Friday, March 21, 2008

Interview with Justin Gustainis, author of BLACK MAGIC WOMAN

I feel lucky to have so many wonderful fantasy and science fiction authors visit this blog and give such witty answers to my occasionally dorky questions. Today is no exception, as we welcome Justin Gustainis, author of the acclaimed and ABA bestselling urban fantasy thriller Black Magic Woman, which was released at the end of January.

Dresden Files author Jim Butcher called BMW "the best manuscript I've ever been asked to read." (Am I the only one who wonders if there's a Justin Gustainis Voodoo Doll making its way through the ranks of fellow Butcher blurbees?)

Justin has agreed to give away a signed copy of Black Magic Woman to one of you lucky people.

Speaking of which, the winner of Adrian Phoenix's signed copy of A Rush of Wings is...Brooke! Way to comment, Brooke. Send your mailing address to jeri AT jerismithready DOT com, and I'll pass it on to Adrian.

And now, ze interview:

Q. Your protagonist, Quincey Morris, is a descendant of the character of the same name from Bram Stoker's DRACULA, a man sadly omitted from most movie adaptations (if DRACULA were a rock band, Morris would be the bass player). What intrigued you about this classic character to make you decide to form that connection?

Justin: There were, I think, two factors involved. One is what you've just mentioned -- Quincey is the Rodney Dangerfield of Dracula: he "don't get no respect." Well, that's not true, but he's given pretty short shrift by Stoker -- and this is the guy who gives his life to help kill Dracula! Talk about taking one for the team! I've always been interested in Quincey, but there's not a lot to do with the character, since he dies at the end (although P.N. Elrod portrays him surviving as a vampire, which is an interesting idea; wish I'd thought of it).

The second factor is motivation. I wanted to give a plausible reason why my male protagonist is an occult investigator, something beyond, "well, he's just a good guy who fights evil." The Morris lineage seemed like a good way to explain it -- my hero is simply carrying on a family tradition that began in the shadow of Castle Dracula. He's been brought into the family business, you might say.

Unlike most urban fantasies, BLACK MAGIC WOMAN is told from multiple points of view with interwoven plotlines, much like a thriller or horror novel. Was this your intention from the beginning, or did it come about during the writing process as your story grew in scope?

It was my intent from the beginning. I prefer third person; all I've written in first person are a couple of short stories. I understand the value of first person: the reader sees everything through the protag's eyes, and thus is surprised every time the protag is. But it limits you, too. The only information the reader gets is what the narrator knows. Third person gives you more ways to build suspense, IMHO.

That said, I wasn't making any conscious effort to "swim against the stream" of urban fantasy. Several reviewers have said what a refreshing change it is to have an urban fantasy written in third person, and with a male protagonist.

I wasn't trying to be "refreshing." Although I read a lot of urban fantasy, I never consciously thought about the first-person-female trend. I've explained above about the choice of third person. And I chose a male because I am one, and thought I could identify better with the character (although I like to think I did right by Libby Chastain, and most of the women who have talked about the book seem to believe that I did).

I guess it's only natural to use your own gender as a focus for the story. Most of those writing urban fantasy today are women (and they're an incredibly talented bunch, too), so that probably explains the female progatonists. Whereas Jim Butcher's and Simon R. Green's heroes are male.
Vive la difference!

You said in your interview with Marta Acosta that EVIL WAYS (January 2009) is "in some ways" a sequel to BLACK MAGIC WOMAN. I'm intrigued by the phrase "in some ways"--will it be a departure from the storylines and main characters of BMW (that acronym, by the way, has a lot of class :-)?

Well, I wasn't trying to be clever with "in some ways." A number of plot elements are wrapped up at the end of BMW, but there are a few left hanging. Most of these involve the insane gazillionaire Walter Grobius. He figures prominently in EVIL WAYS, as does his "henchman," a wizard named Pardee. I also introduce some new characters, including Hannah Widmark, known in some circles as "Widowmaker." She's a bounty hunter specializing in supernatural creatures (vampires, werewolves, etc.), and she does not believe in "Bring 'em back alive." Hannah's got issues.

Quincey and Libby don't really have a lot to do in this book -- just save the world.

What's been your biggest surprise/thrill about your first release?

My biggest surprise involved my publisher, Solaris Books in England. I appear to have gone from the slush pile to a contract offer in the space of three weeks. Believe me, I know just how rare that is -- which is why I was just about floored when the phone call came from England.

I suppose the biggest thrill (so far, anyway) came when I learned that BMW was going to be the January featured SF/F book at Waterstones, the UK's largest bookstore chain. It had its own display in each of their 300-some stores. My editor sent me a photo of the display in one of the stores -- freakin' awesome!

If you could inhabit the life of any of your characters, enter their world and deal with it as that person, which one would you choose?

I'd like to be Quincey Morris, my male protagonist. Quincey has all kinds of specialized knowledge of the occult, and he uses it to fight against the forces of darkness. My own idea of fighting the forces of darkness usually involves turning a light on, so I'd really like to be Quincey and do the real thing.

Conversely, which of your characters would you most like to bring to life in our world (maybe as a best friend or much, much more ;-) ?

I think it would be cool to have white witch Libby Chastain as a girlfriend. She's smart, kind, got an off-kilter sense of humor, and, oh yeah -- she can work magic. What's not to like? Besides, both the book's cover artist (Chris McGrath) and I agree that Libby has a cute ass.

Never underestimate the value of a cute ass. :)

Same two questions, but use examples from another author's work (including television/movies/theatre)?

I think I'd like to be Carl Kolchak (the original, not the 2006 version). Kolchak has an insatiable curiosity, and the courage to indulge it, no matter how hairy things get -- and around Kolchak, things often get very hairy. And he doesn't take crap from anybody, including his editor, Tony Vincenzio.

Who would I like to hang out with? Got to be Emma Peel, from The Avengers. I was sooo in love with her when I was a kid (of course, it's hard to separate her from Diana Rigg, the actress who played her -- but then, who would want to?). Emma's smart, and she kicks butt. Plus, I've always been a sucker for that upper-class British accent (at least, in women).

Which author, living or dead, would you most love to collaborate with?

That's kind of a tricky question, because if you paired me with one of the writers whom I truly admire, I'd probably be so intimidated that I might not have a lot to contribute to the partnership. But, that said: Raymond Chandler. I wouldn't mind resurrecting Philip Marlowe for some new cases, and I also like Chandler because he didn't start writing fiction until later in life -- like me.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be?

I'd magically find a solution to the "Catch-22" that all new writers face when trying to break in: the biggest publishers won't look at your stuff unless it comes through an agent, and you can't get an agent unless you already have a track record of successful publications. I don't know what the answer to that conundrum is, but we're talking magic here, right?

What's the weirdest tidbit of research you've ever incorporated into a book?

Well, did you know that some kinds of African muti magic use the organs of human beings -- and that the organs must be "harvested" while the victim is still alive? I made use of that in Black Magic Woman, although I suspect that mahny readers will think I made it up.

Do you have any phobias?

Although I like fish, I don't eat it much, because I'm afraid that a bone will stick in my throat and choke me. Happened to one of Ted Kennedy's sisters -- she died. You could look it up.

My husband hates when people use the word 'barometer' to mean 'measure.' Which word usage faux pas drives you berserkest?

It's when people confuse "verbal" with "oral." Verbal means "with words," which includes words both spoken and written. "Oral," means by mouth. I hear people say things like "We had a verbal contract." Well, duh! What other kind is there? When the parties point and grunt until the terms are settled?

I once knew a girl so naive that she thought oral sex meant talking about it (cue rimshot..). Believe me, if that's all it is, nobody would have even heard of Monica Lewinski.

Name a literary cliche that makes you throw a book across the room.

It's when a macho character proclaims, "I'm goin' in!" What does he expect the other characters to do -- talk him out of it?

Let's say there's a TV show, movie, or recording artist that has a cult of you. Which is it? (i.e., what do you like that no one else you know likes)?

There's a show on the Cartoon Network that they only show late at night. It's called "Moral Oral," and it's a satire of those old "Davy and Goliath" kiddie programs that the Lutherans (or somebody) used to show on Sunday mornings. It's done in the same crude, stop-motion-animation style as the original, but the content is utterly subversive. In one, Oral journeys to the big city to recruit a bunch of prostitutes to come to his town -- so that the Reverend will have some sinners to save (everybody in Oral's town is perfect, you see). Well, the hookers show up, and they are very popular -- but not in the way Oral had in mind (although I believe "Oh, God" is often uttered in their presence). Talk about oral communication.

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

I'd spend the morning sleeping in, the afternoon in a good bookstore, and the evening in the arms of a beautiful woman who loves me.

If you could ask your favorite author one question and they had to answer honestly, what would it be?

I'd ask, "With all your success, are there still times when you find yourself looking at something you've written and think, "This is shit. Nobody's going to want to read this"?

If you could write in a totally different genre than your current one, which would you choose?

I'd try crime fiction. I'd like to write hardboiled, noirish stories about a professional criminal who always gets away with it --sort of like Westlake/Stark's "Parker" novels.

What are you working on now, and what new releases can we expect to see from you down the road?

I'm writing Evil Ways, the sequel to Back Magic Woman. My publisher also has an option on two other Quincey Morris/Libby Chastain novels. In addition, I'm putting together an anthology of "occult detective" stories, and I'm pleased to say that a number of "name" authors have argeed to contribute: Kim Newman, Lilith Saintcrow, Rachel Caine, Simon R. Green, and others.

