Saturday, May 12, 2012

Barbara Ehrentreu's Inspiration

Barbara hosts Kat, the teen witch star of the Witches of Galdorheim Series.

* * * Here's Barbara * * *

Barbara, a retired teacher with a Masters degree in Reading and Writing K-12 and seventeen years of teaching experience lives with her family in Stamford, Connecticut. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Barbara’s first YA novel, published by MuseItUp Publishing was inspired by Paula Danziger. It has won #2 in Preditors & Editors Poll for Best Young Adult Book of 2011. In addition, Barbara has a story in Lavender Dreams, a memorial anthology for which all the proceeds go to cancer research. She has three poems in Prompted: An International Collection of Poems by the Anthologists for which all the proceeds go to Literacy research. Her blog, Barbara’s Meanderings,, is networked on both Facebook and Blog Catalog. She hosts Red River Writers Live Tales from the Pages on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. In addition, her children's story, “The Trouble with Follow the Leader” and an adult story, “Out on a Ledge” are published online She has written book reviews for and several of her reviews have been on Acewriters and Celebrity Café. She is a member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!

Inspiration for Her Novel

The summer of 2002 I enrolled in Writer’s Week at Manhattanville College where I was currently working on my Masters in Reading and Writing. If you have never been to Writer’s Week and live relatively close to the college you should think about it. For an entire week you have workshops both in the morning and the afternoon. You choose your genre and each workshop is headed by a well known author or teacher of writing. Celebrity authors and workshop participants rub shoulders at many activities, including the daily readings of outstanding work from each group.

So the workshop I chose was Children’s Writing led by the delightful, quirky and multi- book author, Paula Danziger. She wrote books for young girls that cut to the very heart of the emotional life of a tween ager. For the pass to get into the class we all needed to write three chapters of a story for children. At the time my daughter, who was going into college in the fall, had some issues with both her body and with eating. Her eating disorder had not gotten out of hand, but it was a problem to both her and me. This was something on my mind and so I created two characters. One had issues with her body image and the other was perfect, but she had an eating disorder. I wrote my three chapters and handed them in to Paula Danziger.

The first day of the workshop she arrived with her signature purple sneakers and her bright red hair and she looked like she had stepped out of a children’s book. But the thing about Paula was how open and friendly she was and how accessible she was to us. We all sat around and she talked with us about writing, for a whole week. During this time she held private conferences and the first time she saw my three chapters her first words to me and the words she wrote on the paper were “Cut, Cut, Cut!!!” I still have the original papers on which she wrote.Paula believed that children’s books didn’t need long sentences and especially in the beginning of the book, sentences should be short and move the reader to want to learn more. After all of the revisions and editing of my book, I still have a few sentences left that came directly from Paula. She told me that first day that she liked my writing and that I might have a good book in there if I could wade through all the extra words. She even reminded me during workshop discussions that I should cut my words while speaking.

About six months later I met Paula at the Winter Conference for SCBWI and we talked about my book. Then a year later, her last conference, I showed her a passage that had given me a lot of trouble. She read it and suggested a few things to do that helped me very much. Her encouragement helped me to continue to write and eventually finish the story. However, I did get bogged down in the middle and that was when I turned to Children’s Authors’ Bootcamp for help. This was two days of constant lecturing and writing where we took apart our stories and examined each part. We learned about character development and plot development and on the second day after having been stumped for both an ending and a clear plot line for my secondary character, Jennifer, I was able to finish the plot and write an ending for my story. Laura Backes and Linda Arms White gave me the tools I needed!!

Paula Danziger, unfortunately, is not here to share in the triumph of the publication of my first novel, but I know if she were she would be doing a happy dance with her red hair wildly flying and her face smiling. She was one of a kind and her support made me feel that someday I too would be able to publish my book. That is why I dedicated my first ever YA novel to Paula Danziger. If you are not familiar with her work you should go to Amazon and look up Paula Danziger.

If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor
(see below for buy links)


Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain. With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky junior quarterback, Brad her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. When Jennifer is the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to spend the night to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?
Feeling my old hatred of gym, I glance across the locker room and see Jennifer in red designer shorts and a tight sleeveless shirt to match. She's standing in front of the only mirror in the room turning back and forth.

Becky and I slide into our loose camp shorts and a T-shirt, and once they're on, we race onto the gym floor. Always better to be early for gym the first day.  You never knew what kind of teacher you'd have. My athletic ability is zero, so I don’t take chances. Once I was a few minutes late, and the gym teacher in middle school made me run around the gym ten times. It took me the whole gym period.

