Elise Blackwell, Author of An Unfinished Score, chats about Book Clubs, Marriage, and Inspiration
I'm excited to welcome Elise Blackwell, author of An Unfinished Score. In Elise's fourth novel, she tells a story of marriage, music, infidelity, friendship, betrayal, and loss. Suzanne, a concert violist, finds out her illicit lover, a renowned conductor, has died. Suzanne grieves silently. But his widow knows about the affair and blackmails her into finishing his last composition. Elise intertwines music and her lyrical prose taking the reader through the emotional challenges to the unexpected end. NO SPOILERS -- you have to read it to the end!
Elise chats about reading group questions, marriage, and the inspiration for An Unfinished Score. Thanks so much, Elise, for writing this post for On the Bookcase!
When I visit book clubs, a question that comes up more often than not is “what’s it like to be a writer married to another writer?” Often lurking under the question is the assumption that it must be awful. Portrayals of writers (and their marriages) in movies such as The Squid and the Whale don’t help. We’re reputed to be narcissistic, difficult, childish, and prone to philandering. I recently laughed as hard at anyone with the online literary journal HTML Giant posted a piece titled “Reasons You Should Not Date Writer (if you are a writer),” including, of course, “You will be poor.” Some of the items on the list were amusing because they rang at least a little true: “Writing is not mysterious to writers, so they will not romanticize, mythologize, or idealize what you do” and “Critiquing each other’s work … may result in the laying of emotional landmines.” I still remember my husband’s initial response to a draft of my first novel: “You write very clearly.” Talk about damning with faint praise!
But mostly it works very well, and several other writers who are also married to writers confirm the positives. Who else would understand that you might want to spend a gorgeous Saturday inside, alone, pecking at your computer because you’ve just had a plot breakthrough? (Having dated non-writers before I met my husband, I’m sure the answer is “hardly anyone.”) Another writer understands the compulsion, as well as the ups and downs—why it’s important to celebrate a book acceptance the day it happens and how bad certain rejection letters feel.
Some items on that seven-point list of reasons not to date writers weren’t funny, suggesting serious relationship problems welling from ego, competition, and staking out the same autobiographical material. I feel lucky in this regard: my husband’s ego is both modest and solid, we’ve been in the writing life together from the beginning and genuinely celebrate each other’s successes, and neither of us write fiction that is autobiographical. That’s not always the case; I know enough writers to have seen the dark side of writerly marriage.
And so when I sat down to write a novel about two musicians married to each other, I pondered both the advantages and the potential emotional wreckage of a marriage between two people committed foremost to the same art form. What if they didn’t always admire each other’s work? What if they brought out each other’s professional insecurities? What if one was more successful in some ways but not others? What havoc might their travel schedules wreak? Might professional and personal jealousies ever blend? Can you betray your spouse with your creative work?
An Unfinished Score is about a lot of things, including how to make a life of art in a contemporary world defined by box stores and rapid-fire news and social media. Most of all, though, it’s about relationships between people. It’s about relationships among women as both friends and competitors. It’s about relationships between men and women. It’s a portrait of romantic love and of marriage, complicated by the fact that all the players love music a little more than each other.