Starting Over: A Trina Ryan Novel, by Sheri S. Levy, Barking Rain Press

In many ways, Trina Ryan is a typical 14-year-old Carolina girl. She has a best friend, Sarah, who shares Trina’s joys, fears, and secrets, a first crush, Chase, who gave Trina her first kiss at Edisto Island, and a love of horses so strong that she spends much of her time working at the barn where she rides.

But one important thing sets Trina apart from other young teens: She raises and trains service dogs to assist adults and children with disabilities.

Starting Over—the second book in Sheri S. Levy’s Trina Ryan Novel series—tells the story of a young girl beginning her volunteer training with a black Labrador pup named Colton, from PAALS (Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services). The story flows easily from Levy’s award-winning first novel, Seven Days to Goodbye, in which Trina works with an adolescent dog named Sydney, experiencing the excitement and satisfaction of training, as well as the pain of saying goodbye to a service dog when it gets a new leash on life with a disabled owner.

In Starting Over, Trina trains a wiggly, 8-week-old pup, Colton, works at the nearby horse barn, and rides her favorite horse, Chancy, almost every day. She shares a special friendship with the popular and fashionable Sarah, and watches expectantly for phone calls and texts from Chase, who lives an hour and a half away.

Levy is on sure ground in this engaging, coming-of-age novel. Readers see the world through the eyes of Trina Ryan, a special, freckle-faced, redhead who has a big heart for horses, service dogs, and people in need. And in Starting Over, 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.

“Everything around me intensified,” Levy writes, about Trina’s reaction to Chase’s first “real kiss,” as he describes it. “The green leaves shined under our blue sky. I covered my stomach with both of my hands, hoping to stop my insides from vibrating.”

Such good vibrations abound in Starting Over, but Levy conjures plenty of challenges, including an accident one stormy night that seriously threatens Trina’s work with service dogs, and the arrival of Morgan, a new girl at the barn who seems to have everything, including shiny, black equestrian boots and a handsome dressage horse named Knight, but hides a dark secret about her life outside the ring.

In Starting Over, Levy has created an enjoyable page-turner for young adults—an entertaining read and kind of primer on the importance of training service dogs for the disabled. It’s poignant, fun, and adventuresome.

In fact, the best part about Starting Over, book number two in the Trina Ryan series, is that readers know they can look forward to book number three.



sheri levy with award

20131120 ATLANTA: Novelist Lynn Cullen photographed in the studio by Parker Smith. (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

20131120 ATLANTA: Novelist Lynn Cullen photographed in the studio by Parker Smith. (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Twain's End jpeg

Mark Twain is an American institution in a white linen suit.

Think Mark Twain and you think tall tales, homespun humor, Mississippi River adventures, and those rascally innocents, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But the Mark Twain in Twain’s End, the new historical fiction book from talented author Lynn Cullen, is far more complex—much, interestingly enough, like Twain’s two most beloved characters themselves, Tom and Huck.

Cullen’s novel is called a reimagining of the tangled relationships among Twain (Samuel Clemens), his devoted private secretary Isabel Lyon, and business manager Ralph Ashcroft, who married Isabel just a month before Twain fired them both and then went on to publicly slander Isabel, write damning letters to friends, and force her to give back a cottage home he deeded to her, for reasons still disputed.

It was, “a vengefulness that was breathtaking in its viciousness,” says Cullen in her Author’s Note.

Such a curious event would make most writers wonder, and it did, indeed, pique Cullen’s interest. But what really prompted the author to choose Twain for her next book? Cullen explained it to Wren Cottage:

“Conflict drives a novel, and I wasn’t expecting to find much of it in the life of the wry humorist who wrote homespun Americana like Tom Sawyer. But when I read in Ron Powers’ biography of Mark Twain that young Sammy Clemens’ parents sold their only slave, a house servant named Jennie, when Sammy was six, and that they chose, of the assorted slave dealers in Hannibal, the one infamous for selling his ‘wares’ down the Mississippi to certain death in the fields around New Orleans, I was hooked. I wondered what had provoked Sammy’s parents to wish death upon the woman who had served them since their marriage. More importantly, I wondered what damage might have been done to Sammy by his witnessing his parents’ cruelty toward a woman who’d had an important hand in raising him.

