We are at the one year release anniversary of Clarissa Johal’s spectacularly creepy novel STRUCK. She’s hanging out with us today to talk about her writing inspiration, her love of thunderstorms, and how doing a few plies keeps her writing mind nimble!
But first, here’s the synopsis:
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.
And now to the interview! (Honestly, I found my self nodding and yes-ing so much of through this interview, it's like Clarissa is my spirit guide. But not in a stalker-y way. I swear I am not that creepy.)
Tell us a bit about STRUCK.
STRUCK is my second paranormal novel through Musa Publishing. I was inspired to write STRUCK during a terrific thunderstorm several years ago. I was out running and wondered what it would be like to be struck by lightning in the paranormal sense. I went to bed that night with the idea kicking around and ended up having a nightmare. When I woke, the whole of the book was in my head. I started doing research and interviewed several lightning strike survivors. The aftermath of a lightning strike can be pretty devastating.
And God this book sounds creepy! I love the idea of Julian sort of straddling good and evil. Where did you come up with the idea for him?
Thank you! I aim for creepy. Julian came to me as most of my characters come to me—completely formed. He had his own ideas about what he would and wouldn’t do in my story. My characters always seem to have their own agendas, I just write it down.
What supernatural entity is he, or would that be a spoiler?
Julian has been claimed by dark entities that live within the “particular” energy manifesting as a lightning strike. He isn’t a demon but more of a dark soul. Telling you more than that would be a spoiler, but I will say this—the cycle has been going on for quite some time.
Can you tell us why was Gwynneth chosen by Julian?
There’s a part of Julian that feels a kinship with Gwynneth; she’s an artist and he was an artist. But initially, Gwynneth was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s only as the story progresses that Julian struggles with his initial intent.
You have some wonderful side characters. What do you love about writing sidekicks?
Thank you! I love to make them as interesting as the main character. My side characters have lives and back stories of their own. I always try and write with the idea that, if I wanted to, I could turn them into main characters and write another book just as interesting.
Weather clearly plays a huge part in this story. Do you have a favorite weather event? I love anything with howling wind. (Except sleet, because that’s when I want precipitation to make up its damn mind!)
I LOVE thunderstorms. Love them. Howling wind is always a plus, but if you’ve got lots of thunder and lightning going on, I’m usually outside playing in it.
How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? What was it?
My parents were pretty strict about the television and movies I watched. I was a pretty sensitive kid, so that was probably a good thing. It wasn’t a horror movie, but I remember watching the 1971 version of Omega Man with Charlton Heston. I would have been about seven years old. I have no idea why my parents thought it was okay for me to watch, other than it was billed as science fiction. The afflicted albino mutants scared the crap out of me. I had nightmares for weeks! I’m good with most horror movies but once you start messing with the eyes, I’m done. The eyes are the windows to the soul.
What drew you to gothic horror?
I started out writing fantasy. I was working on a trilogy when I was hit with the characters of Cronan and Lucas from BETWEEN. They wouldn’t leave me alone. I would wake with their back story in my head, I would get flashes of their homeland and people they knew—I felt like I knew their lives inside and out. It was weird. It took me about a month to write the rough draft, which never happens, it usually takes me much longer. I joke I was pulled into the Otherworld with BETWEEN because it changed my life. I’ve been writing paranormal and gothic horror ever since.
Do you have a favorite gothic horror novel?
I really enjoyed Brom’s Krampus: The Yule Lord. He was able to portray Krampus as a sympathetic antagonist, which is always a plus. I just read An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James and enjoyed it. Anything by Neil Gaiman is instantly on my “to read” list. I have a bit of a writerly crush on him.
What are you working on now? Any new books on the horizon?
Yes! I have a paranormal psychological horror VOICES coming out May 19, 2015 through Permuted Press. I’m also working on THE ISLAND which should be ready to submit to my publisher by January.
Do you have any writing rituals?
No secrets here, I’m OCD when it comes to my writing day. First, I’ll start with coffee. Coffee is a must. Two cups of Gevalia French roast in the morning. Then, I get my daughters off to school. From there, I hit the gym, come home, have breakfast and do some ballet (I’ve been dancing for about 20 years). After I get my body in gear, I write. By noon, I’m slumping so I have to eat almonds because I’m addicted to them. Blue Diamond Honey Roasted almonds, to be exact. Then, I write some more until it’s time to pick up my daughters from school. My day in a nutshell, haha.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I have a chair in the living room that reclines. It’s my favorite chair because it’s beside the fireplace and I can look out the window. If I’m feeling restless, I’ll write upstairs in my dance studio so I can plié between scenes. I can’t write when other people are home, though. It messes up the energy.
What inspires you to write?
Art inspires me. I’ll see a painting or some relic an anthropologist has found and stories will come to me in a rush. It’s almost painful not to write them down. A lot of times, characters speak to me and tell me their stories. I just write them down. That sounds weird but writers are a weird bunch.
What 5 books are on your bookshelf right now?
Hmm, I just bought The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. I’m excited to read that. I’m also reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King and Last Stand of Dead Men (Book #8 in the Skullduggery Pleasant Series) by Derek Landy. I generally can’t read “for fun” when I’m writing because it has tendency to change my writing style. Right now I’m reading (for research): Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us by Jason Offutt and The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght.
What do you recommend people see/read/hear?
To see (out and about): My recommendation is to go to an art museum. Look at pretty things. Take a friend or take your child, but just go. There’s something special about art.
To see (at home): I rarely watch television, but I’m really into American Horror Story: Freakshow right now. There’s some great writing going on with that series. I would love to collaborate with those writers.
To read: I think any of the books I’ve mentioned are worth a read but people have different tastes.
To hear: Corvus Corax is a great band but not to everyone’s tastes. If you like bagpipes and neo-medieval type music, give them a listen.
If you want to stalk Clarissa along with me online you visit her website, or hook up with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.