Welcome to the six hundred and forty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with YA fantasy and paranormal fiction author Clarissa Johal. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Clarissa. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Clarissa: Well, I’ve lived in a lot of places but for now, I’m based in North Carolina, USA. I started writing when I was young, as most writers do. My family moved around a lot and I was very shy and found it was a way to make a connection where there was none. I also found it silenced the chattering in my head.
Morgen: All the characters having a party perhaps. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Clarissa: I started writing young adult fantasy fiction. In fact, I was working on my second instalment to Pradee, when I was hit by two characters that didn’t belong in this YA series or any young adult fiction, actually. At that point, I stopped what I was writing and began Between, which is adult paranormal fiction. I really like the adult paranormal genre because it leaves so much wide open and gives me the freedom to explore as a writer. I’ve continued writing instalments to my young adult fantasy on the side, but for now, the genre of adult paranormal and paranormal horror seems to be my calling.
Morgen: Paranormal’s an incredibly popular genre. I’ve not written any but I wouldn’t mind trying. You mentioned two books, what have you had published to-date?
Clarissa: Pradee is available on Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Between was released through Musa Publishing on December 14, 2012 and is available on the Musa Publishing website, Amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.
Morgen: You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Clarissa: Pradee was self-published. Several years ago, I was submitting Pradee to various publishers and agents and, while I was getting great feedback, the economy at the time wasn’t very good in the USA. Therefore, the publishers and agents were reluctant to take on a new author. Eventually, I decided to publish through Lulu.com and then Createspace.com. It was good because it gave me experience with the publishing and advertising process from start to finish. I learned a lot.
Morgen: And am still learning, probably (I’ve self-published, though just eBooks so far). Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Clarissa: Between and Pradee are both available as ebooks. I read both ebooks and paper. There are certain books I want on my shelf because they make me feel clever and well-read and others I’m content to carry on my Kindle. Especially the naughty ones.
Morgen: <laughs> Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Clarissa: I have to admit, my favourite character is Cronan from my paranormal novel, Between. He was just so complex and there was so much going on with his backstory. If I were to meet him in person, however, I would probably run away because he’s so intense.
I would love for both Between and Pradee to be made into films. Pradee would have to be A Dark Crystal or Neverending Story kind of production, because there are so many creatures in it. It would be awesome if Tim Burton could direct that one, I think he would “get” my vision. Between would make a good film if they could focus on the philosophical and historical components and not make fluff out of it, as I see happen with many good novels. I do have actors that I would consider a good fit for Between but I prefer not to share. I like people to have their own images when they’re reading my novels.
Morgen: Tim Burton’s great, isn’t he. I love quirky. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Clarissa: I had complete say in Pradee, because it was self-published. Portia Baum did my cover art. In Between, Musa Publishing works with the author quite closely to determine what they want in the cover art. So, that would be a yes as well. I think cover art is extremely important—it can make or break if someone will even pick up your novel. People are very visual.
Morgen: And both your covers are very visual. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Clarissa: Right now, I’m working on my next paranormal horror novel, Struck. It’s about a woman who is struck by lightning and… that’s all I can say right now.
Morgen: Ooh, exciting. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Clarissa: Yes, I definitely write every day! I do suffer writer’s block and may let a novel stew until the characters start speaking to me again. On those days, I spend more time practising my ballet or focusing on something physical.
Morgen: Physical activities are great for the mind. Mine’s less so than ballet (I don’t think I’ve ever done any ballet) but have a dog who will always be willing to go for a walk. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Clarissa: I write straight from beginning to end in my rough draft. I never know how the novel is going to end but I have a general idea where it’s going. Then, I’ll go back and start editing and pulling the threads together to make it cohesive. I hate anything to do with sewing, but it is kind of like sewing a quilt. You get all the squares in order first, and then start the fine stitching.
Morgen: I remember making a (hideous) skirt at school but nothing since. I’m good at repairing; I’ve replaced zips in jeans. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Clarissa: I always say that my characters tell me their story, not vice versa! Most will come to me “completely formed,” so to speak. Sometimes, I’ll be inspired by someone I meet, but they usually end up being peripheral. And I like quirky characters. Everybody has a quirk, that’s what makes them unique and special.
Names, however, I do put a lot of work into. I will think of the personality traits and look up baby name meanings to see what name matches up and strikes me as the “right” one. Then, I’ll a write backstory for the character, which includes a family history, and look into surnames. The surnames have to fit into the family history.
Morgen: Characters should have quirks. As you say, we do so it’s important that characters aren’t two-dimensional. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Clarissa: I’ve found that I’m getting better at editing as I go, but I still will go through hundreds of readings and edits before I have something ready to submit.
Morgen: Hundreds? Ouch. Do you have to do much research?
Clarissa: I do a TON of research. I couldn’t have written Between without the help of the library of County Cork, Ireland. Internet searches, library research, old texts, mythology, I use all of those resources.
Morgen: Do you write any poetry?
Clarissa: I used to write poetry when I was young. That angst-ridden poetry that helps you get through your teen years. I don’t any more because I’m in my 40’s and have little angst left.
Morgen: That’s good to hear. How about short stories or non-fiction?
Clarissa: I have two short stories, Pigeons and The Rope, published in the literary journal, Susurrus and a non-fiction piece that was published in The Sacramento Bee newspaper. I don’t favour short stories, though. If I put effort into something, it’s usually a full-length novel. I save the short stuff for blogging.
