Today on my blog I am interviewing Clarissa Johal, author of paranormal, gothic horror and fantasy fiction. Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Clarissa. Can you tell us when you first realised you wanted a career as a writer?
I wrote my first short story in grade six. I was asked by the teacher to read it aloud to the class, which terrified me. After I was finished, I realized that I actually had everyone’s attention! I was shy and we moved every year, so I was always the new kid. When you’re in that situation, it’s kind of like being invisible. Finding my voice through story-telling made me realize how powerful writing could be. I don’t think it occurred to me that I could have a career as an author until my second book, BETWEEN was signed on by Musa Publishing.
Creative people are born that way but they are also shaped by various outside influences. Were you influenced by any particular authors, alive or dead? Does music or some other medium inspire you to write what you do?
The voices in my head tell me what to write. Kidding. Sort of. I love the classics but I’m also inspired by current authors such as Neil Gaiman, Gerald Brom, Amanda Stevens and Simone St. James. Robert Holdstock and Graham Joyce are also favourites; their works will be missed. I like authors that can create that delicate balance of a sympathetic/unsympathetic character in both antagonists and protagonists. As far as a medium—I’m definitely inspired by art. Gerald Brom is an amazing artist and yes, one of his pieces personifies Julian from STRUCK.
Do you recall the moment when you got the idea for your first book?
My first book (PRADEE) started out as a short story assignment for a college mythology class. After the birth of my first child, I decided to expand on the world I had created. It took me ten years to finish the novel but it was a labour of love. I have to say though, my writing style has changed a lot since then.
Why this genre? Do you write in another genre? Is it something you might consider in the future?
I write paranormal for adults but my first book was a fantasy. Three years ago, I was working on a sequel when I had this weird “calling.” Two characters came to me in a rush; Lucas and Cronan from BETWEEN. They weren’t fantasy characters nor they didn’t fit into what I was writing but they wouldn’t go away. I ended up setting the fantasy sequel aside, wrote non-stop for a month, and finished the first draft. That never happens! It usually takes me months to finish a first draft. A year later, my edits were finished, and two months later, BETWEEN was picked up by Musa Publishing. I’ve got my feet firmly planted in the Otherworld now, the ideas come faster than I can write them down.
Cronan from BETWEEN is my favourite. I’ve never had a character come to me so completely formed—I feel like I know him. When you read the book, it seems like Cronan is the ultimate antagonist. But by the end of the story, you understand him through a series of flashbacks. When I was writing BETWEEN, those flashbacks came to me through dreams. It was only when I started checking historical details that I realized that all the details were spot on. It was weird. I also really like Fenton from STRUCK. He’s based on someone I knew many years ago and holds a special place in my heart.
If someone asked you for one tip to improve their writing, what would it be?
Take a short story class and learn to analyse literature–line by line. It sounds tedious but I think that’s the best way to improve your writing skills.
These days being an author is like running a business. The writing itself is time-consuming and requires concentrated effort. You need stamina and self-discipline for all the rewriting and editing you must do to make your product the best it can be. Then, when you think the hard part is over, comes the selling part; all the promoting, blogging, networking, reviews, interviews, etc. It can seem relentless. How do you switch off? What helps you to recharge your batteries?
I hate promoting. Hate it. I like meeting people face to face and talking to them but promoting is a pain. We all do it but realistically, there’s no rhyme or reason as to why certain books make it to the best seller list and others don’t. As far as keeping my batteries charged–I recharge by going to the gym, running, ballet; all the physical activities that keep me sane. Writing requires a lot of sitting and focusing. After twelve hours of that, you can go a little cuckoo!
Many authors have certain recurring themes or messages in their work. Do you see any in your own books?
Suicide pops up a lot, I have no idea why. I’m quite cheery and don’t think about suicide in my day-to-day! Lost souls come up too. I empathize with lost souls, living or dead.
It is said of writers, don’t make them angry or you might end up horribly slaughtered in their next novel. Have you taken revenge on anyone in this way?
No. Life is too short to hold a grudge like that. Interesting people inspire me, however! They usually become peripheral characters in my novels. I saw this one Goth guy several months ago—he was in the grocery store and dressed in black from head to toe, complete with a top hat and Doc Martins. He was trying to figure out what kind of flowers to buy. Like, completely suffering over it. He’d pick up roses and then put them back. Tulips? Nope, he put those back too. Eventually, he settled on carnations. It was kind of funny. He’s definitely going to end up in one of my novels.
What advice would you give to aspiring, young writers who are seeking publication but don’t know where to start?
I wrote a very snarky post in my blog titled “Useless Writing Advice” so I won’t give it here. The road to publication is trial and error and different for everyone. Self-publishing is huge right now. You really need to get a handle on the whole promotion thing, though. There are so many books out there that it’s easy to become lost in the shuffle. All I can say is don’t become the book that’s been poorly edited or formatted. It gives people an excuse to pass over your awesome story.
Can you describe yourself in three words?
No, I can’t.
Is there a work in progress you’d like to tell us about?
My last book VOICES was just signed on by Permuted Press and will be released April 28, 2015. I’m working on THE ISLAND right now and plan to submit to my publisher by the end of the year. My website will keep readers updated on that.
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.
Find Clarissa Johal’s books on:
Amazon Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/klo2jq6
Great interview, Clarissa. Many thanks!