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Featured Interviews

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  1. Tell us about your heartwarming coming-of-age story, ‘Starting Over.’

‘Starting Over,’ is the second novel in my Trina Ryan series. After readers started sending in their reviews, I learned about the story’s impact. The easiest way for me to describe this story comes from a review submitted by Peggy Jo Shaw, an award-winning journalist, PR specialist and book author and editor.

“Levy is on sure ground in this enjoyable page-turner for young adults. Readers see the world through the eyes of Trina Ryan, a freckle-faced redhead with a big heart for horses, service dogs, and people in need. Trina learns some of life’s most important lessons: that people are not always what they seem, growing up involves tough choices, and a first crush can be more exciting than she ever dreamed. Poignant, fun and adventuresome.”

 

 

  1. This is the sequel to your novel, ‘Seven Days to Goodbye,’ with Trina Ryan. What inspired this sequel?

After Trina returns her first trained service dog, she must make a decision. Is she strong enough to train another dog and say goodbye again?  Trina loves helping others and after seeing the magic that happens between her service dog and his companion, she knows service dogs truly change lives. In each story, a service dog is involved, but I wanted a new character to draw-out Trina’s desire to help others. Since I write for teens, I like to include issues that may impact their decisions, setting goals, and the importance of being kind. 

 

 

  1. You’re a staunch supporter of PAALS, remarkably giving the proceeds of your books to their cause. How did you first hear about them and what is your story behind getting involved with them?

Before I wrote, ‘Seven Days to Goodbye’ and became involved with PAALS, I had taught special needs children. When I retired from teaching, I researched service dogs for my stories. One afternoon, I met a young boy in the grocery store with a dog wearing a vest with the words,“Please do not pet me, I’m working.” 

After his mother gave me permission to speak with him, I asked, “Are you a puppy raiser?” 

He answered. “No Mam. This here is my Diabetic Alert Dog. People raised money for me to get my service dog. He lets me know when my blood sugar drops or goes too high.” After interviewing him, I called his service dog organization to get more information, but they had been disbanded.

Club House Magazine had been looking for an article about a young person with a service dog and contacted me. After the story had been printed, I entered, ‘Scent with Love’ in the Special Needs Category of The Dog Writers of America Association writing contest, and we won! 

This gave me the confidence to continue writing. 

Needing more information, I called service dog organizations throughout the U.S. and accidentally found PAALS, (Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services) which turned out to be close to my home.

Four years passed and the family discovered the boy’s service dog had been trained by an unqualified organization. The dog had received a great home, but he had never had any health exams or x-rays. Sometime in the dog’s young life, he had been hit by a car and his painful hip interfered with his important job. The dog could no longer work as a service dog.  

After working with PAALS, people ask me questions about how to get a service dog. I inform people about the dangers of working with an unqualified service dog organization and before any money is paid, please verify the dog’s health.  

 

 

  1. Your main character, thirteen-year-old Trina, is a puppy raiser for service dogs and helps people with autism, mobility, and PTSD through PAALS. Can you tell us a little bit more about this extraordinary program?

PAALS began as a small organization eleven years ago. They trained teens and adults to be Puppy Raisers. After these trainers qualified, the puppies were able to be trained in their homes. I spent time recording the training they used for autism, mobility, and PTSD and interviewed one young puppy raiser. She was my inspiration for my story and main character, Trina Ryan. The founder of PAALS, Jennifer Rogers, and Mitzie Renick, Developing Coordinator, help me use the correct information in my stories. 

After seeing the life-changing effects of a service dog, I was hooked. It has been a thrill to be involved with a reputable organization and be able to share the dangers of incompetent organizations. 

Since PAALS have many puppies, they use a men’s correctional institution to help train some of the puppies Monday through Friday. The puppies go to foster homes over the weekend for socialization. This has been a wonderful chain reaction for the men. A few men have been paroled and have earned a Department of Labor Certificate; an Apprentice Certificate, giving them the opportunity to gain jobs training dogs with PAALS. See www.PAALS.org. for more information.

Through donations, PAALS has grown this organization into an amazing program. A few weeks ago, I attended their biggest fundraiser. I watched in awe as hundreds of supporters donated thousands of dollars. Trained service dogs are given freely to military persons, people working in service jobs, and to other clients with the above issues. 

Mrs. Jennifer Rogers has the only ADI accredited program based in South Carolina. She has created a remarkable platform.

 

 

  1. Prior to writing, you spent sixteen years teaching K5-2nd grade with special needs children. What were some of your fondest memories?

After my family moved to Greenville, S.C., I was offered a job with a Multi-Handicapped class at the same school my children attended. 

Through the years, I used only positive reinforcement. I taught with at least one assistant, and some years I had as many as three helpers, depending on the students’ special needs. My students had multiple issues and some days were exhausting. But one thing we all enjoyed was our reading time. 

Most of my students needed to feel loved and secure. My favorite part of each day was greeting each child with a hug as they walked into the room. We made sure they had breakfast if they were hungry. This was before breakfast had been offered in the cafeteria. Once everyone settled in, I pulled out the current chapter book. I would read first thing in the morning. The students leaned forward on their desk and tuned into the story. My hyperactive children glued themselves to their seat. 

Some mornings, I dressed up as the character and read enough to get them hooked, and then closed the book. Before they went home, I read again to create excitement about returning to school the following morning. 

Sometime during the day, I played music with sing-along songs and passed around pages with enlarged, printed words. If they sang along and followed the words with their finger, they were rewarded with a treat. Using all of their senses helped them learn.

