Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spousal Support



by Michelle Gagnon

Last week I attended a library event with two other authors. One of them, the lovely and talented Penny Warner, had her husband in tow. He not only carried her box of books, he worked the crowd during the dinner portion of the evening, handled the money as she sold books, and generally behaved as one of the best publicists I’ve ever seen. He was charming, enthusiastic, and even managed a smile when his wife joked that while her hero had, “The mind of a poet and the body of a construction worker, her husband had the body of a poet and mind of a construction worker.”
I went up to Penny afterwards and asked which husband catalogue she shopped from.
I lurk on a number of listservs, and periodically there will be a thread where writers either applaud or bemoan the level of support they get from their spouses. I fall into the latter category, sadly. While my husband has many fine qualities, he’s completely in the dark as to what I’m doing with my writing career. In fact, he’s only read one of my books so far. That’s right, one out of three. And that was because we were trapped in a cabin in Hawaii with no television, in a steady downpour, and he’d already exhausted the bathroom reader. So when I read someone’s post claiming that their partner is their first and best editor, my jaw drops. When spouses show up at conventions, I’m in shock. My husband managed to make it to my book release party last year, but I suspect the promise of wine and hors d’oeuvres factored strongly into that decision.

Part of me thinks that he’s deliberately avoiding my books, afraid that he’ll see himself or our life mirrored in the characters. Despite regular reassurances that I have not killed off anyone resembling him (not yet, at least), he remains resistant. I’m not sure why. It couldn’t be the length of the books, it’s certainly not as if I wrote War and Peace. Or the subject matter: if I was writing treatises on the mores of Victorian Women, sure, I could understand his reluctance. But I write thrillers, page turners. I’ve had friends finish my books during a single plane flight.
Of course, I knew at the outset of our relationship that he was not much of a fiction reader to begin with. He’s an action guy, someone who would much rather putter around his boat or work on his motorcycle than settle in with a book. And when he does read, he prefers historical texts about ancient Rome or the Celts.
And as I said, he’s extremely supportive in other ways. He minds the house and family when I travel for events or conferences. His paycheck insulates us against the whimsical nature of my royalties and book advances. He’s willing to listen to the occasional gripes about the publishing industry, even if he doesn’t know enough about the field to offer advice. And there are definitely times that I’m happy we’re not both writers. For one thing, we’d probably be living in a cardboard box under a bridge right now. And for another, it forces me out of the insular world that’s created when a person works alone in a room day after day.

But do I occasionally wish that I had a Mr. Penny Warner? Sure. If nothing else, it would be great to have someone haul those books around for me, especially if he remembered to bring change (I never do). And I have hatched a plan. Our next vacation will be to Kauai, during Hawaii’s rainy season. I’ll have both of my books on hand. And this time I’m hiding the bathroom reader.
So I’m curious: how much spousal support do you get? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m giving my husband a 5. Where does your partner stand? (Feel free to post anonymously J)



Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller THE TUNNELS was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, BONEYARD, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she runs errands and wonders why it always rains on her vacations. Sign up for her newsletter at www.michellegagnon.com to enter drawings for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates, or other fabulous prizes.

41 comments:

Annette said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Michelle.

My husband hasn't read any of my books, either. He says he's waiting for the movie. He did read one of my nonfiction articles, but only because it was about his hobby and published in one of his favorite magazines.

He does attend friends' booksignings with me on occasion and he's been a great cheerleader, although he's getting a little impatient: "Hurry up and get that book published." To which I reply, "I'm trying! I'm TRYING."

Hauling my boxes of books? Yeah, I could see him doing that. Working the crowd and making change? No way in hell.

But he does supply the monetary income and health insurance that allows me to work at my dream. So I'll give him a 7.

Lee Lofland said...

My wife doesn't read much of my work, but in all fairness, I don't read hers either. She's a mad scientist and trying to get through one of the many journal articles she's published is maddening to me. The same for her about my writing, I guess. Thankfully, she is very supportive of my work. I give her an 8 for the support alone.

