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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Author Interview + Giveaway: Justin Gustainis

Today, I'd like to introduce Justin Gustainis and thank him for stopping by the blog. I recently finished Hard Spell, the first novel in his new Occult Crimes Unit Investigation series that released on July 26th, and I loved it. Look for my 4.5 Star review coming soon.

Sara: How would you describe Hard Spell, for readers who haven’t heard of it before?

Justin: In this “alternate” universe, the supernatural really exists –- and everybody knows it. Supernatural creatures are accepted –- if not always loved. The “supes” are citizens, but that means they have to obey the law. In Scranton, PA, when a supe crosses the line, Detective Sgt. Stan Markowski of the Occult Crimes Unit is the one they call.

Somebody in Scranton is killing vampires, leaving the corpses covered in occult symbols. It appears that a wizard is using the vampire deaths as sacrifices in some really big, nasty spell. And nobody, including Stan Markowski, knows which vampire sacrifice will trigger the Big Bad: the next one –- or the last one?

Think Dragnet meets Dracula –- that should give you a pretty good sense of the book (and the series).

Sara: How would you describe each of your main characters in three words?

Stan Markowski: brave, experienced, cynical
Karl Renfer (Stan’s partner): young, eager, impulsive
Christine Markowski (Stan’s daughter): young, estranged, “different”
Ernst Vollman (vampire “King” of Scranton): ancient, jaded, worried
Lacey Brennan (Stan’s counterpart in nearby Wilkes-Barre): foul-mouthed, hyper-competent, hot
Sligo (the wizard): evil, eviler, evilest

Sara: What sets your series apart from the rest of the Urban Fantasy genre?

Justin: You mean, apart from the fact that it’s set in Scranton? Well, it has some characteristics that, while not unique in the genre, are less than common: the protagonist is male, without supernatural powers, and a cop; there’s none of that icky love stuff (this is not Paranormal Romance, people); and Markowski’s family relationships are... complicated.

Sara: Tell us a little about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Justin: More the latter. I start with a situation, and a character. Then I throw the character into the situation and follow him/her around, watching what happens. Plotting is the hardest part of the writing process for me.

Sara: Where did the idea for Hard Spell come from? Is it a novel you have always wanted to write or did it sneak up on you?

Justin: It’s hard to say exactly when it developed. On paper, it originated as a short story (called “Demons Don’t Die”) that I wrote at the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2008. I think the idea began some time earlier, with a phrase that popped into my head one day while I was thinking about something else: “The mean streets of Scranton are haunted now.” Don’t ask me where that came from, although I was recently re-reading Stephen King’s Salems Lot and came across this line: “These roads are haunted now.” When I steal, I only steal from the best, even when it’s subconscious.

Sara: If Stan could work together with any Urban Fantasy heroine, who would you want him to work with?

Justin: Anita Blake, I think. Stan needs to get lucky, and I understand that every guy who hangs around with Anita gets lucky, sooner or later. Usually sooner. The only thing against him is that he’s human, and not a were-leopard, or something. But I still think he’d have a chance.

Sara: Can we look forward to more books after Hard Spell?

Justin: I’m already behind schedule on the sequel, Evil Dark. It’s supposed to be out in February. We’ll see. And I have a contract for one more book in the series. After that, it’s up to the publisher.

Sara: What are your influences both in and out of Urban Fantasy?

Justin: Outside of urban fantasy, most of my influences come from mystery writers, including Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Ross Thomas, Thomas Perry, and Robert Crais. Within urban fantasy, early influences would include Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker (the movie, not the series – either one), a Gene Roddenberry pilot that never got made into a series, Spectra, and Tanya Huff’s “Blood” novels (Blood Price, Blood Trail, etc.). And Stephen King, if he can be considered an “urban fantasy” influence.

Sara: What are you currently reading?

Justin: I usually have several books going at the same time (it’s a great way to postpone writing). Right now, they include Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey, Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, and Ellen Datlow’s new anthology, Supernatural Noir.

Thanks again for stopping by, Justin! And don't forget to check out the trailer for Hard Spell.

I enjoyed Hard Spell so much, I'd like to pass my copy on to one lucky winner. To enter, just leave a valid e-mail address and answer the following question: Scranton was a very interesting choice of setting for an Urban Fantasy. What is a city that you would like to see as the center of an Urban Fantasy series that hasn't been done yet?

Giveaway Rules:
1. US only
2. Must leave a valid e-mail address
3. Giveaway will be open until midnight August 14th
4. Winner will be chosen using August 15th

Title: Hard Spell
Author: Justin Gustainis
Series: Occult Crimes Unit Investigation #1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 07/26/11
Stan Markowski is a Detective Sergeant on the Scranton PD's Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit.

Like the rest of America, Scranton's got an uneasy 'live and let unlive' relationship with the supernatural. But when a vamp puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that's when they call Markowski. He carries a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Dial V For Vampire | Forbidden Spells | Bite Club | Scranton By Night ]

***Please note that the copy of Hard Spell comes from my personal collection. It is un-signed and very gently used, although there was some damage to the back cover in shipping.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting read.


  2. I've been hearing alot about this one! Hell, MI would be a great place for a setting!

  3. I cant think of the name of it, but its the Christmas named town in the Midwest.

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  4. Jackson Hole, WY

    sgiden at

  5. I'd like to see an urban fantasy set in Fresno, California. Everyone makes fun of Fresno but it's a city of a half million people and has plenty of history to draw on.

    This book sounds really neat, too. The voice in the trailer is great.

    Beth.L.Cato at

  6. This is on my high-priority read list, the early reviews I seen have been very positive. I'd love to own a copy instead of just borrowing it from the library, thanks for the opportunity. As for your question, I think Cleveland would nr fun, it's such a mix of old and run down and great revitalization projects, and it has so many great neighborhoods.
    Greytfriend216 at gmail Dot com

  7. Sounds so cool! Thanks for the giveaway!!
    denlsn at msn dot com

  8. OOps, hit enter too quick. I would love to see more books taking place in Gainesville, FL or Orlando, FL. Gainesville is a cool little/big college town with some cool stuff in the area like the Devil's Millhopper, an old sink hole. Orlando would be cool since I live near there and know it pretty well.


Thanks for stopping by Sara's Urban Fantasy Blog! I'd love to here what's on your mind. :)