Kelly Chats with Justin Gustainis

Recently I spoke with Justin Gustainis, author of Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigation: Black Magic Woman. Mr Gustainis’s second QUINCEY MORRIS novel, Evil Ways, will be released on Dec 30, 2008. Don’t miss my review of Black Magic Woman.

Kelly: Why Quincey Morris? That is, how did you come up with the idea of making your hero a descendant of Stoker’s character, and why that particular Stoker character?

Justin Gustainis: I’ve always thought that Quincey Morris got pretty short shrift in Stoker’s original novel. His role is little more than a walk-on. I’ve long been curious about him.

I confess, the decision to write about an occult investigator came first. But, later, once I figured out a way to get around the fact that Quincey is one of Lucy’s suitors in the book (and presumably single), one of his descendants seemed a natural choice. [For those who haven't read the book yet: I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that the original Quincey Morris had been married years before he met Lucy Westenra, to a woman who died in childbirth. His son was being raised by relatives back in Texas. His intentions toward Lucy were thus, as they say, honorable.]

I suppose I picked Quincey over the other characters partly because I’m American, and feel more comfortable writing about American characters. But I also thought the combination of cowboy and ghostbuster might have a certain appeal. Apparently, I was right.

Other than Stoker, what authors have influenced your writing the most? And what writers do you enjoy the most?

Well, I suppose that Stephen King belongs in both of those categories. It’s fashionable in some circles to sneer at King, because he’s become so popular. But, although I haven’t liked all of his stuff, I would point out that there’s a reason why he’s popular: he’s good. The man is a natural storyteller: he can compose a narrative that draws you in and makes you want to keep reading. I can’t think of any higher praise for a writer.

That’s what I try to do (although I am in no way comparing myself to King). I don’t consider myself an artiste (although I respect those who really are). I’m a storyteller, plain and simple. If I can take your mind off your troubles for a few hours, then I’ve done my job.

Many of the other writers who have influenced me come from the mystery/suspense/crime field, not fantasy and horror. I think that’s because I didn’t come to those last two genres until later in life, after I had already read a gazillion mystery/suspense/crime novels. I think my influences include Ross Thomas, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler — and even, dare I say it, Mickey Spillane (another guy who knew how to tell a story, regardless of his many other shortcomings).

Writers I enjoy these days, in no particular order, are, Jim Butcher, Thomas Perry, Rachel Caine, Lilith Saintcrow, Robert B. Parker, Kim Newman, Charlaine Harris, and others whom I’m sure I’m forgetting.

One of the things that I noticed in Black Magic Woman was a sharply defined morality. The characters come from a diverse range of cultures and religious traditions, and so “good” or “evil” is not the province of any particular belief system, but it’s clear within the story that there is a definite good and evil on each path. Do you have a personal philosophy that underlies this outlook?

I suppose it’s the traditional Judeo-Christian moral system to which most people in our culture are exposed. I was raised Catholic (very Catholic), and although I’m non-practicing now, I’ve found that once Mother Church gets her hooks into you, they sink deep and set hard.

One of the things I like in writing about monsters (both human and otherwise) is that I don’t need to worry much about their motivations. They’re all predators, of one kind or another, and the rest of us are their prey — unless people like Quincey Morris and Libby Chastain protect us.

Your characters travel quickly from place to place in Black Magic Woman, yet I felt like I was really “there” in every location they visited. Did you travel while researching the book? Is one of the locations a special favorite of yours?

I didn’t travel to research the book, but all the locations (Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, etc.) featured therein are places that I have visited, usually more than once. And as for the small details, all I can say is, God bless the Internet.

Is there one question you always wish someone would ask you, but no one ever does? If so, what is it? And what’s the answer?

Well, here’s one.

Q: How are you able to get so deeply into the minds of evil people in your books? Do you have an “evil” side yourself?

A: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.


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KELLY LASITER is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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