Monday, September 30, 2013

Author Interview and GIVEAWAY: (Part Two) Cheryl Rainfield on STAINED and Why She Writes

Follow Along Here and on Twitter with #STAINEDBook for your chance to win package giveaways of all of Cheryl’s Titles and even an eREADER!


I am honored to host PART TWO of a two part Author Interview with the very candid and down to earth Young Adult Author, Cheryl Rainfield. PART ONE can be found here. The last time I was so honored to speak with Cheryl about her first two books, SCARS and HUNTED, I focused on the writing process. If you didn't have a chance to read that interview yet, check it out here.

Today, I focused on Cheryl's most recent release, STAINED, and the topics Cheryl often writes about. I guess I did too good of a job with these questions, since we are dividing the interview in half, but so much of what Cheryl says is so very important, I believe it will be worthy of two posts.

Now to welcome our guest, Cheryl Rainfield!

Let's continue, shall we?

I work in the mental health field with school aged clients, many of whom have significant trauma histories. I'm also writing my own stories of a similar nature, which I hope to share someday. I've seen a model used for victims of abuse, one they can begin with and move toward the direction of surviving and overcoming. Victim --> Survivor --> Adaptor --> Thriver --> Overcomer. It's the one I use, and continue to work on daily. What tools and resources have you found and help you to cope with your traumatic past? Likewise, what helps you keep a healthy present and future?

It sounds like your clients are lucky to have you! It helps so much to have someone understand. And I’m glad you’re working on stories that will help make a positive, healing difference. They’re so important!

A lot of things have helped me as a survivor, and continue to help me. For me, it was key to remember a lot of abuse and exactly who my abusers were, so that I could get myself safe. I also needed (and still need) a good therapist—one who gives me compassion, empathy, knows about the issues I deal with, allows me to work at my own pace, and is willing to try different things with me. A good therapist can help SO much, and help the healing happen faster. Safe touch has also helped me immensely—it’s helped me know I’m lovable, helped me be kinder to my own body, helped me reclaim my own body, and helped me get some of the nurturance that I never received growing up.

In therapy, I’ve used EMDR (eye movement therapy that uses tapping or light bar to help work through traumatic memory or emotion, dissociation, etc.), and I’ve found that helpful, as well as art therapy, talk therapy, etc.

Getting positives from other people about me—in written form, through voicemail or video, in person—also really helps me, since low self-esteem is something a lot of survivors deal with. Since I was trained to not allow in positives, and was taught negatives and that I was hated, I have to hear them repeated many, many times to have them go in, but I think they’re important.

I also think knowing when to push forward, and knowing when you need a break from emotion or memories, or to shift your mood, is really important. Since I used self-harm to cope, and since I have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), heavy depression, and a lot of other effects, it’s really important for me to remember to use multiple tools to shift my mood or help get myself out of trauma: positive distraction (a movie or book that makes me feel good, playing with my little dog, etc); getting out the emotion or memories in safe ways (crying, pounding a pillow, drawing, writing, dance, etc); reaching out for help; making sure I don’t isolate and spending time with people; asking for a hug; using positive messages, etc.

I’ve found EFT/TFT (Emotional Freedom Technique/Thought Field Therapy) incredibly helpful for panic attacks, and I think I’ll be looking into it for other things as well. I also believe in natural and holistic medicine. I personally don’t want to take medications; my abusers used drugs in some of the abuse, but I do use natural supplements such as Gaba Plus and SAMe for depression.

It’s been key for me to find ways to save myself, over and over, until I was truly safe (including remembering the identities of my abusers so I could get away from them; running away; keeping hold of my truths and my soul); giving myself some of the things I never got (like loving attention and compassion; or even things like toys); and to create my own family by surrounding myself with loving people who I love back, who don’t mistreat me. My little dog Petal also is an incredible help—dogs give such unconditional love—and so was my last little dog Willow and my cat Amazon.

I’m still trying to find a balance between work and play—I work way too hard, and I need to learn to be more gentle with myself, but I am more than I’ve ever been. Recognizing the progress we’ve made also helps. (smiling)

How does writing the books you've written and published, plus the ones you're currently working on, help you on the path you find yourself on? How does it impact you negatively, if at all? (Has facing these issues triggered you somewhere in the writing process?) If you're comfortable, can you speak to this and how you cope?

Writing my books, and having them get published, gives me a voice. I had no voice growing up, and my abusers told me that they would kill me if I talked—and since I saw them murder others, I knew they could do it. So writing (and art) became my way of talking. But getting my books published gives me a voice in a big way.

