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Posts reviews of picture books and teen fiction; suggests useful book sites, software, and book-related products; some news about children's books, and more.
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1. Join Cheryl Rainfield on Sat, Sept 13, 2pm at Chapters Scarborough in Toronto

If you’re in Toronto, join me at

Chapters Scarborough
on Saturday, September 13th at 2pm

to hear me talk about STAINED–why I wrote it, the need for strong-girl characters, and more–and get a signed copy of STAINED, SCARS, and/or HUNTED.


I draw on my own trauma experiences to write all my books.

In STAINED, Sarah is abducted and must find a way to rescue herself.

Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine) SLJ said of her work: “[Readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”

I hope you’ll join me.


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2. Bookselfies – STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED #bookthroughphone and #bookishstar

I joined Instagram about two months ago, and I’ve been enjoying the vibrant book community there. It’s fun to see others’ photos of books, and to share my own–and also, I have to admit, it’s fun to share photos of my little dog Petal as well. (grinning)

I love how easily I can share my photos through Instagram on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr. It’s also been lovely to connect with some of my readers who were on Instagram, but weren’t finding me through other social media. I love the posts, tweets, private messages, and emails I get from readers; they’re so rewarding. And I love seeing photos of my books out there with readers!

Two of the great bookish photos I saw people recently taking on Instagram were #bookthroughphone and #bookishstar. So of course I had to join in the fun and post some with my own books. I’m sharing a few here with you–and one or two of Petal. (smiling)

STAINED as #bookthroughphone. It took me a few tries before I got it to work. I had fun!

SCARS as #bookthroughphone. Not perfectly matched up, but pretty close. :) I think it’s kind of cool; kudos to whoever thought this up.

My #bookishstar
Books from top left clockwise: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Hunted by Cheryl Rainfield, Stained by Cheryl Rainfield, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Crank by Ellen Hopkins, When She Hollered by Cynthia Voigt, Are You Alone On Purpose? by Nancy Werlin, Please Excuse Vera Dietz by A S King, Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn.

And here’s a few of Petal. She is such a sweet, happy girl. :)

Petal loves to roll around–on the grass, the hall carpet, the couches. :)

Petal LOVES catching her ball. :)

And here’s Petal, all a blur as she catches her ball–even with her hair (and ears) in her eyes. :)

I hope you enjoyed these photos. What do you take photos of the most? What or who do you have the most fun taking photos of?

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3. Books Saved Me. A poem by Cheryl Rainfield.

Books saved me.
They drew me in,
their paper arms enfolding me,
their words wrapping around me,
absorbing my pain,
transporting me to other places,
other worlds,
where I could forget
just for a little while
the darkness that filled me,
the pain my lungs drew in and out.
Books allowed me to breathe.

Books saved me.
They showed me people who cared
when no one in my life did.
Showed me the tender side of people,
moments of kindness and empathy
when all I knew was cruelty.
Books allowed me to believe in the good in people.
They showed me, too, secret agony and grief
when I was so wracked in pain
I wanted to die.
Books whispered “You are not alone.
You will survive.”

Books saved me.
They gave me precious minutes, hours,
time elongated,
escape from the torture and abuse
I was living. They allowed me to dream,
to hope, to see beyond my dark world.
Hope that bolstered my soul
with paper and ink and words that swirled inside me
making me stronger, more whole,
feeding me when nothing else did.
I’m not sure I could have survived
if I hadn’t had books.
Books saved me.
I hope they’ll save you, too.

© Cheryl Rainfield, July 8, 2014.

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4. J.K. Rowling has written a new short story about Harry Potter–as an adult

Harry Potter fans get excited! J. K. Rowling has written a new 1500-word short story about Harry Potter in his thirties and his friends from the perspective of gossip columnist Rita Skeeter. This is the first time J K Rowling has written about her famous characters as adults since the end of the series. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, click on the link above and go read the story. :)

Thank you to The Bookseller for the information.

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5. I am now on Wattpad…

with the first chapters of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED up for you to read. Also some poems.


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6. New Picture Books I Love and Recommend (And A Few Older Books But Goodies)

I love finding picture books where the art and the writing work together just right, where the storyline is compelling and the illustrations are beautiful. Picture books like that are treasures, sure to inspire imagination, good feeling, greater understanding, and/or and dreams in young readers. I also love books that celebrate books and reading. All these picture books are ones I highly recommend.

Where’s Mommy?
Written by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Published by: Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House
Published: March 11, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-375-84423-2
Recommended Age: 3-7 years (and up)
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My policy is only to review books that I love or enjoy.

As soon as I opened Where’s Mommy? I was drawn in by the warm, comforting images and delightful storyline. Every image has a yellow-orange background like sunlight that creates a warm happy, mood. There is SO much to look at in every illustration; so much detail to study and enjoy. And the writing is just enough to keep the reader interested and tell us what we need to know, but not too much that it becomes hard to sit through.

In Where’s Mommy? a little girl and a little mouse who are friends but can’t tell anyone about their friendship, both can’t find their mothers one night when they’re getting ready to bed. They look for their mothers, ask their family, and start getting worried–until they find their mothers together.

Where’s Mommy? is beautifully written and illustrated. We see two lives at once; the human girl’s and the mouse’s. Both the dual storyline and the dual illustrations parallel each other, and then converge in a satisfying story. I LOVE the parallel stories; in every page or spread, we see the human girl doing something–getting on her pajamas, brushing her teeth, looking in the kitchen for her mother–and then on the same spread (often below the human girl, or beside her), we see the mouse girl doing the exact same thing. The mouse family lives beneath the floor of the human family, and the way McClintock illustrates it, we see them not only doing the same kinds of things, we also see their rooms parallel each other, sharing not only the house but the page. Absolutely beautifully done.

McClintock’s detailed pen-and-ink, watercolor, and gouche illustrations are a delight to pore through. There are so many details in every drawing that make the illustrations feel cozy and just right, that tell us a happy family lives there–the toys lined up along the couch and shelves and scattered on the floor in the human image, with furniture and plants and books and paintings–and in the mouse family, so many creative, sweet details, like beds and seats made out of teacups, an iPod for a giant music system, clothespins making up part of a bed, Christmas lights and flashlights creating light, an empty plastic berry container as a countertop, and yes–tiny books and dishes and art. Everything is drawn beautifully, with great care and perspective. Warmth and friendliness emanates from every page.

Donofrio’s text is beautifully written. The story starts out with friendship, a secret, and the reason for the secret, with the two lives paralleling each other. It takes us on their paralleling journey, has the two characters bump into each other, and then at the climax gives us a delightful surprise. The text makes the girl and mouse’s lives closely parallel each other but still fit their own world; it’s satisfying to read. The story is fun and grabs the readers’ curiosity and interest–what will happen next?–and pulls us though to the surprise and the ending, where the lives parallel each other once more, ending with a question that the reader can answer.

