Clarissa Johal: October 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Welcome to the 2013 October Coffin Hop

**Please visit my fellow Coffin Hoppers at the end of this post!
All profits from the sale of DEATH BY DRIVE-IN will be donated to

The Story of Red
by Clarissa Johal

Halloween. It's the time when spirits come out to play. A time when the veil becomes thin and spirits can cross over at will.
Do you believe is ghosts? I'm going to tell you a ghost story, because it's what I do.

It was October of 2002 and I was pregnant with my second child. In my last trimester, I was carrying an extra 25 extra pounds, had morning sickness 24/7, and was almost ready to give up on my 2-year-old's social life. That's when I met Angie. Fun and free-spirited, Angie was also pregnant, and had a 2-year-old with boundless energy. We hit it off immediately. She and her husband had just moved into the area, and bought a beautiful old house from the 1920s. The house had been for sale as a fixer-upper for months. I'd driven by it several times, and when she invited me over, I was excited to finally see the inside.

The moment I stepped through the front door, I saw an old man standing by the window. I knew technically he wasn't there, because what I was seeing...was a ghost.

Let me explain how seeing a ghost goes--at least for me. You don't see with your eyes, but rather with a corner of your brain which slams an image into your thoughts. And there it stays, unlike any other. Does that sound weird? C'est la vie. It is what it is.

So, back to my story. The ghost stood facing the window, his head bowed. Light passed through him and washed out all color. He wore solid pants with a thin belt, a checkered, button-up shirt, and dress shoes. The sorrow and sadness radiating from him was overwhelming. Every time I visited Angie, he'd be there. Same position, same clothes, and seemingly stuck in a world of his own.
And essentially, I guess he was.

I pondered on whether or not to bring the subject of him up. Our friendship was new, and I realize that some people got weirded-out discussing these things. But as time passed, I was distracted by the old man's presence. It felt rude not to acknowledge him. Kind of like I was ignoring another person in the room.

Finally, I decided to broach the subject. The conversation went like this:

"Angie, do you ever see an old man in your house?"
"No, I haven't."
"Do you believe in ghosts? Because I kind of feel like you have one."
"There was an old man who died in this house before we bought it," she said. "How weird! Describe him to me."
And I did.
"Do you get a name?" she asked.
Up until that point, I hadn't. But as soon as she asked, the name "Red" slammed into my thoughts pretty hard. "Red?" I repeated, unsure.
Angie's eyes widened. She jumped up and began to rummage through a drawer in her kitchen. "His name is in here," she said. "Oh, my God, I have to show you." After several minutes, she pulled out some papers.
To my surprise, Red was the nickname of the man who died in the house. He was a WWII war veteran, and never quite recovered from his experience. He lived with his daughter until the day he died, apparently not speaking a word after returning from Germany.
I was kind of overwhelmed. Aside from that, I felt helpless. It made me sad that he was stuck in Angie's house--trapped by his past, and unable to move on after his death.

That experience will always stick with me. Up until then, I hadn't trusted myself when it came to supernatural happenings. The things I saw and experienced while growing up, had been categorized as "weird stuff" that could logically be explained away.

So, do you believe in ghosts now? Does this count as evidence of the existence of ghosts? No, because you don't know me, and I may be making it all up.
Except that I'm not.

Speaking of supernatural happenings, take a look at...

How far would you go to redeem yourself?

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.

*Second place in the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll 2012

BETWEEN buy links:
Musa Publishing 

The shadows hadn't been waiting. The shadows had been invited. 

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.

*Coming from Musa Publishing January 17, 2014

Author Bio:

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.

One ecopy of my novel BETWEEN
(and) One ecopy of COOKING WITH MUSA
Both in the format of your choice

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Prize winner will be announced on November 1st

*Please visit other Coffin Hoppers for more chances to win cool prizes.