“Then, in the next biography I tackled, Michael Sheldon’s Mark Twain, Man in White, when I read that Clemens abruptly fired the person with whom he was closest at the time, his secretary Isabel Lyon, an alarm went off. Who was this man? I then looked for biographies specific to the relationship between Clemens and Lyon. One, Karen Lystra’s Dangerous Intimacy, takes Clemens at his word when he called Lyon almost unimaginably nasty terms. The other, Mark Twain’s Other Woman by Laura Skandera Trombley, presented a case for Twain’s change of heart as a cover-up for the scandal caused by his daughter, Clara.

“I had to figure out for myself why he turned on Isabel so viciously after she had done so much for him; after I had read her diary, her complete devotion was obvious. I put together a case that might explain why he sacrificed the person closest to him. I believe that the traumas in his life, and his great need to be adored by the public, had a part in it.”

Cullen is not a historian. Her interest was not in finding out definitively how the relationship between Twain and Lyon had unraveled, but in piecing together facts into an engaging story based on Twain’s final years—one based possibly on the real-life story of a doomed love affair between the enduring American writer and the cultured woman who had served him, assisted him with his papers and his autobiography, and may have known him better than anyone.

Cullen’s research for this task was meticulous and included Twain’s own letters, Lyon’s diary, and pilgrimages to places the two had traveled together, such as Bermuda and Florence, Italy.

Impeccable research, however, is only part of a good book. Cullen, author of the acclaimed Mrs. Poe, knows how to weave facts and observations into memorable scenes, believable dialogue, and a plausible storyline. “Often, I based the action on Isabel’s entries, fleshing out the scenes with my imagination and nuggets from my research,” Cullen explained. “In some cases, I used snippets of Lyon’s and Clemens’ own words.

“Clemens’ incomparable gift for clever sayings was a novelist’s dream; at times I plugged them into my characters’ conversations and then embroidered around them.”

The result is a compelling book about scandal, family secrets, reputations preserved, the real man behind a towering American myth, and a woman esteemed and then verbally savaged.

Twain once wrote that “everyone is like a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” Twain’s End gives readers a glimpse at the dark side of the moon for Samuel Clemens.

Those who enjoy American history know the men of the Civil War, men such as the elusive John Mosby, who captured a U.S. general with a handful of Confederates and became known as The Gray Ghost. William Tecumseh Sherman, who marched to the sea and then offered the City of Savannah to Lincoln as Christmas present. And Ulysses S. Grant, who divided the Confederacy with the capture of Vicksburg, and then forced Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Women’s contributions during the Civil War, however, have been less renowned—until now.

In her new book, The Dancing Delilahs, Pamela Bauer Mueller brings to life two women who operated as real-life Civil War spies. Mueller, an award-winning author of several nonfiction novels, weaves together tales of adventure, romance, and mystery into a book told through the unique voices of two, courageous women: Antonia Ford and Pauline Cushman. The result is a compelling story of the Civil War from the female point of view.

Mueller, in fact, tells the women’s stories through Ford and Cushman’s own voices, an accomplishment made possible by the author’s meticulous research into primary source materials, such as letters and diaries. The resulting material gives readers insight into the women’s Civil War work, as well as their families, their loves, and their daily lives.

“I want my readers to think about their private relationships, their intimate lives, and even their sufferings,” Mueller wrote in her Author’s Note.

Actress Pauline Cushman, a widow and mother, was arrested by Union troops after she gave toasted the Confederacy during a play, though her gesture was a ruse. And Antonia Lord was living the quiet life of a Virginia socialite when she overheard secrets about troop movements that could be relayed to Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.

“Their choices would reshape their futures,” Mueller wrote in her Author’s Note to The Dancing Delilahs. Indeed, those choices did. And what happens next, as the women’s futures unfold, is what makes the book so interesting.

