Boot Camp For Writers

NWC-300x250Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference, August 15 – 17, 2014, Los Angeles, CA Plot Your Novel’s Course

Move closer to your goal of completing a tightly crafted novel that will capture and keep the attention of publishers and readers. Learn from industry-savvy speakers and deepen your knowledge in focused sessions.

All this is brought to you by the editors of the industry’s most trusted source for writing advice and insight for more than 90 years—Writer’s Digest.


Experience start-to-finish instruction in the art of crafting a well-written, saleable novel. Many of publishing’s most respected and knowledgeable writers, agents and editors will be on hand to guide you. Hone your craft fundamentals, explore the future of publishing and get the tools you need to advance your career as a writer.


From the numerous opportunities each session offers to connect with its speakers, to the workshopping with other novelists, the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference is your chance to establish real connections with both your fellow writers and industry insiders.

BOOT CAMP:  Romantic Fiction with Barbara O’Neal 
Join me for a three hour intensive on all aspects of writing the romantic novel for a leg up on finding the exact right place for your novels. Strengthen your weak areas and shine in your strong ones with this in-depth, hands-on workshop.


There is a $50 discount to the conference when you register with the promotional code WDSPEAKER.

Who Attends Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference?

Writer’s Digest’s reputation attracts a uniquely dedicated group of writers to the Conference. Most have been writing for years and many have already published. They want and expect relevant information to further their writing careers— whether in the educational sessions or through exposure to valuable products and services.

 Questions? Email me at awriterafoot  @, or ask away in the comments section.  Hope to see you there!

Upcoming workshops and appearances

Have settled the summer schedule:

June 15, 3013:
Missouri Romance Writers
“The Heroine’s Journey”
Booksigning: 12:30
Maryland Heights Centre, 2344 McKelvey Road, Maryland Heights, MO

July 16-20, 2013
Romance Writers of American National Conference
Panel on Romantic Women’s Fiction
Friday 2-3 pm
Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta GA

July 28-August 3, 2013
Antioch Summer Writing Institute
Writing Commericial Fiction workshop
Mornings, all week
Antioch University, Santa Barbara



A six-week writing intensive designed to help writers understand voice as a whole, and to understand the elements that make her own voice unique.

The exercises are mostly timed writings, and are designed to build, week by week, to help you see what you have to offer the world with your work. Are you a funny ethnic writer with a thread of poignancy? A serious historical novelist with roots deep in a particular time?  What influenced you to become a writer and what do you want to get from it?  Who taught you to speak, and what have you read and loved?  These are all elements of the writer’s voice.

The class runs from Tuesday to Tuesday, and is comprised of lecture, exercises and discussion. Due to the intensive nature of the reading and writing requirement, class size is limited to 8.  If an entire critique or other like group takes it together, there is a 10% discount, and as always, I will offer one scholarship available for each segment.  To be considered, email me with “scholarship” in the subject line and specify which class and date you want to be considered for.

Questions? Email me.

COST: $225
DATES:  April 30th–June 4th 3013

July 30th–Sept 3rd 2013




What is voice, exactly?
Childhood and cultural influences


Becoming Aware: ourselves and our places
Voice vs. Style



Other influences: other writers, stories, genres.

Individual truth and emotional honestly; why writing is scary sometimes, even if you’re making it up and the heroine is a princess for heaven’s sake



Check in: how does it feel? Discussion.
More on influences and exercises on how to see them, see yourself, see others, pick out a voice
Illustrating the differences.


Exercises designed to show individual voice and quests.

Two part exercise designed to illustrate each individual voice. Reading, side by side posts.


Pulling it all together. A worksheet and discussion to help each writer answer lingering questions, put all her ideas in one place, and have a chance to display her own work.


To sign up for the class, email me  and I will give you details.

To apply for a scholarship, email me with VOICE SCHOLARSHIP in the subject line. I’ll draw names from a hat the week before the class starts.  Please don’t feel you have to give reasons. I’ve been there, and I trust you–if you can pay, you will.  


What Are You Worrying About?

