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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Goodreads
Virtual Tour Page

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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. Listen to my radio interview on Matters of the MInd – on being an incest and torture survivor, why I write the books I do, and what’s most rewarding for me.

listenUp-talkradio

Yesterday I was interviewed on Matters of The Mind by Dr. Peter Sacco and Todd Miller on ListenUpTalk. I talked honestly about being an incest and torture survivor and some of the effects (including, for me, self-harm, PTSD, dissociation, depression), why I write–and write the books I do, what’s most rewarding for me in the publishing process, and my books SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED.

I hope you’ll listen! You can any time. Just click through and play.

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10. Guest Post. Humor and Hurt: We All Have Our Demons by YA author Deb Vanasse

Today YA author Deb Vanasse joins us to talk about her and Gail Giles’ new book, and the way they both drew on their own experiences and emotions to write it–the way I think most writers do. I respect and love Deb and Gail, and I love Deb’s honesty here, so I’m happy to have her share with us today. Take it away, Deb!


Humor and Hurt: We All Have Our Demons

deb vanasse - gail and debWhen YA novelist Gail Giles suggested we team up to write a part funny, part serious series about a boy band that accidentally invites the devil to help them get famous, I wasn’t sure what to think. After more than twenty years, I’d just left an evangelical church, and I knew plenty of people who believed that demons were no laughing matter and that kids shouldn’t read about them.

But I trusted Gail. To the deepest, darkest stories (Shattering Glass, What Happened to Cass McBride, Dark Song), she brings the right mix of humor and hope. So we plunged in. Though menacing, our demon turned out not quite as you might expect. Neither did the devil, once our boys lure him up top.

After she finished the book, one of our early readers wrote, “My first impression was, how on earth do you think of these tales? Magic tricks, conjuring up the devil, dialogues between 13 year old boys–you must have a different part of your brain at work.”

Maybe our brains are a little, um, weird. But mostly what we do—what all writers do in one way or another—is grant ourselves access to the places where we feel most vulnerable, and write from there.

So when you read in our book No Returns about Pod’s deepest longing, to find his mother who disappeared one Halloween night, it won’t surprise you to learn that my own mother disappeared for thirteen years. And when you see Manny’s deeply conflicted feelings about religion and how he wants to be accepted, you’ll know I’ve been there, too. Becca with her clipboard, a little bossy for her own good—guilty as charged. Flaco mind-melded with his abuelo¬—that was me, too, certain my grandparents understood me when no one else did.

Gail brought her own longings and conflicts and memories to the story, some more conscious than others. She also brought humor, which she does like nobody’s business.

Our demons took shape. A little scary, yes. But we found places to laugh out loud. The demons didn’t go away—how could we write if they did?—but we knew who had the upper hand.



Gail Giles is the author of six young adult novels. Her debut novel, Shattering Glass, was an ALA Best of the Best Book, a Book Sense 76 selection, and a Booklist Top 10 Mystery for Youth selection. Her second, Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters, was an ALA Top 10 Quick pick and a Book Sense 76 selection.

Deb Vanasse is the author of more than a dozen books for readers of all ages. Her debut novel, A Distant Enemy, was a Junior Literary Guild selection and is featured in Best Books for Young Readers, as was Out of the Wilderness. Follow her at www.debvanasse.com and www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.

5 Comments on Guest Post. Humor and Hurt: We All Have Our Demons by YA author Deb Vanasse, last added: 2/27/2014
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11. In Toronto? Come hear me speak about STAINED, get a signed copy, and have a chat with me.


I’m speaking about STAINED, strong girls, and many ways we’re all strong at du Cafe (885 O’Connor Dr., east end Toronto) on Saturday, Jan 18th from 1-3pm. I’ll do a reading from STAINED as well. You can get signed copies of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED. Come see me and talk with me, have some yummy cookies, and warm up inside. Hope to see you there!

(Go to Coxwell Station, take the 70A bus to O’Connor and Garden Cres.)

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12. My Favorite YA Fantasy and Dystopian Books I’ve Recently Read, Loved, and Highly Recommend. Put these on your to-read list!

All of these books are new favorites of mine; they completely sucked me into their worlds, made me love their characters and root for them. All of them immediately made me want to pick up their sequels or other books by the same author. I highly recommend them all!

Insignia by SJ Kincaid

Acne-ridden Tom moves from casino to casino with his gambling father where he excels at virtual-reality gaming, but rarely goes to school…until a general recruits him for the army in WWIII. It’s his chance to “be” somebody…but it means letting them implant a computer into his brain. I rooted from Tom right from the beginning, though sometimes I wanted to shake him. I loved the details, the virtual reality and the corporation-run world; it all felt frighteningly real and believable. A thrilling dystopian/sci-fi novel that made me think of the Ender Games, I was so drawn into this book I didn’t want to put it down, but didn’t want to finish it because then it would be over. :)

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and what she writes in her diary often comes true. When she befriends an enchanted frog in the wood, eventually her kiss turns him back into a man… This is a feel-good, fairy tale fantasy with a strong-girl character who has magic in a world where fairy tales keep blending together and magic happens, including fairy godmothers, magic beanstalks, bewitched frogs, and more. There is so much good feeling in this book; it’s a comforting, enjoyable read, while still giving a lot of depth. I cared a lot about Sunday and her happiness, and was happy that she found love and strength. Enchanted is beautifully written and pulled me completely into the story as I rooted for Sunday and Grumbold. Some triggers for RA survivors but a lot of good feeling, too. I couldn’t stop reading. :)

Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

Magpie WindWitch, a faerie who’s also the granddaughter of the West Wind, tracks down demons and recaptures them, along with her faithful band of crow friends. When one of the most powerful devils is unleashed on the world, Magpie needs all her skills, talents, and friends to put the world back to right and keep it from unravelling. I LOVED this book–loved Magpie’s strength and courage and tenacity and goodness, loved the other characters, too, and the way they interacted, loved the richness of the story and the unique forms of magic such as the way Magpie and others can weave things into being and help keep the world together. Though it started slowly for me, once I got into it I couldn’t put it down, and I cared intensely about Magpie and her happiness. I loved this book so much that I immediately wanted the sequel, and was so disappointed to find that it’s not only not available in ebook (I love instant purchases when I’m into an author), but it’s also out of print and expensive to buy used. I will be buying the sequel any way. I could NOT put BlackBringer down, and I loved it so much I didn’t want the book to end.

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Tamsin’s family are all powerful witches, and though it was foretold that Tamsin would be the most powerful among them, she is the only one without powers. Tamsin feels out of place in her family, and out of place with regular people–always an outsider. But when a stranger mistakes her for her powerful sister Rowena and asks her to magically find something, everything changes. Suspenseful, intriguing, emotional, and full of magic, this story completely sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go. I rooted for Tamsin throughout, loved Tamsin embracing her talent and strength and the relationship that blossomed, and thrilled at her being the hero.

Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

I love ghost stories when they’re well done, and this one totally drew me in and had me wanting more! When Jeff attends a new school, he quickly discovers that he’s the only one who can see Kimberlee–a selfish girl who died the year before. Kimberlee has been hanging around the school, bored, unable to interact with anyone or move on because she has so much to put right. So many people she hurt by stealing so much from them. Jeff agrees to help–and it changes them both. This was an intriguing, compelling story that pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. I loved Jeff, and loved his interactions with annoying Kimberlee who I came to like more as she changed. I rooted for both of them–and I didn’t want to put the book down until I was done.

Erasing Time by CJ Hill

Twins Sheridan and Taylor are transported four hundred years into the future–a future where people live in domed cities where people wear their popularity ratings and the government keeps track of their every move–and the twins can’t see a way back. The twins, along with a young scientist Echo, have to work together to find a way to outwit the government and make things better. This was a suspenseful, compelling read. I loved the relationships, the revelations, the writing. I cared so much about the characters and wanted everything to work out. Highly recommended.

Storm (Elemental) by Brigid Kemmerer

This book made me gobble up the entire Elemental series. Becca’s ex is spreading horrible rumours about her, and it’s affecting her happiness and her relationships. Then she intervenes when Chris Merrick is being attacked in the school parking lot–and suddenly she’s involved in something a lot bigger; Chris and his brothers are targeted because they not only have paranormal powers–being able to control the elements–they are some of the most powerful. Becca has to figure out who to trust and what is going on. I loved Becca immediately, and I loved Chris over time. I worried for both characters and was completely sucked into the suspenseful, thrilling story and the entire series.

If you haven’t read any of these books yet and you love fantasy or magic or dystopian, go check them out! Seriously–do not miss these. I LOVED them all.

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13. If you’re wondering what all my posts on suicide and staying alive and well were about…

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you may have been wondering what all my tweets and posts on suicide and staying alive and well were about yesterday. Well-known YA author Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Be More Chill, Teen Angst? Naaah . . .) who wrote about depression and was an inspiration for many teens, killed himself Thursday. I think the YA writing world is rocked by this. I am. I’m finding it incredibly painful and sad and heartbreaking. I always find hearing about anyone who’s killed themselves very painful, and also triggering but especially when it’s someone who’s put good into the world. Who’s tried to make a positive difference. Who had a good heart.

You may know that I struggle with severe depression myself (a direct result of the abuse and torture I survived). I also have PTSD, dissociation, anxiety, and other direct effects from the abuse, and I’ve dealt with suicide and thoughts of it for most of my life–again, a direct result from the abuse and torture I survived, and some of it actually taught to me (cult teaches victims through torture and mind control to kill themselves or want to kill themselves if they tell or escape–and I did both. Though I would have wanted to kill myself because of the torture, even if they hadn’t taught me to want that.) I had years where I wanted to die–every day and night of my life–because of the torture and abuse I was living, because it felt like there was no hope and no other way to end the pain, because everything felt too hard all the time. And sometimes I can still go there when things are really rough.

But while I’ve struggled with all of that, and sometimes it feels very hard, I also fight and keep fighting to stay alive and stay healthy and safe. I know how much killing or hurting myself would hurt, even devastate the people (and animal) I love and who love me. I know how much it would sadden and hurt my readers, and take away their hope. I know how it would effect even people that “just” like me and know me less deeply–just the way it would hurt me to hear about someone good dying like Ned. It’s a loss to the world. No more books that reach readers and make a difference with his exact voice and insights. No more readers being able to meet him and talk with him and tell him what an inspiration he is for talking about something that they, too, find painful.

No matter who you are or what your life has been like, I hope you can always feel the way you’re connected to other people, the way you matter, the way what you do effects them. I hope you always know that you matter, that you deserve kindness and compassion and happiness, and even if it feels hard to find at the moment, you will find it again and there will be more. If you struggle with depression or panic or anxiety, if you have PTSD or dissociation or trauma, if you’ve been sexually abused or tortured, if you’ve thought of suicide, if sometimes everything feels too hard and too much–I’ve been there. I understand. And I want to remind you–it gets better. It really, really does. Keep reaching out for support when you need it. Remember to make use of crisis lines. There are always people who care. And please read my post on not killing yourself.