I think this book will inspire friendship and hope, imagination, appreciating differences, and give readers a sense of comfort and belonging.

This is one book where the story text and the illustrations work so perfectly together that they just belong together; it’s as if they were created by the same person. Both are created so beautifully that the book is a joy to read; this book is one of my new favorites. I highly recommend it.

Written and Illustrated by Aaron Becker
Published by: Candlewick Press
Published: Aug 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6053-6
Recommended Age: 4-8 (and up)
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Source: I purchased the book myself.

This wordless book is pure delight. It reminds me of both Harold And The Purple Crayon, and The Red Book by Barbara Lehman, where a lonely child finds a friend, happiness, and joy through creativity.

In Journey, a lonely young girl uses a red crayon to draw a door into another world–a world busting with color, beauty, and imaginative adventure. The nameless girl starts out in a gray-brown city, all alone and dark except for the pop of red from one toy she takes with her–her scooter, a kit, a ball. But when her family is too busy to play with her, her world turns completely gray-brown–until she spots the red crayon on her floor, and draws a door in the wall of her bedroom. She walks through the door–into a world lush with color, life, and imagination–a green forest with hanging lights. She goes on an adventure, using her magic red crayon to escape from danger, and to help rescue a beautiful purple bird that soldier captured. Together, the girl with her red crayon and the purple bird escape and travel through another door into another magical land–and then back to the city, where the bird is reunited with the boy who drew her, and the girl, the boy, and the bird become friends and go off on an adventure, riding a bike that both the girl and the boy created together.

Becker’s illustrations are powerful and a delight to page through. The initial bleakness of the girl’s world is shown dramatically through the gray-brown washes–lacking any other color except for the one bright red spot of hope through the girl’s toy when she approaches someone to play–and her crayon. Her red crayon becomes a focal point, both through the dramatic pop of color and through the magic of what it can do. Each object that the girl draws to help herself–a door, a boat, a hot-air balloon–are a red burst of color that stand out against the muted but lush colors of the magical worlds she travels through.

Becker’s illustrations are intricate and detailed, with so much to look at. I also like how the illustrations aren’t all the same size; in some, there are three small drawings on a white background per page, on some, they are full color but confined to one page, and on some the action takes place over an entire full spread of color. This helps keep the story appealing and engaging.

This in an enchanting, hopeful, imaginative book that reminds readers of the importance of friends, and the power of art and imagination to transport us out of unhappiness and make our lives happier and brighter. It’s also a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, and rightly so. It is one of my absolute favorites. Highly recommended!

The Story of Fish and Snail
Written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
Published by: Viking (Penguin Group)
Published: June 2013
ISBN: 978-0670784899
Recommended Age: 3-5 (and up)
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Source: I purchased the book myself.

Snail and fish are friends and live in a book together–called The Story of Fish and Snail. Snail waits each day for Fish to come home and tell her a story. But one day Fish says he found a new book, and wants to show it to Snail. Snail doesn’t want to go into other books, and they argue. Fish leaves, and Snail is all alone and sad. But then Snail sees Fish in an open book below theirs, and dives down into the new book. The two friends, together again, sail off to have an adventure in the new book.

I love the concept and playfulness of characters who live in the book we’re reading about, where the book becomes part of the art (kind of like Chester by Melanie Watt). There’s something so creative and appealing (especially to book lovers) about this. I love how the illustrations move from seeing Fish dive into the open pages of The Story of Fish and Snail as if the pages hold water and everything that we see within the pages for real, and not just illustrations, to closer and closer up views of the pages of the book until we don’t see the book any more, but just the book world (under water with stones and a tiny castle), getting closer and bigger views of the arguing friends so that they almost take up the page visually (and also with the emotion and fight), until Fish leaps right out of the book and we once again see that it’s a book spread open. I also love how the only color is inside the book pages; everything else (when we get a farther out view) is shades of gray in a library–because the rest of the setting isn’t important. What’s important are the worlds inside the books, and how they come alive. It’s also a great analogy of how books really do come alive for readers.

This is a beautifully drawn and written book. Visually, the characters are so expressive and full of emotion, and the book worlds are beautiful and magical–as if books physically hold what the words and pictures say they do. The illustrations are warm and comforting, showing two lives at once, and there is so much for readers to look at. The climax was strong, the writing was just right–not too much, just enough to tell the story, and perfectly matching the illustrations.

The Story of Fish and Snail encourages a love of books and imagination, and also reminds us that fear can hold us back, but sometimes we have to stretch ourselves a little if we want to keep up with our dearest friends. This is another new favorite of mine. Highly recommended!

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

Written by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre
Published by: Knopf Books For Young Readers/Random House
Published: Feb 11, 2014
ISBN: 978-0307978486
Recommended Age: 4-8 years (and up)
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My policy is only to review books that I love or enjoy.

In The Noisy Paint Box, Vasya Kandinsky was taught to be a proper Russian boy, with manners and rules and things to practice, and he lived up to that–until his aunt gave him a wooden paint box. Vasya heard the colors make noise when no one else could. And so he painted the sound of the colors. But his family didn’t understand and wanted him to be like a normal Russian boy–so for a long time he held himself in and did what was expected of him–until finally he couldn’t ignore the singing of color. Finally, he went back to painting, painting what he heard and saw and felt from color. And when he did that, he created a new form of art–abstract art. Art that was meant to make people feel.

Text and illustrations work really well together. I love that Barb Rosenstock tells us about Vasya Kandinsky–a famous painter–and tells it as a story that comes alive, a story that we can almost touch and hear. Her word choices feel like poetry: “He spun a bright lemon circle onto the canvas. It clinked like the highest notes on the keyboard,” and make us feel it, see it, almost hear it. Her beautiful writing will grab the reader’s interest and keep them wanting to know about the little boy who people tried to force to conform, who grew into his own creativity and art. I also like that there’s an author’s note at the end of the book that included detailed information about Vasya and shows some of his actual paintings.

Mary Grandpre’s illustrations (the illustrator of the Harry Potter books) make the story come alive even more. The characters are expressive, and the illustrations are so creative, with words and images and bright swirls of color incorporated right into the illustrations themselves. For instance, when the grown-ups talk at dinner, not only do we see strips of cut-up words coming from their mouths, but we also see their heads and bodies full of words. And once Vasya discovers paint, we see the paint colors swirling up off the page with words, symbols, and bright color to show the sounds he hears. Grandpre’s style is unique, visually compelling, and full of movement, bright color, and energy.

The Noisy Paint Box reminds readers that creativity is powerful, that it’s important to be true to ourselves no matter what anyone else says, and that if we have a dream, we should follow it. This book will encourage creativity and art, and creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Highly recommended!

