How To Marry A Mystery Writer

In his excellent book ON WRITING, Stephen King gives the best advice for a long-writing career: Read a lot, write a lot, and stay married.  As a recently enaged young man, my mind has been on that last partlately.

I’m 30, almost 31 and I think one of the reasons I’ve put off marriage this long is because I’ve known I wanted to be a writer and I knew it was going to take a special kind of person to be married to a writer.  I also didn’t want to be tied down and prevented from doing all of the things, going all of the places, and learning all of the lessons needed for a vital writing career.

But now that I’ve had all of those experiences and I’m settling into a semi-responsible life I’ve been looking for that someone special and it’s been an interesting hunt.  It took me quite a while to realize the best mate for me as a writer is NOT another writer or artist.  I like to be the artsy fartsy one, the tortured one, the irresponsible and dreamy one.

So finally I found my perfect match in a banker named Becky Kilgore who owns a grand total of maybe 10 books.  She doesn’t read much, but she reads my stuff and asks the kind of great common sense questions that only non-readers are capable of noticing.  She has no tolerance for literary flair without purpose and is ruthless in her need to be entertained.  That’s great for me.

Now, to those of you out there with spouses and significant others,here’s a chance to give advice and shout-outs to your own best partner.  What balance of reader/non-reader or writer/non-writer works
for you.  Any advice for my bride-to-be on being married to a writer? And also, tell us about some of the worst writer’s spouses  you’ve heard of.  We want dish people.

Bryon Quertermous

24 thoughts on “How To Marry A Mystery Writer

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    Congratulations, Bryon!

    I find there are an astonishing number of non-writing husbands who don’t bother to read their author wives’ work.

    I don’t see any way that can be good.

    I think the writer/writer thing can work, but have to admit it never has in any lasting way for me.

  2. Joan Conwell

    Congrats, Bryon! I recently blogged on this very topic!

    The best advice for the spouse of a writer is that writers need significant chunks of undisturbed time. Even if we look like we are just gazing blankly at a spot on the wall,we are in fact plotting and don’t like to be interrupted. Understanding that is a great first step towards being the perfect writer’s spouse.

    In my case, I don’t let my hubby read my work until it is finished. If he was commenting on every draft I would make constant changes to suit him and never complete the piece.

    All best,

  3. Naomi

    My husband’s more of a literary reader and a poet in his heart of hearts. Our taste in books occasionally but seldom intersect. He reads my work when they are in galley stage and he’s usually amazed that I’m able to make all this stuff up.

    In terms of advice, I guess that I would have some for you. Writing is such a egocentric endeavor and sometimes we can feel that what we do is better than other professions. It’s a calling, but it’s also a job. It’s good to have a line firmly in place where the personal doesn’t bleed into the professional.

    The flip side of this is that a non-writer spouse can be overinvolved in a writer spouse’s career. (This seems to happen more with husbands and writer wives, for some reason.)

    And, of course, congrats! It’s nice to see you so happy.

  4. B.E. Sanderson

    When he was younger, and had more time, my husband read everything. He doesn’t get much time to read any more – not even my stuff – but when he does have time, he’s a great sounding board and a wonderful proofreader.

    Advice for your future wife? Keep a sense of humor. When the writer you love suddenly starts talking about something completely off topic, just go with the flow. If your writer is staring off into space, it means he’s working not vegging. Be patient. And love him.

    Congratulations! And many happy years to both of you! =o)

  5. Steven Torres

    One thing I’ve tried to keep in mind as a writer is that being a husband and doing that well is soooo much more important. They say your books are like your children which is a status that would grant them an importance about equal to a wife (if you’re keeping score), but they’re not. Even very good books just come and go (there’s always another, better novel waiting to be written) and sometimes you can keep a novel locked away in a drawer for years (try that with a kid…) or you may decide to kill the novel altogether. Hopefully, with any luck, your wife – your marriage – will outlast all of that.

  6. Bryon Quertermous

    Thanks for the advice everyone. I’m glad to know other writers have managed to have happy marriages and successful careers. I mean if someone can deal with Steven Torres…

    Another aspect of the writing career that I’m sure will come into conflict with marriage is the traveling. I’m looking forward to traveling and want to do a lot of it. My fiancee also likes to travel so I’m sure early on that won’t be a problem, but what about when kids come along?

    Has anyone taken their wife or husband with them to a big mystery conference? How does that work out?

  7. Chris Redding

    My husband does not read fiction at all.He’d probably read my book, make some snarky comment, then I’d have to kill him.What he does for me, is manage the business side of my career. It isn’t much, now, but I hope it will be more later on.He also keeps me grounded.

  8. Sarah

    “one of the reasons I’ve put off marriage this long”

    I’m sorry, what? Of course I live near the Upper West Side, so that will skew my opinion considerably. You’re starting to sound like my mother.

  9. Carol Kilgore

    My husband is an engineer who tries to never read. He gives me space when I need it, and makes sure I get out and about when I need that. When I have plot problems, he’s great at spotting them and always has suggestions on how they can be fixed. Not that I always use them. But they often give me other ideas. BTW, no relation to Becky Kilgore – at least none I know of.

  10. Christa Miller

    My husband seems to have found a good balance between letting me be arty and irresponsible, and kicking my butt to be a good wife and mother. I, in turn, have had to learn to communicate better. If I’m in a creative fog, I need to say so and not be afraid that he won’t be interested, or that he’ll think it’s a bum excuse. He doesn’t; he’s very patient. But he’s also not afraid to tell me the kids need more attention from me.

