Happy Friday, everyone! Here to help celebrate everybody's favourite day of the week is Cheryl Rainfield, author of the edgy, realistic and hopeful novel SCARS, and her new paranormal fantasy HUNTED.
SCARS, which after being challenged in a Kentucky public library, began an outpouring of support from readers and fans – many who had used self-harm. The cover of the book featured a photo of Rainfield’s arm, and the cuts she endured from her own inflictions. SCARS became #1 in the American Library Association’s Top 10 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, made it on ALA’s Rainbow List (LGBT recommended books) and was named a 2010 Governor General Literary Award Finalist. Cheryl is an incest and ritual abuse survivor, feminist, queer, and avid book reader and lover. She writes and creates art, and lives in Toronto with her little dog, Petal, and cat, Amazon.
Before we get into Cheryl's interview, please allow me to introduce you to the world of HUNTED:
Caitlin, a Paranormal teen, and her mom are on the run from government Para-troopers, who chase down, torture and imprison all known Paranormals. Caitlin and her mom must move frequently to avoid detection, but she enrolls in the local high school as they hide in plain sight in a seedy motel, hoping for some sense of normalcy before taking off again.
Caitlin’s dad, also a Para, was murdered by a mob when he spoke out for para rights. In the commotion, a woman snatched Caitlin’s brother Daniel and no one knows where he is or if he is even still alive. Caitlin’s mom loses her Para abilities from the shock of these terrible events. When Paras begin to be murdered by the Para Reaper, Caitlin is in even greater danger; at school, anti-Para classmates make accusations that cost some students their freedom and sometimes their lives. As if things aren't complicated enough, Caitlin falls for a classmate, Alex, a Normal, and thus dangerous for her to be with for fear of betrayal.
As the government crackdowns worsen, Caitlin finds her long lost brother, right in the halls of her own high school. He is now a powerful government Para, something he tries to hide from her at first. Caitlin knows Daniel is changed and damaged, but trusts him until she learns of his intentions towards Normals. The two ultimately clash in a massive power struggle that pits the siblings against each other. Will Caitlin vanquish her powerful brother and save the Normals, or will the future be bleak for Alex and all of his kind?
And now, without further ado, please extend a warm Friday welcome to Cheryl Rainfield!
♥ I know you're busy with the release of Hunted, so thanks for making the time to stop by, Cheryl. For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet checked out your latest release, please tell us a little about yourself.
I write edgy YA fiction (books for teens)--both realistic (SCARS) and fantasy/dystopian (HUNTED). I am an incest and ritual abuse survivor, and I put bit of my trauma experience into each of my books. I also write my emotional truths, and put hope and healing into each of my books. I love books--they helped me survive the abuse, helped me escape it while I read--and I love writing. I feel so very fortunate that I can create books now that reach others, the way books reached me.
♥ Did you deliberately choose a genre because there's something specific that draws you to it, something you feel it offers that other genres don't, or was it just 'right' for the story you wanted to tell?
I love reading YA and children's books the most (with a bit of adult suspense mixed in). I think YA books can be better reads that some adult fiction--they usually don't have long boring passages of description that completely stop the story, and they also usually have intense emotion, truths, and hope. Because I love the genre so much, and perhaps because I often feel like I'm still a child and a teen, and I vividly remember the pain of it, I write for that audience.
I love realistic YA--I think it helps readers know they're not alone, or helps others understand a bit more of what it's like to go through something that they don't have experience with. I think it can increase compassion. And I love fantasy YA--I love the way it allow me to escape, to dream, to hope. I needed both kinds of books while I was being abused, and I need them now, still. So that is what I write.
♥ How does your past influence your writing? Are you conscious of relating the story to your own experiences?
