Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Interview with Barbara Ehrentreu

1) Please tell us about what you like to write? List your websites, what you do and anything else you'd like our readers and writers to know about you. (Please list your accomplishments too).

I like to write almost anything, actually. When I start a new piece I never know in which genre it will be. I would say the majority of my novels that are still unpublished are YA. I like this time when everything is so fraught with problems that seem insurmountable for a teen. But I have written adult stories as well and one is a little bit erotic too.:)

What I have been doing for a year is private tutoring for a tutoring company. I like the one on one with students who really need the help and I love when they start to improve. I used to teach full time and my last full time job was a Literacy Specialist for grades K and 1 in a charter school. I am retired from teaching for a few years, but tutoring helps pay the bills. In addition to writing prose I write poetry and many of my poems are on my blog. I have been part of Poetic Asides where we write to a prompt and then post the poems on the website. Sometimes only a poem will do to express something.

I have a Masters in Reading and Writing K-12 and ended my graduate work as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. I have attended many writing workshops in addition to this. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor is the first YA novel I ever wrote and it took five years to get it published. Also, I am an editor for 4RV Publishing and have edited everything from picture books to very long chapter books for adults. My book is being published by MuseItUp Publishing and I am very happy to be part of this unique and supportive group headed by Lea Schizas. Two of my stories are published online. One is a children's story and the other is an adult story. Here are the links:
"The Trouble with Follow the Leader" (children's story)

Out on a Ledge

You can find out more about me here:
Barbara's Meanderings

2) You really are a busy lady. How do you make the time to write? What challenges do you face as a writer?

When I have something to write I write it. I would love to be able to write during the day, but usually my writing is done at night when everyone is asleep. I am in the middle of writing a new story and it is going slowly. I think about it at night in bed and when I have time I'll sit down and write a little more. I write my blogs mostly at night and when I'm in a time crunch for something I will just ignore everything else and write. This is only when I'm not working or there isn't any pressing family business I need to attend to.

An example of how I write happened this morning when I went over to a poetry website on which I used to post my poems. It's called Poetic Asides and Robert Brewer, the person who runs the blog offers prompts every week and during the month of April. Lots of poets post their poems in the comments section. I went over there today to give one of my friends the link and found I needed to write to the prompt for the day. So I stopped everything and wrote a poem. Writing poetry doesn't take me that long, because it always flows out of me and it's almost like relaxing for me to write a poem. Fifteen minutes later I sent my friend the link after realizing why I had come over there. Many of my novel manuscripts were written during NaNoWriMo, which is a full month devoted to creating a 50,000 word novel in only 30 days. You need to write at least 2000 words a day and almost every time I have taken part in it I have won, completing a full-length novel.

Did I mention that I am also an editor and when I'm working on a piece I try to do it during the day, but occasionally I will edit in the evening. It all depends on the deadline on how much of my day time will be spent editing. The challenges I face as a writer are mainly how to promote my book. I have a big online presence, but I want to get my book out there to people where I live. How do you promote an e-book is what I am dealing with and I am going to have a book signing. I have an IPad so that will work to display the book itself. Also, I am preparing my business cards and postcards as well as a few posters. My problem is that all promotion costs money and I don't want to spend much until I get some sales.:)

3) I am always curious about the working surroundings of a writer. Could you describe that for us? What do you see from your working station?

Right now I'm working on a pull out desk in my bedroom on an Apple laptop. Facing me is part of my collection of Betty Boop dolls and a few other figures, like sports announcer bobble heads and the Mets mascot. Also we have a dark bronze head of Honore de Balzac. Behind me are bookshelves holding all of the signed children's books I have. There’s a TV in here, but I sit with my back to it. Somewhere in front of me are a few photos of my family. If I want I can open my blinds and look out at the pool in the apartment complex's courtyard or beyond that to the water below near the parking area. Sometimes I walk along the boardwalk there and look at the birds that alight on the small beach there. When I walk down the path I sometimes see a bunny.:)

4) Where do you get your inspirations? Who inspires you?

Much of what has inspired me to write has come from my own life in one form or another. One of my daughters inspired my YA novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. Of course I got her permission to use her story, though it was changed considerably. Sometimes, as was the case of my picture book WIP a sentence inspired me. I have been in movie theaters and someone walking by me has inspired me to write. I did actually try to write a poem in the dark car. I have been on the road and the fall foliage inspired me to write and I did write while driving.:) Any natural setting will inspire me too. We were once at a rock ledge overlooking the water and as I sat there watching the water and the people and feeling the sunshine on my face I had to write. I wound up writing two poems and a short story that day. My own experience as a child inspired me to write my children's story, "The Trouble with Follow the Leader" which is about a real event that happened to me. The story on which I am working now is about a real experience that happened to a child in my first grade class. So as you can see, almost anything can inspire me to write. Also, I have been known to write birthday poems in a few minutes to put on birthday cards for family and friends. Put me in front of a keyboard or give me a pen and paper and I will write something! As I put on my bio, writing is my life.:)

5) You are inspiring me to write again. I started out writing, and now editing for writers. What encouragement can you give to beginning writers? Is there a motto you live by?

