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Debut Novelist: Origins

Originally published at Blogcritics Magazine

Six months from now, my debut novel The Apothecary’s Curse will hit the shelves: the wood shelves of brick and mortar booksellers, the virtual bookshelves of every online merchant, library shelves, and wherever else fiction is perused and consumed. The novel will be published “traditional” – Pyr, the SF imprint of an established independent publisher Prometheus Books (sales and distribution by Penguin-Random House).

This series on writing, a sort of retrospective journal, details my journey: from my initial idea, through outlining, writing (and continuing to use my outline as a touchstone even when the story ventured far from my original concept), editing, re-editing (and some interesting new ideas that process triggered), the decision making process (self-publish or traditional, and all that entails, structural decisions, and “killing my darlings”), and finally, sale. Workshopping, tricks, software apps and online resources are all part of my tale that go hand-in-hand with crafting a well-written (and hopefully a compelling and successful) first novel.

I want this to be a conversation among us: published novelists and those who wish to be (whether self-published or traditional, with these weekly columns providing the fodder for lively debate. But first, a little background on me and my story as a writer.

Novelists are perpetual dreamers, even (or perhaps especially) in broad daylight. We imagine and then create worlds that don’t exist, characters that live and speak only in our minds in some alternate or altered reality.  We are storytellers, often have been since childhood.

I love stories. I love to experience them unfold in ink and paper, in pixels and iPad, on screens large and small. Even more than reading and watching them, I love writing them. I must write. I have been through several re-imaginings of my career; some have been writing related, some not. But since I was a young child I have been compelled to write fiction.

I think I began my first by-now-long-forgotten novel when I was about ten or eleven years old. Back then, I kept ideas (so many ideas), characters, and opening paragraphs in a classic black marbled composition book. I wrote poems that no one “got.” I remember my sixth grade “advanced” language arts teacher calling one of my best poems (ever) superfluous because it was about the microscopic pond life found in a flooded area of my backyard. She literally called it “superfluous,” which as an eleven-year-old, I, of course, thought meant “super”-something. Imagine my disappointment when I looked it up in the dictionary! Ah, my first SAT word.

In retrospect, she was probably telling me to be more concise (it was a poem after all), but it still stings just a bit. Thanks a lot Miss Lefkowitz! I was more fortunate through the following years. Teachers, like Ruth Ann Belser in freshman English who loved my prose and encouraged my poetry (that A+++ I earned for my work in her class still makes me smile), and the Chicago poet Michael Anania, with whom I studied when I was a Biology/Chemistry major(!), and who helped me develop a sense rhythm to my prose. And then there was my favorite professor all time, an Organic Chemistry professor Dr. Ronald Baumgarten who insisted to us all that science, too, was poetry. He taught us of the connectedness of all things in the physical world, the beauty of molecules, the elegance of crystals. The order and chaos–entropy and order–of the world.

My mother, now gone six years, introduced me at a very young age to the beautiful supernatural ballads of the British Isles, sparking in me a lifelong fascination with the likes of “The Two Magicians,” Tam Lin, elfin lovers, “wraggle-taggle Gypsies,” unquiet Graves and Thomas the Rhymer. Who were these magical characters, so pervasive in literature, yet belonging to a world that did not (in our experience) even exist?

All of these personal influences helped to form me as a writer..and now as a novelist.

It is where my story begins, but in the next entry, we’ll take a long leap forward to the literary embryo that would become The Apothecary’s Curse.

Where does your inner novelist begin? Where did it lead? Tell us below in the comments section (or Tweet me @B_Barnett).

You can buy The Apothecary’s Curse at (or any other online bookseller). Put it on your “to read” list at Goodreads as well!

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Barbara Barnett


  1. Priscilla Bettis on February 21, 2020 at 2:26 am

    My inner novelist began about 3 years ago. I have three practice novels under my belt. Maybe this WIP, my 4th novel, will be publishable . . . guess time will tell!

    Congrats on The Apothecary’s Curse!

    • Barbara Barnett on February 21, 2020 at 4:30 am

      Good luck! I always have several WIPs on my hard drive. Be relentless until you can type “The End.” Thanks for leaving a comment!!


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