Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Barbara Barnett?
That is always the hardest question for me to answer. One part science geek (with the academic credentials to prove it!), one part SFF fan (since I was but a wee lass and saw my first Twilight Zone episode), one part political science wonk (with the academic credential to prove that too!) and several parts writer with an often too-wild imagination. Is that too many parts? Hmmm.
Alchemy of Glass, the sequel to The Apothecary’s Curse, is due to be published by Pyr in April. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader? And what can fans of the first novel expect from this second book?
The Apothecary series follows the adventures of apothecary/antiquarian bookseller Gaelan Erceldoune, the descendent of Lord Thomas Learmont de Ercildoune (aka Thomas the Rhymer from British Legend). Made immortal by an error in judgement employing his ancient elaborately illuminated book of healing, Gaelan fears discovery most of all.
A 2017 Bram Stoker Award nominee, the first book, The Apothecary’s Curse, is an alchemist’s brew of historical fantasy and cutting edge genetics. The Apothecary’s Curse, and its sequel Alchemy of Glass present to readers complex, intertwined narratives spanning the centuries.
The series has something for every fiction fan sci-fi, horror, romance, and fantasy, interweaves the genres and narratives with an alchemist’s brew worthy of the story’s hero.
If you are already a fan, Alchemy of Glass is a hopefully worthy sequel, both building upon the events in book one and diving deeper into the past, with an entirely new historical story woven into the novel, taking place eleven years before Apothecary’s Curse, exploring the origins of Simon Bell-Gaelan Erceldoune friendship, while taking Dr Anne Shawe on her own journey fraught with an ethical dilemma that might lead her to uncover what might be terrifying secret behind Gaelan’s immortality. Here’s a bit of a teaser for Alchemy of Glass:
In the catacombs of an ancient ruined monastery, hidden away in the Eildon Hills of Scotland, a land of myth and mystery — the place where immortal apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune found sanctuary as a lad — Gaelan discovers a journal, apparently written by his old friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, chronicling an adventure into the Otherworld, a land of fairy castles and filigree trees hung with Spanish moss.
Falling from the journal’s pages, a small piece of glass, which Gaelan recognizes as a fragment long missing from a stained glass panel he’d created a century earlier. When the opalescent glass seems to come alive in his hand, Gaelan is suddenly thrust into strange world far from the fantastical dreamscape Conan Doyle describes.
Alchemy of Glass weaves a tale magical as spun glass and terrifying as a shattered mirror, drawing upon cutting edge science and the most ancient of Celtic mythology, intertwining the magic of fairy lore and the harsh reality of difficult choices, returning us to the world of Gaelan Erceldoune as his past, present and future collide.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I knew shortly before finishing the final draft of The Apothecary’s Curse there was much more to Gaelan’s story I wanted to explore. But as I was working on Apothecary I wanted to understand the origins of the Book of Healing central to the first novel. Where did it come from? How was it even possible, and how is that connected to the British fairy stories that have fascinated me forever. Connected to that is my curiosity about how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — physician, journalist and creator of the most rational fictional character ever — could so much believe in fairies until his dying day. Add to that my love of all things glass… voila.
I tend to draw my inspirations from two directions. There is a brilliant philosophy called Radical Amazement in which one maintains a sense of awe, continuously being inspired and wondrous about the universe. I am fortunate to live about 100 feet above the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Chicago. I can sit along the lake all day long watching the waves (especially when it’s windy). There an awesome power to them (yes, and destructive to the beautiful bluff above them). I often am at the shore at dawn and have taken more photographs of the sunrise than I care to admit (some of them are pretty good!!) So I’m always inspired by the natural world, the cosmos…even the weird gingko leaves on the tree outside my home. I am also inspired by the “what ifs” of life (good and bad). What would happen if… So that’s where the inspiration starts more often than not.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
In which she admits to stealing her big brother’s collection of Galaxy SF magazines and all his Asimovs when I was but an eight-year old girl. I suppose my mom’s influence, introducing me to the Twilight Zone when I was about six.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Yikes! I’m a big fan of the very slow moving (by today’s instant gratification) of traditional publishing, despite the speed, but it has its issues. I’ve briefly considered the self-publishing world, but I don’t have the time (rather be writing), and I like having a team of editors, publicists, designers and artists to make sure the book is good at release — and that folks know about it. Advances are better than shelling out your own money, of course. But even with all that, you still must be out on social media, speaking, communicating with people, going to conferences, etc. (which I love!!)
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I tend to storyboard or sketch out the story (the story and characters sometimes have other ideas, but…) and then fill it in for a first draft. To me the real work and satisfactions comes with the second draft. I’m an exhaustive researcher, really filling in the history, science, settings, dialogue to make things as authentic as feasible. For Alchemy of Glass, my true joys came when while researching I hit upon something that explained something in my story (but not necessarily the object of my research). Sometimes that sends me careening in a different direction, and has even changed the arc of a sub-plot or two. Not (by a long stretch) I’ve uncovered in my research (whether math, physics, art, history, medicine, chemistry, etc…) is planted in the novel, but all of it informs the story. I like to limit the amount of exposition and explanation, but all that research comes through hopefully in the final wash, whether through an off-hand comment by a character or an unexpected left turn in the narrative.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I had a poem published when I was 10 years old in something called World Over magazine, a religious school Jr. Scholastic-sort of magazine. It was about Samson and Delilah. 😉
I wrote a very, very good poem in sixth grade, which my teacher called superfluous. I was really upset, until I realized she thought enough of my intelligence to use such an SAT word with 11-year-old me.
I’ve always wanted to be writer. Can’t remember when I didn’t.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think there is much more acceptance these days of cross-genre work than when my agent was first shopping around The Apothecary’s Curse, which is great. I love the wonderful work coming out of both the SFF community and the Horror community. I love genre stories where character is more important than world building.
Alchemy of Glass is really, really cross-genre, just like the first book. There are elements of horror, historical fiction, genuine science fiction, and of course the fantasy element. But there is (again) a deep love story fundamental to the novel and a medical mystery inform (especially) the historical narrative thread of the novel.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I have a 2021 Lord of the Rings-inspired box trivia calendar coming out from Sellers Publishing/RSVP July. It’s the first of three in the works for Sellers! In addition, I am working on two historical science fantasies and one urban fantasy set in Chicago, which explores Jewish mythology.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m reading a lot of political stuff right now (policy wonk that I am). For fiction, I’m consuming as much climate fiction as my voracious appetite can handle. Right now, I’m exploring the work of Octavia Butler — not current fiction, but really excellent.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
OK, on my climate fic soapbox, I would recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain and its sequels. Written years ago, they are terrifying in their prescience.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Hmm. Should I tell? In my other life, I’m ordained clergy and work for a very large synagogue.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Being finished living in a science fiction disaster movie in real time, which I hope we’re through in the next 12 months!! I keep thinking that we’re living the movie Contagion. Not to mention that Alchemy does have at its heart an epidemic. Strange irony. Thank you so much for featuring me and my work in Civilian Reader!