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


  1. While I cannot say that I’ve ever done anything that’s turned my life upside down in a good way, I do enjoy reading magazines . . . and books . . . and now I’m off to find a copy of “The All You Can Dream Buffet” . . . .

  2. I'm not a magazine reader. Used to read Reader's Digest for a few years. And I devoured TV Guide each week for a while. But I've fallen out of the habit and stick to novels these days.

    Something that changed my life? When I started reviewing in 2001, I never dreamed I'd been doing it today still. I wouldn't say I'm famous for it (it is just a hobby after all), but it is something I really enjoy, and it's something that has helped me make some friends I wouldn't have made otherwise, too.

  3. ensorcell
    An Elizabethan term that might be of use to modern cultural commentators. Meaning "enchant, bewitch, fascinate," it is an elegant addition to the clutch of terms we usually use to describe the effect our televisions have on us.
    — ZS

    I found this in my Apple dictionary.

  4. Welcome Barbara! I'm so excited to read this book--your last one was one of my favorites ever.

    I love magazines, though I've gotten out of the habit of buying subscriptions. I bet most families in the 50's got the Reader's Digest:). But I've never heard of the blogging magazine--maybe they'd like to do a story on Jungle Red Writers?

  5. Barbara,

    I've read some of your books, and I DID NOT WANT THEM TO END! Another of your books is on my TBR pile, waiting for me to pick it up and begin reading. I hesitate to do it because I know from experience with reading your books that I'll put my life on "hold" while I'm reading it, and I'll be reluctant to say "goodbye" to the characters at the end of the book! I am eager to see what you did with your newest.

  6. Love the premise for your new book, Barbara! I recognize some of your influences, perhaps.

    My mother also brought home Redbook, and McCalls magazines, and my grandmothers always had Readers Digest, Life, and Look around, which I always made a beeline to. I can still remember a Redbook story I read in high school about a pregnant young woman and the boy next door who was in love with her (but not the father of the child). Very powerful prose.

    Shortly after my youngest child was born I decided I could not go back to selling insurance (soul-destroying business), and I volunteered to write a newsletter for the local professional sewing association. Totally changed my life. It led to the idea for my first book, and the other members gave me so much support and encouragement that it led to an 18-year career in writing, teaching and public speaking.

  7. I read only a limited few magazines regularly. But I am off to find a copy of Artful Blogger now. Sounds like something I should definitely be reading.

    The All You Can Dream Buffet also sounds very intriguing. I know when I started my blog, I had no idea how much it would end up meaning to me. I certainly feel like it has changed me as a person and I look forward to continuing that journey as the blog expands further.

    Thanks for stopping by to tell us about this Barbara.

  8. By the way, one of my ambitions is to own a lavender farm! I have a patch that is going very well, but this year I hope to kick things up a few notches, since I've now learned how to propagate my own.

  9. Gosh, several things!

    First, you had me at "ensorcelled" -- a new word!

    Your story made me think of Caitlin Shetterly, the woman whose blog about how she and he husband took a big leap, pulling up stakes and moving to Los Angeles, only to have to move back to Maine a year later with a baby and an empty bank account, turned into the bestseller "Made for You and Me." Talk about pulling victory from the jaws of defeat.

    Love the premise of your book, especially multi-generational stories of women.

  10. I grew up with LIFE and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, and now read VANITY FAIR, O, THE NEW YORKER, and NEW YORK magazine. Love so many things about magazines!

    Weren't the REDBOOK fiction pieces fun?

    Now we have blogs and I think they are super -- especially JRW. The opportunity to be introduced to someone like Barbara O'Neal. And her books.

    As I say very often. Thank you.

  11. Hi Barbara,
    What wonderful inspiration for a novel. It's such a unique phenomenon in today's world. And it's true: talent can find its way these days through blogging. I'm so eager to read your book. Best of luck with it!
    PS I am SO addicted to magazines that I only allow myself 2 a year: this year it is Bon Appetit and Vanity Fair. Otherwise, I would spend all of my time looking at glossy pages.

  12. There's a blogging MAGAZINE?? What they won't think of next...

    My magazine story--when I used to visit my grandma Minnie, she had Readers Digests. This is like--1962. She also had a typewriter, and I really wanted to learn to type. So I copied the vocabulary words out of RD to practice typing. Talk about life-changing!

    The book sounds wonderful..hurray

  13. Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone! I'm such a fan of Jungle Red that it's a big treat to be invited to blog here.

    Hank it is funny--a magazine about blogging. And I laugh when I read the stories and look at the photos at how much simpler it would be to just go online. But I wouldn't find the same ones.

    And isn't ensorcelled a wonderful word? Thanks to Hallie and Jack.

  14. I wanted to be a magazine person. But I'd subscribe, end up with piles of magazines I never read (because something else was always screaming for my attention), so I gave up the dream. But my grandparents had Readers Digest, and Redbook, and National Geographic, so I remember spending hours looking at all the pictures and daydreaming.

    Have I ever turned my life upside down in a good way? Hmm. Have to think about that.

  15. Kim, here is my terrible secret: my local recycling company pays points every month, and I use them all to buy more magazine subscriptions! I do so love Bon Appetit, and will mourn Gourmet forever and ever.

    I sometimes don't get to them all, but well....there's the recycling bin, right? Shameful, I know, but I do find them so comforting.

  16. I adore magazines! And troll new ones all the time for ideas. So nice to see you here, Barbara! Can't wait to read the Buffet.

  17. What a fascinating blog today. I have to go out and get something of yours to read, Barbara, right now!

    My grandmother always had Reader's Digest and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it (free online subscription when I bought a book recently). We had Redbook and Family Circle and Woman's Day and National Geographic occasionally.

