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So light your candles to fend off the impending darkness, pray to whatever gods you believe protect you from madness, despair, spirits that knock on your walls, and shadows that creep up on you from behind, and help me give a hearty welcome to the incomparably talented Clarissa Johal!
I have to write or I’d probably go insane. I’ll literally wake with sentences written on my arms and legs (I never seem to have paper nearby) because my brain is still writing while I sleep. Sometimes the sentences are difficult to decipher because I don’t remember writing them, but I manage.
Tell us about your current or most recent writing project, and what you wish to accomplish with it.
I just finished edits on VOICES, which will be released on May 19, 2015 via Permuted Press. I’m finishing up THE ISLAND, a paranormal horror novel. It should be ready to submit to my publisher by the end of January. There are demons and (obviously) an island involved. I won’t disclose anything else. As far as what I want to accomplish with either? I could be hopeful and say I want more fame than Neil Gaiman but… I just need to get the stories out of my head or the characters will keep chattering at me.
In your mind, what is your greatest accomplishment?
Being born. My mother was told she could never have children and my soul took it on as a challenge.
In your mind, what is your biggest failure?
Math. I can give you the answer to the problem but have no idea how I got it. For that reason alone, I struggled with math all through school. But I managed to earn a degree in English and Anthropology with honors. I had a professor in university who specialized in teaching non-math inclined people. I owe him bouquets of flowers.
If you could be one fictional character—it can be anyone, modern or classic, movie, book, TV show, legend, myth, or even comics—who would you be, and why?
I’d be a unicorn. Kidding. I’d be Medusa. She had cool hair.
My ideal writing environment is an empty house. Attaining it is a whole different story. As much as I love having my family around, I can’t write when they are. It messes up the energy and my characters won’t speak to me.
What is your primary writing inspiration? It can be anything: people living or dead no matter their occupation, or places, concepts, groups, inanimate objects, etc.
Art. All kinds of art. Especially art by BROM.
You’re stranded on a deserted tropical island full of life-sustaining fish, game, and flora, and don’t know when or even if you’ll ever be rescued. You get to choose three people to be stranded with you, and it can be anyone, whether you know them or not. Who would those three people be, and why?
I’m a vegetarian so the fish and game can swim and hang out with me. I don’t think I’d need anyone else, actually. I would be fine on my own. But if I had to choose? Misha Collins, Neil Gaiman, and Tim Burton. Misha is weird enough to pique my interest, Neil is brilliant, and I would hoard the coconuts until Tim agreed to make one of my books into a movie.
Writing. It takes me about a year to write each book. So, in five years—five more books. In ten years—ten more books.
You can speak briefly with any one dead person, and ask them one question. Who would that person be, and what would you ask them?
Kurt Cobain. My question: Why?
Only one? I sometimes dream in other languages. There was one where one of my characters was speaking to me in another language—and one I don’t speak. The next morning, I wrote down phonetically what he said and did an online search. It was Gaelic and made complete sense as to the character and his backstory. Weirdest thing ever.
What advice do you have to share with other aspiring writers?
Keep writing, even if someone tells you that you suck. There are SO many different tastes in books out there. You will find your niche/readers if you don’t give up. Always be professional. Writing is a job. It’s not something you can “just do” because you like to tell stories. It takes work, dedication, and it’s very competitive.
In your mind, what is the most rewarding thing about writing?
I love when readers tell me they couldn’t put my book down, or that it was unlike anything they’ve ever read. Best compliments ever.
Promoting. There are times I feel I've spread myself so thin across the Internet, I need to go to the store and buy more Clarissa. Finding enough “alone time” to write is frustrating too. My family comes first but I have deadlines, personal and professional.
It’s a given that not everyone will like you. If the same criticism is given over and over, pay attention to it. If not, you have to move on. Always love what you do. Don’t allow someone to make you feel bad about your job.
Both members of a married couple are close and well-loved friends of yours, and you discover beyond doubt that one is cheating on the other. What, if anything, do you do? Does sex (gender) enter into your decision, and why?