I am so happy that I have inspired you to write. I think if you have something to say you should definitely keep writing. As for encouragement for beginning writers I think it's very important that you know your craft. Writing may seem easy to you, but knowing the skills you will need is very important. Once you have finished your first draft most of the time your writing is not ready for publishing. First of all leave it alone for awhile and then when you get back to it look at the work like it wasn't yours. Be an editor and cut anything that takes away from the story. Be ruthless, because it will only take away from your story. When you are happy with your draft then you should send it to a few people to have them read and critique it. With the book I am publishing now, it went through several revisions before I sent it to a critique group and then after that it went through nineteen revisions until it got to what I thought was my final copy. I kept sending it out and getting rejections. After a rejection I went back and tried to revise it again. Through all of this I never gave up my dream of being published. Even though my family was sure I was pursuing a dead end, I had wonderful support from my critique group and they gave me great suggestions. I also had several other writers read it and used their suggestions.

During this time I started a blog and began to gather friends on Facebook. I attended workshops both in person and online. I networked as much as I could. You should take every opportunity to make friends with writers and authors. Don't give up and don't get discouraged no matter how many rejections you get. Keep submitting your writing in any form you write. I had two short stories published online. So if you don't have an online presence you need to work on that. All you need is to be on Facebook and Twitter and have a blog.

6) Do you set goals for yourself? What goals do you have?

Well of course, my goal for over five years was to publish my book. Now that is done, I would like to publish another one. My short-term goal is letting as many people as possible know about my book and read it, of course.:) I am planning on submitting my second novel to my current publisher, since I am very happy here at MuseItUp Publishing. Of course, I have to look it over and get it ready. I am also an editor for 4RV Publishing and I hope to be editing more books as the year goes on.

7) How do you develop your characters?

Usually I'll sit down to write and then after a few chapters I'll realize I don't know much about my character. I use a character wheel, which is very handy for organizing character traits and finding out about your character. Besides the usual hair color, eye color, age, height, etc. you put in more specific things like what the character would have in their room, parents (if YA or MG), favorite color, favorite sport, favorite music, hobbies, and the one that allows you to know your character best and propels your story: what is the one thing they must have or do? It's the one thing they would do almost anything to get or achieve. With this goal in mind you can flesh out the plot of your main character. Also you want to add friends to this wheel and describe them too. Or if you want, you can make a separate wheel for the friends. For your secondary character or character you need to do the same kind of wheel. So you know what is the one thing each character must have or do. I did a whole blog post for the MuseItUp Publishing blog on this. You can go to the blog and learn more about this technique.

8) Do you have a set formula for writing? Do you do an outline? What do you do?

As I said in the last question, I just start to write. Many times I go on and continue writing as the words keep coming. I did this for all of my NaNoWriMo books and wrote them until I got to the end. With the YA novel I am about to publish I got stuck in the middle and then I had to find a way to tell the secondary character's story. I don't like to do outlines, but in this case I had to go back and do a plot outline. Also in the second YA novel I have not submitted but is ready, I stopped on one chapter and then had to go ahead and outline the chapter to make sure the events went in the way I wanted them to go. I just let my muse take me where it will and when it starts to rebel I stop and figure it out. I am really what is called a "pantser". I take a story idea and just write.

9) When you edit, what is the most common mistakes a writer makes?

Probably the most common mistakes I have found are run on sentences. The next one is passive verbs. Many people put in too many "that's". I am guilty of this myself.:) Another problem is writers tend to forget actions during dialogue. One writer had almost page long paragraphs of narrative and then in the dialogue had paragraphs of dialogue without any idea that the characters were talking to each other. One character talked, then another with no idea to the reader of where they were or what was happening during the conversation. Mostly, writers tend to assume you are thinking what they are and leave out important parts of the story. Or they overwrite and have to pare it down. Some put in too many tags. Also, of course, there are grammar and spelling errors.

10) Thank you for doing this interview. It’s been a pleasure. Do you have any last comments or advice for all of us?

Not really, your questions have been excellent, Linda and I am very pleased to be a guest on your blog. My only comments and they're not advice, because I am not a multi-published author with a lot of experience, are to not put yourself down as a writer. Too many new writers don't submit their work, because they feel it isn't good enough for anyone else to read. Since writing comes so easily to most of us we can't be objective about our own writing. What you have looked at and thought no one will read, might be the best thing someone else has ever read. I say this, because I felt this way for years. It took me five years to get my book published, but before that when I was writing it I never thought it could get published.

Maybe one piece of advice to the new writers. When you give your writing to someone to read be prepared for some good and some bad comments. I look for the bad ones, because this means the person who is reading my work is being honest with me. Do you want to accept all the bad ones? No, but at least keep an open mind about what needs to be changed in your writing. Your work is only as good as the amount of time you have put into it. If you really love your story, then make sure it is the best it can be. Join a critique group and get many different opinions. Send it to beta readers and when you have all the comments go back and revise it until you feel it is your best. I revised my first chapter so many times I can't count them. I added parts to my book when people suggested them if I felt they would work. Writing is constantly experimenting to see what works and what doesn't work. I am very glad that I took the plunge and sent out my work. Yes, you will get rejections, but there will be the one acceptance that will make a difference and I hope it will make you feel as excited as I did when I got my contract.

Thank you for your answers to this interview. I really enjoyed reading them. I especially liked the last one. We all have to be a little toughed-skinned in order to read an editors comments. You need to really take into consideration their feedback. If you can't take any constructive criticism, how can you possibly continue as a writer? Don't get mad, but get glad that someone is honest enough to tell you what they feel you should change, or suggestions for something they feel would make your story sing. Isn't that what we all want?


  1. Hi Linda, long time no see. Great interview with Barbara.

  2. Thank you, Roseanne. You always manage to be the first to comment almost anywhere!!!

  3. Linda, thank you for inviting me to be your guest! I enjoyed it very much!