Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sex Abuse Realities: Author Interview with Cheryl Rainfield, Author of SCARS.

1) It took you 10 years to get SCARS published. Tell us about that. Why so long?

 I think it was a combination of how much there is in Scars that people can have a hard time reading or talking about--self-harm, sexual abuse, and a lesbian character--as well as my own growth as a writer. Scars has a lot in one book, I think--especially for traditional publishers. But they're things that teens know about, things that need to be talked about.

I went through many revisions of
Scars over the years. I had to learn to be able to write in more lightness and happiness. I know my writing technique and knowledge also improved over the years.

I also think that there was some luck involved in getting
Scars published--some serendipity and timing. I found the perfect publisher and perfect editor for Scars just when they came together.

2) SCARS is a moving story. You've been open in acknowledging your own trials and tribulations with sexual abuse. How much of SCARS is your story? How much is autobiographical?

I drew deeply on my emotional truths and experiences for Scars--but it really is work of fiction. I am not Kendra. That said, I did put a lot of myself into Kendra, and I strongly identify with her. I think I'm sensitive, compassionate, emotional, and artistic like Kendra. And, like her, I'm easily hurt, yet emotionally strong--a fighter. And of course I'm a survivor of incest and ritual abuse, used self-harm to cope, and am lesbian.

Like Kendra, I coped with the trauma of abuse by cutting. The emotional pain was too overwhelming, the effects too deep. It was a coping I needed. And, like Kendra, some of my abusers taught me to cut myself to keep silent.  one now. Both provided me with some of the only safety and love I knew. But unlike Kendra, I never experienced closeness to or kindness from my abusers/parents.

Kendra is more feisty than I was as a teen. More challenging and outspoken. I fought back against my abusers, but in my own ways; I was able to be more protective of others than of myself.

The experience of cutting--how it felt, how it looked, what I used, how I hid it, and *why* I cut--all of that is my experience. As is my being a sexual and ritual abuse survivor, and the dissociation that I used--and needed--to survive, and the way that my memories were suppressed. My need for art (and for writing) as well as cutting, was also a part of my experience, as was my searching for love, safety, and kindness, and letting go of hope that my parents could ever give those things to me.

I had a similar memory revelation to Kendra when I was a teen--my memories of abuse getting more extreme, as I could bear it, perhaps--with many of the faces and identities of my abusers hidden from me at first. As soon as I remembered my parents' involvement, I ran away. Like Kendra, I had a lovely therapist (when I was a bit older teen), and I have a fantastic
I didn't take my abusers to court, though I started the process (I ran away first, and didn't want them to find me.). Like Kendra, my mother didn't protect me--but neither did my father or any of my biological family. Since I grew up within an intergenerational cult, all of my biological family was an active part of my abuse.

Like Kendra, I depended a lot of my art as a teen--and one of the drawings I described in the book was one I actually drew (of the girl screaming, bandages covering her crotch and mouth). But I also depended a *lot* on my writing, which I didn't mention in Scars.

I've put pieces of my own experience into Scars, and then woven story around and through them. For instance--Kendra is much gutsier and more outspoken than I was. I think she needs to be for a good story. Like her, I spoke truths and fought back through my art (and also my writing), but the rest of the time, unless I was protecting someone else, I was much more submissive, terrified, quiet, and more awkward than Kendra.

Like Kendra, I put my art on display, but I mostly did that at conferences on abuse, though once or twice I did in a gallery setting. I didn't sell any of my original art, the way Kendra did. But in a way, I've done that with my writing. Like Kendra, I found it hard to draw (or to write) without the pain flowing in. It was only a few years ago that I was finally
 able to create some happy art without pain.

Some of the first real safe touch I experience, and being truly heard, was through my therapist. Like Kendra, I wanted my therapist to be my mom, since I essentially didn't have one, only an abuser.

A lot of my emotional experiences are in Scars, as is my experience of cutting, and some of the effects and trauma from the abuse. Scars is a book that is very close to my heart.

3) As a therapist, I've worked with teens who have faced the pain and crisis of sexual abuse and issues surronding sexual orientation. The main character in SCARS is a gay adolescent girl. You're a gay woman. As a girl growing up, was homosexuality an issue you struggled with?

I strongly knew I was lesbian as a teen. I wasn't attracted to boys, and I was to girls. But my sexuality was somewhat blunted by the frequent and repeated rape that I endured. For a long time, I didn't feel turned on by anyone.

I knew my love for women was a healthy thing--it just felt good and right to me. I felt more drawn to women on an emotional level as well as a physical one. I felt safer, happier, and more alive with women. And I knew that my being lesbian wasn't the result of the sexual abuse, as some unaware people sometimes try to suggest. If sexual abuse by men made their victims lesbian, there'd be a *lot* more lesbians in the world, since at least 1 in 3 girls have experienced some form of sexual assault. I've even heard some people try to say it the other way--that sexual abuse by a woman could make me lesbian. But I was repeatedly and brutally raped by both men and women, and it didn't form my sexuality. It didn't turn me to one side or the other.
 What it did do was give me a lot of body shame and hatred for many years--and a heck of a lot of emotional scars and triggers.

