Today we have an exclusive interview with Clarissa Johal, author of Struck. Let’s see what kind of secrets she can tell us, shall we?
A) I have noticed that many readers are aspiring authors. Do you have any tips or advice for them?
C) Tell your own story, don’t let trends or others dictate your style, content or genre. Break the rules and think outside of the box.Don’t give up. It sounds trite but it takes a very thick skin and tenacity to succeed in this business. If one person tells you they don’t like your writing, there are a gazillion others who will. If you have a writer’s block, there will be other days where you can’t type fast enough. It’s all about persistence.
A) When did you start writing?
C) I wrote my first story in grade six. My teacher asked me to read it aloud to the class, which mortified me because I was extremely shy. When I finished, I realized that I had everyone’s attention! That was a powerful and pivotal thing for me. We moved yearly while I was growing up. Most of the time, I was “that-invisible-new kid-everyone-ignores.”You can pick one out in every classroom–my heart goes out to them. Writing helped me find my voice.
A) What made you decide to publish your first book?
C) I had been working as a veterinary assistant and zoo-keeper aide and writing articles on the side. I never thought I’d earn a living at writing. Once I had my first child, I knew there was noway I could leave her to go back to work. My husband and I decided we’d tighten our belts so I could stay at home. Writing is a powerful calling. When my daughter napped, I wrote. Before I knew it, I finished my first book PRADEE, a young adult fantasy. There are things I would change about it now, but it was a labor of love. The publishers (I submitted to) told me they liked it, but none would take a chance on an unknown author. I decided to self-publish and PRADEE ended up being a second-round finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest. A definite ego boost and foot in the door for me.
A) What motivates you to write?
C) If I didn’t write, I’d probably go nuts! I always say the characters come to me and tell me their stories, I just write them down. It’s like this nagging thought you can’t get rid of until you get it on paper.
A) Do you ever feel frustrated with your work?
C) Absolutely! I think every writer does. You really have to allow yourself those kinds of days and move onto something else. I’ll either go running, do some ballet or photography. Filling your head with “non-writerly” things usually gives your brain the break it needs to be creative again.
A) What makes you keep writing when you get frustrated?
C) I literally have to or I get grumpy! Right now, I’m taking a holiday break because my kids are off school. It’s good timing because I hit a point in my final edits of THE ISLAND (the novel I’m working on now) where I was feeling stuck and frustrated. But I know once they go back to school, I’ll be ready to go.
I tend to get frustrated with the business of writing more than anything. I see another author hitting it big when I don’t feel their writing warrants it. But sometimes, it’s all about timing and luck. As frustrating as that is, it makes me work harder. My time will come.
A) How do you get over writer’s block?
C) I’m a very physical person. I’ve been taking ballet for 20+ years. I also run, fence and recently, I took some trapeze classes. Writer’s blocks usually occur when your brain needs a break. I find if I take a break and go do something, it usually gets rid of the block. Another way to deal with it is to write flash-fiction. I took a month off to write photo-inspired flash-fiction (in my blog) because my novel just wasn’t flowing like I felt it should. Every page was a chore! Once my month of flash-fiction was done, I was ready to approach my novel again.
A) How do you handle negative reviews of your books?
C) I’ve been lucky and haven’t received too many negative comments. You have to realize that there are so many readers out there with so many different tastes in literature, you can’t please everyone. You just can’t. Write what makes you happy and the readers will come.
A) There are a lot of distractions around, especially with social media, how do you block it all out and write?
C) That’s very hard sometimes! I love Facebook and tend to wander over to my page when I should be writing. That’s usually an indication that my thought process needs a break. If I catch myself, I’ll do something more constructive with my time. I’ll take my dog for a walk or cook/freeze meals for the week. I may even (gasp!) clean house. My best advice is to allot social media to a specific time of day. Give yourself one hour and then get back to your writing.
A) What do you enjoy, outside of writing?
C) I love working with animals and run a pet-sitting business on the side. I also volunteer as a wildlife rehabber when I can. Like I said, I’m pretty active;ballet, running and fencing are my passions. Photography is another one. I used to be a vegetarian chef but my family isn’t into vegetables as much as I am, nor are they vegetarians. Finding recipes they like is a challenge!
A) What’s something about you that most people don’t know?
C) I’m not afraid of ghosts or paranormal creatures but butterflies will send me screaming.
A) Have you ever had to rewrite portions of a book because the characters decided to be someone other than you intended?
C) Most of the time, the characters come to me fully formed. I’ve tried to rewrite characters a “certain” way and they’ve had hissy fits. I like antagonists with back-story and redeeming qualities–I find it makes them much more interesting than the typical “bad guy.” But for VOICES (which will be released in May 2015) I kept trying to redeem my antagonist and he wouldn’t have it. Jack was just evil through-and-through. It’s the first time that has happened. I had to let him have his way.
