Women Who Rock Wednesday is back with a bang. Today I'm bringing you a really great interview with an author Cheryl Rainfield, who has written the kind of book that should be required reading. It's called SCARS and as you may be able to tell from the title, it deals with an issue I've grappled with myself, self-injury. I *needed* this book as a teen. So I hope you'll learn about it from Cheryl, read it and spread the word so that those who need it can find out about it.
Let's meet Cheryl!
Q: Tell us about SCARS, your new book, which sounds absolutely powerful and amazing.
Cheryl: 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.
Q: I also wrote about self-injury in my recent novel BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. I did so because as a teen, I self-injured and I feel like it is a subject that is too often ignored because it's uncomfortable to talk about. So thank you for adding another voice by writing SCARS.
Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write about this difficult subject? What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
Cheryl: I'm so glad you also wrote about self-harm! It is an issue that there's still a lot of silence and shame around.
I am a survivor of incest and ritual abuse. I grew up very isolated and feeling so alone--and was always looking for validation, for ways to feel less alone through the books I read. I found bits of it in different ways--books were a big part of my survival--but I was still always searching. So I wrote the story I needed to read.
When I was a teen and first started remembering the abuse, and experiencing the overwhelming emotional pain and trauma, I started using self-harm as a way to cope. (I was also taught by my abusers to use it to keep quiet.) There was so much secrecy and shame around the cutting; I was terrified that someone would find out and try to stop me. Self-harm was another thing that helped me survive--it helped me to not kill myself.
I'm also lesbian (and very happy to be). So all those issues are really important to me--and they've all held various amounts of initial shame, secrecy, and social prejudice. I want to show the strength and beauty that can be found in those who survive trauma, in lesbian/gay love, and the strength that can be in self-harm. (Of course, there’s even greater strength in being able to stop self-harming—but there needs to be healing resources there.) Self-harm, especially, holds so much shame, and is so rarely talked about or really understood from an insider perspective.
I hope that readers of Scars will come away with a greater compassion and deeper understanding of self-harm, especially that it's not trying to get attention, not a failed suicide attempt, and not manipulation--but is coping with extreme pain and trauma. I also hope readers will understand more about the impact of sexual abuse, and will have more openmindedness towards people who are lesbian/gay, if they didn't have that before they read Scars.
I know that's a lot to hope for! (laughing) But I think that fiction is powerful; I think it can reach readers in a way that non-fiction alone can't. I think, if fiction is infused with truth, it can touch us on a deeper level. I've already heard from a few readers who didn't understand how anyone could cut or self-harm, that they now “get” it after reading Scars. That's exactly what I'm hoping for--as well as letting others who've used self-harm, or who are survivors, or lesbian/gay, know that they're not alone, that there are others who understand, and that they can be okay, even when crap happens.
Q: Will you please list five songs that would go on a soundtrack to SCARS and tell us a bit how they relate to the book?
Cheryl: Jewel - "Hands" - That kindness and compassion are so important, and that they can help make great change. That with compassion and kindness, you can survive and heal so much. Kendra has compassion for others--and she also knows how much she needs the compassion and kindness of others.
Destiny's Child - "Survivor" - That you are stronger away from your abusers, that you can survive, heal, and do so much better without toxic people around you. Kendra knows that, seeks to gain that for herself, and is a true survivor.
Chris Williamson - "Having Been Touched/Tender Lady" (see also: Lean on Me) - That it's so important to have support, real compassion and tenderness, to help healing. True friends. That you need real and safe love, caring--things to help ease the pain, and help get to a place of happiness. Kendra is always reaching for that, and she finds it.
Ashley Gramins - "Ooh Child" (also The Five StairSteps version; they both sound soothing and/or happy). That you can come through things, that things WILL get better, happier, lighter. That you can find happiness. Kendra tries to find that, and she hopes for it. In the beginning, she's not sure she can ever really find it. But she keeps on reaching for it.
Justina & Joyce - "Affirmation." That it's important to resist, to fight back against abuse and injustice, and to speak out. That it's important for all of us to listen to each other and stop what's wrong. Kendra knows that--she speaks the truth through her art, even though she's being threatened.
Q: Tell us a bit about how you came to be a writer and who some of your inspirations have been over the years whether writers, other artists, or people from your life. Of course since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday, we love to hear about the women who have inspired you, but feel free to include men too!
Cheryl: I have always written. I can't remember not writing; it was my voice when I had none. It was a way I could express myself safely without being too much more abused for it. And books--they were and are my soul food. I turned to them, and so writing came naturally to me.
I've had many inspirations over the years. All of the writers whose work I loved and read as a child and teen and still love now--but especially L M Montgomery (I loved how her characters were so emotional, creative, spunky, and intelligent girls); Lois Duncan (I loved how her characters faced such danger and had special talents, magic, and used their wits to cope); Judy Blume (I loved how Blume wrote about things other people didn't talk about much, that needed to be talked about, including bullying, sexuality, and more). And many strong YA writers whose work I discovered over the years and loved, with strong girl characters and/or powerful writing and truths, including Nancy Werlin, Tamora Pierce, Wendy Orr, A M Jenkins, Ellen Hopkins, Marlene Perez, and many, many more.
I've also had some wonderful, strong, caring, loving women in my life, who've given me a sense of family and happiness--especially Jean, Julie, and Jo. And then, too, there are many feminists, strong woman, and strong survivors who have inspired me in their speaking out, including Nellie McClung, Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, Alix Dobkin, Rita Mae Brown, Ellen Bass, Laura Davis...and again, many more. There have been--and are--so many strong women who help make a healing difference in the world. It's inspiring.
Q: I know SCARS just came out, but I'm sure everyone will be clamoring for your next book once they read it, so can you tell us a bit about what you are working on now?
Cheryl: I'm working on two different manuscripts right now. One is a paranormal fantasy 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 other 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.
Q: I have two standard questions for my women who rock. The first is a two-parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge :)
Cheryl: Both my answers are ones that most people probably won't know, because they are a very specific audience. The first album I ever bought was Living with Lesbians by Alix Dobkin. The first concert I ever attended was by Heather Bishop--also openly lesbian and feminist.
Q: Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.
Cheryl: I felt like a rock star--and also went to that 'I'm not worthy' place--when some of the writers I admire so much read Scars and gave me great blurbs and comments--especially Ellen Hopkins, Lois Duncan, Laura Davis and Ellen Bass, and Wendy Orr. I was both thrilled and scared--maybe because i'm not used to good things happening. But that's starting to change.
Well, I hope you agree with me that Cheryl was the perfect interviewee to bring WWRW back with. I thought she had a lot of important things to say and spoke about a lot of amazing women when talking about her influences. Also, SCARS is clearly a very important story. Wanna win a signed copy of it? Well, let's spread the word about it, shall we and through that you will have many opportunities to win.
As usual, all you have to do to enter is leave a comment (and please include a way to get in touch with you if you win and get your mailing address).
You also get an extra entry for every way you spread the word about SCARS, whether by tweeting about it, blogging about it, or posting it somewhere else online. Link to this interview, let the world know why you think it sounds like an interesting and important read, link to Cheryl's website. And do note all of your extra entries in your comment.
I will draw my winner next week when I feature a fun fictional character interview with Aura, the main character of Jeri Smith-Ready's AMAZING YA Debut, SHADE!