Things I Learned from The Once and Future Podcasts – Justin Gustainis edition

This week I listened to author Anton Strout interview Justin Gustainis, author of two UF series: the Quincy Morris series and the Occult Investigations series. Here are a few things I learned:

— Anton describes what happens when he gets an edit letter. If you ever wondered what an author goes through after an editor has read the manuscript, Anton explains.

— Sometimes the Once and Future Podcast does giveaways. I need to start listening to the newest shows.

— The hero of Justin’s Quincy Morris series is based on a character from Bram Stoker’s DRACULA. Justin’s character is a descendant of the vampire killer, carrying on a family tradition.

— Justin talks about what it was like trying to break into publishing before there was an Internet.

— When not being an author, Justin is a professor. So when does a professor find the time to write? What’s in his office? (I want the posters.)

— Justin was once a speech writer and a bodyguard. He tells Anton what both of those jobs entailed.

— Justin and Anton discuss how to handle bad reviews. This is excellent advice for all authors and writers.

— Justin writes in silence or to a soundtrack. Find out which soundtrack.

— Justin reads urban fantasy, but not as often as he’d like to.

— And finally, Justin says there are three things required of every writer in order to be published . . .

. . . listen to the podcast to find out about all of this and more.

[Review] EVIL WAYS by Justin Gustainis

[Editor’s note: Although Harry filed this review as a “D Review”, after considering his review, and that he has many good things to say about the book, and that he recognizes his opinion may have been just a bad mood, I’m filing this review as a “B Review”. That seems more fair.]

Posted by Harry Markov

Title: Evil Ways
Author: Justin Gustainis
Series: Quincey Morris Investigation Series, Book2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 336
Publisher: Solaris


Quincey Morris and Libby Chastain investigate a series of murders where white witches are being hunted down and killed—and Libby may be next on the list. Meanwhile, the FBI is stymied by a series of child murders around the country, in which the victims’ organs are being removed for use in occult rituals. Quincey and Libby don’t want to get involved, but they may have no choice. From Iraq to Idaho, the trail of clues leads straight to Walter Grobius, a crazed billionaire who plans the biggest black magic ritual of all time. If he isn’t stopped, all Hell will break loose—for real.

Verdict: It took me quite awhile to get to this novel and considering how many positive reviews it gathered, I think I ended up reading the novel wrong, because at large “Evil Ways” didn’t exactly work for me. Perhaps I am on a different vibe right about now or perhaps my tastes have changed in the stretch of a year, but after reading and loving “Black Magic Woman” I waited for something bigger and better as the perfect scenario for a series should be.

Plot-wise I got everything I needed. Compared to the first book in the series “Evil Ways” excels in dynamics and stretches through the better part of the USA and even offers some scenes of heist action in Baghdad. The use of magic is extensive and ranges from summoning to blood sacrifices, wards and astral projection. The variety and degree of explanation behind each act is satisfying for me as a fan of the occult and creates a solid believability. Satan also makes a very gruesome cameo appearance, which always acts as a plus and sex just lounges in between the pages. Gustainis also gives the readers every man’s dream: a woman wielding big guns with the intention of using them.

So what was the problem, if everything so far is all I could ever dream of? Gustainis has wonderful ideas and has woven them into a believable enough plot, but what doesn’t work for me in this installment is the actual writing. Spreading the story through different points of view is great and we can see what happens on both sides of the whole apocalypse-in-the-making, but the stark in-your-face approach to representing the impending doom fails to build tension. In “Black Magic Woman” I loved, when the author didn’t beat around the bush and slapped the reader with the facts as they were with no poetic detours and you felt like a part of a much messed up episode of CSI. However now that the supernatural elements have been pumped up “Evil Ways” should have, at least to me, dripped dread and the book didn’t. The famous bat scene was awesome yes, but it didn’t make me fear that the characters wouldn’t get out. Same goes for the grand summoning of Satan. As the final ceremony transpired I didn’t feel any immediate danger for the character or for the world at that.

This being said, the second thing that didn’t work for me happened to be dialogue. I enjoy wise cracking as much as the next guy, but I couldn’t buy the idea that two people no matter how comfortable with each other would mock bicker, wise crack and throw punch lines and funny expressions, when Libby is being chased by enemies unknown and the apocalypse on the rise. Comic relief via dialogue is a powerful tool and the final use at the very end of the novel is just perfect, but in almost every conversation, it becomes tiring and destroys the reader’s belief in the credibility of the story.

Negative aspects aside, there are quite a few good things to complement Mister Gustainis upon, such as his bravery regarding sex. Few ever dared to throw in orgies that have demons in and incorporate bestiality moments, a scene that stunned me as a matter of fact and was one of the few moments that created a very sinister atmosphere of decadence and dread in the novel. Also the scene, where Colleen had to play it cheap hooker in order to get the info she needed for the case to move on underlines how dire the situation is, even though it’s very un-FBI thing to do.