And it’s so important to me to help others—to encourage greater healing and compassion—and  the way that I do that is through my books. That is a part of my healing as well, especially when I hear from readers things like because of my books they’ve stopped cutting, gotten help, haven’t killed themselves, feel understood. So writing my books and having them get published, having readers read them and respond to me and write me, is a huge piece of my healing, and wonderful for me. I believed in myself and my writing, my truths and the things I had to say, for years, but I also fought depression, all the effects of the abuse and trauma, plus despair when eight, nine, ten years had passed before I was published. Getting published was a celebration and a dream come true! Reaching so many readers has been another dream, amazing to be able to get.

But since I write from my own abuse and trauma experience, it brings up a lot of emotion and memories for me when I both write and edit my work. I relive the trauma I went through every time. I’m used to doing memory work, and writing both helps me get out the memories/emotion and have a voice, but it can still be painful, and sometimes depressing when I realize how much its affected me, how little “normal” I ever had, etc. I can also find it really painful when someone doesn’t like my work or something in it, because I put SO much of myself into my books, and also because I faced so much criticism and hate from my abusers that I am extra sensitive to criticism. I try to keep some distance and refocus myself on all the many positive reviews. I have two wonderful friends and my therapist who consistently help remind me of my successes and the positive reviews, and help me try to pull away from the negatives.

When my working on a manuscript becomes too painful, I try to make sure I take a break, whether it’s within that day, or whether it’s a much longer break of a week or even weeks. I also have times of the year when the torture and cult abuse was at peak levels, such as certain holidays or other times, and often I don’t work on my writing very much in those times. So instead I’ll focus more on book promotion (which I always do, even when I’m editing and writing a lot). I try, too, to make sure that I eat well—healthy food can help improve mood (and unhealthy food can make depression, anxiety, etc. worse), that I get enough sleep, that I make sure to take multiple breaks in the day, and that I talk out things with my therapist if too much is coming up. My little dog Petal is amazing at nudging me with toys or her head to make sure that I take multiple breaks in the day, and I have some friends who make sure to keep in touch with me even when I am working way too hard.

I also use all the coping techniques I normally use when things are hard, things I’ve mentioned above, especially talking out the triggers and memories. I try to make sure I build in some fun time—with friends or alone—and I try to celebrate the successes, even small things (which I don’t do enough). And I make sure I read a lot for pleasure; reading feeds my soul.

What writing projects are you working on now (that you can talk about)? When might we expect to see these projects come our way?

I’m working on two realistic YA suspense novels, still have the sequel to Hunted on the burner (I would have had that out sooner if my first publisher hadn’t closed down), and another YA fantasy.

"Sometimes you have to be your own hero," is the logline emblazoned on the revised (and less graphic) cover for STAINED. Why was this true for Sarah, and I suspect, for you as well?

No one knew who had taken Sarah or where she was, aside from her abductor, and since she was kept in an isolated area, no one could hear her, either. If Sarah hadn’t found a way to save herself, she would have died there. And if Sarah hadn’t psychologically fought her abductor, she also could have died or been unable to cope. It took Sarah a while—the natural need for someone to save us is so strong—but when she finally realized she had to be the one to save herself, she became very focused and found her own way.

I also had to save myself, multiple times, to fully escape all the abuse and torture and get myself truly safe. I did it in many stages and various ways, including running away from home as a teen, telling about the abuse in different ways, remembering who my abusers were, working on my own healing, fighting my abusers psychologically, breaking off contact with my abusers, and working to lessen my dissociation and know everything I needed to know.

And for both Sarah and myself, we had to not completely give up, we had to find the inner strength even when at times it would have been easier to just die.

I gathered you did a significant amount of research evident in the pages of STAINED. Everything from the condition Sarah is born with, the diet of an abduction victim, torture, brainwashing, grooming victims, and the psychology of a rapist, and even the SANE medical examination, among others. Did you research things that never made it into the story? How did your research impact Sarah and Nick's story?

For most of the things in the story I used my own trauma and life experiences as research. I did really research port-wine stains and how they’ve affected some people (including the bullying), some of the nutritional affects on Sarah with her diet, how she’d be received at the hospital (I never went in to the hospital for any of the things my abusers did to me; they dealt with me at home), and some facts around guns. (Anything I got wrong is my fault.)

In talking to a nurse, I added in the SANE information and how a kind nurse might respond to Sarah, though I drew on my own experiences as a teen for how it felt to be examined after rape and abuse. I put in more kind people to respond to Sarah than I had in my own experiences as a teen.

