by Scott T. Barnes
With the paperback release of Black Magic Woman just being launched, and Evil Ways slated for December 2008, Justin Gustainis is moving into Supernatural Investigation territory in a big way. He took time out from his frenetic writing schedule to answer a few questions.
How long did it take you to write Black Magic Woman? Is this typical?
The first draft took about a year. As for "typical," I'm not sure what's typical for me, yet. My first novel, The Hades Project, took about a year and a half. The third, Evil Ways, took about eight months, but then I had a contract and a deadline -- the latter concentrates the mind wonderfully, as Samuel Johnson once said about something else.
Can you describe your writing process?
There's not much to describe -- you know, just stare at the screen until beads of blood form on your forehead, and like that.
For the first two books, I started with an idea, which led me to a protagonist, and those two things eventualy developed into a plot, which I worked out as I went along. The second book started with a character (Quincey Morris) and then I worked out a plot to plunge him into. Much of that one was also made up as I went along.
For Evil Ways, the publisher wanted a detailed outline before issuing a contract, so I came up with one. Writing a book from that was both liberating (much of the heavy plot lifting had already been done) and confining (new directions occurred to me as I was writing, but I was reluctant to explore them, since I had already committed myself, more or less, to a specific story). As it was, there are a couple of places where the finished book deviates from the outline in significant ways. What the hell -- they published it, anyway.
How much time do you spend with revision as opposed to writing the first draft?
Most of my revising involves style, rather than substance. I'm always changing words, phrases, and sentences, but I don't generally mess with the plot much once the first draft is complete. One exception occurred after I sold Black Magic Woman to Solaris, when they said "We'd like this 60,000 word manuscript to be closer to 90,000 words." It was only then that a couple of guys named Fenton and Van Dreenan put in an appearance.
I usually start each writing session by going over what I wrote last time, and making any stylistic changes that occur to me. That helps me warm up for the ordeal to come. I will also go through the entire manuscript again before sending it out, and once more when I get the galleys -- although I have to be parsimonious about changes at that stage, since the printer charges for them.
Tell me how you went about promoting BMW. Is there anything you will do differently with Evil Ways? Why?
My publisher arranged some book signings in my local area (Burlington, VT and Albany, NY) which did not exactly draw throngs of people. In fact, you might say they stayed away in droves. I think I won't be doing that again for a while, unless/until I develop a considerably larger fan base.
I made good use of the Internet, and plan to do so again. I found a number of web sites that review fiction like mine (urban fantasy, for lack of a better label) and arranged for my publisher to send them copies. This led to a number of good reviews and several invitations to do interviews online (not unlike this one).
I also sent out (sometimes at my own expense) copies of the book to other writers in the genre (most of whom I had never met), after asking them if they could spare the time to read the book with a view to a possible quote. The resulting kind words (of which I am glad to say there were quite a few) were too late to use in the trade edition, but they came in handy in the advertising, especially online. We're also using a number of them in the mass market edition of Black Magic Woman, which is due out later this month. I hope I can impose on those nice folks again, once copies of Evil Ways are available
The beginning of BMW with vampires has nothing to do with the rest of the story. Was that written at the same time?
Actually, it was -- although when the manuscript didn't sell (at first) I turned that chapter into a story that I sold to an anthology about vampire hunters. The purpose of the chapter was to introduce the character and to show the kind of work he does. In that regard, I think it succeeds.
Supernatural stories tend to embody a lot of clichés. How do you deal with them?
I embrace them lovingly -- and then try to turn them on their heads. Sort of like the way I approached desirable women, back when I was younger and considerably more foolish.
Which writers most influenced you?
Oddly, perhaps, most of the writers who have influenced my own work come from the mystery/suspense/crime genres rather than fantasy or horror. I think that's because I was a voracious reader of the first long before ever turning to the second. My influences thus include, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Ross Thomas, Peter O'Donnell, Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor) and Thomas Perry.
If you could write like anyone in the world, who and why?
Stephen King -- because then I'd be shit rich.
What all did you learn in Odyssey that you applied to Evil Ways (due out in December in trade paperback?) or Sympathy for the Devil?
All but the last three chapters of Evil Ways were written before I got to Odyssey. The whole thing was supposed to have been done before I left home. I mean -- participate in Odyssey and finish a novel at the same time -- how crazy is that? And you wondered why I never seemed to sleep.
It's hard to tell specifically how Odyssey has influenced my writing, although I'm sure it has done so in many ways. I do try to follow Nancy Kress's advice about putting power words either at the beginning or the end of a sentence, and I strive extra hard to avoid "white room syndrome." I'm sure there is much more from Odyssey in my writing that I'm not consciously aware of. It was an awesome experience, and I feel privleged to have taken part in it.
I take it Evil Ways is not a Quincey Morris investigation. What is the premise?
You take it wrong, my friend. Evil Ways is the second in the series of Morris/Chastain (we're giving Libby equal billing now) investigations. In the story, "white" witches are being murdered, which has Libby Chastain worried, especially since she narowly avoided being one of the victims. Quincey Morris, meanwhile, has been blackmailed by the FBI into investigating a new series of ritualistic child murders. These events turn out to be two ends of the same trail, and it leads Quincey and Libby to crazed zillionaire Walter Grobius, who has something very big and very nasty planned for April 30th -- Walpurgis Night, the Night of the Witches' Sabbath.
Can you give me a sneak look at Sympathy for the Devil?
I could, but then I'd have to kill you.
But, in other news, Angry Robot Books (the new science fiction/fantasy imprint of HarperCollins) is picking up a series that I pitched to them. It's about cops in Scranton, PA investigating paranormal crimes -- in an alternate universe where supernatural creatures are known and (more or less) accepted. The first book in the series is tentatively called Markowski's Magic.
You may recall that I submitted some it to the dreaded critique circle at Odyssey, where it didn't fare all that well, especially with that week's visiting guest author. I plan on sending Barry Longyear an autographed, inscribed copy when the book is published. In fact, I may do the same with every book in the series, and I hope it turns out to be a long series.
I never carry grudges, Scott -- but I have been -- but I have been known, upon occasion, to exact revenge. And the Sicilians have got it right -- it is a dish best served cold.