Most of all–please, please take gentle good care of yourself. Treat yourself the way you treat someone you dearly love. And know that even if things are hard right now they will get better. You just have to hang on and be here to see that happen.

If you need to, please read my post on not killing yourself, contact a crisis line, and remember that you matter and you make a difference in this world just by being alive.

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14. Guest Post by Indie YA Author Jasmine Denton: Rising From The Damage

Today Jasmine Denton, Indie YA author of From The Damage series, joins us with a powerful, honest post about her past, including self-harm. Thank you for sharing this, Jasmine!


Rising From The Damage

jasmine-denton-author-photo-300“You have to be like the phoenix,” my mother said to me once. I was seventeen years old and going through a hellish year. Some nasty rumors and hardships at school had pushed me to tears yet again, and I’d been crying in my room for what felt like hours. “You know what the phoenix does, don’t you?”

I just kind of shrugged, stuffed my hands in the pocket of my hoodie and avoided her gaze. Back then, I never looked anybody in the eye. I was too afraid they would see my pain, the suffering I tried so hard to hide.

But my mom was stubborn and determined to get through to me. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and squeezed tight. “The phoenix rises from the ashes,” she whispered. “That’s what you have to do, Jazzi. You have to rise from your own ashes and fly.”

At the time, it seemed impossible to do. I was surrounded by so many ashes. It seemed like from the time I became a teenager, my life was a giant wildfire. The flames had consumed everything. I’d been raised by lesbians in the bible belt, which meant a life of secrecy, ridicule and even a little shame. Though not a lot of people knew about my home life, I lived in fear of what would happen if people found out. I would listen to what people said about ‘gays’ and feel outraged, but could do or say nothing about it. All I’d ever wanted was to feel normal, be normal. But going to a church finally led my parents split up. They felt their relationship wasn’t ‘right’. At just 14, this was hard to hear and even harder to watch. It would be years before I realized this was, for all intents and purposes, a divorce. And like most divorces, it completely rocked my world. That ‘normal life’ I’d always wanted was now mine, but it’d come with a terrible cost.

Before I could fully recover from this loss, I lost my grandfather, the only father I’d really ever had, to cancer just short of my sixteenth birthday. We moved in to take care of him, and I was holding his hand when he died. Watching the light go out in his eyes, feeling the way his hand went limp in mine, would haunt me for a very long time. What was even harder was seeing the way my grandmother coped with the loss by immediately trying to replace him with other men. It filled me with anger and resentment toward a woman I’d always gotten along with before. Now, I hated her, despised her and felt like she’d betrayed us. Happy sweet sixteen.

For years, I’d relied on my twin sister’s light and love to get me through, but ever since a school field trip she’d been acting different. Her light shone a little dimmer, and Genna, always the extrovert was now secretive and shy, and anxiety led her to eventually quit school altogether. Back then, I was too caught up in my own drama and pain to realize there was something seriously wrong, and I’m ashamed to say I let her suffer alone.

I would wander the hallways, hiding behind my dark eye makeup and my hoodies, pretending I didn’t give a damn about what was going on around me when the truth was all I wanted to do was belong. When someone finally had the nerve to push past the barriers I’d put up all around me, I was so grateful for the attention that I never wanted to let him go, even though he ended up being dark, sometimes scary and very bad for me. This relationship lasted well through high school and into my early twenties.

Throughout those years of pain, I had only one outlet. Self-injury. It may not have made sense to others, but it made sense to me. I couldn’t trust anyone enough to let them see how much I was hurting, and sometime I hurt so much I thought I was going to explode. Cutting helped me release the tension, not only by the pain of the cut, but by the blood that followed. Once I saw that blood, it was like I could finally breathe again and that weight on my heart became just a little lighter. But with this temporary relief—which I used only as an emergency release, when I just couldn’t take it anymore—I got more than I bargained for. I needed to see that blood more and more often, and soon that wasn’t good enough. I took matches to school for quick relief, and when things became too tough to face, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and burn myself. I didn’t realize I would be leaving scars that would last so long, or that the road would turn so dark. Even today, you can still see a few of those burns on my arm. Though most of those scars have faded to where you can barely see them, I still bear one painfully obvious cut. It was so deep that I needed stitches, but I refused to go to the doctor. I was too ashamed.

jasmine-denton-tattoo-and-scars-photoIt took years of hard work, and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t making any progress, but eventually I overcame this difficult period of my life. I held on to my mom’s advice and tried to be like the phoenix. I even got a tattoo of a phoenix as a constant reminder to always hope for something better, and then create that something better. I switched the cutting habit out for a writing one, and with my stories I created teenagers who were just like me. Suffering, but finding light at the end of the tunnel.

When people ask me why I choose to write for teens, this time of my life always comes to mind. For what was supposed to be the best years of my life, I think I got pretty jipped, and I know others have too. I guess the concept is simple really. You could stand right behind somebody in the lunch line, or sit next to them in class, or like my sister and me, share the same bedroom and not have a clue about the struggles they face. As a teenager, you live in this little bubble filled with things that are important to you, that affect you and seeing things from someone else’s point of view just isn’t a priority. Eventually, life pops your bubble and tough lessons allow you to see the bigger picture.

One of my biggest goals in life is to help the teenagers who were like me and could barely get out of bed, let alone face their day. This is the reason my sister and I created our book series, From the Damage.

