The Sound Between the Notes is the story of a woman’s struggle with timeless questions — Who am I, and where do I belong? — told through the unique perspective of a musician. Described as “sensitive and astute” (Kirkus starred review), “a breathtaking emotional journey” (Readers Favorite review), and impossible to put down, The Sound Between the Notes is the story of an adoptee searching for what it means to be a daughter, a sister, a mother. Given an unexpected second chance with escalating stakes, Susannah struggles to fulfill her artistic passion while reconciling past and present and doing right by those she loves. Drop In with us to hear what Barbara Linn Probst has to say about resolving conflicting emotions, roles, and identities. And, to talk about her beautiful second novel!
Barbara Linn Probst is the author of Queen of the Owls, (April 2020), which was a medalist or finalist for seven major awards. Her second book, The Sound Between the Notes (April 2021), is the recipient of a starred Kirkus review, awarded only to books “of remarkable merit.” Barbara has a PhD in clinical social work, blogs or major writing sites, and is a serious amateur pianist. To learn more, please see barbaralinnprobst.com. And Drop In!Leave a comment for radio show guests
What’s the story behind the story? We’ll find out on Dropping In. Our guests are today’s original thinkers. Conversations that spark new ways of seeing what’s going on. We bring it all to the table. Diverse perspectives, controversy, loving and singular voices. Magically stories reveal the common threads that link us. Experience the joys, the fist pumps, the detours and the hard-won truths of those who blaze the trail so that we might do the same and now here’s your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In everyone. We’re coming up on the summer solstice and on Juneteenth tomorrow, the celebration of the emancipation of slavery. Summer is meant to be a carefree time but the issues below the surface are not. These complexities mirror the double-edged dilemmas that today’s guest Barbara Linn Probst examines in her book The Sound Between the Notes. There are marital troubles, relationship questions, identity issues with finding biological family, a mysterious medical crisis, the potential for a soaring music career that threatens domestic commitments and dichotomies abound. Here to talk about them is Barbara Linn Probst. Welcome Barbara.
Barbara: Oh thank you so much Diane. I’m really excited to be here today. Just listening to your intro makes me realize how much really, there is in the book when you get close to it sometimes you just, it’s interesting to hear someone else summarize it so beautifully.
Diane: Well thank you. I mean I enjoyed it. It’s interesting to telescope back. There are these double-edged swords. Nothing is as it seems. We meet Susannah and her beautiful family Aaron, her husband and her son. They are picture perfect. They’re living on the Hudson River. She is an accomplished pianist. I know that you are, you call yourself an amateur pianist. I wondered what is the interface for you between the creative arts and your storytelling. Your first book Queen of the Owls was an investigation into a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. I noticed that in The Silence Between the Notes there was a Georgia O’Keeffe cityscape. We spotted that but I mean how is it that you pick these creative arts, visual painting or performance in piano playing as metaphors to get your stories across.
Barbara: Well there’s about five wonderful questions in there. I also have to say thank you for spotting that little secret message I left, the little breadcrumb of the O’Keefe painting. I do feel that I have this, I’ve developed this interest in using art as a frame for storytelling because there’s so much in art that can move us, transform us and teach us. With Queen of the Owls, I’m not an artist. I didn’t know very much at all about O’Keeffe until I started researching her for the story. The more I learned about her the more the story took shape.
Now for The Sound Between the Notes, it’s a bit different and first of all the secret here is that I wrote this book first but it wasn’t right. I was going to publish it first and I pulled it because I knew that there was something, well people had also told me but I knew there was something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what it was. I set it aside and I wrote a whole other book which is Queen of the Owls. Once you have turned your manuscript in there’s a long period before it finally appears in a bookstore as an object called a book. During that time I had kind of ramped up my piano study and I went to a summer intensive for adult pianist. I had this epiphany that my teachers there were so generous, so full of joy and love and wanting nothing but to help us become better musicians.