I’ve been in that situation and it sucked. What made it worse was the husband was not only having an affair, but making passes at me as well. I had to tell his wife. And no, gender plays no role in that situation. You’re obligated by common decency, if only for the STD factor alone. I would want someone to tell me.
Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what are your favorite flavors to listen to?
I need absolute silence or I can’t hear my characters speaking to me. Even if I take a ballet break (I’ve been dancing for 20+ years), I still can’t listen to music because I’m thinking about my story. When I’m not writing, Apocalyptica is my favorite group.
There are probably many language and cultural differences I would take into consideration before I even approached the leader—if they had a leader. Once I figured those out, I wouldn’t tell them anything. I would ask them why they wanted to colonize Earth. You can learn a lot about a culture by listening and paying attention to body language.
What is the biggest distraction or impediment to your writing, and to completing your writing projects?
Myself. But I always complete my projects. I’m a stickler about my personal and professional deadlines. When I promise to finish X by a certain date, that’s exactly what I do.
Does time and the world around you ever “disappear” when your muse is upon you and you’re “in the writing zone”? If so, describe the feeling.
Oh yes. I don’t eat or sleep. I can write for 18+ hours at a time if I’m on a good writing stint. But I do get antsy. Every few hours, I have to go for a run, practice my ballet—something that involves moving my body while my mind is thinking over plot details.
I’ll initially write a rough draft from start to finish. Then, I’ll edit over and over again until I feel it’s ready. That may amount to hundreds of edits, if not more. I’m a compulsive editor. I can’t even go back and read my books once they’re published. I’d still be editing them in my head.
How do you research prospective literary agents or publishers for representation and publication of your works—i.e., what tools and resources?
I use Preditors and Editors and Absolute Write. The first to find out if they’re legit, and the second to find out what authors are saying about them. I’ll also read author blogs to find out if they’ve said anything about their publisher. I can be quite a snoop!
You’ve been traditionally published. Describe the feeling you had when you received and accepted your first contract/offer.
That was the best feeling. Kind of like that moment before you jump off a bridge into what you know will be cool water. Little did I know, the true work was coming (the promotion part) and it would be sink or swim.
I would choose teleportation—I could see the world and skip the airplane travel.
Are you superstitious about your writing habits? If so, what is/are that/those superstition(s)?
I don’t share anything with anyone while I’m on a project. No excerpts, no synopsis, no “post the fifth line of the fifth page of what you’re working on” kind of thing. Nothing. My characters don’t like it. Nothing is shared until their story is published.
You have to commit a major crime to save the life of someone you love. Will you do it, and if so, how far will you go?
Absolutely. The people I love come first. I would do anything to save their lives.
In your mind, what is the ultimate sin?
Murder, rape, and animal/child abuse. Once you do any of those things, I don’t care what happens to you.
In your mind, what is the ultimate blessing?
Cronan from BETWEEN is, and probably always will be, my favorite character. He’s a death spirit and I dreamed his backstory in vivid detail (see question 11 about weird dreams). He’s the reason I started writing paranormal. Initially, I wrote fantasy. Cronan came to me and wouldn’t leave me alone until I told his story. I joke I was dragged into the Otherworld after that. The stories come to me faster than I can write them down.
You discover your best friend is lying to you about something important to you, and hurting you, themselves, others, or all of the above with that lie. What do you do about it?
My reaction would depend on the situation and the lie. But I would probably ask them why they felt the need to lie to me.
You’re faced with a horde of desperate, hungry, potentially violent people in a world where the trucks and trains no longer deliver the goods. What do you do?
Show them how to grow/raise their own food. And then slip away into the night… I’m not stupid. If they’re desperate and potentially violent, I’d rather be on my own.
Why should people read your work?
I’ve been told that my books offer a unique and unexpected slant on the paranormal. I want to make my readers think and (hopefully) never look at the world the same way again.
The good news: Clarissa will soon be re-releasing BETWEEN and STRUCK through a new publisher, so keep an eye out for them if you miss your chance!
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I wish you all the best success with all your endeavors, and heartily look forward to VOICES and more of your future works. Keep up the great work!