Today Barbara Ehrentreu joins me to discuss the inspiration for her YA novel If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. Today is extra special because it’s also Barbara’s birthday. She is the second author to spend her birthday with me with a guest post. So Please, Barbara, tell us about your inspiration for writing If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor.
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.
My YA novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, MuseItUp Publishing is available here in ebook and print:
Barnes and Noble:
Also, come over to visit my blog, Barbara’s Meanderings, where I host many different guest authors, primarily YA and MG. 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.
Thank you for joining me today, Barbara. If you think this book sounds interesting, or if you’ve already read it, please let us know your thoughts in the comments section. And don’t forget to wish Barbara a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!