Join me in welcoming Dr. Fran Orenstein to Highlighted Author.
Welcome to Fran’s World. Born on a dark Halloween night in Brooklyn, NY, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form letters. At eight I wrote my first poem in an impassioned response after reading Bambi. At 12 I received my first rejection letter for a short story, and consequently learned a very negative lesson about publishing…the magazine stole my story and published it rewritten under the same title three months later. As a kid I had no power, and I didn’t try to publish again for 40+ years. However, I continued writing, on school newspapers, as a magazine editor/writer, and writing newsletters for various community groups and government agencies for 25 years. During my 22 years with NJ State Government I wrote brochures, legislation, articles, promotional material and papers on violence against women, child care and early education, women and disabilities, sexual harassment, and gender equity, which I presented at local, state, national and international conferences. Gender equity in education became a focal point for me around which I designed my dissertation for a doctoral degree in child and youth studies.
I started writing fiction novels for ‘tweens in the 1990s as I happily watched my career moving to a close, of course at a snail’s pace. The many years I had spent at writing conferences and dealing with agents and editors was an education in itself. There have been ups and downs, promises of publication that never came to fruition, agents who threw up their hands or did nothing, unscrupulous small publishers, and the tragedy of 9/11 that put an end to publishing as it had been. Publishing houses no longer accepted manuscripts in the mail, from fear. The economy went downhill and large publishers gobbled up small publishers, and editors moved or were downsized faster than the Mad Hatter’s tea party guests changed seats.
I finally chose to go with small publishers and now have three for the different books I write. There are five ‘tween (ages 8/9-13/14) books: a mystery series, The Mystery Under Third Base and The Mystery of The Green Goblin; a fantasy series, The Wizard of Balalac and The Gargoyles of Blackthorne; and a stand alone coming-of-age book for girls, Fat Girls From Outer Space (all from Sleepytown Press). Also published are two YA historical romance novels that teens 13 to adult can read: The Calling of the Flute (Sleepytown Press) and The Spice Merchant’s Daughter (Whiskey Creek Press) In the next few months, I expect my first adult woman’s novel, Gaia’s Gift to be released by World Castle Publishing.
In all the years, I have never given up writing poetry. At this time I have enough poems to publish a book, which I hope to do next spring. Individually, my poems have been published in anthologies: Love and Romance, Ethereal Erotica, and Tales of The Supernatural (edited by Deborah Simpson). My poems have won awards from AAUW and The Florida State Poets Association. A number of years ago I published a book of poetry for children ages 3-8, (Five, Six, Pick-up Sticks), which is now out of print, but I hope to republish it at some future date.
My award-winning short stories have also been published in anthologies such as Gallery of Voices (Sleepytown Press), Into the Shadows (out-of-print)
All of my current books are on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com and other on-line bookstores, at select bookstores, and from the publishers.
And….lest you think I am shackled to the computer, when not writing or marketing, I read mysteries, international intrigue, courtroom dramas, horror, and fantasy and sci-fi, do crossword puzzles and crypto-quotes, volunteer, and do something archaic. I actually talk on a real land-line phone to my friends. Yes, Gen Y and Gen X, I can text on my cell phone. I belong to a book club that stretches my taste in books and the Great Books Society that stretches my intellect. I am a Reiki Master, believe in alternative medicine, practice Tai Chi, and have had paranormal experiences. Some of my books have spiritual, metaphysical and paranormal elements.
I am blessed with four grandchildren, who of course are the most fantastic grandchildren on earth. Rachel, 13, my muse and inspiration, has given me storylines and is my biggest fan.
Fran was a guest on Red River BlogTalk radio to talk about her featured book, Fat Girls From Outerspace. Listen in…
What they’re saying:
“…Ms. Orenstein not only addresses the child weight issues, but we learn a lesson of living together – whatever race or heritage, kids are kids. Period. It is handled beautifully… People don’t know the power of words. Especially to a young person. Fat Girls From Outer Space is for everyone who has ever had something they were self conscious of, or made fun of, and for those who didn’t have those problems to see what words and actions can do.
An imaginative and wonderful book.” — Ellen “Ellen in Atlanta”
Fat Girls From Outer Space
Eleven-year-old Frederica Gold, a.k.a. Freddy, is smart, talented and overweight. She hates her name, her body and the school bully. As if that weren’t enough, she is unhappy about her parents’ divorce, excited about turning twelve, and scared about starting intermediate school. Freddy is confused and miserable until she meets two overweight girls, Dolly and Eva. They become instant friends and together form a successful band, Fat Girls From Outer Space. In this coming-of-age story, Freddy, a girl with a less than perfect body, learns to cope with adversity by using her humor, talent, energy, the support of friends and her brother, and a special ‘fat angel’, to earn popularity and self-respect. ‘Tweens will relate to Freddy’s life and cheer as she and her friends resolve the problems in their lives. This is a book about childhood obesity and self-image, bullying, friendship, and emerging adolescence.