In From the Damage, several teens are brought together in a support group. Nobody really wants to be there and they have a difficult time opening up around each other. So their counselor pairs them up with a ‘sponsor’. She puts the cheerleader with the high school dropout, the jock with the school outcast, a girl with a perfect family is paired with an orphan, etc. Her experiment works; bonds and unlikely alliances form. By catching glimpses of the pain and suffering of their partners, the characters realize that everybody hurts, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

I never try to directly send messages through my work, and instead try to portray the lives of my characters in hopes it will strike a chord with somebody and help them, even just a little.

The series has grown so much more than I ever thought it would. The stories have evolved and continue to evolve, as each member in the group struggles on the path toward healing, as writing them continues to heal me.

In the latest release, Collateral Damage, a new girl comes onto the scene. Kendall is the wild child who refuses to be tamed, but underneath her dark exterior is a very wounded spirit. Collateral Damage is available for purchase here. I’ve also posted an excerpt on my blog.

jasmine-denton-banner

If you’d like to learn more about From the Damage, you can visit the series website. Be sure to look for the About the Characters section for an in-depth look at the characters.

You can purchase the first two books in the series for just .99 cents here and here.

I hope you will check the books out and spread the word about them to support this message of healing. And always remember to be like the phoenix. Rise from your ashes and fly. :)

About the Author:
Jasmine Denton is the author of several YA books, both paranormal and contemporary. She believes that books have the power to change the world and is trying to do that, one story at a time. You can find Jasmine on the web at these locations:
http://jasminedenton.webs.com
http://jasmineldenton.wordpress.com

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15. Healthy Yummy Wheat-Free Dog Biscuits Recipe For a Picky Eater – my little dog Petal

My little dog Petal is a sweetheart–so happy and friendly and so loving. She’s also a picky eater, and she has some food sensitivities, so I try to make sure she only has healthy food (I want her to live a good long time!), and doesn’t have anything that makes her itchy or not feel good, like wheat. But she LOVES treats (which, ahem, I may give her a little too much of, though she gets a lot of exercise, too). Petal’s birthday is coming up–she’ll be three on December 20th!–so I decided to try making my own biscuits for Petal as a treat. And they turned out beautifully!

dog-biscuits-for-Petal

My little picky eater (who prefers human food) stood there almost the entire time I was making them, looking up at me pleadingly with big eyes for a taste (I gave her just a tiny taste because there was raw egg in the batter), and then gobbled them down once they’d baked and cooled. I was SO surprised! I also tried them out on another very picky dog we know, and he also gobbled them down. So they’re a hit!

I made the recipe from this one by bakingobsession, but I modified it to fit Petal’s tastes. She doesn’t like many herbs, I didn’t think she’d like Brewer’s Yeast, and I also wanted to make sure there was protein in the biscuits (hence the egg, which I also saw in some other recipes). I used rice flour which is basically ground rice and good for doggie tummies, and ground up oats.

petal-taking-homemade-treat

So, here’s my Healthy Yummy Wheat-Free Dog Biscuits Recipe For a Picky Eater

Ingredients:
1 and 1/8 cup brown rice flour (plus more to sprinkle on and roll out the dough)
1/2 cup oats, finely ground (I just put them through the blender)
1/2 cup chicken stock (or beef stock) Low sodium is best because salt isn’t good for dogs.
1 egg
1 tbsp olive oil

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, stir together the rice flour and ground oats. In a measuring cup, combine the chicken stock, egg, and olive oil. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until combined. Add more brown rice flour if it’s too sticky. It should have a nice texture.

Dust the working surface with some rice flour, place some of the dough out, and sprinkle it with more rice flour (to keep it from sticking). Roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. Gather the scraps and reroll again, repeat until there’s no dough left.

Transfer the cookies onto the prepared baking sheet without leaving much space between them. Bake the cookies for about 17 to 20 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container.

Be ready for your dog to love them!

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16. I dream of a world…

I dream of a world
without bullying, rape, abuse,
Without homophobia, sexism, or racism.
No more murder or violence or people causing pain.

I dream of a world
with only compassion, love, and healing.
Where empathy and kindness come first.

I wish it was now.

-Cheryl Rainfield

Teardrop
From Eye To Pixel / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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17. I’m appearing at the Less Than Three conference in St Louis, Missouri this weekend because…

I think that it’s by speaking out about painful issues that we help bring healing for us all. I want there to be more kindness in the world, more compassion and understanding—and my way to do that is to speak out about painful issues and to write books that deal with those issues in an emotionally honest way.

STAINED_New-Cover-120I’ve been hated, abused, raped and tortured, bullied, had my life repeatedly threatened, and had people mistreat me because I’m queer. I’ve seen what people are like when they let hate twist them. And I know what it’s like to be in so much pain and feel so alone in that pain that I want to die. I want to lessen that pain for others if I can. And I want to increase compassion. I think one of the best ways to do that is through books. They help us get inside someone else’s soul—their emotions and thoughts—and really help us understand someone else for a little while. And with understanding comes greater compassion and empathy—for ourselves and for others. We learn that we’re not alone, or we understand a bit more why someone else acts the way they do.

scars

I wanted to die a lot as a child and teen. One thing that saved me was talking about my experiences with a therapist, getting empathy, and finding out I wasn’t alone. Another thing that saved me was books—finding in their pages, in small ways, things that told me that someone else understood my pain, what it felt like to be unloved or hated. What it was like to be bullied. Books saved me, and I know from the reader letters I get every week that books help save others, too. I hear that SCARS helped teens stop cutting, get into therapy or talk to someone for the first time, know they’re not alone, and keep from killing themselves. And now in STAINED I deal with more issues that need to be talked about—bullying, body image issues, rape, torture, and the need to save ourselves. Discovering that we are stronger than we know. Sometimes a book is the only way that a reader finds out that they’re not alone, or discovers (after feeling understood) new, healthier ways to cope. Books that deal with painful issues are powerful. They encourage healing and greater empathy. And they save lives.

So this conference combines two things I’m really passionate about—talking openly about painful issues to encourage healing, and YA books that are emotionally honest and that deal with issues that teens need to talk about. I’m honored to be part of the conference, and excited about it.

If you’re at the conference and come up to me, I’ll have STAINED bookmarks and some “sometimes you have to save yourself/love yourself” wristbands. See you there!

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18. Q & A with Liz Worth, author of PostApoc

LizWorthPostApocVBT

As part of her book blog tour, Liz Worth, author of PostApoc, joins us today for a Q & A.

When did you start writing PostApoc?
I was actually writing another book at the time. I was coming off of Treat Me Like Dirt’s release, which was a really busy time for me. I was burnt out by the end and wanted to start working on something totally different, so I decided it was time to tap into my creative side and try writing fiction, which I’d always wanted to do but had never fully put my focus into.

I started working on a horror novel, and I moved apartments. I’d been living in a really weird, dark apartment in a busy downtown area for a few years by then and it was time for a change. I moved to a part of Toronto I’d never lived in before, or spent much time in, and when I got to my new neighbourhood, I thought the change of scenery would help keep me inspired and focused on my horror novel. Instead, I started hearing a young woman in my head. You know how fiction authors say that their characters talk to them? Well, that was happening to me, except I didn’t know it yet. I started writing down little lines as they popped up, and the more I listened, the more the neighbourhood around me started to inspire me.

So the move was a turning point in your life?

Moving apartments was very symbolic for me. I’d been living with depression for many years by then, and in a lot of ways my old apartment said a lot about my mental state. I couldn’t sleep there, never felt comfortable, never liked it, but still I stayed for three years. It was in that apartment one day when I woke up and said I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I’d been resistant to therapy for so long but I decided it was time, and once I started therapy I started making other changes: to move, to focus on my creative side, to be the kind of writer I’d always wanted to be.

What inspired you to write PostApoc?
LizWorthBookCover There was a time, in my mid-20s, when I was feeling particularly low and I would worry about the end of the world. I would walk down the street and feel convinced that everything would be over any day now. The apocalyptic scenarios in PostApoc are reflections of what I thought was right around the corner. I didn’t base the music scenes in PostApoc off of anything I have ever experienced, but the idea of a cult-like subculture reflects certain pieces of alternative and mainstream culture that I took literally when I was younger. Growing up in the ‘90s when heroin and suicide seemed like daily conversations, you could almost believe that such things could exist. Things felt very wild back then. Young people were very careless. A lot of the kids I knew then did way more drugs and lived much more dangerously than any adult I know now, and I don’t think that had to do with age. I think that had a lot to do with the time we were living in.

Why do you think it’s important to talk about personal struggles, like depression, suicide, anxiety and substance abuse?
Suicide and self-destruction have always been themes in my poetry and short fiction, as well as in some of the articles and blogs I’ve written about my own personal experiences with mental health. Ang, the narrator in PostApoc, deals with a lot of these same things, and I think PostApoc was a result of me processing a lot of my own thoughts on those subjects. When I first finished PostApoc, I thought it might be the last time I explored suicide in my writing, because it felt like I’d gone so deep with it.

Why do you write about painful issues like the ones you explore in PostApoc?
I didn’t have a strong support system at home growing up. I’m an only child, and there is a huge generation gap between me and my parents, who were both born in 1936. To them, talking about any kind of struggle within the family was shameful. They grew up in an era when everything needed to look perfect from the outside, no matter how badly it was crumbling inside. And mental health was definitely not something anyone talked about.

I started struggling with depression and self-harm at 13, and being a teenager is tough enough on its own. But I very much wanted to be open, to talk to someone about what I was going through. I think that’s natural for most people – we look for somewhere to turn, but sometimes, when we get shut down, either by our parents or by the society we live in, we either mirror the reaction we see and decide to bury our feelings, or we keep trying other options until we find somewhere we can be heard. I didn’t have the kind of relationship with my parents where I could just say anything, so I tried friends at school, but it was hard to find other kids who could relate to what I was going through.

I had a lot to say about my experiences, and a lot of frustration to work out as a result of them, so after I’d been writing professionally for about five years I decided I was going to use the platform I had as a writer to say the things I didn’t get a chance to talk about when I was younger. I was a bit nervous the first time I went out there with it, but I had the belief that the more we talk about these things, the easier it will be for those personal conversations to happen among family and friends.

What’s Ang’s message for readers?
I can’t say that Ang is a positive character. She isn’t really a hero. She is very confused, and very lost, and for her being lost is as much a result of her physical state as it is about the destruction around her. But she is loyal, and she is brave. She sticks things out, and in the process of that she surprises herself because she realizes she has more resiliency than she expected. She has gone from being someone who only wanted to die to being a survivor in a world that has turned horrific.

How has music influenced you in PostApoc and your other work?
I have always been interested in the crossover of mediums that was found in the first wave of punk, when it wasn’t just about music, but also fashion, fanzines, photography, art, performance, and poetry. So I have long carried that as a source of inspiration for everything I do, whether it’s just spending an afternoon at home re-styling an old t-shirt or thinking up an idea for a weird novel. I love the crossover that artists like Jim Morrison and Patti Smith have made, where they did both music and poetry, and I love that we still see that with younger artists like James Franco and Amber Tamblyn. They aren’t musicians, but they are showing up creatively in different ways.

