Interviews with Writers

Interview | Shenandoah Chefalo | Garbage Bag Suitcase

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Shenandoah Chefalo is on the blog today to tell us about her memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase.

Plagued and embarrassed by her name (a humiliation enhanced by a nomadic childhood that made it impossible to build lasting relationships), Shenandoah Chefalo developed a tough skin at an early age. Along the way she learned to deal with disappointment, push through discomfort, overcome adversity, and accurately gauge people, qualities that have helped her to succeed.

After spending nearly 20 years as a Law Office Administrator, Shenandoah became unsettled by the ever-revolving door of the criminal justice system, and set out to find a way to change it. She attended Coach U and became a certified life coach. Working through that program, Shenandoah

began to understand her childhood in a way she never had before.

She began researching, and learned that there are nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system each day in the United States. Out of those children, nearly 61% age out of the system without having a place to live; nearly 50% end up incarcerated within two years of aging out; and almost 80% of people on death row are former foster alumni. These (and other statistics) made Shenandoah realize that she had to do something.

She set out on a mission to tell her story and educate the general public about the grim realities of a life that she had always tried to hide. She believes that some of the grassroots solutions she offers in Garbage Bag Suitcase could change the lives of children and the landscape of the country.

Shenandoah Chefalo is a graduate of Michigan State University (holding a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science), a Core Essentials Graduate from Coach U, a Certified Law of Attraction Advanced Practitioner, a member of the National Speakers Association, and volunteers with several organizations locally, nationally and internationally. Locally she is also much sought after for her advice and understanding of Social Media Marketing. Shenandoah Chefalo is also the author of an e-book entitled Setting Your Vision and Defining Your Goals, and is currently working on another book called Hiking for Stillness.

Connect with Shenandoah

Twitter @ShenChefalo

Facebook shenandoah.chefalo

Hi Shenandoah,

Welcome to JJ.



Please summarise Garbage Bag Suitcase in 20 words or less.

The inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman’s journey to overcome her desolate childhood and change foster care forever.


What inspired you to write? 

I was encouraged to begin writing after a friend interviewed me for a website.

I wanted to change the lives of foster children around the world. I kept my status hidden for so long and I had not known other foster children that when I researched and learned about the connection between foster youth and other social issues, I knew that I could no longer remain silent. When I didn’t feel like writing, all I had to do was think of the children caught in the system! It was great inspiration and motivation.  

Can you share why you have decided to tell your story? 

My journey through foster care was a secret that I kept for numerous years. Encouraged by others to keep it, and that was reinforced by the negative statements made by people who learned about it. Writing this book was really a “coming out” party if you will. For me, the main reason for writing it was to expose the prevalence in our society and to offer changes and solutions that we could implement in communities. The only way change happens, is when others realize there is a problem. When I researched and understood the connection between foster care and various other social issues, including homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, divorce, teen pregnancy, unemployment, etc., I knew that I had to tell the story and begin to take action to implement change.

Do you have a book trailer? What do you think book trailers achieve? 

I do have a book trailer.

I think that book trailers can help to summarize a book in a very visual way to help draw readers into wanting to know more.

Can you tell us about the cover of Garbage Bag Suitcase? 



This cover features an actual photo of the real “Love Bunny” a character from the book. Love Bunny is one of the precious few things that has remained from my childhood. During those tough and turbulent times, it was often this worn bunny that I turned to for the advice and motivation I needed to keep going!

Did you travel to any places?

Because I was in some of the locations for personal travel, I did decide to swing by a few of the homes that I had previously resided in with my mother. It was great to be reminded of and get a sense of the neighbourhoods again. It also triggered some memories and clarified some of the foggier issues in a couple of instances.

If Garbage Bag Suitcase were optioned for a movie, who would you cast? 

This is a funny question for me, because when I was writing it felt like a movie playing in my mind that I tried to capture on paper. As I am working on my next book, I’m finding the same thing happening. Because of this, I see actors in a whole new way, and I find myself looking for actors to play my characters all the time.

I think that Charlize Theron should play my bio mother. I think that Paul Giamatti should play my husband. But I haven’t been able to land on anyone for either my step dad or my biological dad, just yet. But I do think the movie should open with my character eating lunch with a friend at a restaurant, and be a flashback to all of the stories.


Do you have a favourite place you go to for inspiration or a favourite activity?

If I get stuck, feel unmotivated or just need some space, I have to go for a hike. Walking and hiking have helped me heal from my own trauma and being outside gives me the inspiration and space to see the next pages and next steps.


What are you reading now?

I am currently reading The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. I am enjoying his colorful and poignant story. Several of the characters remind me of people that I know or knew growing up.

Finally Shenandoah, what is in the future? 

I am working on the next book Hiking for Stillness which will talk more about the effects of foster care and trauma in general and how we can move on with our lives and heal to have productive futures.

Thank you for sharing with my blog readers today.


Wishing you success Shenandoah.

Paperback: 196 pages

Publisher: Mission Point Press (4 Feb. 2016)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1943995036

ISBN-13: 978-1943995035

Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo’s wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and alcohol addicted parents.

She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness. Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandoned by her mother for months at her grandmother’s retirement community, she asked to be put into foster care. Surely she would fare better at a stable home than living with her mother? It turns out that it was not the storybook ending she had hoped for.

With foster parents more interested in the income received by housing a foster child, Shen was once again neglected emotionally. The money she earned working at the local grocery store was taken by her foster parents to “cover her expenses.” When a car accident lands her in the hospital with grave injuries and no one came to visit her during her three-week stay, she realizes she is truly all alone in the world.

Overcoming her many adversities, Shen became part of the 3% of all foster care children who get into college, and the 1% who graduate. She became a successful businesswoman, got married, and had a daughter. Despite her numerous achievements in life though, she still suffers from the long-term effects of neglect, and the coping skills that she adapted in her childhood are not always productive in her adult life.

Garbage Bag Suitcase is not only the inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman’s journey to over- come her desolate childhood, but it also presents grass-root solutions on how to revamp the broken foster care system.

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I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting, being out in nature and positive psychology are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school.

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