I love to read. Books nurture me, helped me survive the abuse I endured as a child and teen. I also love to write. I write fantasy books and edgy, realistic fiction for teens.
My fantasy books often hold hope that I need, and feel others might need, too, while my realistic fiction is gritty, intense, and emotional. All of my books have fragments of the abuse I experienced. I write about some of the harsh things teens go through...things that I think shouldn't be hidden. But I also write about healing, hope, and love, and finding courage and strength.
In SCARS (WestSide, 2010), Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself before it's too late. It's my arm on the cover. There's a lot of me in SCARS; like my main character, Kendra, I am an incest survivor, I used self-harm to cope, and I'm queer. In my teen paranormal fantasy/dystopian, HUNTED (WestSide, Oct 2011), Caitlyn is a telepath in a world where that is illegal, and she must choose between saving herself or saving the world. Like Caitlyn, I know what it's like to have my life threatened, to face oppression, to experience torture, and to break free from cult or from a group of oppressors. And I know what it's like to have to decide between hiding my true self or being who I am, even if that means danger to myself. I drew on my experience with cults and ritual abuse in creating the world that Caitlyn lives in.
In STAINED, my upcoming YA novel from Harcourt (2013), Sarah, who has a port wine stain and some body image issues, is abducted and must find a way to rescue herself. Like Sarah, I was often imprisoned for long periods of time as a child, had my life threatened, and had to rely on my own strength to survive.
Books were my survival during my childhood, and my journey into myself. Books give me hope. I hope mine will give you hope, too, or something that you need.
Why I Write
I write for so many reasons. I write because I love good books–love the exhilaration that comes from a great story. I write because I hope that my books may reach others and give them something they need, the way books did for me when I was growing up–and still do. I write realistic fiction because I want others to know that they are not alone. I hope that a teen may hand someone one of my books and say, "Read this. This is what it's like for me," and maybe that person will give them greater understanding or compassion. I write fantasy because I hope that someone will find it inspiring. And I write for myself. I write because I need to. Sometimes to get things out, sometimes to speak to others.
I always try to write from my heart, whether I'm writing fantasy or realistic fiction. I try to write emotional truths.
Children's author Barbara Greenwood speaks beautifully about why authors need honesty in our writing:
"Children read to learn what might happen to them next. As writers, we have an obligation to be honest in our writing. We've lived longer, had more thoughts about our experiences; we know what life is like. We need to be as honest as we can about our experiences. We do children a disservice if we present life in a sentimental light. We need to be completely honest, as long as we use common sense about the type of experiences that are suitable to the readers' ages.
Children want to know what might happen next. A story is a safe place for them to experience dangerous situations. When a child reader finds him/herself in a real-life dangerous situation, they can remember the lesson they learned from the book."
This quote from Bill Barich also speaks to me:
"A good writer refuses to be socialized. He insists on his own version of things, his own consciousness. And by doing so he draws the reader's eye from its usual groove into a new way of seeing."
Frequently Asked Questions & more author bio
I'm writing a report on you. I need to know....
I was born in Toronto, ON on Aug 19, 1972. I grew up being abused–I am an incest and a ritual abuse survivor–and a big part of the way I coped was through reading books. I also wrote a lot, and created art; all of those things helped me escape.
I am a survivor, a feminist, and queer, and I am an avid book reader and book lover. I both write create art. I live with my little dog, Petal, in Toronto.
Some of my favorite books as a teen were (and still are some of my favorites today): Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan; The Third Eye by Lois Duncan; Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt; The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis; A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle; Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery; The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key; Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter; and most of the books by Dick Francis (I could identify with them).
Why did you write SCARS? Is it a true story?
I wrote SCARS because it was a book I needed as a teen (and still need). When I was a teen, I used self-harm to cope with the pain of the incest and ritual abuse I'd endured. I was also (and still am) queer. No one seemed to talk about those things, especially self-harm. When you're alone in your pain, it makes the pain so much worse. I wanted people who'd been through these things to know that they're not alone, that there is hope, and that things can and do get better.
People often judge self-harm harshly (and also being queer); there's a lot of prejudice around it. So I also wanted to help people who'd never had those experiences (self-harm, sexual abuse, being queer) to gain more insight and compassion through story.
And both of my goals have come true.
SCARS is fiction. But I wove a lot of my own experiences and emotional truths in to the fiction. Like Kendra, I'm a sexual abuse survivor, I'm queer, and I used self-harm to cope. And like Kendra, I have a wonderful therapist, and I use art (and writing) to heal. And, like Kendra, I was taught to cut myself, though I may have turned to cutting without that. Being taught to cut to silence oneself from speaking about abuse is something that happens within ritual abuse, though it's not likely that it happens outside of that.
