31 days of Halloween – Sandra J. Clarke

Where do you hail from and what do you love most about your hometown?
Everywhere! Well, it seems that way. I was born in Granby Quebec, but  my family moved to Ontario, Canada when I was three years old. I come from a family of eight kids and my parents rented. We moved a lot, but stuck to the suburbs of Toronto for the most part. I loved growing up in Scarborough. The burbs offer intimacy with friends and neighbours you don’t often find in the city. Add to that the added benefit of living thirty minutes from the downtown core – and all the great shopping therein.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that childhood dream affected your career?
For the most part I coasted through childhood with no specific dreams or goals – except that I wanted to achieve success at whatever I did. Craving success makes a person work hard, and I did just that with each task I tackled. Now, I’m grateful I developed that drive, because writing is not for wimps.
Tell us about your latest book.  Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?
Mind Over Matter releases next week and is the story of a mother who faces her worst nightmare when she discovers her missing daughter is schedule to die.
For three years Rebecca McKenney grieved the loss of her daughter. Now, a vision showing Sabrina three years older, suggests her baby is still alive, and the FBI agent who gave up the search is the only one who can help find her. Rebecca once witnessed a psychic connection between Agent Cooper and her daughter. She only hopes their fragile bond remains – and that the coward has the decency to pursue it.
Special Agent Dan Cooper, haunted by a tragic mistake made early in the investigation, agrees to help Rebecca to ease his conscience, if nothing else. Together they fight inner demons, all too real bad guys, and an attraction neither wants to admit to. Each step closer to finding her daughter unearths wide-spread deception and an evil so vile it threatens to break Rebecca’s spirit. The thought of having her daughter back in her arms is all that keeps her going. Until she learns the horrifying truth – her daughter is scheduled to die in mere days.
Now that Mind Over Matter is officially off to the printer, I have two WIPs remaining that I’m actively working on. In The Missing Time, reporter Jordan Munro targets a traumatized teen boy after details of his abduction reveal eerie circumstances similar to her own mysterious kidnapping. It’s is a stand-alone book  I’m shopping around to agents now. One agent is interested but would like to see it expanded another fifteen thousand words, so it’s very much still a work in progress. In Forecasting Raine, the sequel to Mind, Nick’s long buried psychic gift, and his guilt, resurface when a sniper’s bullet reveals the sister of an innocent bystander killed on Nick’s last mission determined to take down Anderson Security, Inc.
Have you ever used contemporary events or stories “ripped from the headlines” in your work?
No, but I’ve been inspired by current events many times. I try to write realistic stories with problems anyone can relate to, at least on some level. Sometimes the simplest threat is the most insidious. Even if the reader has never lived though it, they can imagine the horror.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?
There’s the whole coming up with an idea no one’s done before challenge. It’s impossible, but every time, I try and bang my head on the desk in frustration. I rely a lot on my critique groups to let me know if I’m adding enough of a twist to prevent writing the cliche. I am fortunate to live in a community with a strong artistic mecca. One writers group I belong to, The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR), is over 300 members strong, and holds monthly breakfast meetings where we absorb knowledge from guest speakers,have the opportunity to attend workshops, and have our work critiqued at blue pencil sessions. I wouldn’t be here without them.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Find a group like the WCDR. (It’s international, and anyone can join. The benefits are numerous, even for those who are to far away to attend the meetings. Check out their website here: http://wcdr.ca/wcdr/
If you can, join a group that meets in person in your own community. Start one if you can’t find one. I can’t stress this enough. Chatting and sharing experiences with fellow writers keeps me informed about what’s going on in publishing today, feeds my writer’s soul by making be aware of constant opportunities to learn more on craft and marketing, and keeps me motivated to put my butt in the chair. I’d also advice emerging writer’s to find someone who excels at what you want to do. Research this person. Find out what they did to get there, and what you can do to emulate their process. Learn from the masters.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
For me, writers block is lack of preparation. For me, the most difficult, yet most essential, part of writing any story is plotting. Yes. I’m one of those people. I’d go so far as to say I’m an extensive plotter. I need that solid foundation to work from. I might veer away from the plan now and again, but it’s there to guide me on those days when my muse hides under the covers. I’m always sure to keep my characters’ motivations in line with any new direction I’m drawn in. This is how I’m able to maintain the discipline to write every day. If I’m staring at a white screen with a blank look on my face I pull out my scene cards. There’s no excuse not to get the work done. Coming up with all the ideas for the book in one or two sittings is hard. But I use the same system my teacher taught me. I come up with one of those mega-sentences I mentioned earlier – one for each scene. All the ingredients for a perfect scene are right there on the index card. Then I just have to write it.