A) Where do you come up with the names for your stories?
C) If they don’t pop up in my head, I’ll do a baby name search as to the main quality of the character.
A) Did you ever think you’d be a published author?
C) I went into the business shooting for the top—I submitted to the Big-Six publishers, Harper-Collins, Random House, etc. Once I realized that getting signedon with them was really difficult, I looked into the smaller publishing houses. There are so many out there, I knew it was just a matter of finding the right one.
A) What are you working on currently?
C) I just finished working with my editor on VOICES, which will be released by Permuted Press May 19, 2015. The idea for the story came to me while surfing the internet. I was visiting a paranormal chat board online and reading people’s experiences with hearing ghosts. A lot of these people were concerned that friends and family members would think they were schizophrenic and hearing things. Out of curiosity, I went to another chat board for people dealing with schizophrenia and discovered that the boards were nearly identical with the exception of one major thing: the voices heard by schizophrenics were telling them negative things about themselves or to do negative/hurtful things. The people that claimed to hear ghosts were just hearing random chatter. That’s obviously oversimplifying the disorder but you get the general idea. I found it really interesting, took the concept and ran with it.I’m unsure of when my cover reveal for VOICES will be, but stay tuned to my blog/author webpage for it!
A) Do you ever write characters you hate?
C) I have to admit, Jack from VOICES is the first character I’ve written that I wasn’t fond of. I usually love my antagonists but he’s a jerk.
A) Who is your favorite character that you’ve written?
C) Cronan from BETWEEN is and probably always will be my favorite character (sorry, Lucas). He came to me completely formed and with a very complex back-story. I really felt I knew and understood him.
A) What was your first published book? How do you feel about it now?
C) PRADEE was my first book. It was self-published, a labor of love, and took me ten years to complete. I would probably re-edit/submit to a publisher if I had a chance. I may decide to do that at some point.
A) Where did you get the idea for your books?
C) Mostly through dreams. Characters will come to me and I’ll wake with sentences and whole pages in my head. I keep a pen by the bed and write on my arms and legs so I don’t forget. In the morning it probably looks kind of weird but at least I don’t lose the ideas.
A) Were there any scenes in it that were difficult for you to write?
C) There was a scene in VOICES that was difficult to write. I won’t tell you which one because the novel hasn’t been released yet. The scene was pivotal and involved Jack and Moira. Love scenes are also difficult for me to write. I write romantic tension but not romance per se. I guess my characters want their privacy.
A) Do you have a favorite genre to write?
C) Paranormal. I started out writing fantasy but was pulled into the Otherworld with my novel BETWEEN. The ideas come faster than I can write them down. I have a whole folder on my desktop of characters and their stories.
A) Is there a type of genre you refuse to write?
C) I won’t do erotica or straight-up romance because I’m way too immature. I would be giggling the whole time.
A) Do you prefer your books in print or e-book format?
C) It would be awesome to offer print books but I think in the world of e-readers and publishers who want risk-free ventures, e-books are becoming more prevalent.
A) What are you currently reading?
C) I can’t read fiction when I’m heavily-focused on my writing because it tends to taint my writing style. I stick to non-fiction. Right now, I’m reading Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us by Jason Offutt. When I’m done with edits for THE ISLAND I have a pile of books to start on.The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue is at the top of my pile!
A) What is your favorite book?
C) I’m going to cheat and mention three. American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock and Krampus: The Yule Lord by BROM.
A) Who is your favorite author?
C) Tough question! I’ll go with the three I mentioned;Neil Gaiman, Robert Holdstockand Gerald Brom.
A) Do you have any excerpts from any of your books (published and WIPs) that you’d like to share with us?
C) Well, since this is a tour for STRUCK, let’s go with an excerpt from that!
STRUCK by Clarissa Johal
The shadows hadn’t been waiting.
The shadows had been invited.
After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend and takes a job at a retirement home. She grows especially close to one resident, who dies alone the night of a terrific storm. On the way home from paying her last respects, Gwynneth is caught in another storm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, the stranger visits her at will and offers Gwynneth a gift–one that will stay the hands of death. Gwynneth is uncertain whether Julian is a savior or something more sinister… for as he shares more and more of this gift, his price becomes more and more deadly.
She stared into his pale eyes, which were the color of storm clouds. A scream welled up in her throat.
He pushed her against the wall and shook his head in a warning. “Do not scream.”
His voice was low and soothing. She nodded quickly, with every intention of screaming her lungs out as soon as he removed his hand.
“Do not scream,” he repeated.
Gwynneth could hear her breath heavy against his hand. He wore finely made black leather gloves. Why would he be wearing gloves inside? She thought frantically. It wasn’t cold enough to wear gloves. Dressed in the same black material from top to bottom, except for a white, high-collared dress shirt, he looked archaic. She tried to match him with a time period. Mid-eighteenth century? His demeanor, too, was somehow…archaic, proud. Small silver buttons ran the length of his jacket. They pressed sharply against her thin hospital gown.
