Interview with Barbara O'Neal

3 years ago

Jennifer Vido

 Barbara O'Neal

As a seasoned blogger, I am never more gratified than when I connect with my followers. Oftentimes, special friendships blossom simply from the exchange of ideas between two strangers with a common interest. No matter what your hobbies may be, there is no shortage of blog options available. From wine enthusiasts to specialty chefs and even high-end dog groomers, you never know what you might find on the web.

 This month’s Jen’s Jewels Barbara O’Neal addresses this very topic in her latest release, The All You Can Dream Buffet: A Novel. It’s the story of four women bloggers with varied interests and ages who come together in the beautiful Oregon wine country for a life-changing reunion. Despite their professional prowess, the Foodie Four are each at a crossroads in life. Together they unite in this unforgettable tale of friendship, love, and heartfelt emotion.       

As part of my interview, Random House Publishing Group has generously donated five copies for my readers to win in the trivia contest that follows the interview. Winners will be randomly drawn. Be sure to keep up-to-date on all the latest news in the publishing business by stopping by, follow me on Facebook, or on Twitter and Pinterest @JenniferVido. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewelsthe ultimate source for news on the web for today’s hottest authors.              

Jen: As a six-time Rita award winner, your path to publication is a story in itself. So that my readers may catch a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please briefly share with us your educational and professional background.

Barbara: My goal was always to be a novelist, but my father wanted me to be sensible, so I studied mass communications with a goal of being a journalist. It was great training—I learned to write to a deadline, to write on demand, to tone done my (very baroque!) language. I worked for a newspaper for eight months as an intern and realized that was not at all what I wanted to do. Novels were—and are—my love.

Jen: Please describe for us your “Aha!” moment when you decided to take the plunge and pursue a career as a writer.

Barbara: There were two. When I was in the 5th grade, I read an author bio at the end of a book I’d been reading and it occurred to me that people wrote books. Like that was their job. And my thought was, very clearly: why would you do anything else?

The second was as I was finishing my internship and university degree. I tended bar to make ends meet, and one night I over heard my favorite reporter telling her friend that one day she would quit the paper and write her novels. My heart seized—and I knew I’d be her, at 40 telling my friends that if I didn’t give novels a shot right now, while I was still poor and used to it. So I talked to my husband and asked if he’d give me five years to see if I could sell a novel. He took a big gulp (we were about to NOT be poor, finally!) and said yes. I will be grateful forever.

Jen: Besides writing books in various genres, you also have a blog, For my readers who may not be familiar with its content, please tell us how it evolved.

Barbara: The blog came out of my experiences as columnist, actually. I’ve always loved the simple, ordinary conversation that can evolve around women just talking about their lives, and wanted to establish a place for that. I love talking about travel and food and showing off my photos, so it was a very natural, very happy habit to develop.

I have to admit I’ve been distracted by blogging elsewhere over the past couple of years, so have neglected my own. The past year, I’ve given up all the other blogs and will be bringing everything back to A Writer Afoot.

Jen: In December 2010 your delightful novel How to Bake a Perfect Life, which I was thrilled to feature on my website, was chosen as a Target Club Pick. How did that recognition affect your career? How did you handle the pressure of such an honorable distinction? 

Barbara: That was a big, big moment in my career—as it is for any writer who is lucky enough to be chosen.  It brought in a lot of new readers and it was so much fun to see the book featured in stores, and I am very grateful to have had the chance. 

The pressure in writing doesn’t come from the good things that happen, at least for me. It comes from the unexpected bad things. So it was so much happiness and fun. I loved it.

Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, approximately how long does it take for you to write a book? And, what is the most challenging part of the writing process?  

Barbara: It takes anywhere from a year to two years to write a book. Most of that is the brewing process—it seems that I have to run the movie in my head over and over and over and over again before I can write it. I’ll gather a few bits, a character, a situation, something that’s magical, a possible food and let it all brew for awhile. When it starts to shove other projects out of the way, I’ll sit down and start trying to capture it.  The actual writing doesn’t take as long, probably because of all that journalism practice.  I’m very methodical about the actual writing: I show up 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week and write. No internet, no email, no drama, just writing.  I often get a draft done in a few months. 

It does help to have all that brewing time, knowing the story before I start.