Suddenly, I can still remember walking down the street and realizing that I had made Susannah way too angry and bitter and resentful. You can’t be like that and play Chopin and Brahms the way she played them. I suddenly saw what was wrong with the book and I went and I did one more revision. I like to say that I did not have to become a better writer. I had to become a better musician in order to make this book what it needed to be. There’s a very direct relationship and then during the course of the insanity of book launches and stuff I found it very restorative to go to the piano because it’s a place that’s not based on language, on words. It calls for a different kind of listening, serving the music, being there with your mind and your heart and your body. It was just really very essential for my well-being.
I put all that of course into Susannah as well. While I’m not nearly as good as she is there’s no way I could have written that book if I hadn’t played. Here’s one more little special fact is that from reading it Diane that it’s framed around a particular Schubert Sonata which was written when he knew he was dying at age 33 I think. It’s an incredible sonata. Now it’s too hard for me but I vowed and I did, I learned the second movement which is the slower more contemplative movement. It’s just technically it’s the least difficult of them all although in terms of expression it’s very difficult. Anyway I felt I really couldn’t, didn’t have the right to publish this book until I had learned part of the sonata so I did that.
Diane: That’s interesting. I mean I think there’s an authenticity there and many people don’t realize the gestation period with books that they don’t magically appear overnight. Even though these realms, the realm of concert piano playing, the realm of painting at the level of Georgia O’Keeffe that’s kind of like not my reality. It’s not my daily life but the cool thing about The Sound Between the Notes is that you can read the book and get the same kind of resonance. Get the same kind of sensation of almost transporting yourself, healing yourself in a way coming out of Covid this this idea that how do we process all of this.
I mean there are times in the book where it’s so rhapsodic, the description that first of all I knew you must be playing it somehow and secondly that we get to feel all that vibration. I think it really is a great act of expressiveness and just so listeners know Barbara Linn Probst has a PhD in clinical psychology, a clinical social work right Barbara? You had a day job. You had a career prior to the development of yourself as an author. I wondered if this balance that Susannah is tipping this precarious balance. She wants to revive this concert piano career. She gets the opportunity to do it miraculously after raising her son for I think he’s 16. He’s just getting his learner’s permit. She goes back to the keyboard because she’s invited to be a concert soloist with this Schubert Concerto.
You then you know take her almost to the precipice of A, almost losing her mind and B, threatening the well-being of her household because she forgets kind of crucial elements. The cat gets let out. He’s gone. He doesn’t come back. Oh my God like the basic things. She doesn’t make it to the basketball game of her son. There’s like a lot of stuff that starts to fray and fall apart at the edges. I wondered if that too was a phenomenon that you became familiar with through your writing career which is very demanding and time absorptive. How did it affect the balance in your domestic life?
Barbara: Well again you ask such wonderfully rich questions. I would start first to the first part of what you were saying that I do want to make the point that it’s so true that a book like this it teaches, lets us into a world that we may not know for example the world of a musician. You don’t have to be a musician to read the book. We like books that show us something. It’s not part of our ordinary lives. At the same time there’s something universal. The conflicts, she feels between wanting to do right by those she loves and wanting to do right by herself to fulfill herself, the conflicted loyalties, the competing roles. All of that is something that is all of us can relate to.
There is this kind of wonderful thing about writing where you capture the universal or the general within the specific. The story embedded in the world of the musician and that definitely is something that interests me very much. I do think that women in particular struggle with this question of balancing their not just obligation but their wish, their feeling for the different parts of our lives and sometimes we go farther in one direction than we realize. There’s a cost. There’s always and you can never go back all the way either. It’s another thing like this idea of healing a broken family or healing a broken finger. You have to find a new way to go forward.
All of that as you say this psychology I do feel very fortunate that my training, I was a therapist, was a researcher I think has given me a lot of I want to say compassion of how profound it is just to be a human being how people really do struggle with these two forces of caring for other and caring for self. That has a lot of meaning for me absolutely.
