Art In Fiction

Georgia on My Mind: An Interview with Barbara Linn Probst, Author of Queen of the Owls

November 09, 2020 Carol Cram & Barbara Linn Probst Episode 18
Art In Fiction
Georgia on My Mind: An Interview with Barbara Linn Probst, Author of Queen of the Owls
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to EPISODE 18 of the Art In Fiction Podcast.

Barbara Linn Probst's debut novel inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe is a must-read for fans of the artist and of  compelling stories. 

In this lively episode, I chat with Barbara about her novel Queen of the Owls, the art of Georgia O'Keeffe, and a lot more.


  • Queen of the Owls and its relationship to the art and life of Georgia O'Keeffe
  • Feminism and Georgia O'Keeffe
  • What did Georgia O'Keeffe say to feminist icon Gloria Steinem when she came to visit? 
  • O'Keeffe's work in Hawaii and its relationship to Queen of the Owls
  • Does a work of art benefit from interpretation by others? Do  artists always know or can they analyze their influences and intentions? 
  • Complexities of relationships as portrayed in Queen of the Owls
  • What does the title Queen of the Owls mean?
  • Ghost Ranch and the celebrations honoring Georgia O'Keeffe's birthday on November 15 - see for details regarding Barbara's virtual presentation about O'Keeffe's influence on her and the protagonist in Queen of the Owls 
  • Reading from Queen of the Owls 
  • Barbara's background in social work and qualitative research and its relationship to her novel-writing
  • Barbara is an amateur pianist - how has her love of music inspired her second novel?
  • The obsessive nature of novel-writing
  • Advice for new authors

Press Play right now and be sure to check out Queen of the Owls listed in the Photography category on Art In Fiction.

Barbara Linn Probst's website:
Ghost Ranch:

Link to 20% Off ProWritingAid

Music Credits

The intro music is from Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle and the ad music is from The Feverfrom the album Full Moon. Both pieces are composed by Gregg Simpson and performed by Lunar Adventures. Follow the links to download the full tracks. 

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Thank you!

Carol Cram:

Hello and welcome. I’m Carol Cram, host of the Art In Fiction Podcast. This episode is called Georgia on my Mind and features my interview with Barbara Linn Probst, author of Queen of the Owls

Barbara Linn Probst is a writer, researcher, clinician, and “serious amateur” pianist living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her debut novel Queen of the Owls explores how one woman searches for authenticity, wholeness, and connection using the works of Georgia O’Keeffe as her guide. 

The release of this interview with Barbara is timed to honor Georgia O’Keeffe’s birthday on November 15. As part of the virtual Georgia O’Keeffe birthday celebration hosted by Ghost Ranch, Barbara is giving a presentation about O’Keeffe’s transformative influence on her journey as a writer—and the parallel journey of her book’s protagonist to an embodied wholeness. Visit the Ghost Ranch website at for more information about this free event. The proceeds from all sales of Queen of the Owls during the event will be donated to Ghost Ranch.

Carol Cram:

Welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast, Barbara.

Barbara Linn Probst:

Oh, this is fabulous. I mean, it's just the perfect podcast for my book.

Carol Cram:

It is. I know. Talk about Art In Fiction. I mean, you've written a novel called Queen of the Owls that centers around the amazing work of Georgia O'Keeffe, who's one of my very favorite painters. Now, Queen of the Owls has been described as "a powerful take on one woman's relationship to her body, her art, her creativity, and also her mind, inspired by the life of Georgia O'Keeffe".

I'd also like to add, and her relationships since they play such an important role in the novel. And this is one of the things I really enjoyed about your novel is how you depicted the full woman, a woman with all sorts of facets to her. 

But let's start with Georgia O'Keeffe, who, as I said, is one of my favorite artists. So why did you choose to write a novel inspired by her work?

Barbara Linn Probst:

It's probably the second most frequent question I get asked. The first most frequent question is when did you get interested in owls? And there is, there's no owls in the book, but anyway.

