Author Barbara Ehrentreu: Living With and Without Hal
Author Barbara Ehrentreu is a retired teacher. Her books are: If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, After, and now, You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal.
After the death of her husband, Hal, more than two years ago, Barbara decided to gather all of the poems her has written about him from before and after he passed away, and the results are her new book of poetry called: You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal, a memorial to Hal and their everlasting love for one another. 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.
Hi Barbara, Thank you for doing this blog post. I have admired you greatly and thankful for your friendship.
How long have you been writing poetry?
I wrote my first poem in third grade. It was published in the School District newsletter. Then I didn’t write anything until I was in my late teens and in college. I continued writing for myself off and on until I showed them to my brother and he said they should be published. So he put them on the computer back in the late 70’s and I had booklets of my poems to give to people who wanted to read them. I took several workshops online for poetry and also one in person and I started to write a little more seriously. However, it wasn’t until I joined the Writer’s Digest website Poetic Asides where I wrote a poem a day for each April, did I really write a lot. From that experience it blossomed into being part of a group that split from PAD (Poem A Day) and we eventually published two anthologies with our poems. Also some of my poems have been published in online publications. Currently, I am an ongoing guest poet for the esteemed poetry group: Poem Kubili, which has also helped to elevate my writing as well.
I wanted to have a memorial to my husband and I had written a great many poems both before and after he passed away. Every time I felt sad I wrote a poem and they are on a variety of subjects. Some are from writing for Poetic Asides and some are from writing poems to read on World Poetry Open Mic, a radio show on which anyone can read his or her own poetry or the poetry of someone else. The whole show is dedicated to the love of poetry. Also, I saw that I got a huge response to the poems that I posted about my husband. One of them was the Scriggler Poem of the Day and another won Honorable Mention in a poetry contest. So the idea of putting all of these poems together was in my head for about a year. Then the opportunity came for me to do just that when my publisher and I decided to publish it on lulu.com. She worked with me to place the photos with the poems and we decided to make it full color so the photos could be shown in their best light. Also, she is a graphic designer and she designed the cover and placed those forget me nots on the bottom of the page. My publisher, Susan Joyner Stumpf who owns Wildfire Publications, said she cried when she went through the book the first time. I think my book shows my journey through my life from when we first met to after he passed away. It shows how though I had lost my soul mate and love I could survive and find hope without him. I believe my book will help a great many women who have had the same thing happen to them. I went from collapsing and needing to be in the ER to where I am today, which is living my life and moving forward.
The title comes from something my husband always said to me. He would always joke that when he was gone in a few years I would forget about him completely because of my terrible memory. It was a running joke for years with us. So I thought the title of my book should be: You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal.
Has being a writer in any way helped with how you dealt with losing Hal and help you help your family?
Yes. When I felt sad I would write a poem after the sadness. It helped me to feel better and do what I had to do. I poured all of my emotion into my poems. Kind of like the woman in Like Water for Chocolate would weep into her food. One of my daughters started writing a journal with thoughts about her father and I think she was following in my footsteps. Also, after I had written something I gained a new perspective on an event and I was able to understand my daughters’ experience a little more. I was very fortunate to have both of them with me for these last two years so we went through it all together. Grieving is a difficult process and is ongoing. I don’t think I will ever stop missing my husband or having times when I am unbearably sad.
What books by other authors have given you comfort in the last few years?
At first religious readings helped me. In the Jewish religion there are readings in the funeral service to comfort the grieving.
A good friend of mine, Donna Marie Merritt, has written a series of books with poetry about how she coped with her husband’s illness. One of them is called: Cancer: A Caregiver’s View. She is lucky to have her husband still. Reading her poems helped me a lot. But also, talking with people has helped too. Other authors have taken the time to speak with me at various moments and that was probably the best thing for me.
How much of your writing, whether it’s poetry or stories for a book, come from events you have seen on the news?
That’s an interesting question, because I have used the news at various times for my poetry. Sometimes after a particularly awful event I have written a poem. I wrote about the shooting in the church in Charleston, SC and I wrote about the little girl who was accidentally shot by her father’s gun that was left out on the table. I have also written about people who I have seen on the road and various other events. For the most part, though, the bulk of my poetry is about my life and my family.
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor was my first book and began in Paula Danziger’s workshop. It is dedicated to her. Here is a little about this book:
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?
After, happened because my husband was in the hospital and I actually started writing it while he was recuperating from a heart operation. Here is a little about this one: “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?
In your stories how much of yourself is in your characters?
In my first novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, I am probably most like the mother. In After, again, the mother is very much like me, but there are parts of me in Lauren, the main character, as well. Also, parts of Lauren’s sister, Dianne are from me too.
What were some of the pitfalls you ran into in your own writing career?
When I tried to get my first novel published I had attended some SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences. So I had a few editors’ permission to send them my manuscript. I did just that and I received seven rejections. I continued to send my book out and received two more rejections. After each rejection I revised my book and continued to send it out. Then I gave up and I put it away for about two years. I was busy and I figured I would try again when I could. Then I decided to get into a critique group called MuseKids that was run by Lea Schizas. Lea also ran an online writing conference once a year and I had been part of that for a few years. So she said she was starting her own publishing company and she was holding an online pitch session. I prepared for this and took my finished manuscript to make the pitch. My book was accepted after that pitch session and so it was published as an ebook by a Canadian publishers. Since it is a Canadian company it has been difficult to find bookstores who will stock it. I have had a few book signings and done very well, but I am still waiting to have more. Not being published by a big publisher does cause someone to need to do more promotion too. So I have to do a great deal of online promotion.
With your life experience, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that she should not worry about all the little things she constantly worried about. People don’t even notice you most of the time. Also, I would tell her to study more in college. You never know when you will need to use that knowledge. The last thing I would tell her is that she should love herself no matter how she looks, because she is way too hard on herself for her looks.
Where online can people find you and your books?
My blog is:
You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor and After:
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor
Both books are also available on Ibooks and Barnes & Noble
Thanks again, Barbara. I appreciate it very much! ~JD