Books Always Everywhere
Written by Jane Blatt, illustrated by Sarah Massini
Published by: Random House For Young Readers
Published: May 27, 2014
ISBN: 978-0385375061
Recommended Age: 3-7 years (and up)
My Rating: 4 out of 5

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My policy is only to review books that I love or enjoy.

Books Always Everywhere is another book that celebrates books and reading, and so encourages the reader to enjoy books. I think this is especially important when young children are increasingly introduced to technology, television, and video games. Books teach us about the world and encourage empathy and help us understand the world in a different way than even movies can–by putting us inside the characters through our own imaginations. So I love this book about books for very young readers. I could see it being made as a board book. (The copy I have is a regular picture book.)

Jane Blatt’s rhyming text is very simple, aimed at young children learning to read: “Book big/Book small/Book wide/Book tall.” Words also appear on the books the toddlers read–some on the inside pages, and some on the covers or spines. The text flows easily and quickly, and the rhymes are just right–something I’m particular about when reading, because when the rhyming is off it can take the reader out of the story. But here it works perfectly, and gives the readers a sense of books being everywhere.

Sarah Massini’s illustrations are sweet, simple, and fun–a good match for the text and the age. They they remind me of Helen Oxenbury’s style. The baby and toddler characters are adorable in their various onsies and PJs and little outfits, with simple, sweet faces, just dots for eyes, and little curves for noses and mouths–and babies and young readers are sure to enjoy seeing other little people in the pages. I also like that various ethnicity are shown in the characters. But my favorite part are the books within the pages of this book–three-dimensional books that are much bigger than they’d be in real life–big enough to climb on–and smaller books that the toddlers hold, read, and sit on. I love, too, how the books are not just books to read, but also books to play with–to sit on, to create a fort with, a hat, a tower–prompted by Blatt’s text–just like books are used in real life with young kids, and also books are enjoyed everywhere, on swings, in bed, at the beach.

I think Massini must have had fun creating book titles and text that fit what the characters were doing in each illustration. Young readers will enjoy hearing the silly, funny titles: “Trees Are the Bee’s Knees,” “Ooops-a-daisy!” when a baby drops a book, while other titles are of classic tales.

Books Always Everywhere is a sweet, simple book about enjoying books everywhere. It will encourage a love of books and reading, and shows other young children reading, too. I think kids need to see reading modeled to help them read more, and this book could encourage that. Highly recommended!

0 Comments on New Picture Books I Love and Recommend (And A Few Older Books But Goodies) as of 6/23/2014 3:31:00 PM
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7. Shebooks: A fantastic kickstarter project for women readers and writers

Did you know that 3/4 of the stories published in traditional magazines are written by men? And yet women read SO much. Yep, there’s gender bias even in publishing.

This is where digital publisher Shebooks steps in. Shebooks publishers short ebooks written by women for women readers and designed to be read in under two hours–and they need your help to publisher even more! They only have 9 days left to their campaign.

One hundred percent of the donations made through their kickstarter project: 2014 Equal Writes Campaign will be used to pay women writers.

At every pledge level, Shebooks offers rewards, including a Shebooks subscription, a chance to get your own original work published in an upcoming Girl Power anthology, an “EQUAL WRITES” T-shirt, a night out with Shebooks authors, author visits to your book club, the opportunity to have a protagonist named after you in an upcoming book, and more.

Shebooks has already published over 40 original books by top authors and journalists. Shebooks authors include international bestselling author Hope Edelman, New York Times-bestselling author Caroline
Leavitt, former Deputy Editor of Essence Teresa Wiltz, founder of Ms. Magazine Suzanne Braun Levine, and National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart.

Shebooks can be purchased individually for $2.99 or by subscription.

I hope you’ll consider donating to them. Women need to have a voice, and publishing is a great way to have our voices be heard.

I also found this post by co-founder Laura Fraser inspiring and informative:

Not enough women are able to get their work published today—even the best women writers. Almost three-quarters of the bylines in leading print and digital publications belong to men. At Shebooks.net, we’ve decided to do something about this problem: Publish more stories by women. We’ve launched the Equal Writes Campaign to raise money to publish great reads by as many women writers as possible in 2014.

I’m the Editorial Director and co-founder of Shebooks.net, which publishes short e-books by and for women. I’ve been a journalist and author for 30 years, and while I’ve been relatively successful—one of my books was a NYT bestseller—I’ve experienced how increasingly difficult it is to be published. One of my cofounders, Peggy Northrop, has been the editor-in-chief of four magazines, and a senior editor at many more, and she’s seen the space for women’s writing shrink and shrink. Getting published is difficult for everyone, of course, as content has been considered free on the Internet, and publishers are putting all their money into their top earners and basically ignoring the rest. But it’s particularly hard for women.

Why is that? It’s a complicated question, having to do with both socialization and sexism. On the one hand, we have what people call the “confidence gap,” where women are reluctant to pitch to magazines–they don’t have the sense that their work is worthy. And there has been some research that shows that if women do pitch, if they are turned down, they tend to personalize that, and think, “the magazine doesn’t want me,” whereas men might think, “they answered my email; I’ll nail it next time.”

But the other factor is plain old sexism. It’s still very much a boys’ club, where male editors tend to trust male writers because they’re part of the tribe. I’ve been in the writers’ collective called the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto for 15 years, for instance, and I’ve seen equally talented men and women approach male editors at top-shelf magazines, and guys get the upper hand. I’ve had many personal instances of sexism in my career. One recent one was when an editor on a panel was describing a story in Italy he was considering. I approached him and said I’d like to pitch him on it–I speak fluent Italian and know Italy well. His immediate response was, “Oh, I was kind of looking for a science guy.” He automatically assumed I don’t write about science–which I have done, quite a bit–which is not what he might have assumed about a guy. And, well, a guy would have had the “guy” part of his remark down. Now, if you asked that editor if he was sexist and if he felt women should be equally published, he’s a nice liberal guy who would have said “of course,” and would have had no inkling of his deeper prejudices. Now, maybe it had to do with me and my writing. That’s certainly a possibility. But his answer seemed automatic. (I did persist and check out the story, calling Italian journalist friends to get the scoop, and it turned out to not be the story the editor thought it was.)

Shebooks wants to change inequities in publishing by giving great women writers a platform. We want to raise their visibility not only to our own readers but to other publications.
My partners and I—the third is Rachel Greenfield, who was the EVP of Martha Stewart Publishing–have been excited by the explosion of digital media, which is giving readers new ways to find compelling stories. And we’re pleased to see writers find fresh ways to work and make money outside the usual channels.

