Interview With Author Clarissa Cottrill
Meet Clarissa Cottrill, horror and literary fiction author. Clarissa's horror novella titled 'Café Vengeance' has found a home at Tea With Coffee Media. Lets find out more !
Tell me about yourself
My name is Clarissa R. Cottrill, and I am 28 years old. I was born in West Virginia and I’ve lived there essentially my entire life. My Appalachian roots are important to me, and they’re often infused in my writing. Currently I co-host the lifestyle podcast “30, Dirty & Dying” which tackles life as an aging millennial in a dark humoured fashion.
I was previously a journalist, primarily an editor, and covered subjects such as politics, science, climate change, and features. I left the journalism field a couple of years ago for a few reasons including to focus on my own writing.
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I know sometimes people just say that as a cliche, but that’s truly the best answer I have. My mom still has little “books” I wrote on napkins before I even knew how to write — they were just drawings with stories I made up. I’ve written in some capacity for most of my life, including my previous journalism career; however, I’ve been writing fiction with intent to publish in this vein for about three years.
What do you like to read?
I am a big fan of horror and thriller books, historical fiction, and literary fiction. In addition, I enjoy the occasional non-fiction whether that be a memoir or historical type of book. I, like so many other horror writers, love reading Stephen King’s work. Recently some of my other favorites have been “Velvet Was the Night” and “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Knockemstiff” by Donald Ray Pollock, and I’m currently reading “Imaginary Friend” by Stephen Chbosky. My favorite book of all time would have to be “The Great Gatsby.”
What do you enjoy about writing your chosen genre?
I have always been drawn to horror and scary stories and darker content. So, to me, it only makes sense that’s what I would end up writing. I think horror often is one of the truest genres when it comes to storytelling, because there is little to no sanitizing and brushing over the hard things— if anything we make them darker. I am often writing about heavy subjects like mental illness, abuse, sexism, deep family secrets, religious hypocrisy, and those aren’t things I want to gloss over and put into a neat box. I believe the scariest stories happen with the lights on, in real life, and with real people as the villains — not made-up monsters who go bump in the night. Horror gives us the themes and atmosphere to personify that darkness and give it proper weight when we tell those stories. That’s why I love this genre, because it’s more than just spooks and jump scares. It’s what happens we creatively deal in some of life’s harshest truths.
Tell me about your upcoming book.
'Café Vengeance' is a short horror novella that follows the journey of a less-than-righteous man facing eternal damnation. It’s fast-paced, descriptive, and aims to really put the reader in that reality of one of mankind’s worst fears. Most Western religions are telling us how not to go to hell, and this is a little sneak peek if you will.
What inspired it?
Several things inspired 'Café Vengeance' for me. I actually first came up with the concepts back in middle school. I was writing a story for a silly little writing contest and came up with the idea — although it was very different back then. It was maybe a page and a half and scaled back. What inspired it at the time was a visual of skeletons playing menacingly in a musical quartet and the rest of the story kind of tumbled from there. Even though that was many years ago, the story always kind of stayed with me.
About a year ago I decided to revisit it. I had recently shelved a full length novel and was looking to get into something else. I have a painting as well that my dad found and gave to me that helped inspire my work on it — it’s a skeleton playing a piano so it’s very in line with that first visual inspiration.
As far as the actual story, I was inspired heavily by 'The Divine Comedy' by Dante. Specifically in “Inferno” there’s a section about one of the deepest circles of hell and what happens if someone does enough wrong to reach that before their earthly body dies. That concept really got my creative juices flowing and led to the direction the story takes.
What does literary success look like to you?
You know, I’m still figuring this out. My goal at this point and for the last couple of years has been to find a way to write full-time and work exclusively on my own books. I’m still working toward that, but I’m having a lot of fun and success in different ways as well. I’m pretty open to what literary success might look like in terms of career. I think at the end of the day though, literary success to me means I’ve told the stories I feel I need to tell, and I’ve reached the audience that needs to be reached for said stories. I said previously that I deal with a lot of dark subjects that unfortunately impact many people every day, causing a lot of pain. If my writing can help someone navigate that pain or at least provide an outlet, then I’ll feel that I’ve captured at least some success.
What do the words writer’s block mean to you?
Writer’s block to me often means something is stopping me from reaching a story’s full potential. I think anyone who is a writer can relate to that feeling of still writing, still hitting word counts but knowing nothing of substance is coming from what you’re shelling out. It’s like you know that you are not hitting the mark of the story you want to tell, and sometimes that can lead to some difficulties in trudging ahead. A lot of times for me this is a lack of inspiration. I consider myself to be a creative, and it takes a lot for me to get in the right space and have an equal amount of motivation to make that creativity into something hopefully great. So that’s where writer’s block can come in and stop me in my tracks or at least cause me to struggle.
Are you working on anything new?
Yes, I am working on a full length horror novel at the moment. Speaking of writer’s block, I am in a little bit of a slump with it to be honest with you. I’m still moving forward though! It is a story about a young woman who finds herself facing off with this dark, almost demonic entity related to the horrors — real life horrors —of her past. A lot of the Appalachian influences I spoke about earlier are a big part of the book. Themes surrounding mental illness, abuse, and religious trauma are also prevalent.
I’m also working on outlining another novella, more of a dark comedy, tongue-in-cheek slasher.
What advice would you give a new author?
This is a tough one because I’m sort of a new author myself. I guess I would say at this stage not to have a one-track mind when it comes to success and what that looks like. Also I would say it’s important to be authentic in who you are and the stories you tell. That’s not to say that everything has to be autobiographical, but I think people know when your heart’s not in it. Sometimes when we get tangled up in looking for success, our heart exits the equation. Don’t be afraid to try new things and learn and improve, but keep your stories close to you and authentic to who you are as an artist.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing I spend a lot of time on my lifestyle millennial podcast “30, Dirty & Dying.” It’s sort of a darkly humorous, realistic take on what it’s like to be in your late 20s or early 30s, but not exactly feeling like you’re thriving and living your best life. I think a lot of people don’t feel like they necessarily have their lives together at 30, and we’re talking about that — tackling life, death, love, pop culture, and everything else on that journey.
I’m a bit of a hermit crab. I like to spend a lot of time at home reading, watching movies and TV shows, and hanging out with my cats. But when I do venture out of the house I like to travel when I can.
Thanks to Clarissa for sharing with us. If you would like to check out her work, click on the links below: