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.***
Labels: Contests, guests, reading