Monday’s Friend: Barbara Ehrentreu

Today I am pleased to welcome MuseItUp author Barbara Ehrentreu to the blog to talk about her latest release and why she writes about teens with problems. When I was in high school I used to devour books like Barbara’s – books about teens who think the most important things in the world are to be pretty and popular, especially with the boys, but who learn that there are other more serious problems to deal with. It’s been over 25 years since I finished high school but the years melted away when I read Barbara’s extract. Perhaps things haven’t changed all that much after all.

Take it away, Barbara!

Thank you Sara-Jayne for inviting me to your blog. I thought it would be interesting for your readers to see why I write in this genre and what you go through to write a problem YA story.

 Writing a Problem YA Story
By Barbara Ehrentreu

Barbara photo at Muse booksigning editedYou might wonder why anyone would want to write a problem story, especially for teens, who live with problems every day. I think the reason I did use the eating disorder as a problem here was my daughter’s experience. I had read many stories where the eating disorder was the main character’s problem, but I didn’t know enough about it to write that way. So I had to do a lot of research to find out the mind set of people with this problem. I asked people over the internet to send me their stories and people did that. I have included a lot of what they said to me in here. Plus I haunted the eating disorder sites and read some of the posts.

But having a problem isn’t enough. My main character, Carolyn Samuels, in If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor also has a problem that causes her embarrassment. It is the reason why she is being bullied by Jennifer Taylor. My main character hyperventilates when she is nervous to the point where in the beginning of the book she faints. Did I ever have this problem? No. But I read about this too and made sure it could happen. People who have this problem cannot control their breathing and have episodes similar to what my main character, Carolyn Samuels, has to go through.

In this story, though, the problems aren’t the main focus. They are the reasons why characters act the way they do. Jennifer’s problem causes a lot of complications and Carolyn’s needing to keep her problem a secret causes even more difficulties for her. She has to hide it all from both her parents and her friends and she has to juggle the lies so no one learns about anything. Her situation is not easy and as the book continues you can see the kind of person Carolyn really is. If you want to know what happens in the story you will need to read the book.

My second book, After, is also about a problem, but the main character has to deal with one more serious than Carolyn’s. Her father has had a heart attack and suddenly her whole life changes with one phone call. The reality is her father will need bypass surgery and Lauren Walstein, an athletic fifteen-year-old girl, has her world turned around so much it affects all of her relationships. She has to juggle school and her father in the hospital with her changing feelings for her best friend Joey. Her other problem is Joey is going out with her enemy Amber and this is added to her situation. My own husband had a heart attack and went through bypass surgery so this was very close to my own life. There are whole passages in this book that came straight from my own experiences. However, Lauren’s story follows a different path as she tries to make sense of what is happening to her father and what is happening to her. Why is she suddenly having feelings for the boy who has been her best friend since kindergarten? Though Jennifer Taylor was a mean girl, Amber is so much meaner than she was.

Many people who read my first book told me they identified with Jennifer Taylor. I wonder how these same people will feel about Amber? This book, After, is not available now, but it will be this fall. Keep checking my blog and my Author page for updates on its release date. It is so new it doesn’t even have a cover yet.

You can find my book here:

The Muse Bookstore

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Find me here:

My blog: Barbara’s Meanderings:  http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com

Facebook Author Page

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/barbehr

ICBLJT CoverBLURB

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?

EXTRACT

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.

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2 comments so far

  1. Matthew Peters on

    Thank you so much for this interview. I love it when authors don’t shy away from dealing with real problems in their books. Kudos to you, Barbara! Your books sound very interesting and I look forward to reading them. I really enjoyed the excerpt.

    • Barbara Ehrentreu (@barbehr) on

      Sara-Jayne, thank you so much for inviting me to post here. This is a great post and I am very happy to bring my ideas to your blog!!

      Thank you Matthew, and I hope you will read my book that is out there now. The thing is I didn’t set out to write about problems, it just happened. I deal in reality and there are always problems in real life, I guess.


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