Sunday, February 2, 2014

Author Spotlight: Justin Gustainis

Sharp fangs red and bared, St. Valentine’s Day again charges toward us sparing neither relent or mercy. In our hoary experience, not much is scarier than that. Accordingly, we who toil at Gazalapalooza can think of no better way to commemorate the imminent Valentine onslaught than by featuring at the Author Spotlight Justin Gustainis, a novelist whose writings deeply steep in the sinister and the macabre.

For the record, Guatainis’ books also are clever and witty. It’s remarkable he writes so engagingly with his tongue so firmly jammed in his cheek. We’d think that has to hurt at least a little.

Gustainis joins us today to share thoughts and insights about authorial crafting generally, and to discuss his just-released novel, Known Devil: An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation. We’ll concede that via his writings he’s sojourned countless midnights round the creepiest block in the ‘hood. We’ll admit too that his robust educational achievements (a Master's degree in English plus a Ph.D. in Communication), and his day job as a professor in Communication Studies at Plattsburgh State University, may permit him to labor under the misapprehension that he’s eminently prepared to withstand the broiling rigors of our infamous Author Spotlight’s klieg light army. But as with all things sublime or ominous, the proof’s in the actual pudding. Without further ado, let’s give the man a hefty spoonful of blinding glare, shall we?

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and tell why you choose them.

Gustainis:    For fiction, I’d take Tolstoy’s War and Peace – but not for the reasons you might think. I read the abridged version in college, and even that sucker was hefty enough to hurt somebody with, given the inclination. Being stuck on the island with it, I’d have no choice but to read the damn thing – all of it. Not only that, but after the fifth or sixth reading, I’d probably even start to understand it. Once I returned to civilization, my insight into the book would surely make me a hit at academic cocktail parties – if I ever went to any.

The nonfiction choice is easy – I’d take How to Get Off a Desert Island, by I.M. Stranded. And if such a book doesn’t exist, it should.

Gazala:    Your new book is the third in your celebrated "Haunted Scranton" series, marking the hotly-anticipated return of Detective Sgt. Stan Markowski of the Occult Crimes Unit. It's an excellent and wicked paranormal thriller titled Known Devil, centered around a street drug addictive to supernaturals that births a crime wave as the creatures of the night struggle to get drug money. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about Know Devil, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Gustainis:    Like the first two books in the series, Known Devil is set in an “alternate” universe where magic (both white and black) and supernatural creatures really exist, and everybody knows it. But even supernaturals have to obey the law. As Stan puts it, “When a vamp puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell – that’s when they call me. My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge.”

In Known Devil, Stan and his vampire partner Karl Renfer are dealing with three big problems. As you mentioned, a new street drug called Slide has appeared, and it’s addictive to supernatural creatures. Some get hooked and then, like junkies everywhere, turn to crime to finance their habit. Thus, the book begins with two elves trying to stick up a diner in which Stan and Karl are taking their nightly coffee break. Things don’t work out too well for the elves on that occasion.

Related to that is the second problem. A gang war has broken out in Scranton between the local Mafia family (which is made up of vampires) and a branch of a big Philadelphia family (also consisting of vampires). The locals want to keep Slide out, because it has the potential to addict their own. The new guys see the great economic potential in the drug and are willing to do whatever it takes to turn Scranton into a new market. Stan reluctantly sides with the local “fangsters,” reasoning that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. Or, as he says to Karl at one point: “I know the difference between a mean dog and a mad one.”

And there’s also turmoil among the rest of the city’s supernatural community. Victor Castle, unofficial leader of the various “children of the night” who make Scranton their home, has been blown to bits by a bomb. The perpetrator and motive are unknown, but it seems clear that someone wants to take over as head of the local “supes,” and the strongest contender is a particularly nasty vampire who likes to refer to humans as “bloodbags.”

Then there’s the upcoming city election. It’s not Stan’s business, but he can’t help but notice that a new political entity calling itself the Patriot Party, whom nobody had even heard of a year ago, seems poised to take over the city government. That worries Stan, because the PP takes a very hard line on supes, and if they take over, he may be faced with another war in the streets – this one between supernaturals and humans.

A perfect storm of supernatural strife is descending on Scranton. As usual, Stan and Karl are right in the thick of it.

Gazala:    What are books for?

Gustainis:    You might as well ask me, “What is oxygen for?” or “What is food for?” As far as I’m concerned, the answer to all three questions is the same.

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Gustainis:    I think it was Andre Norton who observed that writing is a simple, three-step process: “Place butt in chair. Write. Repeat.” I’m not big on rules (although I think Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing make a lot of sense), but I’m pretty sure I know what leads to being successful as a writer: talent, persistence, and luck. That was certainly true in my case. And the greatest of these is all of them.

Gazala:    There's what appears to be a scowling elf pounding on my front door, waving a big gun. This may take a while. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.

Gustainis:    Okay, how about this: “Tell people why they should buy a copy of Known Devil.”

Wow – that’s a tough one….

My natural modesty prevents me from going overboard on this, but seriously – in what other work of modern genre fiction can you find:

  • Elves with guns
  • A naked Siren
  • Vampire gang warfare
  • A gnome who sets off car bombs
  • A hamster named Quincey, AND --
  • Twelve distinct uses of the word “haina”
I rest my case.

And so Gustainis emerges from the Spotlight fairly unscathed. We attribute this as much as anything else to the armed elves as to Quincey’s good offices. So grab a haina or two and head to to sink your teeth into a copy of Known Devil. What better St Valentine’s Day gift for your beloved than that?

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