    As for travel, we both also love to do it, and we did go on a road trip last year with our then-3-year-old – who did great! But he has the right temperament. And I’d never try it with him and the baby. I think once they’re older, we’ll either leave them with relatives, or take them places where we have friends who can help entertain them. The most I’m planning on right now is B’con ’08 and that’s by myself, no kids. I’ll cross the book tour bridge if and when I come to it….

  11. Josephine Damian

    Much blessings to you and your fiance, Bryon!

    I think a non-writer would make a better spouse – it’s rare when competition doesn’t come into play in writer-writer relationships (this applies to friendships as well).

    But I applaud writing couples like Joan Didion and John Dunne who really seemed to make it work.

    Two excellent novels about writer spouses are: “The Wife” by Meg Wolitzer (a comedy/ satire) and “Night Woman” – a thriller by Nancy Price – who also wrote “Sleeping with the Enemy.”

    I highly recommend these books!


  12. Louise Ure

    I’m married to a non-reader, too. But in my case that non-reading extends to my own work, as well. Ah well, I have lots of other key readers, but only one husband.

    My advice in what writers should look for in a spouse? A good income earner.

  13. Aldo

    All good news! As a reader who tries to write when there is time, my wife allows me the time to go and write. Bryon, sounds like all things are on the right track, heading in the right direct. Congrats!

  14. Karen Olson

    My husband’s a writer, too, but he writes non fiction and reads mostly non fiction. He rarely reads my work, except when I ask him to. And then I usually regret it. I’d rather get advice from someone I don’t have to live with.

    He does leave me alone when I’m working, and I leave him alone when he’s working, which is usually at the same time, one of us on the desktop, the other on the laptop. This is usually after our daughter goes to bed. We meet up again for The Daily Show.

    As for traveling with spouses to conferences: I went to Bcon Chicago with my husband and daughter. It was my very first conference, however, and it was hugely distracting, since I didn’t know anyone and I felt guilty for not being with my family when I was doing the Bcon thing and then felt guilty for being with my family when I felt I should’ve been rubbing elbows more with readers and writers. It’s a fine line. They had a grand time seeing Chicago, but I was a mess. We haven’t done that since, but we’re considering Bcon Baltimore as a family outing and most likely LCC Hawaii, just because it would be way cool and we’d take extra time.

  15. JT Ellison

    Bryon, great to have you here at Murderati!

    It’s an excellent question. I’ll refer people to Lipstick Chronicles where a post about spouses caught my eye a while back, but the gist was there are 4 kinds of husband:

    -The Constant Promoter-The “I’m responsible for my wife’s Success”-The Threatened (the one who is so insecure about his own worth that when his wife starts to succeed on her own he can’t handle her independence. They usually split up or she quits writing)-The Supporter

    I’m blessed with a supporter. My husband has been behind this decision of mine to write since Day 1. He must have re-read that first paragraph of the first manuscript 100 times, and he did it patiently, pointed out the flaws, the encouraged me when he saw progress.

    He isn’t my first reader anymore, I have colleagues for that. He’s a non-fiction type anyway. But he is the one who listens when I whine, gives me advice, teaches me about marketing, (though I have a background in it, he’s forgotten more about marketing than many successful entrepreneurs — yes, I’m bragging on him) works as my business partner, etc.

    Many of you have met him. Some people disagree with my choice to have him with me at conferences. My feeling is, if you bring your spouse to the events and they get a real taste of our little microcosm, they may understand our need to stare blankly at walls and give us our space to do so.

    And yeah, a separate income to keep the roof over our heads doesn’t hurt.

  16. Stacey Cochran

    Being married isn’t the hard part. Having kids, on the other hand, is.

    Susan and I have a seven-month-old, and her fulltime job, my two jobs, my fulltime writing and speaking, and our son …

    It’s a task.

    No longer can I just stare at a spot on the wall. If I get twenty minutes of free time, I damn well better be clacking away on the keyboard.

    Seriously, my output has gone from two novels per year to one/year.

    So, in my opinion, the marriage thing isn’t the hard part. It’s the family and dueling careers that’s the challenge.

    But I love it.

  17. pari

    Bryon,What wonderful news! Congrats!

    My hubby and I have been married for nearly 14 years and we’ve learned NOT to let him read my work. He loves science fiction — boy stuff, you know, with the drooling aliens and kick-ass military women toting AK-47s — and that’s not quite what I write.

    I think Steven T. and others here have mentioned the need to keep things in perspective. My writing career is immensely important to me. My husband and family are the core of my existence (along with self-care). Most of the time, they’re not in conflict.

    On those rare occasions when they are, you know what I’ll do.

  18. billie

    Congratulations, Bryon!

    My husband is not a novel reader, so he will not be reading my work until it is published. I prefer it that way, and I think he’s fine with it too.

    Otherwise, he is immensely supportive of my writing. He’s very good at noticing when I really need a writing retreat away from home and he takes time off work to make that happen. He not only takes good care of our children, he takes good care of my horses, which is true devotion, as he is not a rider!

  19. Mike MacLean


    Great news man!

    My wife likes my writing style, but not my subject matter. That being the case, she rarely reads my work, which I’m okay with. She is not my audience. Occasionally she tries to steer my tastes towards the supernatural, but quickly gives up when I explain I have to write MY stories.

    She’s a creative soul, currently getting her interior design degree, and exceptionally talented at what she does. I think that helps. A non-creative person might not understand the “writer’s torment” as you call it.

    We have a plan, financially speaking, which I think is key. Even if the plan falls apart (which they often do) at least we are on the same page. We both know where we want our life together to go.

  20. Bryon Quertermous

    Thanks again everybody for the great comments. I think I also forgot to mention Simon and the nice people of Murderati for letting me guest blog today. I could get used to this.


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