*Coffin Hop Art by Axel Howerton: Coffin Hop Press

Friday, October 4, 2013

STRUCK excerpt

The shadows hadn't been waiting.
The shadows had been invited.

A paranormal gothic horror
Coming January 17, 2014 from Musa Publishing


A bolt of blue-white lightning snaked from the sky and hit the ground in front of her. The thunderclap that shattered the air was deafening. Gwynneth slammed on her brakes and skidded. It was a slow skid, or it seemed to be. Spinning around and around in a circle, she felt like she was watching herself from afar. Time felt like it was slowing. Oddly enough, she found herself wondering if there would be white or red flowers on Hannah’s casket. Or maybe none at all.

Gwynneth’s face smacked against the steering wheel. Reality hit her along with the pain. She had forgotten to wear her seatbelt. She pressed her fingers lightly to her throbbing temple and winced. “Shit!” Thankfully, she was in one piece. Gwynneth opened the car door. Lightning lit the area and bathed her senses in a flash of blue-white. Icy rain hit her skin. Stupid! You left your jacket back at the funeral home. She ran around the car and checked all the tires. The back one was flat, and on top of that, her car was quite obviously stuck in a ditch. “Great.” She had no spare tire, she knew that for sure. She also had no idea which way led back to the retirement home. Her headlights cast a weak glow through the rain. Soaked to the skin and shivering, Gwynneth peered into the darkness. A muddy road meandered across saturated fields and off into nothingness.

She sloshed back to her car and quickly turned the engine off. She certainly didn’t need a dead battery on top of a flat tire. “Okay, Gwen,” she said aloud, “you need to figure out what to do.” Rain ran in rivulets down her face and her tie-dyed T-shirt stuck to her like a second skin. I’m a soggy, shivering rainbow. She started to walk and cursed the fact that her cell phone wasn’t charged. Seth was always bugging her about that. “Suck it up, Gwen. It rains in Oregon too.” The inky blackness was disconcerting. Lightning intermittently illuminated the area like the flash of a camera. A snapshot of a road to nowhere. Gwynneth hoped that she was at least walking in the right direction. Her teeth were chattering so hard she was in danger of biting her own tongue. Thunder rolled up her spine and along her scalp like probing fingers.

Her thoughts wandered back to Hannah. A diary. I wonder what she wrote about? She wouldn’t read it, of course, it was private. I’m sure she just wants me to throw it away so her children don’t either. A pang of loss sliced through the cold and Gwynneth shook it off. They had spent countless hours chatting and Hannah never mentioned a diary. She bit her lip. If she could only turn back time, Gwynneth would have told her how much their time together had meant. Hannah had always encouraged her to start painting again, but also understood why Gwynneth couldn’t.

A loud ‘crack’ sounded and an iridescent white light surrounded her. Two things registered: a searing pain that ripped down her back and the ground which seemed to be pulled away from her at an alarming speed.

* * * *


Pain shot through the back of Gwynneth’s head as she opened her eyes. Somebody was standing over her. She tried to focus on the face, but it hurt too much. A cool hand slid across her forehead. She opened her eyes again.

Pale, almost white eyes. High cheekbones, aquiline nose, and a well-shaped mouth. Long, white hair. Ageless. Beautiful, like a Michelangelo. All of those details registered with clarity before agony ripped through her body. She arched her back and cried out. The man murmured something into her ear which she couldn’t understand. She could feel the vibration of his voice and his breath on her neck as he gathered her in his arms. She opened her eyes and saw lightning fork to the ground silently behind him. She blacked out again.


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Musa Publishing

Thursday, October 3, 2013

BETWEEN excerpt

How far would you go to redeem yourself?


