Have I ever told you that I’m part of an amazing Toronto YA/MG writer’s group? Oh, I have? Well, have I mentioned that the writers in this group are totally talented and so much fun to be around? Oh. I’ve told you that, too? Okay, how about this: Have I spilled that I’m starting a new blog segment called Toronto Tuesdays where I’m going to interview one #torkidlit author every Tuesday from now until I’ve interviewed everyone in the group who wants to be interviewed? No? I haven’t? Well, now I have.
So, for my very first Toronto Tuesdays segment, I’ve interviewed Cheryl Rainfield; Reviewer, Book-a-holic, and YA author of the newly released SCARS (March 1, 2010 Westside Books)
I met Cheryl at our first #torkidlit tweetup back in October, 2009. Cheryl is sweet and positive and always has a smile on her face. (And I’ve learned that she loves hot chocolate! ) Cheryl is a very authentic person who has a heart to reach out to hurting people. Read on to discover her thoughts about writing, the writing community, and the importance of using what you have to help make this world a better place.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I love to read, to write, to create art. I love spending time with good friends, and with my little dog and cat. I enjoy word games, doing crafts. Sometimes I like to cook or bake, but usually I’d rather be reading.
I love good movies, too-ones that make me feel good. I don’t like movies or shows with a lot of violence; I’ve already been through too much violence in my life to want to see any. I don’t watch the news for that reason. I love finding new books and authors I love to read—and re-reading all my old favourites. There’s something delicious about reading a favourite book.
I really enjoy being online–the web has so much to offer, and it’s a great way to connect with other people. I’m probably online a bit too much—I need to find more balance. I also usually work myself too hard and for too long, and then crash for a bit, need long breaks. I am trying to find my way back to more fun and relaxation, and to find more balance overall in my life.
Tell us how it came to be that you are a writer.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read—and to write. Books were a part of my soul food and of my survival, and writing, too, nourishes me, and feels as necessary as speech. I *need* to write. Writing used to be my way of speaking when I could not, and of talking about things I wasn’t allowed to talk about.
English was my favourite subject it school; I always got good grades in it, and teachers would praise my stories. As a child and teen, I wrote short stories, poetry, letters to friends, and kept a diary; all those forms of writing helped me survive and cope with the abuse I endured. (I also used art.) I tried to get some pieces published over the years, and had a few articles and poems published. But it wasn’t until I started to study technique—to take courses on editing, to read books on writing technique, to analyze books I read, and to get my own work critiqued by other writers—that I really started to get serious about novels and getting my work published.
I was lucky to join a good children’s writer critique group that encouraged me over the years, and to have and to build strong good children’s writing communities, such as attending CANSCAIP, as well as online writing communities. And once I got serious, I didn’t give up submitting my work, even though sometimes, with the rejection letters and time it took, I wanted to. But I need to write–and need to share it with others.
Well, there are many readers who are glad you didn’t give up! And now you’ve actually come to the point where you’ve taken on sort of a new career experiment: full-time writer. Tell us a bit about that.
I’ve only just begun writing full-time (and doing writing-related work, such as freelance editing, presentations, etc). I don’t know yet if I can make enough to live on doing this. I think most writers don’t make enough from their writing alone to live on. But of course many of us hope to.
Can you give us an idea of what your perspective of the writing life is?
The writing life—for me, it is following my dream. It is doing what I need to do, on a deep level. It is what I feel most right doing. I know I don’t feel good if I’m not writing, or doing some form of art. Expressing myself creatively, and tapping into my wisdom, my inner self. My voice, and the things I need to say–to others and to myself.
Being a writer often means long hours alone. If you’re not careful, it can mean not seeing or talking to anyone else for days, aside from family, if you live with one. I like having time alone; as a creative and sensitive person, I need it. But I can also have too much time alone.
I think it’s important to make sure that you have some good human contact, that you talk with friends, with other writers. The internet is one incredible way to accomplish that—you can talk to so many more writers than you could otherwise, and to writers that you might not have been able to talk to otherwise. But I also think it’s important to have face-to-face contact with others. Hugs, laughter, body language—they’re all important.
The internet offers so much for writers. Community, research and answers, articles and information on writing technique, the writing life, book promotion, and more. It’s wonderful! But it can also be a huge distraction from writing, so it’s a good idea to find a way to limit it a little, or to create a balance. It’s important, too, to remember to take breaks, to have fun, to enjoy your life. To live your life.
You are very involved in the writing community. Do you have any insights that you could share with us?
I think the children’s writing community is incredible—especially supportive and encouraging of each other. Another writer can really understand what it feels like to get a rejection letter—or an acceptance phone call! I think it’s so important to be a part of that community. So going to your local writers’ meetings or conferences and critique groups—and, of course, finding community online—are all important parts of being a writer, and of knowing you’re not alone. Getting good feedback on your writing, finding out about resources you might not otherwise have known about, hearing about experiences, good and bad, with publishers, editors, agents, publicists who you might be interested in—all those are some of the things the writing community can offer. And the encouragement, understanding, and support are invaluable.
I agree I’ll be asking you about SCARS in just a moment, but first, had you written anything before SCARS?
I’ve written many manuscripts before—and during—the process of Scars. I have about 10 manuscripts written, but I need to edit or rewrite most of them. I also have a fantasy for children or for reluctant teen readers that came out Sept 2009—Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon, and a shapeshifter book from the same publisher (HIP Books), Walking Both Sides, coming out in 2011.
Now, can you tell us a bit about SCARS?
Fifteen-year-old Kendra can’t remember who abused her as a child–she was threatened with death if she talked. Now someone is watching and following her, leaving her threats that they will kill her if she tells, and Kendra is sure it’s her abuser. Kendra uses her art to express her feelings, which helps, and talks to her caring therapist and her friends. But when things get too hard, she cuts; sometimes it’s the only thing that helps. As Kendra gains support from Carolyn, her therapist; from a gay mentor, Sandy; and from Meghan, a friend and classmate who she has a crush on. As the truth about Kendra’s abuser gets closer and closer to the surface, the danger—and her healing—intensifies.
What is your greatest wish for SCARS? Is there anything specific that you hope to accomplish through the book?
I hope that readers will come away with more compassion for and a greater understanding of self-harm and the effects of severe trauma (and also of sexual abuse survivors, and for lesbian/gay love if they didn’t before they read Scars. But especially self-harm—because it is so often misunderstood.) I hope, too, that readers will come away with a sense of hope—that they’ll see that healing and happiness are possible, and that there can be great strength and courage in survivors.
There’s no quick answer to this, but what’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who has experienced, or is experiencing, abuse? What has been most helpful for you?
I’m not very good at giving only one piece of advice. But…I’ll try. Get yourself safe if you’re not already. Find someone you can trust and really talk to. Surround yourself with loving, supportive people–and if you can’t find them right away in person, try online. You can also find good support in books–both in fiction and non-fiction. Know that you’re not alone–other people have gone through what you’re going through. Be gentle with yourself, take care of yourself as much as you can. If you can, seek out a therapist who fully supports you; a good therapist can be invaluable in getting real support and caring, and in boosting your healing process. Get the pain and memories out in safe ways–through art, writing, dance, running–anything that helps. And believe and trust yourself and your own process; usually you’ll know better than anyone else what you need.
That’s fantastic advice, Cheryl. Straight from someone who knows. Thank you so much for being so real, so transparent, and for doing this interview. I’m positive that SCARS will accomplish what you intended it to.