Monday, April 5, 2021

Barbara Linn Probst Interview - The Sound Between the Notes

Photo Content from Barbara Linn Probst

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 such as Christina Baker Kline and Caroline Leavitt, Queen of the Owls was selected as one of the 20 most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother and one of the best Spring fiction books by Parade Magazine, and a debut novel “too good to ignore” by Bustle. It was also featured in lists compiled by Pop Sugar and Entertainment Weekly, among others. 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 both the First Horizon and the $2500 Grand Prize. 

Barbara’s second novel, The Sound Between the Notes, is slated for publication in April 2021. Like Queen of The Owls, it shows how art can help us to be more fully human. Barbara has also published numerous blogs on the craft of writing on award-winning sites such as Jane Friedman and Writer Unboxed. To learn more about Barbara and her work, please see She resides in New York.


Publisher : She Writes Press (April 6, 2021)
Publication date : April 6, 2021
Language : English


“The climax, on the night of her performance, is a tour de force steeped in suspense, and Susannah’s subsequent revelations are satisfying and authentic. A sensitive, astute exploration of artistic passion, family, and perseverance.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The Sound Between the Notes is so beautiful, so lyrical, so musical that it was hard to put down. . . . This is a wonderful story from a skillful writer, one that appeals strongly to the heart. It features awesome characters, a twisty plot, and gorgeous writing.” —Readers’ Favorite 5-star review

“In her second novel, Barbara Linn Probst delivers yet another powerful story, balancing lyrical language with a skillfully paced plot to build a sensory-rich world that will delight those who loved Queen of the Owls and win countless new readers. Offering a deep exploration of the search for identity and connection, The Sound Between Notes reminds us to embrace everything we are—and everything that’s made us who we are.” —Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY best-selling author of Perennials

“Family ties can bind or blind us—even with relatives we've never met. In The Sound Between the Notes, trails of music connect generations separated by adoption—while the same notes threaten a family believed sewn with steel threads.In this spellbinding novel, Barbara Linn Probst examines how the truth of love transcends genetics, even as strands of biology grip us. Once you begin this story, suffused with the majesty of music and the reveries of creation, the 'gotta know' will carry you all the way to the final note.” —Randy Susan Meyers, international best-selling author of Waisted and The Comfort of Lies

“Beautifully told, The Sound Between the Notes, is the story of tragedy and triumph, of the push and pull of family, of the responsibility we feel to ourselves and those we love. Once I started the book, I couldn't put it down until I reached the last, gorgeously written note.” —Loretta Nyhan, author of The Other Family and Amazon best-seller Digging In

“As soaring as the music it so lovingly describes, poignantly human, and relatable to anyone who’s ever wondered if it’s too late for their dream, The Sound Between the Notes is an exploration of our vulnerability to life’s timing and chance occurrences that influence our decisions, for better or worse. Probst creates her trademark intelligent suspense as Susannah, an adoptee trying for a mid-life resurrection of an abandoned music career, confronts lifelong questions of who she is. A story that speaks to our universal need to have someone who believes in us unequivocally, and how that person had better be ourselves.” —Ellen Notbohm, award-winning author of The River by Starlight  

Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Philadelphia, but spent what they call my “formative years” in California—which is where I learned to be zany :-) I’ve lived in a lot of places since then, and now live on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley, about an hour north of Manhattan. And yes, it really is a historic dirt road. It’s the original mail route between Albany and New York and, believe it or not, there’s an entire society dedicated to keeping it unpaved!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
There are so many! But for sure one of the highlights was being able to give a presentation at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, on Georgia O’Keeffe’s birthday, since my debut novel Queen of the Owls is framed around O’Keeffe’s life and art. It was a virtual presentation, of course, since it took place during the pandemic. But it was something I had yearned to do for an entire year, and it was really a dream-come-true when it finally happened. Ghost Ranch, where O’Keeffe lived and worked, is such a special place—I was truly honored.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
If you mean my very first, that would be the “book” I wrote when I was seven years old, ten chapters, complete with illustrations! Seriously, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, although I did other kinds of writing for many years before returning to fiction. The first novel I wrote as an adult—which, fortunately, will never be seen by anyone but me—was my way to work through certain events in my own life. I think it’s that way for a lot of novelists. You have to get that out of your system before you can create a truly fictional world.

Tell us your latest news.
I’m in heaven that my books continue to place as finalists for awards! Queen of the Owls is now short-listed for the prestigious Sarton Award for Women’s Fiction, its fifth award.

Can you tell us when you started THE SOUND BETWEEN THE NOTES, how that came about?
I can remember the specific moment when the idea for the book took hold. I had gone back to studying piano a few years earlier, after abandoning formal lessons for many years to raise my kids, and had just switched to a much more rigorous teacher. A whole new level of playing was suddenly opening up for me, a whole new possibility—and there I was, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, reaching into the cabinet, when I felt a strange stiffness in my left hand. I remember thinking, “No! Not now, of all times!” That was the moment when the story was born. What if …

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I do think The Sound Between the Notes speaks to profound and universal questions—Who am I? Where do I belong in this world? What does it mean to be a mother, a daughter, to fulfill my own passion while caring for those I love? What does it mean to persevere? At what cost? Is there a point when the price becomes too high?