Diane: I think that you brought to the table such a lot of insight because of your experience and you’re going into other people’s shoes through your work. Really tapping in to write that every day vibe of how does this affect this balance of roles. You talk about the cost. There’s always a cost. There’s always a consequence. We think we can have it all. We think we can juggle all these responsibilities. Something’s got to give. Something does give. I think the fact that you talk, you mentioned earlier that Susannah had to become less angry. In some ways she took responsibility for her piano career. She was studying with Vera, the archangel, the kind of mother figure to Susannah who had a variety of mothers because she was adopted. I didn’t say that lightly. As an adoptee, I understand that but I just want to make the point that Susannah was a woman who decided I want to be there for Jacob, my son. I want to be there for him as a kind of mother that I didn’t really have.
When you look at a newborn and you invariably make those promises that are deep in your plasma I will always be there for you. It’s something transcendent. She didn’t get deferred from her career because somebody made her do that. She did exactly because she had a very deep, deep, deep commitment. I thought you captured that beautifully. I wondered when you developed this character and so therefore she couldn’t be really angry at anybody. That I think that was why she’s so believable. We make these choices and we live with them. As an author you did just an exquisite job.
I do wonder about Susannah though. She has a double life right. She starts to create a double life when she wants to go back out into the world. She can’t figure out how to finance it because she’s going to have to rent a piano. She’s going to have to get a gown. She’s going to be on the stage. Lots of things are not quite fitting into the old paradigm let’s say. I wondered about the concept of a double life. It’s of course so intriguing and fascinating. Also in Queen of the Owls she had a double life. What about this is fascinating to you? What interests you about this and do you think we all have this?
Diane: That’s an interesting way to put it. I mean I think in The Sound Between the Notes she was hiding things from her husband because she didn’t really quite want him to know what she was up to unless she was going to bring home a great big success. Definitely something hidden and her search for her birth family also had the quality of trying to uncover what was hidden.
Now that you mention it in Queen of the Owls again this idea of being hidden and exposed being revealed, the trauma or the crisis in that book was when the nude photos she had posed for that she thought were going to be kept private were made public. Again do I and she had to choose to be at that point there’s a critical moment in the book when she realizes that she doesn’t have to take them down? She can choose to reveal herself. I didn’t think of it as double but what I see that in both books there is this decision to be seen or to be heard, to be known rather than to hide. Again in The Sound Between the Notes there’s also her ultimate embrace of the biological sister. When she says there’s room for both kinds of music in the world. It’s not a matter of either or. I can be part of both families. I can accept that that I have two heritages which is something that is very close to me.
As an adoptive mother in one of my children it was really much less open but in the other child I had to embrace the reality and the role and the importance of this other factor, this other legacy that my child had received. There is something about opening to more that I think is really strong, very profound for me personally that the parts that we’ve ignored, the parts we’ve denied. I mean this would be simplistic but I will say that in Queen of the Owls Elizabeth wants to be seen. In The Sound Between the Notes Susannah wants to be heard. She talks about how you can’t just play for yourself. You have to play for others. You have to be heard and then the sound gets bigger and returns to you from the energy of the listener. These are the kinds of things that get me excited.
Diane: Totally and I think for a lot of women you talk about overcoming like in a kind of an erasure where we erase ourselves. We are not heard because we don’t speak or we haven’t figured out how to speak, what to say, what to do. When that happens we’re not practiced at it. Fortunately Susannah is practiced and accomplished but I love the idea of what you’re talking about just opening up like how do you open up. How do you open up at a point in your life before it’s too late? Not many of us are going to have nude photographs seen of us in a gallery wall but it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to be seen.
Barbara: Thank goodness in my case.
Diane: I think you’re really on to something and I really think you’re on to something, a phenomenon that has a lot of momentum behind it. It’s really almost feels like acknowledgement to. We have to pause for a break believe it or not already but I love talking to you about the conversation around success and acknowledgement and what it is and what it all means. We’re going to take a break here but we’re going to come back and talk more with Barbara Linn Probst, author of The Sound Between the Notes.