For your readers who have not experienced the horrific things Sarah faces in STAINED, why is it still a good thing to read your book(s)?

A novel is first about entertaining us, taking us into another world, another person’s mind and soul. And I think I do that with Sarah, so that even if you haven’t experienced the traumatic things Sarah’s been through, you come away with a greater appreciation for the good things you have, and more compassion for others. STAINED may also help readers appreciate and love their own bodies more, or become more aware of body image issues, since Sarah goes through that journey, and as readers we usually identify with the character and so learn, safely, along with them. And STAINED may also help readers recognize their own strength, and know that they can protect themselves and others when they have to.

The tension and stakes present in STAINED are huge, all the way up to the ending. I've seen it described as a thriller. Do you agree with this? Why or why not? What made you write at such a break-neck, ripped from the headlines kind of pace?

I’m glad you felt the tension in STAINED! (smiling) I write with great tension to grip readers, to keep them hooked in the story AND because that’s what these traumatic events demand; there IS great tension and emotion in being abducted, being raped, fearing for your life, needing to escape. I also write with great tension because that’s what I know inside out; I lived most of my life in fear and constant tension because of the abuse and trauma. I think it’s a state that many trauma and abuse survivors know. I used to be so tense that I trembled constantly on the inside, and my breathing was always shallow. While I still don’t breathe deeply, I don’t tremble any more—but I do remember that constant anxiety and fear, and I can infuse my characters with it because that’s what they’re living. That’s what abuse and trauma does to us.

Of your published books, SCARS is in the category of "banned books." How does this impact your writing, and how to you speak out regarding "banned books." Have any of your other books come under similar attack, and how do you respond?

I find it painful when my books are challenged and removed from shelves. I know what it was like to so desperately need reflections of my own experience in the safety of books and not be able to find it. When my books are challenged or banned, some readers who need my books just as desperately won’t find them.

But having my books challenged doesn’t affect my writing; it doesn’t stop me from writing about the things I need to write about, the silences I need to break, the trauma I need to talk about. I’ve spoken out about banned and challenged books many times over the years, including the #YASaves campaign on Twitter that YA author Maureen Johnson started, as well as some videos, poetry, and blog posts.
My most recent include my poem and video: The Sadness of Banned Books


and my two guest posts “Books Save Lives. Don’t Try To Take That Away.” and “Books Are Powerful—Which Is Probably Why Some People Try to Ban Them.”

I think teens need to read about the issues that they or their friends are facing; they need to know that they’re not alone, that someone understands and cares, and that things get better. And often those are the books that are banned and challenged—books about abuse, about LGBT sexuality, books that deal with painful issues such as self-harm. Yet those are some of the books that can make such a positive difference in teens’ lives.

Where can we get all of your books, and in what formats are they available?

All of my books are available on (and .ca and, etc), Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indigo in Canada, your local indie bookstore, and IndieBound in paper form; Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Kobo, etc. in ebook form, and STAINED and SCARS are both available now in audiobook as well. The same narrator, Emily Bauer, narrated both STAINED and SCARS and she did so beautifully; I’m excited about it! I link to some of the stores here:

Thank you so much for joining me for another interview, Cheryl. I appreciate the chance to chat with you again about your books, and I look forward to the next ones yet to come. You've been so kind as to extend a giveaway opportunity for my blog readers, to win an ebook of HUNTED, a fantastic dystopian paranormal read, and PARALLEL VISIONS, a paranormal where the power is also the danger/risk. Both are excellent reads. Thank you very much, Cheryl! Best of luck on the launch of STAINED. Where can readers find out more or join in with the blog tour?

Thank you so much for doing this interview with me, Don, and for your thoughtful, in depth questions; I appreciate them!

I’m running three contests to help promote STAINED. You can enter to win ebooks, giftcards, and an ebook reader through my month-long STAINED book blog tour:


Readers can also enter to win 1 of 5 signed hardcover copies of STAINED through my GoodReads contest:

There you have it! So many opportunities to both support Cheryl and all of her amazing books, and chances for you, as her readers, to win prizes, too!

As if this wasn't enough, check out the rafflecopter below for a chance to win an eBook Copy of SCARS, a must read and celebrated banned book. The three giveaways on my blog are all from Cheryl's generosity, so please post, blog, facebook and tweet about her books, show her love and support and if you haven't read all of her books, what are you waiting for???



