Sunday, August 16, 2009

Barbara O'Neal

Barbara Samuel O’Neal is an award-winning and beloved commercial fiction writer with more than 35 novels to her credit in many genres, including 6 highly acclaimed novels of women’s fiction. She has won two Colorado Center for the Book awards for commercial fiction, five prestigious RITA awards, and many others. She is a highly respected teacher of craft and inspirational subjects, and finds nourishment in the interaction with other writers. Her novel The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, has gone to eight printings, and is a major release in Australia and Germany as well as the US. Her new book, The Secret of Everythings, will be published in January 2010.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I am a very eclectic reader, and I read a lot. Ray Bradbury says a writer should read a poem, an essay and short story every day—and for me, that’s not even a discipline, it’s a great joy. I’m a story junkie, and while I do use television and movies heavily, books are my drug of choice. Below are a few of the books I’ve read over the past month or so…it pleases me that it’s so varied.

In no particular order:

Veil of Roses, by Laura Fitzgerald. If I tell you the situation of this story: a young Iranian woman comes to the US for a fresh start, a chance to escape Iran—and her cloistered, claustrophobic life there—it might sound a little grim. In fact, it’s a fast paced, upbeat chronicle about Tamila Soroush. Her westernized parents lived in America when Tamila and her sister were small, and were trapped when the Shah was deposed. Especially considering all the news that’s been pouring out of Iran with the recent elections, I loved reading about what women’s lives are really like in a country that was—not very long ago—quite modern and has now returned to the dark ages. You can’t help but root for Tamila and pray that she finds a way to stay with her sister in Arizona, where she can “just sit in public at a coffee shop with a man and meet his eye” without fear of being hanged for it. One of my favorite books of the year, so far.

New Moon, by Stephanie Meyer. I read Twilight some time ago and loved it. There are certain stories that can only be told through a teenager’s eyes. Romeo and Juliet is one of them, and that’s Twilight in a nutshell: an over-the-top, searingly romantic story of forbidden love. Edward is a stunning character, elegant and beautiful, with courtly manners that lend him tremendous self-control in the presence of his beloved Bella. I didn’t read New Moon right away because—and this should be a lesson!!—I listened to other people about it, and some people were deeply disappointed that Edward has less page time in New Moon than he did in Twilight. Recently, I saw the movie for Twilight and had the rest of the series in my study, and sat down that night to see what might happen. I could not stop reading this one, either, and now I’m forcing myself to space the next two out a bit. It’s very romantic stuff.

The Year of Fog, by Michelle Richmond, which is a haunting, gripping tale of a woman who loses her fiance’s five-year-old daughter on a foggy San Francisco beach. The girl simply disappears. It’s intense and gripping and ultimately about faith and trusting your gut. Honestly, I wasn’t going to read it because this is my special nightmare scenario, one of my children being kidnapped. Thoughts of it would make me lie awake at night when they were small. But someone told me that it was hopeful and I gave it a shot. Very glad I did. Not only is Richmond a beautiful writer, she’s an excellent storyteller, and I know the book will haunt me for a long time.

An Affair Before Christmas, by Eloisa James. James was the luncheon speaker at the national Romance Writers of America conference this year, and after the conference, I found myself exhausted by five weeks of travel and in desperate need of rest, so I gulped down some of the books I brought home from DC. This was by far my favorite—it’s saucy, witty, clever romance—and one of the things I like best about her books is that she’s often writing about a more mature angle of love: what happens to married couples, especially married couples who often marry for position? I was cheered and much rested by the end of this one, and I’m looking forward to her new book, sitting on my desk as we speak.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett. I sometimes approach fiction about this period, 1960’s race relations in the South—with some trepidation. Often the stories are a bit too rosy for my tastes, but Stockett did a great job with the story and the possible ramifications of such a project for everyone involved. And once I started, I didn’t put the book down—just ripped right through it.

On my nightstand right now: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, by Bich Minch Nguyen, a memoir about a family that fled Saigon and came to the US in 1975, and Nguyen’s relationship to American food; Fighting in the Jim Crow Army, by Maggi M Morehouse, and Shelter Me, by Juliette Fay.
Visit Barbara O’Neal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue