Monday, November 28, 2011

Meet Barbara Ehrentreu a/k/a Our Own Barbara E!

Today I’m collecting a flower I’ve been after for a long time.  In the press of our busy lives, it just hasn’t happened yet.  But it’s about to.  Please join me in welcoming my guest today, Barbara Ehrentreu. 

Barbara’s very special for lots of reasons, of course – she’s a Muser and Muse only calls special people. And when those special people are called and arrive home through the Muse doors, who’s one of the first “faces” they see?  Barbara’s.  Via her virtual chocolate chip cookies and fruit basket. Her YA novel If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor debuted in September and has been collecting five star reviews right and left.  So exactly who is this woman called Barbara Ehrentreu?  Let’s find out.
Barbara, I have to ask you this.  Don’t you get tired of folks tellin’ you you look like Barbara Streisand?  ‘Cause I swear, every time I look at a picture of you that’s my first thought.
Actually, people say I look more like Bette Middler or Carole King. There’s a funny story about looking like Carole King. When I was thinner we looked almost identical, so one day I was eating lunch with my daughter and this woman sort of peered over at us and almost jumped when she saw me. Then she said: “You’re Carole aren’t you?” I said no of course, but she continued, “My aunt knows her and you are her, just admit it.” Well she went on like this for a few minutes and then finally she accepted that I wasn’t her, but as she was walking away she said, “I still don’t believe you.” There is an addendum to this story. A few weeks later I was interviewing for a teaching job in Bedford, NY where she lives. Her grandkids went to this school. When the principal saw me she said: “I didn’t know Carole was going to be here.” To be fair, she saw me from a few feet away, but there you have it.:) A lot of people joke with me and call me Bette too. I have a story about her too, but that is for another time.
Can’t say as I’d sneeze at being compared to any of the three.  I know you taught for many years, and still tutor, I believe?  Which of course explains why you write such wonderful YA.  You have met the audience and made them yours.  But give us some memories.  What was the most satisfying moment of your teaching career?
There are so many wonderful moments and not so wonderful moments. I guess the one that stands out is what happened with a student I had my first year of teaching. I taught sixth grade and I was only 21. The kids were around 8 or 9 years younger than I was. They didn’t really listen to me, because I looked like a 16 year old. This one boy was especially difficult and acted out a lot in class. So I contacted his mother, who told me she took in invalids and nursed them. So this boy could never act like any 12 year old likes to act in the house. He had to do a lot of chores too, so he had very little time for play. When I realized this I had a talk with him and his mother and he started to improve. She invited my husband and me for Christmas dinner and it was an amazing experience for us. However, his work did not improve, since he had been goofing off too much and was very behind. I had to leave him back for the next year and he understood. The following year arrived and this was a different boy. He became the class leader and helper and when he went on to the middle school I found out he became class president. I will never forget him and his mother. I wish all parents could be like her.
That’s wonderful!  Knowing that you made such a difference in a child’s life.  Now we all know there’s no honesty like the honesty of a kid, nor is there any subterfuge like the plot of a child trying to get away with something – and the combination of the two makes for some hysterical moments.  What was the funniest moment of your teaching career? 
Again, there are too many moments to remember, but one time all the kids hid in the coatroom and then jumped out and yelled “Surprise”. If I had a few memory joggers I could remember more.
And I just bet you were, too.  Surprised.  Muse is one big extended family, and one of the best things about it is sharing each other’s heritage and history.  The Holidays are coming up and all of us have our own treasured traditions.  What’s the most treasured of your family traditions during the Holidays?
We don’t do much of the traditions anymore, but when the kids were younger I wanted them to have a taste of Christmas. We used to go to my English sister-in-law, (now ex) and she would do up Christmas big. So they had stockings filled and one gift when they woke up Christmas morning. I used to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, to my younger daughter every Christmas eve. As for my own religious traditions, we still light the Menorah, which is the candelabra with 8 candles representing the 8 days the oil burned in the Temple. Sometimes I make latkes, the traditional potato pancakes or we buy them. Homemade is definitely best, but it takes awhile.
Speaking of homemade and food – you told me an hysterical story once about a family gathering.  Something involving an uncle, a fainting spell, and a moving food line?  How ‘bout you tell everybody?  Because I swear, that needs to a scene in one of your books!
Yes, you wouldn’t believe it if you weren’t there. It was a holiday occasion at my brother’s house and my ex sister-in-law invited my cousins who had to drive hours to get there. So anyway, my cousin’s husband, who is usually very quiet, was in the buffet line and suddenly he went down. We had no idea why and someone immediately called 911 for him. My aunts, one of which is no longer here, looked at him and just stepped right over him like he was an obstacle in the road. They would have their food no matter what. I was behind them and I couldn’t believe it. One of them was his mother-in-law!!! The rest of the line stopped in horror as they watched the two of them blithely go on filling their plates. It turned out my cousin’s husband had a few too many drinks, but we couldn’t believe that. He was someone who never made waves at all. So the firemen came and he was okay, but they stayed and had some drinks and food. The poor guy never lived it down to this day! It is probably the most told family story ever!! I will have to figure out how to put this into my next book.
Gives new meaning to mother-in-law jokes, huh?  The other day, The Book Breeze published a few of your shorts, and you knocked me and several other Musers for a real loop!  This is our BarbaraE?  Who writes YA?  And I know I for sure and a few others too, let you know right quick we thought you ought to expand your genres.  We know YA will always be a genre you love, but I really want to see some more of the Barbara who wrote the stories we read in The Book Breeze.  And on that note, when you and I were talking about that, you shared with me a story that’s much shorter than Flash, and you called it a “Drabble”, I think.  It knocked me out!  Would you share it here on Flowers on the Fence?
Definitely. I will be happy to share it. I have a few others that are a little longer and may start posting them on my blog. So look for them. Here it is:
Happy Anniversary 
Twilight on the water was always an array of rainbow colors. Tonight the colors only emphasized pain. Karen had thought coming to the city where they spent their honeymoon would rekindle the flame of their love. Now as they neared the shore she knew his affair with her best friend had killed it. 