Become our friend on Facebook. Post your thoughts about our shows and network on our timeline. Visit facebook.com/VoiceAmerica.
She Writes Press is an independent publishing company founded for women writers everywhere. Together with sister company Spark Press serving men and women, it is both mission driven and community oriented. The aim is to serve writers who wish to maintain greater ownership and control of their projects while getting the highest quality editorial help possible, traditional distribution and an in-house marketing and publicity team. In 2019 She Writes Press was named Indie Publisher of the Year. You can find out more on shewritespress.com.
Stimulating talk, it gets those synapses in the brains firing really fast all the time. The number one internet talk station where your opinion counts voiceamerica.com
Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Barbara Linn Probst author of The Sound Between the Notes. We’re introduced to the characters Susannah and her family. Susannah has no shortage of troubles Barbara. Whenever I delve into a book that has lots and lots of suspense these troubles just seem to mount and mount and mount and yet the bubble that she’s in, this beautiful suburban environment somehow remains intact. The question is always is this bubble going to burst. She is a pianist as we talked about Susannah and she develops the Dupuytren’s Contraction Syndrome. This is a medical condition. It’s so interesting that you brought this to light. A family friend just had surgery for it. It’s a common ailment so but it’s another metaphor right Barbara. Like a contraction, like a kind of paralysis. How did you come to land on Dupytren’s Contraction?
Barbara: I’m going to go back before I answer that one of the sources of this book was I had begun studying piano more seriously. I got a much better teacher and so forth. I was just really getting into it. I remember this one day I was in the bathroom reaching for I don’t know my toothbrush or hair brush or something, reaching to the cabinet and I felt that my hand felt very tight. Something didn’t feel right. I remember thinking oh no not now of all times. Now I’m not a concert pianist and I don’t have a disease but I remember that feeling. Then as I was working on the book I wanted to find a connection between the element of her being an adoptee and having a biological family, things coming to her through heredity.
Then the other aspect of being a musician who has an unexpected second chance to evolve into a higher tier of performance. I had to find a hereditary disease that would be devastating for a pianist. I did what we do. I just googled hereditary disease of the hand. Up popped Dupuytren’s Contraction. I began to learn about it and this was really interesting. I found that there was or there is a world renowned concert pianist named Misha Dichter who had Dupuytren’s and has surgery and everything. Anyway so I reached out to his agent, wrote an email, etc. what if I could ask a few questions of Mr. Dichter. I gave him my phone number so then the next day the phone rings. I pick it up and it says hello this is Misha Dichter. He was so gracious and generous told me his whole story. I was able to get a first-hand insight into an actual pianist who had had this.
Now in Susannah’s case she’s caught it much, much earlier. She has to make some decisions about and we don’t know if she’s overreacting but she doesn’t want to take any chances. Because her husband is a scientist he thinks he knows best and this is one of the sources of their rift that she’s stepping outside the role by making, he’s in charge of science. She’s in charge of beauty. She’s poaching on his turf. What happens often in writing is one thing then begins to lead you into other connections and interweaving that actually enrich and thicken the fabric of the book. That ended up being just the absolute perfect physical threat because many things threaten her. When you have stakes, what’s at stake is this a chance to be the self that she didn’t get to be. Then the bigger the stakes the bigger the threats have to be but all that really came together kind of magically for me I have to say.
Diane: Well there is an alchemy and I think you’ve touched on it. You went intuitively towards something. Well first you did your research on google and that’s the beginning of everything but you followed your intuition. I think you gave the character something that she would logically, realistically be absolutely panic stricken about. Then of course it does have a genetic element to it. Her newly found sister you alluded to earlier who is also a dichotomy because she is also a musician but she’s a country and western singer. There’s that kind of like impresario like that kind of snobbish oh my god my sister is wearing fringe. She’s on a stage and she’s in a place where people only drink beer but Susannah needs that. She needs to find that other self. She needs to find that anchor that’s going to tether her to a reality that she hasn’t really known. Go ahead.