As part of the official STAINED month long Blog Tour Cheryl has offered readers an eBook Copy of SCARS, as well as another opportunity to post a blog comment here for one entry into the GRAND PRIZE giveaway of an eReader of your choice. More information is on Cheryl's Blog.

Also, be sure to check out PART ONE of the Author Interview and my Book Review of STAINED, both of which have giveaways to celebrate the launch of STAINED.

Now that you've gotten to know Cheryl Rainfield a bit better, I hope you'll support her and her books and share them with your friends. I love them all, and I believe our world is a better place because of writers and people like Cheryl. I'm truly honored to know her, and to support her books. What a treasure she is!
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Author Interview and GIVEAWAY: (Part One) Cheryl Rainfield on STAINED and Why She Writes

Follow Along Here and on Twitter with #STAINEDBook for your chance to win package giveaways of all of Cheryl’s Titles and even an eREADER!

I am honored to host PART ONE of a two part Author Interview with the very candid and down to earth Young Adult Author, Cheryl Rainfield. PART TWO can be found here. The last time I was so honored to speak with Cheryl about her first two books, SCARS and HUNTED, I focused on the writing process. If you didn't have a chance to read that interview yet, check it out here.

Today, I focused on Cheryl's most recent release, STAINED, and the topics Cheryl often writes about. I guess I did too good of a job with these questions, since we are dividing the interview in half, but so much of what Cheryl says is so very important, I believe it will be worthy of two posts.

Now to welcome our guest, Cheryl Rainfield!

Thank you for your incredibly thoughtful, in depth questions! I love them.

You've covered self-harm/cutting and sexual abuse in SCARS, brainwashing and prejudice in HUNTED, Domestic violence and suicide in PARALLEL VISIONS, and now kidnapping, rape and self image in STAINED. Why are these topics so important to you, and why are these the topics central to your writing?

I love that you’ve read all my books, Don, and that you know the issues I’ve covered in them! (smiling at you)

All the issues I've covered—various forms of bullying, sexual abuse, trauma, and oppression, including homophobia, and the ways we’re affected by them and cope with them—are important to me because: I’ve experienced them myself and I know how much deep pain they cause; there’s so much silence and often shame around them; and I think we need to talk about them—as individuals and as a society—to bring greater healing and hopefully to prevent further abuse and oppression from happening.

I think that when we talk about painful issues from an honest place, and when we talk about them in a way people can hear, which fiction is ideal for, we can help others who haven’t been through similar experiences really understand and come away with greater compassion, and we can help people who have gone through similar experiences to feel less alone and to know that it can and does get better. Feeling alone makes pain so much worse. I’ve always had a strong desire to break silence, and to heal and encourage healing in others. My books are my way to do that.

I felt so alone and in so much pain as a child and teen; a lot of the time I wanted to die. I never want anyone else to go through that—and so I try to help others with my books. Books helped me so much—they helped me survive the abuse and torture; I really think they saved me. So it’s an incredible, wonderful thing to help do that for others through my books. It is healing to hear from readers how much my books help them.

In STAINED, Sarah is a girl with a facial blemish, a port wine stain that covers most of her cheek, and she is obsessed by her concept of self image. For so many young girls, the media is a significant influence on such negative self concepts that are so strong, they often lead to defining a young girl's identity if allowed to go unchecked. How do these ideas impact Sarah as a main character, and why is it so important to tell Sarah's story for your readers, many of whom are young girls?

Sarah is deeply affected by the media’s definition of what beauty is and all the photo-shopped models she sees in ads—just as I think so many girls and women are, and boys now, too. Sarah becomes obsessed with looking perfect, and her desperation is increased by the bullying she receives from her peers about her port-wine stain and all the frequent negative reactions to her birthmark that she receives out in the world. I think that sometimes people don’t realize how much a stare or an unthinking comment can hurt.

Teens—and adults, too—are exposed to ads that see girls and women as only bodies or sexual beings (and boys are getting some of that treatment, too). It’s so unhealthy for us all. The ads target insecurities in girls—and boys—and show impossible standards of “perfect” beauty—instead of showing bodies the way they really are and appreciating them.

So many people struggle with negative body image—hating their bodies, wanting to be different—and the constant barrage of ads makes it worse. If you mix abuse into that, especially sexual abuse or harassment—which about 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been through—it’s so much worse. We’re seeing increasing numbers of eating disorders in teens—both girls and boys—and self-harm, and there is so much body hatred out there, as well as some girls thinking that their only worth is as a sexual being. It’s very disturbing. I struggle with body image issues myself as an incest and ritual abuse survivor, as a lesbian, and as a woman in this society. It’s another level of pain that people carry around—and we don’t need to. It shouldn’t be happening, all these distorted images being put out there.

