Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Just Begin by Barbara O'Neal
LUCY BURDETTE: We are so lucky this week to hear two answers to a classic question: Where did the idea for this book come from? I never get tired of hearing these stories. Barbara O'Neal--who writes brilliantly about food and people--tells us the story of her new novel today. Welcome Barbara!
BARBARA O'NEAL: People often ask writers where their ideas come from. Often, I have no idea where the seed of a particular idea came from or why it sprouted. In the case of The All You Can Dream Buffet, however, I can remember the moment exactly.
I have a magazine fetish, which I inherited from my mother. When I was a child, she brought home all the grocery store magazines—Redbook and Good Housekeeping, Family Circle and Woman’s Day, and of course, in those days, Reader’s Digest. I read them all, ensorcelled by the promises within the pages. I could be beautiful, and a tidy housekeeper and a good cook. Reader’s Digest was always about overcoming tragedy, so I wished to be good, too. My favorite was Redbook, which contained an entire novel in every issue, and often a couple of short stories as well.
My taste in magazines has changed. I still love to browse the long, long shelves at bookstores and take home a pile of glossy promise, but I’m often seeking another sort of promise. How to be serene in the face of a fast-paced, busy, noisy world; how to exercise to eternal slimness (if I buy the magazine and read the stories, that’s probably good for a couple of pounds, right?). I’ve given up perfect make-up and the perfect house, but I find I still love beauty.
One of the most beautiful magazines is Artful Blogging. Every issue, it showcases several blogs, complete with high quality photographs, samples of the writing, and a personal insight written by the blogger. One night, I was sitting in my chair in the living room, a cat on my lap, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc on the table. Lamplight shone over my shoulder as I leafed through the latest copy of Artful Blogging. I don’t remember the exact bloggers, but there were beautiful photos of one’s food, and another’s old furniture. The light in those photos puts me at ease.
I read the stories of the bloggers, and over and over they said something like, “I had no idea when I started this blog that it would literally change my life. I was only playing around, I was just seeing what I could do. I just wanted a place to show my photos. And then….”
Then the world noticed their talents. They noticed themselves. Over and over, the bloggers speak of their inner transformations. Over and over, it is a woman who might not have had many options, and her life opened like a flower when she took a chance, started a blog.
The writer in me wanted to know…what happened then? What happens if you’re a supermarket cake baker in a small farm town in the heartland and you start a blog about cakes and discover that your gift is for photography, not cakes, and you suddenly have thousands and thousands of followers and you are featured in a magazine, and you’re sort of…famous?
How does that change your life? How does that change your friendships and the people around you? How do those connections you make online change your life? My life has been changed by online connections in ways that amaze and astonish me. I’m sure it has happened to some of you, too.
Out of that moment, sitting in my chair, was born the idea for The All You Can Dream Buffet. Four food bloggers, ranging in age from 24 to 85, come together at the organic lavender farm one of them runs. Ginny is the cake blogger who discovered a gift for photography. She’s a small town girl from Kansas who is living in a very unsatisfying marriage, and has never gone anywhere but Minnesota when she decides to drive a vintage airstream across the country to Oregon to see her friends. By herself, with her dog. Ruby is 24, and runs a vegan blog called The Flavor of a Blue Moon. She’s broken-hearted and pregnant, trying to figure out where she belongs (and by far one of my favorite characters of all time.) Valerie is a wine blogger who hasn’t written a word since tragedy shattered her family, and needs to help her daughter come to terms with everything that happened and live her own life.
Finally, Lavender Wills is the 85-year-old ex-flight attendant who runs an organic lavender farm in Yamhill County. She blogs about honey and lavender and needs to find someone to carry out her legacy, so she is throwing a birthday fling to see if one of the bloggers will be right for the task.
There are dogs and cats and men of some consequence, and an adventure in a vintage Bambi (which I do not own but will one day, trust me!) and recipes and lavender. But the true heart of the book is women’s friendships and the ways we empower each other, and how powerful it can be if we just begin.
Are you a magazine fan? Have you ever started something on a whim that turned your life upside down?
Barbara O'Neal has written more than 40 novels of romance and women's fiction, and has been awarded the RITA seven times. Find out more at barbaraoneal.com