I heard it's your arm on the cover of SCARS. Is that true?
Yes, it is. That's my own arm on the cover. It feels good to me–another breaking of silence. I think it's tastefully done, and it helps people to know what the book is about right away.
I want you to write a sequel to SCARS! Are you going to?
I don't have any plans to do that at the moment. But I have a short story that I wrote with Kendra and Meghan in it, that I will be releasing for free when SCARS comes out in ebook.
Do you create art like Kendra does in SCARS? What mediums do you use? Can I see some of your art?
Yes, I create art. I love working with pencil, pen and ink, colored pencil, marker, wax, clay, and acrylic. You can see some of my drawings, even one that I mention in SCARS, here.
A lot of the art I created over the years was my "abuse art"–art that either got out abuse memories graphically or emotionally. But I did create some more positive art as I grew happier. I also created some positive, encouraging Affirmation Cards which you can buy.
I cut (or burn), too. How did you stop? How can I stop?
Stopping cutting can be hard; it's definitely a process. One of the things that helped me the most was learning to love myself–truly love myself. When I started to love myself more, I didn't want to cut as much. It also helped to really believe, understand, *know* that I didn't deserve to be hurt, no matter what, not by anyone–not even myself. I hope you know that! I also found it invaluable (and very needed) to have a good therapist, someone I could really talk to who would understand me and care about me. Listen with compassion....
Some other, more concrete things that help with stopping cutting are:
- Get out the emotion. Dance it out, draw it out, write it out. If you're angry, throw eggs in a bathtub (my personal favorite), go for a run, punch a pillow, scream into a pillow (no one can hear you that way). If you're sad, cry, wail, get it out.
- Find ways to soothe yourself. Ask for a hug, hold a pillow, drink hot chocolate, whatever works.
- Talk it out with someone who will really listen to you, who will care.
- Distract any safe way you can. Watch a movie, read a book.
- Talk yourself through it the way you would for a friend. Give yourself the same love, compassion, and positive messages that you would a friend.
Also check out these tips I wrote on dealing with self-harm:
Start here. This is something I wrote because I needed it, and because so many of us needed it. I think it helps:
Reasons Not To Hurt Yourself
You may also be interested in Self-Harm Is NOT Trendy where I talk about some of the negative effects of self-harm.
Are you coming out with any other books?
Yes. HUNTED, my paranormal fantasy, came out late December 2011 in the US, and Feb in Canada. In HUNTED, Cassie is a telepath in a world where that is illegal. She is on the run from the government troopers, trying to stay hidden and alive–and trying to help make the world a better place for others with paranormal talents.
I drew on many of my trauma experiences in writing HUNTED, just as I did with Scars. Like my main character, Cassie, I know what it's like to have my life threatened, to face oppression, to experience torture, and to break free from cult or from a group of oppressors.
My main character isn't gay this time, but there is a queer character who's important in the book.
My next book, STAINED, is another edgy realistic novel, a thriller, coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring or Fall of 2013. In STAINED, Sarah, who has a port wine stain, is abducted, and she must find a way to rescue herself.
I want to write. Do you have any advice for me?
Write what you care about, what moves you. Get feedback–a lot of it–especially from critique groups. It helps to join a critique group to get feedback from other writers. Read as much as you can–it feeds your soul and your creativity, and will help you always learn more about what makes a good story work. Read about writing technique, even if you think you don't need it. It can help a lot. I recommend some great books on writing technique here.
If you really want to get published, don't give up. It took me more than ten years to get SCARS published, and more than 30 revisions in that period. (I was also working on other books in that time.) It can feel painful to get rejections, but if you believe in your work, hang on and keep sending it out.
How do I write a good query letter?
For a good query letter, make sure that:
- it's personalized to the editor you're submitting it to (get their name right, and the spelling);
- your first sentence and paragraph are a hook–grabbing the reader's attention, interesting, and all about your story;
- it's not more than one page.
In a good query letter, it helps to have a one-sentence summary of what your book is about, a longer summary (a paragraph or so) of what your book is about, any writing credits. If you belong to any professional writer organizations, such as SCBWI or CANSCAIP, list them. Make sure you research the editor or agent you're querying; you waste a lot of time if you query agents or editors/publishing houses who don't seem like a good fit for your book.
I link to a TON of great articles on how to write a query letter; you can see them here. Check some of them out; they go into detail about how to write a great query letter. Good luck!
Meet the Author
Cheryl Rainfield will be at: