Justin Gustainis was born in Northeast Pennsylvania in 1951. He attended college at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit university that figures prominently in several of his writings. Mr. Gustainis currently lives in Plattsburgh, New York. He is a Professor of Communication at Plattsburgh State University, where he earned the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2002. In 2011, Solaris Books released his book, Sympathy for the Devil, Angry Robot Books released Hard Spell, and Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing released Those Who Fight Monsters (Gustainis edited the anthology).
So what’s a Professor of Communication doing writing horror?
The two are largely unrelated. Professor of Communication is the “day job.” As you know, the vast majority of people who publish horror (or any other form of fiction) don’t make a living at it. I’d sure hate to try living off the money my writing brings in.
However, one of the many things that differentiates me from Stephen King (besides, talent, fame, income, etc.) is that I don’t I don’t draw my heroes from my profession. Many of Steve’s protagonists are writers, but I haven’t written a novel featuring a college professor – at least, so far.
This is not to say that the potential for horror doesn’t exist in academe. I’ve learned not to teach 8:00 a.m. classes anymore, because looking out at that sea of half-dead faces is enough to convince you that the zombie apocalypse is well under way. 😉
You’re a fan of mysteries as well as horror. Does your work tend to combine these two genres?
It does, indeed. I’m a big fan of the “occult detective” genre – in fiction, TV, and film. Both of my series – the Morris and Chastain Investigations and the Haunted Scranton novels – feature protagonists who regularly confront the supernatural.
Occult investigator Quincey Morris (descended from the Texan who helped kill Dracula) and his partner, “white” witch Libby Chastain, are sort of occult private eyes. They operate in a universe where the supernatural is real, but unknown to most people. They save humanity from supernatural evil on a regular basis, and most of humanity never even knows it.
In contrast, Detective Sergeant Stan Markowski of the Scranton (PA) Occult Crimes Unit, lives in an “alternate” universe where the supernatural is real, and everyone is aware of it. “Supes” are accepted members of society, but even vamps and weres break the law sometimes. When they do, Stan gets the call.
Do you have any favorite horror authors and if so, how have they influenced your work?
Most of the writers who have influenced me are from the mystery and suspense field, such as Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Ross Thomas, and Thomas Perry. I started out writing mysteries – only in short stories, though, no novels.
But there are some horror writers whose work I admire, and who have probably influenced me to some extent, such as Thomas Harris (“Red Dragon” scared the hell out of me), Jim Butcher (whose awesome ability as a storyteller is matched by his generosity of spirit), and Stephen King (of course). And I recently discovered Richard Kadrey, author of the “Sandman Slim” novels. That dude rocks!
Here’s the book trailer for Justin’s Hard Spell:
What have you found are your biggest challenges as a writer?
Procrastination plagues me worse than Poe’s raven. When am I gonna get something written before deadline, and thus have time to revise it properly? Nevermore, probably. Never freakin’ more.
Do you have any pet peeves with the horror genre?
I’m not a big fan of “torture porn” – either in fiction or film, although it’s more common in the latter. I’m not crazy about real porn in horror, either. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy both erotica and porn (the difference, according to former adult actress Gloria Leonard, is lighting). But if I’m reading about a female vampire hunter, for instance, I’d just as soon skip the scenes where she’s being gangbanged by a bunch of were-badgers. And if that’s what two-thirds of the book is about … (substituting, as necessary, sex with were-lions, were-tigers, and were-bears, oh my!) it gets tiresome.
Any regrets as a writer?
That I didn’t start earlier – I’d probably be better at it by now. I made a half-hearted attempt in my late twenties. Wrote a few (truly awful, in retrospect) mystery stories, sent them off to the top magazines in the field, and was devastated to receive rejection slips – talk about naïve! I didn’t try writing fiction again until my mid-forties. It worked out a little better, that time.
Tell us about your experience as the editor of Those Who Fight Monsters. Was it a positive experience? Will you be doing any more anthologies?
The idea behind the anthology was to have stories featuring “occult detective” (broadly defined) characters who had already gained popularity through novels. The project was a great deal of work, but generally a gratifying experience. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of “name” authors who agreed to write stories, and even those who turned me down were (almost) uniformly gracious about it. I was also glad to find that none of the authors were “prima donnas” when it came to the editing process. Of course, these folks are all professionals, but I was worried that a few of them might take the attitude of “Who the hell are YOU to edit ME?” But it didn’t happen – not even once. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few rather intense discussions, however.
Would I edit another anthology? I don’t know – my brilliant idea for “Those Who Fight Monsters” apparently wasn’t so brilliant, after all. The book didn’t sell as well as I’d hoped. Given different circumstances, and a bigger budget to work with, I might try an anthology again, someday.
What’s coming up on the horizon for your readers?
I recently turned in a Morris and Chastain novella called Play with Fire which will be published, initially, as an e-book. So will another novella featuring the duo, Midnight at the Oasis, which is in progress. In a year or so, however, both novellas will be published together in a print edition.
I’m also procrastinating (I mean working – that’s it, working) on the third Haunted Scranton novel, Known Devil, which will be out next year.
After all that’s done, I was thinking of maybe sleeping – for six weeks or so.
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