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A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Interview with Cheryl Rainfield


Hi, Cheryl! I’m so glad to be hosting you at For the Love of Ya. I was compelled to read SCARS from the moment I saw that lovely, provocative, fraught-with-pain cover. All it took was the cover and the first chapter to hook me. I loved it, and I’m loving having you here. Speaking of, here we go!

1.) I was so impressed with your ability to make me feel Kendra’s need to cut. And this is the only book I’ve read that explores those emotions. I wish I would have read it years ago, when a student I had opened up to me about doing the same. It just helped me empathize rather than sympathize. I was both surprised and not surprised at the end of the narrative to find your personal experience with cutting. Surprised by your transparency. And not surprised because it felt so real and pressing in the narrative. Why was it so important for you to include this afterward in your book?

It was important for me to let people know I used self-harm to cope with the sexual abuse, because I wanted others who’ve also used self-harm to know they’re not alone, to have an actual person and face. There’s so much shame in our society about self-harm, and most people who use or have used self-harm have rarely *knowingly* met someone else who also has. I also wanted people to know that I wrote Scars from an insider perspective; I’ve read some books on self harm that felt distanced and unreal to me, or from a social worker point of view. I also hoped that my being open about my experiences with self-harm and sexual and ritual abuse would increase people’s compassion for others who’ve used self-harm, and perhaps increase the credibility of Kendra’s experience (so close to my own) as well, by knowing that there’s truth woven into the fiction. And, too, my abusers so frequently and strongly demanded that I not talk, that I still find myself needing to break the silence–for others, and for myself.

2.) I can only imagine how readers have identified with Kendra. What response have you gotten from readers?

Many readers say that they have never felt understood before, or not alone, until they read Scars. Quite a number have said that Scars made them go into therapy, stop using self-harm, or made them want to stop. The responses have been incredible–heartwarming, moving, and sometimes as raw as Scars is. I’ve welcomed them all.

3.) I’m a writer, and in the past I’ve been critiqued for having too many “issues” in the plot. However, you have done this flawlessly! (I’m jealous, btw). I’m wondering if you ever received similar caution from writing groups, agents, editors, etc. and how did you overcome it, if so?

Ha! I knew I was putting a lot of issues into Scars–self-harm, sexual abuse, and being lesbian. And sometimes I did get that feedback from writing critique groups. But I stuck to my gut, to what made sense to me, and to what I needed to write about, and I just worked harder at trying to put in enough breathing room and lightness to carry the reader through.

4.) When did you start working on this manuscript and how long did it take you to finish it?

It depends on what you mean by “finished.” I write my first drafts quickly, usually in 1-2 months. But then I edit and re-edit my work. I edited and rewrote Scars more than 40 times, and kept submitting it, over a ten-year period, before it was accepted for publication.

5.) What was your biggest challenge in writing Scars?

My biggest challenge in writing Scars was to put in enough lightness and places for the reader to breathe. I didn’t know happiness, not for most of my life–only abuse and the effects–pain, depression, despair, etc. And I lived, for years, on adrenaline and fear. So it was hard for me to write in “happy” for many drafts. But I needed to, to help the reader stay with the story. Writing a happy ending, though, was easy for me; I’ve had so much pain in my life, that I need those happy endings. But lightness mixed in with the pain throughout the story–that was much, much harder.

6.) What are writing next and when can we expect to see it?

I’ve just finished a paranormal fantasy, tentatively titled Teen Para, about a teen girl who can read minds in a society where she can be enslaved or even killed for that talent. She’s on the run for her life and her freedom. The manuscript I’m working on now, tentatively titled Stained, is about a teen with a port wine stain who has strong body image issues, and who is kidnapped. She must face and outwit her abuser, and in the process, learns to accept herself more. I usually put in fragments of the abuse and pain I know into my novels, as well as healing and hope.
I’m not sure when either will be published, but I will post information on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter when I know.

I also have a hi-lo (high interest, low vocabulary) fantasy for teens–Skinwalkers: Walking Both Sides–coming out this year from HIP Books. Walking Both Sides is about Claire, a teen girl who has both human and Skinwalker blood in her. Though she can’t change into deer form, the way her mother and grandmother could, she is reviled by many villagers for her heritage. Claire wants to bring peace to both sides. But can she?

If you’d like to see the cover, you can check it out on my blog:
http://cherylrainfield.com/blog/index.php/2011/02/08/just-got-the-cover-for-my-hi-lo-teen-fantasy-skinwalkers-walking-both-sides/

7.) When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew I needed to write and to create art from a very young age. Both were ways of safely expressing myself, of talking about the things I was not allowed to talk about, of reaching others–and myself. And books helped me survive my childhood. I think I’ve always been drawn to writing. I needed to write, and to be heard. I still do.

8.) Just curious, how many rejections did it take to finally get published? (I’m up to around 25…)

Many hundreds. I didn’t keep count.

9.) What kinds of books did you read growing up?

I read as much as I could get my hands on. I loved fiction the most–both realistic fiction, such as Judy Blume’s Blubber, and fantasy/magic such as Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall, and Alexander Key’s The Forgotten Door. I also read and loved Dick Frances when I was a tween/teen, and books on abuse that I could relate to, including Torey L Hayden’s books.

10.) What is your favorite quote and why?

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
-Audre Lorde

That is one of my favorite quotes. I think it’s so important to speak our truths, to reach out to others. I have often been afraid in my life–but speaking out helps to make a positive difference, both for myself and for others.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
-Buddha

This quote also speaks to me so strongly. I think women and girls, and survivors of abuse, especially, are taught not to value or love ourselves, but to give and give to others, to love and value others more. But we need our own love and compassion; without it, we hurt not only ourselves but others as well. It’s something I’m still learning; I had so much training to hate myself. It’s an important thing to hold on to–loving ourselves.

“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.”
-Unknown

This is one of the quotes that makes me feel so good. Like comfort for each of us. I love it.

Bonus round:
Favorite dessert? Most things chocolate. Chocolate ice cream, rich moist brownies, chocolate cake. Lemon meringe pie. Only I now have to have mos things sugar free.

Six words of advice to your 16-year-old self: Believe in, love, and take care of yourself.

Ultimate vacation spot: Somewhere where all the people and animals I love are, where we can read, laugh, relax, play word games, be silly and joyful and, and have meals made for us. And preferably not somewhere cold. (smiling)

Again, Cheryl, I’m sooo glad you participated here at For the Love of YA. Thanks for your time! But most importantly, thanks for writing YA.

Thank you so much, Risha, for a thoughtful, in depth interview. I enjoyed it!

Comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading this interview. I thought SCARS was a very powerful book, and I’m excited to see Cheryl’s future works!

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