Readers who love history and biography will enjoy this spy thriller set largely between 1861–1865, during America’s most divisive time. “I have always been captivated by history—its broad sweep and its intimate corners,” Mueller wrote. “And I especially love to discover women who are edgy, salty and somewhat eccentric.

“History is a connection between the present and the past,” she added, “and sometimes the voices we want to hear are barely audible.”

The 19th-century voices of Cushman and Lord, however, are now finally being heard—loud and clear, for the first time—and the result is an entertaining and informative ride.

Pamela Bauer Mueller’s other works include: Splendid Isolation: The Jekyll Island Millionaire’s Club 1888-1942, a fictionalized account of the wealthy elite who once vacationed at Jekyll Island, Ga.; Water To My Soul: The Story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, set in South Carolina; and Lady Unveiled, a sweeping historical saga about the life of Catharine Greene Miller.

At this weekend’s Southern Breeze Springmingle 2015 in Decatur, Ga., I promised to post a sample news release. Below, is one I wrote for book publicist Mimi Schroeder at Max Communications when Pamela Bauer Bueller was releasing her book Splendid Isolation.

Need some extra help? Just email me: pjshaw@comcast.net. I’ve been a public relations director for the College of William & Mary, Vanderbilt University, and now Atlanta’s Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School (the largest Episcopal day school in the country). But of all public relations, helping authors remains my favorite.


Media Contact: Mimi Schroeder, APR                                          FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MAX Communications



2009 Georgia Author of the Year

Shares Story of Jekyll Island Millionaires’ Club

‘Splendid Isolation’ is Rich Historical Fiction About Legendary Tycoons

ATLANTA—America has always had a love affair with the rich and powerful, and the new historical novel by award-winning author Pamela Bauer Mueller gives readers a glimpse into their opulent leisure hours.

Legendary U.S. business tycoons William K. Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, and others spring to glorious life in SPLENDID ISOLATION: The Jekyll Island Millionaires’ Club, the new historical novel by Pamela Bauer Mueller, a 2009 Georgia Author of the Year.

Mueller weaves a captivating tale about powerful financiers chasing the American entrepreneurial dream and then relaxing together, undisturbed, at their prestigious winter retreat in Jekyll Island, a getaway that in its heyday hosted clientele who controlled some one-sixth of the world’s wealth.

SPLENDID ISOLATION spans 54 years, from the Gilded Age to World War II, and is told through the voices of four longtime employees of the exclusive Jekyll Island Club, where the first families of finance gathered every year. There, on one of Georgia’s most beautiful sea-barrier islands, they could hunt, golf, play tennis, bicycle along sand-packed roadways, and ride horses—as well as dine at the elegant Jekyll Island Hotel, enjoy the north beaches, and stroll under live oak trees draped in Spanish moss.

Still, for all of its leisurely allure, the island hideaway became an important player in world events. Because so many of the world’s greatest minds, and bank accounts, came together there in virtual isolation for three months each year, history was made at Jekyll Island.

“The first transcontinental phone call took place in the Jekyll Island Club House,” explained Mueller. “President (William) McKinley planned his second election campaign while visiting Frederic Baker on the island, and the blueprint for the Federal Reserve Act was devised in secrecy there.

“By intertwining certain events with historical figures, and telling stories through the eyes of ladies and gentlemen who served them, I could give readers a peek into this fascinating past.”

In her sweeping saga, Mueller introducesan intriguing story line designed to bring a new understanding to this day and time, when the world could be changed by a handful of men’s after-dinner talks. Readers will discover the millionaires’ joys, tribulations, and deeply guarded secrets, and get a glimpse of the exclusive resort, with its Victorian clubhouse and mansion-sized cottages, through 16 pages of historical photos.

About the author:

Pamela Bauer Mueller is a native of North Bend, Oregon, a peaceful town by the sea, where Mueller remembers entertaining her siblings with stories about witches and magical creatures. She is a graduate of Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

Mueller has received accolades for her books Neptune’s Honor, An Angry Drum Echoed, and Aloha Crossing. Her books, published by Piñata Publishing, have also won numerous national awards, including the USA Book News Awards, Mom’s Choice Awards, and the Children’s Choice Award.