But you know, the funny thing, Carol, is that I am not an art history person. I was trained as a clinical social worker. I was a professor, I was a therapist. I was all sorts of things. You know, I really didn't know a lot about art, but I had seen some of O'Keeffe's paintings in reproductions, in books. I didn't actually see the real paintings until I began doing my research for Queen of the Owls, but there was a scene in an early novel I was trying to write. That's the novel we all have that, thank God, will never see the light of day. Right? Okay.

So there was a scene in that, it didn't even belong in the book. I just wanted to write it about how this woman had this profound experience in front of Black Iris. It meant something to her, called something in her, something about her unexpressed womanly self, which of course is in this book too. 

So when that book got trashed, of course I couldn't trash that scene because I loved that scene. So it must have been working in my subconscious. I could talk for an hour about the source of this book, because there were many things that converged, but in the interest of time, I'll just say that that was one of several elements just percolating in my subconscious. 

So that was really where it came from. And I learned about O'Keeffe as I was writing the story. The more I learned about O'Keeffe, the more that guided the story until the point where, you know, there's no way the book could have existed without all that. So I always just in the throes of this journey.

Carol Cram:

I think I mentioned to you in an email, I saw an amazing retrospective of Georgia O'Keeffe's work at the Tate Gallery in London a few years ago. It was unbelievable.

But I was struck particularly by her relationship with feminism, O'Keeffe, and with her big flower paintings, everybody thought that they were, you know, very female and all of that and sort of statements, but that really wasn't the case, was it? And Georgia O'Keeffe didn't want to be a female artist. She was an artist, which I totally resonated with and I really respected. 

And you touch upon that quite a lot in the novel. So do you want to talk a little bit about O'Keeffe and feminism?

Barbara Linn Probst:

I learned so much about, about that as well. And it was so interesting to me that, you know, she began painting right about the time that women got the right to vote, that modernism and feminism were two movements that were arising together. And you know, she was ahead of her time. She never took her husband's name. Nobody did that. I mean, everyone took their husband's name. 

She defined herself by her work. She didn't even have to live with him. Anyway. She was so far ahead of her time. But as is very clear in the book, which came out of my research, she never aligned herself with either wave of feminism. In fact, she really hated them. 

And there's this famous story that Gloria Steinem came to see her with a bouquet of flowers. And O'Keeffe wouldn't let her in. 

There's a lot of, it's very complex because one of the controversies is whether she was trying to play it both ways. This whole question of the nude photos, which plays a role in the book, was she naïve or was she very canny in using this to get attention and then denying the way people interpreted her work as a result?

We'll never know, it's very complicated. And one of the things I tried to do in the book was through other characters to show some different ways of looking at this, putting other points of view into the words of some secondary characters. 

I learned so much about that. And of course, I have my protagonist teaching a class on feminist art, which is a kind of foil for this. And of course, O'Keeffe is famous for saying there's something about a woman that only women can understand.

So that's a centerpiece of this book as well.

Carol Cram:

I think, like, O'Keeffe, like other great artists of the 20th century, like Dorothea Tanning, for example, didn't want to be identified simply because they were female. They wanted to be great artists. Apparently, Dorothea Tanning didn't want to be in a group show of women Surrealists. She was a Surrealist, which is, I think we can learn a lot about.

I loved your feminist art class, your depiction of that. I was, I was a teacher for many, many years at the college level. And so I found a lot of what you wrote about academia and teaching and the students and the interaction really resonated for me. I think a lot of people will enjoy that. 

But also you touched on all these interesting themes with that class, her teaching the feminist art class. It was great. I got a huge kick out of it, as well as I learned a lot. 

What can we learn about O'Keeffe's work from your novel?