These are all questions that the story evokes, and I hope those questions are alive in the reader as she turns the pages. You don’t have to be adopted, or a pianist, or someone offered a second chance—like Susannah—to relate to these questions and be touched by them. I would love the reader to think: yes, this is me. I feel this too.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Susannah?
As you know, Susannah, the book’s protagonist, is a pianist. In early versions of the story, she was rather brittle, defensive, and angry. I had the idea that she had to start out that way in order to have an arc of emotional growth—but I was so wrong! What I learned—and what, finally, made her the character she needed to be—didn’t come from anything writerly at all, but from my own study of the piano. As I began to understand music better, I realized that no one who truly loved music could be brittle like that. You can’t be angry and play the piano the way I wanted Susannah to play, you simply can’t.

I had to make her kinder, more loving.

And then, through that, I learned that I had to make all my characters more lovable. They can be good people who become better people, because of what they go through.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I really think that Beryl, Susannah’s grandmother from Texas, would love to meet Olive Kitteridge, the wonderful character created by Elizabeth Strout. I think Beryl would find Olive both admirable and annoying, in equal measure, and it would be great fun to eavesdrop on a conversation between those two!

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Quite honestly, getting distracted isn’t a thing for me. I’m the opposite—totally obsessive! Of course, that’s a privilege from being at a stage of life where my children are off on their own and I don’t need to have what they call a “day job.” I was still seeing clients (as a therapist) while I was writing the book, but not fulltime.

  • 1. The title is a twist on a famous quote from Mozart, who said that the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them. (BTW: Coming up with the right title was harder than writing the entire book.)
  • 2. I struggled to “get Susannah right,” but all the other characters came to me immediately. Beryl, the Texas grandma with her stirrup pants and blonde bouffant. Jimmy Ray, in his Hawaiian print shirts. Vera, the imperious piano teacher with the eyes of a hawk. Susannah’s adoptive parents, sweetly vague Tyler and oh-so-righteous Dana. They all appeared to me, fully formed. And yep, even Oscar the cat.
  • 3. I’m an adoptive mom myself (twice) and there are elements taken from real life. I did get to know my daughter’s birth family fairly well—they even stayed at my house and we all went out to dinner together on her eighteenth birthday—but the characters and plot of The Sound Between the Notes are completely fictitious.
  • 4. There’s a lot of country music, as well as classical music, in the book—and a Spotify Playlist of your choice (the country one or the classical one) to anyone who writes to me to ask for it!
  • 5. Kirkus has called the book’s climax “a tour de force, steeped in suspense.” I felt as if I was living that part of the story, in my own body, when I wrote it. I even got up and acted it out, so I could know how to describe it.
  • 6. At one point, the book had two extra scenes at the end—one from the point of view of Dana, Susannah’s adoptive mother, and one from the point of view of Corinne, her biological one. Ultimately, I decided to delete them and let Susannah have the ending to herself.
  • 7. I absolutely love the cover!
  • 8. I actually got to talk with Misha Dichter, the world-famous pianist mentioned several times in the book, who had the same hand ailment that threatened Susannah’s playing. I wrote to his agent, explained my request, and was stunned when my phone rang and it was Dichter himself calling me! He couldn’t have been kinder.
  • 9. I have a soft spot for Hollis, a minor character in the book. No idea why, but I do!
  • 10. There is an indirect reference to my first novel, Queen of the Owls, in one of the scenes. Let me know if you spot it!
What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
We all have something (or several things) that we could never imagine ourselves doing—and that’s the thing we need to do! I don’t mean something cruel or destructive, but something that seems way too daring or out-of-character for “someone like me.” For example, when I was at the Pulpwood Queens “Girlfriends Weekend” in Jefferson, Texas, I jumped up and entered the Dolly Parton look-alike contest. People who know me still can’t believe I did that! (And here’s the best part: if you do “that thing” once, you can do it again!)

Best date you've ever had?
One of my best dates ever was a three-day trip to Cancun that included parasailing over the ocean—something that terrified my afraid-of-heights self, but I did it anyway because I put my trust in the person I was with. I went with the man who’s been my partner for a number of years, but at the time I hardly knew him. However, his invitation was impossible to resist: he had a ton of “use-em-or-lose-em” American Airlines points, so he invited me to go to Cancun, first-class of course, for a long weekend at a resort on the beach. It was a whim for both of us—that turned out to be magical.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
So many incidents have changed me, in large and small ways, so I’ll relate the one that comes to my mind right now, although it may seem like an odd choice.