But even on these new media platforms, the problem has persisted that female authors, journalists, editors—and ultimately female readers—are being shut out of the revolution. Innovative digital publishing companies led by men and publishing mostly male writers are getting lots of investment and attention. But we know that women are voracious readers in every format—buying the majority of books and magazines and reading (and writing) the majority of blogs.

So we decided not to wait for our invitation to the party. Shebooks.net was the result: a new media format, real money for writers (our writers all share in our profits), and engaging stories that women can’t wait to read, that fit the corners of their busy lives. We’ve been amazed at the quality of writing we’ve been able to publish.

We hope lots of readers and writers will join our Equal Writes Campaign. We publish mainly seasoned writers, but if you’re an aspiring writer, you can pledge at our $35 level and one of our editors will take a look at your manuscript—for possible inclusion in a Shebooks anthology.

Please spread the word—and thanks so much!

Laura Fraser
co-founder, Shebooks

Please pledge to join our Equal Writes campaign! http://kck.st/1kbVVz7

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8. I am honored SCARS is in a B&N blog post: “8 Great YAs About Mental Health Issues” #YAsaves #WeNeedDiverseBooks

scarsI am honored that SCARS is included in a thoughtful B&N blog post: “8 Great YAs About Mental Health Issues” written by Dahlia Adler.

Dahlia includes some powerful YA books on various mental health issues, including Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (eating disorders), It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini (depression), OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu (OCD), and Crazy by Amy Reed (bi-polar).

Check out her post for the entire list and thoughtful descriptions of the books from someone who’s clearly read them and been touched by them, and to leave a comment about your favorite YA books that deal with mental health issues.

I think it’s important that we have books that deal with mental health issues in honest and realistic ways–and that provide hope. We all need to know that we’re not alone, and that things can get better.


2 Comments on I am honored SCARS is in a B&N blog post: “8 Great YAs About Mental Health Issues” #YAsaves #WeNeedDiverseBooks, last added: 6/13/2014
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9. STAINED will be released in paperback in 2015

So not only is STAINED one of Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature’s Best Book of the Year for ages Fourteen and Up–it’s also going to be released in paperback on 5/11/15 and be only $8.99!

So much good news today! I love good news. (beaming)


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10. I’m delighted that STAINED is one of Bank Street College’s Book of the Year for ages Fourteen and Up

I’m delighted that STAINED is one of Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature’s Book of the Year for ages Fourteen and Up! (beaming)


Links to all books and categories here.

It’s such a feel-good thing to have my book recognized! For any author to have that happen. (grinning)

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11. #YesAllWomen

Recently a 22-year-old man killed his roommates, then shot and murdered a number of women, and wounded others, because he felt he’d been rejected sexually and was furious that he was still a virgin. He called it his “war on women.”

According to LA Times, in a video he made before the attacks (now removed from YouTube) he said: “”I’m 22 years old and still a virgin, never even kissed a girl. And through college, 2 1/2 years, more than that actually, I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous,” he said. “The popular kids, you never accepted me and now you will all pay for it. Girls, all I ever wanted was to love you, be loved by you. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted sex, love, affection, adoration.”

Wow. Scary.

It’s like the Montreal Massacre. A man killing women for being women. For not giving them what he wanted. Another tear through our society, our souls. This horrifies me. It should horrify you, too. Men are not automatically owed sex or praise or anything else by women just because they are men. But our culture encourages and promotes the sexualization and objectification of women and girls–and the dominance and “superiority” of men. Still. To this day.

Most women have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lives–many from men they know. At least 1 in 3 girls have been sexually abused or raped, and I think that is a very conservative estimate, given how frightening and hard it is to talk about, and how often people don’t believe a child when they speak out.

Yes, boys are sexually abused, too. But what we’re talking about right now is the misogyny–the hatred of women–that is steeped into our society, so that most young women can’t walk down a street without being harassed, or fearing sexual assault. Where women are expected to put out. Where women are still blamed for rape, and where rapists are still let free and not punished for their crimes. Where girls and women are still considered second class.

If you’re on social media, especially Twitter, you may have seen #YesAllWomen trending. It’s in response to these recent murders, and also to the hatred and violence against women that is such a part of our culture. Gina Dening wrote about this beautifully: “Because every woman has a story about being a victim. Every woman has a story of a time when she needed to decide between fight and flight.” Read her post. It says SO much more–so perfectly.


I also really appreciated and loved Chuck Wendig’s post Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men on how men saying “not all men” are missing the point, and that our society is built on violence against women. We KNOW not all men are rapists or bullies or murderers or child molesters. But for so many women, we have to face or have had to face threats from men all our lives.

I did. I experienced daily and nightly rape by my father, other family members, and his friends. He used me in child porn and child prostitution to gain money and prestige among his friends and among the cult he and my mother were a part of. Rape, abuse, and torture were my normal growing up–for most of my life. I lived in fear and terror. And yet I always fought it.

I argued with my high school sociology teacher, telling her and the class that women were not ever to blame for rape, not even if they walked down a dark alley alone or wore skimpy clothes. I was verbally shot down by my teacher. I fought back against my abusers, always–but also tried to stay alive. I didn’t think I would survive and become an adult–but I’m glad I did. It’s gotten a lot better.

But I still am not comfortable in my body. I still am afraid out on the streets after dark. I still experience harassment as a woman and a lesbian. I am still affected in so many ways by the rape and abuse and objectification I experienced as a child and teen and even later.

So I am thrilled to see #YesAllWomen trending–thrilled to see women speaking out about the violence and harassment they experience, thrilled to see men and women listening, and many responding positively. I believe so strongly in the healing power of bringing painful things to light, of talking about them, and of working to create change. I believe we can make positive change together…even if it takes a very long time. And I still hope for a day when the hatred will end.

It’s what I work towards through my books. Through speaking out on social media. Through the way I live my life. And it’s what I hope you’ll work towards, too. Greater compassion. Equality. An end to the violence and hate. All of us being able to live without fear.

I know. It sounds like a dream far too big, impossible, to happen. But I still hope for it. I have to. I hope you will, too. And I hope you’ll also speak out.


Other YA authors are tweeting and writing about #YesAllWomen:




And Kim Baccelia has written about it in her post

There are also many articles about #YesAllWomen in the media, including:


and many others.

And you can search for the latest #YesAllWomen hashtags on Twitter.

2 Comments on #YesAllWomen, last added: 5/27/2014
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12. Q & A with Kristi Helvig, author of YA novel Burn Out

Kristi Helvig Author photoI’m happy to be able to talk with Kristi Helvig about her writing, writing process, and her new YA sci-fi suspense Burn Out.

In Burn Out: Most people want to save the world; seventeen-year-old Tora Reynolds just wants to get the hell off of it. One of the last survivors in Earth’s final years, Tora yearns to escape the wasteland her planet has become after the sun turns “red giant,” but discovers her fellow survivors are even deadlier than the hostile environment.