Barbara Linn Probst:

There are many answers I could give to this question, but one of the things that was really quite amazing for me was, I don't think many people were aware of the work she did in Hawaii. And so I actually came upon that. I just, I don't remember how it came about. I just came across it. And in fact, there's this huge biography, 300-page doorstopper, of O'Keeffe which has a single paragraph about her time in Hawaii. It's very little known. 

And so this is one of the magical things that happened in writing this book. So I'm randomly Googling O'Keeffe Hawaii, thinking it could be an interesting kind of, you know, unique twist. And I see that the twenty Hawaii paintings were going to be shown as a group all together for the first time in eighty years, 20 minutes from where I live - New York Botanical Garden.

Carol Cram:

Don't you love that? Oh my goodness!

Barbara Linn Probst:

It was a sign. There were all kinds of other, you know, woo-woo signs that happened. But that one was the first. And of course I went to the exhibit more than once. I spoke with the curator. You know, I even went to Hawaii actually, but poor me.

Carol Cram:

It's amazing the things we have to do for our art, isn't it?

Barbara Linn Probst:

I was starting to learn about her Hawaii work when I got a thing in my email about a writers conference in Kauai, and I said, I have to go. And it actually, this is a little bit of a side trip, but it actually turned out to be really important because when, when O'Keeffe was in Hawaii, she had never been there before. And then after that, she went and bought her first house in New Mexico and settled in New Mexico upon her return.

And I was able to feel in my own embodied self, the absolute difference in the two kinds of heat. In Hawaii, the heat is heavy and moist and languid. In New Mexico, it's crisp, dry, stark - it's very different. And I thought, wow, what was this like for O'Keeffe? 

So anyway, my protagonist is doing her dissertation on this. So I really, really studied them. And I was, again, so fortunate to be able to see them more than once in person, which you know, now one wouldn't be able to do that. Most of them are in private collections or else they're scattered. So I think people would understand for sure about this pivotal moment in her life. And they would also probably have a new window onto the complexity of the photos that she posed for with Stieglitz. 

So those two things that I think that the average person who maybe knew some of the skulls and flowers wouldn't know about all this.

Carol Cram:

Well. Yeah, I think that's why I enjoyed it so much because she is known more for the later work though, the work from the desert.

Barbara Linn Probst:

I have a funny thing to tell you, which is that I had emails from a number of people who told me that while they were reading the book, they had to stop and go look up the paintings that I was talking about on Google. That was pretty cool.

Carol Cram:

Yes. That's one of the things I love about reading novels inspired by the arts. And I think it was one of my motivations for putting all this together is that I, yeah, I love that. I love reading a novel and going, gee, I don't remember what that piece was. I'm going to go look.

If somebody reads one of my novels and they are inspired to learn more about the artist or whatever. That's kind of one of our goals, isn't it?

Barbara Linn Probst:

Well, it's really cool that this kind of cross-pollination or something, that these arts don't need to be separate.

Carol Cram:

Oh, no! I was very intrigued at the end of your novel. You had your readers guide or your book club questions. I always love reading the book club questions that people put in. And one of the questions you posed was: does a work of art benefit from interpretation by others? Do you think artists always know or can analyze their influences and intentions? 

So how would you answer that question?

Barbara Linn Probst:

Well, I tried to put questions into that, that I didn't have the answers to, but I mean, O'Keeffe often said basically don't interpret, it's just a flower. So on the other hand, Elizabeth, my protagonist, sees things in the paintings that help her. Is that interpretation? And does it matter if it's right? 

These are questions we could talk all night about. So it's a book for the feeling. It's a book about the body. It's also a book for the mind. These are questions that are not simple.

Carol Cram:

No, not at all. And it's, and actually I mentioned earlier too, about the complexity of the relationships that you have in this novel and depicting Elizabeth as such a well-rounded person, such a woman. 

I mean, I suppose you could have a male character like that too, but all of the things in her life are so recognizable to women in particular, you know, juggling the children and husbands and domestic stuff plus work and also your own self-actualization, your own creativity. You really got that sort of big picture. So it wasn't just about her and art by any means. It was her as a whole person. 