She was named a Georgia Author of the Year in 2006, 2008, and 2009.

Pamela Bauer Mueller is a resident of Jekyll Island who has planned for years to share with readers her island story about the America that once was, and the handful of men who shaped it for the ages.

Splendid Isolation: The Jekyll Island Millionaires’ Club

ISBN: 978-0-980916-30-0 / price / pages

Available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and your favorite bookstore

Piñata Publishing



“Anyone approaching the island from the river is greeted by thousands of Spanish moss-draped ancient oak trees competing for space with the palmettos and magnolia trees. After the blinding light and heat of the coastal plain, it’s like waking up in another world. The circular turret of the imposing Club House, lit so that its cream brick glows against the dusk, is topped by a slip of a flag that ripples in the wind. Behind it, a picturesque windmill water tower rises before the dense pine forest. My eyes sweep over the dark brown shades of the monstrous old live oaks and their silvery curtains of moss. In the background I see some of the island’s seasonal mansions, referred to as “cottages” by their owners, and their perfect dark green velvet lawns. …A fairy scene opens out in wide prospect beyond. The foreground, south, west and north is one mass of verdure wall, dotted with semi-tropical plants and flowers. On the Atlantic side, the island is blessed with miles of wide, gently sloping white beaches. The grey-blue Atlantic Ocean glitters under the high sun, as if sprinkled with diamond dust.”

Selected Media in Atlanta

Neighbor Newspaper http://www.neighbornewspapers.com

Reporter Newspapers http://www.reporternewspapers.net

Atlanta Journal-Constitution http://www.myajc.com

WXIA-11Alive Atlanta & Company show: http://www.atlantaandcompany.com

Atlanta INtown magazine http://www.atlantaintownpaper.com

Esther Levine’s Book Atlanta Author Calendar. Bookatlanta@aol.com

Patch.com http://patch.com/georgia/decatur

Selected Book Review Sites & Resources

•Book Blogger Directory https://bookbloggerdirectory.wordpress.com

•BookLife for indie authors by Publishers Weekly


•Build Book Buzz http://buildbookbuzz.com/blog/

•Build Book Buzz handout of book review site resources


•Build Book Buzz informational handout


•Digital Book Today http://digitalbooktoday.com

•Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/genres/childrens

•Kirkus Reviews https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/childrens-books/

•PR Newswire: http://www.prnewswire.com

•The Indie Reviewers List http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/

•Write for Kids


•SCBWI http://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/

•Mimi Schroeder, APR, author publicity http://maxbookpr.com

•Peggy J. Shaw, Wren Cottage Writing & Editing pjshaw@comcast.net


Public Relations for Authors

Peggy J. Shaw—Springmingle 2015

Know Your Product

Know what you have to market. Is your book a picture book, YA, or a chapter book? What age range is your book for? And then decide who you’re marketing it to—librarians, teachers, everyday bloggers?

Know Your Target Audience for PR

Social media guru Peter Shankman says you can tweet all day long but if your audience is not on twitter you’re wasting your time. If you’re marketing your book to moms, find out the top mom reader blogs. Those are powerful today, and most book PR these days is online. See if the blogger will review or mention your book. Teachers? Don’t forget the school PR people or head librarians in your area. You might tie into something they’re doing and get an author visit. (I give a presentation called “My Life on the Street” about writing for Sesame Street, which I can tailor it to young children or adult writing groups such as American Pen Women.)

