1) Firstly, please tell us a little bit about yourself and the books you write...
My “day job” is in academe – I’m a college professor living in upstate New York. I began writing fiction as a hobby in the mid-nineties. However, I was, eventually, “cursed with success,” and now the writing has turned into a second job – a fascinating, rewarding, sometimes infuriating second job.
I started out writing short stories, and at first they were squarely in the crime/suspense genre. No supernatural elements at all. But when I began my first novel, The Hades Project – well you can hardly open the door to Hell without the supernatural, can you? I was entering urban fantasy territory before anyone was calling it urban fantasy. In addition to The Hades Project, which was a standalone, I have two series going: the “Morris/Chastain Investigations,” about an occult investigator and his white witch partner (three books so far), and the “Haunted Scranton” series, which features a cop in an alternate universe where supernatural creatures are real and everyone knows it (one book out, with at least two more on the way).
2) Hard Spell, published by Angry Robot, is the first novel in a brand new series of urban fantasy novels. In it the protagonist is a human cop fighting supernatural crimes. What caused you to take this twist on the genre? Wouldn't it have been easier to write for a character who could fight back better?
As Richard Nixon famously said, I could have taken the easy way, but that would have been wrong (never thought I’d find myself quoting that old bastard). I wanted the character of Stan Markowski to be a kind of Everyman, the kind of guy that most readers could identify with. Anyway, his “relative weakness” as a human makes his dangers much more harrowing, and his triumphs that much sweeter.
3) The most evil and most frightening characters in Hard Spell were the witchfinders. How did the idea for these come about?
I just imagined the late Jerry Falwell with a better tailor, although the older witchfinder’s relationship with his younger, fiercer, subordinate is reminiscent of that between Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn. Except that I don’t think the younger witchfinder is gay – although you never know...
4) Did you write the witchfinders as a commentary on the dangers that fanaticism and intolerance pose to any society or were you looking for human characters that could form a mirror to the worst of the supernaturals?
I wanted a factor to complicate Stan’s job even more. I suppose at some level the characters are a commentary on religious fanaticism and self-righteousness, but I didn’t set out to do that. Instead I made them into vigilantes, operating at the edge of the law.
5) There is a great deal of dark humour in the book that was funny while being irreverent and sardonic. Is humour easy for you to write?
As Edmund Keene is reputed to have said, “Dying is easy – comedy is hard.” That said, I suppose it comes naturally to me. Some say that I have a naturally snarky sense of humor. Plus, in real life, most of your best witty comebacks occur to you about 24 hours too late, right? But when I’m writing, I can go back and use them anyway. How cool is that?
6) Sympathy For The Devil, published by Solaris, is another brand new Urban Fantasy book of yours, and book three of a series. Do you find it easy to switch between writing two independent stories and worlds, or do their similarities cause problems in the writing process?
The real difficulty was switching from third person omniscient POV to first person, then back to third again, as I did between Evil Ways (the second Morris/Chastain book), Hard Spell, and Sympathy For The Devil. The difference involves a lot more than pronouns (“I” verses “he”). They require two completely different ways of presenting information to the reader. With third person, I can show any character, anywhere, doing anything. With first person, the reader onlysees what Stan sees, only knows what he knows.
7) The magic in your books always feels authentic. Did you research ancient rituals or black magic?
I’ve been a practitioner of the dark arts since college – and if you piss me off, I’ll turn you into a toad.
8) Which authors and books have influenced you the most?
You mean, from whom have I stolen the most? The list is long, but would include Kim Newman, Thomas Harris, Adam Hall, Thomas Perry, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Thomas.
9) Do you have any tried and tested methods for generating ideas, or do they just fall out of the sky?
I *wish* I had some tried and tested methods for getting ideas. Instead (and this line is stolen, although I don’t know from where), I just sit in front of the computer and stare at the screen until beads of blood form on my forehead.
Ed's note: the quote is from Gene Fowler!
10) Finally, what does the future hold for you? Are you writing at the moment, and if so are they further books in your current series' or something entirely new?
I’m writing the second book in the “Haunted Scranton” series, Evil Dark. And I may be spending some time in Hollywood in the future (although probably not). Sympathy For The Devil has been optioned by a producer for a possible cable TV series. I was glad of the attention, although I know the odds against ultimate success are very great. To paraphrase Scripture, “Many are optioned, but few get a pilot; fewer still are ordered to series.”
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
Read our review of Hard Spell here
Order your copy of Hard Spell from Amazon UK
Order your copy of Sympathy for the Devil from Amazon UK
See all of Justin's book here