For What It's Worth

Friday, April 27, 2012

Guest post: Justin Gustainis–“The Horror, the Horror”

I’m welcoming author Justin Gustainis back to For What It’s Worth today to talk about his new urban fantasy novel, Evil Dark, book #2 in the Haunted Scranton series. 

The Horror, the Horror

I write scary stuff – full of vampires, witches, demons, ogres and every other kind of nasty (or potentially nasty) supernatural creature.  And in my books, some very bad stuff happens to people.

My latest book, Evil Dark, is the second (after Hard Spell) in a series of novels set in an alternate universe where the supernatural exists, and everybody knows it.  In my version of Scranton, PA, your next door neighbor might be a werewolf, and the odd little guy down the street could be a ghoul.  It’s a “live and let unlive” relationship.  But when a vampire puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, then it’s a case for Sgt. Stan Markowski of the Scranton Police Department’s Occult Crimes Unit.

And this time out, Stan’s got a real bad mother of a case to investigate.  Someone is using demonic possession to make “snuff films.”  For these DVDs, which are sold only in the underground market, two prisoners are shown, chained to chairs that are surrounded by a large pentagram.  A wizard conjures up a demon from Hell, and forces it to take possession of one of the captives.  Then the possessed prisoner is set free from his chains.  The demon cannot leave the center of the pentagram.  The only human upon whom it can vent its fury is the poor bastard in the other chair.

The people making the video (who are, in their own way, as much monsters as the demon they’ve conjured), have thoughtfully provided an array of tools for the Hellspawn to use.  This includes knives of various sizes, a hammer, needle-nose pliers, and a blowtorch.

In describing what happens next, I have some choices.  I can show the torture of the captive in excruciating, gory detail, recording every torment and scream.  There’s even a genre name for this kind of thing – splatter punk.

This is what I did, instead.  Here’s Stan Markowski, watching one of these snuff films for the first time.  He describes the setup, much as I just did.  Then he says, “What happened next went from zero to unspeakable in very few seconds, and then it went quickly beyond unspeakable, to a lever of horror there are no words to describe.”

I approached the scene that particular way for a couple of reasons.  One is, there’s nothing scarier, in my view, than the human imagination.  Instead of describing what torture the demon inflicts on its victim, I provide the setup and let your mind fill in the blanks.  Think of the most horrible scene possible – and that’s exactly what you’ll see in your mind’s eye.  The horror has jumped off the page, and gotten inside your head.  Mwahahahahaha!

The other reason I don’t rub the reader’s face in the viscera is that I don’t see a lot of art involved in doing so.  It’s kind of like the sub-genre of horror movies that some have dubbed “torture porn.”  Such films employ start-of-the art special effects to portray acts of torture and mutilation as realistically as possible.  Whatever plot there may be exists only to serve as the framework for the torture scenes.  In my opinion, that’s not art – it’s high-tech virtual sadism.

Give me a chance, dear reader, and I’ll scare you – but I’ll do it by messing with your head, not making you sick to your stomach.  

Author: website
Buy the book!
Hard Spell (Occult Crimes Unit Investigation) Book #1 
Evil Dark: An Occult Crime Unit Investigation


-Justin is giving away one copy of Evil Dark. 

-This giveaway is open to international entries. Winner receives their choice of format: signed print copy or digital.

-To enter please leave a comment & fill out google doc form.

-Ends Sunday 4/29/2012 11:59pm EST - winner announced Monday

- Do you prefer your gore to be graphic or does your imagination make it scarier?
Personally my imagination is usually scarier than anything the writer can come up with. Once the gore starts being described in vivid detail I find myself laughing (inappropriate I know) or finding holes in the logistics of the torture. What say you?

My name's Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.
A series of seemingly motiveless murders of supernatural creatures points to a vigilante targeting the supe community. Markowski wouldn't normally have much of a problem with that, but his daughter may be next on the killer's list...
File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Unnatural Law | Thicker Than Water | The Bite Stuff | Duty Calls ]

This giveaway has ended. The winner is Midnyte Reader.


  1. EEEEEKS!!! Karen, are you really a pretty, little ghoul behind that computer of yours? Kidding!!! This sounds like a good, creepy read.

  2. really enjoyed Hard Spell. fresher than the Dresden Files. looking forward to Evil Dark

  3. I'd rather have less gore and more that's left to my imagination. I think it makes it scarier, definitely.

  4. I've recently picked up Hard Spell, really looking forward to it, and this one sounds good too. I think the way you did it, by letting the reader use their own imaginaion is the best way, because I would think most people who like to read, (horror esp) can come up with some pretty vivid pics all on their own. Thanks!!

  5. I'd prefer the gore to be left unsaid. Once you read it, you sometimes just want to scrub your eyeballs, but the problem is that you can't get rid of it.

  6. Nice post. I read Justin's Black Magic Woman and enjoyed it a lot. I have to read more of his work. I like both kinds of gore - it depends on the context. Sometimes I like it graphic and bloody and sometimes I like it subtle.