Monday, May 28, 2012

Summer Teen Reading Party with Barbara Ehrentreu

I welcome Barbara Ehrentreu to my blog today as part of the Summer Teen Reading Party. Barbara has written a prize-winning novel titled If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. Love the cover!

From Goodreads: 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?

My 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 got 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:



Book Promo:

Also, come over to visit my blog, Barbara’s Meanderings,  where I am part of the month long Summer Teen Reading Party. 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.

Barbara Bio:
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, published by MuseItUp Publishing was inspired by Paula Danziger. It has won #2 in Preditors & Editors Poll for Best Young Adult Book of 2011. In addition, Barbara has a story in Lavender Dreams, a memorial anthology for which all the proceeds go to cancer research. She has three poems in Prompted: An International Collection of Poems by the Anthologists for which all the proceeds go to Literacy research. 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 has written 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!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Teen Reading Party with Amy Durham

The Summer Teen Reading Party continues! Have you snagged any fun books yet? If you've read any of the books featured, leave me a comment on my blog here and let me know what you thought.

Please welcome my Writer Chat Wednesday guest Amy Durham, author of Once Again, a book that sounds very intriguing to me! Check it out:

NATALIE WRIGHT (NW): Do you have any news to share about your work?

AMY DURHAM (AD): My first novel, “Once Again”, a Young Adult Paranormal, is currently available in both eBook and print format. It’s the story of Layla Bradford and Lucas Ellis, two teenagers who discover they are the reincarnations of a young married couple from the mid-1800s who suffered a horrible tragedy. The madman who hurt them was never brought to justice, and no one ever knew the truth about what happened. Layla and Lucas must solve the mystery of their past life in order to keep the tragedy from happening again.

NW: What genre do you write in?

AD: I write Young Adult Fiction. Most of what I’ve written and what I’m working on falls into the “YA Paranormal Romance” category, but I also have plans for a non-paranormal YA Romance. I love YA for it’s cross-over appeal. And I love that it give young readers hope and encouragement, while at the same time taking young-at-hearts (like me!) back to the exuberance and excitement of youth!

NW: What works in progress do you have?

AD: I’m currently working on the sequel to “Once Again”, which is titled “Once and for All”. It follows two of the secondary characters from “Once Again”, as they encounter their own reincarnation mystery, as well as an ancient curse that has never been broken. I’m also working on “Dusk”, book one in “The Messenger” series. Messengers are a bit like angels, but not exactly! Readers will just have to wait and find out!

NW: Which character from your books do you like most / are most like?

AD: There’s a LOT of me in Layla Bradford, the heroine in “Once Again”. She’s a typical middle-of-the-road student in her school, not popular but not the bottom of the social ladder either. She’s comfortable in her own skin, but still a little insecure when it comes to others’ opinions of her. Her journey in “Once Again” isn’t just about falling in love with Lucas or figuring out the mystery of their past life, but also of discovering exactly who she is, and learning that who she is is absolutely, positively good enough!

NW: Who is your favorite author and why?

AD: I have several favorite authors. First and foremost, JoAnn Ross, whose book “Fair Haven” was the book that finally said to me, “THIS is what you should be doing!” She’s a wonderful example of how to create vivid settings and write with a sense of community and family. She’s also a gracious and giving writer and a super person all the way around. On the YA side of things, I really like Rachel Vincent and her “Soul Screamer” series. Talk about teenage angst!

NW: How long have you been a writer?

Author, Amy Durham
AD: I’ve wanted to be a writer since the 6th grade. It started out as poems and silly stories. In the 8th grade I began to take it more seriously, and from that point on, I always wrote. But I didn’t pursue it seriously…more as a hobby. I kept thinking “Someday, I’ll write a book.”  In 2003, just before my second child was born, I decided that if I kept saying “someday”, I would never do it. If I was going to write a book, I was going to start NOW. I spent a lot of time learning from other writers and practicing the craft of writing fiction. This year, I felt like I was “ready”, and my first novel, “Once Again” was published.

NW: Do you have a “day job”? And if you do, what do you do when you’re not writing?

AD: In my day job, I’m a middle school music teacher. I also have three sons. So, I stay busy! When I’m not teaching, parenting, or writing I LOVE to cook!  It’s a very big creative outlet for me. I also love to read (no surprise there), and when time and finances allow, I like to travel.