The soporific sound of drumming rain soon lulled Lucinda to sleep and her book slipped to the floor. The flames in the fireplace burned down low. Muted light played across the living room window, mixing with the rivulets of rain from outside. There was a faint knock at the door. Startled awake, Lucinda checked the small clock that hung on the wall. One forty-nine in the morning. Who could be stopping by so late? she wondered. Marny? No, she would have called first. Maybe an emergency with somebody’s pet.
“Just a minute.” Re-wrapping the blanket around herself, she went to open the door. As soon as she twisted the doorknob, the unlocked door flew open, blasting her with a gust of icy wind and rain. Lucinda let out a cry of surprise as she was temporarily blinded.
A man stood on her porch. As he stepped closer, he went from a gray, watery outline to a solid entity. His black sweater dripped with rain and lay like a second skin on his powerful-looking torso. Dark black jeans were plastered onto his equally muscular legs.
“Come in! It’s freezing out there!” Lucinda moved aside as the man stepped over her threshold.
“I apologize for knocking so late.” His voice was even and low. “I saw the light coming from within.” He bowed his head, running a hand through his short, dark hair. His eyes flickered up to meet hers.
Lucinda blinked, startled by their flash of shocking, ice-gray.
Darwin growled at him, hackles raised.
“Darwin!” Lucinda scolded. “Did you break down somewhere?”
The stranger paused before answering. “Yes. I broke down.”
“I’m so sorry! Do you need to use the phone? The only tow truck company I know of around here is probably closed for the night.”
He stood dripping in her front room, the water pooling darkly around his feet onto the hardwood floor.
“Let me get you a towel. You must be freezing.” She patted Darwin firmly on the head. “Darwin, stay put.” The dog sat, eying the stranger fixedly. Lucinda ran into the bathroom and grabbed the only towel she had, which had been tossed over the shower door. She hoped he wouldn't notice it was slightly damp.
“Thank you.” He took the towel from her.
A shock leapt through their fingers as they touched. Lucinda pulled her hand back. The dying fire flickered off the hard planes of his jaw. She watched as he ran the rough, blue towel through his hair, light eyes never breaking contact with hers. She felt a chill steal through her. “I’ll add some wood to the fire,” she murmured, embarrassed for staring. She turned away to hide a blush stealing over her cheeks. “The phone is in the kitchen if you want to leave the tow truck a message.” The man walked behind her, and Lucinda turned with a start.
“My apologies.”
Her initial alarm dissipated as quickly as it came. She shook her head to clear it. “I’ll get you the phone. You don’t even know where my kitchen is.” Ducking around him, she pulled her blanket tighter. Red-faced, Lucinda returned and handed it to him. He ran a hand through his wet hair again, brushing it away from his forehead. She found herself staring at him. His face was attractive, but there was a darkness about it that made her feel slightly uncomfortable. Not a darkness of color — his skin was quite light — but from within. It made her heart beat faster. His eyes, however, burned a bright, clear gray.
“Thank you.” He ran his thumb over the mouthpiece of the receiver.
“Where are you from, Mister — ?”
“Excuse me?”
“The phone.” He handed it to her. “It is dead.”
Lucinda took the phone from him and listened to its silence. “The storm must have knocked out the lines. Damn it. I left my cell phone at work. I don’t have a car, or I would offer to drive you to wherever you’re staying. Are you just passing through?”
He raised a dark, arched eyebrow. “Now that is something you do not hear of these days,” he said in his low, even tone.
“What’s that?”
“Not having a car.”
“I know. I used to have a car, but the town is so small, I, um, decided to sell it when I moved here. My bicycle works fine.” His sudden smile was wide and slightly disarming. It left her feeling jumpy. Lucinda cleared her throat, gathering her thoughts and holding her hand out formally. “I’m Lucinda Bell. I’m the town veterinarian.”
“Cronan.” He slid her hand into hers.
The name stirred something within her. Something between fear and a feeling she couldn’t place. His icy grip was overly firm, and she fought the sudden urge to run. She drew her hand back and pulled the blanket around her again. “You’re freezing. Do you want a cup of tea?”
“I do not require anything to drink.”
“Okay.” Lucinda shifted her weight nervously. “Well, that’s three new people I’ve met recently. That never happens in this town.” Something indecipherable flickered across Cronan’s face. “Where are you staying?” Lucinda asked.
“I have yet to take up residence.” Eyes still appraising her, he ran the towel down his neck, catching water droplets in its thirsty folds. Lucinda’s gaze followed the towel. “Oh. Well, the closest place to stay is at the motel down the main highway.”
Cronan cocked his head slightly. A shudder of wind and torrential rain slammed against the windows.
“But, of course,” Lucinda continued, “you can’t possibly walk there in this weather. It’s about ten miles away, and it’s kind of late.”
“It is late.” His gray eyes studied her thoughtfully. “And I would not want to get into an accident.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “No, of course not. You can stay here tonight, Mr. Cronan. I don’t have anything for you to change into. I have a clothes dryer but…well, um, you can borrow a blanket while your clothes are in the dryer, if you want.” Lucinda felt herself blush and mentally kicked herself for it. Shut up! Shut up!
“I have not the need to change into anything presently.” He caught Darwin’s fierce glare and chuckled. “And please, call me Cronan.” His light eyes locked with hers again.
“Cronan,” she repeated. “That’s an unusual name.”
“It is a family name.”
“Oh.” Her heart hammered in her chest. Maybe this is a bad idea. The thought was pulled away like the tide, and her panic subsided as quickly as it came. The clock ticked loudly, marking their silence. “Well, you can sleep in here. The fire should keep this room warm. I would offer one of the other bedrooms but there’s no furniture in them.”
“Thank you, this will be quite comfortable, Lucinda.” Her name rolled off his tongue in an intimate way that made her face grow warm.
“You’re welcome.” Studying his face, she felt like she had missed something. “Let me get you a blanket.” Dashing into her bedroom, she realized too late that she was wrapped up in her only blanket. She fingered its worn saffron threads. His clothes are wet. And he’s probably colder than he’s letting on. Grabbing the sheet from her bed, she neatly folded the tartan blanket and wrapped herself in the sheet.
“Here.” She came back out and set the blanket down in the chair. Cronan glanced at it, his expression unreadable. “I have others,” she lied, “but this is my warmest one. Come on, Darwin.” She turned and walked toward her bedroom door, aware of his eyes boring into her back. She shut the door, and for the first time since moving in, she locked it.
Cronan stood alone in the middle of the room and gazed into the fire. Walking over to it, he pressed the damp towel against his face, inhaling deeply. A smile spread across his lips. He turned and his gaze fell upon the tartan blanket. Just as quickly, his smile faded like a memory. 

