I so enjoyed the characters and the pace of The Sound Between Notes by Barbara Linn Probst; easy to read and a page turner for me, with a wonderful story that delves into a woman’s search for her identity and a longing for connection. Susannah gave up her promising career in music in order to raise her son, James. The choice for her was all or nothing in those younger years; as an adoptee she questioned why she was given away, haunted by rejection and vowed to ensure her son felt her love with no distraction. When an exceptional opportunity to play piano in front of a special audience arises, a desire she harbored from before she became a mom, her husband, Aaron is not as supportive as Susannah would have hoped. Struggling to discover who she is without her music, and haunted by the past, Susannah’s identity comes into question when she gets a scary medical diagnosis based on her genetics, and the urgency to discover who she really is reaches an all time high.
Adoption, tracing roots and meeting blood relatives, along with complex family relationships, the joy of music and a frightening medical diagnosis is a compelling combination! Author Barbara Linn Probst knows how to make the reader feel all the feels of the characters, from fear to elation and everything in between. I highly recommend this book!
Author Q & A
Q: Susannah has set her music career aside to create a home and raise her son, yet she longs to perform on stage to a big crowd. How did you get in the head of a pianist and what role does music play in your life?
A: I’m what’s known as a “serious amateur” pianist—“serious” because I study with a teacher and “amateur” because I do it for no other reason than love (amour) of the piano, having returned to it after a long absence. The secret to The Sound Between the Notes is that I had to become a better musician before I could make the book what it needed to be. In the early drafts, Susannah was much too brittle and angry, and the story just wasn’t right. It wasn’t until I got deeper into my own connection with music that I understood what was wrong with the way I’d depicted her: no one can be bitter and play the piano the way I wanted her to play! That was a huge breakthrough and turning point in my writing journey.
I’ve now played nearly all the pieces mentioned in the book, so I wrote about them from experience—with the exception of the Schubert sonata that frames the story and is, mostly, beyond my ability. However, I set myself the goal of learning the second movement before publication date, and I’m happy to say that I’ve achieved it!
Q: When did you first learn of Dupuytren’s Contracture and do you think Aaron would have wanted to discuss it and go over options in a more open and complete way had the diagnosis been his?
A: There are two questions here. To respond to the first one: For the plot, I needed a disease that would threaten Susannah’s playing and also link her, through genetics, to her birth family. So I did what we do, and googled “hereditary disease affecting he fingers.” To my astonishment, I found the perfect ailment 🙂
To the second question: That’s a really interesting idea—and one that never occurred to me! I do think, because Dupuytren’s isn’t life-threatening, that it wouldn’t have been as dire for a non-musician like Aaron. Like others for whom perfect control of their fingers isn’t crucial, he probably would have waited to see if it worsened to the point where standard treatment would be indicated. That’s what most people do, since the disease is fairly common.
Q: Identity is an overriding theme in your novel; Susannah is seeking her roots for genetic information related to her health as well as for a better understanding of why she was given up for adoption. What influenced your decision to write about adoption?
A: I am a mother by adoption—twice, in fact—so it’s something I know a fair amount about. I got to know my daughter’s birth family and to share much of her struggles over the years.
Q: Do you think Susannah’s longing for connection (to her birth mother, her husband, her son, her dad, her mentor) stems from being adopted or is that part of human nature?
A: I do think the longing for connection and for belonging is an essential part of human nature. Think of the popularity of resources like Ancestry.com and 23-and-me! They’re just the latest version of a yearning for roots that’s always been part of human culture—the way we have family traditions, special dishes, naming rituals, and so on.
And yes, it’s more complicated for those who were adopted, because they belong to two separate lineages—nature and nurture, adding different components of one’s identity. In The Sound Between the Notes, for example, Susannah understands that she got her musical talent from her birth mother but her drive and determination from her adoptive mother. She’s lucky, because the two lineages support one another, but it isn’t always that way. There can be a lifelong inner and outer conflict.
Q: Susannah was a mother who sacrificed a piece of herself for the good of her child. Do you think she consciously made that decision because she felt rejected by her birth mother?
A: To me, it’s pretty clear that Susannah was motivated by the need to put her child first, which she felt that her birth mother, Corinne, hadn’t done—although in a way, Corinne did. Whether the decision was conscious or subconscious is another matter! I think it was a bit of both.
Q: Choosing between career and family is a familiar decision for many women. How would you like readers to walk away feeling about this?
A: I feel that we need to respect whatever decision a woman makes, because no one can know all the elements that go into someone’s choice—finances, support systems, special needs of the child, timing, and so on. In Susannah’s case, she kept her career “small” while her son was growing up, limiting herself to local venues. We don’t know if she would have tried to re-enter the professional arena just yet (or at all) if the unexpected opportunity hadn’t presented itself.
Q: When Susannah finds out the reason why Dana and her husband adopted, how does that change her perspective of her parents?
A: That was an interesting aspect of the story that “appeared” to me long after I’d completed the first draft—a twist that I could only “see” when I’d gotten to know the characters better. Susannah is surprised, of course, because the real story upends what she’s always assumed. But it also fits. She feels compassion for her father, who’s finally able to admit the truth and what that means, then and now. And I think she’s a bit angry at her mother, although she’s sensitive enough to understand that the negotiations in a marriage are subtle and complex—as they’ll turn out to be in her own marriage. It’s one of the many times, in fact, that she comes to see that things aren’t always the way she assumes.
Q: Susannah’s father was experiencing a touch of dementia which gave her another thing to worry about, along with navigating her marital relationship, managing her teenage son and his challenging of boundaries, searching for approval from her mentor, connecting with her sister, dealing with her diagnosis, and preparing for her concert. In this sandwich generation, how do women handle it all? Do men have the same responsibilities and capabilities?
A: You nailed it with the list of all the things Susannah has to worry about! I think the pandemic has really intensified this situation for women. We read stories of women at the breaking point from trying to home-school children while working from home and worrying about elderly parents. I think it’s fair to say that we don’t hear of men struggling in this way, at least not to the same degree.
Q: We all have our own perspective and opinions on everything in life, and we have the choice to search for answers, that once uncovered, change how we feel and act. Is Susannah better off knowing about her birth family, her diagnosis, where her husband goes when he stays out at night? Do you think we should always pursue the truth or is it okay to let questions go unanswered?
A: Such a profound question, and one that each person has to grapple with for herself. People make different choices—at different times, about different things, and for different reasons. With adoption, for example, some people want to search for their birth families and some don’t. My own feeling is that, if you start a search or open a door, you have to be ready for whatever you may find. What’s the hardest is when you have an expectation—even if you don’t admit it to yourself—and what you find turns out to be very, very different.
Q: Your first book, Queen of the Owls, was released in April of 2020 during the pandemic and The Sound Between Notes will be available one year later, this April, 2021. What have you learned about releasing a book in this strange environment that will help you this second time around and is there a silver lining?
A: I do count myself as part of a unique cohort of authors who launched their debut novels just when we all went into quarantine. We had to pivot, let go, be flexible—great gifts, really, because so little in life works out the way we plan! That attitude helped me a lot, last year and is continuing to help me now. I try all kinds of things (to support my book’s release) and accept if they don’t work out, while being ready to respond quickly if a new opportunity presents itself.
The other “silver lining,” for authors like me, has been the incredible generosity of online reader groups and venues that now host virtual book events,—something they rarely did, if at all, pre-Covid. That’s allowed me to reach people I neverwould have been able to reach if I’d relied on in-person events! People in other parts of the country, people who can’t go to a live event because they lack childcare or transportation, or because the timing is wrong. Many of these virtual events are available for viewing later, so that’s another bonus that widens the circle of inclusion.
Q: The Sound Between the Notes could be categorized as medical fiction and dual timeline fiction, both at the top of my list of favorites! How long did it take you to write it, did you write the chapters in order?
A: Unlike Queen of the Owls, which was “there” in its essence from the very beginning, The Sound Between the Notes went through a number of huge transformations over the course of several years until it became what it needed to be. In fact, I set it aside to write Queen of the Owls, and then returned to it when I had the “musical breakthrough” I referred to in my earlier answer. You could say that I wasn’t ready to write the story until then.
In terms of the structure, the very first version of the book had three alternating timelines: one for Susannah’s teenage years (which included other plot elements that I ended up deleting); one for her early adult years, trying to succeed as a musician in New York and traveling to Texas to find her birth family; and a third for her mature adulthood as she grappled with the concert and the disease. However, it was too confusing and fragmented, and I eventually saw that the front story had to be the main one, with the back story taking a secondary role. That made the book so much stronger!
Q: How can we keep up with you, your work, your book tour, etc.?
I have a blog tours and other social media events coming up with Suzy Approved Book Tours, Hey It’s Carly Rae, and lots of other venues, so stay tuned! You can also get in touch with my publicist Crystal Patriarche of Book Sparks.
Barbara Linn Probst’s first novel, The Queen of the Owls , about identity, womanhood and Georgia O’Keefe’s art is available in bookstores.
About the Author
I’ve embraced many sides of life. I’ve been a teacher, therapist, qualitative researcher, educational advocate, “serious amateur” pianist, and full-time mom. I’ve run a not-for-profit organization, mentored PhD students, counseled families, done webinars and radio interviews on how to nurture out-of-the-box children, and much more!
I’ve had many homes. I’ve lived in a cabin in the California redwoods, a firehouse, a converted sauna in the heart of Greenwich Village—and lots of places in-between. I now live on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley.
I’ve looked and listened. I’ve traveled from Iceland to Israel, Scotland to Spain. I’ve spent time in Italy, Egypt, Costa Rica, Turkey, France, and along the backpacking trails of the U.S. and Canada.
I’ve spoken up. I’ve given talks to dozens of parent groups, professional organizations, and academic conferences all over the country. Here are some of my presentations.
Through all of it, I’ve never stopped writing.