NW: Who is your favorite fictional character and why? 

AD: My favorite fictional character is Jude Murray from Nora Roberts’ “Jewels of the Sun”.  I read this book when I was pregnant with my second child, just before I made the decision to pursue writing in earnest. I identified greatly with Jude, who was a teacher (a college professor) who longed for something “more”, and then found herself when she began writing.

NW: What is your favorite movie – the one you can watch over and over again?

AD: “When Harry Met Sally”, followed closely by “Notting Hill”.

NW: What do you hope readers will take with them from your writing?

AD: I hope young readers come away from my story feeling like they were able to escape into their imaginations for a while. I also hope they are encouraged and feel hopefully that the struggles of adolescence won’t last forever and that they will survive! I hope young-at-heart readers are able to remember the beauty and the heartache of first love, the disappointments of youth, and the joy that followed when they survived into adulthood!

You can find Amy online at the following places:

You can purchase “Once Again” at the following retailers:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What I've Learned about Writing from Vincent

Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait
I recently gave myself a day off of work - and my daughter a day off of school. We motored  up the I-10 to Phoenix to see the Van Gogh Alive exhibit. If this exhibit comes to a museum or gallery near you, I highly recommend that you check it out (and you can see it at the Phoenix Science Center through June 17, 2012). The exhibit combines music with images and words projected all around you on multiple wall surfaces. It's like being immersed in a Van Gogh painting.

I became a fan of Van Gogh's paintings when I studied art history in college. Monet's paintings are beautiful and Picasso's are amzing. But no painter captured my interest like Vincent.

I fell in love with the magical, swirling stars of The Starry Night.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
My nine-year-old daughter said, of The Starry Night, that his trees look like Tim Burton's trees. I had to explain to her that since Van Gogh came first, perhaps Burton's trees look like Van Gogh's. But I thought her comment was quite astute. Both artists combine magic, fantasy and whimsy with the dark and haunting.

The Van Gogh Alive exhibit displays not only Vincent's paintings, but also quotes from his letters and writings. As I sat with my daughter and took in the words and artistry of Vincent, I found my writer self deeply moved and inspired. Vincent understood at his very core what it is to be an artist.

"I dream of painting and then I paint my dream."

Artists get blocked from time to time. Fear prevents us from moving forward. The blank canvas - the white page - stares back at us. It taunts us. "Go ahead, try if you dare."

"Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again."

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."

Actors, painters, writers. Creation, in whatever form, is the search for the truth buried in the soul. It is excavation.

"Paintings have a life of their own that derives from the painter's soul."

The excavation can be frightening. What horrors may be buried there? But the artist has no choice. She must grab the pick and chip away.

"The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore."

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

If the artist submits her art to the public for view, whether in a gallery or on Amazon, she subjects herself to opinion. The artist has survived the fiery depths of her own soul only to find herself running the gauntlet of public opinion. Oh, how high the favorable reviews take her! But oh, how her flesh is flayed by the negative talk. "Hey, that's my soul you are criticizing," she wants to say.

But Vincent soothes the artist with his words:

"Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion."


Van Gogh knew about perserverance. Though he painted for only ten short years, he produced over 900 paintings. That is about two paintings a week! His prodigious output speaks volumes about his work ethic - about getting up and dusting yourself off and going at it again, and again, and again.

"In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing."

For Van Gogh's tortured soul, nature soothed. In nature, he found inspiration and oh, what a legacy of beautiful creations Vincent left.

"For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream."

What is art? Perhaps the most creative thing we can create is love.

"I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people."

Unfortunately for the world, Vincent was plagued by mental illness. He cut his own life short with a bullet to his gut. Did he deprive the world of seeing the rest that his soul had to offer? Or was his soul's work finished - his artistry spent?

"I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process."
Wheat Field with Crows, 1890
"I wish they would only take me as I am."

Vincent's brush strokes and words speak to me across the chasm of time and space. And he accomplished what he set out to do.

"I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say 'he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.'"

paintings of Blossoming Almond Tree by
Blossoming Almond Tree, 1890

Friday, May 18, 2012

Summer Teen Reading Party with Kim Baccellia

I welcome Kim Baccellia to my blog today. Kim is the author of Earrings of Ixtumea. I recently had a chance to chat with Kim and this is what she had to say:

NATALIE WRIGHT (NW): Do you have a specific writing style?

