Book Spotlight Struck by Clarissa Johal



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.


Author Bio and Buy Links:

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.






Amazon Author page:



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.



When the Devil’s in the Details

Twilight Healer features vampire fiction by Barbara Custer.These last weeks, I’ve taken marching orders from my Mylar balloons regarding the manuscript reformatting and new cover for Twilight Healer. If something’s off, I’ll hear about it. As a writer buddy once told me, the devil’s in the details.

The process began with me reading each chapter and correcting mistakes the way the balloons instructed me. I imagined the manuscript with page headers and numbers, when the rustling of the balloons by my chair caught my attention.

Balloons, frowning: That manuscript isn’t ready, Bar-ba-ra.

Me, smiling: It will be after I do the pagination and headers.

Balloons: How about changing the spelling of “okay” to “OK” the way Gemini Wordsmiths taught you? Are you sure you’ve got consistent spelling for the last names? What about extraneous adverbs?

Me, with a sigh: Want me to do a Search and Find for these items?

Balloon, patting me on the head: Dats wight, wabbit. And while you’re at it, ask Teresa Tunaley to look over your back cover. Betcha she’ll have good suggestions.

Of course, the balloons had it right, as you can see by the final version of the back cover above. As for the other chores, Word’s Find, Search and Replace feature served as my best friend. Search and Replace made it easy to change a character’s name. It provided an easy fix for a word I’ve consistently misspelled. For example, Wordsmiths had me use Search and Replace to change “okay” to “OK,” and I did the same for Twilight Healer. Be aware, though, that Word will change every word that has the letters chosen, so you may realize changes you hadn’t planned. Twilight Healer was missing commas in sentences that included the adverb “too,” when I meant “also.” So I did a Find, examining every sentence that used “too,” and found about seven missing commas. The Find feature takes longer to do, but you get more accurate results.

I’d like to mention Word’s Track Changes, a popular tool for editors and authors. Alas, I’ve seen a lot of people shy away from using the Track Changes. They don’t bite, folks. To access the Track Change on Word 2007, I go to the “Review” tab on the ribbon and right below, click where it says, “Track Changes.” This enables me to recommend changes and the text I delete or add will show in the color chosen (usually red). If I have more revising in mind, I’ll highlight the text in question, select “New Comment,” and a pretty balloon pops enabling me to comment, make a suggestion, or ask questions. If the author agrees with my changes, (s)he can hover the cursor over the added text, right-click on it, and a box will come up, giving the option to accept or reject the change. Once the author addresses the issues noted in my balloons, (s)he can click on the balloon for the option to delete the comment.

Getting back to Twilight Healer, I finished the pagination and was about to convert the file to a PDF, when something soft as a feather brushed my shoulder.

Balloons: Did you forget something, Bar-ba-ra?

Me, after looking at the front matter: Dang! I forgot the ISBN.

Balloons: Wight, wabbit. It wouldn’t do to omit the ISBN from the front matter.

Smiling, I typed in the ISBN and converted the file to PDF. The PDF is good to go. I’m waiting for Teresa to put finishing touches on the cover. Now it’s on to redoing the eBook, and of course, proofing a physical copy of the book. My Mylar balloons wouldn’t have it any other way. Like my friends said, the devil’s in the details.

Before You Send your Manuscript to the Printer….

Twilight Healer features Barbara Custer's timid respiratory therapist finding new life as a vampire.At my Mylar balloons’ encouragement, I got my refurbishment of Twilight Healer underway on July 24. Teresa Tunaley did a beautiful job with calligraphy on the lady-in-white front cover image (illustration by Dreamstime). Once I slapped together a new file with revised masthead, I’d have it up on Amazon within a few days, right? Wrongies. None of y’all heard a peep out of me since the 24th. What’s more, nobody’s seen the new cover on my website, Amazon, or anywhere else. That’s because the balloons weren’t finished giving me orders

As I copied and pasted Chapter Seven from the old Twilight Healer file’s contents to the new file, a familiar cry echoed from the balloon tree by my chair: Bar-ba-ra! What do you think you’re doing, Bar-ba-ra?

I stiffened upright, knowing full that I was in for it, and answered: I’m preparing the new TH file so I can send it to the printer.

