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February 12, 2011

A Love Letter to Writers' Spouses

A warm welcome to Beth Groundwater who writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket, 2009) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, will be released March 8th. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine! Please visit her website at bethgroundwater.com and her blog at bethgroundwater.blogspot.com.

 A Love Letter to Writers’ Spouses

By Beth Groundwater.




 Since we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day in just two days, I thought I would make my guest post here on Lipstick Chronicles a tribute to writers’ spouses. I’ll use my own husband, Neil, as an example to illustrate all the ways writers’ spouses help us in our careers. Writers’ spouses can take on many roles and perform many services for us in those roles. One, of course, is to be the primary breadwinner, so the writer can focus on his/her craft. But many writers’ spouses play a more direct role in our careers:

Editor – For many writers, their spouse is their first reader, giving them feedback on whether or not the book is working, if the plot is believable, and if readers can sympathize with the characters. I admire writers’ spouses who can navigate the treacherous minefield of giving useful feedback while not coming across as critical. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for him!), my husband Neil is not a mystery reader and his feedback on the “big picture” issues in my manuscripts is not as useful as that I get from my critique group. He is good, though, at being a proof reader/copy editor, looking for small grammar, punctuation, etc. errors. So, for example, he read my advanced review copy of Deadly Currents and gave me a list of little gotchas that was very helpful—and left my ego intact!

Publicist – I’ve met many authors’ spouses who have taken on publicist duties, lining up events and interviews, preparing press kits, etc. Craig Johnson’s wife is excellent at this and has played a major role in building his career. My husband Neil is always the first to casually mention that I write mystery books in new social settings, adding, “Did you bring some of your bookmarks, honey?” (Bookmarks that he designed BTW.)  He also formats my e-mail newsletters for my electronic newsletter service. And he loves to talk, so at those signings of mine that he attends, he’s great at engaging people in conversation and steering them toward my table.

Researcher – Some spouses of author friends conduct research for them, finding and highlighting reference works on various topics, searching the Internet, and so on. An avid amateur photographer, Neil is my location photographer. When scouting real Colorado locations I plan to use in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery books, he snaps photos of Arkansas River rapids, campsites, Salida’s historic buildings, etc., while I take notes and absorb the atmosphere. He’s also more than happy to “come with” on my research whitewater rafting trips and take and pose for photos (he’s holding the paddle in the photo below). I think he’s disappointed that I no longer write romantic suspense after my one failed attempt at that genre, because he was always willing to research the love scenes. ;-)


Tech Support – Here’s where my retired software engineer really shines. Neil maintains my website (http://bethgroundwater.com/ - please take a look and if you like some aspect of it, leave a compliment for him here!). He keeps my computer software and hardware up-to-date, answers countless “How do I?” or “What’s wrong with?” questions, and maintains all the appliances, gadgets and modern conveniences in the house, so I don’t have to worry about them.

Counselor – A writer is constantly flattened by downers in his/her career: rejections, bad reviews, cancelled series, contest loses, being orphaned by an agent or editor who moves on, characters who refuse to talk to us, writing ourselves into a plot corner, and so on. When we’re slumped on the floor, back against the wall, and thinking of chucking it all in, that’s when our tender spouses pick us up, dust us off, give us a pep talk and tell us that no, we don’t write drivel and yes, all this trouble is worth it.

Often, it’s because of our spouses’ support that we writers can spend as much time as we do working on our manuscripts. All I can say is that I’m very grateful for mine. Happy Valentine’s Day a little early, sweetie!

 How has your spouse/friend/other supported your creative endeavors, whatever they may be? Share the story with us, then go give them a hug and say thanks!

Beth with paddle

  Deadly Currents


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HI, Beth--and thanks for being our guest today!

I once heard Kurt Vonnegut somewhat rudely answer the age-old question, "What's your best advice for new writers?"

He said: "Marry well."

I think he meant marry into money, but these days I think he might have meant a writer needs to marry somebody with health insurance, but your list is much kinder and more comprehensive!

However......hm......I don't think my husband does any of the things you mention. (Tech support?? Hahahahahaha!) But he's supportive and has never asked me to get a day job and he does have health insurance. I think I'll keep him.

After over 4 decades my blushing bride knows to preface every entry into my office when I’m at the keyboard with, “are you working?” On those rare occasions where I am, she wheels and exits without another word.

When I go on one of those creative tears where personal hygiene and sleep patterns are disrupted she just shrugs and mumbles that she’s seen it before and this too will pass.

She knows when I’m on deadline or I’ve gone completely manic depressive the best cure is chicken wings and a pitcher of beer.

She knows better than to let me behind the wheel of a car whenever I’ve been working too much. Between my impatience with idiots on wheels and my slower reaction times I’m a menace.

The years I make more than her she is happy and the years she makes more than me the subject never comes up.