Flickr Creative Commons photo

This morning, I ran the vacuum over the living room carpet to pick up the leaves the animals have dragged in.  It wasn’t the most thorough job—just a spit-shine because the baby is coming over and I don’t want her putting leaves in her mouth.

For some reason, as I moved the footstool aside, I thought of how much I used to worry about things being messy when my boys were young.  I’m not mis-remembering; they were often really messy—piles of clothes to be washed or to be put away, toys and shoes and coats and books everywhere.  It was a crowded little house, four rooms in a row downstairs, two big rooms upstairs, and four people cozied up in there with various hobbies and interests and friends.

Only I never let my friends come to my house. Ever.  We had a writing critique group and we always met somewhere else.  I was embarrassed about the old carpets, some of which had been salvaged from a hotel renovation; the ancient kitchen (truly, for awhile it was the worst kitchen in the world) and the constant clutter that I could sweep away on Saturday and would reappear on Sunday, exactly as it had been, as if the objects all had souls that animated them and they moved around at will.

This morning, with twenty years between me and the woman who worried about those carpets, it struck me as tragic that I’d been so worried about what my friends would think of my housekeeping that I wouldn’t let them come over.  They lived in newer places, all of them, but my own house was a charming old beauty, full of light and my special quirky loveliness.  Not everyone’s taste, but comfortable, welcoming.  How did I not understand that?

It is the same unfounded worry that makes us all, as teenagers, exaggerate some imaginary or real flaw—a big nose or skinniness or fatness—into some Major Thing That Everyone Is Noticing.  When actually, they are so worried about their own flaws they don’t even see ours.

Which led me to wondering what I worry about now that might be just as tragic.  What impossible standard am I setting?

It’s not so much about appearances these days.  For one thing, there are no armies of seven year old boys racing through the house, and I don’t live in that small, charming old house, but a spacious suburban sweetie that has plenty of space to put things away.  I still have to clear the clutter away regularly, trying to find the kitchen counter or the surface of my desk, but even if my friends come over and see the big mess, I don’t think they won’t love me.  They do.

I feel a certain freedom in my physical appearance, too.  I accept it, flaws and all, even if I don’t like pictures of myself all that much sometimes.

What I do worry about, all the time, is about attaining a certain level of perfection, of No-Flawness, maybe like Snow White or Belle,  that would render me then a Really Wonderful Friend and Human Being, on every single level.  Kind, always.  Never lazy.  Never grumpy. Always well turned out, instead of sometimes running to the grocery store in yoga pants with my hair in a ponytail.   In my imaginary perfectness, I would never drink too much coffee and give myself indigestion, or too much wine and give myself a hangover.  I’d eschew sugar and bad fats and eat clean and green.  I would listen earnestly to someone who wants to talk out a problem and probably be able to balance my granddaughter on my hip while stirring a pot and writing a novel, all at the same time.

But if I were that woman, who would even want to be my friend? I mean, seriously—would you? I wouldn’t!

In Sharon Salzman’s book Real Happiness, she writes about the Buddhist practice of Lovingkindness as a way of loving ourselves and others unconditionally.  Science tells us that it can be learned, she says.

“It is the ability to take risks with our awareness—to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism….to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.”

That phrase, “reflexive criticism” caught me.  I recognized the action instantly, that meanness, that monkey-mind judgment that so often shows up with a really nasty undernote and narrowed eyes and passes judgment on something or someone or myself.

Anna Quidlen says we begin the work of authentically becoming ourselves when we let go of being perfect.  That sounds really lovely to me right now, a person who has been worrying about things for decades, only to find most of them weren’t worth a single moment of my precious hours.

So today, I’m just going to go with imperfection.  I’m going with love, that simple answer to every question. Every question. Love. Toward me and my work and the people around me and even the people who irritate me, and maybe in that way, my heart will be more open to the everyday, to my friends and my children and the lady at the grocery store who shoves her cart in front of mine, and even, maybe, myself.

Can you think of a time when you worried a lot about something that ended up not mattering very much? Are there things you worry about now that it might be better to put down?