I put a lot of myself and my trauma experience into my books, and I am very conscious of doing so. Writing gives me a voice, and I'm also trying to help others while still telling an entertaining story. Like Kendra in SCARS, I'm a sexual abuse survivor, I'm queer, and I used self-harm to cope, as well as art and therapy. I also, like Kendra, sometimes cut to keep myself from killing myself. And like Caitlyn in HUNTED, I know what it's like to have my life threatened, to be tortured, to face oppression, and to have to decide between hiding my true self or being who I am, even if that means danger to myself.
♥ Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?
I like to write in quiet, though I also write on the subway or bus when the travel time is more than 15-20 minutes. I've found I can shut out most things to write.
♥ Is there a favourite quote or scene from your work that you feel particularly fond of? Something that reminds you of why writing is important to you?
These feel very true to me:
Other times, I look at my scars and see something else: a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have lived through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They’re a part of my history that’ll always be there.
And now, sometimes I don’t bother hiding the scars. I just let them show, even though I get stares, rude comments, and questions from strangers. I figure I’ve already gone through the worst; getting stared at isn’t that big of a deal.
I never want to have to keep anything else a secret, ever again.
From HUNTED, it's:
I want to chase after him, ask why he took such a crazy risk to give me a bar of chocolate. But I think I know the answer. You don’t feel much like living if you can’t be yourself.
♥ Is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who refreshes your literary batteries?
I have so many favorite authors and books that I keep returning to. When I was a teen, I read and re-read Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall, The Third Eye, and A Gift of Magic; most of Dick Francis' books (adult suspense that I could relate to); Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt; A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline I'Engle; The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key; Anne of Green Gables (and the entire series) by LM Montgomery, and many more. All of them fed me emotionally, but I think Lois Duncan, Dick Francis, and Cynthia Voigt especially influenced me; they had great tension and emotional truths and pain that I identified with, and characters who were good even under horrible circumstances (as well as the supernatural/magic aspect of Lois Duncan's books that I wished for).
And books with magic and hope in them, such as The Magic Grandfather by Jay Williams; The Toothpaste Genie by Sandy Duncan; The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key, also really influenced me and fed me, giving me hope. I still return to all these favorites, and I have many new ones as well, including Beth Revis' Across the Universe, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, and so many more.
I also use picture books to recharge me, and to give me a sense of hope or happiness, such as Tudley Didn't Know by John Himmelman; I Can Be Anything! by Jerry Spinelli, illustrated by Jimmy Liao; Tuesday by David Wiesner; Learning to Fly by Sebastian Meschenmoser; Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson; and Un-Brella by Scott E Franson.
♥ What first compelled you to begin writing, and what is it that keeps you motivated?
When I was being abused, my abusers frequently threatened to kill me if I talked. So writing--and art--became my voice. I was also very shy, introverted, and scared, and had trouble talking with people. I often spoke so quietly and so fast that people couldn't understand what I said. But when I wrote, I didn't feel threatened--I could say what I needed to say and be heard. I also found such safety and survival in books that it felt natural to me to use writing to tell my own stories. I am much less shy now--but writing still feels natural and right to me, and it still gives me a voice. I love being able to reach people, to encourage healing and hope and greater compassion.
I need to write. It is how I express things, how I have a voice, and how I reach others. I want to make a positive difference in this world, and writing is my way to do it. And in writing, I can rewrite unhappy endings, and say things I need to say. The wonderful reader letters I get also give me a boost. It feels so good when readers tell me that SCARS helped them to stop cutting, get into therapy, talk to someone for the first time about their abuse or self-harm or being queer.
♥ Is there a particular theme or message you're expecting readers to take away from your work?
I hope readers feel greater compassion for people who've been through the experiences I write about, and feel less judgmental, and that, if they have been through similar experiences themselves, they know that they're not alone, that there is hope, and that things can and will get better.
♥ What can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?
HUNTED comes out Dec 02 in the US, and January in Canada. I'm very excited about it! I've woven more of my experience as a ritual abuse survivor into the story, of fighting against cults or a cult-like group, oppression, and hatred, and being able to overcome it.
Thanks so much to Cheryl for stopping by! You can learn more about her, and her works, at http://www.cherylrainfield.com/.