Three Questions and a Cover — a short interview with one of my favorite authors, along with one of the author’s covers
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Have you ever wondered where the idea for a book comes from? Barbara Linn Probst has an answer.
Where did you get the idea for your book?
I’ve been asked that question many times about Queen of the Owls, my debut novel, and I’ve responded in various ways. Mostly, I say it was a combination of things. Some had been simmering below the surface for a long time, others were new, and they all came together in one of those magical convergences.
The memory of a painful adolescent moment, when my heartthrob Bill Kingery dismissed me with the words, “Barbara? Oh, she’s a brain.” An event in the news about a teacher who’d been fired because a topless selfie went viral. A discarded scene from an old manuscript.
An intriguing what if ….
Looking back, the connection among those elements seems pretty obvious, since they all became part of Queen of the Owls. Yet I didn’t consciously sift through memories and news stories and imaginative riffs, and then pluck the ones that could work together to shape a novel. The process was much more subconscious—a kind of inner relaxation, the intelligent working of the intuitive mind. Trying really, really hard to come up with an idea for a novel just doesn’t seem to work—not for me, anyway. I’ve never responded to writing prompts, suggestions from others, or techniques designed to ignite that spark.
But here’s the amazing discovery I made about the true source of Queen of the Owls. It happened after the book was written, revised, printed, and waiting in the warehouse for distribution.
I was getting ready for a Facebook author interview in advance of the book’s release, when it struck me that it would be fun to sit with my Georgia O’Keeffe poster on the wall, as background for the interview. It’s a poster I’ve had for years, her glorious 1927 Red Poppy.
I spoke about many things during the hour, including that seventh-grade crush who dismissed me as a “brain.” Later in the Q & A, as often happens, someone asked about the seed of the novel. Where did Queen of the Owls come from?
And suddenly, like that cliché bolt of lightning, I knew.
When my ex-husband and I split up, I let him have the giant flat-screen that he’d mounted over the fireplace. I never watched TV; besides, it reminded me too much of him—an adult version of Bill Kingery, although it took me a long time to understand that. I wanted to fill the empty spot over the fireplace with something that represented who I wanted to be now. So the very first thing I did after he left was to go to an art store and buy a huge print of Red Poppy. It was a declaration, a flag, my way to fill the new void.
When I bought Red Poppy and hung it on the wall, I was a doctoral student in clinical social work, a therapist, and adjunct instructor. Not a fiction writer. I didn’t write Queen of the Owls for another decade. And I didn’t put it all together until that afternoon, two weeks before the book’s publication, when I was being interviewed on Facebook.
Maybe that’s the way it happens. It’s only by giving your novel to the world that you can really understand its source.
Where did I get the idea for Queen of the Owls?
It might be truer to say that the idea got me.a Rafflecopter giveaway
Book Title: Queen of the Owls by Barbara Linn Probst
Category: Adult Fiction (18 +), 307 pages
Genre: Upmarket Women’s Fiction
Publisher: She Writes Press
Release date: April 2020
Tour dates: Sep 9 to Sep 25, 2020
Content Rating: PG-13: Includes situations and discussions of adult subject matter.
“A stunner” — Caroline Leavitt, best-selling author
“A must-read” — Barbara Claypole White, best-selling author
“Nuanced and insightful” — Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times
A chance meeting with a charismatic photographer will forever change Elizabeth’s life. Until she met Richard, Elizabeth’s relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe and her little-known Hawaii paintings was purely academic. Now it’s personal. Richard tells Elizabeth that the only way she can truly understand O’Keeffe isn’t with her mind―it’s by getting into O’Keeffe’s skin and reenacting her famous nude photos. In the intimacy of Richard’s studio, Elizabeth experiences a new, intoxicating abandon and fullness. It never occurs to her that the photographs might be made public, especially without her consent. Desperate to avoid exposure―she’s a rising star in the academic world and the mother of young children―Elizabeth demands that Richard dismantle the exhibit. But he refuses. The pictures are his art. His property, not hers. As word of the photos spreads, Elizabeth unwittingly becomes a feminist heroine to her students, who misunderstand her motives in posing. To the university, however, her actions are a public scandal. To her husband, they’re a public humiliation. Yet Richard has reawakened an awareness that’s haunted Elizabeth since she was a child―the truth that cerebral knowledge will never be enough. Now she must face the question: How much is she willing to risk to be truly seen and known?
Meet the Author:
BARBARA LINN PROBST is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, living on an historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her debut novel QUEEN OF THE OWLS (April 2020) is the powerful story of a woman’s search for wholeness, framed around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Endorsed by best-selling authors including Christina Baker Kline and Caroline Leavitt, QUEEN OF THE OWLS was selected as one of the twenty most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother, a debut novel “too good to ignore” by Bustle, and “one of the best new novels to read during the quarantine” by Parade Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. It won the bronze medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publishers Association, placed first runner-up in general fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award, and was short-listed for the $2500 Grand Prize. Barbara has a PhD in clinical social work and blogs for several award-winning sites for writers.
I‘m delighted to have Doreen Cumberford as a guest on the DZA blog today. There’s information at the end of the post about her new book, Life in the Camel Lane, but first…the most interesting post you’ll read all week….
My family and I lived in Saudi Arabia during the 9/11 disaster. From the vantage point of Saudi, we looked back at the US with great concern and consternation. The perspectives we were to learn and glean over the next nine years provided me with a clear way to react and consider major calamities in a new light.
This is my own personal recipe that I have developed after living overseas for four decades and observing earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorism, bombings, hijackings and pandemics on multiple continents, many events occurring simultaneously.
Watch and Wait – Practice Wondering
After 9/11, that gut-punching sense of disorientation arrived when I wondered if we would ever, ever be able to go home again, much like today where we are wondering if and when we will ever be able to return to “normal”. The pull to react is always strong, and usually provides more stimulation & release of adrenaline and cortisol than we can manage.
Observe and Record – Watch My Thinking
Then came the trauma reaction and thoughts. Living on a compound in Saudi we were surrounded by Saudi Arabian people. They were our colleagues at work, our neighbors next door, our friends, chums, cronies and we were immersed in their country living in a bubble inside their country.
Random thoughts ran through my head as soon as it became known that Saudis were implicated in the events of 9/11. Will we ever be able to travel back to the US again? Are we safe here? How do I trust this nation I am surrounded by? Are there Al Qaeda agents here on the compound? What is the company doing to protect us?
It took weeks of ploughing through really, really strange days, as if the fabric of life had distorted itself and we were living inside a constantly moving kaleidoscope where all the colors were dull, muddy and bland instead of normal life which used to feel bright and multi-colored. Finally, I was able to reach a different spot from where I could observe the thinking and then change it.
Adjust, Adapt and Accept
Modifying our behavior, staying home, avoiding gatherings, not going into town and staying on the compound – much as Covid has trapped us in our homes during lockdown, became the new normal. We managed the situation, did our best to make daily tweaks to our thinking and our behavior in response to what was unfolding.
Practice Gratitude and Grieve Well
Focusing on the good we had remaining in our lives became the norm. Neighbors moved away, great friends who had become like family packed up and left the Kingdom. We began to feel distanced from people who had been pillars of support for us. Mixing gratitude and grief like a cocktail became a constant practice and thing. Loss became normalized, grief became our friend and doing it well was critical to get us through.
Pouring more love into the positive aspects of the lives we had left, doing what we could with what we had meant more time on the compound, smaller more intimate gatherings and doing our best to create positive conversations all the while making adjustments and adaptions as we went along.
May the blessings from the land of Allah be with you as you navigate your own unique Covid experience, and may you Watch, Observe, Adjust, Adapt, Accept, Practice Gratitude and Grieve Well every day!
From living in the Camel Lane, I learned that practicing all of these are what create a more joy filled life. Keep creating your own Joy!