I was in a coffee shop in Manhattan, and having the worst time getting the waiter’s attention—to place my order, refill my cup, get my check. I felt ill-treated and self-righteous. When it was time to leave, I grabbed my coat and purse without leaving a tip and headed for the door. The waiter ran after me. “You forgot to leave a tip,” he told me. I gave him a haughty look and swished away. It wasn’t until later that it struck me that I’d known nothing about his situation—what he might be going through, what might have happened. I’d assumed. I’d only been interested in myself, as if I were the center of the universe.

That small incident made me realize that we have no idea what it’s like to be “that other person” and, if we did, everything we assume to be obvious and true might turn out to be entirely wrong. I never went back to ask the waiter why he had (in my perception) ignored me. But I’ve thought of him often.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
One of the most memorable moments, as a writer, was when I suddenly knew what was missing from the ending of the book. I can truly say that it just “came to me,” as if from nowhere—although I think we have a very smart subconscious mind that is aware of all the clues and breadcrumbs that the conscious mind has missed. That’s the magic. You slog and slog through the editing, the endless revision—and then there is that amazing moment of insight.

  • 1. I’ve lived in a former jail cell, a former sauna, a former firehouse, and a cabin in the redwoods without heat.
  • 2. I’ve been a therapist, researcher, college professor, advocate, director of a nonprofit organization, elementary school teacher, and fulltime mom.
  • 3. I make a wickedly decadent chocolate cake and the best chestnut soup you’ll ever taste.
  • 4. I love, love, love my curly hair but hated it when I was young. I slept in curlers the size of beer cans to straighten it and never, ever went outside in the fog.
  • 5. I published a book to help parents nurture out-of-the-box kids (When the Labels Don’t Fit) and ran groups under the title “This isn’t the child I dreamed of raising …” For many years, that was my passion.
  • 6. In the course of my travels I’ve been inside a glacier, a lava tube, a monastery, and a mosque. I’ve seen the Whirling Dervishes, the Mona Lisa, the rain forest, the Outer Hebrides, the Venetian canals, and the Egyptian Sphinx.
  • 7. My eyes change color, depending on my mood.
  • 8. I’m a salt addict. Offer me a potato chip, and I’m yours for life.
  • 9. My best writing ideas come to me in the shower.
  • 10. I’m what they call a “serious amateur pianist.” Although Susannah (my piano-playing protagonist) is tons better than I will ever be, I vowed to learn the exquisite second movement of the Schubert sonata that frames the story by the time it was published—and I did!
First Heartbreak?
How could I ever forget my seventh-grade crush, Bill Kingery? I asked a girlfriend to ask Bill what he thought of me and he gave what, at the time, felt like the absolute worst reply. “Barbara? Oh, she’s a brain.” I was crushed— I wanted to be a fox, an object of desire. Yet that moment turned out to be the seed of Queen of the Owls, so you never know!

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I’ve been to so many places—from Iceland to Israel, Scotland to Spain. I’ve spent time in Italy, Egypt, Costa Rica, Turkey, France, and had adventures in each place. But one experience that stands out right now is the time I swam in the Black Sea at night under the stars. The water was absolutely still. My then-boyfriend and I floated on our backs, looking up at the enormous sky, feeling the silence all around us.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
This is an easy one! I would always, always choose experience! To give oneself and open to love, even if it doesn’t last, is part of being human. We grow from struggle, loss, and pain, just as much as we grow from joy.

Where can readers find you?
Virtually, on my website, on Facebook, and on Instagram

Actually, sitting at my big glass desk overlooking mountains and trees, at my baby grand piano, or walking along my secluded dirt road watching the seasons change …

The highly anticipated new novel from the multiple award-winning author of Queen of the Owls . . .

What if you had a second chance at the very thing you thought you’d renounced forever? How steep a price would you be willing to pay?

Susannah’s career as a pianist has been on hold for nearly sixteen years, ever since her son was born. An adoptee who’s never forgiven her birth mother for not putting her first, Susannah vowed to put her own child first, no matter what. And she did.

But now, suddenly, she has a chance to vault into that elite tier of “chosen” musicians. There’s just one problem: somewhere along the way, she lost the power and the magic that used to be hers at the keyboard. She needs to get them back. Now.

Her quest―what her husband calls her obsession―turns out to have a cost Susannah couldn’t have anticipated. Even her hand betrays her, as Susannah learns that she has a progressive hereditary disease that’s making her fingers cramp and curl―a curse waiting in her genes, legacy of a birth family that gave her little else. As her now-or-never concert draws near, Susannah is catapulted back to memories she’s never been able to purge―and forward, to choices she never thought she would have to make.

Told through the unique perspective of a musician, The Sound Between the Notes draws the reader deeper and deeper into the question Susannah can no longer silence: Who am I, and where do I belong?

You can purchase The Sound Between the Notes at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you BARBARA LINN PROBST for making this giveaway possible.
3 Winners will receive a Copy of THE SOUND BETWEEN THE NOTES by Barbara Linn Probst.
Winner will receive a $15 Dollar Amazon Gift Card.
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