KIM BACCELLIA (KB): I use an outline similar to what screenwriters use.  I also use the heroes journey when outlining/plotting my stories.

NW: How did you come up with the title?

KB: My writing group at the time helped me come up with the title.  The original title was Lupe’s Journey.  Boring.  Then I had the group help me brainstorm ideas.  Dennis, was the one who came up with the idea of Ixtumea.  I kept it.

NW: What books have most influenced your life most?

KB: Judy Blume when I was a teen and recently Ellen Hopkins who writes real, honest YA contemporaries.

NW: What book are you reading now?

KB: Right now I’m reading Underworld by Meg Cabot.  I’m also reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

NW: Have you ever gone out in public with your shirt on backwards, or your slippers on, and when realizing it, just said screw it?

KB: Once I was really not feeling well and had an overdue library book.  It was overcast outside and I figured, who cares if I drive to the library in my PJs?  So yes, I ended up driving down there with my skull PJ bottoms and hoodie top.  I did wear my Audrey Hepburn sized sunglasses but still no one gave me a second glance other than my ten-year-old son who commented, “You went to the library in your pajamas?”

NW: Be honest, how often do you wash your hair?

KB: Uh, it depends.  Usually 3 times a week.

NW: Do you get road rage? What is it about other drivers that makes you angry?

KB: I’m getting a lot better.  I learned my lesson the hard way while in Utah.  I once gave this truck the bird after he cut me off.  He turned around and followed me, screaming profanity.  Let’s just say I’ve never done that again!

NW: Do you go out of your way to kill bugs? Are there any that make you screech and hide?

KB: Bugs usually don’t bother me.  At the last school I taught at, we had a cockroach problem.  It got so bad that one day after I got yelled at by a parent, one scurried right in front on me.  I kicked it.  Hard. The kids in the other classroom started giggling.  The teacher came out and asked me what I did as this cockroach was weaving around like it was drunk.  I swear nothing killed those bugs.

NW: What is your favorite drink?
KB: I love Ruby Diner’s Diet Cherry Chocolate Cokes.  They are fountain drinks just like the ones my mom had in the 50s!
NW: How would you describe yourself in three words?
KB: Persistent, out-spoken, and studious

Kim Baccellia, Author
Author bio:

Kim Baccellia was a bilingual teacher in Los Angeles County for eight years and during that time she didn’t find many books for Latinas that were upbeat or dealt with their heritage.  During the time she wrote this novel, she was learning about her own Mexican heritage and decided to write a novel that was set in a Mesoamerican world.
Kim has also written Crossed Out, a YA paranormal and her YA fantasy No Goddesses Allowed has a tentative release date of Fall 2012.
A current member of SCBWI and YALITCHAT, Kim is currently writing the sequel to Crossed Out and a YA multicultural Sci-Fi.  She lives in Southern California with her husband and son.
Fifteen-year-old Lupe Hernandez dismisses the legend about her Mexican grandmother's magical earrings as a silly fairytale, despite recurring nightmares of human sacrifice. But when the earrings thrust her into the parallel world of Ixtumea, she must confront the very thing she shuns the most -- her cultural heritage.
“How often do you hear a girl saves the world?” The melodic hush of Abuela’s voice downstairs in the kitchen woke Lupe. Darkness filled her room. She peered over at her alarm clock, six o’clock in the morning.
She pulled her pink blanket over her head and moaned. Oh, here we go again. Couldn’t Abuela let me sleep in? The blanket might cover  her, but she couldn’t escape the sounds of her grandmother reciting yet another fable from the mystical land of Ixtumea. She’d been forced to listen to that stupid tale last night. And even worse, downstairs in their kitchen, listening and encouraging were Abuelita’s amigas.
Lupe stumbled out of bed, kicking aside a collection of navy-and-white uniform clothes on the floor. Throwing on a faded flannel robe, she cracked her bedroom door open. The voices grew louder.
“Si, tell us more!” The ting of spoons against the tiny teacups sounded like a battle cry. Didn’t those women know it was way too early? Jeez, no way am I going to sleep. I might as well see if they made some hot chocolate or tea. Maybe then I can stomach this whole nonsense of Ixtumea and Super-Girl before I go to school.
She had long outgrown the silly tales. Though she hated to admit it, the tale of the girl savior fascinated her. Never had she heard of a teen-aged Latina battling evil forces and saving her people, in a world not unlike the land of Lupe’s Mexican ancestors.
No, the only stories of teen heroes she’d heard starred thin beautiful blondes. Everything she wasn’t.
Still, Abuela’s voice cast a spell on her. Lupe knew she shouldn’t eavesdrop on the chismes, but she couldn’t help herself.
She crept down the stairs past the pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Pope John Paul II, and one of the mysterious Mayan gods.
“Ay, too bad she couldn’t have come sooner,” Coco, their next-door neighbor, sighed. “Too many cosas modernas in our world. Now who  believes? No one but us.”
Who are they talking about? Lupe wondered.
“Now that’s one story I’d like to hear,” an unfamiliar gravelly voice replied. “Not another pobrecita guera who steals the ranchero’s heart. How many poor blondes from Mexico do you ladies know?”
“You mean real ones or ones that appear with la magica of the bleach?” asked Esperanza, the acknowledged gossip of the apartment building.
Laughter filled the small condo. Lupe couldn’t help but smile. These ladies loved those telenovelas almost as much as Abuela’s tales. She thought it funny her grandmother got on her case about her Anglo pop idols. Maybe the ladies weren’t different from her, after all.
Lupe crouched down and hid behind one of the banisters. Ixchel, the spider goddess, smiled down on her from a painting on the wall. Red gems sparkled from Ixchel’s earlobes, similar to the earrings Lupe’s grandmother had tried to give Lupe last night.
From this position Lupe saw the usual group of amigas sitting around the Formica table, sipping café de leche or manzanilla—chamomile—tea in delicate small cups. Vivid crimson, yellow, and orange housecoats brightened the kitchen. The women sounded like a flock of lively parrots.
Next to the stove, Abuela worked her magic. She pinched off a bit of dough, rolled the soft masa into the size of a golf ball, and flattened the dough between her earth-colored hands. Quickly she threw the pancake-shaped masa onto a sizzling black pan.
The other women helped. Esperanza scrambled eggs, the vivid red housedress she wore fluttering over her round figure. Esperanza’s large gold hoop earrings bounced with every movement.
Coco stood in the far corner, one large embroidered rose peeking out of her simple rebozo. She cut the tortillas into thin strips to mix in with the eggs, chorizo, and cheese. “Oye, espera un momento. Tell me more about this niña who’ll save Ixtumea.”
“Here, let me finish.” The scrape of a metal chair dragged across the wooden floor and one of the women took over cooking the tortillas.
“Ay, where was I?” Lupe’s abuela asked as she settled down in one of the chairs. She wiped her hands on her apron, sealing in the roasted scent of tortillas.
“The prophecy. How does it go, again?”
“Oh, yes.” Abuelita took a deep breath. Then she began.
“She will come,
Descending through the sacred web,
To vanquish the great deceiver.
Many will be her name:
“Cipriana, do we know this niña?”someone asked.
Lupe leaned down closer to the stair, curious to find out if her grandmother would reveal the name of the person. Wouldn’t it be a real hoot if it were someone she knew?
“Let me guess.” Esperanza turned off the stove. “She’s tall, thin, and has blonde hair.”
“You sound as bad as my Lupita. Nadie está contento con su suerte. Always dreaming the other side is better.” Her grandmother let out a  deep sigh. “If only she’d listen and take the earrings...”
“So she hasn’t taken them?” Coco asked. “Does she not know how importante they are?”
"You know the young.  Never listen.” Her grandmother let out another sigh.
“If I was her, I’d be dying to use them…wait, maybe, your Lupita is this niña!” Esperanza laughed so hard she snorted. “Wouldn’t that be something?”
Startled at hearing her name, Lupe leaned back against the wall. An old picture of her mother wearing those same earrings shifted above  her.
Lupe felt a strange foreboding. The tips of her ears burned. What was wrong with her?
She got up and went back to her room. Quietly she closed the door to block out the voices. A prickly sensation covered her body, along with a sick feeling, maybe Esperanza was right. She thought back to last night and her grandmother’s attempt to give her a pair of earrings, identical to the ones in all the pictures in their apartment. She’d started up again with the legend and refused to let Lupe leave the room. “No, this is muy importante,” she said. She talked about a web between the worlds fraying and the time of the fulfillment of the prophecy was now. How Lupe needed to be prepared.

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