Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Interrogate the Author: Starring Author Justin Gustaninis as the Interviewee

1. Hello, Mr. Gustainis and welcome to yet another marvelous edition of “Interrogate the Author” with me, the charming host, Harry Markov. I wish to thank you yet again for your consent to sit on my fabled virtual chair. Now to warm up for the main event, how has “Black Magic Woman” been faring on the urban fantasy scene?

The book seems to have gained a lot of fans among urban fantasy readers – and reviewers, too, I’m happy to say. Although a few people have taken me to task for “violating” the contemporary urban fantasy conventions of a female protagonist and first-person narration, most have found the change refreshing.

2. It’s a tradition of mine to ask authors, when they felt the first aspirations to grab their feathers, pens or keyboards and start that novel. When did the writer’s muse hit you up on the head with the epiphany that you could be writing for a living?

I’m happy to talk about the start of my writing, but I don’t write for a living. My understanding is that most people who write (and publish) novels don’t make enough from them to support a family. A few get rich, a slightly larger number make a decent living. Most (like me) have day jobs (I’m a college professor), and others have a spouse with a day job. The cost of health insurance along probably necessitates such an arrangement.

I started writing in the mid-1990s. At first, my main goal was to take my mind off some serious personal problems I was going through. I found that, once I “got into” my writing, hours would pass when I wouldn’t think about anybody’s troubles but my characters.’

But, the writing-as-therapy grew into a novel, and five years later, it was a published novel. Four years after that, I had a second one published. But it looks like the pace is going to pick up, since I now have a contract with Solaris Books for a series of “Quincey Morris” novels.

3. You’d better. I can’t wait for the next one. As I read your biography I have to wonder about that interesting period, when you served in the army as lieutenant. Did you enjoy those years and during that time have you ever thought of a career in the US army? And a third question by nosy me, have you ever thought of writing a military themed novel with all the quirks?

The answer to the first two questions is “no,” or rather “Hell, no.” The reason for both is the same: the military sent me to a place where little people in black pajamas kept trying to kill me. They almost succeeded.

And I don’t think the military, now that I’m out of it, interests me enough to write a novel about it. In fact, those days are something I try to forget, with varying degrees of success.

4. Of course I also wonder how jobs like speechwriter and bodyguard can influence your view of the world and thus influence your writer. Have any of your experiences of those two jobs started a story that wishes to be told or maybe show a different angle of the world available only through those eyes? And as the cherry, who did you get to guard? Perhaps the president?

We are all products of our experience, and those of us who write cannot help but have our writing influenced by what has occurred in the past. But as for specific story ideas: no. I can’t say that either of those jobs has directly given me an idea for a story, but some of the things I learned (and did) have found their way into my writing.

And I’m glad to say that the President, at any given time, has people guarding him who are far braver and more capable then I: the U.S. Secret Service.

5. Now let’s move on the writing questions. How exactly did you come up with the idea of “Black Magic Woman” and the Quincy Morris Supernatural Investigation series?

It’s hard to say. I think the idea for the plot (a vendetta between witches, “white” and “black” that goes back to the Salem trials) came to me first. Later, I thought of Quincey as a character. I’ve always thought that Quincey Morris was a slighted character in the original novel “Dracula”. But Stoker killed him off, so there wasn’t a lot I could do. But I could give him descendants – and I did.

6. So why not vampires? I love your concept and the novel, but it seems the urban fantasy genre is rules by either vampires or shape-shifters. What made you stray from the trend?

There are a number of vampires who meet their fate in chapter one, you will recall. And, since BLACK MAGIC WOMAN has witches, demons, zombies and a werewolf, I don’t think most readers feel slighted.

Anyway, I think we’ll see vampires again before Quincey and Libby are done.

7. Of course, you can never ever stake enough vampires. Quincy and Libby are peculiar characters with great depth and interesting enough personalities, also deferring from what we generally see in the genre. Was it hard to invent them as they are in the book and did you use actual people you know to model them?

Quincey Morris is an amalgam of three men I know, one of whom is a Texan. Or to put it another way, Quincey is the man I would like to be – give or take the vampires and werewolves.