    I love magazines but limit myself to a couple of different subscriptions a year and onsies for the rest. They don't stack up so much that way and I can experiment with whatever catches my eye.

  18. okay okay I am having a fan girl moment here.

    Barbara, I am a huge fan (you knew that). And I have read every word you have written and always want more. I have read an ARC (twice already) of "The All You Can Dream Buffet" and loved it to the moon and back. thank you for writing such lovely books.

    My magazine? Vanity Fair.

  19. To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie (March 25th, 2014)

  20. I don't know what happened to my long post I had typed out. The one that showed up is Debs' book coming out in September, and the only way I see that showing up is that I transferred it on my Reading 2014 list from March to September for new books coming out. Oh, well. I will try a shorter version of what I had typed.

    Barbara, I loved the reminders of magazines when I was growing up--Redbook, McCall's, Life, Ladies' Home Journal, and Reader's Digest. I still have some of the old Life ones. I, also, have a few women's magazines from the 1930's that my mother had saved. Very interesting. My magazine reading at home has lessened over the years, but I have had subscriptions to Southern Living, Oprah, Mental Floss, National Geographic, and This Old House. I do love to buy magazines when I travel on planes, visiting the news shops and picking up a Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and People (for my lack of taste, gossip pick--lol).

    Blogging is something I've come to enjoy, and I have a reading blog called The Reading Room. It has been the impetus for me to start attending more national book events where I have met so many of my favorite authors, like the Jungle Reds. I need to pick the brains of Mark and Kristopher on increasing followers and kicking my blog up a notch.

    So, thanks for a great post, Barbara, and I am putting your book on my wish list immediately. I want to get to know those women you talk about.

  21. Barbara, I loved this piece! (Must buy book!!!) And I had no idea there was a magazine called Artful Blogger. I'm going to look for it. I've discovered a blog recently that I love called Back to Her Roots. Cassie, the blogger, sounds like she would fit right into your story.

    And lavender. Ah. I adore it. I visited the Norfolk Lavender Farm in England once--a life time experience.

    I love magazines, too. I only subscribe to two, otherwise I'd be buried in them, but do occasionally give in to impulse at the supermarket, and love going to big bookstores where they carry the UK home magazines. Great story ideas there!

  22. Hi there, Barbara and welcome! Your book sounds terrific. I admit I'm often wary of glossy magazines and their siren song of perfection, but the idea of someone who has her life turned upside-down by blogging -- that sounds like fun! Also, lavender.... Sigh....

  23. PS Oh, Barbara, I got so carried away with lavender and magazines I forgot to answer the main question.

    Yes, I did something that was completely crazy and it ended up changing my life in ways I could never have imagined.

    I wrote a novel.

  24. I used to be a total fan of Town and Country. then, a few years ago, I fell for all those teasing bargains they send through the mail and took out several woman's mags... then stopped when I caught on they were all the same!!!!! Thelma in Manhattan, a HUGE Fan of You J Rs....

  25. I used to enjoy the August Redbook every year. It was their short story issue. And Cosmo used to have fiction too, as did Good Housekeeping. Now I take Southern Living and Smithsonian. The boys read Guns and Ammo. I read so darn many books I don't have time for magazines. I recycle my Texas Highways to my parents; they send the Texas Monthly to me. So I guess I'm not too bad off.

  26. I'd never think about a book about bloggers! It sounds really good, though. Thank you for sharing with us, Barbara.

    I'm in the midst of deciding to run for the State Legislature. Let me tell you, it's already turned my life upside down. One week left to jump in or not.

  27. A heads up to all who google the magazine Barbara mentioned. Some of us, including me, called it Artful Blogger, but if you look at the picture of the magazine Barbara posted, it is Artful Blogging. Both names actually come up as magazines, but it is Artful Blogging that we want if we want the one to which Barbara refers.

  28. Sorry to be so slow answering...middle of the day errands took ages!

    Kay, how lovely to hear that you've read AYCDB twice! I want to give you a big hug for that.

    Lots of Vanity Fair readers here.

    Deb, I visited a lavender farm in Oregon for research. Pure HEAVEN! It was not only beautiful and smelled fantastic, but I took about a thousand photos.

  29. Welcome, Barbara! Your new book sounds fabulous. Can't wait to read it. I love the story of how you got the idea for it.

    I'm a sucker for beautiful magazines and blogs, so I have to ration myself on them. When I get depressed, though, I go to the bookstore and grab all the house porn mags and just dream of having that well-organized, gorgeous perfection. Then I don't look at them again for a year or so because those mags can be deadly to anyone who hasn't got money. I wrote a poem about that.


    I trace fingers across the polished wood
    and linen upholstery. The sun breathes
    through extra-large extra windows,
    reflects from lime walls,
    and gathers into the lemons piled
    in a great glass bowl.
    Everywhere is order, precise and clean.
    I breathe deeply, taking in
    the relaxed, careful scent of money.
    My eyes focus on the shiny floors
    and neat cubbyholes,
    bountiful arrangements of fresh
    roses, lilies, peonies, and dahlias
    in glass and ceramic vases
    in every corner on every surface.
    The smell of money is light and flowers.

    The toilet still running in the background,
    I try to clean the broken tiles at the kitchen sink
    and cover worn floors with handmade rugs.
    The windows, cloudy with years,
    permanently encased
    in painted-over screens,
    strain the light to a thin drizzle.
    The smell of reality is something small
    that died somewhere inside.

  30. So the blogging magazine is a magazine? The old fashioned kind?

    Life changing was posting photos on my Facebook page and having people ask me to sell them prints.

  31. OK. That wasn't life-changing. I just felt better about myself.

  32. Linda,

    I dream about the neat cubbyholes and shiny floors. Will never happen, but for some reason I keep hoping!

    Love the poem.