tenacity to the writing of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, (Sourcebooks) and a second novel, due out Spring 2015, based on true events of the standoff that resulted in her first husband’s suicide. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com follows a nineteen-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. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads writing workshops, and is a member of the Philly Liars Club.