I want us all to love and appreciate our bodies and feel good in them. And I think that one way to encourage that is to increase awareness of the way ads and bullying and rape can affect our body image, and try to find ways to take the positive messages in that we get, and see our own beauty and strength. So that’s a theme I explored in STAINED. I think fiction is one of the most powerful ways we have of exploring issues in a safe way, finding out we’re not alone, and healing.

In STAINED, I was thrilled to discover you've written loosely in alternating point of view. Sarah is the main character, but there are times we get to read from Nick's perspective, a boy who's heavy, and teased for his body shape. What made you decide to write in this format, and can you elaborate on the time stamp also found at the beginning of each chapter. How did your story structure affect mood, pacing, and tension?

I think having both Sarah and Nick’s perspectives helps to alleviate some of the pain from the trauma that Sarah endures, and give the reader breathing room, while still keeping up the tension of the story. It also helps fill in some of the things that Sarah doesn’t know about. And the time stamps help the reader see that more time is passing than Sarah realizes, since she only has her inner clock and the foil balls to judge time by.
I didn’t have the alternate viewpoints in early versions of STAINED; at first I only had Sarah’s perspective. Adding Nick’s viewpoint in came out of discussions with my editor, who helped me make STAINED even stronger. I’d read a few books told in alternate viewpoints that worked really well and that I’d loved, and also some that had time stamps—which I also added later in the editing process.
I think the alternate viewpoints helps readers discover more about both characters—things they might not tell us themselves or with the same perspectives. And I wanted readers to see how differently Nick saw Sarah—as beautiful and brave and strong—than she saw herself, even before she managed to escape her abductor. The way we see ourselves is not always the way others see us. I think many of us would find it helpful to hear how the people who love us really see us. Sometimes we can be our own harshest critics.

Sarah and Nick both love comics. Sarah writes story and dialogue, Nick is an artist. I was immediately reminded of THE ASTONISHING ADVENTURES OF FANBOY AND GOTH GIRL by the brilliant Barry Lyga. I imagine this was either a reference for STAINED, or possibly a comp (comparison) title for your initial pitch of STAINED. What other titles spring to mind for you in capturing some quality of your story, and what other comp titles did you use if any?

I haven’t read Lyga’s FANBOY AND GOTH GIRL yet (blushing) but it’s on my to-read list. I don’t usually pitch an idea to an editor or have my agent do that—I like to wait until I have a manuscript written, edited, and polished to where I think it’s publishable before I submit it. That means less stress for me. I don’t want to work under the stress of a deadline, where I might not make my work as good as I can make it because I don’t have the time or I work so crazy hard that I hurt my health. I want to feel good about my work before I submit it. 
Some authors whose work mine has been compared to, who also deal with painful issues, are Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jennifer Brown, Laura Wiess, and for STAINED I’d add April Henry with her books on abduction.

SCARS references art, and STAINED references creating comic books. Why are the arts a great vehicle for your characters as therapy for surviving so many horrific ordeals, and why do you include this in your stories? What other arts haven't you used yet, and do you have plans to incorporate other therapeutic methods for your characters in the future? What message does this send to your readers, especially those who are struggling with the issues referenced above in question 1?

I think art is a wonderful way to heal and to help us cope when things are hard—it can help us get out emotion and traumatic memories, help us say things we might not be able to aloud, help us have a voice and be heard. It can be a safe way to face or talk about things that we’re not ready to deal with in any other way yet. If we keep pain or sadness or hard things locked up inside, they only get stronger and more unbearable. Letting it out in a safe way, through art or writing or dance or some creative expression, can give necessary relief. It can also be a powerful way to talk to others about painful things. 
I’ve used art and writing to deal with trauma all my life. Sometimes when I write or create art I feel as if I’m bleeding out my pain onto the paper, canvas, clay, whatever material I’m using. Because I love art (and writing) so much and know how much they help, I have my characters use it. I think it can help us to read about a character using art as a way to cope or tell—it reminds us of positive ways of dealing with trauma or pain, ways that don’t hurt us. It can help us think—hm, maybe I can do that, too—or it can affirm for us—yes, this works, it’s healthy, it’s good for me. When you’re in really deep pain or the effects of trauma or crisis, it can be hard to remember healthy ways of coping to use. So sometimes seeing it modeled for us in books can help us remember it’s what we want to do.