Barbara: I’m sorry. I was just going to say the other thing that plays into all this too is that one of, we all have a certain myth that we tell ourselves. I mean it can be called the wound or the misbelief. Different writing gurus call it different things but in Susannah’s case it’s this whole thing about being chosen. She feels as an adoptee that she was not chosen by her birth mother even though there’s her adoptive mother tells this whole chosen baby story which is that’s a whole other conversation but the sense that we chose you. The sister represents someone who was chosen. Everybody wanted her. Why didn’t you want me? She wants to be chosen as the soloist and all of these things. The embracing of the sister is the rejection of the myth that you have to choose one or the other. You can have both families. Your adoptive parents who raised you and you love, your birth parents who you didn’t know but really meant the best for you. Both kinds of music so this is like a huge theme for her.
Diane: I thank you very much for enlightening us on that because it is the dissolution of the myth and the disillusion of none and of binary world views. It’s either or. It’s either success or family. It’s either love or money or these things that drive us crazy. Things that like chosen, not chosen. Maybe there’s a whole nuance that we don’t know anything about that really bears investigating. I think the other thing that you really have talked about is the idea of performance and how Susannah she kind of defines herself by this skill that she has, this extraordinary skill as a pianist. She feels that somehow this is why her husband loves her.
I’m a little sketchy on that but it’s rings so true to me that an adoptee might have a lacking sense of self-worth and that in order to be valued as a person you have to perform like Greg Louganis, the Olympic diver from many years back. I said that like I just had to perform at such a level to accept myself as being worthy. I drove myself to this incredible position. You name tons of adoptees that really are incredibly performance driven Steven Jobs, the list goes on but I did wonder it really seemed to me that Aaron, the husband he had other dimensions didn’t he? He was trying to express his love for her by giving her advice and mansplaining over her instinct. Is there a dichotomy there between her instinct and this sort of rational side that he represents?
Barbara: It’s interesting. He was the last character to really fall into place for me. There were some of them like Vera and Jimmy Ray and Barrow and Hollis that just appeared full blown, easy. I just saw them. I just knew them. Aaron was the last one for me. It was just what you’re speaking about. I didn’t feel what drove him. I didn’t feel the part of him that I could, the tender part that would touch me until I realized and I put that insight into Susannah of course that he was trying in the best way he knew to express his love. It wasn’t control. It was just trying to I know this stuff. Let me fix it. Let me do it. Let me solve the problem. That was his way.
If she took that away from him he was terrified that he was no longer needed. That was really the last bit that brought the book together for me was understanding what drove Aaron and that it’s not as boring as science versus art or controlling husband versus wife who wants to be liberated. Everyone in the book is trying to do right as they understand it. That for me was a very profound thing that the book taught me that really there’s no villains in there.
The other thing I wanted to say just to ping back to this performance notion that you raised is that another insight that came to me late in the revision process was that Susannah’s style of playing was solo. There’s a very famous female pianist South American named Martha Argerich and at a certain point in her career she refused to do solos. She only would do ensemble because she said it’s too lonely on the stage by myself. It just wasn’t as interesting to play alone. For Susannah to open up that she can perform. She hasn’t done it yet but she opens the possibility of even playing with her sister, jamming with her sister. That to play with others is to make a common music that isn’t just about me but we can join. That is I think something that is ahead for her. I just kind of wanted to add that as well.
Diane: Beautiful. I think that it’s symbolic because Susannah is somewhat isolated from the get-go. We don’t need a lot of her friends if any. She’s got Vera because she’s on this professional let’s say performance track. I love this description of the solo pianist. On stage there’s acres of space around them. There’s nothing there. They’re completely in the shaft of the light. There’s nobody else around. When I think about it in terms of maybe it’s amplified by Covid. There’s just something about that that is like wow, I think I’d be scared. It’s so stark. It’s so yes not symphonic, not synchronistic with others. I love the idea that Susannah may have a future. We’re certainly going to inquire about that but the language of love that you mentioned from Aaron.