The roses Ken, her husband of 20 years, had bought on impulse from the vendor were wilting without any water. She heard the bells ringing from the church tower flanking the piazza where they first met. Karen moved closer to Ken. Placing her lips on his, she reached out with both of her arms and pushed.

Grabbing the flowers, she heard the splash and smiled.

“Happy Anniversary, Ken,” Karen said throwing his roses overboard.

The Fiction Flyer published in April, 2007

* * * *

And so I ask you, gentle female readers – is that Everywoman’s Fantasy or what?!  So com’on, help me out here!  Post your comments and let Barbara know – we want more!  We want more! But before we go this time, here are the links to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, along with Barbara’s bio and an excerpt from the novel.
And y’all come back now, hear?
Muse Bookstore
Amazon - Paperback
Amazon - Kindle
 Barnes & Nobles

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, was inspired by Paula Danziger. Barbara is a NY Literature Examiner for with several articles for them. 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 writes 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!

If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor

Carolyn Samuels’ freshman year becomes a series of lies to cover Jennifer Taylor’s terrible secret in return for popularity.

 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. After Jennifer’s 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 sleep over 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 become 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.


  1. Wow, Barbara, great interview. Sounds like you have tons of stories to share. Your book looks really great also. Congrats! do look like Streisand!

    Gail - really good questions!!

  2. Great interview. Don't we all have family stories to share. I could just picture your aunts stepping over that poor man. Your story was great. I really have to read this book about Jennifer Taylor. Thanks, Gail, for hosting such an entertaining interview.

  3. Gail, thank you for inviting me and it's a pleasure to sit and talk with awhile. I really enjoyed myself and your southern hospitality can't be beat!

    Thank you Penny. I have a much better nose than Barbra, and I spell my name with two a's.:)

    Roseanne, I'm glad you want to read the book! I'd love to see what you think when you are finished.

  4. Your flash story...laughed at that one. My first thought when reading it was, this woman must be nuts to take the guy back...oops, she didn't! LOL..Entertaining interview, Ladies.

  5. I already read Jennifer Taylor and liked it. Barbara is a heckuva writer. I look forward to seeing more from her.

  6. A fantastic interview and Barbara, you stories about teaching and family are wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing, ladies!

  7. I just got back from a medical appointment and found out you were here visiting Gail. Naturally I had to pop in and eavesdrop a spell. Glad I did. Gail, I agree she does look a lot like Barbra Striesand, but Barbara I agree you show more class with your extra "a".

    I am fortunate in that I have gotten to know you both beyond being Musers and that is a blessing I cherish.

    I want to say one thing, Barbara, your story about the young girl during the recent Muse Retreat wanting your autograph AND a picture warms the hearts of all of us who know you and understand that little girl's enchantment.

    Well Done Ladies.

  8. Gail, thanks for interviewing Barbara and drawing some new material out of her.
    Hi Barbara, thanks for sharing your teaching experiences.

  9. Barbara! What a fantastic interview. You truly are priceless and such a treasure to know. Loved the story about your family...hilarious. Of course you can certainly tell a tale. Great job! Love ya!

  10. Wow, when I visited earlier there were only a few comments. Thank you so much all of you for visiting and I love all of you!!!

    JQ, glad you liked that little drabble. For someone like me who must cut, cut , cut, learning to write a 100 word story is such good training.

    Marva, I loved your review and thank you for coming by and visiting today!

    Vicki, hi and thanks for visiting. With so many years of teaching I have a zillion stories. Gail just got me remembering that boy who had so much in him, but no one had paid enough attention to him. Kids who act out like he did used to be ignored academically. So they didn't achieve. All he needed was a little attention and he bloomed like a flower.

    Lin, I hope everything went well for you at the doctor's. Did you meet your admirer again? Seriously, thank you for your wonderful comments. You forgot to mention that I have a better nose than she does.:)

    You know I will never forget the look on that little girl's face. She was so awed by meeting a writer. it was priceless!

    I am so happy to know you too!! You are a treasure, my friend!!

    BarbaraB, thank you for visiting! It's amazing how a few minutes with Gail and I spill everything.:) It's that southern charm.

    I'm sure if we sat down together we could probably swap stories all day!!

    Karen, that story is probably the most told story in our family now. You had to be there with the firemen in full gear and everyone realizing he was drunk. You should hear about the other side of my family, my father's side. Oy!! I love you too!!!

    Gail, once again, I had a great time today and hope to have you as my guest soon! And guys you all are the best!!!

  11. Barbara,

    I loved your Drabble. The "splash" was so satisfying to hear.

    You are a great story teller. The scene with your uncle collapsing in the buffet line was priceless. It goes to show that some people won't let anything stand between them and their dinner!

  12. Christy, thank you!! I can't tell that story without cracking up. Can you imagine his own mother-in-law walked over him? My aunt Eva was such a tiny person, but she was the first one to the food every time.:) I stood there with my open, literally, and watched them. I'm sure if my mother had been alive she would have joined them.:)

  13. Hello! What a fun interview. It waas fun learning more about Barbara and her writing. Enjoyed the Happy Anniversary "Drabble."