Scary scribe Justin Gustainis just came out with a new novel about a pair of supernatural investigators, a la the X and Dresden Files. I recently had the opportunity to shoot him a few questions about the book.
Q: How did the idea for Quincey Morris come about? Did you intend for him to be in a series of books from the get-go?
I've always been intrigued with the character of Quincey P. Morris in Stoker's Dracula. He's so heroic, and yet we learn so little about him. And since I was planning to write an occult detective story set in our time, I thought it would be fun to make the male protagonist a descendant of the guy who died at the end of Dracula.
The basic idea for the plot came first, but I found that Quincey fit into it perfectly. The story helped me develop his character, and his character also helped build the story. A nice bit of symbiosis.
I didn't start Black Magic Woman with the intent of a series. But, by the time it was done, I started to see the potential. I think Quincey and Libby have a lot of adventure still left in them.
Q: What is your favorite thing about the book?
I think it's the relationship between Quincey and his partner, "white" witch Libby Chastain. A review in Publishers Weekly said that the byplay between them was reminiscent of Mulder and Scully in The X-Files. I appreciate the compliment, but I wasn't trying to recreate Scully and Mulder, and I don't think I have. This isn't a skeptic paired with a believer. They are both believers in the supernatural, because they've seen it many times, close up and first-hand. And, unlike Dana Scully, Libby Chastain can do some serious magic, when she has to.
That said, I confess that my favorite X-Files episodes were those in which Scully and Mulder were investigating supernatural phenomena, rather than the many episodes devoted to the Big Alien Conspiracy. I realize that's a minority view, among fans.
Q: How did you get a quote from Jim Butcher?
Short answer: I sent him the manuscript, and waited.
Detailed answer: Jim had read my first novel, The Hades Project, in manuscript and really liked it. In fact he gave me a nice quote for that one, too. I got him to read that manuscript by, frankly, just writing him and asking him to read it. I sent emails to a number of writers in the genre; some said "no" and a few said "yes," but Jim was the best known of those who gave me a positive response. Keep in mind, this was in 2003. Jim was a star in the genre, with about four "Dresden Files" books under his belt, but not the superstar that he is today. He had a little more free time in those days.
But, because he had really liked The Hades Project, I contacted him again when the manuscript for Black Magic Woman was completed. Although I had already sold Hades when I wrote him the first time (to a small, independent press), Black Magic Woman was unsold when I asked him to read it. He said he was very busy, but that he remembered The Hades Project and would read the new one when he could find the time. It was about six months, but he finally got around to it - and he freakin' loved it. He not only gave me a very nice quote (which is on the cover), but he also encouraged me to keep trying to find a good-sized publisher. His words were, "It's going to sell." The man's a prophet, he really is. And a hell of a nice guy.
Q: Quincey's adventures continue in EVIL WAYS. What is that book about?
Without giving too much away, I will say that the book picks up a few plot threads from Black Magic Woman and takes off with them. Turns out there really is a Big Conspiracy - but, rather than aliens, it involves something far more sinister. Quincey and Libby don't have a lot to do in this book - except for maybe saving the world, stuff like that. I can tell you that the prologue is set in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003, just after the U.S. Army came rolling into town. Then, in the present day, we learn that some very determined, professional people are trying to murder Libby Chastain. As you might imagine, Quincey takes umbrage at that. But then the FBI blackmails Quincey into taking on a case involving the serial murders of.... Oops, can't talk about that just yet. Sorry.
Q: What do you do in real life?
You mean writing isn't real life? Oh, yeah, that's right - it isn't.
I'm a college professor. Got a Ph.D. and everything. I teach at a college in upstate New York, where I've been for a number of years. My specialty is Social Influence - persuasion, argumentation, propaganda, that sort of thing.
No, I don't teach Creative Writing in the English Department. I'm not in the English Department, and I've never taught creative writing in my life. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd know how. Now that I think about it, I've never taken a creative writing course, either. I learned how to write by reading about a zillion books.
Q: What would you say your writing is most influenced by?
By those zillion books I just referred to. If you want to know which writers I consider my influences, well, I worship Stephen King, of course - and not just because he got rich from writing. Unlike some people who hit the big bucks, the guy can really write. He deserves to get rich - unlike, say, Danielle Steele (IMHO). The man is one of the greatest storytellers who ever wrote in English.
But most of my other literary influences aren't from the horror field at all; they come from mystery/crime/suspense fiction. Among living writers, I'd say those I most admire include Thomas Perry, Andrew Vachss, Robert B. Parker, and Robert Crais. Among those no longer with us, definitely Ross Thomas, John D. MacDonald, Elleston Trevor (aka Adam Hall) and Raymond Chandler. And Hemingway, of course.
Q: Besides EVIL WAYS, is there anything else you are working on?
I recently got my short story "The Predators" back from Back Alley ezine. They want a few small changes before they publish it. And my friend, author C.J. Henderson, and I are trying to put together an anthology of "occult detective" stories. Some pretty well-known writers have agreed to contribute, but it's still a work-in-progress. Mostly, though, I'm trying to make the deadline for Evil Ways.
Q: How can people get a copy of BLACK MAGIC WOMAN?
It should be pretty easy. Most (if not all) of the bookstore chains (in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia) should be carrying it. A number of independent bookstores have picked it up, too. And it's readily available from all the online dealers, like Amazon.com.
Buy two - they make great Valentine's Day gifts. No, really...