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Take Five: Barbara O’Neal and When We believed in Mermaids



Please join us in congratulating Barbara O’Neal [1], a WU contributor who continues to give succinct advice from the trenches, on the upcoming release of her latest novel, When We Believed In Mermaids.  [2]

Barbara O’Neal is the author of twelve novels of women’s fiction, including The Art of Inheriting Secrets, How to Bake a Perfect Life, and The All You Can Dream Buffet. Her award-winning books have been published in more than a dozen countries, including France, England, Poland, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Brazil. She lives in the beautiful city of Colorado Springs with her beloved, a British endurance athlete who vows he’ll never lose his accent.

“More than a mystery, Barbara O’Neal’s When We Believed in Mermaids is a story of childhood—and innocence—lost, and the long-hidden secrets, lies, and betrayals two sisters must face in order to make themselves whole as adults. Plunge in and enjoy the intriguing depths of this passionate, lustrous novel, and you just might find yourself believing in mermaids.”

—Juliet Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Carousel of Provence, Letters from Paris, and The Paris Key


Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?

Kit Bianci’s sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news. The resemblance is unmistakable, and Kit sets out to find the sister she believed died in a terrorist attack on a train.

Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

When We Believed in Mermaids is about the bonds between sisters, about childhood and how it shapes us, and how we can heal ourselves if we’re brave enough. I loved writing these two women, both lost in their own way, and deeply devoted. Virtually all of my books are about how some people survive really terrible things and how others just can’t seem to navigate the pain and stay stuck for the rest of their lives. This takes that idea to a whole new level–how far would you go to reinvent your life?

Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

Kit’s main challenge is to find her sister in the sprawling city of Auckland, not an easy task. But her biggest challenge is to deal with the secrets and painful stories that riddled the childhood of the sisters–and learn to step out into the world in a very real way. She’s as broken as her sister, but she doesn’t see it.

Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

One of the challenges was dealing with two narrators and two timelines–the current day and the past of their childhood on California cove, which was a mental tangle at times. I need to unspool the history of the sisters very carefully to underscore the current day. In the end, I had to make a giant, color-coded chart so I could keep it all straight.
I was also dealing with an ambivalent morality and choices in several of the characters. What’s right? What’s wrong? What is an unforgivable crime and what can…eventually… be forgiven? Kit’s sister is a deeply wounded, very complicated character, and so is Dylan, the youth who lived with them when they were children, and I adamantly didn’t want to soften either of them. It was hard to stay the course, and I did worry about how readers would take it, but in the end, the power of the story is in that ambivalence. Judging by early reviews, it was the right call.

Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

I adored these characters, but I especially loved living as Kit, a ER doctor and a surfer, who is a total badass loner who lives her life on her own terms–or so she thinks. It was just a lot of fun to be Kit for the better part of the year. Authors are influenced by their characters, and she led me to stand up straight and look the world in the eye. I also loved taking a big risk and taking some big steps forward in my writing.

Thank you so much for joining us today to talk about When We Believed in Mermaids [2], Barbara!

O’Neal’s latest and greatest releases soon- July 16th. Readers, pre-order your copy today.

About [3]

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh [4] and Kathleen Bolton [5] in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) [6] was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. [7] In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published [8] has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter [9], and join our thriving Facebook community [10].