Balloons: Without reading it? Don’t you think you ought to, you know, proof it?

Me: Proof it? That file’s been proofed twice – once by a content editor and then another editor from Tree Press Publishing years ago.

Balloons: We don’t care if ten editors went through it. You’ve copied and pasted that file many times, converting it to an eBook, and you may have lost material. If you’ve got a missing paragraph, you’ll wind up with a manuscript that looks like hell. You can’t send that file to Amazon or anywhere else without reading through it. Remember, anything that’s poorly done under the NTD imprint will reflect on the other books.

Me, after a deep sigh: So you expect me to go through every line. OK. I guess that means you want me to update my biography, as well.

Balloons, after rubbing my head: Dat’s wight, wabbit. While you’re at it, how about including Teresa’s biography, too? She did a beautiful job on the cover and deserve credit, don’t you think?

Me, with a sheepish smile: You’ve got me there.

Okay, so I’ve been reading each chapter as I format. Good thing I listened to my Mylar balloons. I’ve learned things about editing I didn’t know years ago that I applied to the book. Also found a few mismatched sentences. As for updating the biography, well…there wasn’t any. So I need biographies for me and Teresa. So the revising / formatting will take a little longer than I thought. Editors can do much for the book, but they’re human and can overlook something. So if you decide to self-pub a book previously published by another company, search every page for typos before sending the manuscript to Amazon or any other distributor. Ditto for the cover blurb, too. Your readers will thank you for it.

Book Covers Make the Author (and Publisher)

A few nights ago, while I was admiring the latest book covers on my web page, a voice issued from the Mylar balloons next to my office chair: “Bar-ba-ra! Bar-ba-ra!

The night before, a relative emailed me saying they wanted to buy a copy of Twilight Healer. That must have gotten the balloons’ attention. When they call me by their pet name for me, I know they’re up to something. The rustling from my balloons came next, and then the dialogue started.

Balloons: Look it this! You’re posting a book with an inferior cover and slipshod formatting. That book has enjoyed great reviews. How could you?”

Me: That was the first book I released through NTD and my first attempt at formatting. It looked pretty good to me.

Balloons: Oh, yeah? Go through that book and take a hard look at the cover. See if we’re not right.

Me, after glossing through TH’s pages and cover: You’re right. The formatting I use now looks better. So do the covers because of great artists like Teresa Tunaley, Marge Simon, and Sandy DeLuca.

Balloons: Dat’s wight, wabbit. A mediocre cover will reflect poorly on you and your company. People looking at the page might think you don’t care how your books look. Some of your authors have opted for new covers. How about following their lead?

Oh, dear, they’ve caught me, I thought, fetching a deep sigh. A book cover is the first thing people notice when they shop for books. Most people come in with limited funds, so what they get had better be worth the money. Of course, they’ll bypass a so-so looking cover. A poorly made cover and formatting might intimate that the writing needs work, too. It won’t matter if thousands of dollars went into editing the book. What’s more, if I were a publisher selling that book, people might think that all my books look bad. Appearances and first impressions count.

I thought of it this way. If I went on a job interview, I wouldn’t show up in dungarees and sneakers. I would wear a suit and good shoes. So what makes a professional book cover? The cover should communicate the book’s content to the reader. Look at other covers for books with a similar genre. What common element do the covers have? You want to use good images – at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) for good resolution. Best to hire an experienced designer. I know that now, but not when I did TH’s cover.

So I’ve begun reformatting Twilight Healer’s interior, and attempting to decide between two images what I’ll use for the new cover. Because I want what looks best. An appealing cover will reflect nicely on all the NTD books. The Mylar balloons would agree.

Writers, Know Your Bites

A while ago, I read someone’s manuscript describing the protagonist being dive-bombed and pecked by a crow. The mood promised shades of Hitchcock’s The Birds until the medics arrived. They took a look at the screaming woman’s wounds and diagnosed them at self-inflicted cuts. There went my suspension of disbelief. So I decided to share my thoughts on bites and what one might include to make the scene believable.

You see, any medic worth his license can tell the difference between stabbing and a bite by the pattern of the wound. What’s more, the medic can figure out what did the biting. Stabbings and cutting leave straight gashes and lacerations, and also internal injuries because they’re deeper than they’re wide (See image below left. The knife travels in a straight line. Mutilation leaves patterned lines.

People dealing with City of Brotherly Death's zombies must know their bites. Bites from birds and other animals may require rabies injections, but that didn’t come up in the story. Some birds can’t exert enough force to break the skin. Birds of prey like hawks, eagles, etc. can put a bad hurt on you. They dive at people and leave a jagged wound with or without bleeding, like the one directly below. Their claws can rip fresh wounds with lightning speed. Bird bites also carry the risk of infection.

People dealing with City of Brotherly Death's zombies must know their bites.A lot’s been said about shark attacks, but they’re not evil creatures that look for humans to eat. Most times, a shark might bite, drag the human through water, and then let go; it has mistaken the human for something it usually eats. In any case, the shark’s bite will leave a pie-shaped wound – perhaps broken bones in addition to tears in the skin or severed limbs. The damage can be fatal.

Bug bites vary depending on the type and whether or not they’re poisonous. A spider bite will leave a faint red mark, perhaps a blister, which will then loosen to form a deep boil like the one below.

People dealing with zombies in City of Brotherly Death must know their bites.

Citizens of City of Brotherly Death, know your bites!Finally, the zombie bite – the worst kind, for the victim will get infected and become undead. Zombies do more damage to the skin than you might think because they don’t feel pain. They won’t care about how hard they bite or indulge any hang-ups about damaging their teeth. As it is, the human jaw can generate 180 psi. We’re capable of tearing flesh and biting off the nose/ear of other people. Zombies exert twice as much force, and if they’ve been reanimated for a long time, the teeth may be jagged and sharp. Note the damage in figures to left and below right.

Citizens of City of Brotherly Death, know your bites!The legs and arms tend to be most vulnerable – it’s natural for a person to throw his arms over his face to ward off attackers. With zombies, this won’t work.  Best defense is to fight or run like hell. Body armor for the hands and feet come to mind. That and a great headshot.

Here There Be Monsters

Barbara Custer included lots of zombies in When Blood Reigns.The traditional zombie is a mindless creature that knows nothing except an insatiable craving for human flesh. Perhaps a virus or chemical destroyed key brain cells, the ones that control reason and decision-making abilities. Perhaps a robotic implant causes a dead body to get up and attack. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series features a killer virus that turns the victim’s skin gray. He wakes up from the dead and goes after humans. I read all the books in the series and loved them. Now I’m contemplating books from other authors.

Stephen King knows how to turn the most ordinary things into monsters. If not a monster, it becomes a tool. The beloved balloons I can’t resist turn into a monster’s tool under the influence of King in his story It. Pennywise the clown uses balloons to entice children to the graveyard.

When I was younger, I thrived on the Hammer films, but now, vampires are portrayed as another race of people with good and bad in them. This is good because the old-time vampire meets human-vampire drinks his blood tales have gotten ancient. Woe betide the person who crosses a villain vampire. He’s got fangs, strength, and brains to go with his blood lust. Books featuring great vampire tales include Passion in the Blood and Bloodstorm.

Some people return from the dead to terrorize the living, as in City of Brotherly Death and Blue Plate Special. They might look like shambling zombies, but they know full well what they’re doing and why. They’ve got scores to settle with people who didn’t treat them right. These zombies—a better term would be revenants—are particularly dangerous because they crave flesh and blood, and they’re able to plot and scheme to get it.

The human monsters (Reapers) in Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series frightened me a lot more than the zombies did. Like the traditional beasts, they delight in the thrill of the kill. What’s more, they can scheme, use sophisticated weapons, and employ muscle power to wax people they consider liabilities. A love triangle might incite a psychotic human killer, as in JoAnna Senger’s Betrothal, Betrayal, and Blood. The Mob breeds and trains assassins who thrive on the kill, especially in Tom Johnson’s The Spider’s Web and Tales of Masks & Mayhem V4.

The vampire, revenant, and zombie are monsters to be reckoned with, but humans can be the most dangerous killers of all.


One randomly drawn commenter will receive a signed copy of Steel Rose and a $10 GC for Starbucks.


Also click on the red links on the bottom – these are the links to fellow members of the Coffinhop.  This Coffinhop will run October 24 to 31, including the release of Coffinhop: Death by Drive-in to benefit



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