Purchase BETWEEN 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

PRADEE - A Young Adult Fantasy - Excerpt

PRADEE - A young adult fantasy

What if there were an artifact that had the power to change the future? Would you use it?

Three friends are accused of poisoning an Elder in their village. They escape to the mysterious region of Vel to search for the Guardian of a mythical artifact, one with the power to see the past and change the future. If they find the artifact, it could prove their innocence. However, if it falls into the wrong hands, it could destroy the future of their world as they know it.

In the tradition of The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, PRADEE will pull the reader into an exciting, otherworldly adventure.

*Second round finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award Contest 2012


   Cerj scampered up the hill that led to the Lawkeeper’s home. The Elders had told him which way to go and had given him a description of the Lawkeeper.  Excited to be given such a task, Cerj had set off running as fast as he could.  Few villagers ever spoke of Wir’yinn, fewer still had actually seen the reclusive Lawkeeper.  It was as if everyone was hiding something, thought the youngster.  His heart beat rapidly, partially because of the important task he had been entrusted with, and partially because for the first time in his young life—Cerj was afraid.

   As he reached the top of the hill, the forest closed around him like a fist.  The light was fading quickly.  Cerj slowed his pace as he approached a brier wall that, he was told, encircled Wir’yinn’s home. Maybe he could catch him off guard, wouldn’t that be something to tell his friends! The great Lawkeeper caught in one of his secret moments! He took a deep breath and bravely pushed his way through the brier.  As he pushed farther and farther, the young Riverfolk became caught in the thorns and began to panic.

