1.) Your first novel is a contemporary novel centered around an LGBTQ character and her recovery from serious depression and self-harm. Hunted is a paranormal novel with a straight protagonist and some LGBTQ side characters. What are the differences in changing your writing: contemporary to paranormal, LGBTQ to straight?
I didn’t see much of a difference between writing a realistic novel and writing a paranormal one, because for both I drew on my abuse and trauma experience to write them. And for both I wrote the story that I needed to write, and explored the issues I needed to talk about. The LGBTQ to straight was a harder transition for me, but the heart of the main characters was still my own, and to me very similar—good people fighting against oppression and their own personal troubles.
2.) What was the experience like writing a straight character as an LGBTQ author? What changed in your mentality as a writer in exploring this character, and how is it different from writing an LGBTQ character? How is it similar?
Um. I don’t know if I should admit this or not, but at times I had to try to think of Alex (from HUNTED) as a lesbian to really make it work, to put more depth and layers into his character and his relationship with Caitlyn. Without that, I think I was writing more from clichés of heterosexual relationships (which kind of makes sense since we’re bombarded with them all the time through the media). Writing Caitlyn for me wasn’t very different than writing Kendra (from SCARS); I put so much of myself into both characters. I just had to make sure that Caitlyn saw Alex the way I as a lesbian would see another woman I love. (Sometimes that was a struggle for me, but from readers’ feedback, I got there.)
3.) Hunted is less focused on the emotional suspense of the characters than a contemporary novel. How did this change your writing style? Which do you find yourself preferring – the contemporary emotion, or the paranormal plot?
For me, the emotional suspense in HUNTED is still very present. Caitlyn’s being hunted down, and could end up enslaved or dead. And even though she’s telepathic, she has to struggle to figure out who she can trust.
I love both realistic fiction and fantasy. As a reader, they both give me things I need, and as a writer, they both give me a voice.
4.) As a writer who has written both LGBTQ and straight protagonists – how hard is it to enter the mentality of someone who is not your sexual identity? How would you encourage other authors to go out of their comfort zones and write characters opposite of their orientation and/or gender?
See my response to question two. (smiling)
I think we’re all not as different as we think we are. What worked for me was just imagining the way I am—writing as a lesbian, but making the character straight—and adding in a bit of what I’ve observed from people who are a different orientation or gender than me.
5.) Your novels have been published through a smaller press focused on YA work. Do you see a trend in more LGBTQ-focused novels being published by small presses and other indie publishers? What about the larger publishers?
I seems like small presses and indie publishers should take more of a chance on publishing LGBTQ characters, and WestSide sure did for me, but I don’t know if they publish more (at least in the YA world). I see big publishers publishing LGBTQ YA lit, too, such as The Geography Club by Brent Hartinger (HarperCollins); Luna by Julie Ann Peters (Little, Brown), Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (Knopf), and more. I think both indie and big publishers are now publishing more LGBTQ fiction, and I’m delighted to see it! I hope a lot more comes out.
6.) What are you planning on writing next? Does it involve LGBTQ characters in any way – and are they protagonists, or side characters? Further more, how do you think writing LGBTQ characters in both positions (as protagonists and as side characters) is important to helping readers understand and identify with LGBTQ people?
My next book STAINED (Harcourt, Fall 2013) is about Sarah, who is abducted and who must find a way to rescue herself. Sarah is straight, but I’ve again made sure that here are queer characters in the book. That’s how our world is and I think it’s important that it’s reflected back to us all—an inclusion of queer characters, whether they’re the main character or a side character. I think it helps to normalize being queer, to lessen prejudice and increase acceptance and compassion.
I’m also working on another edgy realistic YA novel where the main character is queer, and I have two more paranormal fantasies in mind—one straight (a sequel to HUNTED), and one queer. I try to always have queer characters in my books. We are here, we’re real, and we should be included.
Cheryl Rainfield is the author of Scars, an award-winning contemporary novel about a lesbian teenager and her struggle with self-harm, and her latest release, Hunted. You can learn more about Cheryl at her website, and you can also find invaluable resources that help combat the feelings of self-harm, such as her page Reasons Not to Hurt Yourself.