91qN2ZPWkUL._SL1500_Get to know Cheryl…

I love to read. Books nurture me, helped me survive the abuse I endured as a child and teen. I also love to write. I write fantasy books and edgy, realistic fiction for teens.

My fantasy books often hold hope that I need, and feel others might need, too, while my realistic fiction is gritty, intense, and emotional. All of my books have fragments of the abuse I experienced. I write about some of the harsh things teens go through…things that I think shouldn’t be hidden. But I also write about healing, hope, and love, and finding courage and strength.

In SCARS (West Side, 2010), Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself before it’s too late. It’s my arm on the cover. There’s a lot of me in SCARS; like my main character, Kendra, I am an incest survivor, I used self-harm to cope, and I’m queer. In my teen paranormal fantasy/dystopian, HUNTED (West Side, Oct 2011), Caitlyn is a telepath in a world where that is illegal, and she must choose between saving herself or saving the world. Like Caitlyn, I know what it’s like to have my life threatened, to face oppression, to experience torture, and to break free from cult or from a group of oppressors. And I know what it’s like to have to decide between hiding my true self or being who I am, even if that means danger to myself. I drew on my experience with cults and ritual abuse in creating the world that Caitlyn lives in.

In STAINED, my upcoming YA novel from Harcourt (2013), Sarah, who has a port wine stain and some body image issues, is abducted and must find a way to rescue herself. Like Sarah, I was often imprisoned for long periods of time as a child, had my life threatened, and had to rely on my own strength to survive.

Books were my survival during my childhood, and my journey into myself. Books give me hope. I hope mine will give you hope, too, or something that you need. Check out her site here.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Writing was my voice, my way of communicating with others as well as with myself. My abusers used to tell me that they’d kill me if I talked, so writing was my safe way of talking. And books also helped me survive the abuse and torture I endured; they were an escape as well as positive voices for me and letting me know I wasn’t alone. So I was naturally drawn to writing.

What was your favorite book to write?

Hm. I think Scars, because it’s got so much of me in it–bits of my soul and my experiences–and was my first big break. But I also feel that way about Hunted.

Who is your favorite author?

I have so many! Lois Duncan, Ellen Hopkins, Alex Flynn, Nancy Werlin, Gail Giles, Tamora Pierce, Suzanne Collins, Wendy Orr, Jean Little, Alexander Key…and so many, many more.

Where do you get your ideas?

I draw a lot on my own life, my pain and my hopes and healing experiences. Since I’m survivor of extreme abuse (incest and ritual abuse), I have quite a lot to draw on. I only put fragments of my abuse experience into each book; I don’t want to overwhelm readers. I also have a rich imagination that helps me with fantasy. Fantasy (reading it, writing it, trying to escape into it in my mind) was one of my ways of survival as an abused child.

What advice would you give young writers?

Write what you care about. Find what works for you. Read a LOT–as much as you can. The reading will help you as a writer; you’ll absorb good writing and technique, and it will feed your soul and creativity. Read books on writing technique, or take a course (or both!). Find a good critique group and get regular feedback on your writing; that can help so much.

Are your characters completely fictional? 

My characters are often a mix of fictional and real. Especially with my main characters; they have a lot of me in them.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Scars was both the easiest and hardest book to write. When I wrote it, I was still in the pain that I was writing about, so sometimes it would really flow, and other times it felt hard to write some scenes. It became especially hard in the last few years before I was published, when I kept receiving personalized rejection letters with editors and agents telling me they loved my writing but…. I felt despairing, like I’d never be published. I submitted Scars over 30 times over a 10 year period. So when I finally got an offer (two offers at the same time from different publishers), it was also the happiest moment for me. And then all the success of Scars afterward has felt so healing.