Know Your Message

Maybe this is the first picture book about the Civil Rights movement in Montgomery, Ala., like Hester Bass’s book Seeds of Freedom, about the integration of Huntsville, Alabama. Market that information. What makes your book unique? http://www.hesterbass.com Or maybe it’s historical fiction about Cleopatra’s daughter, as Vicky Alvear Shecter has written about: http://www.vickyalvearshecter.com/main/

Tie in With Something

Try to find a tie-in with your book. When I was an editor at Dalmatian Press, we began marketing the Elmo What Makes You Giggle? book well before the newest Tickle Me Elmo toy hit the market so the book and toy would have a better chance of being mentioned in the media together. We planned a book called “Love, Elmo” to coincide with Valentine’s Day. I noticed that Lynn Cullen’s new book Dear Mr. Washington was heavily reviewed around the time of Washington’s birthday Feb 16. (See review from School Library Journal from Feb. 10.) http://www.slj.com/2015/02/standards/curriculum-connections/lynn-cullens-dear-mr-washington-spotlight/

Working with Members of the Media

Do some research and identify some media people. Then find out what they need, and their deadlines. And have a few things ready, like a nice headshot of you, a photo of the cover of the book, and news release (media kit). Consider a service such as PR Newswire to get broader distribution of your news release.

Remember that much of PR is establishing relationships. For local media, face time can be beneficial. So if you can, drop by to see the editor of the community paper. Bring media kits. Be accurate, courteous, and available for interviews. Make sure they have your contact information and line up someone who would be willing to talk about your book.

If they use something about your book, thank them and re-use the link online.

Broadcast: Some authors go on TV shows, like “Atlanta & Company,” the noon show on the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, WXIA-11Alive. Is one of the TV stations in your area doing a noon show you can get on? Consider radio interviews. Here in Atlanta, the NPR stations are doing more talk radio.

Print: Is your paper still doing book reviews? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution still does some.

Online: Have an online presence for many reasons, one of which is to give the media a link to, say, your website. Most book PR is online now so look for good bloggers.Some sites are advertising based, but often bloggers are happy to interview you on their sites.

Posting items yourself: You can also post your own stories some places, like the community news site Patch.com and some TV outlets like WXIA-11Alive TV in Atlanta. So if you’re going to be doing a signing or an appearance at a book festival, do a short story and post it.

Remember other Media

Post your events on calendar listings, and consider booklists, like Esther Levine’s called “Book Atlanta.” For a small fee you can get listed on this author event list, which goes out to a large email list.


Find reviewers and bloggers who will be interested in interviewing you or writing about the book. Look for places that do reviews like Goodreads, Kirkus, the Self-Publishing Review, and BookLife at Publishers Weekly. And if you get them, post tidbits or the links on social media.

Utilize Social Media

Your online presence is important, so consider Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, your own website, and a blog. Jane Yolen, author of Owl Moon and many other children’s books, posts daily on Facebook, and often on twitter, interesting, newsy shorts related to her books. She might talk about issues in publishing, other new books out, or conferences she’s traveling to, but the posts draw you back to her sites.

Keep your sites up to date. Make sure what you post is relevant, interesting and helpful. Jan Karon is posting tidbits on Facebook about how she started writing her Mitford series of books. Then she will mention work on her latest book. It keeps readers interested and on top of when a new Mitford book, or one of her children’s books, is coming out.

Ask people who “liked” your book to do a review on Amazon. Re-use. Post link on your Facebook page and twitter.

Use photos, and video is hot now. Even if it is a snippet of fun video of you at a book signing, you can use. Lynn Cullen recently posted a picture of some of her books at Target and commented that it never gets old hanging out with “old friends.”

And if you get mentions on other sites, such as Little Shop of Stories, re-use. Post links to those mentions, and re-post any photos. (Watch for times you may need to add a photo credit.)

Use Photos and Videos

If you’re at a launch party, a book-signing, or small street festival, have someone take a shot you can post on Facebook, twitter, your website, or your blog. I’ve had my picture taken with very young readers holding up their Sesame Street books at places like the children’s book festival in Savannah and the Decatur Book Fest.

Book Festivals and Other Events

Look opportunities to be on a panel at a book festival, or do a signing at a small event. If you have a Christmas book out—like The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia by Susan Rossen Spain and Elizabeth O. Dulemba—small gift shops might like to have you beginning in November come on a Saturday to sign. SCBWI will soon be doing online book launch parties: http://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/book-launch-party-pages/

Think Outside the Box

Look for opportunities to sell yourself and the book. Author Carmen Deedy was planning a sequel to her book The Library Dragon, a few years ago, so I contacted Peachtree Publishers and asked if they would like to have the launch of the new book in our school library; they did, and we had a wonderful launch party. I got media coverage and re-used photos on social media. Carmen and Peachtree also used on their social media so we got wider coverage.