I know Penny's husband and I can tell you he's extremely proud of his wife, and it shows. Actually, they're both wonderful people. Penny gave me some wonderful advice a few years ago. Without it I may not have written the book on police procedure.

Joyce said...

My husband hasn't read any of my books, either. If it's not a woodworking magazine (his hobby), he doesn't read it.

He doesn't quite get the writing business, either. For a long time he thought that you just sent it out and someone published it. He takes the rejections harder than I do. He'll go to a friend's signing once in awhile, too, but I don't think he really likes it.

And Michelle, no matter how hard I tried I could NOT get spaces between your paragraphs on your post. Sorry about that!

Joyce said...

Btw everyone, in case you haven't heard, Lee's book is nominated for a Macavity!

Annette said...

Yes, I did hear! Congratulations, Lee!

JennieB said...

Great post, Michelle!

My husband's not much of a reader, either. He's read two of my books (in manuscript form) but not the other two. Says he'll wait for them to get published (November 4 for the first one) and read them then. I don't doubt that he'd carry books and change, though, and he'd work the crowd like a pro. He's always happy to talk plot or character, unless I'm interrupting something more important (like 'Desperate Housewives'), and he's extremely supportive and proud that I'm getting published. I'll give him an 8.

Congrats, Lee! That's awesome!

Cathy said...

My husband would get a 12--he's my first reader, etc. What can I say--second marriage--you get everything you order.

Dana King said...

My spousal equivalent is my first reader; I read whatever I draft each day to her. She is also very supportive in keeping me working when the inevitable frustrations set in. (Though she did encourage me to take last night off to watch baseball.)

I think some spouses may be reluctant to read because they're afraid they won't like the book, and that they'll hurt your feelings when you find out, as you surely will at some point.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Hmmm, so maybe a second marriage is in order :)

Kara Dunn said...

An 8.5 He won't read my stuff, but that's okay, if it's not in the daily paper he doesn't read it at all. He pimps my books to everyone he knows. He doesn't have a clue about my stories, but he'll listen when I want to read him a really good passage. I'll keep him. ;)

Clare said...

Great post Michelle, though I'm not sure how I'd rank my husband. He's read both books so far but definitely has a love hate relationship with my writing career. Sometimes I think he's just totally bemused - like how did the woman I married (who always said she wanted to be a writer but I never thought she'd actually do it:)) end up doing this. Wasn't she a lawyer? - and hold it does that mean I now have to be the sole provider...I think he's still in shock about that one. I'm dragging him and the kids to LCC next year in Hawaii so let's see if he gets the conference bug and comes out carrying my books. Somehow I suspect not. He'll be at the pool with our twins - that's handful enough I guess!

Anonymous said...

Michelle,

(Pari here; I can never remember my username/password for blogger.)

My husband and I realized long ago that he couldn't read my fiction; the whole process would be too loaded emotionally.

The way he supports me is by being one of my reality checks. He's always pushing me to write more, to stick with it. He hates the amount of PR I do and I wish he had the personality to help there, but he's a full introvert and I knew that when we married.

The other way he supports me is by working himself AND by taking care of the kids when I do travel.

So, I guess I can't complain.

cheers,
Pari

Dana said...

Nice blog, Michelle! The big question is: which poet's body are we talking about?

My husband and I have worked out a system: I read my drafts out loud to him and he gives me comments the next day, after he's had a chance to think about it. Hearing the stuff out loud helps me edit, too, and knowing I have to get the next chapter done for the next night speeds work along.

And yes, he hustles the books, too, so I gotta give him a 9.5 (the half point is because everyone always looks over my shoulder asking "where's James? Isn't he coming?").

Anonymous said...

