Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guest Q and A with Barbara O'Neal author of How to Bake a Perfect Life

Welcome bestselling author Barbara O'Neal whose latest novel is a Target Breakout Pick!

What’s the backstory behind HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE?

I started thinking about motherhood, and the ways we screw it up even when we're trying very hard to be good mothers. My mother and grandmother had a difficult relationship, in which both parties were always trying to make it work better and they still had trouble. I also have a big Irish family that's meddling and wonderful, so that entered into it, too. The main character is a woman who gets a second chance at almost everything, even as it seems as if her life is falling apart all around her.

What was your greatest challenge in writing the novel?

Juggling all the storylines! I often write multiple points of view but there's even more than usual going on this book and keeping the time lines straight, the characters straight was a juggling trick. In the end, I was very pleased with the way it all meshed--Ramona's terrible summer, Katie's arrival, the faraway and desperate Sofia....

Food is a strong theme in at least two of your novels? Where does that come from? Are you an accomplished cook or do you simply like great food? What is one of your favorite dishes?

I don't know that I am particularly accomplished, but I love to cook and work hard at it. I hate indifferent food and wonder why I would bother to eat it, so I learned to cook well, to at least address the kinds of food and flavors I love, and I am a very good bread baker. My sourdoughs have won prizes.

Favorite dish? So many! A giant Honey Crisp apple with a couple of ounces of very good Gouda. Pork tamales. Macaroni and cheese. Soup of almost any variety (or maybe that's just because the WIP has a lot of soup!), but especially a spinach tortellini that's very simple and nourishing and satisfying. I suppose that would sum up my favorite dishes.

You have written 38 novels. How much has your approach to writing changed since the beginning of your career?

I plan the plots more now, but otherwise, not that much. I am a character writer, so everything stems from the characters and their challenges, histories, and hungers.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite part?
My favorite part is the beginning, when the ideas start to tickle and play, like kittens tumbling around in my head. The books all look so wonderful at that early stage--I'm always sure that THIS time, I won't ruin it the minute I start to write.

My least favorite part is recognizing around page 75 that I still don't know how to cart a perfect novel brick by brick from the other side to this one, so I will have to get it down the best I can.

The next best part is getting the first reactions from the world, realizing that even if I am not getting perfect books over here, the are pleasing people anyway.

You have wonderful titles. At one point do usually come up with them?

Ugh! This is so funny because it's an awful, awful process that only at the very last minute ends up being something decent. I have a working title for every book and I know it won't stick. Then I write the whole book, turn it in to my editor, we go through the editing process and get it into production, and then someone will say, "Okay, we need titles." So editor, agent and agency whizzes and I will go through approximately 97 million possibilities, and reluctantly settle on something we only kind of like. Then, at the last minute, I'll be working away at the next book and something pops into my head. How To Bake A Perfect Life came to me late at night in a hotel room in Tucson after three glasses of wine and a long weekend teaching. I had to get out of bed to write it down.

Barbara O’Neal fell in love with food and restaurants at the age of fifteen, when she landed a job in a Greek café and served baklava for the first time. She sold her first novel in her twenties, and has since won a plethora of awards, including two Colorado Book Awards and six prestigous RITAs, including one for THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS in 2010. Her novels have been published widely in Europe and Australia, and she travels internationally, presenting workshops, hiking hundreds of miles, and of course, eating. She lives with her partner, a British endurance athlete, and their collection of cats and dogs, in Colorado Springs. Visit her at

Happy New Year to all our Readers!

The book giveaways will continue into early January, Our usual Saturday group posts will resume on January 15.  What is your reading/writing goals this year? Please comment. Would love to hear.


  1. Hi :)
    Thank you for the interview with Barbara O'Neal and thanks to Barbara for sharing such indepth answers here. I like how she explained her writing process.
    Happy New Year!

  2. What a great interview!!

    My writing goal for 2011 is to finish my third novel.... and then to get it sold!

  3. Barbara
    So great to see you here! I especially love this part of the Q & A:

    My least favorite part is recognizing around page 75 that I still don't know how to cart a perfect novel brick by brick from the other side to this one, so I will have to get it down the best I can.

    I experience this feeling with everything I write and it is so comforting to hear such a brilliant author express this. Thank you Barbara!
    Happy New Year,

  4. Barbara, I loved HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE. It gives readers so much to chew on (pun intended!). Congrats and Happy New Year!

  5. Barbara, great interview! I have How to Bake a Perfect Life on my Kindle and can't wait to start reading it:)

    A few years before I got published I took one of Barabara's online voice classes. It really helped me look at things in a different way. She's such a terrific teacher! So generous and patient. She is truly an author who reaches out to help others and I wish her the utmost success with this book.

    My New Years Goal? It's a total rip off of Brenda's. Finish my next book and get it sold!

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  6. You have definitely soared, Maria! So happy for your successes.

    Maggie, we all feel that way, I suspect. It's the thing that makes writing so eternally challenging, that we can never learn everything.

    Susan! Thank you (and I love the pun--that's what my mother does, puns, puns, puns. Sign of intelligence, you know).

  7. Happy New Year to you!

    My reading resolution? Read more of my books simply for pleasure. I love reviewing on my blog, but sometimes all I read is review copies, and sometimes I should be reading from my own wonderful shelves as well!

  8. Thanks for sharing, Barbara. Love your title--the book sounds great. My New Year's Goal is to land a contract on my current project. Happy New Year!

  9. Wonderful interview! And I take heart knowing that I'm not the only one who feels like every new novel is its own beast to tame.

    Happy New Year!

  10. Barbara, I love your books and can't wait to read this new one! I'm wondering if you have a method for getting to know your characters before you begin, or whether they evolve as you write?

    And yes, I totally identify with the page 75 despair, and page 100, and 150...

    My new mystery series (writing as Lucy Burdette) is very food-centric so you are one of my role models:).

  11. What a great interview. I love learning about where author's draw their inspiration from and just learning more about them as a person.

    I actually saw your book on the end cap at Target the other day. I was drawn to it like a magnet but had to refrain as I have 2 stocked shelves right now and hubby has me on timeout from buying new books. lol.

    I do have it on my book list on amazon to buy at some point. :D

    My reading goals this year are to push myself out of my comfort zone and read genre's that I normally wouldn't. My writing goal this year is to blog more regularly (I have a travel blog for my husband and I). :D

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