Justin Gustainis – Interview & Contest
Sidhe Vicious welcomes Urban Fantasy author Justin Gustainis! We’re looking forward to getting to know you and all about your novel Black Magic Woman.
S.V. – Your Urban Fantasy novel, Black Magic Woman was released in January 2008 by Solaris Books. Can you tell us about it and a bit about the main characters, Quincey and Libby?
J.G. – A family in Wisconsin is experiencing what they believe to be poltergeist activity — doors closing by themselves, strange noises, objects flying around. And the incidents are becoming deadlier; the objects flying are now knives, and electrical appliances are hopping into bathtubs and sinks being used by family members. The family seeks out the help of supernatural investigator Quincey Morris.
Morris is a direct descendant of the character who died at the end of Stoker’s novel Dracula; my conceit is that the original Quincey Morris, who had sought Lucy Westenra’s hand in marriage, had been married once before, to a woman who died giving birth to their son. So, in a sense, my protagonist is carrying on the family’s legacy.
In Wisconsin, Morris soon realizes that what is afflicting the family is something more dangerous than poltergeists. He calls in a “consultant,” Libby Chastain — a practitioner of “white” witchcraft. The two determine that the family lives under a curse dating back to the Salem witch trials. The curse is reactivated by each female descendant of the line, and the current one, a “black” witch of great power, is determined to end the feud by destroying the family, once and for all.
Their pursuit of the witch behind the curse takes Morris and Chastain to Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, and, eventually, to Salem itself. Early on, their quarry realizes they are on her trail, and resolves to destroy them first, using any magical means necessary.
S.V. – What about witches, magic and the supernatural inspired you to write about them?
J.G. – Well, I write what I like to read, and I’ve been interested in supernatural fiction ever since I was a kid. Everybody likes a good scare sometimes, I think — and I discovered it’s even more fun to give a scare than it is to receive one.
S.V. – Will we be seeing more of Quincey and Libby in the future?
J.G. – You will, I’m glad to say. My publisher, Solaris Books, has signed me to a multi-book deal for a series of “Quincey Morris supernatural investigations.” The second in the series, Evil Ways, is due out in January. The third, Sympathy for the Devil, is in progress. In fact, Libby Chastain has assumed such an important role in the series, that, beginning with Evil Ways, each book is being called “A Morris and Chastain Investigation.” I think Libby deserves to share top billing.
S.V. – How did you get your start in writing? What, if anything, lit the “spark” to get you started and keep you motivated?
J.G. – I started writing fiction in the mid-1990s, during a particularly rough period in my marriage. I didn’t consciously make the decision to use writing to escape reality for a while, but that’s exactly what I was doing. The result was a nasty little horror novel called The Hades Project, about a demon-possessed serial killer. The book is the product of a dark time, and shows it. After the two years spent writing and polishing it, it took me five years to find a publisher. But once I did, I realized “Hey — I’m a writer!” And what writers do is write. So I began work on Black Magic Woman, which, although undeniably dark fantasy, isn’t nearly as sharp-edged as the first book.
S.V. – What was the path to publication on this novel like? Highlights? Pitfalls?
J.G. – After two years of having the manuscript languish in a variety of publishers’ slush piles, I got some luck in the Spring of 2007. I was reading Realms of Fantasy magazine, and saw an ad for a novel that looked interesting — and then I realized that it seemed interesting because it was the same kind of stuff I was writing (which, I didn’t realize at the time, is called “urban fantasy”). I noted that the publisher, Solaris Books, was one whose slush pile I had not yet graced with my manuscript. And here’s where it starts to get really weird.
I went to the Solaris website, thereby learning that “Solaris only accepts submissions from agents or established authors.” After several minutes spent cursing under my breath, I wrote Solaris and said, essentially, “Look, I’ve sold nine short stories and one novel. The novel wasn’t published by a major house, but it got lot of good reviews, including one in Cemetery Dance, which is enclosed. Is that ‘established’ enough for you?”
Apparently it was. Christian Dunn, the editor who was handling the email for Solaris that week, told me I could send the manuscript, and that he would keep an eye out for it. Turns out, Solaris was so booked up (so to speak) that they were only looking at new submissions during a five-week “window,” and then not again for a couple of years. Guess who happened to blunder right through the middle of that window?
Christian was as good as his word. We still joke today about how Black Magic Woman went from slush pile to contract offer in just over three weeks. I think it must be some kind of world record, but the Guinness people just aren’t interested. Bastards.
S.V. – Who or what was your inspiration for the characters of Quincey and Libby, if any?
J.G. – Quincey is an amalgam of three different men, one of whom is actually a Texan (along with, of course, a healthy dose of imagination). Libby Chastain is loosely based on a remarkable woman who saved my life once.
S.V. – Did you find it harder or easier to write subsequent novels in this series because of already having created this world?
J.G. – It’s easier in some ways, of course: I don’t have to reinvent the wheel for each book. On the other hand, a series has certain conventions and history (i.e., what happened in the earlier books) that limit, somewhat, my freedom of action in plotting the next one.
S.V. – Do you have any funny writing quirks or habits that you do when you’re in the “zone” writing?
J.G. – I don’t always listen to music when I’m writing — but when i do, it’s likely to be Mark Snow’s sound track for Millennium. It helps me get in the proper mood (i.e., dark).
S.V. – Have you ever met a witch, vampire, werewolf, demon, fae? (Have fun with this)
J.G. – Well, this girl I dated for a while in college turned out to be a real — oh, wait, you said witch, didn’t you? Sorry.