Becky and I sit on the low seats in the bleachers, but Jennifer and her group saunter into the gym and choose the highest seats avoiding the rest of us. Miss Gaylon, the gym teacher introduces herself and gives us a few minutes until the last stragglers come from the locker room.  For those few minutes, I almost feel comfortable. My breathing returns to normal. I hear giggles from Jennifer and her group, but I ignore it.

"Maybe it won't be so bad this year, Carolyn." Becky always tries to cheer me up now. This wasn’t true a few years ago. I had to cheer her up a lot. Becky’s brothers are just turning five, and they’re both in kindergarten. Her mom remarried after being divorced for ten years. Becky was just getting used to her new stepfather when her mom got pregnant. I remember how miserable Becky was the first year of middle school when her mom spent so much time with her twin brothers and didn’t have enough time to help Becky with her homework. Luckily, Becky’s stepfather is a history teacher, so she got very interested in history and current events.
"Right, Becky, and maybe I'll learn to be a gymnast in ten minutes. Reality check, remember last year?"
"Okay, I'm hoping it won't be so bad."
"You mean like the dentist finding you only have one cavity and filling it the same day?"
"You’re so lame, Carolyn. Since we're all older, maybe she'll treat us differently. People change over the summer you know."
"Look at her, Becky."
Becky turns to look over at the group at the top of the bleachers and then turns back to look me in the eye. “You know you have to put that stupid day behind you.”
I pretend not to know what she’s talking about. “What stupid day?”
Like I don’t remember every detail.
“The zip line day.”
“Oh, that day,” I say with a combination grimace and smile. “The day I wound up having to climb off the platform. I wanted to bore a hole into the ground so I wouldn’t have to walk past them but couldn’t, and everyone screamed at me: ‘Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.’”
“You have to admit it was funny the way the gym teacher ran up the ladder like a squirrel to rescue you. Everyone laughed at how stupid she looked. Jennifer got the whole class going with that ridiculous ‘breathe, Carolyn, breathe.’” Becky looks behind her to Jennifer. “You know I wanted to run over and punch her, but I couldn’t because I was still on the platform, and it was my turn to go.”
“Yeah, if I had a few more minutes, I would have been able to get up the courage to grip the zip line and hook myself to it. Stupid teacher didn’t give me a chance. This not breathing thing when I get nervous really sucks.”
Becky nods because she knows me so well.
“So then Jennifer started with that horrible chant, and of course, the whole class followed her, like always.” My eyes fill with tears as I remember, and my breathing is getting worse by the minute.
“I thought it was a dumb idea to do ropes course stuff in school. We did it at my camp the summer before, and no one was forced to do it. Anyone could get nervous with Jennifer in front of them,” Becky comforts me.
I continue talking as if I’m in a trance. “Remember how last year whenever I ran into Jennifer she would whisper ‘breathe, Carolyn, breathe,’ so no one could hear it except me. Once she did it just before I had to go up in front of the class in math.   Sometimes she would do it in front of everyone and, of course, get a big laugh while I wanted to turn into a piece of furniture.”
Becky grabs my arm.  “Do we have to go back over this again? You need to forget about it.” She takes her hand away from my arm as I continue to speak.
“Becky, I can’t. The thing is it’s this bad movie in my brain looping the same horrible scenes. The funny thing is, most of the time, she would ignore me. I would never know what she was going to do. You have to admire someone so single-minded she managed to get to me at just the right time.
You remember don’t you? And today did you see how she wore the same outfit as me? It’s spooky.”
My funny breathing returns as Miss Gaylon tells us to line up on the yellow line alphabetically. I hope there will be someone to go between Jennifer and me. No luck. Jennifer is going to be behind me all year. I hold my breath. I couldn't stand more of the same this year. I pray for the day to end soon. A glance at my new watch shows me fifteen more minutes left of the period. Is Miss Gaylon's voice getting lower?  What is that pounding in my ears?
Jennifer turns to face me, and I hear, "Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Then my world turns black.

* * * *

My YA novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, MuseItUp Publishing is available here in ebook and print:

Twitter: @barbehr


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Also, come over to visit my blog, Barbara’s Meanderings, where I am part of the month long Summer Teen Reading Party. In addition to my blog I sometimes do a monthly show on Blog Talk Radio called RRWL Tales from the Pages where I get a chance to interview authors, editors and publishers.


  1. What a wonderful experience and great teacher you had, Barbara, to help you on your joourney to be a writer. When I get caught up on my reading, I hope to read your book, along with several MuseItUp Books.

    Nice excerpt.

  2. Great post Barbara. Your experience meeting and learning from Paula is uplifting. Great advice too! So glad you found the answers and If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor found it's niche and a place on our bookshelves/kindle.
    Thanks for hosting such an interesting author, Marva.

  3. Thanks for sharing more about the inspiration for the book. The book sounds good.