Take Five: Barbara O’Neal and The Garden of Happy Endings


Kath here again! Bestselling author and valued contributor Barbara O’Neal’s latest novel The Garden of Happy Endings, has released today, and we’re thrilled to be able to have her share her writer’s journey with us. Kirkus calls it a warm romance “about the healing powers of nature, love and community.” Fans of Barbara’s writing know that she’s a master at crafting compelling characters who must make tough decisions — and the outcome isn’t always easily resolved. There’s a reason why she keeps winning awards and accolades in a competitive women’s fiction market. Check out why The Garden of Happy Endings is going to be a perfect addition to your summer reading list.

Q: What’s the premise of your new book?

BO: Two sisters each have their lives turned upside town. Elsa, the younger and spiritual one, has created a life of simplicity and teaching when a brutal sexual assault and murder shatters her faith–for the third time.  She returns to her home town, to her sister, and her best friend, former fiancé, Joaquin, who is now a priest.  Tamsin, the beauty, has built a more material life with a husband and child and a beautiful home.  She’s a quilter and a lady of the manor whose husband disappears just before he is to be indicted.  Tamsin is blinded, and loses everything.  Joaquin, now known as Father Jack, charges the pair with creating a community garden in a crime-infested, dump of a vacant lot.  It is a story of faith–the faith we have in ourselves, in other people, in the possibilities of spiritual beings, in art, in family.

Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

BO: This is a story about the questions we all ask–why do bad things happen? How do people get through them?  One of my favorite reviews said this is not a story about God, but it doesn’t shy away from God.  Elsa’s faith–or lack thereof–is in God.  But Tasmin’s takes a different tack: her art and her home.  Her daughter has faith inSpain.   What gets you through the night? It’s different for all of us.

Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

BO: Elsa has turned her back three times on God, and this time, she’s not sure she can ever find that faith again, but she doesn’t feel whole without it.  Tasmin has to figure out how to build a life of meaning after she’s lost everything.  Joaquin struggles with the choices he made all those years ago, when he and Elsa walked the Camino de Santiago, and he was called to be a priest.

Q: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

BO: It was–by far–the most challenging book I’ve ever written.  It was very, very, very hard to write.  I found myself getting up at four am to write before my brain (and fears) could kick in.  I am a spiritual person, though not a religious one particularly, and in fact I feel very, very strongly that there are many paths to holiness.  So writing about a devout Catholic and a devout liberal Christian in crisis was challenging.  I wanted to do it in a secular, accessible way.  In the end, I was very proud of the way it turned out, but I could not have done it without my editor Shauna Summers.  I kept shying away from getting to the essential heart of the book, and she kept saying, “Go deeper. Go farther.” When I did, it finally all came together, all the pieces of the mosaic that created the picture.

I joined a new gym a the end of the book, and they took a picture of me for my ID card. It’s worse than a driver’s license picture–I look like I’ve just walked ten thousand miles in bad weather.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

BO: It was born on a walk I took with a group of other women on the Camino de Santiago de Compestela.  I loved being able to dedicate it to them, share something that was born out of our time together.

Thanks, Barbara! The Garden of Happy Endings is available now at all retailers.



Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between aspiring novelists Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in January, 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~40 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, or join our thriving Facebook community.


  1. says

    I already love Barbara’s writing–between the covers and here at WU, and this new book sounds really truly wonderful. A perfect gift to give myself :-)

    Enjoyed this shiny bright interview. And ditto with Cindy–beautiful cover.

  2. says

    The book sounds intriguing, and the thought of you waking up at 4am to write before your courage failed you is awesome. I admire your willingness to dig deep and get to the core issues. No wonder you feel exhausted. You deserve some good pampering! Hope the book will be available on Kindle?

  3. says

    Congratulations. Sounds like a fascinating plot. I’ve always enjoyed your posts, both here and on your blog. Good luck.

  4. says

    “The Garden of Happy Endings” sounds like a really good read, Barbara!

    Kudos to you for going places that are not comfortable – because that’s what makes an engrossing story.

    Happy Release Day!!

  5. says

    Barbara, I can’t wait to read this book! You’ve always been a wonderful writer and I’ve always loved your books…but this one sounds really, really special. Kudos to you for not shying away from a subject that makes so many people uneasy.


  6. says

    Yay! Congrats Barbara! I so envy your ability to create titles that make me not only want to read the books but move next door to you and be your best friend! LOL Getting this one today!