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From Mild-Mannered Mom to Writer of Dark Fantasy

Since The Apothecary’s Curse came out in 2016, most people in my personal circle of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues are only mildly surprised that I’m a writer in my “other” life. They know I’ve written about television for Blogcritics for many years; some know I wrote a very well-received book about the TV series House, M.D. (that I’m proud to say is still out there in several languages). But when I tell them I’ve written a very dark tale, suitable only for adults, they generally assume I’ve written a kid-friendly story suitable for the educator that I am in my “day job.”

The Apothecary’s Curse and its forthcoming sequel Alchemy of Glass (April 21, 2020) are historical fantasis dealing with the consequences of immortality, of attempting to control technology that is beyond our learning. It leads to torture, trauma, despair, and a life living in the shadows, hiding from any and all who might wish to learn the coveted secret of living forever. Part SF, part Fantasy, part psychological (and a little Gothic) Horror, part Mystery, with a dash of Steampunk and Romance, the novel series has emerged from a place in my imagination formed when I was in elementary school.

I’ve always had a thing for psychological horror stories. I grew up on Edgar Allen Poe and the great Gothic novels. HG Wells and Lovecraft. Asimov, Lester Del Rey, and Arthur C. Clarke. I owe much of that to having had an older brother who’d left home for college and left behind a library of Analog Magazines, along with every other SFF magazine out there. I began reading the genre when I was about nine or ten! I didn’t understand much, I’m sure, of the subtext, the political sensibilities. But I knew I loved the dark foreboding atmosphere, the palpable fear of technology run amok. Yes, even then!

My mom insisted I watch The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits with her when I was even younger. (Moms, right?) I must’ve been seven or eight years old when I was introduced to these macabre, weird worlds. I loved the eeriness of the opening credits, the dark, dry sense of humor with which Hitchcock presented, and the cool, scary admonitions of Rod Serling. I remember these shows as if I watched them yesterday. They left indelible marks on my mind and in my literary tastes. And Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette” (Hitchcock’s theme song). Yeah, that, too.

The die was cast, and no matter what else I did with my life (and I’ve had careers ranging from biochemistry to environmental policy to Jewish liturgy and education!), my tastes were set. It is little wonder why, when began writing fiction seriously, I would gravitate toward my first influences.

Every time I’ve started a novel (and I have several in progress, in various states), no matter the genre I think I’m writing: medical mystery, romance, political thriller, Victorian drama, the story I want to tell in my deepest writer’s heart takes a fantastical turn toward the dark side. Go figure!

The Apothecary’s Curse and Alchemy of Glass are available from online and brick/mortar booksellers across the globe, or through your local library.

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Barbara Barnett


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