I know some practitioners of Wicca — very nice folks, who make no claim to be able to do the kinds of magical things that Libby Chastain does in my books. I’ve also met a few people who claimed to be involved with black magic, but I had the impression that it was just an excuse for them to get together for sex orgies every full moon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….
S.V. – What supernatural power or creature would you most like to have or be?
J.G. – Oh, I think I could get into being a vampire — but of the old school “I vant to suck your blood” type. I’m not interested in being one of Ann Rice’s tortured, Byronic figures, whose angst goes on for centuries. I mean, that sounds too much like high school, for my taste.
S.V. – Who is your favorite paranormal or urban fantasy fictional character and why? (Not counting your own of course J)
J.G. – Wow, that’s a tough one; there are so many great paranormal characters out there.
I’m going to pick one whom many of our readers might not be familiar with (but should be, IMHO): Genevieve Dieudonne’, a 400-old vampire who first appeared in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula (a great book), and who has made periodic reappearances in some of his other novels and stories ever since.
Genevieve is one of the good guys, BTW. Although she needs human blood to “live,” at her advanced “age,” she doesn’t require much, and never kills to get it. Which doesn’t mean that she won’t kill anyone, vampire or human, who tries to harm her or somebody she cares about.
S.V. – Who’s your favorite author? TV show? Movie?
J.G. – Favorite author? Like favorite character, that’s a tough question, and for the same reasons.
My favorite author probably changes from month to month, but right now it’s Lilith Saintcrow. I loved her “Dante Valentine” series, and the new one, about occult bounty hunter Jill Kismet, kicks some serious ass.
TV show? That also changes, but I find myself really looking forward to the start (in a few weeks) of the third season of Showtime’s Dexter. A hero who’s also a seriel killer — whoever would’ve thunk it? I’m also eagerly anticipating the premiere of True Blood on HBO. It’s based on Charlaine Harris’s “Southern Vampire” novels, and I only hope that the show does the books justice.
My favorite movie is a tie between The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Usual Suspects. Go figure.
S.V. – If you could choose one fictional character to bring into real life, who would you choose?
J.G. – Modesty Blaise. I mean, who wouldn’t want a girlfriend who was beautiful, rich, and could also beat the crap out of anybody who messed with you?
S.V. – How have the books you’ve read influenced the books you write?
J.G. – I’m sure they’ve done so in countless ways, but mostly subconsciously. Every writer’s style is a product of everything he/she has ever read.
S.V. – What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever gotten inspiration from?
J.G. – I once saw an old, beaten-up panel truck in traffic, and that started the train of thought that led to a story of mine called “Meat Wagon,” which is scheduled to be published sometime this millennium in Alan Kozlowski’s magazine Inhuman. I sold it to him, I think, three years ago. He’s already paid me for it, so I can’t really complain. But it sure would be nice to have it out there for people to read it.
S.V. – What do you do when you’re having writer’s block to “shake” it off?
J.G. – I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced writer’s block. Laziness, sure — many times. The profound desire to do anything but sit down and write — you betcha. But when I wanted to write, I’ve always been able to come up with something — even if I later decided it was crap and cut it.
S.V. – What can a new reader expect from your book/series?
J.G. – Quincey and Libby have a number of interesting cases in their future (as long as the books continue to sell, that is). In Sympathy for the Devil, they’ll be forced to deal with a major presidential contender who is possessed by a demon. Any resemblance to actual politicians living or dead is purely coincidental. Really. No, seriously.
Some folks have asked me if Quincey and Libby are ever going to get together sexually — or, since Libby’s bi, whether they’ll get involved in a MFF threesome (some of my fans have dirty minds, bless them). My answer is usually, “Buy the next book, and see for yourself.”
We writers are a wily lot.
S.V. – You write about various types of supernatural people, creatures, happenings. Do you do a lot of research or do you prefer to take what you already know and use your imagination for the rest?
J.G. – I usually rely on the standard supernatural tropes — vampires, demons, werewolves, etc. Sometimes a little research is necessary, but the great thing about writing supernatural creatures is that you can give then any qualities, powers, or weaknesses you want.
S.V. – Are any of your characters particularly fun or easy for you to write? Any that are more difficult?
J.G. – Quincey and Libby are getting easier to write, because I’m getting to know them better. Writing unsympathetic characters is hard, sometimes; it’s like conceiving a child whom you know you’re going to really hate when it grows up. But, without unsympathetic characters, the books would be pretty dull, so I usually manage, somehow.
S.V. – Do you have any tips for aspiring speculative fiction writers?
J.G. – Never stop — writing, revising, sending your stuff out. And never, ever give up.
S.V. – Is there anything else you’d like to share with us at Sidhe Vicious Reviews and with your readers?
J.G. – Well, there is one thing — but if I told you, I’d have to kill you. All of you.
And I love my fans too much to ever do them harm — give or take the occasional nightmare.
Thank you for spending some time with us here at Sidhe Vicious Reviews Justin! It was a pleasure. We’re crossing our fingers and looking forward to Evil Ways, as well as wishing you every success in the future! You can find out more about Justin and his writing at http://www.justingustainis.com/
Justin has graciously agreed to allow me to have a contest to win a signed copy of Black Magic Woman! Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve ever had any supernatural/paranormal experiences of your own. I’d love to hear your stories. J
There are no geographical limits on this contest, so if you’re on the planet earth, you can leave a comment to be entered. I’ll pick a winner after midnight on September 20th. Good Luck Everyone!
If you’d like extra entries, you can blog about the contest & send me the link in the comments here, subscribe to my email updates and let me know about it here and finally, if you are already subscribed, you’ll automatically get an extra entry if you enter here with a comment.