~ A Conversation with the YA Author of If I Could Be Jennifer Taylor and After ~
John: Hi, Barbara, thank you so much for
being my guest. Could you start by
telling us just a little about yourself.
For instance, I see that when you received your Masters degree in Reading
and Writing K-12 you began writing seriously. What was there about receiving
this degree that made you more serious about writing?
Barbara: I am a retired teacher with
almost twenty years of experience. I have my Masters in Reading and Writing
K-12 and when I retired I was a Reading Specialist. I live in Stamford, CT with
my family and now I tutor in Reading. I have two YA novels published and I also
write poetry. My poems are published in three anthologies you can find on
a writing course and learned about the writing process. I actually wrote a
story for that class that I wound up developing into a novel. But the real
reason was that I was attending a Creative Writing Week for class credit and
took a workshop. My story was selected by the class to be read to everyone at
the assembly. When I read it a lot of published authors were in the audience
and afterward they came up to me and told me how my story had affected them.
Before that time I had never considered writing or even being an author, but
the reaction of these authors and the fact that I felt so at home with them
made me think about writing seriously.
John: Why do you write YA? Is it your basic genre?
I started writing YA and just continued writing it. I taught kids for a
long time and I was involved with my two daughters’ extra curricular activities
and interacted a lot with this age group. Plus I guess I always liked reading
YA because then I could talk about it with my kids.
write in the genre that feels right at the time and so far YA has felt right. I
have written an adult novel too, but that is still not quite ready for
submission yet and if I do I’ll have to go under a pen name since it has a few
scenes that are definitely hot.
John: Tell us about your books, such as If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. Why and how was it inspired by Paula
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor is about a fourteen – year -
old girl, Carolyn Samuels, who doesn’t feel comfortable about her body. She
both hates and envies Jennifer Taylor, who has what she considers a perfect
body, is the most popular girl in school, has a father who could buy half the
town and a boyfriend who is a Junior and a quarterback. Carolyn doesn’t want to
go to school on the first day, because Jennifer has been bullying her since
middle school for an incident that happened there. Carolyn finds herself paired
with Jennifer for a math project and while they are together, Carolyn realizes
Jennifer might not be so perfect after all. She finds out Jennifer has a
terrible secret and has to decide whether to keep it from her friends and
family or tell it and lose her chance to be a cheerleader and become popular.
Add to this Carolyn has a crush on Jennifer’s boyfriend, Brad.
Again, I was at a Creative Writing Week and
I saw that Paula Danziger was offering a workshop for children’s writing and I
wanted to get into it. To enter you had to write a three page beginning of a
story for children. I decided to write about a girl who had issues with her
body and got into the class. Paula actually wrote "Cut,Cut,Cut" on much of my
work and she wrote the first couple of paragraphs to show me how to write for
children. I still have the pages. [See below for Excerpt and Blurb for the novel.]
second novel, After, is about what happens to Lauren Walstein, a fifteen – year
– old girl, after her father calls while having a heart attack. Before the
phone call all she thought about was what was for lunch the next day, softball,
and her best friend Joey. She wanted to get a scholarship based on her
pitching, and she was a big Mets fan. After the phone call everything changed
and she found she might need more than a boy as a friend. When Joey and Lauren
are together after a summer apart and also because Joey has a girlfriend, Amber,
who keeps him away from her, Lauren starts to feel more than friendship for
him. Does he feel the same way or is it only compassion. This is a sweet
romance about what can happen when a family member has a health issue and what it is like to have to go about your life when your father is lying in the
hospital hooked up to tubes?
idea for this came to me during NaNoWriMo and I didn’t finish it, because it
was actually from my own life. My husband did have a heart attack and needed
bypass surgery and some of the dialogue is taken right from that time. I put it
away for awhile and then decided to finish it. [See below for Excerpt and Blurb for the novel.]
John: Do you have any ideal writing
conditions—rituals, a quiet, set place, that sort of thing? And how often do you write a day?
Barbara: Usually I write at my desk on my
laptop. I don’t need quiet to write, though I do turn down the TV. I got used
to writing while everything was going on around me when I was writing my first
novel. My computer was in the living room and the only time I had to write was
before dinner and during the evening. I was teaching and going to school at the
John: Are you a plotter, a pantser or some
combination of both? Do you do anything
to get inspired, like go on 10 K runs or play music?
Barbara: I am definitely a pantser. I’ll
just start writing and wherever it goes that’s what I put down. I usually do
have a good idea of the characters and their motivations, but other than that I
just write. That is especially true of writing my current WIP, the sequel to If
I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, because I know the characters so well they are
constantly speaking to me. Usually when I feel I can’t write anymore that is
the end to the story.
