Friday, April 8, 2016

Interview with Clarissa Johal

Interview with Clarissa Johal

1) How did you become an author? What motivated you and what made you decide that this was the life for you?

When I was growing up, we moved yearly, sometimes several times in the same year. I spent a lot of my time alone. It was so hard to make friends, there just didn’t seem any point. Making up stories (and ultimately writing them down) was a way to cope. One year, I was asked to read one of my stories aloud in class. After I was finished, I realized I had everyone’s attention! Finding my voice through story-telling made me realize how powerful writing could be. I studied acting and dance in high school, and won a scholarship for a play I wrote, directed and acted in. With that scholarship, I pursued a degree in English Literature with no plans how to utilize it. I took so many classes in anthropology "for fun" I ended up with a minor in anthropology! With the anthropology minor, I took a job working in the kennels of a veterinary hospital. That turned into veterinary assistant job, and eventually, into a career as a veterinary technician and volunteer zookeeper assistant. Once my daughter was born, I quit the veterinary industry and started writing full-time. I guess you could say everything came full-circle.

2) What inspires you to write. I notice you have multiple novels so, if you could, give me a little bit of history on what you did to get the ink flowing for some of them.

Pradee was a short story I wrote in college which turned into a full length young adult novel. I was working on expanding it into a trilogy when I was hit with two characters from Between (Cronan and Lucas, a Death Spirit and Guardian). I would wake with their back-stories in my head, get flashes of their homeland and people they knew—it was weird. They wouldn’t leave me alone and didn’t belong in the story I was working on, nor did they belong in a young adult novel. In a sense, I was pulled into the Otherworld with Between because I’ve been writing paranormal novels ever since.
Struck came to me while running in a thunderstorm. I wondered what it would be like to be hit by lightning. It’s such a huge burst of energy. That night, I dreamt I was standing in a field and lightning was striking the ground around me. I could feel the electricity crawling over my bare skin. And the lightning wasn’t just releasing electrical energy, it was releasing negative entities from the Otherworld. I woke from the nightmare in a panic, thinking those entities had somehow attached themselves to me. And so a story is born.

The idea of Voices came to me while visiting a paranormal chat forum. Members were discussing the topic of hearing ghosts. Not just the occasional bump in the night, but actual voices of the departed. The general feeling was a reluctance to tell others of their experiences because they didn’t want to be called “crazy” or “schizophrenic.” On a lark, I decided to look up a support forum for those struggling with schizophrenia; specifically, those who reported voices. The two forums had some interesting similarities. I watched the chat boards for about a week while my writer brain percolated a story idea. What would happen if a person confessed to hearing voices and was committed to a mental hospital when, in fact, they were the true voices of ghosts? I found the idea interesting and ran with it.

The Island was based on a childhood incident at camp. The camp was located on a small island and kept solely for campers only. In addition to standard camp activities, the kids were allowed to explore as long as they stayed together in groups of three. Unfortunately, because I was the new kid, my group of three was just me. Free time came, and off I went to explore on my own. There were designated paths on the island, but you know how that goes—kids explore. I decided to forge a path through the woods. While waist-high in foliage, I literally fell into a small cave. The cave was empty…but not empty. Have you ever had that feeling? It felt like whatever resided inside, suddenly fixated on me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood, I felt icy cold, and the prick of tears was close, though I didn’t know why. I felt like I’d stumbled into someplace sacred. After several attempts, I climbed out, but felt like I was being watched. The next day, I returned to the area—wanting to make peace with an unsettled feeling. I looked and looked, but the cave was nowhere to be found. That cave (and the feeling associated with it) stuck with me, and so The Island was born.

3) Do you have a project underway? If so, could we possibly get a sneak peek as to what we'll be seeing when it comes out (if yes, include excerpt that is exciting, hopefully with a cliffhanger)

I have two projects. Poppy will be released later in the year by Booktrope, and Whispers in the Wood should be finished by the end of the year. Poppy is currently in edits, so you’ll have to wait for an excerpt!  Whispers in the Wood is a dark fantasy. That’s all I’m going to say because my characters don’t like me talking about them until the book is finished.

4) How do you come up with your characters? I know many authors struggle to come up with names. Where do yours originate from?

I’ve never had a problem with characters. They come to me completely formed with definite ideas about what they will and won’t do. I’m just the messenger.

5) Do you have any underlying themes in The Island that we should be aware of? This was one of your more rousing successes, and we would love to hear what the author intended to show us!

As I mentioned, The Island was born from a childhood experience. As far as themes, those were mythology-based. I didn’t borrow from any of the tribes in Canada, though that’s where I grew up, but created my own mythology for the antagonists. I have a minor in anthropology and have studied mythology extensively.  I’m quite familiar how cultures use mythologies to make sense of their world. With that I mind, the back story of Thim and Itu became very clear while writing The Island. The tribe they were associated with had experienced so much grief and fear, their emotions became physical beings who fed off the tribe.

6) What is your most recent addition to the literary world? Tell us about it?

Poppy, which will be released later in the year by Booktrope. I’ll leave you with the blurb!

A red-headed, pink-loving mortician who speaks to the dead.
A moody, unsociable funeral director.
Poppy and Dante from Struck are back.

Something is lingering around Skyview Funeral Home—and it's stealing souls of the departed.
With Dante in tow, Poppy is determined to put a stop to it.
Will she be able to protect those who are trying to cross over, or will her soul be next?

7) I've seen you on Twitter; do you have any other ways we can follow you so that we can keep up to date on your publishing.

Look over your shoulder…I am everywhere. Mua-ha-ha….
Or you can stalk me here!

Author Website:
Facebook Page:
Twitter @ClarissaJohal
Amazon Author Page:

8) Out of all your novels, which was the hardest to write and why?

Poppy, hands down. The novel isn’t depressing (scary, but not a depressing!) but there were several times I put the book aside because the research was depressing. Poppy is a mortician and I wanted to know what her life/career was like. I even went so far as to interview a mortician, who was quite upbeat about her job. Once I finished my research, I thought I could breathe a sigh of relief and focus on finishing the story. However, a dear friend of mine unexpectedly passed away, and I ended up setting the novel aside again. Poppy’s job just hit too close to home. In spite of the struggle, it’s turned out to be my best novel.

9) Out of all your novels, which one do you like the most? Which one brings a smile to Clarissa's face?

I’ll always have a soft spot for Between. I feel the most connected to the characters of Cronan and Lucas. Those are my boys. They’re responsible for dragging me into the Otherworld and oddly, I owe them a huge thank you.

10) Finally, what can we expect in the future from you? We've seen horror, both supernatural and psychological; what aspect will you venture into next?

My next book Whispers in the Wood is a dark fantasy. I’ll always write in the paranormal genre, so you can expect it to be tinged with a bit of that too.

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