Today we celebrate the April 7 release of Barbara Linn Probst’s debut novel, Queen of Owls.
Thank you for joining us to answer a few questions regarding your novel, Barbara!
This just in, from Barbara Linn Probst, “BONUS: A fun-filled 7-minute video will go live right here on WU at 2:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday, April 7 where Barbara talks about her journey and the lessons she’d like to share. Spoiler alert: there are no owls in the book.”
Be sure to join us!
Barbara Linn Probst is a writer, blogger, and former clinician living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Her debut novel Queen of the Owls launches in April 2020 from the visionary, award-winning, female-run She Writes Press. The story of a woman’s search for wholeness framed around the art and life of Georgia O’Keeffe, Queen of the Owls has been selected as one of the twenty most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother and will be the May 2020 pick for the Pulpwood Queens, a network of nearly 800 book clubs across the U.S. Her second novel is slated for publication in April 2021.
Before switching to fiction, Barbara published two nonfiction books and more scholarly articles than she cares to remember. She’s proudest of When the Labels Don’t Fit (Random House, 2008), a book to help parents understand, raise, and nurture out-of-the-box children. An out-of-the-box child herself, Barbara has a PhD in Clinical Social Work and worked for many years counseling, teaching, doing qualitative research, and advocating for people with mental and emotional challenges. A travel junkie, she’s spent amazing chunks of time in places like Turkey, Iceland, Egypt, Spain, Israel, Scotland, and Italy. She’s also a serious amateur pianist.
“Queen of the Owls is the powerful story of a woman’s quest to claim her neglected sensuality and find her true self hidden behind the roles of wife, mother, sister, and colleague.”
Barbara tells us, “I was tempted to choose a quote from one of the best-selling authors who blurbed Queen of the Owls. But I’m going to share the reflections of Sandra Scofield, National Book Award finalist, author of The Last Draft, and writing teacher extraordinaire whose tough love pushed me beyond my comfort zone until Queen of the Owls was all it could be.”
Sandra Scofield wrote:
“Who doesn’t love Georgia O’Keeffe, not just for her paintings, but for the myth of a woman constructing a fiercely independent life? Barbara Linn Probst saw something else in the artist—a theme for a novel that has at its heart a contemporary woman’s struggle to be all things (wife, mother, academic, sister) when her life seems inauthentic. A photographer in her Tai Chi class looks at Elizabeth in a way no man ever has, and her life suddenly is all moving parts.
“Elizabeth bares her body for the camera’s eye and looks into her own soul. An exhibition of photographs of her upends the stasis of her marriage and threatens her career, but it also gives her a glimpse of the more complete self she’s been missing.
“A gifted storyteller, Barbara Linn Probst writes with precision, empathy, intelligence, and a deep understanding of the psychology of a woman’s search for self.”
Our featured debut novelist and WU Contributor shares extra-exciting news. “I’m thrilled that Queen of the Owls has been chosen as the May 2020 selection for the Pulpwood Queens, a network of nearly 800 book clubs across the U.S.”
Congrats, Barbara! We’re delighted you’re part of our WU Tribe and we get to share the excitement with you!
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
Elizabeth, the protagonist of Queen of the Owls, has always defined herself by her intellect—choosing the logical, responsible path instead of daring to release the sensuality that lies just below the surface. During the course of the story, she comes to know and embrace a fuller self: body—and beauty—as well as brain. There’s a price to pay, but Elizabeth knows she can’t go back to the “half-woman” she used to be.
The premise of the story, in short, is that embracing the parts of yourself you’ve denied leads to wholeness.
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
The story is framed around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe isn’t a character in the book, but she’s present as Elizabeth’s inspiration, the person whose blend of austerity and voluptuousness Elizabeth longs to emulate.
O’Keeffe has been a figure of endless fascination for over a century, not only for her artistic genius, but also because of how she lived—the quintessential feminist who rejected the feminists’ attempts to turn her into their matriarch. In seeking to understand O’Keeffe for her doctoral dissertation, Elizabeth comes to understand herself—and to understand, finally, that cerebral knowledge will never be enough.
Queen of the Owls is the story of a woman’s transformation, diving deep into contemporary issues of privacy, consent, feminism, and the power of social media to upend our lives.
Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
Elizabeth’s search for authenticity is a complicated one, as she tries to fulfill her roles as wife, mother, sister, and academic—to do right by those she cares about, while doing right by herself. It’s not a matter of extracting herself from an abusive marriage or breaking free from a family that wants to stifle her. There are no villains; it’s Elizabeth herself who has created the life she now finds so unfulfilling.
She takes a step outside the confines of that life, and everything begins to unravel. It’s here that her real “challenge” becomes evident. As Elizabeth tries desperately to regain “control,” it’s clear that the only way she can attain her true goal is through that very unraveling. What she has to overcome, in other words, is her misbelief about who she is and who she can be.
Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
One of the most demanding aspects of writing Queen of the Owls was the range of research I needed to do. As a first step, I needed to learn far more about Georgia O’Keeffe than would ever find its way into the final book. To do that I read everything I could find, went to see her paintings, talked to experts, visited the places where she lived and worked. I needed to immerse myself in her life and art in order to feel, understand, and convey what that might have brought Elizabeth.
What made this uniquely challenging was that Elizabeth’s interpretation of O’Keeffe had to be shaped by her own emotional needs—subjective, rather than “factual”—yet I couldn’t say anything inaccurate. If I’d been writing historical fiction, the integration of factual material would have been more direct. But here I was treading a subtle line.
Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Ah. Time for bit of self-disclosure …
One of the reasons that writing Queen of the Owls has been so meaningful to me is because it represents a fictionalized version of my own journey. Like Elizabeth, I grew up labeled a “brain” and had to embark on my own journey to wholeness. (Nope, I never posed nude. Sorry!)
I do think that many women have suffered from the dichotomization into mind and body, Madonna and whore, bookworm and fox. One of my goals is to help to heal that split, and I hope Queen of the Owls will bring some healing to its readers.
Readers, learn more about Barbara Linn Probst.
Grab your copy of her debut novel here.