I don’t want to lose that point because he’s trying to help her fix the Dupuytren’s syndrome that she has. That fixing she resents. I think what you touched on the revelation of that realizing his tenderness in that. It really is so close to home Barbara. It’s something that all of us in marriages experience. Why is this person telling me this? Why are they trying to control my choices? Why are they trying to fix things all the time? I just want them to listen. To me it resonates so intimately with daily life in just about every issue that comes up. If we could take that pause and really stand back and say wait a minute where is this coming from. We might come back to a place of love much sooner. Then I have to go back to the question. Is there a future for Susannah? What’s percolating in your mind as an author for these characters?
Barbara: Oh no. I didn’t mean to imply that. I have the new book that that I’ve written, when I say I’ve written it takes me a bazillion revisions to get it to where I feel I’m going to give it out in the world but I have a third book and it’s completely different characters, completely different everything. I have no interest in writing a sequel. I like the feeling for the reader that the character will continue to have a life after the last page that there’s something a little bit open-ended. We know that in the end of this book we don’t know exactly what her father’s situation is going to be. He’s clearly got some early signs of dementia. We don’t know how James is going to kind of emerge from the trauma that he had although he’s a pretty down-to-earth kid. I feel certain he will. We don’t know what relationship Susannah will have with her long-lost sister. We don’t know whether the Dupuytrens will come back. We don’t know all of these things and I kind of like that in a book because I don’t know if you’re like this Diane but when I finished a really wonderful book I’m so sad to think that the characters are no longer with me. If I can imagine them living on it’s sort of nice.
Diane: It’s very nice.
Barbara: You don’t want to tie everything up in a kind of too aptly.
Diane: Nice into bows. Well life isn’t like that but I think more essentially is what you’re saying like when the movie ends or the book ends and anything that you get emotionally involved in like you do with these characters. That they have a life that continues beyond you. You’ve just gotten a glimpse. We’ve dropped in. We’ve seen a glimpse of these characters James is the correct name for son. That we see them and then when the story ends they go on. I do think you’ve tapped into something that is really essential about reading that these are real characters. They exist without us. They’re going to exist after we close the book.
Barbara: I always feel that it’s also like using your character wanting to like shake you and say you’re not getting me right. Why aren’t you listening to what I want you to do? Like you have to really, you’re at the service of your characters and get to know them more deeply. I think there’s all kinds of wonderful exercises for that but there is a point in writing a book for each character except some of the minor ones that again as I said they seem to come to me pretty fully formed but with the main characters there’s always a point when I, as an author have a breakthrough and I suddenly know my character better. I kind of love that.
Diane: You do carry these characters along in your mind’s eye as you’re living day to day, making the coffee, taking the kids somewhere, meeting your husband, your children may be older now but while you’re carrying out all of our daily routines. You’ve got a story in your mind. I’m very happy to hear there’s a third book. I think you’re creating a real fan base here. I know She Writes Press has published these two books. They’re both beautiful. I want to talk to you some more about how these stories continue with us. Yes, definitely that but also the role of perfectionism, the role of being satisfied, accepting ourselves in life, how that becomes easier or harder depending and what these characters might have to teach us. It’s really a thrill to go on this ride with you Barbara Linn Probst. We’re going to take a break but when we come back we’ll continue the conversation here on Dropping In.
Voice America is on your favorite smart speaker. If you have Alexa or Google Home go ahead and give us a try. Hey Alexa play Finding Your Frequency Podcast on TuneIn.
Books Forward exemplifies excellence in book marketing and promotion representing New York Times bestsellers, national award winning books and books that catch fire on social media and in the digital realm. Books Forward creates ambitious campaigns with unlimited possibilities for sparking buds while creatively cutting through the noise. Your book deserves to launch with experts who have set the bar in the industry. To learn more visit booksforward.com or send us an email at email@example.com, a JKS communications company.