 

 

  1. How do you think those experiences influenced your writing?

As a child, I had always had books around me. I read with a flashlight under my covers. As a teacher, I wanted children to enjoy reading. Because reading was difficult for them, I made reading out-loud fun, and my students encouraged me with their attention. This was my favorite part of the day.

I read to my own children every night and to my grandchildren during every visit. I had written short stories, kept journals, wrote on the high school newspaper, and documented our travels, but I had never thought about writing books. Until I retired.

 Remembering my students’ expressions as I read each novel, spurred a craving to create my own stories. I signed up for classes online and joined The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. My students had loved animal stories, especially dog stories, and I experimented with writing about my own dog experiences. 

It took a number of years to learn how to create a novel, but I didn’t give up. Most authors who continue to learn will proudly share the difficulty of not giving up. It’s like being initiated into The Club. Who is going to last?

I still enjoy reading out loud to students. They are the reason I write.

 

 

  1. You teach a six- week Creative Writers Club after school for middle grade and high school students. Share with us what that program is and what the children learn from your expertise.

  Fiction Addiction Bookstore in Greenville, S.C. helped me launch my first novel, ‘Seven Days to Goodbye.’ After publication, Jill Hendrix advertised my writing workshop in her online newsletter. I had ten students sign up and two adults. Each week I taught one topic. 

 

Characters: The “who” in the story. The story needs one protagonist, the main character, and an antagonist, the person working against the protagonist. Each character needs to show their feelings, actions, speech, and thoughts. I had them describe their character, making a list of the things their character liked and didn’t like. List talents, type of personality, anything to make their character unique. 

Setting: The reader needs to know how the place looks, feels, sounds, or smells. We explored using their senses to show the setting without telling. I used examples from Seven Days to Goodbye and created activities to encourage experimenting with descriptions.

Branches from gigantic live oak trees slanted toward the middle of the street. The trees looked as though they were trying to touch each other and some did. They reminded me of my cozy canopy bed where Sarah and I had spent many nights, giggling and whispering. But this canopy was made of tree limbs in different shades of green, dripping with grayish moss and hung like long, ghostly arms swinging in the wind.

Plot: This is “what happens” in the story. The character must have a goal and struggle to reach that goal. The events need to be believable. 

Theme: At the end of the story, all of the subplots should tie up the loose ends. Your theme should be carried throughout the story.

Writing Dialogue:  Dialogue is when two or more characters in a novel talk directly to one another. But it is not true conversation. A character’s dialogue should create an image in the reader’s mind, enabling them to watch the action of the story unfold.

Points of view: There are three points of view. 

First person: There is no distance from the character. The story is told by using I, my, or me”- All experiences are from a single narrator, the main character. This character must experience with her own senses or be told about it by another character.

Second person: The story is told by “You.” The reader feels like they are a character within the story. The narrator speaks in present tense.

Third person: The narrator is the farthest from the action. The reader is off to the side like an over-the-shoulder perspective. The narrator can shift focus among the characters and know everyone’s thoughts. It does not detail thoughts of any single character.

Revision: After writing their first draft, I encouraged the writers to put their pages away for days. Then reread. Look for every mistake and problem you can find. Tear your pages apart and then redo. When you believe it is perfect, have someone else read out loud, or you read into a tape recorder and listen to the story unfold. Have critique partners critically read. Use your word processor and find and replace words overused, correct dialogue, and on and on.

Don’t take suggestions personally. You need to have a thick skin to make successful changes. 

 

 

  1. You also do two different presentations at school. Can you tell us about both and how the administration might go about scheduling one?

Creating stories and writing is a pleasurable experience. But-writing a novel is also very solitary. Since my two novels have been published, my biggest thrill is to share my stories with an audience. 

When asked to do an author presentation, I share my experiences about failure, rejections, and not giving up. My goal is to inspire others to try new things and not give up when their dream becomes difficult. 

I usually include my audience, by asking about their hobbies. They love shouting out answers. Then I ask, “How long did it take for them to be successful in their hobby?” Some people will share. Then the hardest questions, “How long did it take you learn your hobby?” And, “How long did some of you work at your hobby and then give up?”

I have a power point presentation and I show my manuscripts with writing across the pages from editors’ critiques. I have the students tell me why certain words were circled or about the comments written.

After showing my book trailers and if they haven’t read the story, I share parts of the story. If the class as read my story, then I get to answer their questions. 

I really enjoy the interaction and their comments. They can be quite frank, and I take notes for my next novel.

The other presentation I thoroughly enjoy is teaching a writing workshop. I usually have fifty minutes. I warm them up with fun writing exercises. Nothing difficult and or stressful. Then we act out how to Show and Not Tell by doing fun activities. I play a game with names of a location or activity. They write a description and the class guesses the name.  

If I make writing fun, it may encourage the students to try writing for themselves.

I love doing school visits and interacting with students. If an administrator wants me to visit, all they need to do is contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. My publisher sells books to schools at a wholesale price. Please see www.BarkingRainPress.org

If anyone needs more information, my bio, and the many activities and events I have enjoyed are on my website. www.sherislevy.com

 

 

  1. What is up next for you? Can we expect another Trina Ryan novel in the near future? 

Thank you for asking! 

I am having so much fun writing the third novel, “For Keeps.” “Seven Days to Goodbye,” takes place on Edisto Beach, South Carolina. “Starting Over,” takes place in Greenville, South Carolina. And the third novel, “For Keeps,” is set in a new location in South Carolina. But I don’t want to give any spoilers. I am writing as fast as I can and hope for this novel to be on the shelves as soon as possible. 

Stay tuned for updates on my website, www.sherislevy.com Facebook page: Sherislevyauthor; or twitter: @SheriSLevy; 

LinkedIn: SheriShepherdLevy.