Join Professional Groups

Groups like SCBWI not only offer many resources but will put an announcement about a newly launched book on the listserv.Reach out to groups such as American Pen Women and see if they are interested in having a speaker. Look for opportunities to do something at the local library, schools, independent book shops, and Barnes & Noble (ask for the Community Relations manager). Take a book you can leave with them.

Get Help From a Professional

Professional PR people like Mimi Schroeder of MaxBooks PR help author to get publicity. You might want their guidance to help you get signings, submit work for awards, and produce good news releases.

[From the Reporter Newspapers, week of Feb. 8, 2014]

It took Peggy Shaw, public relations coordinator for Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, nearly 24 hours to get from Sandy Springs to Decatur.

“’I love snow!’ I actually said these words Tuesday morning as we gazed at snowflakes fluttering down outside the windows of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. Feeling confident, , since I’m from Virginia and had parents who taught me to “drive in snow,” I dallied until 1:30 p.m., taking photos, before heading home.

“By the end, almost 24 nerve-wracking hours later, I had slid backward down one Sandy Springs hill, crept in a crush of cars and trucks inching along Roswell Road, and, finally, slip-slided down Peachtree Road, swept along in a mass of bumper-to-bumper traffic moving ahead like nervous cattle.

“Between Buckhead and Midtown, I noticed the big, Italianate Atlanta Amtrak Station looming ahead. And about the same time, I realized that I was approaching the I-75/85 overpass just beyond… with, possibly, a glaze of hazardous black ice. I gingerly managed to navigate the frightening overpass, and soon afterward spotted a place I later thought of as the Stay-At-Your-Own-Risk Motel. I was able to rent the last room for $99 a night plus tax—a dingy smoking room with exposed wiring, torn-up carpet, and a TV that offered one channel, Fox 5, my one real link to the nightmare happening outside.

“I felt incredibly grateful, however, for this shelter from the storm as I watched vehicles being abandoned on the interstates, stranded travelers walking miles in snow, and people hunkering down in places like a Kroger or Home Depot. After 12 anxious hours of not knowing whether or not I would remain stranded another night, my son, a young police officer, rescued me in his four-wheel drive Jeep. We got my SUV about halfway home before having to leave it in a grocery store parking lot. By Wednesday around noon—just about the same time that on Tuesday I had pronounced my love of snow—I was home.”

Volunteer for Vets


The Power of Words

(from teacher, writer and friend Chris Swann)

edu180atl: chris swann 9.19.12

by edu180atl on September 19, 2012

There is a poster in my classroom that reads, “Words hurt. Words heal. Words mean.” As an English teacher, I tend to treat written words as almost sacred objects. I constantly ask my students if they are using the best words to say what they want to say. I point out how poets are obsessed with words, how Hart Crane paged through an unabridged dictionary to find the right two-syllable word for a line of verse. (He finally stopped at “spindrift.”)

For all this professed power of words, I often fail to pay attention to my own. A few years ago, I rebuked a senior for plagiarizing and reported him for disciplinary action. Later that day, as I was getting ready to go home, the same senior knocked on my office door and asked if we could talk. Irritably I glanced at my watch and said, “Yeah, I’ve got five minutes. What do you need?” He closed the door behind him, fell into a chair, and began sobbing. He had come to ask me for help in facing his parents. That took guts. And in a teachable moment, I failed him.

Words are tools, and we are imperfect craftsmen. Even great poets like Tennyson write lines like “Form! form! Riflemen form!…Look to your butts, and take good aims!” But adults who work in schools have a unique influence on, and responsibility for, students. We should model a wiser and more deliberate use of words.

Words hurt. Words heal. Words mean.

About the author: Chris Swann—English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School—is a teacher, reader, writer, husband, and dad…not necessarily in that order.