Libby Chastain is based, loosely, on a remarkable woman I know. She saved my life, once. More than that, I cannot say.

8. No more asked about that one. In the novel the readers can see what an interesting concept of the demons you have. If I recall one was a mutant Teletubby. My question is how the heck that happened and will this quite innovative idea be developed in the following books?

The Teletubbys are evil, Harry. Surely, you already knew that?

9. Yup, I know that. Never go near them without a chainsaw. Did you find it hard to devise the magical system, which is Libby’s tool? It’s not exactly Wicca, but it has its own origins in culture for all I gather. Who helped you or did you rely on google?

Oh, I consulted a couple of witches of my acquaintance. They explained the origin of their magic, and demonstrated to me its power. I’m just glad they’re on our side, if you know what I mean.

10. True. A friend of mine is a witch as well and does she know her stuff. Speaking of witches, I thoroughly enjoyed Christine Abernathy and her witch for hire Cecilia, but I am curious what it took to set them apart as individuals through their spells?

Cecelia’s power is grounded in African “muti” magic, which I did research on the internet. Nasty stuff, that. Christine is more in the European sell-your-soul-to-Satan-in-return-for-magical-powers school.

11. Christine is kicking it old school. Another aspect of why I find your book so great is how you write two parallel stories only to spin around each other until they meld into one. Did you need the special white board with the sticky notes to pull that one off? And if not what is your secret?

I confess, after a while I had to make diagrams of who was where and doing what at any given point, and where they had to go and what they had to do in order to make the story work out the way I wanted. I also used poster board and thumb-tacked index cards. Sticky notes are SO last week. J

12. Innovative now, aren’t we? Now what can we expect in the new Quincy Morris book “Evil Ways”? The cover and titles seem promising enough for a major adrenaline rush.

Actually, Libby and Quincey don’t have a lot to do in this one. Just save the world. No pressure, or anything.

I also introduce a new character: Hannah Widmark, known in some circles as “Widowmaker.” She’s an occult bounty hunter. For a fee, she’ll track down and destroy any supernatural creature you designate – although she’d probably do it for free. Hannah’s got issues.

13. Oh, now I am giddy!! That release date can’t be further away. Another tidbit I find interesting enough to ask is: How do you write? With outlines or do you prefer the spontaneous sessions?

The first two books, THE HADES PROJECT and BLACK MAGIC WOMAN, started with an idea and a character. However, my publisher wanted to see an outline for EVIL WAYS before issuing a contract, so I gave them one. When it came time to write the book, I found it rather confining – so in places, I just ignored it. J

14. Hah, I feel the same way, when it comes to plotting and outlining. I use a hybrid between outlines and spur of the moment. How do you manage to balance writing with your day job as a professor of Communications at Plattsburgh State University and how people perceive you knowing you write urban fantasy?

Oh, it’s not hard at all – as long as I don’t mind not having a life. I go to campus, I teach (and brilliantly, if I may say so myself…), then I go home and I write. From time to time, I eat and sleep. Neither of those last two occasions is as frequent as I would like. Oh, and I think I had sex, once. Or was that something I wrote…?

15. Social life is overrated anyways, duh. Do you ever dream of seeing your novel on the big or silver screen and if you would choose a land and language, you would like to see your work shown, which would it be?

Of course I do – who wouldn’t? I’d even settle for cable TV, and I may even get the chance. There have been some nibbles from the pay-cable network SHOWTIME, but only nibbles so far. If they bite, I’ll be sure and let you know.

16. Now for a grand finale. How did you feel, knowing that you were interviewed by a teen, who speaks English as a second language?

What!? Go, on, you’re kidding me, right?

And that was Justin Gustainis, another victim on my virtual chair for your entertainment. Hope you enjoyed it and if you did there are some things you could do:

A) Go buy “Black Magic Woman” – now, I know you want to.
B) Go visit Justin Gustainis website – for additional info

C) Go read my review of “Black Magic Woman” – I need more visitors, hah!


Daelith said...

And here I thought it was Barney the Dinosaur who was evil. He must be in league with the Teletubies.

Great interview! Thank you both for taking the time to do this.

daydream said...

Thanks a lot for the comment! ;) I am glad you enjoyed it!

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