Today we welcome Barbara Ehrentreu to our blog. She looks very relaxed in her picture because it is not much of a trip for her to come to New York City from Stamford, Connecticut. We’re guessing she took the train.
Barbara grew up in Brooklyn (home of Bernie Sanders and a few other notables) and moved to Queens. She has lived and taught in Long Island, Buffalo, NY and Westchester, NY as well as a year in Los Angeles, CA. She has a Masters Degree in Reading and Writing K-12. Currently she is retired from teaching and living in Stamford, CT with her family. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor won second prize in Preditors & Editors as Best Young Adult Book for 2011. (More about this book below). Her second book, After, considers what can happen to a teen when her father becomes ill with a heart attack. It is based on her own experiences when her husband had a heart attack and the aftermath of what she and her family experienced. She is preparing the sequel to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. Barbara also writes poetry and several of her poems are published in the anthologies, World Poetry Open Mic, Prompted: An International Collection of Poetry, Beyond the Dark Room, Storm Cycle and Backlit Barbell. (Some of her poems are also included below). She has a blog, Barbara’s Meanderings, and she hosts a radio show on Blog Talk Radio, Red River Radio Tales from the Pages, once a month. She is a member of Pen Women Letters and SCBWI.
So, we can conclude that Barbara is a very busy woman! Let’s get to our questions!
Please share with us a memory of visiting the library or of reading, preferably as a young child.
We had a library about two blocks away from us on Eastern Parkway where I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. You had to cross a very big boulevard to get to it, but at a fairly early age, maybe nine or ten, I was allowed to go to the library myself. I would browse through the stacks when I was old enough to read anything and look for books that would catch my eye. I read mostly novels and sometimes I would find one that would engross me so much I would just sit and read in the stacks. I was in awe of these authors who could write so much. But at that age I was just a reader and never thought I might be joining them.
[Ed. We love the image of a little girl crossing Eastern Parkway, a very big street, with a pile of books in her arms. Talk about adventure!]
Which book have you inherited from the generation above; that is, which book have you read and has stayed with you and made you reread it in whole or in part? What about the book created this attraction?
I think the book that I have read and reread is Alice in Wonderland. When I was very sick one year with a whole array of illnesses and confined to bed for weeks, my parents bought me a copy of Alice in Wonderland and I consumed it and reread it until I needed to read the sequel Through the Looking Glass. I loved both books and may have conflated the two after all these years, but I do feel this book attracted me because of the absurd situations and the way Alice handled them. I also think the writing is brilliant and sometimes it applies to modern life very well. We can think of our present situation right now as a collection of Alice in Wonderland characters if you know what I mean.
[Ed. We can think of a Humpty-Dumpty character right off the top of our heads, and maybe a Cheshire Cat. Further affiant saith not!]
Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why? (NOT one of the books you’ve written).
I think I would like to leave more than one: 1984 and Brave New World. Each of these was written as a warning to its generation and a lot of what they predicted has come true. If every person read both of these books they would have an understanding of how little power an individual has in these kinds of situations. Plus the writing is excellent.
[Ed. Interesting that both books retain their message.]
What inspired you to write If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor? (By the way, we think that’s a great title.)
Thank you, I appreciate your telling me! I have told this story many times before, but in case anyone hasn’t learned about this I will tell you. I was going for my Masters degree at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. Manhattanville runs a Creative Writing Week every summer. They invite famous authors and writing professors to head up their workshops. The workshops run in the morning and then the afternoons are free for writing or other endeavors. The second year I participated a workshop with Paula Danziger was offered to learn children’s writing. I was lucky enough to be admitted into this workshop. To be admitted you had to write three pages of a children’s story. At the time my daughter was a senior in high school and acting out with signs of bulimia. At the same time she had issues about her body. So I created Carolyn Samuels, who felt bad about her body. She was being bullied by a girl, Jennifer Taylor, who was as perfect as a girl could be. Except she had a big problem and a big secret because of this problem. Carolyn hyperventilated when she was nervous and Jennifer was bullying because of it. I took the three pages into my workshop and when my turn came to have Paula Danziger on an individual basis she wrote Cut, Cut, Cut on almost every sentence. She said to me that it had a good idea and she was going to help me to get it where it should go. She wrote almost the entire first chapter again and aside from a few changes here and there and of course, rewriting it in my own voice, the chapter is as she wrote it. She showed me how to write small but effective sentences and when I was able to look at it again I decided to write an entire novel. Because of all of her help I dedicated this book to Paula.