Your novel really touches on the themes of self-actualization and the search for freedom. Would that be a fair thing to say?

Barbara Linn Probst:

I think so. I mean, she's looking for this sense of something missing behind all the roles she plays. Who am I really? What is my, well, there's two parts, there's something missing. And there's also the sense of by embracing the part of yourself you've denied, you can feel more whole, which is why I had her sister be the counterpart in a way who also has to, at the end, has to take at least the first step toward incorporating the part of herself that she kind of pushed aside. 

It's been interesting to me that different people have liked the book for different reasons. Like one person that just loved the relationship with her children.

Part of what I think makes Elizabeth appealing, but it's not the main part of the book. And of course, another thing that I love is that people have different reactions, like the character of Richard, the charismatic photographer. He plays a pivotal role, let's put it this way. And there are people who've had all these different reactions, from wanting them to fall in love, to wanting to just humiliate him. I mean, it's very interesting. And he was a character who just came to me. He's not based on anybody I've ever met. He just sort of appeared to me.

Carol Cram:

I had mixed feelings about him too, but I actually, I really liked how you handled it. And I liked the fact that you never sort of just decided to be conventional in the way that you wrapped everything up, which is, is realistic. And, you know, she did have parts of her life that on the surface, everything looked wonderful, but it wasn't.

I also wanted to ask, what is the title? Why Queen of the Owls?

Barbara Linn Probst:

Well, I'm going to ask you what you felt about that title. What did it mean to you?

Carol Cram:

That's a very good question. I think there was something about the fact that Elizabeth thinks of herself and is sort of referred to as a bit of an owl. Like she's supposed to be wise. She's always talking about how smart she is and other people talk about what a big brain you have. But that actually is not enough. She, as you said earlier, she needs to explore other parts of her, not just her big brain. 

So, you know, for her sexuality and all of these things that were kind of lacking. So I kind of wondered if that was it, it was something to do about the way she thought she was like queen of the owls, in other words, queen of the smart people, but she isn't really, I don't know - that's what I thought.

Barbara Linn Probst:

In a way it's, it's sort of deliberately interpretive, shall we say, queen to me also being something like proud and beautiful. But actually the funny thing is the title was harder than writing the book. I went through so many different titles. None of them were right. An early title was called Her Own Hawaii which she said she had to find her own Hawaii, but I just never liked the rhythm of it. Also. I thought people would have thought it was a travelogue.

Up until, you know, almost the time when the ARC’s out, it didn't have a title. So this actually goes back to, I plagiarized myself from an article I wrote when I was an academic and it was from a woman who is not really relevant but just, I liked it. A woman who was very high functioning Asperger's and she was, I was, I used to do a lot of research of interviewing people living with diagnoses.

And she said she was very, she just sort of sat up straight and she said, I'm not like the other birds. I go out at night. I turn my head around. I'm an owl, but I'm the queen of the owls. So I just channeled that phrase and it's turned out to be something that has evoked all kinds of things in people like yourself. And I think that's better than pinning it down, calling it, Elizabeth Finds Her Groove, that would just be boring.

But I liked writing books that have layers that invite the reader in, without just telling you what to think, giving you space.

Carol Cram:

Yes. That you did extremely well, because all the way through the novel, obviously I want to know what was going to happen to Elizabeth, but I was constantly questioning as well, thinking, okay, what do I think about that thing she just said about art in her class or whatever. So I really enjoyed that very much. You really did capture all those different layers. I love the fact that it's such an enigmatic title because it's a great title. It is definitely open to interpretation. Titles are tough though, aren't they? I've often had troubles with titles. They either come right away or they don't come for months and months and months.

Barbara Linn Probst:

Definitely. Well, I just want to say that, you know, when one's writing a book that is, so to speak, inspired by art, it still has to be a really good story. It's not a lecture. It has to be a really, really good story that the two parts have to mesh in just the right way.