There are many art forms I haven’t yet had my characters use in books. I’d like to use sculpture, photography, poetry, video, cartooning/caricatures, mosaics, stained glass work, and songwriting. Perhaps dance and theatre, too, though since I am awkward with those in my life, I’d have to learn a lot more about them before I write about them. And various forms of crafts also appeal to me for my characters, things I’ve dabbled in, such as crocheting, sewing, quilting, paper crafts, etc. In a manuscript I’m working on now, a character uses collage—layers of cut-up magazine photos—to help her face the things she’s too afraid to face. It’s an art form I used a lot when I was a teen.

You have shared some of the traumatic experiences you've drawn upon as a survivor of abuse, and how you've used these as focal or reference points to inform the truths your characters face and struggle through in your books. Why make yourself so vulnerable? Why get so personal? Why not write romance and happy stories that avoid these tougher, harsher, more gritty of topics and issues? Why is this so important for you?

I felt so alone and in so much pain as a child and teen being abused and tortured, and bullied at school, and growing up queer. I often wanted to die and thought seriously about suicide, even attempted it. My pain was made so much worse thinking I was the only one who’d been through those experiences. Books were my safety, and they helped me know in small ways that I wasn’t alone—but I still always searched for that knowledge that I wasn’t the only one who’d been through those things or felt that way. I think there are teens (and adults) now who are desperate for books that let them know that they’re not alone in their pain or the harsh realities they’re living in—that someone else really, truly understands on a deep gut level—and that they can get through it. 
I want to help ease pain and heartache and that feeling of aloneness for others in the way I can most effectively and powerfully—through my books and the honesty and compassion in them. And I want people who haven’t been through some of the things we’ve been through to have a little more compassion.
Books save lives. I know that from my own experience—if I hadn’t had books that helped me know that others felt unloved or were bullied or abused, and also books that helped me escape that life, I’m not sure I could have survived. And I know that from the reader letters I get, telling me that they felt like I was writing their story, or that after reading my book they talked to someone for the first time about their experiences, or stopped hurting themselves, or it helped them not kill themselves. We need both realistic fiction and fantasy, hard-hitting books that open darkness up to the light, and light-hearted books that bring laughter. There’s room for them all. I write what I need to write—for myself and for others. 

My abuse experience and my determination to make positive, healing difference in the world drive me to write the books I do. I’ve been through such extreme abuse and torture, and my abusers tried to silence me so frequently with threats of death and with torture and mind control, that I have such a strong need to speak out, to break silence, to let others know they’re not alone, to have the world be a kinder place than the one I’ve known for most of my life. 
I think talking about trauma or painful experiences from an honest, personal level helps others connect more—helps them really feel and understand. And when people understand, there’s greater compassion—for themselves or for others. I want readers to know that if they’ve been through some of the same or similar things to Sarah in the book or to me that they can get safe if they’re not already, they can heal, they can find happiness and it will get better. So much better. 
And I want people who haven’t been through any of those things to be moved—to know that yes, these things really happen and they may even know someone it happened to. Sexual abuse, rape, abduction, bullying—they’re not just headlines in the news (which we know happen but can feel very removed). I think if readers love a book, they also connect to the author, and when they find out that I’ve drawn on my own trauma to write the book, it makes it a little more real for them. Makes them more aware. Maybe they’ll have a little more compassion for a survivor they know. Maybe they’ll notice the silent screaming of a child or teen or woman being abused and try to help. Maybe they’ll just be a little bit kinder in the world, or a little more grateful for the good they have.
I think books are really powerful ways to help increase empathy and compassion, encourage greater awareness and healing, all in an enjoyable way—through story. With books, we can get inside another person’s experience and soul and really feel what something’s like. And I want people to feel and to care. That’s why I write the books I do.

I've seen your website, and one of my favorite quotes of yours is, "I write the books I needed as a teen and couldn't find." Could you elaborate on this quote?