[Ed. Barbara, we never get tired of hearing this story. Good for you and good for Paula Danziger.]
Tell us about your latest project or projects. What was the inspiration for those projects?
I have finished the sequel to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Who Is Jennifer Taylor? which focuses on Jennifer’s story and is told in her point of view. What makes her the girl she is? How does she cope with her life, which in this book is falling apart? I had not thought I needed a sequel until my line editor’s daughter, who had been given my book, asked him was there another book in this series. It was then that I realized I did have a series after all and so this set of books is being renamed: The Mill Valley High series. I am also in the middle of writing a third book, which will be about a boy who just moved to Mill Valley and became a big part of the second book, Danny Ryan. I am calling it Danny’s Story. I started it at NaNoWriMo and it still has a ways to go. I am waiting to submit Who Is Jennifer Taylor? until after I have gotten feedback from my beta readers.
Are there any genres that you have never written in that you would like to try? Why or why not?
Yes. Actually, I would love to try writing a mystery story or a sci fi story, but that would require my finding a reason to write one. You never know, because I have written a story that is definitely not YA. It is a mystery/adventure/love story, but it needs more research and I haven’t done it.
We understand that you are working on a poetry project. Are there things that you feel can be better said in a poem than in prose? Please explain.
Yes, I am working on a poetry book as a memorial to my late husband. It will be called Losing the Love of My Life. I have gathered many of the poems I have written these past two years and I am adding a few from when he was alive too. So far this is in the very early stages, but I am hoping to have it ready soon. Actually, I do believe that there are some things that are better said in poetry than in prose. Since I write in both, I can say that emotions are better expressed in poetry and because of that I feel writing poetry can help your prose. Images are a big part of poetry and for me the words flow more easily when I am writing poetry. I have learned that people really like my poetry and I have become part of a poetry community. Poetry digs deep into the core of a person and it’s like putting your soul on the paper or the screen.
Let’s show some poems right now.
Aura of Possibilities
The flower buds rise in front of me
from long thin green fronds
poised to open
about to burst forth with yellow
flowers seen poking from
a precocious one in the crowd
I stand to check it out
moving closer to see it
I have been sipping
my iced vanilla nonfat latte
in the time between appointments
on a bench near Starbucks
alone and alone in my heart
My thoughts ramble in the soft
breeze as I ponder living without you
A separation so painful it is
as if a limb were severed
The bleeding has stopped and
a scar formed over the cut
Yet I imagine you here
sitting beside me on the bench
probably doing the crossword
from the NY Times
on the page you tore
and folded to carry with you
or on your phone as you later did
my imaginary limb there once more
making the world full for me
like the time you were still here
when I felt complete and not
as if I were dangling in the air
But wait the garden speaks to me
“You are a bud waiting to open
and though some of mine have
withered and dried the strong live on”
and I knew I was in
the aura of possibilities.
copyright 2015 by Barbara Ehrentreu
Feed me your words
for they expand and
fill the cracks so
empty and yearning
for the lilting phrases
gliding gracefully over
the page and lifting
my spirit as I view
the luscious images
you portray in your
tender and truthful
and my heart sings
with the joy of finding
such beauty in
with desire and pain
love and sweet ecstasy
of learning, questioning,
wondering and prayer
And they rush in like
a torrential overflowing river
dislodging the mundane
and the unquestioned and
rest in a precious place
refreshing my soul
copyright 2015 by Barbara Ehrentreu
Poem for Karen King’s Poetry Contest based on a photo of a white bird maybe an egret
White Bird in the Water
Curved white neck graceful
as the sweep of a woman’s hair
standing straight as a statue
long black pointed beak protruding
It guards the space around it
searching, always searching
though still as a stone
feet planted in the loose sand
Poised to strike it holds its stance
a study in paused action
its eyes able only to see to the side
unaware of the vista in front of it
Aqua waves wash over its caged feet
yet it can rise in a second to grab
the escaping prey found finally
erupting with a splash as it goes
What could this white beauty
be thinking if it does think?