I find that music is very fragmented now, but so is a lot of creative culture. I go to a lot of literary events and the people I see at a reading are not the same people I’m seeing when I go see a band. And that’s not to say that we don’t all cross over in our tastes, but our participation in these things seems to have become very specific, at least where I live. So I like to combine influences from different mediums in my writing, like music, and not just take influence from literary tradition.

Do you listen to music while you write?
I do like background noise – when I was growing up I always did my homework in front of the TV – but I do choose my background noise more carefully these days. When I was writing PostApoc I mostly listened to “Treasure” by Cocteau Twins. I can’t listen to music that has lyrics in it when I’m trying to write, because I end up focusing on the words I’m hearing. I’m very much a lyrics person, even if a band just adds them in as a meaningless afterthought. But Cocteau Twins have such an ethereal quality, and even though the vocals are very prominent they are often non-lyrical, so they aren’t distracting. Usually, though, I write in silence at home in the morning, or write somewhere outside in the nice weather, where my thoughts can play off the street sounds.

Thank you, Liz, for this interview.


About PostApoc:
Poetic and gritty, “PostApoc” introduces readers to Ang, sole survivor of a suicide pact who lives to see the end of the world. What Ang sees around her, though, is not what she had expected, despite having grown up in the heart of an underground music scene infatuated with death and apocalyptic ideals. Soon, Ang and those left around her are strung out, miserably erratic and totally hopeless. It’s not long before Ang begins to wonder whether she had something to do with the catastrophic destruction of humanity.

Find Liz on:
Author Website

Twitter (@LizWorthXO)
Facebook
Goodreads
Amazon

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19. Playing For Social Change: A Better Place. A beautiful song for peace and equality.

I LOVE this collaborative song and message for peace and equality: A Better Place. It’s catchy and feel-good and beautiful. I wish more women were featured and for longer, and Canada, too–and I also wish they’d mentioned sexual orientation in the text as another way we should all be equal (or another form of oppression) and poverty (perhaps that’s caste?)–but it’s wonderful song and message. It made me feel good to watch; I hope it does you, too.

A Better Place from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

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20. SCARS audiobook now available for pre-order!


SCARS audiobook is now available for pre-order! It releases Sept 1st–a month before STAINED releases. The SCARS audiobook is read by Emily Bauer. It’s a different cover than the original book, but it’s still the same book on the inside. :)

I’m looking forward to hearing how Emily reads it. I love being read to–to me it’s a treat, especially when the reader speaks with the emotion of the book and the characters.

How about you? Do you like being read to? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Or does it change how you hear a book?

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21. Lesbian Poet Speaks Powerfully With Her “Dear Straight People” Performance

Words are powerful, and spoken poetry can be especially powerful and evocative, especially when it tells a person’s truths, fights against oppression or injustice, and when it’s said with emotion. That’s what spoken word poet Denice Frohman did here at Women Of The World Poetry Slam with her “Dear Straight People” performance. I think it’s powerful and moving, and will make people think, or laugh, or empathize. What do you think?




You can also read more about this at Huffington Post.

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22. Q & A with Karl McMillen, author of Triumphs and Tragedies, a true story about wealth and addiction.

Today I have a Q & A with Karl McMillen, the author of Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction, and the founder of the Thelma McMillen Center. Triumphs and Tragedies was co-authored with Bill Hayes and Jennifer Thomas.



Why did you decide to share your story in Triumphs and Tragedies?

The explanation is in the subtitle: “A True Story of Wealth and Addiction.” That is, the juxtaposition of my acquiring of massive wealth, yet my inability to use it to save my two sons from addiction and my wife from cancer. I now use my wealth to continue the fight against addiction and to help families struggling with the same challenges my family faced. This fight includes my writing of this book.



Your story is so personal. How difficult was it to relive some of these moments while being interviewed for the book?

Certainly, that was difficult—the reliving of the tragedies. As I mention in the Introduction, sometimes even I can’t believe I survived everything that I did. But what was perhaps even more difficult was the examination of all this in hindsight; the realization of my enabling and the wrestling with all the “what-ifs.”


Can you tell us a little about McMillen Family Foundation, which sales from Triumphs and Tragedies supports?

The mission statement of the Foundation sets the tone for what we do: The McMillen Family Foundation provides assistance to eligible groups in Southern California that are dedicated to helping men and women who have been impacted, directly or indirectly, by alcohol and/or drugs. We give priority in funding to those non-profits that share our values and have produced tangible and measurable results; and we continually seek out new avenues for making a difference in the lives of substance abuse sufferers. To date, the Foundation has donated more than ten million dollars in the assistance of chemical dependency programs.


You also created the Thelma McMillen Center in honor of your late wife?

Yes. In 2003, I helped the Torrance Memorial Medical Center expand a program they’d had since 1991; that is, helping people live clean and sober lives. And because of what happened to my sons, I wanted to include a program to help adolescents troubled by drug and alcohol abuse. So I pledged $5.3 million—my largest donation to date, and their largest gift ever at that time—to fund The Thelma McMillen Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, which includes the Thelma McMillen Teen Outpatient Program. The McMillen Family Foundation now provides continuous support to what we
now affectionately call “Thelma’s Place.”


How did you build a multimillion-dollar business from the ground up, and what tips would you give to businesses?

While the horrors and pitfalls of addiction are a major part of Triumphs and Tragedies, the successes I’ve enjoyed in the business world are also a major aspect of the book and my life; all are so intertwined. If there is a “tip” that I could offer to would-be entrepreneurs and business people, it’s found in what some of my friends and associates call my “Golden Touch.” My success stems from the simple work ethic I learned from my father about working hard and understanding what people need in the way of goods and services. Then you add pure honesty in your dealings to that. You also need to see just how important your employees and partners are and treat them like gold. And your customers
too!