Who is your favorite author and why? What books have most influenced your life?
I’d have to say Nora Roberts (also writing as J.D. Robb). As a reader, her works hit all of my hot buttons. It’s romance at heart, with lots of mystery, intrigue and suspense thrown in, and often contains elements of the paranormal. As a writer, she demonstrates one individual can reach a wide audience and master more than a single genre if they do it right.
How did you deal with rejection letters?
The only rejection letter I’ve received so far came in for Mind Over Matter, but I’d sent it to several places and already signed a contract with MuseItUp Publishing by then, so it didn’t hold any power over me. I know I’ll get rejections gong forward and I hope I’ll give due consideration to those that come with constructive criticism, and dismiss the rest.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
I’m anal by nature. LOL. I like system and order and process. I use Write Way Pro to write in. It’s a word processor with plot, character, setting and other organizational tools built in. It’s not a story prompter, if that’s what someone is looking for. This is a program that allows me to keep all my notes, sticky’s, research, and idle thoughts in one place, accessible at the click of the mouse. I can export and import at any time. There’s a  non-pro version as well, that runs about $25 US, and a free 30 day trial. No I’m not an affiliate:)
Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?
Violence and sex, even erotica, is okay with me, as long as the activities and language sit well with me and move the story forward. This is a simple boundary for me. I know what I’m willing to read and what I’m not. I don’t write anything I’m uncomfortable with as a reader.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
LOL.  Nothing weird so far, but you’ve got me thinking I should acquire an experience to relate the next time I’m asked this question. Mind Over Matter is set at the base of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, and the mountain range plays a big part in the story. I’ve never been there, or to any desert environment, so I had to rely on good research to get the details right. I poured over the internet and through books noting down the big things. Then I reached out to online communities I’m active in, asking people in the region for tidbits about the area, smells, textures, local slang, names of specific flowers that only bloom under moonlight – things only someone whose lived there would know. Writers are a knowledgeable and generous group of people. Never hesitate to reach out to other writers for help. For the paranormal angle, I deferred to a couple of writer friends who have experience with the phenomena.
Don’t forget to give us links to your website etc.
Thanks for a great interview, Brynna. I had a blast.
Here are some links where people can connect with me:
Check out my new website at: http://sjclarke.com
Friend me on Facebook:
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/sandrajc
Join me on LinkedIn:
Mind Over Matter Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/MindOverMatterbySJClarke

Rebecca knew from experience she didn’t have much time left. A vision came at her, hard and strong…
The child’s face from the milk carton, about six or seven years old, hovered before her, similar yet different. Shivers wracked her body as she huddled in a corner, her long brown curls limp and dull. Smudges on her face spread when she used a dirty forearm to swipe away tears, and a cut bled through the tear in her dress. A flickering light illuminated the dark room, hinting at secrets in the shadows. The sound of water dripping, slow and steady like a leaky faucet, met Rebecca’s ears and her nose crinkled at the stench of urine and human waste. The child looked up. All trace of color drained from her face when a deep voice crept out of the darkness.
“It’s time.”
“Rebecca, did you hear me?” Ruby’s voice penetrated the fog surrounding Rebecca’s mind.
“W-What?” She lifted her head, taking in the dining room around her. The tourist family still sat waiting for their breakfast. “I’m sorry Ruby, what did you say?”
