Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Jami. As you know, I have two books. One is about a girl who doesn’t feel good about her body. The other is about a girl who has a great deal of confidence in her body and its abilities. In If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Carolyn is worried about being bullied by Jennifer Taylor, a mean girl who has been bothering her all through middle school. Jennifer is an aspiring gymnast and Carolyn finds out Jennifer has a terrible secret that no one at school knows. Her problem becomes should she tell Jennifer’s secret to her best friends, who hate Jennifer, or keep the secret and have Jennifer teach her to tumble so she can be a cheerleader and be popular.
Bullying is a big problem that is finally being addressed in many schools. However, there are so many different types of bullying that is not always possible. Emotional bullying is invisible except to the person who is being bullied, like in Carolyn’s case. Bullying creates a constant worry for the person being bullied. Many students who have been bullied don’t have the guts to tell anyone and they try to deal with it themselves. Some are so stressed they take their own lives. Cyber bullying is even worse and has caused the same results. Carolyn has to deal with this problem in her own way and when it comes to a head for her, she even has to deal with blackmail.
Lauren, the main character of After, has a different problem. She wants to get a scholarship to college by playing softball. She is a pitcher and is a really good player. She has a friend, Joey, who has been her best friend since kindergarten. He is the only one she hangs out with and they both love watching the Mets. Lauren doesn’t have a care in the world, and then her father calls while he is having a heart attack. Her story begins after the phone call and everything changes in a moment. Suddenly, Lauren’s world is rocky and she doesn’t feel like anything is the same. Joey, whose mean girlfriend, Amber has been keeping him away from her, is now there and comforting her. Lauren starts feeling more than friendly toward Joey and she realizes she can have another best friend too. While her father is in the hospital to have bypass surgery, Lauren finds her best friend from elementary school, Jenny, is a big help to her as she tries to cope with her new life and her father in the hospital.
The interesting part about writing each of these books is that they are both based on parts of my own life. My first novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, is inspired by own daughter who became bulimic in high school. Like Carolyn, she had issues about her body. So, I separated her into two characters. In After, Lauren is a made up character. She is the boy my husband never had or the girl who loved sports that my husband always wanted. The book was started during National Novel Writers Month and at that time my own husband had gone through a heart attack and bypass surgery. He was in the hospital and my whole life had changed. I originally called it When My Life Changed, but both my editor and I decided to change it to After, since it was after the phone call. Big portions of the dialogue in After are taken directly from my own experience. Many scenes are also from my life.
I find taking scenes from my own life is both a blessing and a curse. In order to do some of these scenes I had to use relatives and as a writer, I can tell you that some don’t like this. When I told my daughter about the fact that she was the main character of my first book she was uneasy about this. The good thing is she didn’t really see herself in the character at first. In After, I had my brother-in-law and niece, so I had to tell them and get their permission before the book was published. Sadly, before the book could be published my husband passed away. I spent more time in hospitals then, and the sad truth is, it helped me even more to set those scenes in After.
“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?
Excerpt for After:
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.
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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 again?
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Excerpt from 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.
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. She is a member of PEN Letters and SCBWI. 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.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraEhrentreu