Interview with Barbara Barnett, author of 'Chasing Zebras'

Barbara Barnett is 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.

Visit Barbara’s website at www.barbarabarnett.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Barbara. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D?

I’ve been writing since I was around 9 or 10. My career has been pretty eclectic and it’s gone off on tangents now and then, but writing, whether or not it’s been part of my formal job, has always been important to me. I got my first professional writing gig about three years out of undergrad with a business magazine. It wasn’t quite like writing for The Atlantic, but it hooked me on the profession. I’ve been writing professionally in one form or another since then.

I’ve also always been a TV addict, and shortly after I started writing a regular column for Blogcritics (where I’m now co-executive editor), I came up with the idea to write a book on the wonderfully complex television series House, M.D.


Q: I love your title! Can you tell us why you chose it?

Chasing Zebras refers to the type of medicine practiced by House, M.D.’s central character, Dr. Gregory House. He often points out that although doctors are taught in medical school that when you hear hoof beats you think “horses” not “zebras.” But House’s specialty is to diagnose medicine’s zebras: rare and essentially undiagnosable diseases and illnesses.


Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

Some television series are so multifaceted they invite deeper analysis than most. House is one of those series. Hugh Laurie once described the scripts as “Faberge eggs.” He’s right. In any one episode, there are personal, ethical, medical and even religious ideas to tease out—all woven together in a medical procedural television show. The acting, too—especially Hugh Laurie’s add to the density. But most people watch television casually, and it’s hard to pick up on the series intricacies. That’s what Chasing Zebras does for readers—even those who casually (or even only occasionally) watch it.


Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

My publisher sent out dozens of books and press releases throughout the U.S. and Canada when the book was released. It also promotes it both on its website and its “Books on TV” blog.


Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

There are a few other books about House, M.D. on the market. There are a couple academic treatments about the philosophy of the series. There are a couple of books on the show’s medicine, and an official guide produced by the studio that goes into the behind the scenes. Chasing Zebras touches on all of these areas in an accessible, fun way. But this is a book for the fans—written by a fan of the show—but one who’s had some access to the cast and creative team. It also has a great six season episode guide, with lots of hidden treats that you will find nowhere else. I go between the lines and underneath the dialogue to extract the show’s takes on everything from society to religion; hypocrisy to medical ethics.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

It’s a chapter on the connections between House (the character) and Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but Conan Doyle was also a trained physician; his mentor was a man named Dr. Joseph Bell, who (very interestingly enough) was a doctor much like House, M.D.’s Dr. Gregory House. Bell would amuse his friends by diagnosing random people by simply looking at them—their affect, the way they hold their head, quirks in their manner, etc. Dr. House uses that particular gift all the time to diagnose (and amuse himself). The connections between House and Holmes are numerous. They both reside at a 221B Baker Street (in Princeton and London, respectively), Holmes and House both have drug issues, meddling best friends, and play music. House even has his own Moriarty!
Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

It’s the 60th anniversary of the “TV Medical Series” genre in 2010. I’m hoping to write a book taking a look at all the great medical series and what they’ve said about us over the decades. Can’t really say any more than that at this point.


Q: Thank you for your interview, Barbara. Do you have any final words?

Thanks for the opportunity! You can find me on the Internet via Twitter, my website, or my writing home at Blogcritics.
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