This has been quite a year, since last Thanksgiving. What had been hopeful email exchanges between my agent and a publisher or two last November about my debut novel The Apothecary’s Curse has emerged into a fully realized and published novel. I’m still scratching my head a bit, and the grin on my face has not yet worn off since the book’s release last month. Like I said. Quite a year.
As I sit in my living room, gazing at the mess that is my house, and praying that I get it tidied enough for my housecleaning crew to ready it for my family descending for the Thanksgiving weekend (that would be my daughter, son-in-law, toddler grandson, son, and the grand-dog Dobby), I wanted to pause and reflect on those to whom I owe thanks for this extraordinary year. (You might say I’m procrastinating from my cleaning chores, but if I wait, the moment may never come before the holiday).
As I crafted the The Apothecary’s Curse, I realized I had–something. That something propelled my writing, allowing me to finish the first draft in three months or so. But a first draft does not make a novel, but good starting material, ready for layering, nuancing, finessing and refining–and exploring. I doubt I would have got as far as I did with the drafting phase had I not had a useful plotting guide to help me along beforehand. I wrote my first draft as part of Media Bistro’s Novel Writing Class, an online critique class that afforded me both peer criticism and the gentle, guiding criticism of my instructor Erika Mailman.
I also had a few friends and industry people, especially Denise Dorman, Jon VanZile, and Mark Spencer, who read very early drafts of Apothecary, who both gave me encouragement and the confidence to believe I had the makings of a real, publishable novel on my hard drive. (And who wrote wonderful blurbs for the book!)
Which leads me to my agent, Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, who repped my House, M.D. book Chasing Zebras, and who was with me all the way while writing Apothecary. There is a scene in the novel where someone is executed, burned at the stake for “magical healing.”
It’s a small but significant moment in the life of my main character Gaelan Erceldoune, and her suggestion to give this character, who had been the personal physician of King James VI of Scotland, a bigger “platform speech”–impassioned final words before execution. Her suggestion set me onto deeper research on the subject, which led me to adding power to what was a small scene, turning it into something that haunts my main character the rest of his life. This was but one small suggestion of her many that helped me create what Barnes and Noble, Risingshadow and others have called a fresh and unique take on the genre.
And I cannot forget my husband for his insightful critiques at each draft of Apothecary, whether it was suggesting I tweak one thing or another, or make a more direct suggestions that would impart more tension or up the stakes even more. Some I took; others I did not, but his care and interest helped me more than anyone to finish and fine tune the novel.
Pyr Books (an imprint of Prometheus) ultimately acquired the book in late February of this year, and for that I thank Editorial Director Rene Sears, who not only enjoyed the novel, but believes in it, the characters and their story. Apothecary’s publication schedule was incredibly ambitious with an October release, so the months between March and late July when the manuscript was sent to the printer was a whirlwind of editing, copyediting, proofing and waiting. During this time, I was gifted with a wonderful copyeditor whose light, yet incisive, copy-editing touch enabled me to add my own new edits (Are we ever done editing our own work? Answer: Yes, at the proofreading stage), revisiting and refining Apothecary with my own red pen (or rather red Word Track Changes).
During this time, the cover of Apothecary was placed into the hands of the talented Galen Dara, whose first name bears an ironic and amusing resemblance to that of my main character! Galen’s gorgeous evocative cover is a delight and a treat for readers of the book. If you look closely, there are many Easter eggs contained in the artwork, from the fire to the tree to the ouroboros right in the middle of it. To the skylines of both Victorian London and present-day Chicago. The night sky with its stars, so important to Gaelan, and the atmospheric colors all speak of the novel, its themes and touchstones. Congratulations to Ms. Dara for winning this year’s Best Artist World Fantasy Award (not for this book, but for her work in general!).
Also during this time, I asked several industry folks to take time from busy schedules of their own to read Apothecary and (if they liked it) write blurbs for the back cover. So many of them gave so generously of their time, words, and endorsements. Thank you so much to Jane Espenson, Doris Egan, Jay Bonasinga, Shanna Swendson, for you kind words!
I am thankful as well for the book’s designer, down to the beautiful, elegant Garamond typeface (OK, I have to say, I love the “Qs,” with their long, elegant swashes–yes, I am a font nerd!). And the fantastic publicity team (I’m talking to you Jake Bonar!), who has reached out to publications large and small, gaining Apothecary reviews and interviews with major general outlets (Shelf Awareness, Booklist, Romantic Times, Barnes and Noble Buzz Newsletter), as well as in the book Blogosphere and genre sites (Tor.com, BlackGate, RisingShadow, CivillianReader, Gnostolgia, Fantastical Librarian, and so many, many others!!) Thanks to Hanna Etu who managed the blurb process, and awards submissions.
I also want to take the opportunity of Thanksgiving to thank the reviewers, readers, fans and friends who have read The Apothecary’s Curse in the month since its release. I am gratified by all the Goodreads reviews, Amazon.com reviews, blog reviews and interest in my novel. It is so important for a debut novel (and novelist) to get word out as far and wide as possible, and you, the reviewers and bloggers and Tweeters and FB-ers are the megaphone that make such a difference! There were no fewer than sixty fantasy novels that were released the same week Apothecary came out. Your words and recommendations mean the world to me!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people over the last few weeks who, when I mention The Apothecary’s Curse, tell me they’ve read about it, seen it or heard about it.
This year has been quite a year for Barbara Barnett, the novelist, beyond Apothecary. I’ve achieved membership in both the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA, which awards the Nebula Awards) and the Horror Writers Association (HWA, which awards the Bram Stokers). I’ve been invited to speak about Apothecary at conferences, bookstore events and Cons. So very much for which to be thankful as a writer and novelist.
So, thank you all, whether you’ve read The Apothecary’s Curse or plan on it. Enjoy and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!