Fat Girls From Outer Space
Excerpt from Chapters 1 and 2
Back story: Freddy and her friends are going to the play-offs for their school’s baseball team. She is wearing her big brother, Mike’s tee shirt because nothing else looked good on her. She is in a miserable mood and is afraid of running into Brock Ames and his friends, who bully and tease her.
Nobody said anything for the first couple of minutes. Finally, Jess said, “You’re a grouch today, Freddy.”
Freddy thought about that as they walked down the street toward the ball park. “I just hate myself today, that’s all.”
“Your hair looks great,” Ruthie said, pulling at her own red curls. “Not like this mess.”
“It’s not my hair I’m talking about, Ruthie. Besides I wish my hair was red and curly, not this straight ugly brown.”
Jess shrugged, “So are you going to tell us or what?”
“It’s like a bad body day, that’s all.”
“Oh,” Jess said, nodding. “Well, everybody has those, Freddy. I even saw a zit this morning.”
Ruthie peered at Jess’s face. “Where?”
Jess pointed to her chin.
“I don’t see anything,” Ruthie said.
“Of course not, I covered it with makeup.”
Ruthie looked at Freddy and rolled her eyes, probably thinking about her 4,000 freckles that nothing would cover.
Freddy thought about her figure. What did Jess know about being fat or ugly? She didn’t have a fat, ugly cell in her whole body. Everything about her was perfect, from her blond hair to her long legs. Freddy sighed and asked, “Every day’s a bad body day, huh?”
“No, I guess not every day,” Jess said.
Freddy nodded. “See what I mean? I have one every day.”
She bet Jess never had to sneak huge sizes into the fitting room, terrified that someone from school would see her. She didn’t turn red from embarrassment and want to die when those stupid sales girls said dumb things like, “It doesn’t come any larger”. The worst was the day that skinny sales girl said to her mom, loud enough for the whole mall to hear, “Maybe she should try the woman’s department.” Death, it’s Freddy, come and get me, please.
“Our bodies are going to start to change next year,” Ruthie said hopefully.
Freddy raised her eyebrows. “Wow, I can hardly wait. A whole year, or maybe two or three. Or maybe never. You should see my Aunt Carol; she has three chins, with hairs growing out of them. If I have to go through life like her, I’ll kill myself first.”
“Listen, can we just forget our bodies and have some fun?” Jess asked.
“Yeah,” Ruthie said. “Let’s pretend we’re invisible like we did at camp a couple of years ago.”
Jess laughed, “We didn’t speak to anybody. Remember how mad the counselor got because we wouldn’t even look at her?”
Freddy giggled, “I thought she was going to explode by dinner trying to get us to talk to her.”
“We would just float by and stare over everybody’s shoulders,” Ruthie
“Okay, I got the message, sorry to be such a jerk,” Freddy said.
The gremlins, Grumble and Grouch, fluttered around in her head for a couple of blocks, but as they reached the ballpark her eyes danced with excitement.
Kids were streaming in from every direction, squeezing through the gate. This was an important game; the playoff for the County Junior Baseball League title between the Blake school Dragons from Hopsville and their own Leesburg Panthers. Finally, pushing through the gate, they ran to the home team side of the ball field, scrambled up the bleachers, and plopped down.
“Watch the bench don’t crack,” yelled a voice somewhere behind them.
Freddy’s heart stopped beating. She was dead. She knew without turning around that it was Brock Ames, probably showing off for Brittany and his friends.
“Shut up, jerk,” Jess yelled. “It’s your head that’s cracked.”
Ruthie nudged Jess. “Don’t answer him or he’ll keep doing it. Think invisible.”
Sure enough he yelled, “Look at Fat Freddy and her pals Carrot Top and Messy Jessy.”
Freddy heard giggling. Please God, she begged, let me just disappear, but God wasn’t hanging out at the game today. BrockAmeswas and he was sitting two rows behind them. “Let’s move,” she whispered.
“I’m not budging from these seats,” Jess said between clenched teeth.
Freddy sighed and scrunched down. A loud crack behind them shattered the air.
“Hey, you hear that noise?” Brock yelled.
“Yeah, sounded like wood cracking to me,” Tommy Whitehead said loudly, getting into the act.
Then a deep voice said, “Boys, I suggest you keep your remarks to yourself. You’re starting to annoy me.”
It was Mr. Berns, the soccer coach.Brittanygiggled. Then there was wonderful silence. Freddy wanted to kiss Mr. Berns, if he wasn’t so old. She just wished Brock would find somebody else to pick on. It all started last year, when Brock, leaning over to whisper inBrittany’s ear, walked into an open locker door. Freddy saw it and couldn’t stop giggling. His face turned bright red. “Shut up, fat face,” he shouted.