If you could tell a stranger just one thing about BLACK MAGIC WOMAN (other than what it's about--no cheating by quoting synopses or back cover blurbs), what would it be?

The book is kind of like an urban fantasy version of Prego's spaghetti sauce. Witchcraft? It's in there. Vampires? Got 'em. Werewolves? Check (well, one, anyway). Zombies? Why don't you by the book and see for yourself?


Give Justin a comment or a question, or tell us which distant descendant of a classic character you'd like to see solving mysteries in a gritty city, down there in the comments before 5 p.m. EDT on Thursday, March 27. I'll draw a name and announce the winner next Friday morning.

If you don't have a Blogger account, just sign in as anonymous and leave your name at the bottom of your comment so I can call your name.

***I recommend against putting your e-mail in the comments, since that brings on spam. HOWEVER, if you don't leave a way for me to find you, you must stay subscribed to the comments or come back next Friday to see if you won. I don't have magical finding powers.***

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Justin - I loved, loved, loved Black Magic Woman. It is a wonderful book. Can't wait for Evil Ways.

My question is this: Are you going to title all of your books after Santana songs or is that just coincidence?

Also thank you for the autographed copy of Black Magic Woman (From Rachel Caine's blog)!


Jeri - I have a signed copy of Justin's book so please leave me out of the giveaway. Thanks!

Posted by: Blogger Katie at 3/21/2008 10:35 AM


Thank you for the kind words about BMW. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

I think I've exhausted the possibilities stemming from Santana songs. I want the titles to be from well-known tunes, so that potential readers will get that little frisson of recognition.

But I do plan to stick with the period (sort of like one of the characters in Jeri's excellent forthcoming book, WICKED GAME)for song titles.

What do you think of "Bad Moon Rising" for #3? Of course, I'll need a story to go with it...



Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/21/2008 11:33 AM


I'm looking forward to your book and wish you much success.

My question is this: When writing about were's, do you envision their change to be something along the lines of bigger timber wolves, or do prefer the more "Underworld" sort of were?

Michelle G

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/21/2008 11:44 AM

Hi, Michelle.

My werewolf is very much in the tradition of Universal Pictures, which was modified with better technology for "Underworld." Part man, part human, all predator.

Hey, that would make a great tag line for a movie, wouldn't it?

Thanks for commenting.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/21/2008 11:51 AM

Bad Moon Rising would be a great title. There are a lot of possibilites for the plot.

Some possibilites - Smoke on the Water, Superstition, (Don't Fear) The Reaper, Instant Karma,, Highway to Hell, Spirit in the Sky or Wheel in the Sky.

While I could probably never write a book, I could come up with titles. :-)


Posted by: Blogger Katie at 3/21/2008 11:56 AM

I once knew a girl so naive that she thought oral sex meant talking about it (cue rimshot..)

Are you SERIOUS? Holy crap, that's too funny. I wonder if she.. well never mind.

You made me spill coffee on my shirt hence you own me a signed copy of Black Magic Woman. Ahem. (I'm so not subtle, I know)

Posted by: Blogger Wendy at 3/21/2008 12:27 PM

Hi, Wendy.

Well, you've got to keep in mind that I went to Catholic school, in the Bad Old Days.

We had sex education, but it consisted of five words: "You'll burn in Hell forever."

Don't be concerned for the naive youg lady, BTW. She learned better before we graduated. ;)

A signed copy of BMW? Well, IF you promised to tout it in your blog, and IF you promised to tell all your reader friends how great it is... we might be able to work something out.

My email address is on my website, which is .

Drop me a line sometime. We'll talk.

Is it true what they say about nurses?

Thanks for commenting.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/21/2008 1:00 PM

Justin, I always wanted to go to Catholic School, I think it would have been so much fun, plus the uniforms look so cute.

Yeah, I bet now she knows, that must have been a rather rude awakening. Or maybe not! ;-)

I promise. Scout's honor. Alright, so I was never a Girl Scout but I promise to become your book bitch and pimp it like crazy. (the only thing missing in that sentence is the "yo")

What do they say about nurses? Whatever it is, it's a lie! At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Posted by: Blogger Wendy at 3/21/2008 1:52 PM


You'd be surpsised how rare it is to see "Catholic School" and "fun" in the same sentence. At least for my generation. I suppose they've gone all soft, now, and nobody ever goes home bruised and bleeding.

Whenever I'd complain, my Mom would tell me tales of when SHE went to Catholic school, back when the nuns could REALLY hurt you.

Maybe you'll get lucky and win the signed copy that Jeri's giving away. If not, drop me a line. We'll discuss just how many literary "tricks" you're willing to turn to justify my largesse.