“Do you trust me?” He studied her intently and removed his hand.
“You were there when I got hit,” she whispered.
“Why didn’t you bring me to the hospital? You left me at the funeral home.”
“I had no transportation. I left you where you would be found.”
“Why didn’t you stay with me?”
“I have my reasons. I am here now.”
“Well, thank you for saving me.”
“I wish something in return.”
“I-I don’t have anything.” She flinched as she felt a small tug from deep inside. It was as if probing fingers were searching for something. Fear bloomed within her. The probing stopped.
“Are you saying no?” His voice held an edge.
“I don’t understand.”
Confused, she nodded slightly. Suddenly, Julian grabbed her and they fell into blackness. Something powerful swirled around them. Something malevolent. She panicked and clung to him. There was pressure on all sides of her, as if the air was folding around them and becoming heavier and heavier. And then, everything stopped.
“Open your eyes, Gwynneth,” he whispered.
They were in a house. A Victorian. Fire burned in the fireplace. She could smell the burning wood. The light reflected off elaborate, but worn, wallpaper and furniture. A half-eaten biscuit lay on a delicate-looking plate. An empty teacup lay on its side. Julian took her by the hand and led her up a winding staircase. She studied him from behind. Tall and lean, he was quite broad-shouldered. Fine white hair draped across his back like silk. His form-fitting, tailored jacket hit mid-thigh, and matching black pants were tucked into knee-high leather boots. He walked with catlike grace, his boots making light sounds on the stairs.
Otherworldly, her thoughts whispered. Still in her hospital gown, Gwynneth felt vulnerable and naked. Her bare feet pressed against the wooden floor. Grit stuck to her toes.
He led her down a hallway lit by fluted glass light fixtures along the walls. At the end of the hallway was a door.
Never taking his eyes off hers, Julian opened it.
Dark figures scattered like exploding glass. Red, so much red. There was blood everywhere. Blood-soaked sheets, pillows; blood pooled onto the wooden floor and soaked into an ornate carpet. A woman lay across the bed. She wore an old-fashioned white nightgown, which was plastered to her body. Her long dark hair spilled across the sheets. Gaping wounds covered her chest. A knife lay on the floor. The windows were open, and white curtains fluttered in the evening breeze.
The creatures writhed in the corners as light from the hallway shattered their darkness.
A strangled sound escaped Gwynneth’s throat. Julian wrapped his arms around her and urged her forward. The figures that had fled into the corners seeped into the scene once more.
“They come for her. I want you to watch.”
Gwynneth shook violently, and he gripped her tighter. The figures swarmed over the dead woman’s body, into her hair, along her bare legs. They snaked up and down her torso and made her body shudder. Gwynneth felt their need, burning and relentless.
“Oh my God, she’s not dead,” she moaned.
Her vision went black.
~ PURCHASE LINKS ~
~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~
Clarissa Johal has worked as a veterinary assistant, zoo-keeper aide and vegetarian chef. Writing has always been her passion. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing or taking photographs of gargoyles. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters and every stray animal that darkens the doorstep. One day, she expects that a wayward troll will wander into her yard, but that hasn’t happened yet.
*Member of the Author’s Guild
Coming May 19, 2015 from Permuted Press
VOICES, a paranormal psychological horror
STRUCK, a paranormal gothic horror
(2014) Musa Publishing
*Indie Book of the Day Award
*Nominated for the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll 2014
BETWEEN, a story of the paranormal
(2012) Musa Publishing
*Second place in the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll 2012
*Paranormal Reads gives BETWEEN 4 out of 5 Bats
PRADEE, a young adult fantasy
*Second round finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award Contest 2012
PIGEONS, published in the literary journal Susurrus
THE ROPE, published in the literary journal Susurrus
A WAY OF LIFE, published in The Sacramento Bee
~ AUTHOR LINKS ~
Praise for STRUCK:
“This book grabs you in right away and hold your attention…I so loved this book and didn’t put it down until the very end.” Read More ~ Lovely Reads
Bex ‘n’ Books
“This is a spooky thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. You won’t be able to put it down because you must finish it to see what happens, even if it keeps you up late at night to do so.” Read More ~ Bex’n’Books
Bibliophilic Book Blog
“STRUCK will get beneath your skin from the very beginning. Gwen’s a likable character with a difficult past and tenuous future after meeting Julian. I liked the secondary characters, especially Fenten and Poppy. The characters were definitely all well-developed and engaging.” Read More ~ Bibliophilic Book Blog
Straight from the Library
“The characters are well drawn and likable….The action is fast paced– I read the book in one sitting.” Read More ~ Straight from the Library