“You okay, hon? You were in another world there for a minute.”
“I’m fine. Really,” she added at Ruby’s doubtful expression. “Didn’t sleep well again last night, I guess.” She forced a grin. “Good thing you caught me before I nodded off and started drooling in my coffee.” The mention of coffee drew Rebecca’s gaze to the carton of milk again. The girl’s innocent face stared back. Something seemed wrong. Rebecca leaned in, reading the caption under the photo. Nicole Wilson; missing for six years, before Bree even.
“I hope you don’t mind that I helped myself to the milk,” Rebecca said, and explained what happened. “Didn’t want to be a bother.”
“Honey, it’s no problem at all, but you didn’t have to do that.”
“Not to worry, it’s over and done now.” Rebecca looked down at the pancakes and fruit before her and knew little would make it past her lips “Breakfast looks delicious, as usual,” she lied.
Ruby looked over at the children’s order of pancakes in front of the empty seat across from Rebecca. She moved her gaze back to Rebecca for a moment longer, before nodding as if confirming something in her head. “Okay then. Enjoy.” Ruby picked up the milk carton as a bell dinged from the kitchen area. “Let me know if you need a refill on your coffee.” Smiling, Ruby went off to deliver the next order.
Rebecca’s stomach roiled at the thought of eating. Nausea and a headache overwhelmed her. She needed to get home where she could decipher what this vision meant. With Ruby monitoring her every move, coming up with a way out of the diner proved difficult.
Forcing another smile, Rebecca picked up her fork and knife and waved them in the air for Ruby to see. At Ruby’s disappointed frown, Rebecca cut the pancakes, and placed a small piece between her lips. Once Ruby smiled and turned away, Rebecca spit the bite out into a napkin. She spent another few minutes cutting and moving food around, hiding small bits under the second pancake. Pulling some money out of her wallet, she kept an eye out. As soon as Ruby went back to the kitchen for the next order pick-up, Rebecca threw the bills down on the table and made her escape.
Rebecca’s first deep breath came when she sat safe inside her car at the other end of Main Street. Home. She had to hold it together until then. Shoving the key into the ignition, she crossed her fingers, and then groaned at the dull grind that met her ears.
“Crap. Not today!” Rebecca cursed for putting off taking the car in to Joshua. Hands shaking, she tried again, holding her grimace until the engine caught.
 The edge of another vision crept in while she pulled into the driveway. “Shit. One more minute, come on, one more minute.”
 She fumbled at the keyhole, hands shaking too hard to fit the key in the lock. Rebecca crossed the threshold and fell to her knees as the pain sliced in again, worse this time. Never before had two visions come so close together. What the hell?
Rebecca’s world faded and in its place…
 Sabrina appeared. Her baby. Sitting on the floor in a room of shadows, chin resting on drawn up knees. “Where are you Mommy? Why haven’t you come?” The shadows opened up, pushing forward to swallow both the light and Bree.
“Nooooooooo.” Rebecca came back tears streaming down her face and fell to the floor. Limp, she laid there, an arm thrown across her eyes. “So close.”
Rebecca rolled as her stomach revolted, giving up its meager contents. Pushing herself to her knees with the last heave, she drew the back of a hand across her mouth.
The memory of losing Sabrina burned in her mind forever, but these fresh images; God, they made it so much worse. Rebecca crawled the few feet to the still open door, shoved it closed and leaned against it, shaking with sobs.
The late morning sun shone through the windows when she refocused.  Struggling to her feet, she took in the scene around her.
Clean this mess up, and then shower. You can deal with the rest later. Rebecca tossed the soiled clothes in the washing machine on the way to the bathroom.
Revived by the hot
shower, Rebecca poured a glass of iced tea. She curled up in the big chair in the living room, rested her chin on her knees, and tried to make sense of the morning’s events. Break it down. Concentrate on one thing at a time. Tackle the vision at Ruby’s first.
Who are you, Nicole Wilson, and why are you in my head?