I am also very pleased with the world building angle. Gustainis has done some very heavy research to get down the principles of magic right and authentic as much as the complex system allows such a task to be performed. You won’t notice any deviation from the previous installment in the series, just a sort of expanding what has already been established in rules and possibilities. As much as I am a fan of the Japanese “I have a nuclear power plant rivaling load of energy” I find it refreshing to see that magic through most of the novel is very hard to get going and produce immediate effects, which usually takes up a lot of work that once interrupted can result into a catastrophe of some degree.

As a whole, “Evil Ways” is a good concept with an execution that didn’t manage to stir much of a reaction out of me. I am not sure I am in the capacity to recommend or warn off people as the experience as a whole was bittersweet and confusing. I still can’t make up my kind about “Evil Ways”, but there are enough reviews to show you a different perspective.

Different Opinions:
Darque Reviews
Graeme’s Fantasy Reviews
Monsters and Critics
Fatally Yours
Love Vampires

Six-Shooter Interview with Justin Gustainis

Posted by Harry Markov

Hello, and welcome to the special New Year Six-Shooter interview with author Justin Gustainis. Tuesday, December 30th, marked the official release date of “Evil Ways”, the second novel in the Quincey Morris Paranormal Investigation series [Promo Post Here]. One day later we have Justin to answer some basic questions to poeple, who have yet to be introduced to the series. Now before we start, here is the blurb for Justin’s first novel “Black Magic Woman”:

“Occult investigator Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain, are called in to help free a desperate family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem Witch Trials. To release the family from danger they must find the root of the curse, a black witch with a terrible grudge that holds the family in her power.

The pursuit takes them to the mysterious underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York, stalking a prey that is determined to stay hidden. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself—the very heart of darkness.”

Harry: Justin, here is the first question to set the tone and get a reader in the loop. How was “Black Magic Woman” received? What was the general vibe from readers and had you had any contact with your readers in terms of what they wish to see incorporated as themes in further installments?

Justin: Well, Harry, I should note that writing a novel isn’t really a cooperative venture. I don’t mean that I don’t get information, and even ideas, from others while I’m writing, but the readers, bless them, don’t determine the contents of the books. True, if I saw the same concern cropping up over and over, whether in fan mail or reviews, then I’d have to pay attention, but nothing like that has arisen, so far.

I suppose you could say that the readers vote with their wallets. And the true test of that will be sales of “Evil Ways.” I assume those who liked “Black Magic Woman” will pick this one up, as well. I sure hope they do, and I hope they tell their friends. And I hope they have a LOT of friends. Still, if as many people buy “Evil Ways” as purchased “Black Magic Woman,” I’ll be a pretty happy little writer.

H: Now judging from the blurb in the promo post and the excerpt “Evil Ways” will team up Libby and Quincey again on a new case together, but this time their mission seems a bit heavier. Both have their guns out and ready to shoot. Can you hint how Evil Ways extends and evolves the formula?

J: Walter Grobius, the crazed zillionaire who was largely behind the scenes in “Black Magic Woman,” occupies center stage this time. Just because his plans for a “super ritual” of black magic were frustrated by Quncey and Libby (and others) in the first book, doesn’t mean he has given up. He’s a persistent old bastard.

Quincey and Libby are drawn into the case from different places, not realizing the connection at first. Quincey is blackmailed by the FBI into investigating another series of ritualistic child murders – but this time it’s on a grander scale than in “Black Magic Woman.” In the meantime, Libby is nearly killed by a team of professional assassins, and yet she has no idea who could have sent them, or why. Quincey and Libby agree to help each other out, and they eventually realize that they’ve been holding opposite ends of the same rope.

Then it gets REALLY interesting.

H: I remember from a previous interview that they will have to save the world. That tension must bring out both the rest and the worst in people. What are the readers to expect from the characters? What character traits did you find yourself exploring in the character this time around?

J: Quincey and Libby have some conflicts this time out. Quincey hires a professional bodyguard whom Libby strongly disapproves of, and Libby is unable to pull off some impromptu magic when she and Quincey need it badly. Of course, you also get to see how much affection the two of them have for each other, which makes the conflicts resolvable. There are also conflicts between FBI agent Fenton and his partner, a lady with some unusual abilities of her own.

H: Quincey has been seen talking to agent Fenton, an old face from “BMW”. Will we see any familiar faces like agent Van Dreenan? And on an opposite note who will be the new faces included in “EW” and will they remain permanent figures in the series? What are your plans?

J: Van Dreenan puts in a brief appearance – a cameo, really. And I’ve already told you that Grobius is back. New characters include Pardee, an evil, powerful wizard in Grobius’s employ, and I’ve already mentioned Fenton’s new partner – an FBI agent named Colleen O’Donnell who, like Libby, is also a “white” witch. And Fenton doesn’t know.

Then there’s Hannah Widmark, occult bounty hunter – although, when it comes to “Wanted: Dead, Alive, or Undead,” Hannah much prefers “dead.” For a fee, this deadly lady will hunt down any supernatural creature you designate. She charges a lot, but, truth be told, she’d probably do it for free. Hannah’s got issues.

