Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste | More2Read
 

Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste



 

About Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing; And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and the occult horror novelette, The Invention of Ghosts, from Nightscape Press. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Tor’s Nightfire, Vastarien, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Unnerving, Interzone, and LampLight, as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Gothic Fantasy series, among others.

Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can also find her online at Facebook and Twitter.

 


 

The Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste

 


 

Lou Pendergrast:

Congratulations on your Nominee position for 2020 Bram Stoker Awards® for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction with The Invention of Ghosts.

The seed and inspiration behind this, please tell me more about that.

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

The Invention of Ghosts is all about the occult, unusual hauntings, and toxic friendships. It seems throughout everyone’s life, friendships come and go. Sometimes, it happens gradually, sometimes, it’s sudden, but either way, it’s often painful. This story explores a particular relationship between two girls in college where their friendship frays slowly and then all at once, leaving them both in a kind of supernatural free-fall. There are spirit boards, ectoplasm, rapping in the walls, and lots of very bizarre mysteries that the protagonist Everly has to unravel to understand what went wrong and how she might still be able to fix it. 

This is a very personal story to me, one of my personal favorites I’ve ever written, and I’m so incredibly honored that it’s been nominated for a Stoker this year. 2020 was such a great year for horror, and I’m so excited to be on the ballot with so much amazing talent. 


 

 


 

LP:

The second great news is this two-book deal with Saga Press and Simon & Schuster.

Saga Press is a big step in publishing houses they are behind the great voices including recently Stephen Graham Jones and Nathan Ballingrud. This I think is the one that may put your name even further and more accessible to wider range of readers across the world. From carving your first tale till now this tell more about the journey and reflection in the portrait of the artist and the road through having your stories submitted accepted and awarded. How has it been?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

It’s been an absolutely wonderful and often surprising ride through this career so far. The first short story I ever had published was released in 2014, so it’s been seven years now that I’ve been a working author. That seems at once like a very long time and also a blink of an eye. Since then, I’ve had about 100 short stories published along with two novels, two novellas, one collaborative novella, a novelette, and a short story collection, plus several translations of my fiction and a number of nonfiction articles as well. It’s certainly been a busy seven years, if nothing else!   

As for the future, I’m so thrilled to be working with Saga Press on my next two novels. I’ve admired their books for years, and like you said, they publish so many incredible authors. In addition to Nathan Ballingrud and Stephen Graham Jones, Saga has also published Theodora Goss, Kat Howard, and Rebecca Roanhorse, among so many others, and it’s still so unreal to me that I get to join the roster too. After dreaming about being a writer since childhood, I sometimes can’t believe that all of this is real. As cliched as it is to say, it really feels each day like a dream come true.

 


 

LP:

Can you reveal the seed and inspiration behind the forthcoming Reluctant Immortals.
What can we expect, and what are you expectants for the novel and hope to communicate?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

Reluctant Immortals, which is due out in 2022, follows Lucy Westenra from Dracula and Bertha Antoinetta Mason, the so-called Madwoman in the Attic, from Jane Eyre as they crisscross 1967 California, attempting to outrun Dracula and Edward Rochester, who have returned unexpectedly to their lives.  

The novel is based on two of my previous short stories: “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary),” which appeared in Nightmare and won a Stoker last year, and “The Woman Out of the Attic,” which was published in Flame Tree’s Haunted House Short Stories anthology and reprinted at Pseudopod. I loved writing both of those stories so much, and when I was done, I realized I still had a lot more to say about these characters. When I looked at both Lucy and Bertha, I recognized a kind of kinship in how they’ve both been treated in literature. They’re characters who are important to the plot of their respective novels, but are mostly treated as plot devices rather than actual people. I wanted to explore that idea and how these two women would feel about that. 

I chose the 1960s as a setting because it was such a tumultuous time period in American history—and one that’s not so dissimilar from our own. I’ve also always been fascinated with the Summer of Love in San Francisco and how it was a time of self-discovery for a lot of young people. It seemed like a perfect chaotic backdrop for Lucy and Bertha as they’re desperately trying to fend off the toxic men in their lives while also figuring out who they are.  

At its heart, Reluctant Immortals is about two forgotten women reclaiming their own stories from the men who stole their voices. Over the years, so many women in real life have had their voices silenced, so this book is really to honor them and all the outsiders who have been cast aside in society. Their stories deserve to be told, and those are definitely the sort of tales I want to share with the world. 

 


 

LP:

You had a new novel in 2020 Boneset & Feathers. I have not read that one yet, what is it about? Tell me please a little about the inspiration behind it and what you hoped to communicate with this story.

