Interview with Barbara Barnett, Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House M. D.
Joining us today is Barbara Barnett, Co-Executive Editor of Blogcritics, an Internet magazine of pop culture, politics and more owned by Technorati Media. Always a pop-culture geek, Barbara was raised on a steady diet of TV (and TV dinners), but she always found her way to TV’s antiheroes and misunderstood champions, whether on TV, in the movies or in literature.
Barnett’s regular column, “Welcome to the End of the Thought Process: An Introspective Look at House, M.D.” features insightful episode commentaries and interviews with the House cast and creative team. It is the place for intelligent discussion of the hit television series starring Hugh Laurie.
Barbara has had an eclectic career. With an undergraduate degree in biology and minors in chemistry and English, she pursued a PhD in Public Policy Analysis after spending a few years working in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Her first professional writing gig was with a food industry trade magazine, and although it wasn’t exactly like writing for The New Yorker, it completely hooked her on the profession of writing.
She also writes lots of other things, including technology (from a non-geek perspective), the movies, politics and all things Jewish. Based in the north shore suburbs of Chicago, Barnett is married with two brilliant children and a dog. Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. is her first (commercial) book. She hopes it’s not her last.
Welcome to The Book Connection, Barbara. It's a pleasure to have you here. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have a favorite tagline I like to use to sign my writing: “I’ve had an eclectic career because my right brain doesn’t know what my left brain wants to do.” It’s always been a battle between my analytical/rational self and my creative self. My educational career is equally diverse: I have degrees in Biology and Chemistry, but with minors in English and History. My graduate work was in political science. So I’ve been all over the place—and one of the nice things about writing is that I can go in any direction my muse takes me, which satisfies both sides of my somewhat ambidextrous brain.
When did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing since I was about 8 or 9 years old. Poems first and then short stories and then more poems. And then things got more diverse.
Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
That depends on deadlines. I work all day, so I try to sneak in a bit (mostly editing) during the day. I write from the time I get home at 8 PM until about midnight usually. When I was finishing the book, I took a week off and wrote from 5 AM till 1 AM for the entire week. Likewise, when there’s an article I know my readers are waiting for, I’ll write till 1 or 2 in the morning to get it done.
What is this book about?
Chasing Zebras is an intelligent look at one of television’s most popular shows.
Medical students are taught that when they hear hoofbeats, they should think horses, not zebras, but Dr. House’s unique talent of diagnosing unusual illnesses has made House, M.D. one of the most popular and fascinating series on television. Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. takes fans deep into the heart of the show’s central character and his world, examining the way this medical Sherlock Holmes’s colleagues and patients reflect him and each other; how the music, settings, and even the humor enhance our understanding of the series’ narrative; what the show says about modern medicine, ethics, and religion; and much more. Complete with an episode-by-episode guide and quotes from my Blogcritics interviews with cast members, producers, and writers, Chasing Zebras is an intelligent look at one of television's most popular shows.
What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to dig deeper into House, M.D. than the constraints of a blog would allow. The show lends itself to a deeper analysis than most, so I tried to do that.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My husband is wonderfully indulgent and supportive. During the year I spent writing the book, he lived with a messy house and on pita and hummus. He let me read the manuscript to him, giving me feedback and editing suggestions along the way. I could not have done the book without his support. I also have a wonderful supporter and friend in an Australian woman named Mary Dagmar Davies. She’s a retired TV writer/director and has pushed and cajoled me the whole way. She’s been a great believer in the work.
Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?
I am repped by the wonderful Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency in New York.
Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?
The road was pretty smooth. It’s a very long book (430 pages), so I was concerned that my publisher (ECW Press) would want big cuts; they did not for which I’m very grateful. The entire process was as smooth as it could be from my end. Everything from content to copyediting and proofreading went very well.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
Chasing Zebras is available from all online booksellers (Powells, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon, etc) worldwide. It’s also widely available at brick and mortar booksellers (chain and independents) in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia.
Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?
What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?
Hiring a publicist, which was incredibly expensive but I think worth it.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?
Be persistent in your writing and be patient. Be a fearless copyeditor of your own work. Read it aloud—to yourself or someone else. And don’t be afraid to lose pages (or chapters) of your manuscript if it means a better book.
What is up next for you?
Like most writers, I have three novels on my computer. I’m actually about halfway through the most promising. I also have a new non-fiction book in the proposal stage. It’s with my agent, but we haven’t started pitching it yet.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Thanks so much for the opportunity!
Thanks for spending time with us today, Barbara. We wish you continued success.