Morgen: I tend to do both. I have a 5pm fiction slot where I write a short story (usually flash fiction) a day and find that rather than having ‘legs’ they naturally end up being just a few hundred words. I guess we write what we’re used to (although I have written six novels so I found legs for those :)). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Clarissa: Oh yes, tons of rejections. Every writer does. I think of it like this, say I decide to throw on a pair of purple striped tights and a red plaid mini-dress with combat boots and go out for a night on the town. Now, some people might look at me and think, “Geez, did the cat throw up on you or what?” Other people however, may think, “Wow, cool outfit!” Writing is like that. You just have to find somebody that likes your style. I don’t take rejections personally, everyone is allowed their own opinion. However, I try and read between the lines. If all rejections are say something like, “It didn’t capture my interest” or “The story isn’t compelling,” then that would be my cue to re-examine those things and fix them.
Morgen: I love the analogy. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Clarissa: No agent. And no, while I do feel like it can free up the writer’s time and effort, I don’t feel they’re necessary.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Clarissa: I do most of the marketing at this point. Musa Publishing does some but the responsibility lies mostly with the author.
Morgen: It does generally. Few publishing houses have the budget (and then often because they have ‘household’ names on their books). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Clarissa: I really don’t like the marketing, oddly enough. I feel arrogant pushing my own work, but I’m getting better. The days of writing something and sitting back waiting for people to hand you accolades are over—there’s just too much competition. Maybe I need an agent.
Morgen: It’s not odd at all. It’s the usual answer to that part of the question, mainly because it’s tough, and incredibly time-consuming. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Clarissa: Get an agent. No, I’m kidding. Don’t give up. Develop a thick skin, take nothing personally and take everything in. Start networking early in your career, it takes a long time to develop a following and networks are vital to writing success.
Morgen: It certainly does. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Clarissa: I would invite Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman and Charlie Chaplin to dinner. I would at that point, be too terrified to cook anything so I think I’d have to order vegetarian Chinese takaway. And lots of wine. I don’t drink but it would have to be there so Tim, Neil and Charlie could get drunk and think I was clever.
Morgen: I’m sure they would anyway; they’re a great choice. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Clarissa: I can pull a rabbit out of my hat… no I can’t actually. I don’t wear hats. I love photography. I have a portfolio online but what I don’t know about the technical aspect of photography would fill volumes.
Morgen: As a photographers’ daughter / niece, I grew up surrounded by photography although I’ve had little experience for the past 20 years (since my father retired / I moved away). Designing my own covers has made me think about the layout of photographs and I’ve just joined a photography group with MeetUp so I’m hoping I’ll pick up some tips (there are some very enthusiastic ‘amateurs’ there). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Clarissa: Preditors and Editors is a great place to start. http://pred-ed.com.
Morgen: A great site. I’m sure many an author would have saved themselves a lot of money and heartache if they’d checked there first. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Clarissa: I have a Facebook page that I enjoy. I guess you could call that networking, I just like getting to know people. There are a lot of talented people out there to get to know. I’m not a huge forum or networking person, I’ve tried but I find that they take up a huge amount of time, so I pretty much stick to Facebook.
Morgen: Facebook’s my favourite of all the ones I’m on. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Clarissa: The doors are opening as far as getting published goes. It used to be everything was traditional—write, get an agent, get a publishing contract. Now however, and largely due to the internet, writers are able to find different places and ways to have their work published. You see success stories every day.
Morgen: You do, thankfully. It does mean there are more authors than ever getting their work out there but I believe more readers because of eBooks. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Clarissa: Author website: http://clarissajohal.com
- Blog: http://clarissajohal.blogspot.com
- Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/clarissa.johal.9
- Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Clarissa-Johal/e/B003KVTMPK
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Clarissa: I’m a big fan of lime popsicles. And I’m terrified of butterflies and werewolves. Other than that, nothing I can think of.
Morgen: Werewolves I can understand. Shame about the butterflies although they do have this skill of silently sneaking… no, sorry, I shouldn’t. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Clarissa: What’s been the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you? Okay, you can ignore that question if you wish. What compelled you write start a blog such as this one, aside from your love of books? Are you surprised you’ve gained such a huge following?
Morgen: No, I don’t mind going with choice no. one first. I was early twenties, working for an engineering company (as computer administrator, my pre-secretary days) and a got chatting to one of the accountants walking across the yard. I spotted a long hair on her chin and offered to remove it. It didn’t come off when I pulled it… then she told me to keep pulling! Yuk. 🙂
OK, next question. I started the blog because I’d heard it was a good thing to do and I did little with my website (which I still have – www.morgenbailey.com as it points to the blog) and that I should put at least one post up a week. I started with things that interested me and I was invited to be an interviewee. At the time I was doing fortnightly audio interviews for the podcast which took a lot of work. Seeing as the blog versions were done via email I knew I could do far more in that time. Then everything else came bit-by-bit to what it is today. The latest being the https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback and https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/online-writing-groups pages which I’m very proud of as authors (and a publisher!) are helping give free feedback on each others’ writing. It’s great. I thought the ‘traffic’ was very good (200-500 a day) until someone on LinkedIn told me she has ten times mine, but then it’s all about quantity vs quality and I’m happy with mine… so far. 🙂 Thank you, Clarissa.
I then invited Clarissa to include a synopsis and this is of ‘Between’…
Tagline: How far would you go to redeem yourself?
Blurb: As a young girl, Lucinda was able to see spirits, a gift that didn’t come without its problems. Now, a dedicated young veterinarian, she is committed to the idea that every life can be saved.
After a devastating accident, Lucinda tries to escape her past by moving to a small town. There, she meets a newcomer and feels an immediate connection with him. But there is another mysterious stranger to the small town, one that stirs within her a mixture of unease and desire.
As Lucinda is drawn into a bitter tug-a-war from the forces around her, she is likewise pulled into a dangerous twist of past and present events. Forced to make difficult choices, she finds that the two men are locked in not only a battle for her life… but a battle for their salvation.
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.
Clarissa 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. You can find out more about her books from her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Clarissa-Johal/e/B003KVTMPK
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