Abused teens, teens who are going through trauma or oppression, often don’t have people who will talk openly about the things they’re going through, or offer them safety. People don’t like to talk about painful things—but that leaves those of us in pain feeling even more alone. Sometimes the only place a teen can turn to is books. That was true for me. I was always looking in books for ways to know that I wasn’t alone—that I wasn’t the only one being raped by my parents, or tortured, that I wasn’t the only one who loved another girl, or cut to cope with the trauma of being abused. I found small bits of validation of my experiences, mostly on an emotional level, like the bullying in Blubber or the life and death experiences a lot of the characters face in Dick Francis’ books—but I never found enough that spoke to me about my own experiences, that told me I wasn’t the only one being abused and tortured, or the only one who coped by cutting myself, that I wasn’t crazy the way my abusers said I was, and that loving another girl was a positive thing. And feeling alone made the pain so much worse. 
So now I write the books I couldn’t find as a teen. I address a few of the things I’ve been through in every book, the things I needed to read about—usually trauma based—and I try to put queer characters in every book, whether they are the main character or secondary characters. I think it’s so important to see ourselves reflected back in positive ways. 
In a way I’m writing for the abused teen I was. But I’m also writing for survivors and queer teens, and people who know pain and trauma, who need to know they’re not alone. And I’m writing for the people who love and support us—and for the people who don’t yet understand but might want to. And always, always, I try to tell a gripping story that grabs readers’ interests and hearts.

In STAINED, Sarah is abducted by someone known. I found this so true to what often occurs regarding a kidnapping. In fact, without giving anything away, you and I had a conversation as I was reading where I knew who the kidnapper was before he was revealed. As a sexual abuse survivor myself, I felt a kind of preternatural instinct to identifying him early, and I was rewarded as a reader when I was right. In many ways, I identified strongly with Sarah, and I understood her struggles. As an abuse survivor yourself, what have you learned that Sarah needed to learn to break free of your abuse history?

That’s a good point, Don—that often people who abduct—and who abuse—are people who we know, family or friends of the family, or an adult who is in a power position who we see often.

Like Sarah, I needed many things to escape the abuse and get safe. I needed to trust my gut instincts (and my memories). I needed to learn to love myself, to treat myself gently, to stop hurting myself, hating myself, and blaming myself for what my abusers did. I needed to stop internalizing the voices of my abusers, and to address those messages when they came up. I needed to find safe ways to tell others about the abuse and to get out the pain. I needed to trust and accept the help and support of people who truly loved me or who had compassion, and I needed to take in and try to believe the good things they said about me.
Like Sarah, I had to protect my soul and who I really was inside and not let my abusers twist me. And I needed to learn that I had to be the one to save myself. That might be one of the biggest things I had to learn. How I longed for someone to save me! But like Sarah, no one else did. I had to be the one to find a way to save myself, over and over, until I was truly safe. I had to follow my own courage and strength, and my own wisdom. I had to be dogged, like Sarah, in fighting back and trying to escape. I had to never give up. And I had to allow some part of me to believe that I would get safe and things would get better, even when it seemed they never could—just the way Sarah somehow believed.


As part of the official STAINED month long Blog Tour Cheryl has offered readers an eBook Copy of HUNTED, as well as another opportunity to post a blog comment here for one entry into the GRAND PRIZE giveaway of an eReader of your choice. More information is on Cheryl's Blog.

Also, be sure to come back here to catch PART TWO of Cheryl's interview. It's going to be epic!

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review: STAINED by Cheryl Rainfield

***Blog Comments count toward extra entries in the Grand Prize Giveaway of an eReader via Cheryl Rainfield's Blog. Follow the link for more details.***

Stained by Cheryl Rainfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cheryl Rainfield is an amazing human being. I love her to pieces. I have read SCARS, HUNTED, PARALLEL VISIONS, and now STAINED. All four books are incredibly well written, true-to-life and realistic teen fiction. But there's an air of realism that cuts through the pages, reaches out from the book as you hold it, and grips you like no other YA books I've read. Hands down, I am in awe of Cheryl's remarkable writing, and accessibility. And with STAINED, Cheryl has raised the bar once again.

I met Cheryl online and consider her a friend. But I can separate my friendship from my abilities to read and review a novel. I have felt so welcomed by Cheryl over the years, no matter when or how I check in with her. She always replies in a friendly and compassionate manner, and emotes smiles and hugs and feelings through social media with a tenacity most writers would not be able to keep up with. Not only is this accessibility true to connecting with Cheryl online, but it is equally true in the pages of her novels. STAINED grabbed me on page one and didn't let me go until the very last page. I was frustrated I couldn't carve out enough real life time to read cover to cover all at one sitting, as I had hoped to do. I struggled to put it down at times until I could pick it up again and read at a harrowing, high-stakes pace through chapter after chapter, and page after page.

Sarah and Nick are written in first person POV, in semi-alternating chapters. I say this as a caveat. Some books written in alternating chapters religiously alternate with odd and even chapter numbers. Cheryl alternates as the story unfolds, or as needed, to give the reader the most "there" persona to put you in the center of every moment as it happens. I found this to be very realistic in reading the book and it kept me wanting to know what happens next. Since this is a thriller of a novel, there's also a day or time stamp at the top to aid the reader in knowing how much time has elapsed since the last chapter. Rainfield uses this masterfully, keeping the reader on the edge of a knife blade.

