February 20, 2014

Badges, Blood, and ... Bigfoot?: an interview with Justin Gustainis, author of "Known Devil"

Earlier today, I had the chance to review the first novel in Justin Gustainis' Occult Crimes Unit trilogy, Hard Spell. Before I dove into the next two novels, the most recent of which, Known Devil, hit shelves very recently, I managed to ask Justin a few questions about the series and writing in general. Enjoy!

Gef: Three novels in and now your supernaturally enhanced version of Scranton, New Jersey is facing a turf war between gangs with supernatural abilities. While I'm not exactly expecting a cross between Tony Soprano and Voldomort in this new novel, what kind of approach did you want to take with regards to organized crime and magic?

Justin: Although magic is common in my “alternate” universe, the gangs in Known Devil involve magic only in the broadest sense – their members are (almost) all vampires. As I describe it, these were originally human Mafia “families” whose members decided that virtual immortality sounded like a good idea. Or maybe the Godfather of each family told the members, “Get undead, or get lost.” Of course, immortality comes to a crashing halt (literally) if some other “fangster” puts a silver bullet in your brain.

Gef: Despite the protestations of readers and writers alike who are sick of vampires, they persist. Same with zombies. And I've even heard the occasional grumblings about urban fantasy as a whole. What's your take on the genre these days? Still thriving? Still pushing against its boundaries? Or are things getting a little penned in by expectations and orthodoxy?

Justin: The urban fantasy market may have become saturated (just as horror did in the 1980s). My agent, whose agency represents a number of urban fantasy authors besides me, says that they are not taking on any new urban fantasy writers these days, unless something extraordinary comes along. Actually, I think part of the marketing problem comes from a common conflation between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. The two are similar in some ways, since they both put supernatural elements into a modern setting. But my definition of urban fantasy is “paranormal romance without all the mush.” Needless to say, it is a definition not accepted by everybody. I think the paranormal romance end of the continuum is definitely over-saturated. But the people writing good-quality, gritty urban fantasy you could count on two hands and still have a few fingers left over.

Gef: While I didn't see anything about involvement in law enforcement as I glanced your bio, I did see something about you reaching the rank of Lieutenant in the Army. Any chance of seeing a military UF novel to complement your Quincey Morris and Occult Crimes Unit series?

Justin: Military UF – interesting concept. I’m familiar with military SF (although I’m not a fan, personally), but military UF is something I haven’t encountered, unless we count the vast literature that’s apparently based on role-playing games, and maybe we should. Hmm… vampire armies battling werewolves by the light of the full moon. Could be fun, but it’s not for me. I only revisit my military days unwillingly – in nightmares.

Gef: Considering the hubbub about Governor Christie and the whole bridge scandal, any chance another novel is in the works that offers a political slant? I can just imagine the kind of havoc Christie's staff could wreak with some magic on tap.

Justin: I take it this means you’re rejecting the “demonic possession” defense that has been raised by some of the governor’s supporters. I think it’s worth considering, myself. But in any case, I’ve already written a book which has the relationship between politics and (black) magic as one of its major themes. Sympathy for the Devil is part of my other series, which features occult investigator Quincey Morris (a descendant of the Texan who helped Van Helsing kill Dracula) and his associate, “white” witch Libby Chastain. The book is about a demonically-possessed presidential candidate – and any resemblance to actual presidential candidates, either living, dead, or undead, is coincidental and unintended. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Gef: Markowski lives in a world that feels like a well-balanced mashup of urban fantasy and police procedural, two genres that seem remarkably well suited for each other--at least in this case. Are there any other genre mashups that you're a fan of?

Justin: There’s one I stumbled upon recently that I get an immense kick out of. It’s a genre that combines crypto-zoology and, um, porn. One of my favorite titles (although I haven’t read it) is Bigfoot Did Me from Behind, and I Liked It. Seriously – you can buy it on Amazon. I think this particular kind of mashup is the future of genre fiction – and if it isn’t, it should be.

Thanks, Justin. As for the rest of you, you can visit his website at www.justingustainis.com/ or you can check out his Author Page on Amazon.com.

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