Interview with Barbara O’Neal

Welcome, Barbara! Thank you so much for taking the time to drop by and chat with us this month. We’re so excited you’re going to be the guest speaker at our annual meeting, but for those who can’t make it to RWA Nationals this year, it is great that you came by the blog on your way to NYC.

  1. Would you consider your current books to be Women’s Fiction, Romantic Women’s Fiction, or something else?

I always have a thread of romance in my books. I like it, and I strongly feel that most of us want a partner.

That said, my last few books have leaned hard into the Women’s Fiction realm, since the stories focus a lot on other parts of the main character’s life. In The Art of Inheriting Secrets, a woman grieving her mother has to figure out why her mother lied to her, and what she wants to do with her inheritance. She’s also falling in love, but the main story is the house and the mystery. In my upcoming When We Believed in Mermaids, the focus is on two sisters who shared a magical and terrible childhood, but there’s also a romantic thread.

  1. You’ve been writing for a long time (clearly you were first published when you were twelve) and you’ve changed genres at least once. Can you tell us why, and if you like one genre the best?

I love women’s fiction the best. When I first started writing books for myself, that was what my genre was—it’s just that there was no commercial market for that kind of book. You could write gothic mysteries or big historical romantic fiction or maybe cozy mysteries, but the WF market just didn’t exist. It started to gather momentum in the late 90s and that’s when I started getting serious about it.

Before that, I wrote WF smaller in my category romances. They’re still all about issues in woman’s lives. Even my historicals are about women trying to find a life of meaning in a world that isn’t structured to give her what she wants. The Lark O’Neal books are Young Women’s Fiction, again about a young woman trying to figure out what life she wants to live.

They’re all my books. I only change names for the sake of branding. It’s crazy, but a lot of women’s fiction readers wouldn’t be caught dead reading romance. I have the discussion a lot at book clubs.

  1. You have a new book coming out soon (the week of Nationals, in fact!). Can you tell us a little bit about it?

When We Believed in Mermaids is the story of two sisters who had a magical and terrible childhood on the beach near Santa Cruz. Josie, the troubled one, was blown up in a terrorist attack fifteen years ago, but one night, Kit, who is now an ER doctor, sees her dead sister on the news from a night club fire in Auckland. It’s so unmistakably her that Kit has to try to track her down. It’s told in two storylines, the past of their childhood as the children of a restaurant on the beach and in the present day as Kit tries to track down the mysterious woman on the news. It’s about love and sisters and there is, as always, a great love interest. I truly love Kit as much as any character I’ve ever created.

  1. What kinds of things do you do to keep the creative fires stoked?

Keeping the well full is one of my crusades. I strongly believe that a writer—an artist of any kind—has a responsibility to her muses to keep them supplied with inspiration. I’ve been writing a long time, so I’ve built a life that incorporates that element. I have a ton of hobbies that fill the well—gardening, watercolors and drawing, photography, cooking. I make sure to talk to my friends and get away from the computer once a week or so to go out into the world. Of course, we have to keep regular hours and set limits on leaving the house (I have rules about that, too. Mondays and Thursdays are stay-home days. I can go for a walk or go outside in my own garden, but I can’t leave in the car, not even to go to the grocery store.

  1. You probably get asked this all the time, but are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you have a specific writing routine?

I’m in-between, and I plot entirely from character. I have to know the characters very well before I can begin, and I plot from their flaws and hungers. I like to have a few strong turning point scenes and a solid idea of what the ending will be, and I wrote a long synopsis (15-25 pages) to tell myself the story. Once I get going, I like to plot out scenes about 15-20 at a time, and I at some point, I always turn to Robert McKee’s “the negation of the negation,” which is the way he phrases the dark moment of a book, reversing the story values of the work. It’s a little mind-bending at times, but I really love the way it takes me deeper, deeper, deeper.

  1. If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring Women’s Fiction writer, what would it be?

Finish what you start and when you finish a book, start a new one. It’s the way to learn to craft inside out, and also figure out your voice.

Here’s a little about Barbara in case you haven’t had the chance to read her books. Barbara O’Neal is the author of twelve novels of women’s fiction, including The Art of Inheriting SecretsHow to Bake a Perfect Life, and The All You Can Dream Buffet. Her award-winning books have been published in more than a dozen countries, including France, England, Poland, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Brazil. She lives in the beautiful city of Colorado Springs with her beloved, a British endurance athlete who vows he’ll never lose his accent.

The author of more than 70 novels, Barbara has won seven RITA awards in four categories (mainstream with romantic elements, contemporary romance, category romance, and historical romance). She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. | Facebook | Twitter | Website | Newsletter

Big News! Barbara’s our featured speaker at the RWF Chapter AGM and Social at Nationals this year! Register NOW at

3 thoughts on “Interview with Barbara O’Neal

  1. Thanks, Barb–I’ve been a big fan for a long time and always like and identify with what you have to say about the writer’s life. You run a great workshop, too. See you in NY.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this interview! I’ve been a fan of Barbara’s writing for quite a few years because she writes Women’s Fiction with some romance – my favorite reads.

    Keeping the well full is important for me, too. It’s wonderful to hear that successful writers make time for other creative outlets. They complement each other. In my spare time, I make bead dolls, fabric art and jewelry.

    I’m looking forward to more writing gems from Barbara in New York.


  3. Hi Barbara,
    I really enjoyed the interview. You’re so right about keeping our muses supplied with inspiration. Sometimes, it’s too easy to lock yourself away at the computer and think only word count matters. It’s the world around us and the things we do that really can bring out the best in our writing. Thank you for the reminder 🙂

    Sharon Struth


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