While Nick and Sarah both become central to the story, I feel Sarah is truly the MC. Sarah's port wine stain on her cheek becomes the subject of her obsession with her own outward appearance, and also emboldens others to bully her. Sarah spends her time flipping through beauty magazines, and searching for her own beauty hidden behind her hair and her large facial blemish. But not everyone sees her this way. In fact, Nick sees beyond the surface and notices how Sarah protects others who are bullied, creates her comic book character, Diamond, who later becomes a persona she inhabits in real life, and the way she must decide to rescue herself from her captor.

Cheryl takes on the issues of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), kidnapping, bullying, rape, torture, brainwashing, and predators and how they groom their victims, in this novel. It's not easy to stomach many of the scenes, since they are written as unflinchingly as Sarah, who bravely resists everything her captor throws at her. It did not surprise me to learn that the captor was someone known, as is often the case in abuse and rape. With STAINED, Cheryl has become her strongest yet, in fleshing out characters who fight hard to overcome their attackers, and even humanizing her villain.

More books like this need to be written. This issues of CSA and rape are among the most avoided in our country. Most who have dealt with it, or know someone who has, prefer to sweep such topics and discussions under the carpet of conversation. This is wrong, and empowers predators to thrive in the dark shadows they inhabit, taking advantage of the downtrodden, the bullied, the social outcasts. One in six boys and one in four girls is sexually assaulted before they turn 18. These statistics are not only horrifying, but they're getting worse. Current data proves these numbers are moving in the wrong direction (one in five for boys, one in three for girls), and leaves 40 million survivors in the U.S. alone.

I applaud Cheryl Rainfield for standing up for these victims, these survivors, and their loved ones who need books like this one to identify themselves and to empower victims to become survivors and overcomers like Sarah. Not all families have the skills necessary to equip potential victims and help them avoid becoming abused. I believe STAINED could be effectively used as a therapeutic tool to help assault victims face and deal with their trauma history.

Apart from the issues addressed in STAINED, it is an amazing, fast-paced read. Gripping all the way to the last page. Wow! Highly recommended!!

Check out my reviews of all of Cheryl's books:

Book Review: SCARS by Cheryl Rainfield

Book Review: HUNTED by Cheryl Rainfield

Book Review: PARALLEL VISIONS by Cheryl Rainfield

Check out my cover reveal(s) for STAINED:

Original Cover Reveal for STAINED

Revised Cover Reveal for STAINED

Check out my Author Interview with Cheryl Rainfield:

Author Interview: Cheryl Rainfield on SCARS and HUNTED

Author Interview (Part One): Cheryl Rainfield on STAINED and HUNTED Giveaway

Author Interview (Part Two): Cheryl Rainfield on STAINED and SCARS Giveaway

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book Review: SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller

Something Like NormalSomething Like Normal by Trish Doller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in one sitting and couldn't read it fast enough. LOVE, love, LOVE this book. Trish Doller's narrative style is gorgeous, realistic, and so true to life. The characters leapt off the page and rattled my heart cage until it shattered into a million ZOMGs and holy wows. You should go get this NOW and read it NOW.

I think the thing that gripped me most about this story, and there is a list so bear with me, is voice. Not only is Travis, the male main character (YAY!! We need MORE male MCs in YA literature!!) so realistically written, but it's done in a way that is both magical and gritty, gripping and poetic. I could easily identify with him and his struggle with PTSD.

I know many young men and women who join the military and head off to war, thinking their tour will be uneventful and award them a foundation upon which they can build their lives. My nephew and niece for instance. But the harsh reality, what changes you irrevocably, is what Doller writes with such unflinching truth, it will leave you with FEELS and grasping to catch your breath.

Doller weaves a story between Travis and his brother, his ex-girlfriend and a girl from his past he had a brief encounter with. Travis's friends are also well written and developed and add depth to the story. I couldn't stop myself from turning page after page and racing to the ending, where Travis must face what he's been avoiding through PTSD. I love the relationship between Travis and Harper. She's a great character, strong and confident behind a wall of wounded girlish frailty, that makes her likeable and endearing and sweet. I adore this book, and think Doller is my new favorite YA author. I've committed to reading absolutely everything by her. You should do the same. Highly, highly recommend this book!

View all my reviews