Carol Cram:

Exactly. And it's really gotta be a story about one person's journey, which is exactly what it is, and the O'Keeffe paintings are important to it. But really the essence is her search for, for her own self, what she wants to become. How does she want to be in the world? Which of course is what we're all doing all the time.

Georgia O'Keeffe's birthday is on November 15th. So I gather there are quite a few events planned and you're doing a webinar, are you, at Ghost Ranch? Can you tell us about that? And what is Ghost, Ghost Ranch, for those who don't know much about O'Keeffe?

Barbara Linn Probst:

Well, Ghost Ranch is, it's now an education retreat center, but it was a place in New Mexico, just near Santa Fe, where O'Keeffe lived and worked. It was her first home. She had another home later in Abiquiú, and a lot of her desert paintings were done there, but they have a tour there actually, which I took. It's really cool. You walk in O'Keeffe's footsteps and you walk past the places that she painted and the tour guide shows you in a book the painting of the place that you're looking at.

There's, they do, many, many other things. That's just one that I happen to have done. And I, this is actually kind of wonderful. I had visited Ghost Ranch and I had originally was going to do a live event last April at Ghost Ranch, an All-Ranch Event, it was called, it was going to be on Earth Day.

Barbara Linn Probst:

My book was just about to, just been published 10 days earlier, et cetera. Well, April, 2020, you know, of course the event was canceled and it broke my heart because it was my dream event.

Bless them. I'm persistent and they are wonderful. So months and months and months and months later, I suggested that I could do this virtual event for Ghost Ranch. So it's free, but you do have to preregister, go to the Ghost Ranch website and it's there. 

And I'm going to speak about O'Keeffe's influence on me as well as on my protagonist. So it's a parallel journey because when you're writing a book, you go on your own journey as the author. You're not just over at, you know, at a remove.

I'm going to give a talk. I have a lots of, so many photos and just to take people on my journey. And all profits from copies of my book sold that day are going to go to Ghost Ranch. So if someone is maybe thinking of buying the book, don't buy it today, buy it on November 15th.


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Carol Cram:

So we talked about you doing a short reading from Queen of the Owls, Barbara.

Barbara Linn Probst:

I thought I would read two pages. There's no action. There's no dialogue, but it's where Elizabeth sees something in the Hawaii paintings and she gets it. 


Elizabeth typed the word into the search engine of her laptop. She needed to know about the real things O’Keeffe had seen and touched while she was there, the raw material O’Keeffe had transformed into her paintings.

Most of O’Keeffe’s time had been spent on Maui, with Patricia Jennings as her guide. Jennings, a young girl whose father managed a sugar plantation, took O’Keeffe to her favorite places, introducing her to a verdant landscape that must have taken Georgia’s breath away. Elizabeth scrolled through the websites designed to lure travelers to the islands. Rainforests, cascading waterfalls, the freshwater pools of the Ohe’o Gulch. The massive Haleakala volcano. The hairpin turns of the Hana Road, with their heart-stopping view of cliffs plunging to the sea. The Wai’anapanapa coastline, black sand beaches, arches, and caves; the white sands of Palauea. The ’Iao Valley, inspiration for four of O’Keeffe’s paintings. Hawaii’s exotic flowers: Plumeria, Bird of Paradise, Ginger, Heliconia.

Everything about Hawaii was the inverse of what Georgia was used to. Breathing itself must have been strange and new. In New Mexico, Georgia had breathed air that was crisp and dry; in Hawaii, the very oxygen was thick and soft, heavy with a different kind of heat. Volcanic mountains replaced New Mexico’s bare red hills. High and craggy, emerald and jade against an azure sea. A landscape lush and fecund and wet, unlike anything in Georgia’s experience.

How had Georgia coped, a desert creature flung into the tropics? The weight of the air, hot and moist on her skin—it must have pushed at her with the relentless question. Who am I, here, in this place?

Elizabeth could almost feel it. The sensuality, everywhere. Georgia had to paint. It was the only way to keep from drowning in sensation.

She turned to her folder of prints, flipping through the pictures, looking for something she had missed. Hibiscus with Plumeria, with its flimsy diminished sexuality; the mysterious golden Hibiscus that never got included in the art books. Cup of Silver Ginger, a complicated painting that she had found difficult to like. 

She drew Cup of Silver Ginger from the stack and laid it next to her laptop. The white petals, tinged with lime, seemed to bulge outward—begging her to fit her palm over the white mound, press her thumb

into the dense green swirls, trace the frayed edges of the petals. She could almost feel the soft mysterious mass of palest orange, like cotton or smoke, the silk of the lavender corners. She wanted to crawl inside and lie down.

And then she understood. The understanding had begun earlier, when she looked at the ’Iao Valley paintings, but now it opened wide, revealing itself to her stunned comprehension. 

Georgia’s paintings weren’t meant to be looked at, from the outside. They were meant to be entered, experienced.

Carol Cram:

That was fantastic. I really enjoyed that. And I remember that passage in the novel and I thought, yes. That's exactly what her paintings are like. They're very much, you just want to go inside them. Also reminded me of Hawaii, which would be a nice place to go around about now, being that it's November.

Barbara Linn Probst:

You see, I took my own experience and of course, I used it for my character. So, uh, and I would never have been able to write that passage had I not been to Hawaii and New Mexico. Research is not about reading. It is about reading books, but it's more than reading books.

Carol Cram:

Absolutely. And actually that is a good segue into talking about your background because you, like myself, have come to being a novelist a little bit later in life. This is your debut novel. Like, I didn't publish my first novel until I was in my fifties. So we've done a lot of different things. So how about your own background? I know that you've done a lot of things. You've been a therapist, a researcher, a teacher. I was a teacher as well. So all those decades of experience, how has that all come together to finally write your novel?

Barbara Linn Probst:

Well, you know, I think a couple of things, first of all, being trained as a social worker therapist, you learn about the complexity of human beings. And that helps a lot in creating characters. People are very different. They're very complex and everything comes from somewhere. You know, it has sources and relationships are complex as well. 

So I think that training absolutely helped me. I always wrote, I mean, I published two non-fiction books. I wrote a zillion academic articles. So how to craft a clean well-written sentence is something that I did learn to do. although it's a different kind of writing. I never had writer's block. I mean, writing, it comes to me like speaking. So that was trained in me as well. 

Also the research piece, how do you dig down and find out stuff? And I was what's called a qualitative researcher. I interviewed people and I analyzed the conversation to look for themes.

So I already understood that research is more than reading. You need your, you need to read and know your, you need to have your background. You need to be grounded in the latest knowledge and your topic. But somehow the human encounter with people that I interviewed brought me into it, and there's a thing in qualitative research called reflexivity, which means you include your own responses as part of the data. 

And actually I've never, this, I've never talked about this in an interview before. I never made the connection. So in learning about O'Keeffe, as I mentioned, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I went to see many, many of her paintings and places where she lived. I visited where she was born in Sun Prairie, et cetera. So putting yourself into it, not just the mind.

Carol Cram:

I think that is really, you've hit the nail on the head about the difference between maybe just being a researcher and being a novelist. Yeah. It's all about you putting yourself into the situation rather than describing it from the outside.

Barbara Linn Probst:

For me, this is another aspect of this. Elizabeth is me. Now, I never did the things she did, but psychically, psychologically, she's myself, but it's not, it's not memoir. I had to look deep in myself to find the emotional, lived, authentic, human truths that could be re-embodied in a fictional character. 

What I found that I had to do, I had to go back into painful parts of my own experience. I couldn't just remember them, like reading an old journal. I actually had to go back there in order to write it authentically. And I didn't expect that I would have to do that. Feel that pain again. You know, some of the scenes with her husband, he doesn't feel desired. Um, you know, I've long said that's all way in my past, I had to go back to that person I was then, I had to own it. Touch it again.

Carol Cram:

Yes. And that's why, you know, writing is such an all-encompassing thing to do, isn't it? I find that I spend the morning working on a novel and I'll come out and I'll say to my husband, why am I so tired? I've just been sitting here for two hours just writing.

Like you, I was a professional for years where I wrote tons of other stuff and it didn't tire me out like that. But when you're writing a novel, because just as you say, especially the emotional parts where you're not just describing something, but you're actually going into it and reliving it. Yeah. It's, it really takes its toll, but in a good way, otherwise we wouldn't do it.

Barbara Linn Probst:

Well. Yeah. You can't take the easy way out. At least that was something for me that was very meaningful.

Carol Cram:

Well, and you really captured it in this novel because we, we very much, I very much identified with Elizabeth, even though she was completely different from me. But I think, you know, if there's some universal truths there that she's talking about, and particularly as, as the female experience.

I also saw that you described yourself as a serious amateur pianist. I love that because I'm a pianist myself. What's a serious amateur?

Barbara Linn Probst:

It means I had expensive piano lessons.

Carol Cram:

Yeah. I've had lots of those over the years.

Barbara Linn Probst:

I returned to a study, a regular study with somebody who is incredible. Interestingly that you ask, this probably is going to come up at the end of our conversation. But my next book, which is coming out next April is about a pianist. 

So I use in that book, it's music, that is the transformative pathway, the way that art is in this book. And again, I couldn't have written it until my understanding of the piano went up a level.

Carol Cram:

That's really interesting that this is your experience because we kind of parallel each other. My first novel was about an artist and the second one was about a pianist. So there you go. Yeah. 

When my second novel came out, I actually did a concert, and played Clara Schumann because it was about a female composer in the 19th century. And Clara Schumann is probably one of the most famous, so she had a fabulous piece. And so I played that as part of my launches. It was so much fun.

Regarding piano, what’s your favorite? What do you like to play?

Barbara Linn Probst:

I play classical. The last couple of years I've been super into late Brahms and Schubert. Chopin is the other one. The preludes are incredible. I try to play only pieces I love. That's the privilege of this, being an adult who's doing it for her own self.

Carol Cram:

But isn't it wonderful? I know, I love to play. As I said, I do it every day. 

So one of my goals with the Art In Fiction Podcast is to inspire other authors, especially new authors, of how they can kind of develop their craft. And what kind of advice that you as an author can provide them. Can you share something about your process, your writing routines. Now that I, I guess now you're pretty much a full-time author. Is that true?

Barbara Linn Probst:

Yeah, I am. I mean, I, I write blogs for several writing places and I, but I don't really have a routine, to be honest with you. I don't, when I'm into it, I'm like super obsessive. You have to have certain space where you can be immersed and let the story find you. And you can't do that in half an hour or an hour, but there is this immersive state. 

And I'm a great believer in what Stephen King calls the boys in the basement which is the subconscious intuitive. My best ideas come in the shower or when walking. Um, and because I'm uh letting something relax. 

So I'm very much an obsessive immersive writer. And but then, then of course you have to go back. I am like an endless reviser. And, and even to the point of I had with the new book I had, um, final copy, right? I made 325 teeny little changes, word changes, commas. So that part is very meticulous. But when the story is being born, it's, it's a sort of special state.

Carol Cram:

It is a special state, isn't it? And it's interesting. Like, I tend to want to wrestle it into a routine personally, but you're right. It actually, that isn't really what happens. That's just what I want to happen. But, like you, it does tend to be an obsessive thing. And uh, like I just spent three days, I went away and I just wrote for three days and it was awesome. And since I've gotten back, I thought, oh, I'll just keep that going. Yeah, no, I haven't. But it'll come back.