Mostly she gives me the best support whenever we’re in a bookstore and her face lights up when she a copy of one of my books on the shelf. That and, of course, like Nancy said, the health insurance.

Happy Valentines Day to writing spouses everywhere!

Jan is a saint, no two ways about it, Rod.

Steve, who was an English major, edited my first book for me, and in the process turned me into a WAY better writer. I can't say I've ever made enough from writing to support us, but he has, thank goodness. Since he also writes, and I also edit his work, I guess I can be a recipient of the valentine, as well.

He slogged off to work every day while I learned my craft. Now he's a gourmet cook and chief bottle washer, keeper of tax records, first reader (or rather first listener since he can't be trusted not to mark up a ms.!), truly likes my writer friends, but knows how to disappear at conferences. I wouldn't have a career without him. ♥♥♥

My ex never said a negative word when I announced I wanted to quit my paying work and write fiction full time, and he supported us while I learned how. I'll be forever grateful.

There is one writer's spouse I used to want to kill, and that was James Michener's wife. He used to tell how she'd leave his lunch for him outside his office door every day on a tray! God forbid she should disturb the great man. Those were the days when women writers would gather and grumble about how male writers got spoiled by their wives while women writers. . .didn't. I don't hear those stories any more. Now, Mrs. Michener might roll her eyes and say, "Get up and get your own soup, James."

Forgot to say, welcome, Beth! That raft ride looks like such fun.

Margaret, I remember Sue Grafton saying of her husband, "Steve makes me possible."

This tribute to spouses is looong overdue! Everyone who writes needs someone there who helps make it possible, and for most of us that's our spouse. Steven King said that whenever he reads a dedication of a first book to a husband or wife he knows exactly why that was written. Good post, Beth. Thanks!

My husband is the ultimate in supportive and patient. He is a great first reader, because he reads a lot himself and knows what makes a good story. And he truly enjoys tagging along with me to writing retreats and conferences.

Nancy M,
Thanks for the welcome, and I think both of us have "married well".

What a lovely tribute to your wife! It took me awhile to train my husband NOT to come down to talk to me in my basement writing office (unless it's vital), but to wait until I come upstairs.

It sounds like you and your husband are mutually supportive writers' spouses.

Your honey sounds like a keeper! I hope to meet him at a conference someday--if he doesn't slink off, that is.

Nancy P,
Thanks for your welcome, too. I carried the rule to my house that my mother had. I'm the family cook and make breakfast and dinner, but for lunch, everyone's on their own. Of course, there's only two of us in the house these days.

Thanks for your comments, Maureen and Kathleen!

Kathleen, I think it's great that your husband likes tagging along with you to writing retreats and conferences. My husband tends to avoid them, though he does sometimes go with me to the Rocky Mountain Chapter of MWA meetings if the topic is juicy, like it was this month: "Tales of Tawdry Love in the Mile High City".

Through my feeble but hopeful attempts at writing my husband keeps our computers in tip-top shape.
He designed my first website where I babbled about the inane doings in my life.
Years ago, he has shown me Broomstick lace and has rescued me in my hobbies.
One time recently, I was struggling with piecing a pinwheel design for a quilt and was attempting the inner circle. He grabbed it from me and said "Give me that!" and proceeded to sew the pie and circle together. I guess years of being a fisherman when he was young and knitting fishing nets gave him the overall craft gene. Long live those handy husbands!!

Welcome, Beth, and what a good idea. Don is my rock. Not only does he read first drafts and tell me what's wrong ("You took too long to get to the murder"), he handles the 3 AM worries. ("Do you think I should have had X as the killer instead of Y?"), telling me it's fine and I should go back to sleep. I usually do. He also has health insurance, which makes my career possible.

Your husband sounds very handy indeed. If I were you, I'd hold on tight to him!

Thanks, Elaine, for telling us about your rock, Don. I don't think my husband would be as understanding about being woken up to discuss the 3 AM worries!

Randy is very patient, putting up with my solitary hours in the office, poking his head in to see what's going on and getting a bit of attention. He, too, keeps my computer running, choosing the new models, and our connection to the outside world fast and reliable. He introduces me to others as an internationally famous, award winning, author. He reaps the benefit of those solitary hours writing erotica, and always generously stays home to man the fort when I go off for workshops, conferences, and readings.

What a great guy and a gem that I ought to polish more often.
Thanks for this wonderful blog, Beth.


Beth, you are a good Valentine, and this tribute is overdue for all of us. My Eric is not allowed NEAR the computer because he gets frustrated and hits the emergency off button...loses everything. And I learned not to let him critique because he totally changes my "voice" to German syntax, and thinks he must mark up every y'all my Southern character emits or every slang term.
HOWEVER, he is marvelous about schlepping book boxes for an event, and most miraculous of all, he does my state and federal taxes and keeps track of things like paper and ink cartridges, packs and wraps mail order sales. I couldn't do any of this without him. Thanks to you for reminding us of how much we are a team.

You know, along with these comments, I hope a lot of hugs are being handed out!

I agree, great spouses who are gems need to be polished often, and I recommend hugs and kisses for the best shine.

I've seen your husband schlepping book boxes for you often, and yes he makes a good teammate for you. I think you should bake him his favorite German dessert for Valentine's Day. :)

An early Valentine date night last evening led us to a Spaghetti dinner and a surprise sapphire ring.
We proceeded to the movies where our date night movie was "The Eagle" set in the Scottish Highlands.
Overlooking the other choices such as "The King's Speech" and the new Aniston flick I was treated to hunky warriors battling for THE EAGLE. Who needs George at a time like this?

Storytelling friends have pointed out that most of our major tellers, the "first namers" have supportive spouses doing the managing, booking, negotiating for them. It's possible to go it alone, but harder. Bravo/brava for all partners who support each other's dreams!

My wife is my Tech Support, you bet. She has certificates and stuff and sometimes speaks Techese or meybe Vulcan, I'm not sure.

For Counseling, I have not only my wife but a small army of friends who have listened to many hours of my crazed ideas and such. My friend Avis has actually listened to my rants for 20 years now, longer than my wife has. They also assure me that I do not, in fact, suck as a writer, although the jury is still out with regards to my sanity.

Some of my friends also fullfill the Researcher and Editor roles.

Once my website goes live (rumored to be happening this week) they will all hopefully become Publicists as well as Faithful Readers. If any of them wish to become Worshippers, well, who am I to stop them?

Elaine: Spouses with health insurance totally rock. In the realm of folks who write for roleplaying games, working spouses are put upon pedestals and the working spouses who have health insurance are guarded better than the Lost Ark of the Covenant.

Thanks for your comments, Marie, Mary and Doc!

Marie, that sapphire ring sounds like a lovely Valentine's Gift, one to be treasured.

Don, yes we all need those counselors who tell us our writing doesn't suck, and you're lucky to have more than one.

As for health insurance, since my husband and I are both retired software engineers, we pay for our own health insurance now, which is a very hefty bill even though we have a high deductible. That's certainly a benefit worth hanging on to!

Beth! How wonderful and charming and thoughtful and insightful. Thank you. I am bringing my husband (my in-house legal counsel, as you know!) right in to read this...

Happy Valentine's day!

Welcome, Beth and thanks for this great post. My husband actually published my first book which goes above and beyond any expectations I ever had for either marriage or career. He is now my manager, a very challenging job, I think. If it weren't for his confidence in my dream, I'd still be writing marketing copy.

Waving at Beth! Beautiful post.

God bless my ex. Thanks to him I can be a mom and write books, and the kids are covered by his health insurance. As for the rest of it . . . can I rent Neil?

Thanks, Hank, ".", and Barbara,

I've met Hank's husband, and I agree that he's a dear.

And ".", you're not the only writer whose spouse had pushed them to greater heights. Be very grateful!

I need to get with you sometime to have you sign my How to Bake a Perfect Life apron. I love it!

Tee hee, Harley, nope Neil is mine, all mine! :)

Thanks for reminding us about our honeys. My hubby is my tech consultant as I use a lot of boating info, and he knows it better than I do. (He's pretty good at catching typos - after the book is published!)

Harley, good job counting blessings, no matter how few. A friend who managed to escape a perilous marriage used to say that at least she got beautiful children from it . . . Health insurance would be good, too . . .

My husband, Richard Catoire, put me through college. Also he is my first editor, always finds mistakes, and has done vital research for me. If I need a character to speak French or Spanish, he supplies the dialogue. When you're married, it's like being two-headed. You have access to everything you know and everything your spouse knows.
My latest mystery, *Home Dead For Christmas*, uses our background of when we were a young couple back in 1970. I was a showgirl on Bourbon Street and he was a rigger on a pipe-laying barge.

Thanks for checking in, Norma and Tony!

Sounds like you and your husband had an interesting history, Tony. And I'm sure that makes your stories and characters more interesting.

I'll check in tomorrow for late comments, but in the meantime, I hope you all have a very happy Valentine's Day, in the arms of whoever you love.

My hubby may not be editor, publicist, researcher or tech support yet, but he has become chief bottlewasher, laundry doer, vacuumer and more. He's not exactly counselor, but by giving me the space for the ups and downs that go with the creative process, he keeps me from having to seek one.

I primarily write about Abraham Lincoln, and he gives more space, time and resources to pursue that passion than I ever imagined - from overnight trips alone to lectures and hundreds spent on books to traveling with me for two weeks to Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg.

When, mid-life, a spouse begins to seek herself, knowing what she was supposed to be all along, it helps to have a hubby who will stick with you as you continue to try to find yourself and leave your mark. The only challenge left is quiet. A move later this year will fix that, as I'll have a writing room which the noise doesn't reach.

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