   “Help! Help me!” Cerj thrashed around like a fish in a net. Suddenly, something closed around his wrist and he was pulled unceremoniously off his feet and held in mid-air.  A creature that could only be the Lawkeeper looked him over as if inspecting a piece of food. “Pl-please don’t hurt me!” Cerj stammered.  “My name is Cerj, son of Pulk. I was sent here from T’hal to deliver a message!” Cerj cowered as the creature’s black, pupil-less eyes narrowed. “You are Wir’yinn, am I right?”

   The creature responded by snapping his sharp beak.

   “W-we need you to stand by for a possible Contract!”

   Wir’yinn raised a feather-tufted eyebrow. His short horns gleamed ebony against his mottled green skin.  His sharp beak opened and closed soundlessly.

   “Three of our villagers have been accused of poisoning an Elder!” Cerj continued nervously. “The Elders think Wex and Mourr have committed the crime. They’re not sure, really. Cobweb helped them escape. Tordok thinks they’ve gone in search of the Guardian of the Orb but the other Elders think they’ve just run away.” Cerj ran out of breath, heart beating wildly. “The village is waiting until the first seed sprout and if they haven’t returned, they would like you to return them to T’hal.”

   The Lawkeeper studied him silently. Seemingly satisfied that he was telling the truth, he dropped him on the ground. 

   Cerj grunted in pain and struggled to his feet.

   Wir’yinn turned on one clawed heel and strode over to log.  His long fingers closed around the handle of an axe that was longer than Cerj’s whole body.  Shouldering the axe easily, the Lawkeeper turned and climbed up a large, nearby tree. 

   Absently picking the brambles from his fur, Cerj approached the tree.  In the fading light, it seemed as though the Lawkeeper had disappeared. He stepped back and squinted to get a better look. The Lawkeeper’s home looked like a large box. Camouflaged, it perched between several of the tree’s larger branches about half-way up.  Cerj ran his webbed paws along the trunk and started the climb with difficulty. Higher and higher he pulled himself. He avoided looking down.  As he reached the base of the box, he spotted a small hole carved at the bottom.  Cerj steadied himself against one of the branches and poked his head into the hole. 

   The large, one-room box glowed with a yellowish light. The Riverfolk blinked, allowing his eyes to adjust. He slowly pulled himself through the hole and scanned his surroundings. 

   Wir’yinn huddled in one darkened corner, his back to him. 

   Keeping one webbed paw on the wall, he walked carefully around the perimeter.  He was quite conscious of the fact he was high up in a tree and had heard all sorts of rumors about the Lawkeeper’s home.  Looking around, however, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. Small, tightly woven baskets hung around the abode’s perimeter.  Moving lights flickered within. Upon closer examination, Cerj realized that the lights were Polk-Beetles and their larvae. The beetles crawled and hit the walls of the baskets, helpless to escape. Their larvae emitted a soft, yellow glow.  This isn’t that different than my home, Cerj mused. Except that it’s enclosed.  He steadied himself against the wall again. And high up in a tree. There was a single pile of grass and leaves in corner, similar to what Burrowers slept and sat upon.  It’s not so different.

   In the center of the dwelling was a single wooden table and chair.  The table was carved to depict a kneeling Lawkeeper.  Her wings curved gracefully over her head to create the table’s surface. The chair had also been carved to look like wings. Disembodied, the wings cupped themselves to hold the sitter like a pair of hands. Both pieces were polished and glowed warmly in the yellow light. Cerj goggled at the furniture’s beauty and reached out to touch one of the wings.  He glanced guiltily over at the Lawkeeper and pulled his hand back.  “That was the Elder’s message. I…should be going.”  

   The Lawkeeper abruptly turned. His wings, now edged black and yellow, flattened behind him.  He motioned for the Riverfolk to sit at the table. 