How did you get your book contract for Burn Out? Did a publisher find you in the slush pile, or did you have an agent who submitted for you?

Kristi Helvig BURN OUT Cover

My fabulous agent, Jess Regel, submitted BURN OUT for me and I feel so incredibly grateful that I ended up with my publisher, Egmont USA. It’s been such a collaborative and wonderful learning process.

That was smart to get an agent first, to help you navigate the publishing world.

In Burn Out, Tora lives in a world where the sun is dying and the struggle to survive is hard. What made you want to write in that setting?

It wasn’t so much a want as a compulsion. I dreamt the plot of the book after watching a science documentary about our sun burning out, and I’d say the setting chose me rather than vice versa.

Wow, that sounds like an intense dream and inspiration.

Tora seems like a strong-girl character. Was that important to you?

Well, Tora was the girl in the dream I had that night so I watched her living in extreme conditions (it was one of those dreams that felt like it lasted the whole night), and woke up in complete awe of how she survived in a world like that. She kept talking to me that entire next day and refused to leave me alone until I started telling her story.

What character or part of the book has the most of you in it?

Probably the beginning of the book where Tora has been alone for months with only her thoughts, and books, for company. While I’ve never experienced that, I love being alone, and the idea of reading all the books I want without interruption is beyond exciting. I’m also sarcastic by nature, so Tora’s sarcasm came very easily to me.

I love being alone, too, and reading as much as I can. (smiling)

What was hardest scene for you to write in Burn Out? What was the most rewarding?

Without giving away spoilers, the hardest scene to write was when Tora realized what really happened to her sister. I felt her pain and grief in my gut as I wrote that scene. The most rewarding was the scene where she and James loaded guns out of the hidden weapons room. An unexpected intimacy occurred between them in that moment that I didn’t see coming and made me root for them.

I think that makes powerful writing, when we feel the emotion we’re writing about.

One last question–why do you write?

This sounds simplistic, but I write because it makes me happy. It allows the characters in my head the space to come out into the world and tell their story. As soon as I finish one story, new people visit my brain and insist it’s their turn for their story to be told. I feel less like a novelist and more like a conduit for these voices from other realms, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

I hear you, Kristi! Writing helps me, too, and I wouldn’t feel right if I couldn’t write.

Kristi’s interview was part of a Spring Fling Tour organized by Nikki Wang at Fiction Freak. I asked all the authors one extra question: What did you do to celebrate when you found out you’d gotten your book contract?

Kristi Helvig: When I found out that BURN OUT and the sequel sold, it was a Friday morning, so we lined up a sitter for that night and went out to our fave restaurant, The White Chocolate Grill, to celebrate.

Amy Rolland: When I found out I’d gotten a contract, I didn’t quite believe it was real. I called the few people who knew I’d been secretly writing for the past few years, but I didn’t do any crazy celebrating because I’m such a cynic. If the contract fell through or if the book flopped, I’d feel silly for celebrating. (I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out.)

Anne Blankman: This will probably sound terrible, but I can’t remember what I did to celebrate–my family and I probably went out to dinner. What I remember best is the moment my agent called to tell me about the book offer. After I hung up, I told the good news to my then-three-year-old daughter. She had no idea what was going, but she could tell it was good, so she started jumping around the room, cheering, “Party for Mommy!” It was so cute.

Bethany Crandell: As soon as I regained consciousness, I took my family to Disneyland for the weekend. Nothing says celebration like standing in never-ending lines with irritable children.

Spring Fling Tour Schedule:
May 12–Bethany Crandell at Adventures of a Book Junkie
May 13–Anne Blankman at Read My Breath Away
May 14–Kristi Helvig at my blog right here :)
May 15–Amy Rolland at Read. Sleep.Repeat

Spring Fling Twitter Party Info:
The twitter party will be held on May 15 with the hashtag #YASpringFling. 8:30 PM EST to 9:30 PM EST. There will be prizes donated by the spotlighted YA Valentines and the four Spring Formal authors will also be attending! We’ll also be handing out virtual cookies, of course!

Kristi Helvig will be at the Denver Comic Con June 13-15th along with William Shatner, Adam West, LaVar Burton, Johnathan Frakes, and Michael Dorn! It will be held at the Denver Convention Center.

Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. She muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog and Twitter. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs. Grab a copy of BURN OUT on Amazon, Indiebound, or Barnes & Noble.

3 Comments on Q & A with Kristi Helvig, author of YA novel Burn Out, last added: 5/16/2014
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13. Win a copy of STAINED…

and other new YA books at a contest over at Adventures In YA Publishing. You have 27 more days to enter. :)

The books you can win are:
These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar
Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae
The Eighth Guardian by Meredith McCardel
Killing Ruby Rose by Jessie Humphries
The Eighth Guardian by Meredith McCardel
Stained by Cheryl Rainfield (me). :)


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14. #WeNeedDiverseBooks because….






I believe so strongly that we need diversity in books. I hope you do, too.

Join in the discussion through the Twitter Chat on May 2nd at 2pm (EST) using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

There are a ton of YA and kidlit authors, industry professionals, and readers taking part in this. I hope you’ll check out some of the books. There are so many diverse, important books that can help bring greater empathy to our world.

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15. If you’re stressed, or in distress or crisis, see this fantastic article by Toronto psychotherapist Jo-Anne Beggs

for some concrete techniques to help you get through–without doing anything to make it worse. These are techniques that actually help!

And if you’re looking for a therapist in Toronto or Mississauga, I highly recommend her! She’s one of the most compassionate, warm-hearted, good people I know, and she’s got a ton of skill and experience.

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16. Writing Heals: My Poem for Poem In Your Pocket Day

Silvia Sala / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When I don’t write
words get stuck in my throat,
tightening my muscles.
They curl up in my lungs
Making it hard to breathe
a slow, painful strangulation
sucking the life out of me.
Silence does that.

I had so many years of terrified silence
So many years of threats
to my life
Saw so many people in pain
and fear
the way I was
with no way to know
that they weren’t alone.

So now when my words
uncoil on the page,
become books that reach others
and I hear back how grateful they are
My throat loosens
My breath eases
My heart feels full,
And healing happens.

© Cheryl Rainfield, April 2014

4 Comments on Writing Heals: My Poem for Poem In Your Pocket Day, last added: 4/24/2014
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17. Enter to win an audiobook copy of STAINED today only (9 hours left)

Enter to win a downloadable audiobook copy of STAINED (by me) today only (9 hours left!) on the lovely Jennifer Fischetto’s blog.

You may want to check in every day for the rest of the month to win other YA books as well.

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18. Such an honor to be recognized…in Writer’s Digest Magazine!

writers-digest-may-june-2014I’m so thrilled to hear that Writer’s Digest Magazine (in the May/June issue) gave me A+ for social media for teens!(beaming and beaming) What an honor, and such a good feeling!