John: What, if anything, makes you different
or unique as a writer and person?
I guess it’s that people really seem to like my characters. Also, my
reviewers say that my dialogue is authentic. What I believe makes me unique as
a writer is I am more than a prose writer. I write poetry. As a person I have
always been a little different from other people. I see life differently. I
guess I can see another person’s situation and feel empathy for them. I am
always trying to make people happy and though I never thought of myself as a leader,
a lot of people like what I say and in my life I have held positions of
leadership. I seem to gather friends. Maybe it’s because I am honest and
believe in helping people when they need it. In return I have some great
John: Which talent would you most like to
have, and which weakness would you most like to lose?
I would love to be a dancer. I like to dance, but I have never really
been a dancer. I would love to have my good knees back.
What’s your happiest childhood memory?
Barbara: I wrote about this for that
workshop I mentioned. It is picking blueberries in the summer at our summer
place when I was seven or eight. I went into the woods with a cousin and we
picked blueberries until our fingers were blue. Then my mother and aunts made
them into pies. Yummy.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Barbara. Probably, that you have to be
yourself or nothing will work. When you are being who you should be, things will
fall into place. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out, but you know that you
were doing your best and that is what is important. Also, if you are meant to
be doing something you will eventually do it. Things happen when you least expect
it, but you need to do the work to make them happen.
John: If you had to marry a fictional
character from film, books, history, or legend, who would it be?
I think it would be Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. He seemed aloof,
but he was trying not to get hurt. He was intelligent and sweet and loved
Elizabeth. Though he got off to a rough start, what he did to get Elizabeth to
see how he felt was so moving and I would love a man to do that for me too.
John: Being a writer is (sometimes) a
great job. What is the worst job you’ve
I worked for Purchasing magazine one summer and all I did was cut out
pages from the magazine and find ads. I had to use a razor to cut them from the
magazine and that was all I did.
John: Describe one of your favorite
characters and tell us who you patterned him/her after and why.
Probably Carolyn is my favorite character and I patterned her after my
younger daughter. She was going through a period when she felt awful about her
body and also she was at the beginning of an eating disorder. So part of
Jennifer is her too. Carolyn has a couple of friends at the beginning of the
book and she remains loyal to them even when Jennifer puts her in the popular
group. She also tries very hard to keep secrets and is a true friend.
John: Tell us about your upcoming book. Has it been launched yet, or is it due soon?
It is called Who Is Jennifer Taylor and it is not yet finished. I plan
to have it finished very soon. It is in Jennifer’s POV and shows Jennifer in
her sophomore year. It follows her as she tries once more to get into the
Olympics. It all hinges on a meet where the Olympic scouts are coming to see
the hopefuls perform. But Jennifer has problems that might affect her
performance. Her father is running for mayor and her mother has started
drinking. Jennifer has her own problem too, which she is working on keeping in
control. And there is a new guy, Danny, who might also be mixing things up a
Thank you so much, Barbara, for your fascinating, in-depth answers. Are there any questions I
didn’t ask which you would like to answer?
If so, here’s your opportunity.
Please go ahead!
No, these were great questions and I am glad you enjoyed my answers.
Thank you so much for inviting me and hosting me on your blog. I am looking
forward to hosting you on mine soon too.
Barbara Ehrentreu grew up in Brooklyn 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. It was inspired by
Paula Danziger for her children's writing workshop at Manhattanville College.
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, Prompted: An International Collection
of Poetry, Beyond the Dark Room, Storm Cycle and Backlit
Barbell. 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
Letters and SCBWI.
Blurb for If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor:
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
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
“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
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.
“After” is a story about
the struggles Lauren Walstein, a fifteen-year-old girl, has to go through when
her father suddenly has a heart attack and undergoes bypass surgery. In one
phone call her life changes completely. Lauren is a character with whom most
teens will relate. Her best friend since kindergarten, Joey, is going out with
her enemy and they have grown apart. Before the phone call all she thought
about was getting a scholarship for softball, and the Mets. Suddenly she must
deal with both her father’s illness and being in school. The demands on her
from both ends complicate the story. In the middle of all this, she finds she
is developing feelings for her best friend that are more than friendly. Is he
feeling the same or is he just comforting her? In addition there is Joey’s mean
girl friend Amber, who doesn’t appreciate Lauren being in the picture. Will
Lauren’s father recover? How will Lauren cope with her new feelings for Joey?
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
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.