I did experience some homophobia out in the world, and initially some shame at telling people. Negative reactions and homophobia--disgust, anger, whatever--can have that affect. But I quickly was out about being lesbian--I didn't want any more secrets or shame (such as the abuse, or the cutting). And I was lucky to have a feminist outlook, and to find writing, music, and art that encouraged that. So I don't feel that I struggled a lot with being lesbian. Mostly I struggled with just...being.

4) Do you feel you have lingering issues/difficulties because of the sexual abuse or has it been essentially resolved?

The sexual (and ritual) abuse deeply affected me. I still bear emotional scars, and some effects of the trauma. I think that makes sense, given the severity of the abuse I endured. But I also experience much more happiness and lightness now than I ever have in my life, and things are getting better and better for me. I used to have so much self-hatred and fear, and depression, despair, and many triggers. It was hard or me to be in the world. Now I'm starting to find that the world is a friendly, nicer place than I knew. And though I can still sometimes struggle with depression and despair, or have triggers come up, overall things are good.

5) Was writing SCARS therapeutic for you?

 People always used to ask me that after they'd hear or read a chapter of Scars--was writing Scars therapeutic. I think they needed to know that it was, because there was real pain and trauma in the story, and they knew that I was drawing on my own. But for the first few years, it didn't feel therapeutic. It was necessary--helping me get out some of the pain, helping give me a voice--but it didn't feel like it gave me any relief because I was in so much pain all the time.

But all that changed once I got the contract for Scars and knew it would be published. I knew then that I'd really be heard, and that I'd be able to reach many people. I knew--or hoped--that Scars would offer many people compassion, insight, validation, healing. And that felt wonderful--a huge reward after such a long slog to get published. Then it felt like it was all worth it--and I felt lighter, happier, stronger, and more confident. Some of that was also because I was finally gaining my dream, and succeeding where my abusers had told me I would fail. Breaking the silence--it's always been so important to me to do that--and WestSide allowed me to do that in a big way with Scars.

6) It is your arms displayed on the cover of the book. Whose idea was that? How involved were you in the cover design?

It was my idea to put my scarred arm on the cover. My publisher was mentioning that she was looking for the perfect photo for the coverand I was going to get my author photo taken, so I suggested that the photographer (EmmaLee of Stripped Media) could also take a photo of my arm at the same time. My publisher agreed to look at the photos--and I am grateful that she did. She ended up loving my favorite photo; that felt incredible! I really wanted a cover that was tasteful--not sensationalist--but that also spoke truth and fit the tone and content of the book. Something that people would understand when they saw it. And I think that's what the cover does. The publisher’s designer, David Lemanowicz, did a wonderful, amazing job with the cover.

7) What other books have you written besides SCARS?

 Depends whether you actually mean written, or published. I've written about 10 YA manuscripts, 1 middle grade, and a few picture book manuscripts. But, like I did with Scars, I need to edit them more.

The other book I currently have published is Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon, a hi-lo fantasy for teens, or a fantasy for younger readers. I have another fantasy coming out from the same publisher (HIP Books) on a shape shifter coming out in 2011—Skinwalkers: Walking Both Sides.

8) Who is your agent and how did you find her or him?

 Andrea Somberg at Havery Klinger Agency is my agent. I submitted my paranormal fantasy to her, and she sent me a kind, thoughtful, and encouraging rejection letter that expressed the wish to see more of my work. So when I got the contract for Scars, I contacted Andrea and asked if she'd work with me. I knew that was a good time to get an agent--a good way to go about it. And it worked out. I'm so happy with her!

9) What kind of stories would you like to write in the future?

 I'd like to keep writing books for teens and children--YA novels, middle grade novels, and picture books--both realistic and fantasy. I think fantasy helps us to dream and hope, and realistic fiction can be validating, and help the soul in a different way. I really love and value both. Always, I want my writing to touch and move people. And I want my novels to be good stories. Stories with heart and depth—and stories that feed the soul.
10) Do you have any up-coming projects you can tell us about?

I'm working on two YA manuscripts right now--a YA fantasy, and another realistic YA novel. The YA fantasy is the paranormal fantasy that I mentioned, where the character is able to read minds in a world where that is dangerous. She is frequently on the run for her freedom and her life. The realistic novel is about a girl with a port wine stain who, because of how people have reacted to her, greatly struggles with body image. When she's kidnapped, she has to face her kidnapper and also grow emotionally. I identify with both characters and both situations because of things I’ve experienced. I hope their strength will show through.

Thank you so much Cheryl for agreeing to be interviewed and sharing such an intimate part of yourself. I know there are many in similar circumstances who feel alone and afraid. Your voice via the written word, will be one that they can utilize for guidance and help to reach a brighter and safer future. God bless you. We look forward to your future literary endeavors.
Wishing you much success, peace and love.


  1. Great interview, June.
    Cheryl, stories like this are so important. It sounds like you unflinchingly dug into your deepest self to bring this story together.

    I look forward to reading it.


  2. Thanks Joanne. I think Cheryl was pretty brave to write her book and consent to this interview. Major kudos to her!

  3. Joanne, thank you so much for your kind comments. I really appreciate that. I hope you enjoy reading Scars. :)

    June, thank you for doing such a thoughtful interview with me!

  4. And thank you Cheryl for being forthright and allowing all of us such intimate access to your life and story. People can only benefit from it.


I enjoy reading what you have to say. Seriously!