Of course, my mind for “data” has helped a little, too! Along with a full knowledge of the field you are in, you need to understand business basics.

There is a quote in Triumphs and Tragedies that sums it up well: “This dynamic [the “Golden Touch”] is the combining of formal ‘book learning’ with ‘tool turning.’ It’s great to get that business degree, but it’s even more expansively practical if you can also hammer in the nail needed to hang it.” I had “calculations in my brain and calluses on my hands.”


Who struggles with addiction?

Anyone who has been touched by addiction: whether it’s through use by family members, friends, or themselves. And those numbers are huge. It spans all demographics. I can only hope that Triumphs and Tragedies will frighten and educate—frightening anyone who even has the slightest inkling to try drugs, and educating those whose lives and happiness suffer from its collateral damage.




Through all the hardship during your family’s battle with addiction, you found peace, and even sometimes humor, to help make it through. How’d you do that?

Triumphs and Tragedies opens with a scene that demonstrates just how one’s perceptions of things change after suffering the effects of drug addiction. One Christmas, Thelma and I were actually pleased and happy that both are sons were in the same jail at the same time—logistically, it made our holiday visit so much easier! There is juxtaposition for you; we all should have been in our warm beachfront home opening gifts, not in a cold “facility” watching deputies open heavy jailhouse doors.

But we sincerely appreciated just being able to be together.



What would you have done differently? You admit to yourself that you enabled your sons – how so, and how can parents avoid that?

That’s a difficult question. Because I still don’t have all the answers, and there’s no guarantee that anything I could have done would have changed things.

That said, I still think the answer lies in education. But I’m not talking about book learning. Know what your kids are doing. Know where they are. Stay very, very involved in their lives. Get them help quick and early if there are signs of problems. It’s not an excuse, but the drug epidemic that swept the youth of the 1960s took so many parents by surprise. We had no idea of what these drugs were or what they could do—and ultimately neither did the young people who were taking them. But things are different now in terms of sophisticated help and knowledge of what narcotics can do. What is not different, however, is that need for parents to be aware and involved in their children’s lives!



There are some stories in the book that not even your immediate family knew?

Yes. Some of the events that occurred are so shocking, involving my sons’ troubles with addiction and with the law. This includes my extensive outlay of resources, my trying to bribe a judge, and my helping my younger son flee to Mexico to avoid his lifelong incarceration.

This quote from Triumphs and Tragedies says it all: “Chris simply cannot go to jail for the rest of his life on this third strike! He jumps the 50-grand bail and heads for south-of-the-border sanctuary in Mexico.
And Karl helps.”
“When your child is headed for life in prison, you do whatever you have to do…”

The scope of the effects of addiction on my and Thelma’s lives, both emotionally and financially, is almost inconceivable.



After losing both your sons, how do you stay hopeful in your fight against addiction?

I want as many people to learn from my and my family’s mistakes as possible. That is why I wrote this book, That is why I established the McMillen Family Foundation; to support others who are also involved in this battle. My family did not suffer in vain—I believe that the lives of Mark, Chris, Thelma, and myself and what we all learned occurred for one reason: to help others.





About the McMillen Family Foundation

As of the end of 2012, the McMillen Family Foundation had given over $12 million to Southern California charities “dedicated to helping men and women who have been impacted, directly or indirectly, by alcohol and/or drugs” and who “share our values and have produced tangible and measurable results.”

To keep the goodwill going, Karl’s multimillion-dollar wholesale business, Todd Pipe, is set up to donate a full 20% of its profits to the McMillen Family Foundation ad infinitim. In addition, the Foundation will inherit all of Karl’s personal shares in Todd Pipe as well as seven key industrial properties he owns. In this way, Karl’s story, his generosity, and his mission will live on into the future.

All proceeds from Triumphs and Tragedies will be donated to the McMillen Family Foundation.



Visit McMillenFamilyFoundation.org for more information on resources for you or anyone you know battling addiction.

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23. I just got the bound copy of STAINED! It’s such a joy to hold a book you wrote for the first time.

My advance bound copy of STAINED just arrived (it doesn’t release until Oct 1st)–and it is gorgeous! Absolutely beautiful. It felt so good to get in the mail today! (In STAINED, Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.)

There is so much excitement and joy in seeing (in person) the book you wrote–the finished copy–for the very first time. I admit that I was so excited to get STAINED that I ran and showed five different neighbors, and then a friendly teller at the bank who always loves to hear about my writing, and my hairdresser, and the clerk at the grocery store who’s always friendly with me. (Laughing) And they were all lovely about it, joining in with my excitement and enthusiasm.

Stained-Rainfield-cover

And there is also SO much good feeling in holding your finished book in your hands for the first time. In running your hands over the cover, feeling the texture (or smoothness), breathing in the scent of the book, seeing your name on the cover, seeing the way your manuscript became an actual, finished book. Taking in the effect of the cover, the weight of the book, the color of the pages, the fonts used. Feeling proud of your hard work, your dream–and of the publishing team who helped you. My editor, Karen Grove, was fantastic, helping me make STAINED a stronger book, and everyone I worked with at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was lovely.

Stained-Rainfield-hugging-700

I think the book designer Liz Tardiff did an absolutely beautiful job. I love the purple dripping from the title on the cover–so fitting when Sarah has a purple port-wine stain on her cheek, and she feels stained by it and the way people judge her, as well as by the abduction and rape. I also love how easy it is to read the one-liner and my name on the cover. I really love the cover–it reminds me of Ellen Hopkins’ books–but I’d already seen the cover (in digital form). What I hadn’t seen and realized was how gorgeous the paper for the dust jacket is. It’s a lovely matte finish with a wonderful, almost grainy texture–a surprise and a delight to hold!

