SPOTLIGHT: Justin Chasteen, Author of The Huntress of Bur

Last week, we mentioned that we're putting our Dead of Winter authors in the spotlight and highlighting one author per week.

This week, we have Justin Chasteen, author of "The Huntress of Bur". This story of a bandit raid gone terribly wrong has an awesome twist to it that we just loved. Be sure to read the excerpt we've included after the interview to get a feel for this gritty story.

How did you get started with writing?

It was just one of those things where I had read two really great books back-to-back, and I said “I’m going to give this a shot.” I sat down and wrote a short story, but that story really seemed to be just a piece of the puzzle. I felt good enough about that short story to sit down and work on a novel. I finished all 220,000 words in about nine months. I just fell in love with writing. I’m actually planning on rewriting that first novel later this year since I’m not complete shit anymore. Hopefully I can make it something special.

Do you tend to write in just one genre or do you like to write across multiple genres? And, if just one, what made you choose to focus on that particular genre?

My novels are usually fantasy fiction. Of the two completed and one nearly complete, the first was a very basic type of fantasy story that was character-focused, the second was like a new wave novel about a witch in a fantasy world, and the one I’m working to finish now is a little more linear with the characters—as in there isn’t as many as I’d like—but the world is much more in-depth since it involves two different styles of government.

With short stories I just write whatever is on my mind. My first published flash fiction was a story about a girl who was in a prison on another planet, my best-selling short story "The Old Man Next Door" is about loss and grief, my short story in the Dead of Winter anthology is just a bit weird, and my Silver Honorable Mention short story from the L. Ron Hubbard Award—which is still looking for a publishing home—is a sky pirate romance. The short story I’m working on now is a woman who has never forgiven herself for something that happened in the past, so she constantly mentally punishes herself through designed activates that she knows will damage her. It’s really sad because I’ve had to do a lot of research on mental disorders and foster care. When you write that “realistic” fiction, it’s really a different approach than the type of research you do writing fantasy. I’d rather look up the stench radius of a rotting corpse than read all those horrible stories about the downs of foster care.

I focused on fantasy for my novels because fantasy is my favorite to read—always has been. I like to write my short stories in first-person to get more practice in all forms and tenses. Plus it’s always a nice little break.

What made you decide to write "The Huntress of Bur", which appears in Dead of Winter? Is there a particular backstory to it?

This one…was a bit odd. I was finishing up my bachelor degree in Creative Writing degree and my professor wanted me to submit ‘The Old Man Next Door’ to the college’s fiction contest. The contest guidelines required a much shorter story, so I just started writing. I knew if it was a contest, I really needed to look like a real writer (which I still don’t feel like) so I started with landscape and went from there. I had no specific genre I wanted to tackle, so I just wrote: wintery forest, injured men, blood and so on. I’m kinda happy where it ended up, because it gave me a character (the Huntress) that I could probably write a novel on in the future. Although I never got to go into detail about her in the short story, I have big plans about her past that could be pretty interesting.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

When I’m not writing, I usually spend time with my family, read, play video games, watch football—nothing too wild. My son kinda dictates what I do until he is in bed. I think writing may be my only real hobby outside of music and training boxing, but boxing has been slow since my trainer is starting a new career. I don’t actually compete

Where is the best place for readers to find out more about your work?

Right now I’m trying to finish the manuscript of that fantasy novel I had mentioned earlier. I’m also working on a short story about a woman who has never forgiven herself for something that happened in the past. She mentally punishes herself through designed activities that she knows will damage her. It’s really sad because I’ve had to do a lot of research on mental disorders and foster care. When you write that “realistic” fiction, it’s really a different approach than the type of research you do writing fantasy. I’d rather look up the stench radius of a rotting corpse than read all those horrible stories about the struggles of foster care.

Here is my Wordpress, which I rarely update, Instagram, and Twitter. Twitter probably has the most up-to-date information on my writing and such. "The Old Man Next Door" is available from Write Out Publishing, "The Shattered Galaxy" from River & South Review and "The Huntress of the Bur" is obviously through you guys and Amazon/BN.

Thanks, Justin! And, now for an excerpt from "The Huntress of Bur":

The Huntress of Bur

The sunrise glazed the woodland and biting frost swelled to a sharpened glare in his eyes. With each slick crunch of his boots, Gligk wondered if he would ever feel his toes again, unable to wiggle them since the night before. He stumbled west with dim sunlight to guide him. This, he didn’t mind, but the man he carried over his shoulders would object the moment he regained consciousness—so he headed south.

Gligk cared little about his destination, so long as he arrived with his life. For ten years, he and his comrades had raided the homes of rich widows. They stole coin, horses, innocence of daughters, and jewelry with little to no resistance. It was a good ten years—a fun ten years with full bellies and empty testicles—but Gligk and company had finally made a critical error.

Gligk turned to check his tracks—two lines in the deep snow that looked more like he’d crawled instead of stomped.

The man slung over Gligk’s shoulders grunted and yanked his head up. “Does it still follow us?”

Gligk squinted past lanky, naked oak trees stretched deep into the Marrowbone Forest. The sun was rising rapidly, covering the forest with a golden glint. They’d be more visible now if it still stalked them.

“I don’t think so, Rat,” Gligk gasped. “Haven’t heard a thing in a few hours.”

“Christ, my leg’s numb. How bad is it?”

Rattle’s thigh no longer gushed, but dripped blood along the outside of their trail.

“Do ya have any more water?”

Gligk gently propped Rattle against a thick oak, then reached inside his elbow-patched wool coat. He ripped free a leather bladder and dangled it until Rattle yanked it from his grasp. “I kept it close to my gut to keep it from freezin’.”

Rattle emptied the water skin, his Adam’s apple dancing with each gulp. “So, what the hell was that thing?”

“I dunno, Rat,” Gligk said. “We’d only been in the cabin of that huntress for a few minutes, then everything turned to shit. Somethin’ cut off Jimi’s head. When it hit the floor his eyes were still wide mouth gapin’ like a fish. Yorm charged into the darkness after whatever killed Jimi—I guess he thought he’d make quick work of it—but I’d never heard Yorm scream like that. Not ever, Rat.”

“You killed her, right? You killed that old bitch?”

“I did, Rat. Killed ’er before we even entered that cabin. Just liked we planned—she was out back cuttin’ wood and I buried my knife in ’er before she could see me comin’. But whatever was in that cabin was waitin’ for us.”

Rattle grimaced. “We rode in with four horses, and you didn’t have time to grab a single one?”

“You were out cold when I found you. I tossed you over my shoulders and ran. I never looked back. Do you remember what happened?”

“No,” Rattle gruffed.

Gligk glanced down at the gash, hidden under a crimson-soaked cloth wrapped just above Rattle’s knee. He grew weaker with each needled breath that filled his lungs. They’d not last much longer in this chill if Rattle couldn’t walk on his own.

Get your copy of Dead of Winter to find out how the story ends.

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