It’s my privilege to welcome Cheryl Rainfield to the Toronto Tuesdays blog series today. Cheryl is a YA writer that I met through our TorKidLit group — they’re actually one of the very first people who invited me into their home when I first moved to Toronto. I remember helping them paint their new apartment, and they helped me paint my kitchen 😊 Cheryl is a courageous individual who is deeply committed to helping people, and their advocacy is consistent and powerful.
Trigger Warning: cult torture survivor, self-harm
What’s your favourite creative medium? What draws you to expressing yourself this way?
I love writing fiction–I can put so much of my soul, my trauma and healing experiences into it, my queerness, mental health issues and strength, to help others. Writing books gives me a voice when I didn’t have one. I also love to create art; I used to paint, sculpt, and draw, though I haven’t as much lately. Lately I’ve been needle felting when I create art.
Why is creating important to you?
Writing gives me a voice when I didn’t have one for so many years as a torture and rape survivor, and as someone who’s queer and with mental health issues in a world that is queerphobic, misogynist, and ableist (the intersections of oppression that directly affect me), and silencing of survivors. My books are my biggest way to help others, to encourage them in healing, to let them know that they’re not alone and that there’s hope. It’s so important to me to put good into the world in ways that I can. I know how much it hurts to be sexually abused, to be tortured, to be queer in a queerphobic world, to have mental health issues in an ableist world. When we feel alone in our pain it feels so much worse, but when we know we’re not alone our pain lessens. And when we can see others heal, and even thrive, it helps us to do the same.
What, or who, is your greatest creative influence?
My trauma and healing, and my desire to help others, drive me to write. And all the many writers whose books have moved me and spoken to me, and filled my creative well, have influenced me. There are too many to pick just one, or to name them all, but a few are: Tamora Pierce; Wendy Orr; Laurie Halse Anderson; Kathleen Glasgow, Ellen Hopkins; Brigid Kemmerer; Beth Revis; Lois Duncan; Julie Anne Peters; Ellen Bass and Laurie Davies; Jim C Hines; Dick Francis; Alexander Key; and so many more. I have so many new authors I’ve come to love, too. I especially enjoy YA contemporary suspense and fantasy books, which is what I love to read and to write.
What is your favourite time of day to create?
The morning. But I can create most any time.
Which of your creations is your personal favourite, and why?
SCARS, because it has helped so many readers stop cutting, get into therapy, talk to someone for the first time about their self-harm, sexual abuse, or being queer, and even keep from killing themselves.
Sadly my publisher for SCARS and HUNTED went under. But SCARS is still available new as an audiobook (Audible, Libro.fom), used in print. I’m hoping to get it republished and my sequel to SCARS published, but I haven’t had a yes yet from publishers (though I’ve had so near misses). Publishing can be so hard sometimes.
SCARS was recently banned in some schools in TX, and has also been challenged and quietly removed from shelves, even though it’s saved lives. Book banning is increasing in the US, especially for queer, BIPOC, mental health, and survivor voices. We need to fight against book banning.
How do you deal with creative slumps?
I don’t see it as creative slumps. I work myself really hard, writing quickly and then editing and re-editing my work. Then I usually need about two weeks off, where I’m too tired to work, or sometimes too depressed, so I take time to rest and refill my creative well. I read books I love (new and old), watch old favorite shows or movies (or new ones), and rest. I may also create in another way, like needle felting or writing poetry. And then I have the energy to write and edit again.
Who are you beyond your art? Give us three insider facts about you.
1) I am a nonbinary lesbian. I knew I was lesbian even as a child, but I didn’t have the word for nonbinary until this past year or two.
2) I am a torture, incest, and rape survivor with resulting mental health issues including depression, anxiety, cPTSD, dissociation, and more. I think it helps to talk as openly as we can about our experiences, so others know they’re not alone.
3) I have a lot of playfulness and inner child in me, since I didn’t really get a childhood, as well as an older kind of wisdom.
What’s one of the best – or most memorable – questions you’ve ever been asked, and how did you answer it?
So many readers ask me if it’s my own story in SCARS. I did draw heavily on my own trauma and healing experience to write SCARS, but it’s still fiction. Like Kendra, I’m lesbian, I was sexually abused, and I cut to cope. Also like Kendra, I used art (and writing) and therapy in my healing, and I’ve had a really good therapist (two, actually).
What’s something you’re excited about right now?
I’ve written 5 new queer YA books, both YA suspense and YA fantasy–my agent has them all, as well as SCARS which I recently got the rights back to–and I’m currently rewriting my book HUNTED to be queer, the way I originally wanted it to be. A trusted publishing professional told me after SCARS was published that I wouldn’t likely get published again if I kept writing queer main characters, so I started writing straight main characters with queer side or walk on characters. It feels so good to be reclaiming my voice. Now I just need a publisher to say yes!
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you! Cheryl, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I deeply admire your courage and desire to help others through the challenges and trauma they face, while facing your own. You are a gentle, healing light and those of us who know you are lucky ones.
Will you share some links where people can find you?
You can find me on
TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@cherylrainfield ,