Stained-Rainfield-hug-02

And then the end papers are a deep, rich purple–tying perfectly into the title (and into the port wine stain on Sarah’s cheek), and also the first line description on the inside flap, and my name and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s info on the back flap.

Stained-Rainfield-endpapers

And then a nice surprise, to me, was to take off the dust jacket and see the title in that vivid, shiny purple, overlaid on top of black, along the spine.

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I am so lucky to have a cover and a book design I love. I’m so happy! I had a lot of fun with the photos and STAINED; I hope you can tell. (grinning)

Here’s one of me reading STAINED. I know that books can save lives. Books helped save mine, and I still get reader letters every week from teens (and adults) telling me how SCARS helped save them. I hope that STAINED will also be a book that will save lives.

Stained-Rainfield-reading-700

I didn’t used to be able to say or even feel that I was proud of myself…but I am, now. I know my books reach people who need it. I know I write emotional truths, break silences, and talk about abuse and trauma and healing, queer characters and strong girls and things that I care about deeply. I know I’m writing the books I needed as a teen and couldn’t find. So today–with the arrival of STAINED (out Oct 1st!) I feel proud.

Stained-Rainfield-face

Thank you for allowing me to share my excitement and happiness with you over STAINED. (smiling)

And (ahem) if you noticed the blue and orange fabric in the corner of my photos, that is a pair of Petal’s (my little dog’s) pjs. heh.

3 Comments on I just got the bound copy of STAINED! It’s such a joy to hold a book you wrote for the first time., last added: 9/7/2013
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24. My books In The Wild: From Readers G. Donald Cribbs and Kaylah Krysdell Urquiza

I love it when readers post photos of my books in the wild! It feels so good to see.

I love this one reader–and writer–G. Donald Cribbs, reading HUNTED. It made me laugh!

hunted-in-wild-donald-gribbs-the-packing-house-July-14-2013




I think this one of SCARS at Starbucks by Kaylah Krysdell Urquiza is so cool–it shows how well loved and well read Scars is!

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And (ahem) here’s one of me so happy to have the final copy of STAINED–which comes out Oct 1st! I’m so excited!

Stained-Rainfield-face




It’s a delight to see people taking photos of my books and sharing them. I love knowing my books touch people.



Have one of my books? Want to be featured here on my blog? Take a photo of you or your pet “reading” one of my books, or my book out somewhere, and email it to me at Cheryl @ CherylRainfield (dot) com, and I’ll put it here.

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25. My Little Dog Petal: Companion, Comfort, and Joy To This Writer

I used to think that I should keep my blog “writerly” and professional. But readers often like to know things about the authors they read. And if you follow me on Twitter or FaceBook, you’ll frequently see photos I post of my little dog Petal. So I’ve been thinking for a while now–Cheryl, this is silly. Why not post photos to your blog, too? Maybe not *every* time, but…sometimes. (smiling) I love my dog so much, and I love it when people enjoy her, too, so it’s fun to share photos of her.


Petal in her flannel cow-star PJs, catching a stick. (Hey–it was a cold summer day. :) )
Petal in her cow pjs, happy with a stick. :)


Petal is such a sweet tempered and beautiful-soul dog. You might be wondering why she’s wearing clothes in most photos. She’s a Chinese Crested–a hairy hairless dog (she has more hair than most Chinese Cresteds do). She doesn’t have any hair on her belly or sides, and grows a small amount on her back, but a lot on her head, tail, and feet. :) Because she’s a (mostly) hairless dog, in the summer if she’s not wearing PJs she gets sunburn in 15 minutes outside, and shakes from being cold in the air conditioning, and in the winter, she must wear PJs, sweaters, and when we go outside, a down coat, to keep warm.

My first dog, Willow, was also a Chinese Crested, and also very sweet tempered. I loved her so much and found it so painful when she died, that I had to get another dog of the same breed. I’m glad I did. Chinese Crested dogs are so sweet, loving, and lovable. And dogs give such unconditional love!



Petal on a warm summer’s day without her PJs.

Petal cooling off after our morning walk :)



Petal is a playful, happy, sweet-tempered little dog, and she is my family. Since I work at home all day, writing, editing, and working on book promotion, Petal is with me all day–usually pressing her paw or back or side against me as I sit on the couch and work. She’s such a sweetie! She also interrupts me after I’ve been working too long, and insists on me playing with her or giving her treats, which is a good thing, because otherwise I would work far too long. Petal is so good for me! And I love her dearly. Since writers often work in solitude for long hours, I think it helps a lot to have an animal companion. Petal sure helps me!




Petal snuggling with me.

Petal having a (brief) cuddle with me :)




Petal lying on my legs as I write. Yes, I write and edit by hand! I think it’s more creative and intuitive, more deeply connected to what I need to say.

Petal leaning on me as I write. :)


BR>

Petal making sure she’s connected to me as I write. (smiling)

Petal making sure she's connected to me while i worked. I drew with her paw on me. :) She's sweet.



Petal snuggled up with my best friend Jo. Petal loves Jo, and Jo loves Petal. Perfect!

My best friend Jo & my little "baby" Petal. Two beings I love!



Petal looking up at me on our walk.

Petal looking up at me on our walk :)



I have so many more photos of Petal! (laughing) But I think this is good for now.

Do you have an animal companion who’s part of your family? I hope so. They give so much joy.

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