Life in the Camel Lane: Embrace the Adventure is what Doreen Cumberford, a Scottish author, calls her learnoire! It is a combination of her story and the stories of other expats learned while living in Saudi Arabia for 15 years as expat employees or spouses.
The book takes the reader through the four stages of culture shock: arrival, honeymoon, frustration and adjustment stages to final acceptance followed by the return journey back to their home country – mostly the USA. From Saudi weddings, to falconry, to the inability of women to drive at that time, the book seeks to familiarize us with the Saudi culture, lifestyle, and deep traditions of hospitality, generosity and tolerance from an insider’s perspective.
There are also chapters on the experiences of 9/11 in the terrorists’ home country and the “Terror Years” of internal terror tactics from inside Saudi Arabia designed to drive the expats out of the country and destroy the Saudi government. Full of examples, stories and compelling honesty the author describes their most challenging journey and many of the lessons learned in the process together.
Designed to provide useful insights and inspiration to anyone considering living abroad, Life in the Camel Lane shines the light on the subject of building a new identity and home while abroad, and the difficulties of the journey home.
About the Author
Doreen Cumberford is a Scottish expat author who has been global traveler for more than four decades. In her 20s Doreen left her home in Scotland and drove down to London to become a member of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Her first posting was as the youngest and most junior British Embassy staffer in Cameroon, West Africa. Later she moved back to London and took a position with an American oil-field construction company based in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. After moving to America, living in Louisiana then California, two extremely different cultures in the USofA, Doreen and family moved overseas to Japan then spent the following 15 years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With 13 major moves under her belt, she understands the value of moving, building a new life and handling inter-cultural hurdles. One constant has been her ability to explore through the lens of adventure. Her stories are full of multi-cultural intelligence, messy multilingual communications and multi-global perspectives. Doreen is currently based on Denver, Colorado although spends most of the year living adventurously in the Housesitting Lane, which takes her around the globe. Currently she is doing her best to install Spanish in her brain which previously had French and smatterings of Japanese and Arabic. She is passionate about cultural intelligence, global heartedness and life on the road. Featured in the Anthology: Empowering Women, and a co-author in 2018 of Arriving Well: Stories About Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering Home After Living Abroad. 2020 sees the publication of Life in the Camel Lane: Embrace the Adventure. Honest, compassionate, full of wisdom and inspiration, Life in the Camel Lane comprises stories mostly from women and men who lived in Saudi Arabia from 1950s onward. This memoir contains expert advice sage wisdom and stories that all globally mobile families can use to navigate their international journey. The principles in this book will also encourage anyone who is embracing a more adventurous life, or considering taking the leap to move overseas.
Connect with the Author: website ~ twitter ~ facebook ~ pinterest ~ instagram ~ goodreads
When I invite authors to participate in Three Questions & a Cover, I’m as eager as anyone to read their answers. There is probably a writer somewhere who understands this crazy profession / lifestyle / obsession / madness. Most of us are as confused about it today as we were the first time we put a word on paper; we’re just confused about different things now.
And then I re-read Dinty W. Moore’s book The Mindful Writer and I get to his Four Noble Truths for Writers and I’m able to breathe. It all makes sense for a nanosecond.
But my brain jumps in and I’m confused again. Still…a moment of clarity is better than none, right? (Yes, it is. No need to think about the answer.)
With Mr. Moore’s permission, I’m sharing those shining truths with you here.
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS FOR WRITERS
- The writing life is difficult, full of disappointment and dissatisfaction.
- Much of this dissatisfaction comes from the ego, from our insistence on controlling both the process of writing and how the world reacts to what we have written.
- There is a way to lessen the disappointment and dissatisfaction and to live a more fruitful writing life.
- The way to accomplish this is to make both the practice of writing and the work itself less about ourselves. To thrive, we must be mindful of our motives and our attachment to desired outcomes.
That’s everything we need to know, isn’t it? You can breathe now. Just breathe.
For more about Dinty W Moore and his writing, you can click here to visit his website.
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