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

I’ve always loved stories about witches. They can be so utterly magical and frightening at the same time. That being said, I’ve never been fond of how so many witches are depicted as entirely evil. With Boneset & Feathers, I wanted to tell a tale about a witch who’s not evil at all, but who’s instead trying her best to control her magic, even while she can’t escape the power within her. I also have long been terrified of the Inquisition—I actually can’t imagine anything much scarier than witch hunts—so not only is my protagonist Odette trying to figure out who she is, it’s all happening against a background of witchfinders roaming the countryside. 

Like so much of my work, this is a story about outsiders trying to find their place in the world. Odette has been maligned by her village and by the witchfinders simply for being who she is. This book follows her as she comes to terms with herself and her power, all while doing her best to defeat the witchfinders once and for all.  

 


 

LP:

Tell me about seed and inspiration behind The Bram Stoker Award winner The Rust Maidens.

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

For my first novel, I knew I wanted it to be body horror. That’s always been among my favorite subgenres of horror. However, I didn’t want it to be a typical kind of body horror transformation; it needed to be something I’d never seen before. As it happens, while I was kicking around the idea for my debut novel, I was also writing a short story called “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends,” which was ultimately published in Black Static. That story is set in 1980 Cleveland, and I did a ton of research to get the specific details for that setting. Afterward, I realized I wasn’t ready to leave that time and place yet, which is when I went back to the idea for the body horror novel. I basically did the “What if” game of “What if there was a body horror transformation in 1980 Cleveland? What would that look like?” and immediately in my mind, I saw girls transforming into the rot and decay of the Rust Belt of that era. From there, I was off and running with the concept for what would ultimately become The Rust Maidens. 


 


 

LP:

Was there a steel mill and a tree house in the real world of yours in Ohio?
Incorporating them in the novel tell me more about that.

 

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

There wasn’t a treehouse—I was never the kind who climbed trees—but there were definitely steel mills in Northeastern Ohio where I grew up. My dad was actually working at a steel mill when I was born, and though I don’t remember those times at all, I certainly heard stories about the mills and saw them in the landscape. I’ve always found the mills themselves to be oddly beautiful. There’s so much metal and fire and sparks everywhere, and even though I’d never been in a mill myself prior to writing the book, you could often see inside some of them from the roads, so it felt like peeking into this otherworldly domain. So in a way, I suppose the idea for The Rust Maidens started way back then when I was very young. 

 

LP:

Your story for Ohio with The Rust Maidens, is there another tale you would love to write and tackle connected to Ohio?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

Yes, at some point, I would love to write another story in Ohio. I’m not planning one at the moment, but after growing up in the Buckeye State, I definitely still feel a very strong connection to it, so I suspect I’ll write at least one or two more stories set there at some point. So stay tuned, I guess! 

 


 

LP:

 

This felt more literary and psychological coming of age tale and less horror and supernatural than some short works of yours, am I wrong in thinking that?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

I personally still see it very much as horror and the supernatural, but I have heard from other readers who feel like it fits very well in the category of the Weird. Yet others have described it as coming of age and literary as you have. I feel like genre labels in general are very much dependent on the person and their perspective on a story rather than any specific guidelines. We each see a story through our own eyes, which is one of the most magical things about literature. 

 


 

LP:

 

In your essay, Magic, Madness, and Women Who Creep, a great little work that won a Bram Stoker award, you talk about the outsider and Charlotte Perkins Gilman with this piece. Outsiders I love them, tell more about outsider writers and what makes some of these voices so potent and memorable.

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

Outsiders see the world in a different way than everyone else. Horror in particular is well suited to the perspective of outsiders and people who are deemed the Other in some way. Horror doesn’t flinch away from the truth or expect that the truth should be hidden. It’s a genre about facing the monsters in the world, and that gives outsiders a unique opportunity to express what it’s like to be exiled from society. 

 


 

 


 

LP:

What is horror for you? What do you hope horror does, and what do you hope to communicate in your writing, in horror and more generally?

 

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

Horror is so many things to me. I have a very broad definition of the genre. Anything that unnerves you, anything that gets under your skin, anything that brings you that indefinable dread belongs in the horror canon. That can be the obvious things like slasher or extreme horror, or the more subtle things like ghosts and quiet horror. I love it all, and I want it all in the horror pantheon. 

For me, as a writer and a reader, I want horror that not only shines a light on our fears but also shows us a possible way out. There’s hope in horror, a very palpable undeniable hope. That’s definitely what I want to communicate in my work: that there can and will be dark times in life, but that those times aren’t the only thing we have to look forward to. We can build a better world for both ourselves and others. We should never lose sight of that. By showing us as bad as it can get, horror can also show us that it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s just one of the many reasons I love the genre so much. 