Streaming live, the leader in internet talk radio voiceamerica.com.
Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with the amazing author Barbara Linn Probst. She’s written the book The Sound Between the Notes as in music as in Mozart as in maybe Barbara, the resounding silence of a mother that you never knew, a story that wasn’t filled in but also the idea of music happening in a kind of an amalgam as in a kind of alchemy between the music and the listener. As you said here’s Susannah. She doesn’t want to hold back anymore. She wants to be heard. She wants to be heard on the large stage in the big scale, in the big time and she’s going to go for it. That’s such a quandary for women sometimes. I think there was a real sense of that in the book. What are your views on this kind of quandary and us holding ourselves back?
Barbara: There’s two parts to what I want to say I think. First, just the sound between the notes is an interesting concept. Mozart said that the music is not in the notes but in the space between them. Maya Angelou talked about crawling into the silence between the notes. This idea that there is something, the sound, there’s something between the obvious points in our lives let’s say. There’s something else if you slow down, you go deeper, quieter, however you want to put it you can hear the other things that may have, that you might not have heard. There’s something kind of wonderful to me about that.
For sure now I’m going to have I’ve already just lost my other thread of what I was going to say to your question about going public. Was that kind of like
Giving yourself to the world right?
Diane: We can also follow what you just said because I also think that that’s brilliant. There’s a lot to it. I just came across something the author PL Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins series. She talks about just going into nothingness like really that’s where you find things. That kind of recalls like meditation. It recalls like going into silence where you really find the treasures, really find the things that are going to sparkle in your life. She creates Mary Poppins who’s into the occult. She’s into but any case she’s not going to be repressed. She is an irrepressible character. Susannah in the same way has this kind of heartbeat. She wants to live large. She wants to live larger. She doesn’t know if that’s going to mean losing everything and everyone she holds dear.
Barbara: It’s also very interesting to bring this now to I think what you were originally asking me about a creative life in this case as a writer. There are people who say that you write for yourself. It doesn’t matter if anybody ever reads it or likes it or reviews it or buys it or whatever. You’re really doing it for yourself and that’s the point of view. There’s then of course the tree that falls in the forest is nobody hears it but I think that there is something about giving your sound or your words or your vision, putting it out in public into the world that changes it and changes you. Because if you keep your manuscript in your desk drawer well you’re very safe and it’s fine but there’s a risk putting it out. You have to have a lot of drive and determination, perseverance, a strong ego, in a way a strong sense of self to go do that but it’s also, it’s not just ego. There’s also a kind of wish to connect, to give something, to contribute.
When I get an email from somebody saying oh, I loved your book. It meant much to me and to helped me with this, that or the other. It really makes it all worthwhile. I will tell you a story here that’s about Queen of the Owls actually. It’s under the category of you never know that there’s scenes in that book where she’s examining. She takes her blouse off and she’s looking at herself in the mirror and all that. I had a woman write to me and say that she was always very uncomfortable with the idea of anything to do with like women’s breasts but she knew she was supposed to do self-exam. She never did it. Reading my book made her do the breast self-exam and she found a lump. Got treatment, is alive. I just say that when you give your book into the world you never know and so there’s something about this sort of generosity which for a performer like Susannah or as a writer to publish. I think it’s really important.
Diane: Absolutely. I think that’s such a stirring profound story and comment from you. You’ve also in addition to connecting very personally with people through your book, through your writing. I think it is a non-ego sense. You talk about it as an offering in your acknowledgements. It’s something you offer. That’s very different than saying here I am. Here’s what I’m saying. It’s very different. Barbara, you have gotten a lot of accolades for this book The Sounds Between the Notes. You’ve got a Kirkus Star review. You’ve gotten a lot of praise and notoriety for it but I also think that you have offered something of yourself that’s almost selfless. It’s almost that risk-taking of turning yourself inside out.
