Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Justin Gustainis, author of Sympathy With The Devil, his latest novel which was released July 26, 2011. It's the third book in the "Morris/Chastain Investigations" series, but you don't have to read the first two novels in the series in order to understand the events in this novel. Here is little synopsis:
Senator Howard Stark wants to be President of the United States. So does the demon inside him. With the competing candidates dropping out due to scandal, blackmail, and ‘accidental’ death, Stark looks like a good bet to go all the way to the White House. And if he gets there, Hell on Earth will follow.
Occult investigator Quincey Morris and white witch Libby Chastain are determined to stop this evil conspiracy. But between them and Stark stand the dedicated agents of the US Secret Service – as well as the very forces of Hell itself. Quincey and Libby will risk everything to exorcise the demon possessing Stark. If they fail, ‘Hail to the Chief’ will become a funeral march – for all of us.
1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing fiction, in particular the paranormal?
My day job is as a college professor; writing fiction is essentially a hobby (although my publisher is inclined to see writing as my day job and teaching as the hobby) – although it’s a hobby that has been gradually taking over my life. In my misspent youth, I was, at various times, a factory worker, soldier, speechwriter, and professional bodyguard.
In high school and college I was always writing stories to amuse my friends (and they were amused, since they appeared in most of the stories). I didn’t start writing fiction as an adult until the mid-1990s, and I was mostly doing that to escape, temporarily, some unpleasant aspects of my personal life. I began writing short fiction and entering contests with it. I started winning (or at least placing in the top three) almost at once, which gave me encouragement to attempt a novel.
Why the paranormal? I think, at first, I was trying to escape into a fantasy land where the rules of the real world didn’t apply. And I was always a big fan of Dracula and The Exorcist. It’s probably not coincidental that vampires and demons keep showing up in my fiction.
2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, Sympathy for the Devil?
Sympathy for the Devil is the third book in my “Morris/Chastain Investigations” series. Quincey Morris (who is descended from the Texan who helped destroy Count Dracula – see what I mean about recurring themes?) is an occult investigator. In a sense, he’s carrying on the family business. His partner (in ghostbusting, not romance) is Libby Chastain, a practitioner of “white” magic.
The new book is built around Senator Howard Stark, who is running for President of the United States. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Stark has been possessed by Sargatanas, one of the most powerful demons in Hell. The forces of darkness want Stark to get elected, then use the powers of the Presidency to destroy the world (they don’t like us much, down there in Hell). Stark doesn’t start out as heavily favored to gain his party’s nomination, but things start happening to his competitors – one dies in a freak accident, another commits suicide when shocking details about his past are revealed, and others have to deal with scandals based on information that no one should know.
Quincey and Libby eventually figure out what’s going on. They plan to get Stark in a locked room with an exorcist, and have the demon cast out of him. Their plan only faces two obstacles – the brave and dedicated agents of the U.S. Secret Service, and the powers of Hell itself.
3) What inspired you to write Sympathy for the Devil? How much research was involved in the writing?
One source for the inspiration was those “cold war brinkmanship” novels that were popular in the Sixties – Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, etc. I was nuts for those when I was a kid. One of them posits the question: what if the President went crazy? It’s not anything dramatic -- no screaming or chewing the carpet, like Hitler. But he seems … irrational. What can the people around him do to stop World War III being started by a madman? So, my twisted mind substituted “possessed” for “crazy,” and I was off.
I didn’t have to do a great deal of research. I’m a political junkie – I think politics is the best spectator sport around. And sometimes it’s also a blood sport, as it is in my book.
4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
To make an outlandish premise seem reasonable. Both the supernatural elements and the political aspects had to seem as realistic as possible, in order for the reader to engage in “willing suspension of disbelief.” In my book, you don’t work black magic by waving your arms around and going “Booga-booga!” And you don’t get to be President by giving a couple of speeches. The book follows the Stark campaign from the Iowa caucuses to the party national nominating convention in NYC – and it is there that politics becomes a blood sport – for real.
5) In this novel, we are introduced to some very interesting and intriguing characters. Who was the most fun to write about? Which character presented the biggest challenge?
One really fun character was a demon named Ashley. She’s in the story because of another character, Mal Peters. Peters was a CIA assassin who was killed years ago and went to Hell. But not everybody in Hell is in favor of the Stark-destroys-the-world plan. One faction fears that if the plot succeeds, it will bring on Armageddon, and Hell will be the ultimate loser. So Peters is sent back from Hell by these dissident demons, with the assignment of killing Stark before he can get elected. Ashley is a mid-level demon who is given flesh and sent to assist Peters and make sure he carries out his task. But Ashley is also part succubus, so things between her and Peters get very … interesting.
One of the hardest characters to write was Senator Stark himself, after he is possessed (which occurs early in the book). I wanted to get across his dual nature of man and demon without going overboard with either one. That was tricky sometimes.
6) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I always have an economy-size bottle of Ibuprofen handy – extended typing gives me pain in the neck and shoulders. See? I do suffer for my art. Plus, I have Papa John’s pizza on speed-dial. And I don’t see how anybody can live, let alone write, without Cherry Diet Pepsi.
7) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future?
I find myself in the odd (but pleasant) position of having not one but two books being released on July 26th. In addition to Sympathy for the Devil, that date will also see the publication of Hard Spell, the first book in my new “Haunted Scranton” series.
The book has what several people (okay, me and two friends) regard as one seriously kick-ass book trailer:
I’m currently writing the sequel to Hard Spell, called Evil Dark. It’ll be out early next year.
8) Favourite authors? Favourite characters?
Favorite authors include Jim Butcher, Kim Newman, Lilith Saintcrow, Rachel Caine, Chris Marie Green, Jackie Kessler, Mike Ashley, Thomas Perry, and Stephen Hunter.
Favorite characters? I want to be just like Harry Dresden when I grow up. Except taller.
9) What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Right now, what little spare time I have is taken up with trying to raise a couple of kittens (two little guys I’ve named Quincey and Stan). It’s proving more of a challenge that I had anticipated.
10) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
There are three more things about Sympathy for the Devil that I’d like to mention.
One is the book trailer (yes, I have one for that book, too):
The second thing is news of a huge contest that I’m running in conjunction with the publication of Sympathy for the Devil. First prize is a $50 Amazon gift card and I’ll name a character after you in the next Morris/Chastain adventure (tentatively called Play with Fire).
Because the prizes are so cool, the contest requires you to do more than just make a comment about this interview. For details, go to my web site: www.justingustainis.com
And finally – and this is kind of troubling, actually – there seems to be a rather sinister-sounding guy called Howard Stark who says he really is running for President in 2012. Now, my Howard Stark is a fictional character, so this can’t really be Hell’s candidate for President – can it?
His website is www.starkforamerica.com but I wouldn’t check it out, if I were you. The content is just too … disturbing.