   Slowly, Cerj sat in the chair. 

   Wir’yinn walked over to him.  With lightning speed, he grabbed Cerj’s paw and held it tightly. The Lawkeeper seemed to be gauging his response as he pressed his face closer to the Riverfolk’s.

   “We j-just wanted you to stand by,” Cerj stammered. “They still have time to return home, of course.”

   The Lawkeeper's impressive-looking wings stretched outwards, spanning a good eight feet across. Reaching behind with his free hand, Wir’yinn plucked out a long, glassy-looking feather. He pointed the quill end like an accusing finger before sweeping the quill end downward, piercing one of Cerj’s webbed digits. 

   Cerj cried out in surprise.  He stared, wide-eyed, at the drop of blood that welled up.

   The Lawkeeper rolled the quill of the feather across the injury.

   “I really should be going,” Cerj felt light-headed.

   Wir’yinn laid the feather on the table with a finality and released Cerj’s paw. The Lawkeeper folded his wings and turned his back to him.

   Cerj stared at the Lawkeeper’s feather.  He watched the red color bleed into the feather's long vanes.  The Elders had trusted him to deliver the message but they hadn’t said anything about what had just happened.  “So, you’ll wait for us to notify you, right?” 

   The Lawkeeper was silent.

   Confused and heart hammering wildly in his chest, Cerj left the feather on the table, bright red with his own blood.


Buy Links:

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Abusive Boyfriends, Prostitutes and Dead Bodies...Write What You Know

I think it's funny when people say, "I've always wanted to be an author, but I don't know what to write about." My answer to that is this; everyone has experiences. Write about those, and you have a story. I'll bet you can pull some interesting characters out of those experiences too. Use them. It's okay, I won't tell.

Last night, I was chatting with a friend of mine, reminiscing about an apartment I used to live in many years ago while attending university. Anybody that's been a student knows that sometimes, in order to pay tuition, you end up living in the most...interesting places. And this particular building was interesting, to say the least.
One tenant I became friends with had a boyfriend I wasn't too fond of. He was abusive and used to hit her. I tried repeatedly to help, but sometimes, nothing you say or do will fix these situations. One day, her boyfriend went ballistic and threatened her with a gun, telling her he was going to blow her head off. She took refuge in my apartment and when he came to the door looking for her, I lied and told him she had moved back to San Francisco.
Another tenant would kick out her six-year-old child so she could be free to "entertain" guests. And yes, by that, I mean mom was a prostitute. The child would wander the halls, entertaining herself in god knows how many different ways, until I got home from class. I would ask her if she wanted to hang out with me while I did my homework, and she always did. We'd watch cartoons until her mother was finished with business and come to fetch her. There was never an exchange of many words between us, and I have no idea what her mother thought of me, but I always felt sad when the little girl left. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have called Child Protective Services, but at 23-years-old, I hadn't a clue about that stuff. It's one of those things that will always haunt me.
And then, there was the tenant who died. I used to see him every morning as I would leave for class. He'd be ducking out his door to grab his morning paper and always wore a straw hat. I thought this was odd since most people don't wear hats inside, but hey, different strokes. We'd exchange some sort of greeting, he didn't speak English, and then go about our respective days. One morning, I didn't see him. I didn't think much about it until his newspapers began to pile up. You know that little voice inside that tells you something is very wrong? It spoke up then.  I alerted the manager of the building and we both went to check up on newspaper guy. After a few knocks and my assertion that, seriously, something was wrong, the manager decided to use his key. As soon as the door was opened, we saw that the man had been dead for days. He was still wearing his hat, and it's an image I won't ever forget. The smell too...I won't ever forget it. Ever. Unfortunately, that was the third dead body I'd seen in my lifetime. It's no wonder I write what I do.

And these are the experiences that you draw from, as a writer. I know you have them. Everyone does. So...start writing. You have no excuse.