And Debbie Ohi’s (a fellow Toronto writer, illustrator, and friend) website is in the top 101 websites again (and so well deserved).

Thank you so much to Maureen L McGowan for letting me know!

I get a digital subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine, but I don’t have the May/June issue yet. And I so prefer paper magazines any way; they’re so much easier to read, what with the sidebars and such. I have to go buy myself a print copy! (grinning)

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19. Happy International Women’s Day. Celebrate YOU and The Women You Love

I love International Women’s Day (IWD). I think it’s important to celebrate women–ourselves, the strong girls and women in our lives who we love, and the women we admire and know from afar–especially while we live in a sexist and oppressive society. (Think we don’t need IWD? Check out this article.)

We are making a difference together towards a kinder, more compassionate, more equal world. Sometimes the changes feel so very slow…but they are happening. I think of how social workers, police officers, and teachers are more sensitized and aware of child abuse in the home now–far more than they were when I was a child and teen. Of how women are now in some occupations that they never could get into before–even if we’re often still struggling to get equal pay. LGBT rights are increasingly growing in the world, and so is an awareness that oppression of any kind is not okay. There is a lot of cause for hope and celebration, even as we continue to fight for a better world.

dancing under the rainbow
Mara ~earth light~ / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Even if we’re “just” putting greater compassion and kindness into the world through our everyday interactions with others, we are making positive change. We are helping the world be a kinder place. And that takes goodness and strength, especially when we’ve been faced with oppression or adversity ourselves.

So I hope you take today to celebrate yourself–all the good you put into the world–as well as the women you know and love. We matter. And we are making a difference together.

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20. Guest Post by Maria E. Andreu, YA Author of THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY and book giveaway

Today Maria E. Andreu, author of YA novel The Secret Side of Empty, talks with us about secrets, shame, and writing our truths. I hope you’ll enjoy this powerful, inspiring post. I did.

Leave a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of The Secret Side of Empty; it sounds like a fascinating book. (US residents only.)

Where the Light Enters

by Maria E. Andreu, author of The Secret Side of Empty

The wound is the place where the light enters you – Rumi

maria_authorphoto-500I’ve had many wounds. That’s why I was so excited when I found out Cheryl would allow me to do a guest post here on her blog. I figured anyone who’s written a book called SCARS understands about wounds, light and what comes after. There are many of us, and we form a sisterhood of sorts, crisscrossing ourselves and the world in search of light we can learn to stand.

I grew up illegal. Illegal isn’t the “correct” word for it anymore, but it’s the word that describes how I felt. I snuck across the Mexican border with my mother at the age of eight. That’s the word my parents would use when I’d hear them whispering about it in the other room. “Somos ilegales,” they would say, as a preface to some other things that bound us. “We’re illegal so we can’t buy a house.” “We’re illegal so she can’t go to public school.” It was a stain, an identity. It was what I was. And I was ashamed.

I didn’t do anything to earn this brand, but I didn’t know that at eight years old. I didn’t know it at fifteen either. I didn’t know it until well past thirty, after I’d spent a third of my life hiding, measuring myself against others and coming up short. The thing that branded me was something that had been decided for me way before I had reached the age of consent or even understanding. But still it made me so desperately wrong. It was my darkest secret, one that not even my best friend knew. Then I got my papers through an amnesty when I was eighteen years old. I did everything I could do bury that part of my past.

maria-secret-side-of-empty But the light is wily. It found me one day as I drove my late-model German sedan on my way from one part of my shiny, put-on life to another. It came in the form of a hate-spewing talk radio guy saying that if we let “these immigrants” stay, they will destroy our country. He made me so furious, talking about “the fact” that immigrants bring diseases and live off the government. In that moment I realized that by keeping quiet I was aiding and abetting him in making his case.

So I began to speak. And write. I had spent a lifetime wishing to be a writer but hadn’t been able to connect somehow. Stories had gotten rejected. Agents had passed on my work. It was because I hadn’t been writing as my whole self, I realized. When I wrote my novel, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, about an undocumented immigrant high school senior, I got the first agent I queried, who sold my book in the first round of submissions with multiple offers. The irony was sweet. My broken places had let the light I had most wanted into my life.

So we are scarred, all of us. And we are still wounded, sometimes, still afraid. But when we speak with voices clear and true, we heal a little, and turn our faces to the light. And we shine.

1 Comments on Guest Post by Maria E. Andreu, YA Author of THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY and book giveaway, last added: 3/11/2014
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21. I am honored that YA author Jennifer Brown called me a hero and a woman author she admires

I think it’s so easy as a writer to get insecure. To start off with, we’re creative people in a confining world. We’re usually different in some way (who isn’t?), and many of us have had painful experiences or painful childhood. And there’s a lot of rejections in the world of writing, even after you’re published. Rejections for manuscripts, for blurbs for your books, the edits and re-edits of a manuscript even after acceptance for publication, and then the occasional painful negative reviews that don’t get your work. All part of the work and life of being a writer–but they can wear on us. And since we can put so much of ourselves into our work–I know I do–it’s hard not to have it affect your self-esteem.

Words, Post-Election.
e_walk / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

I do have the added layer of being an abuse and torture survivor, and being taught to hang on to the negative. I’m trying hard to turn that around and hold on to the positive, but it’s hard for me to do. So when something like this happens–when a writer whose work I love and admire, who speaks out with a strong voice, says she admires me and thinks I’m a hero for what I write and how I reach people? It’s a huge gift, one that I hold close to me. Thank you Jennifer! (beaming)

I love Jennifer Brown’s books (Hate List, Bitter End, Perfect Escape, Thousand Words, Torn Away). They’ve got strong girl heroes who go through painful experiences and find hope. If you like my books, you will probably like Jennifer’s, and vice versa.

I believe that #YASaves. I know it does; I couldn’t have survived my child- and teenhood without the books I devoured, looking for something to tell me I wasn’t alone, wasn’t crazy, that things would get better–and I know it from the reader letters I get telling me that my books helped readers not kill themselves, talk to someone for the first time about their own pain, get help, stop cutting, feel like they can survive what they have to survive…. Hearing such from other people–readers and writers–is a gift of strength and love that I hold on to when things feel too hard. If you love someone–a friend, a writer, a parent–never hesitate to tell them. Words are powerful, and they can heal.