Jen: Your latest release The All You Can Dream Buffet: A Novel centers around four foodie bloggers on a journey of self-discovery. I absolutely devoured this book. What a gem! What inspired you to write this book?

Barbara: I am so happy to hear that you loved it. It was such a great journey for me!

The magazine Artful Blogging triggered it. I love food blogs, of course—who doesn’t these days, and for a foodie like me, they are heaven.  All those photos! All that potential for great food and drink! 

But I’m also a fan of the magazine, and one night as I was reading it, I started wondering what it would be like if your life really was turned upside down by a blog. It struck me that all the women in the magazine had discovered their own voices, themselves, with the blogs they created, and that’s powerful stuff.  Ginny walked into my imagination shortly afterward.

Jen: Lavender Wills is the owner of Lavender Honey Farms situated in the Oregon wine country. Nearly eighty-five years old, she manages a successful organic farm. What is her motivation for bringing the ladies together?   

Barbara: She’s a powerful woman, and not given to leaving life to chance. The lavender farm is her dream and her legacy and she’s not about to let it just pass into the hands of people who will not understand what it means and how it matters. She brings the other bloggers to the farm to evaluate if one of them might be right to inherit.

Jen: Ginny from Kansas is a baker who photographs her own culinary treats. Her decision to make the trip is more than just a desire to meet her fellow bloggers. How does her decision to attend affect her relationship with her husband Matthew?  

Barbara: Ginny’s life was transformed when the people in her world found out she was a modestly famous, well-known blogger.  She discovers that the relationships she thought were sustaining her are really containing her, and she needs to find out what she’s made of, really. Her marriage is in trouble even before she sets out, and it only becomes more strained as she travels.

Jen: Ruby, a vegan from the California Bay area who is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, arrives in her food truck ready for an adventure. How does her vivacious personality rub off on the others?

Barbara: Ruby is one of my favorite characters ever! She stole my heart with her mix of joy and longing, her yearnings and her exuberance. She is a person just bursting with the pleasure of every day living—and for a good reason. Her childhood was overshadowed by painful, extreme illness, and just being alive is a pretty good deal, even when it sucks. Even if your mother left you and your boyfriend doesn’t love you anymore.

Jen: Valerie, a wine blogger from Ohio, surprises the group by arriving with her daughter Hannah despite recently suffering a tragic loss. How does her unexpected presence bring the ladies together?

Barbara: It unites the Foodie Four—and Ginny, especially, needs her friend to be there. Ginny and Val are very close through email, but have never met because Ginny has not been brave enough to step up before. Meeting Val in person makes a big difference for her.

Plus, Val has a connection that allows them to live out a fantasy for Lavender’s birthday.

Jen: Noah, Lavender’s handsome farmhand who served 4 tours of duty in the military, is hiding from his own demons. How does the women’s arrival help him come out of his shell?

Barbara: I live in a military town and one of my friends likes to say that we need to reestablish a temple that used to be part of the ancient world. Women were trained as priestesses to help a soldier through the transition of being a man who kills to a man who loves. The priestesses would heal the returning soldiers with sex and talk, and send them home to their families whole and reconnected.  Noah is reconnecting with life through the farm and all his tasks, but he needs a certain exuberant someone to shatter the last of his soldier self and bring him all the way home.

Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Are you active on social media? And, how would my readers go about connecting with you?

Barbara:  I am active on social media. I’m on Facebook as BarbaraSamuelONeal and Twitter as barbaraoneal.

Jen: Will there be a sequel? And, are you currently at work on your next book? If so, what may you share with us?

Barbara: I’ve had a number of requests for a sequel and admit I thought there might be. Not yet, however. I’m currently working on a story about two women who come together over a mysterious little girl. Peaches and pickles and a legend that caught me by the throat…..

Jen: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with my readers. I absolutely loved The All You Can Dream Buffet. I highly recommend it to my Jen’s Jewels readers.

Barbara: I’m very honored to be invited, and so thrilled you enjoyed the book!

Please stop by your favorite library branch, local bookstore, or on-line retailer and pick up a copy of The All You Can Dream Buffet: A Novel today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, send me an email at with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll be entered into the contest. Good luck! (Offer void where prohibited.)

What is the title of Barbara’s blog?

Next month, I will be chatting with Nina Stibbe about her upcoming release, Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home. You won’t want to miss it.

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