As for who will be back for the third book, that’s just a sneaky way of asking me who lives and who dies in this one, isn’t it, Harry? Shame on you. Let’s just say that not everyone will die whom you might expect, and not every character you think will survive is still standing when it’s over. There are casualties – on both sides.

H: I see that “EW” will involve quite the travelling. Iraq is one of the countries the action will take place. Is this the only stop on road and what geographical surprises are we to expect?

J: Actually, Iraq is the only really exotic location in the book – unless you count Cleveland, Ohio, which some people from Akron probably consider exotic. The climactic scene in the book is set in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It’s not exactly a thriving metropolis, but that’s where Grobius has a huge estate, out in the middle of nowhere. It is there that the battle lines are ultimately drawn. And in this battle, there will be no quarter given — by either side.

H: Last, seeing how Libby and Morris will be together again the question pops by itself due to the genre of the series. Will there be a romantic relationship? Somehow urban fantasy always leads there…

J: Yes, but as you’ve pointed out elsewhere, I don’t write typical urban fantasy — do I?

Sneak Peek: “Evil Ways” by Justin Gustainis

Posted by Harry Markov

The year 2008 marked the debut of a new writer in the urban fantasy genre, courtesy of British publisher Solaris Books. His name is Justin Gustainis, and the book was Black Magic Woman — a novel that plays with the classic paranormal conventions, instead of simply dusting them off. A male protagonist (Quincey Morris, descended from a character in the original Dracula), the absence of love intrigue as a central element, and two parallel stories that intertwine into one explosive culmination set the first book in the “Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations” series apart from current urban fantasy trends. [Review and Interview can be found here] Now the sequel “Evil Ways” is due December 30th and here is what we can expect.

“Supernatural investigator Quincey Morris and his partner Libby Chastain, investigate a series of murders where white witches are being hunted and killed – and Libby may be next on the list. From Iraq to America, a trail of clues is pointing to eccentric billionaire, Walter Grobius, a man fascinated with a devastating evil that can be traced back to biblical times. What’s more, it seems he may well be involved in a sick scheme for white supremacy across the USA, and Morris and Chastain find themselves in their most epic case as they look to prevent the apocalypse from being released.”

BookSpotCentral is to be thanked for the exclusive chapter sample, which is also made available for the curious to sample what “Evil Ways”:
Continue reading

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!

Swendson held at 4, and much more

David B. Coe interviews Tate Hallaway. “Seriously, I was talking to a friend about this at a bar the other night, and I confessed that one of my favorite things about writing paranormal romances/urban fantasy is that you get to have all the relationship/girly stuff married to the high-octane adventure/boy stuff.”

Wyrdsmiths have a Q&A with Jenna Black. “When I began to believe that it was my own abilities, not the whims of luck, that would ultimately get me published, I started working much, much harder at my writing. I started treating it like a career, rather than a hobby.” [Coincidentally, David B. Coe also interviews Black.]

Shanna Swendson tries to answer readers’ questions about why there won’t be a fifth book in her “chick lit meets urban fantasy” series. “All of my books have gone into multiple printings, even months after release, and the sell-through numbers seem to be what I’ve generally heard qualify as “success.””

Rob Thurman announced the line up for the future winter-holiday themed UF anthology, WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE:
“Gift Wrap” by Charlaine Harris
“The Haire of the Beast” by Donna Andrews
“Lucy, at Christmastime” by Simon Green
“The Night Things Changed” by Dana Cameron
“The Werewolf Before Christmas” by Kat Richardson
“Fresh Meat” by Alan Gordon
“Il Est Ne” by Carrie Vaughn
“The Perfect Gift” by Dana Stabenow
“Christmas Past” by Keri Arthur
“S.A.” by JA Konrath
“The Star of David” by Patricia Briggs
“Better Not Pyout” by Nancy Pickard
“Rogue Elements” by Karen Chance
“Milk and Cookies” by Rob Thurman
“Keeping Watch Over His Flock” by Toni L.P. Kelner

The Book Smugglers have a double review of Ilona Andrews’s MAGIC BITES and MAGIC BURNS.
American Chronicle reviews Justin Gustainis’s BLACK MAGIC WOMAN.
SQT reviews Vicki Pettersson’s THE TASTE OF NIGHT.
Wendy reviews THE DEAD GIRLS’ DANCE by Rachel Caine. And ClothDragon reviews Caine’s ILL WIND.

Amberkatze is giving away 3 UF books: BITING THE BULLET by Jennifer Rardin, 50 WAYS TO HEX YOUR LOVER by Linda Wisdom, and FROSTBITE by Richelle Mead.
A Bookworm is giving away a copy of J.F. Lewis’s STAKED. Enter before May 6. U.S. readers only.

Thursday Review Round-Up

Jennifer Estep reviews Hell’s Belle’s by Jackie Kessler.

AvidBookReader reviews Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris.

Hermitwitch reviews Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry here as well as Matters of the Blood by Maria Lima, Black Magic Woman by Justin Gustainis and Heart of the Wolf by Terry Spear here.

Darque Reviews reviews Heart of the Wolf by Terry Spear.

Alana Abbott over at Flames Rising reviews the Prom Dates from Hell anthology.