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22. I will be speaking this Thursday at York University on Writing LGBT Characters in YA Literature

I’m honored to be speaking to Professor Cheryl Cowdy’s class this Thursday on writing LGBTQ characters in YA fiction. It’s really important to me to have a queer character in every book I write, whether it be the main character, like Kendra in SCARS, or a secondary character, like Caitlyn’s best friend Rachel in HUNTED, or Sarah’s friend Charlene in STAINED who comes out, or the walk-on characters in the older lesbian couple who help save Sarah after she first escapes. I think having queer characters who are queer where that’s not the issue in the book, where it’s not a coming out story, is really important; it helps normalize queer characters, helps reduce homophobia and increase acceptance, helps LGBT people feel less alone. We all need positive reflections of ourselves in books and movies; to not have that is to feel invisible. So, just as it’s important to me to have queer characters in every book, I try to also put people of color in every book (whether it’s a love interest or a walk-on character), and I put survivors of trauma or oppression in every book (it’s such a part of who I am). I’m sure over time I will continue to expand this.

I think LGBT people deserve to have stories where queer characters are the hero of that story–whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, suspense and thriller, or a quiet story–heroes that they can identify with and even look up to. And I think that having that will help everyone, not just the LGBT community. Because LGBT people are a part of this world, and we all need to live in harmony, accepting and appreciating each other. And i believe that books are a powerful part of change, acceptance, and greater compassion.

I will be talking about this, and other issues with LGBT characters in YA fiction, as well as answering questions from the class on Thursday. I’m looking forward to it.

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23. Guest Post on Human Trafficking: Jasmine of Berlin by author S. Bergstrom

Today author S. Bergstrom talks to us about human trafficking–an inhumane practice that happens all too often–as well as his new book The Cruelty. Human trafficking is very close to what I went through myself as a child and teen through the cult, so it really affects me. No human should be treated this way. I’m very glad S. Bergstrom is speaking out, and helping people become more aware through his book. I’m glad to be part of his tour. I hope you are moved by his post, as I was.

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Jasmine of Berlin
by S. Bergstrom, author of The Cruelty.

The girl wears her hair in schoolgirl braids tied with pink ribbon. An attempt, I suppose, to look even younger than her seventeen or eighteen years. Despite it being a brutally cold Berlin night in February 2012, she wears a very short skirt and I can see bruises the color of eggplant on her bare legs.

After scanning the bar for a few seconds, the girl takes a seat next to me. The bartender gives her a look and doesn’t bother asking if she wants anything to drink. She is, evidently, known here. Jasmine is how she introduces herself, and that’s what I call her for the remainder of the ten second conversation that follows. If possible, her German is more basic than mine, and filled with enough Russian vowels and rolled r’s that I have to assume she’s from one of the former Soviet Republics.

“Why you here alone?” she asks.

“Waiting on a friend,” I answer. “Why are you here alone, Jasmine?”

She looks at me in a way that means I’m impossibly stupid or impossibly cruel for making her say it out loud. “Sex for money,” she says. “Do you want? Very cheap.”

I tell her no and reiterate that I’m waiting for a friend. She gets up without another word and approaches two middle-aged business men drinking at the other end of the bar. No more than a minute passes before she leaves with one of them, the man’s arm around her waist.

This is not a remarkable story. I’m not even sure I mentioned to the friend who came in a few minutes later. To men especially, it’s all pretty familiar. Travel enough by yourself and approaches such as these happen too often to count. It happens not just in Europe, of course, but in North America, too. Miami. New York. Toronto. Topeka. But it’s precisely because it’s unremarkable and universal that it’s so tragic.

Jasmine—or Anna, or Olga, or Sveta, or whatever her real name is—did not end up in Berlin by accident. If you travel extensively in this part of the world, you know it’s not too far a logical leap to guess at the story that came before her arrival in Germany’s capital. Jasmine was, very likely—in fact, almost certainly—the victim of human trafficking.

Trafficking in human beings for both sex and labor happens everywhere, but it’s most obvious in places like Berlin where the impoverished East borders the relatively more prosperous West. Class distinctions there are sharp and it’s a mecca for immigrants, mainly from Turkey, but from former Soviet satellite states, too. It’s these latter countries—particularly the poorest of the poor, such as Moldova—that are the epicenters of human trafficking in Europe.

In such countries there is little industry or infrastructure. But what these places do have in abundance is young people on whom human traffickers prey by promising them lucrative, easy work abroad. It often begins with the offer of a waitressing gig in Dubai, or modeling job in Paris. Such connections are often made through brokers who advance sums of money to the young woman’s family. Sometimes it’s even a relative—an uncle or cousin abroad who’s made arrangements with his acquaintances there.

What happens next varies in specifics, but typically ends the same way. Upon arriving in a new country, the victim’s passport is confiscated and the true nature of the work she’ll be doing is finally disclosed. Leaving is impossible without her passport, and threats to quit are countered by threats to either her life, or the lives of her family back home. There is also the issue of spurious “debt,” which the victim has accrued both through the advance often paid to her family, and the purported costs of transport, lodging, and other “fees” such as bribes to officials for work visas which almost never materialize. This debt, along with the interest it accrues, is typically so inflated that there is no realistic way for the women to repay it.

Those brave enough to escape this life often find themselves victimized again by the legal system in their host country. While tremendous gains have been made in much of Europe in recognizing these women as victims rather than criminals, this is not the case in many Middle Eastern or Asian countries. Branded as criminals both for the work they performed and their lack of documentation, the victims of human trafficking often face prison sentences and further abuse at the hands of the police.

The idea of slavery is, today, almost universally repellent. But then, so is war. So is starvation. Yet these things go on anyway. Some time ago, when I approached a magazine to write an article about sex trafficking, the editor’s face contorted in visible disgust. “No one wants to read about that,” she said. I explained to her that according to the United Nations, there were more human beings enslaved in the 21st Century than there were at the height of the Atlantic slave trade. She only shrugged. “My readers can’t do anything about it,” she said.

Book CoverMostly, that editor is right. Human trafficking, whether for sex or labor, is a decentralized problem. There is no single nation from which the women come, and no single nation that is their destination. Thankfully, through the attention of the UN and many NGOs, reforms are taking place worldwide that enact tougher penalties for the traffickers themselves while providing support for the victims. We can only encourage the spread and strict enforcement of these laws, all the while raising awareness whenever possible and with whatever media is at hand. Is that enough? Will such reforms work? I don’t know. Neither does anyone.

I thought about Jasmine as I wrote my novel The Cruelty, where the woman I knew for all of ten seconds became Marina, guide and benefactor to my protagonist. It was a hopeful gesture, but ultimately a meaningless one. In the book, Marina survives. She defeats the man responsible for her bondage, triumphing over him. But in real life I’m not sure Jasmine fared so well.