Barbara Linn Probst:

There's a lot of formulas out there and I've taken all the classes, I do all the workshops, I've been, I mean, actually the other piece it's just like, which is really just as important. 

I have a tough-love, kick-me-in-the-butt mentor, who I show my work to who throws it back at me. It's really important. I trust her. What often happens with her is she'll say such and such is not working. So she doesn't tell me how to fix it, but she challenges me. I go, no, no. And even, you know, the more I object, the more she's probably right.

And then when, when it's good, she says that is so much better. It is. So I feel like you need to have somebody you trust to have other eyes on it. So the intuition is part of it, but that's not the end of it.

Carol Cram:

No. And I totally agree with that. I have that person as well in my life who will be listening to this. Thank you. She's great. Because she does exactly the same thing. She's really hard on me. And I'm like, no, but the harder they are, the, usually the righter they are.

Barbara Linn Probst:

Yeah, absolutely. And, but it's not about applying a formula, you know that there's lots of those out there. I mean, it's kind of like, let's say in music, you need to know if you want to compose, you need to know the conventions. You need to know how to modulate. You need to know all these things, but when and how you do it, it depends on what you want to say.

Carol Cram:

Exactly. Yes. The other thing I wanted to talk about is what advice would you give to people who are just getting started in writing? Even if they're just getting started a little bit later in life.

Barbara Linn Probst:

First of all, you have to have a story you're burning to tell. If you don't have that, you got nothing. And you have to accept that the first draft, maybe even the first book you write, is going to suck and be patient and put on your big-girl pants. When, you know, as they say, read, read, read up, read really well-written books. See how they did it.

Carol Cram:

That's excellent advice.

Barbara Linn Probst:

Like, I read a book recently just took my breath away. So damn good. You're not imitating, you don't even, you don't look at it again. You just let it enter you to raise the bar for yourself.

Carol Cram:

That's such great advice. And, and that was advice I did not follow enough when I was younger. I'd read a really good book and I would just get depressed, like, oh, I'm never going to be able to do that. I'm older now. Now I can read all sorts of things.

Reading up. I love that. So read the people that are way above and yeah. Take what you can, learn from it. Not, because nobody will write like you, right? Everybody's different. 

You mentioned your, uh, second novel. And so let's hear about that. What's your new novel about?

Barbara Linn Probst:

In a way, I have a brand, which I didn't realize I was going to have. So Queen of the Owls is about how art can make us more fully human, how it can help to enrich and transform us. So my second book uses music and it'll be out in the spring, stay tuned. And actually I've just finished the first draft of a third book, which will be about another art form. So this brand has sort of found me and I really think it's cool.

Carol Cram:

Well, thank you so much, Barbara, for chatting with me today, this has just been fascinating.

Barbara Linn Probst:

As I said, it's the perfect place for me to talk about Queen of the Owls. It was just made for me. And it's been a joy. Thank you.

Carol Cram:

I’ve been speaking with Barbara Linn Probst, the author of Queen of the Owls, listed in the Photography category on Art In Fiction at Check the show notes for the link to Ghost Ranch and information about Barbara’s webinar in honor of Georgia O’Keeffe’s birthday on November 15.

Also be sure to check the show notes for the link to a 20% discount on a subscription to ProWritingAid, an indispensable editing tool for writers.

Don't forget to follow Art In Fiction on Twitter @FictionandArt and on Facebook at and please subscribe to the  Art In Fiction Podcast and post a positive review wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks so much for listening!



Why Barbara wrote a novel inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe and feminism
What Queen of the Owls teaches us about O'Keeffe
Does a work of art benefit from interpretation by others?
Themes in Queen of the Owls
The meaning of the title Queen of the Owls
Ghost Ranch and Georgia O'Keeffe
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A reading from Queen of the Owls by Barbara Linn Probst
Barbara Linn Probst's background
A serious amateur pianist
Barbara's writing process
Writing advice for new authors
Barbara's next novel