Or is it only trained on the prize
waiting beneath the surface of the water?
Would I had the patience of this
magnificent bird to wait for the prize
to come to me and not race around
like a gobbling turkey or a scurrying mouse
In our attempt to find our prizes
could we not take our cue from this
patient bird who takes a stance
and does not budge until the prize is in sight.
copyright 2016 by Barbara Ehrentreu
Here are excerpts from both of Barbara’s books:
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor:
I spot him walking toward my locker with a small box in one hand and a plastic fork in the other. My Crush! He hands me the box, and I open it. Inside is a piece of luscious chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I look up into his blue eyes and give him the box so I can touch his cheek as I smooth his dark hair. “You always know just what I like.” He smiles and feeds me a forkful of cake. I don’t have to worry about eating it because I can eat anything I want and not gain weight. He places the cake box in my locker so he can put his arms around me. The first bell rings in my ears. I ignore it because I’m thin and blonde and floating in the arms of my dark- haired crush. The other cheerleaders run up to us laughing and kidding around, and I’m about to speak. The ringing gets louder.
The dream evaporates, and I realize it’s the darn alarm piercing my sleep. Slamming my fist onto the snooze button, I get this nagging feeling. Then I remember. I have something to do. Worse luck, I have to do it, not as the slender blonde beauty in my dream, but as the real Carolyn Samuels with my brown curly hair hanging like shriveled spaghetti, mud brown eyes, and a body too large for fashion.
I see my new book bag is packed and ready by the door with the initials C. S. in blue, my favorite color. Suddenly it hits me, and I get this dizzy let-me-plop-on-the-pillow feeling. Freshman year of high school—first day. My brain is ready, but my body isn’t. Jennifer will be there. Math class and Jennifer; gym class with Jennifer. My body curls into a fetal position, and I throw the covers over my head. Don’t faint Carolyn, I tell myself, panting.
The phone rang as the ball left the pitcher’s glove and I glanced toward the sound. Mom’s tears made me forget all about the game. My life changed while the TV blurred and turned into a nightmare kaleidoscope. That moment has been indelibly pressed into my thoughts.
My sister, Diane, was upstairs hunched over her computer as usual. She’s not a baseball fan at all. But I lived and breathed for the Mets that fall. They had such a great chance of getting the pennant and maybe even winning the World Series. I obsessed about the Mets, and of course, Joey.
Joey, my best friend from kindergarten, was always there for me. It’s hard to imagine a recess without him by my side. He’s bigger than I am and always looked a little older than he was. Mom liked Joey because he reassured her he would obey her rules. Maybe it was his easy smile or his clear, gray eyes.
Lately, though, Joey and I haven’t been so close. It happened during the summer when he was a counselor at this camp and he hooked up with this girl, Amber, who goes to our school. So now he spends a lot of his time with her and we barely see each other. We used to watch the Mets together all the time, too. So I missed him being there with me, and his comments about the players. But all that was before the phone call. Pre-phone call my deepest thoughts centered on the Mets and finding the sweet spot for the ball in my new baseball glove. Pre-phone call, my world was worrying about homework getting done and wondering what lunch would be like on Monday. Oh, and of course, thinking about how to beat the next team we were up against in softball. I’m a starting pitcher this year and I want to show my coach she can believe in me. I’m only a sophomore, but I hope
someday to play college softball. I need to get a scholarship in order to go. My parents have already told me they can’t swing it without one.
After the phone call my life was a ball of twisted emotions and all I could think about was Dad, and how Mom, Diane, and I would get through this night.
And here are the buy links.
MuseItUp Publishing: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/young-adult/after-detail
For Nook on Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/after-barbara-ehrentreu/1120349821?ean=2940046242980
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor: (print and ebook)
And here are all of Barbara’s links to find out more about her.
Blog: Barbara’s Meanderings: http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraEhrentreu
Thank you for being on our blog. It was great having you!