My husband does not read fiction so he hasn't read my books. He has a love hate relationship with my writing.
He's happy I'm in the black so far this year and he did drive me to a conference to speak, but sometimes I think he doesn't get it at all!
I figure if he ever read my fiction he'd make a snarky comment and I'd have to kill him.
Though that would open my up for that second marriage!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm not married, or involved at the moment, but I was with my last boyfriend for 3 years and he refused to read any of my stuff. His reason was: he's a reading snob and he was afraid he wouldn't like it and would hurt my feelings. Then one day he picked up my first novel and got hooked. Even though we broke up last year, we remain good friends and he's one of my first readers. He reads all my manuscripts in draft form and provides great feedback. Too bad he wasn't a better boyfriend. :)

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

It always floors me to hear about spouses and lovers who don't read their mates' books. You'd think they'd want to know what was going on in our heads, right? Ignorance isn't bliss if you're sleeping with a thriller writer...

Michael's a 10 - he loves reading, especially this genre, and I can tell a book is working if he keeps demanding pages. He's my best first reader and he reads everything I write.

But he doesn't tell me how to write, and I sure wouldn't want my mate to following me around at signings.

zhadi said...

Dave rates a 10++++. He's much like Penny's husband in that he lugs my books, sells them for me, raves about my writing both behind my back AND in front of me (which is an amazing feeling), and loves coming to my writing panels/signings/parties/SinC meetings. He also does all the housework 'cause I'm the full time worker right now and he's our 'at home' writer. SO...he's amazing.

And despite his busy writing/research schedule, he's started reading my friends' books too!

Anonymous said...

I am widowed, sold my first book when my husband was still alive.

He took great pride in his ignorance re: my book. He did not want to know about it, did not care, thought it was a waste of time and effort, and viewed it as interrupting our lives. My writing, and every aspect of it, interferred, he thought--and even at one work event I attended with him, where his boss and another co-worker raved about how much they enjoyed my work, he just shrugged. They were horrified--and he STILL shrugged.

He told me once he wished I'd never bought a computer.

You may not have a Mr. Warner-type, but your guy doesn't sound too bad at all to me.

My new love is direct opposite of the spouse--and you bet, if he'd not been? He would never have made it inside my front door.

Support of your spouse or partner, even if it is along the line of your own (shows his support in other ways) is a beautiful thing.

My first book came out a long time ago, he's been now several years--and I am still hurt.

Anon U.S.A.

JD Rhoades said...

Lynn has been my first reader since day one, but we have had to tacitly agree that I wouldn't get any "so is this about me?" or "is this the way you really feel?" questions. It's hard enough to write without worrying about that.

Shelley Munro said...

Great post! I'd have to say my husband is an 11. He's totally supportive and has read some of my books. I think it was curiosity at first. Sometimes he'll do a first read for me. Over the years he's absorbed quite a bit of industry knowledge and often surprises me in conversation. He's attended a couple of conferences and helps out at home. He also pimps my books for me. I couldn't have a better husband.

Jan Brogan said...

Hi Michelle,
You're blogging for us on Jungleredwriters.com next week, so I thought I'd check out Working Stiffs. What a great topic! I, too, am astounded by those husbands who show up at events towing the books around. My husband comes to the launch party and has been to a few other events, don't expect to see him at Bouchercon or any other conference. He helps me brainstorm ideas, and really almost wrote a boating scene for my new book, but he always takes a long time to get around to reading the finished product. (He's convinced the love interest, a prosecutor, is based on him. Maybe that's why!)
He IS supportive, but mostly, his mind is on his own career. And that's okay, because that's what puts the kids through college. I'd give him a 7.5 on the scale.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Hi everyone-

Well, it's reassuring to hear that a number of us are in the same boat as far as having spouses that are reluctant readers. But Jan and Annette are right, I definitely appreciate the health insurance/college fund, neither of which my writing provides at this juncture. But wait, Zhadi: yours does housework, too? That opens up a whole 'nother can of worms.

Toni L.P. Kelner said...

A perfect 10.