Barbara: It is just an endless dilemma because this promotion requires look at me, look at me. I struggle with this every day. It’s really hard and in fact just speaking totally candidly having launched two books within 364 days because they were a day apart. Then just non-stop of all of this. This is my last event for the summer. I really need to replenish inside. It’s a real struggle. I don’t know how others deal with it but it’s a really, I don’t know. Maybe I should think of it more as a dance rather than a struggle. Maybe that would help.
Diane: You’re very authentic. It’s not like you’re just saying lightly okay well, I learned writing in sixth grade and now here I am. No, you’re telling a different story. You’re telling a much more internal story, a much more personal story, a much more complicated story, a more complex inner weaving of our own personal struggles and how we deal with them. It is a lot of exposure. I don’t get that we’re endlessly extroverts either to recharge. How we’ll go about that this summer, how will you spend some time and how will you recharge?
Barbara: I live in a very secluded area which is really nice. I do a lot of walking and we still be swimming and there’ll be gardening and all of that stuff, some travel in all of that. There was some oh my gosh my other thought just flew right out the window. That’s all right.
Diane: I’m so glad that you’ve made time for us as your last promotion. I’m sure promotion is an agony but I’ve certainly enjoyed our conversation.
Barbara: The other thing I would just add to that is that in in publishing really two books during a pandemic. At first there was this oh my gosh, how can I sort of self-promote, when there’s so much terrible, too many terrible things happening in the world. People dying and of course this is the whole time of well so many things were going on anyway. Let’s put it this way. You really kind of accept that people have always turned to stories as a way to heal and be inspired and find new insight and common ground. I mean stories have always done that for us. I think that for me it’s about holding that duality. Just we talked earlier about non-binary thinking that yes, I want my book to sell. I want people to buy. I want people to review it because that’s yes but it also could maybe be helpful. It’s okay to say I’d like you to buy my book. It’s okay. I don’t have to apologize because the book might actually be meaningful to people. I think maybe that’s it for me a kind of a journey of acceptance as a writer.
My last thing, we’re probably out of time is for the third book the very magical thing about this one for me is that my character taught me something that I didn’t know when I started the book. There’s that too where we benefit as human beings from our own stories which is kind of the new dimension opening for me.
Diane: You’re pulling threads out of yourself. You’re pulling something. It’s so cool. You’re helping yourself and in the process helping others who sometimes these journeys are so far undocumented. You’re documenting a different journey.
Barbara: Oh I think I know what I was going to say before is that when you write a novel people have always asked well are you really Elizabeth or are you really Susannah? You draw on your own experience for sure. Emotionally there are many things in books, these books that are directly from my own lived experience but they are re-embodied in fictitious situations, fictitious characters. I don’t have to have posed nude to be able to write about feeling of being exposed beyond my comfort level for example. In The Sound Between the Notes when her birth father rejects her in such a devastating way. I didn’t have a birth father. My father never did that to me but I know what it feels like to be utterly rejected. We all do. Your characters are you but they’re you in a new body.
Diane: That’s so cool. You have captured it. I can tell you that the dialogue rings true. It’s authentic. For those of us who are adopted and have reconnected with biological family. It all rang true. There were no false notes in The Sound Between the Notes.
Barbara: I have to say Diane, sorry The Sound Between the Notes.
Diane: The Sound Between the Notes. I’m so sorry. I went into another sort of the word eluded me The Sound Between the Notes. It’s been a pleasure, deep pleasure speaking with you today Barbara Linn Probst and we are out of time but I want to thank you very much.
Barbara: Well thank you for having me Diane. It was a totally, totally enjoyable hour. Flew past.
Diane: Great, I’m glad and enjoy your recharge. Thank you so much to our engineers Matt Weidner and Aaron Keller, to our executive producer Robert Giolino and most of all to you our listeners. Remember to stay safe and that sometimes to get ahead you have to step out of line. Till next week thank you for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.