Maybe in a few years when she became thin and gorgeous like Mike said, Brock would ask her for a date and she’d make him beg. Then she’d make him apologize in front of the whole school for every mean thing he’d ever said about her. Of course, she would turn him down for the date. He’d turn red and slink away.
Freddy giggled. Why did she always have to giggle?
“What’s so funny?” Ruthie asked.
“Nothing,” she said, trying to stop giggling.
It was a tight game, into extra innings, but Freddy didn’t pay a lot of attention. She dreamed, instead. Hundreds of kids are jumping off the stands after the game. Suddenly Brock trips and rolls headfirst down the stairs pulling Brittanywith him. Now Freddy could make a quick getaway. Just as she was about to escape, there was a roar. She jerked and awoke from the fantasy. Everybody was standing and screaming as Billy Winger hit a double and brought in the winning run. The Leesburg Panthers were the new champions. Freddy figured that by next week there would be a sign at the crossroads courtesy of the Rotary, WELCOME TO LEESBURG, HOME OF THE PANTHERS, BLAKE COUNTY JUNIOR BASEBALL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS.
“That Billy Winger’s so cool,” Jess said dreamily.
“Yeah, but he doesn’t know you’re alive, Jess,” Ruthie said.
Jess gave her a dirty look.
“Well, Billy has Lauren Jasper anyway,” Freddy said.
“Don’t remind me,” Jess said. “Come on, I’m starved.”
They pushed through the crowd, and made their way to the gate. Freddy wanted to get away fast, before Brock could find her again. No such luck.
He was lounging around the gate. Brittany Hughes hung on Brock’s arm with Tommy Whitehead and the rest of their group surrounding them. Freddy pictured a high school football game.Brittany, with her tiny, slim body wearing a blue and gold cheerleader outfit, bright blond curls bouncing, doing handstands in front of a roaring crowd. Freddy leaned over and whispered to Ruthie, “Do you think maybe she’ll gain a lot of weight over the next two years or her hair will fall out?”
Ruthie grimaced. “We would never be so lucky. She’ll probably grow some gorgeous boobs and look like a movie star.”
“What are you two whispering about?” Jess asked.
“Don’t you hate being almost 12?” Freddy asked, without answering Jess. “It’s like nowhere. I mean you’re a kid to everybody, but you’re not really a kid. Know what I mean?”
Ruthie nodded. “I wish I could look in a magic mirror and see myself in three years, I mean with boobs and a waist.”
“I wish it was three years from now, never mind magic mirrors. I’m tired of being a kid,” Jess said.
Freddy glanced toward the gate. Brock hadn’t seen them yet. “Listen, maybe we could wait ‘til they leave?”
“Come on, Freddy. Just walk by and hold your head up.” Jess said.
She started to open her mouth to argue, butBrittanyspotted them and nudged Brock. He leaned over as she whispered in his ear. He smiled and she giggled. Freddy face burned. She looked around for a way back, but the crowd was pushing forward. They were caught, like a salmon pushing upstream back to their spawning grounds. There was no place to hide.
“Well, if it isn’t Fat Freddy and her ugly pals,” Brock said, whileBrittanygiggled. People turned to see what he was talking about, but Freddy just kept her head down and pushed on through the crowd.
Jess wasn’t going to be put off. She turned and said loudly, “You’re such a child, Brock Ames. Why don’t you grow up?”
There was a sudden silence. It was as if every sound in the world turned off at that moment. Freddy’s heart started pounding, and she felt dizzy. Ruthie grabbed her arm. “Let’s get out of here.”
Brock pushedBrittanyaside and came toward them. Just then Lauren and Billy came around the fence and everyone started cheering. Brock narrowed his eyes and hesitated. Then he turned back to get some secondhand glory from Billy’s success.
Freddy closed her eyes and breathed. “God, Jess, what made you do that? Are you crazy?”
Jess shrugged. “I’m sick and tired of him and his big mouth, that’s all. He’s such a jerk.”
“Yeah, well, that jerk practically runs the sixth grade, and since he isn’t moving away in the next three months, he’ll be running seventh grade, too,” Freddy said.
“And we’re not moving away either,” Ruthie added.
“Just think about it,” Freddy said. “We have to spend the next six years in the same schools with him.” Then she turned her face up. “We need a miracle, please?”
Jess said, “Hey, there are all kinds of new kids in the intermediate school, remember? Kids will be coming from McCauliff and Kennedy too.”
“That’s right,” Ruthie said. “Maybe Brock won’t be so big and important anymore. Anyway, there are probably kids in the seventh grade now who run the school and they’ll still be there next year.”
Freddy liked that idea very much. Maybe they would get their miracle after all. She pictured some hulking eighth grader pushing Brock into the lockers and getting in his face. He wouldn’t look so tough then. She betBrittanywouldn’t be giggling, either.
“You’ve got a smirk on your face, Freddy,” Ruthie said, peering at her.
“Just thinking about what might happen next year, that’s all.”
You can learn more about Fran’s World at www.franorenstein.weebly.com