SB-CUS. Bergstrom is a writer and traveler fascinated by the darker, unloved corners of world’s great cities. His books and articles on architecture and urbanism have been widely published in both the United States and Europe. The Cruelty is his first novel. He can be reached at sbergstrom.com or on Twitter @BergstromScott

When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. government refuses to help, 17-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the dark underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—Gwendolyn plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

You can find S. Bergstrom on:
Author Website
Virtual Tour Page

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24. Scrivener (a great tool for writers) on sale 50% off for only 6 more hours

I just bought Scrivener for Windows on sale for $20 on AppSumo!! (It’s normally $40 USD. They also have it for Mac on sale for the same price.) I’ve heard so many other writers I trust rave about Scrivener, but I was on the fence; I like Word, and I have some separate programs that do some of the things Scrivener does. But I love the idea of all my material for a novel in one place, and also some of the other things Scrivener lets you do (see your novel in outline quickly, move chapters around easily, etc etc).

The sale price pulled me in. There’s about 6 hours left to the sale if you’re interested. I wanted to let everyone know, because I’ve been looking for Scrivener to go on sale for years, and I’ve never seen it on sale except for NaNoMo writers (which I don’t do).

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25. YA author Cheryl Rainfield on Writing LGBTQ Characters In YA Fiction

I spoke at York University the other day on writing LGBTQ characters in YA lit. It was a fantastic class, and I Loved hearing from so many of the students afterwards about how I am their new role model, hero, and inspiration! (beaming) I focused on SCARS because that is the book of mine that they all read for their class. Here are the main points about writing LGBTQ characters in YA lit that I shared.

I’m queer. I felt so alone and in so much pain and shame growing up, about so many things—-being queer, the abuse and torture I was living through, and the way I coped with it (self harm). I think pain gets so much worse when we feel alone or like we’re the only one who’s been through something. So it’s really important to me to put queer characters in all my books, whether they’re the main character like Kendra in SCARS, or whether they’re a secondary character, like Rachel (Caitlyn’s best friend) in HUNTED, or a walk-on character, like Charlene, Sarah’s friend, who comes out in STAINED, or the older lesbian couple who help save Sarah when she first escapes. I think having LGBTQ characters in books as regular characters who just happen to be queer, who are not focused on coming out, helps reduce homophobia, normalize being gay, increase acceptance, and help people who are queer feel less alone when they see themselves reflected. We all need positive reflections of ourselves in books. It’s similar to me putting people of color in every book–it’s the world we live in. And it’s important to me to also include survivors of various abuse, trauma, and oppression, people with mental health issues or ways of coping with trauma, and strong-girl characters in my books, since I think those are all under-represented, and they’re things that have affected me and I care about them deeply. I think books are powerful ways to increase compassion, acceptance, understanding. It’s also just part of our real world that we live in. I hope more and more authors (and publishers) will continue to include LGBTQ characters, people of color, strong-girl characters, and survivors in their stories.

I made Kendra in SCARS so sure of her sexuality, of liking other girls, because I think many people who are queer often know that they are at a young age, just as many people who are heterosexual know at a young age that they are. Heterosexual people don’t usually (if ever) question why they’re heterosexual or when they became heterosexual. Heterosexuality is rewarded, encouraged, and expected in our society. I think the only reason that some queer people question their sexuality is the strong homophobia in our society–that if we are out we can get kicked out of our families, accosted on the street, bullied, abused, beaten up, raped, even murdered for who we love. I knew at a young age that I was queer, but I didn’t have the words for it (I was kept very isolated, and I never heard anyone talk about being queer). I remember saying repeatedly when I was maybe five or six and older that I would never marry. I meant that as I would never be with a man, because when I was a child lesbians and gay men didn’t have the right to marry, the way we do now in Canada. It wasn’t until I was a young teen–maybe thirteen or fourteen or so–that I found my first reflection of who I was in The Toronto Women’s Bookstore–a feminist bookstore that has sadly since closed–when I came across a record by Alix Dobkin called “Living With Lesbians.” I felt so ashamed buying the record, having to show the woman at the checkout what I was buying–but also so relieved and excited. Someone else had gone through what I was going through, and was okay. I wasn’t alone.

Photo by reader

Photo by Ashlee

I chose to make Kendra queer and have it just be normal for her because I wanted to help LGBTQ readers feel less alone, and i wanted to reduce homophobia for heterosexual readers and encourage greater acceptance. I especially didn’t want SCARS to be a coming out book; I wanted to make it easier for people who weren’t queer to see it as normal, as just part of our world, though I did have the mother have some problems with Kendra being queer because that is also realistic. Also, for a while almost every LGBTQ book or movie I picked up seemed to be a coming out story, as if that’s the only story there can be with a queer character, our difference. We deserve more than that; we deserve to have queer characters be the heroes of any story—-a fantasy, sci-fi, suspense or thriller, mystery, romance, or coming of age story–where they have strengths and weaknesses that aren’t about those characters being queer. As long as there is homophobia and hate in this world, we still need coming out stories. We need to know we’re not alone in our struggles and pain as we fight against hate. But coming out stories shouldn’t be the ONLY stories that we find about LGBTQ people.

I’ve mostly had acceptance or support from the publishing industry about my queer characters, BUT I did have some pushback recently, with a book I don’t yet have a contract for. The main character is queer, just like Kendra in SCARS, and I was asked by a publishing industry person if I would make my character straight–with no explanation about why. I’m assuming the rationale was that it will sell better if it’s a heterosexual main character. I have not changed the sexuality of my character; it’s important to me to have some queer main characters, and it is part of who my character is in the story. I can’t see a publishing industry person asking me to make my heterosexual main character queer. I think it’s just part of the homophobic society we live in.

Some readers ask me if I or Kendra are queer because of being sexually abused. My response to that is: No. If every girl or woman (or boy) who was sexually abused or raped became queer, then 1 in 3 women would be queer, and 1 in 6 boys. And we know that isn’t so. Also, personally, I had both male and female rapists, and having female rapists didn’t stop me from being attracted to women. Being raped or sexually abused doesn’t make you queer.

My books are my way to make a positive, healing difference in this world, and my being a writer who many people read also allows me to have a wider audience for things like my It Gets Better video. It’s so important to me to help support the LGBTQ community, survivors of abuse and rape, bullying, people who’ve used self-harm or attempted suicide, people who’ve been through oppression or trauma. Those are all things I know from the inside out; so painful. We all need support.

And, though I only saw this great video today by the Gay Women’s Channel and didn’t include it in my talk, I think it demonstrates what I’m talking about–the importance of normalizing being queer, of breaking through homophobia and seeing each other as people, not as other. For this video, the Gay Women’s Channel got some mildly homophobic volunteers to meet with gay people and have a safe, platonic hug and mini discussions. I love seeing change happen, and I think talking helps it happen–face-to-face, through books and videos and movies, and through the net. Each of us can make a difference. Let’s keep making positive change happen.

10 Comments on YA author Cheryl Rainfield on Writing LGBTQ Characters In YA Fiction, last added: 3/23/2014
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