Are you sure nurses aren't easy? Because ALL the guys used to say so....


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/21/2008 2:43 PM

I'm sure back in your days (oooh, did I just called you old?! heh) those nuns went a little nuts with the rulers, but I think nowadays they've gone a bit soft.

All I know is that they better don't dare come near me with a ruler, no one is slapping my bum with one, thankyouverymuch.

Easy? Sure, we have horribly inappropriate humor, and maybe we like needles a wee bit too much, but easy?

Not if you don't have an ID batch with the word "Doctor" in it. (Oh crap, I think I just insulted every nurse in the world)

Posted by: Blogger Wendy at 3/21/2008 3:03 PM

Justin - I picked up your book in one of those "that looks like it would be good" kind of moments in the bookstore. I was hesitant to read it at first, but after I started it I just couldn't put it down! I loved the character changes and how all the story lines came together. I also liked the fact that you wrapped up a lot of the story at the end instead of leaving it hanging for the sequel. I hate waiting for sequels! But, they do give me a good excuse to read the book over again, so maybe it's not so bad. :) I can't wait for Evil Ways, and more to come after that.

Andrea K.

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/21/2008 8:46 PM

Reading the other comments, I'm sad to hear the Santana titles won't continue. (Although "She's Not There," "Europa," "Oye Como Va," etc. do lack a certain urban fantasy ring.)

I'm glad you're focusing on the bass player - they always need a little love. (Unless it's Chris Squire from Yes. Surely everyone realizes he's genius.)

I'm also glad to find a fellow watcher of [Adult Swim].

++I'd try crime fiction. I'd like to write hardboiled, noirish stories about a professional criminal who always gets away with it --sort of like Westlake/Stark's "Parker" novels.++

Please do. My brother-in-law and I were talking last week about how more books/movies needed to end with the bad guy/a criminal winning. And the noir genre lends itself to that - huh, I want to break out that Jim Thompson on my shelf now. (My dorm room has teeny bookshelves - after my required reading, I've only got space for about twenty books. Not enough for any sort of decent collection.)

Now if you're giving away signed books for promised touting on blogs . . . I'd promise to review it on mine. (I do promise honest, not positive. But from your interview answers I highly suspect I'd like BMW.) I've just started so I'd also be amendable to an interview/guest blog if you wanted to do one. ^_~

Forgotten literary character solving mysteries?

Balin from various King Arthur cycles - the man's a trainwreck. The mysteries would be highly amusing and end in tragedy. (Vaguely amusing for being utterly implausible tragedy, at that!)

Posted by: Blogger Liviania at 3/22/2008 12:34 AM


Black Magic Woman looks...the cover is great...and sounds amazing. I love hearing that there is a sequel on its way...which is a big selling point for me.

I was checking out your website and I loved all your "stolen" comments in the FAQs section...Any other fabulous "stolen" lines?

Have a wonderful weekend and Happy Easter!

Posted by: Blogger Lori T at 3/22/2008 12:37 AM

Hi Justin,

Black Magic Woman sounds great, will have to check out your website and put the book on my TBB list :)

Posted by: Blogger Lis at 3/24/2008 6:13 PM

Black Magic Woman looks like a great book. I just love urban fantasies & am always on the look out for new authors. I've added your name to my ever-growing list of authors to check out.

Posted by: Blogger Stacia at 3/25/2008 2:54 PM

love the name and the cover. I've put this one in my wish list at amazon. my ever growing wish list at that lol

Posted by: Blogger Pamk at 3/25/2008 10:33 PM

please eneter me! i really really want

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 3/25/2008 11:24 PM

I want that book--no let me rephrase that...
I NEED that book!;P


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/26/2008 5:37 AM

Black Magic Woman sounds like a great book. I love the title and the cover. The title makes me hum the song. LOL

Posted by: Blogger CrystalGB at 3/26/2008 1:47 PM

I would love to have a signed copy!! I looked and looked for the book until I found Justin's website and he said there had been a delay, it was worth the wait though,it was awesome!!!

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 3/26/2008 10:53 PM

Can you toss my name in the hat as well? I would love a signed copy! And Justin, I do have a book review blog, hint, hint, nudge, lol :)

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/27/2008 4:14 AM

Wow! I'm really blown away by all the interest in my novel. Thank you!

A request for those of you who have already read it: would you consider posting a review on the book's Amazon page? Everything helps, believe me. I'd appreciate it.

Oh, BTW, I was talking to Quincey and Libby recently -- they said to say "Hi!."

Actually Quncey said "Say hey." You know how Texans talk....

Justin Gustainis

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 3/27/2008 8:35 AM

Hey this is a very cool interview! Boy I wish I could win the booky!

Posted by: Blogger Harry Markov at 3/27/2008 1:25 PM

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