Steve reads and edits everything I do. (Well, not this post--he's out of town right now.) He brings home the bacon that allows me to pig out on fiction. Before we had kids, he came to every signing, talk, and convention his job allowed. Since kids, he handles child care or at least helps arrange sitters. He takes me out to celebrate every milestone: first sale, first short story, first large print, first translation, finished drafts, good reviews. If I'm up for an award, he is there to hold my hand. ( If I lose, he buys me drinks. If I win, he jumps up to cheer AND buys me drinks.)

I could not ask for more support.

JD Rhoades said...

Toni speaks truth. Steve Rulez.

©Hotbutton Press said...

8.5 for my hubbo, but that's only because I'm a critical and hard-to-please witch a lot of the time. LOL. Seriously, his only major flaw is that he starts babbling at me when I'm obviously typing. Occasionally, not as a rule. I don't think it's inconsiderate or passive-aggressive. Just muddle-aged mind not paying attention, and I do it, too. But, I'm knocking off 1.5 points for that. I mean, I married him because he was the Perfect Man so what's all this slipping about? Har.

You know the old saying, "Husbands are like waffles. You throw the first one out and then the second one is perfect." :)

Nice job, Mich, and congtratulations on the stellar amazon.com rating on this title! Go!

Neil Plakcy said...

I'm pleased to see so many others have spouses who don't read their work! The Jewish American Prince of Darkness hasn't read any of my novels-- doesn't read, often doesn't even have the attention span for demanding movies.

But I still dedicate every book to him.

Joyce said...

Michelle, thanks for being our guest today. Come back and visit anytime! That goes for all those who commented, too.

kathie said...

Great post! I think, though I have no solid data saying so, that your experience is very common. Spouses are often completely submerged in their own work and I often ask myself just how much I really, really know about my husband's work...not as much as I should, probably. It works for us, but it can be hard at times. Can't wait to read your book.

michelle@michellegagnon.com said...

I am still dying of laughter over the "husbands as waffles" analogy. I'm definitely ripping that off for use in a future book. Thanks for hosting me, Joyce, this was so much fun!!!

Jayne said...

I'll rate mine an 8. He brings home the dosh (and the health coverage), cooks a bit and cleans a bit, goes to the occasional friends' reading and to any event where I have a story or ms up for an award (buys me champagne if I win and cheesecake if I don't), and has done stellar duty with the kids while I've occasionally shut myself up in a room all summer to write.

However... he only reluctantly proofreads my short stories, and then only in the submission/pre-print copy. He has never read one of my novel manuscripts, having, as he says, been hearing about them for an average of four years before they're finished and ready for submission. He says if I'll stop talking about them, he might read them at the end.

Roberta Isleib said...

I'd have to give my hub a ten too Michelle. He read every word I wrote at the beginning but has learned to back off as I've gotten more confident. He's the consummate good sport--he even wrote a blog post for my tour last December. It's here if you want a good laugh: http://catherinecairns.com/blog/?p=107

Good luck with your book and see you next Monday on Jungle Red!

Roberta Isleib

Terry Odell said...

I get phenomenal support, although DH hasn't read any of my books. He'll read scenes if I ask him, but all he wants to help with would be research questions in his areas of expertise, or whether the male POV feels 'right' in a scene, or ... yeah, the sex scenes.

But he'll find his own dinner if I'm busy, he'll tag along to appearances if they're in the evening (don't drive at night), he talks up my website, and keeps a few signed books in his truck.

I'd give him a 9.95

Leah Braemel said...

My DH is sort of like Pari's. I've asked if he wants to read my manuscripts, but he's declined - worried about what what happen between us if he didn't like my writing. But he encourages me to write instead of seeking a job when we really could use the extra money, encourages me to go to conferences - and even will be going with me to one this fall. And will brainstorm or listen to fragments when I need a guy's POV.

And best of all, he's started writing himself so he is understanding the process I'm going through. (He's pretty good too.)

But I have to take a point off because when he's home he'll wander into the office numerous times (we share it) and say "I'm not bothering you am I?" Um, yes! And like someone else's hubby, he won't help me promo any books I get published as he's a total introvert too - but I knew that going in. And I'm fine with it.