 


 

LP:

When, where, and with what do you do your writing?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

I don’t have a set schedule for my writing. I write pretty much whenever I can and hopefully whenever I have the inspiration to do so. Of course, when there’s a deadline, sometimes you have to force the inspiration a bit, but I’m definitely not the kind of writer who forces myself to write every day. Since the pandemic started, I’m obviously writing from home, specifically at my desk in my office. Before that, I enjoyed writing at coffeehouses. I’m certainly looking forward to getting back to those days eventually when it’s safe again. 

 


 

LP:

What set you on the path to aspiring writer and then novelist?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

I’ve always loved stories since I was a child. I was an avid reader from a very young age, and spending hours at the library as a kid was one of the happiest times in my life. I was an aspiring writer since probably around the age of five or six, and I’ve really been writing ever since. Without a doubt, storytelling is a lifelong passion for me. 

 


 

LP:

What writing advice would you share with aspiring novelists and short story writers?

 

Write the stories you want to read in the world. In particular, if there are stories that you wish existed but don’t, then those are the stories you should write. Focusing on writing the stories you wish were in the world helps to make it a lot easier to work past the times when writing can be a bit of a slog; it gives you the inspiration to keep going. 

 

 

LP:

Do you journal?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

You know, I don’t really journal. I know a lot of writers who love to journal, but most of my ideas come to me in an almost dreamlike way, so journaling has never really been something that appealed to me. Again, though, this is for sure a situation where mileage may vary, because I know some people who depend on their journals to really keep the inspiration going. There are certainly so many different ways to approach writing, and this is just another example of that.

 


 

LP:

I have read a few of your works and there is almost a multi veined voice from a combination of voices like Margaret Atwood, Anne Rice and Joyce Carol Oates. What callings and literary voices influenced you and why?

 

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

The three writers that I always come back to are Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Angela Carter. Ray Bradbury’s work had such vivid descriptions and settings, and so many of the characters, especially in The October Country and From the Dust Returned, have really stuck with me. 

Shirley Jackson could craft characters so incredibly well, and she imbued her settings with such a Gothic aura as well as an indelible sense of humor. Because her writing can be so unnerving, that makes it easy to forget how funny her work can be too. There are laugh-aloud moments even in The Haunting of Hill House, which is one of her more serious works. 

And last but not least, Angela Carter was truly a visionary in the way she reimagined familiar fairy tales into entirely new stories. The Bloody Chamber was such a revelation for me when I discovered it in college. I never let my copy of it too far out of my sight. Put together, those three authors truly gave me a window into a different way of writing, and I’m grateful for them every single day. 

 


 


 

LP:

That novelist you could phone up now, what would you ask them about their creations, story or characters?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

Shirley Jackson for sure. I’m not sure what I would even ask her. I think I’d just like to talk to her and see what she’s been up to in the afterlife. She would be a blast to just sit down and have a cup of coffee with. 

 


 

LP:

Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon is on my list of best coming of age tales along with The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale. Which are your favourite coming of age tales?

 

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

This might be a strange one to pick, but the first coming-of-age story that came to mind for me is Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. It’s certainly a more dour kind of coming-of-age story, but when I read it for the first time a few years ago—I was only familiar with her poetry before that—I was stunned at how much it resonated with me and some of my own experiences. When it comes to outsider writers, Sylvia Plath is always one to mention, and while she didn’t publish a lot of prose, The Bell Jar has absolutely stood the test of time in how powerful it remains to this day. 

 



 

Credit: 

Studio photograph of Sylvia Plath (with brown hair) by Warren Kay Vantine Photograph 1954 Mortimer Rare Book Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. ©Estate of Sylvia Plath

 


 

LP:

Your books you would pick up again to read and have picked up many times before. What are they and what aspects of the novel you love?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a huge one for me. Such a fantastically strange novel. It’s beautifully written, and I absolutely adore the characters, in particular the remaining Blackwood family. It made me feel less alone in the world, and that’s among the highest compliments I can pay to a book.  

 


 

LP:

Which books would be your recommended reading?

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

 

There are so many fantastic books out there, so this is always such a tough question! I would say for classics, you can’t go wrong with We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, which I already mentioned of course, and The October Country by Ray Bradbury. As for more modern reading, I’d highly recommend Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked by Christa Carmen, The Devil’s Dreamland by Sara Tantlinger, Root Magic by Eden Royce, and A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sng. Those are all incredible works by some of the best authors working today, so I can’t recommend them highly enough. 


 

 


 

Lou Pendergrast:

Thank you for this time talking on your works and writing.

 

Gwendolyn Kiste:

Thanks so much! This was a lot of fun!

 

 



 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 08 March 2021