In exactly one week, Tuesday, November 1, at 3 am my time, I will have a little surprise for you.   Nothing like I’ve done before, but devoted to the spirit of play and experimentation that is changing the face of our publishing world.  Some of you will love it.  Some of you might not.  I have a feeling that I’m going to have a blast. And that’s all I’m going to say for now.  Stay tuned. Countdown

A rake in rake’s clothing

How I imagined Madeline's gardens

I have Google Alerts set up to let me know when any of my books are being discussed on the web, on blogs or discussion boards or whatever.   This includes all the historical romances I’ve released on Kindle and Nook.

I had forgotten how strongly readers reacted to these books.  Love or hate, and very vocal.  Lucien’s Fall has stimulated some discussion, at AAR, where the reader seriously did not like the characters (and suspected, perhaps, that I had salted the reviews…which I would not do), and in the reviews at the site itself.  (From “This is one of my favorite romances I have read in a LONG TIME. I enjoyed the maturity of the characters, the “plot” twist, and genuine redemption in the end. Well worth the $$.”  to “What’s Up with all the 5-star reviews?”)

While I would never directly engage a critic, because every reader has a right to her own opinion, I have reasons for choosing the storylines I do.  The criticism that Lucien is a rake always surprises me.  Of course he’s a rake.  He’s an obnoxious, dyed-in-the-wool rake with no conscience whatsoever.  He’s meant to be a real rake, not a false imitation thereof, a man who is only a little bad and might be redeemed by a good meal or the right words.  What fun is that?

So yes, Lucien is a terrible, real rake.  You and I would recognize him in an instant, just as Madeline does.  And yet, we’d be drawn, too, because that’s why a rake is so very effective–he’s charming and beautiful and everything about him promises at least one thing will be very good indeed.  Madeline is drawn, and resists. Her mother has schooled her well, and she is desperate to save the family estate, so she is trying hard to do the right thing.

And yet, there is Lucien. So unredeemable, so inevitably tortured, so alive with music that it leaks out of him in color.   How could she not fall?

The point is, a rake should be a rake, not a good man in rake’s clothing, or there is no pleasure for me in the story.

How about you? A bad boy in the current day is hard to pull off, but a rake is wildly intriguing. Agree? Or not?

Jenny & me talk ebooks, part 2

This is part 2 of my conversation with Jennifer Crusie about ebooks.  Tomorrow, there will be a part three on editorial considerations posted at her website, Argh Ink.

Jenny: Yesterday we talked about practical considerations, the things writers need to know to make author-originated-digital publishing work.  But the thing that’s most interesting to me is the emotional reaction writers are having to this.  The way readers feel, the way writers feel.

Barbara: Okay. Let’s start with that.  Writers are absolutely exhilarated for the most part.

Jenny: You told me yesterday that I was envious, and I am.

Barbara: It has put a lot of the fun back in publishing for me.

Jenny: “Back into”? When was publishing ever fun?

Barbara: I used to think it was a blast when I first started.

Jenny: I hated it from the beginning.

Barbara: It was so amazing that I got published and people could buy my books and they PAID me to do this! I loved every bit of it.

Jenny: I’m not good with authority. “Change this please.” “No.”

Barbara: The cover worksheets, the author bio, meeting an editor.

Jenny: See all of that made me itch.  I didn’t want the attention. I liked the money, though. I like working under the radar. One of the reasons I like my pseudonym.

Barbara: I’m Little Polly Sunshine most of the time.

Jenny: From now on, you are Polly to me.

Barbara: I’ll take it. LOL. There must be something dark we can call you, something growly.

Jenny: Meg used to call me Eeyore.  “Yeah, I made the bestseller list, but my tail will probably fall off.” But enough about me.  You seem so thrilled with everything you’re doing. Tell me about that.

Barbara: Rather than talk just about my own experiences, which I will, I would like to start with the fact that writers in general have very little control over the flow of their careers.  So many things are just completely out of your control…the covers, the placements, the fact that something like a railroad accident or a bad weather January can kill your numbers.  You’ve spent a year on a book, poured everything into it, polished, edited, etc, and in two weeks, the thing can be dead in the water and THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. Right?