So on the whole, I rate him a 9.

Ellen Breen said...

Michelle, my husband has never read any fiction that I've written, but he's 100% behind my wiring. Fiction isn't his thing; his idea of light reading is something on physics. but the man had always helped with chapter conferences, picked up speakers at the airport etc. If he calls home and I'm writing, he tells me to keep going, and he'll bring home something for dinner. He knows how important conferences are, and never asks what they cost :) And when I'm at national, he takes my car in for service each year. is he perfect? there's no such animal, but neither am I perfect. But he always told me to keeep going for it. He doesn't want me to be 80 some day and regret that I didn't give 100% to writing and my dream of publication.

Elizabeth Sinclair said...

Ellen is absolutely right about Roger. I'd give him a 10 any day. As for my spouse ... he doesn't read my books. He says if he read one of my love scenes and we'd never done that, he'd have to ask questions. In reality, if it's not a printing magazine, he's not interested. But he is 100% supportive in every other way -- my go to guy for male research, my PR man who brags about me all the time, my computer genius, occassionally my chef, the sentinel who keeps interruptions at bay, and my inspiration for any hero who has ever peopled my books. Despite the fact that he hasn't and never plans to read my books, I give him a 101%.

L.J. Sellers said...

My husband is very supportive of my writing and is a sympathetic listener. (I had to train him in this skill.) He also attends events with me and carries my books, but would never work the crowd. And he reads my novels, grudgingly, then says with some amazement, "You're a really good writer."
Lj

Cindy Procter-King said...

I have to give my husband a ten + in the support department. I won't let him read anything until it's published and then I won't let him read the erotic romance I publish under a pen name. But he is very interested in reading what I will let him read. I don't work outside the home so I can have the brain-energy to raise our kids and write. Although at times there have been murmurings of complaint, he's fully supported me on this. He's hand-sold my books to his co-workers and he called the newspaper to arrange an interview when the idea made me want to crawl into a cave. I have no doubt he'd lug books if I needed him to. I met him when I was 18 and he was 19. We've been together 30 years. I guess I lucked out. :)

Anonymous said...

My husband is almost perfect - but he's only read one of my books. Other than a very rare WEB Griffin or Dale Brown (like one every two years or so) he doesn't read fiction. He's a scientific, military man and comes from a scientific family.

That said, he's totally supportive. He doesn't like me to work outside the home so I can concentrate on my writing. Whatever I need - a new computer, whatever, he gets for me. We do everything together, so he goes with me to my romance and mystery writers' groups, book signings, lectures, whatever. Of course, I go to his rocketry and gem/mineral meetings, too.

The only thing more important to him than my writing time is his dinner, and that's only once a day.

We married late (in our 50s) and pleasing each other is our top priority. Of course, I think he likes being 'the author's husband' and when I introduce him as 'my personal patron of the arts...'

Yes, I know how lucky I am.

Janis Susan May, who can't remember her passwords...

Magnolia said...

My hubby is off the charts way, way above 10 when it comes to supporting my writing.

He never complains about supplies (paper, ink, new computer, printer etc.). I say I need it and that's it.

He tells me repeatedly how great I am as a writer (I wish I was as good as he thinks I am).

He reads what I write and if I say I need to write in the evening, he'll say that he'll entertain the kids so I can have time to myself. He never complains about my writing time.

He's always been that way from day one.

So I consider myself very fortunate to have married such a supportive man.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Wow, the scales definitely seemed tipped toward the supportive spouses. Hmm, maybe we should set up some sort of an exchange center for those of us who didn't luck out...

Anonymous said...

I think any spouse who provides financial support, enabling their wife or husband to write full-time, gets an automatic 10.

Michelle, your husband sounds extremely supportive to me. Not in all the ways you'd like him to be, but in the ways he's able to be.

My husband doesn't read fiction, so I certainly don't expect him to read my mystery novels. (However, he has read a couple of my short stories, and--God bless the man--several synopses.)