An Interview with GWENDOLYN KISTE
On today’s Witch Haunt interview, I’m excited to be talking to the author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, and forthcoming debut novel, The Rust Maidens. Please welcome GWENDOLYN KISTE!
WH: Hi, Gwendolyn! I’m so happy to have you here today. Won’t you please give us a brief introduction of your fabulous self?
I’m a horror and dark fantasy author based in Pennsylvania. I’ve mostly written short fiction, but I also have a novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, about the Marys of folklore available now, as well as a novel, The Rust Maidens, due out later this year. As for non-writing things, I’m a big Halloween aficionado, and I love visiting roadside attractions and offbeat museums with my long-suffering husband, Bill. Also, my cats would be very angry with me if I didn’t mention them, so a quick shout-out to McQueen and Rose of Sharon for being the little furry loves of my life!
WH: That was very kind of you to include your cats and totally something I would do as well. :) What other career would you have if not writing/publishing?
At this point, I almost can’t imagine anything other than writing. That being said, though, I do love animals, especially birds, so something in the field of zoology would be fun. In particular, I’ve always admired people who devote their lives to working with injured animals, so rehabilitating raptors would be incredible. In fact, maybe I’ll just run away to the zoo right now to start training for my new career!
WH: In my experience, it can’t hurt to have three careers going on at the same time. When I need a break from one, the other is there waiting! So, your collection of stories, AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE, was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Superior Achievement. Congrats! Tell us what inspired you to write stories about outcasts, forgotten, forsaken women. What a beautiful collection!:
Thank you so much! It was definitely a process putting the collection together. The stories span three years of my writing, and it wasn’t until my editor Jess Landry at JournalStone approached me for a collection that I realized just how much of my fiction was devoted to outsiders and forsaken women. That focus comes a lot from my own experiences and the experiences of women I’ve admired throughout my life. It can be so difficult living in this world when you’re different, and I know that over the years, discovering fiction that speaks to the outsider in me has helped me get through the difficult times of being bullied and feeling pushed out. For me, the best literature not only mirrors our experiences, but also shines a light to help us get through the darkness. If the collection has done that for even a few readers, then I feel like that’s a huge success.
WH: I wish I would’ve had this collection when I was a teen in high school. It was hard for me to realize that my uniqueness would come in handy later and was actually a blessing in disguise. Gwendolyn, what is your writing process like?
The “professional” writer in me wants to offer a very cogent answer here, but the truth is my process can look pretty scattered, especially from the outside. How I approach writing changes by the day and by the project. I spend plenty of time—too much probably—just pacing and staring out windows and generally brooding as I plan the early stages of whatever I’m working on. Then I take a decent numbers of notes, and from there, I try to push through a first draft. The faster, the better, since getting that first draft done means I’m more likely to follow through to fruition. Editing can always be challenging, but that’s the point when the writing really starts to sing, so it can be the most exciting stage of the entire process.
WH: I’m very similar in that I try to push through that first draft as quickly as possible. It’s the most painful stage of writing. Once it’s laid out, it’s easier to sculpt. Which of your written works are you most proud?
That’s always a tough one to choose! A favorite of mine is “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends,” which appeared last year in Black Static. Unsurprisingly, it was written for my mom and celebrated her and my complicated relationship over the years. The story was also a challenge because it’s a time period piece based in the 1970s. The research I did while writing it ultimately formed the jumping-off point for my novel, The Rust Maidens, so the story is certainly special to me for that reason as well. Plus, it’s all about music, and it’s always fun to work your favorite songs into your writing.
WH: I can’t wait for The Rust Maidens and will definitely be needing a signed copy! If you could interview any horror author, gone or alive, who would it be?
Shirley Jackson, for sure. I would love to talk with her about being an outsider and how she created Merricat Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle and what writing advice she has to offer. Though I would also be happy to just sit quietly at her kitchen table and have cups of tea. Though given her character’s track record with arsenic in the sugar bowl, I’d probably take my tea plain, thank you.
WH: HA, right? Shirley Jackson rocked my world even before I even knew that so many others loved her so much. How have you changed as a person from your early life until now?
I like to think I’m more focused now. When I was younger, I had more trouble picking what I wanted to try next, which led me to dividing myself across too many things. Now I’m better able to focus on what I want—which tends to revolve around writing in its various forms—as well as fine-tuning that focus as I go along. Otherwise, though, I have to admit, I’m surprisingly similar to how I was in my early life. I even dress the same as when I was in high school: a little punk, a little goth, a little just plain weird. I figure if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!
WH: I love your style! Don’t ever change. And now for the food questions... How do you like your coffee? Do you have a favorite libation? What’s your favorite dessert?
I always take my coffee black. Creamer and sugar totally obscure the taste in my opinion, and I actually love the flavor of a fresh cup of coffee. As for libations, my drink of choice these days is gin and tonic. There’s a simplicity to it, and I also love that gin is made from junipers and thus has the scent of the forest. It reminds me of fairy tales, as weird as that probably sounds. Desserts… that’s difficult to choose. Probably a scone with the aforementioned black coffee. A perfect treat while writing!
WH: Oh, man. Coffee, scones, and scents of the forest. You’re speaking to my witchiness. So, I know you love Halloween like I do (and probably every horror author in existence)! What’s your favorite Halloween tradition?
This will probably sound terribly wholesome, but I love to pick apples with my husband. We go every year to a local orchard, and it’s this wonderful way to celebrate the season. Plus, then we have lots of apples to cook up recipes together over the subsequent weeks. Truly, in our household, it doesn’t feel like fall until we’ve got a bushel of apples exploding on our counter.
WH: I love that! Every Mabon, I go crazy with apple creations in my kitchen, though I WISH I lived somewhere where I could pick them naturally. Can I visit you in September? :) Well, this isthe Witch Haunt, so what is the witchiest thing about you?
I consider myself fairly witchy in general, so it’s a hard to pick just one thing! Here’s an odd whimsical one, though: an unusual amount of crows have been following me over the past year. It started with a murder of crows in Pittsburgh that literally numbered well into the hundreds; it would take them the better part of five minutes just to pass over the coffee shop where I write. Then one day, I was driving and saw them, so I tracked them down to where they live… in a cemetery, no less. Ever since then, I have two or three various crows follow me around at least a couple days a week. On a recent road trip, a few crows would track us for a mile or two, and then pass us off to a couple more crows for the next leg of the journey. It got to the point that my husband kept laughing every time we spotted another one crossing over the car. “They’re really looking out for you,” he said, and that sentiment made me so happy. Because truly, what horror writer doesn’t want some friendly crows on their side?
WH: Now I want to make a painting with Gwendolyn Kiste being followed by crows while she holds a bucket of apples in the forest. That’s not weird, is it? :) Who would be your favorite Addams Family character?
Definitely Wednesday Addams. My dad nicknamed me “Gwensday” when I was growing up, and I always carried that moniker as a huge honor. I love how morbid and sarcastic and strange she is, especially in the films, though I adore the original comics too. When I was a kid, I wanted Christina Ricci to be my big sister, but only in her Wednesday Addams guise.
WH: Aww, that’s so cute that your dad was totally onboard with the gothiness. So, how difficult do you feel the horror industry is for women to break into? Do you have any advice for aspiring female writers looking to enter the genre?
There are unfortunately still a lot of challenges being a female author, in any genre really. I’ve had a ton of support from readers and editors during my career, but that isn’t to say there haven’t been times when it’s been hard or points when I’ve felt that I was being overlooked or disregarded because of my gender. The publishing industry can be very isolating, but still, I think being a writer is a genuinely worthwhile fight in the end.
My main advice for female writers is to keep going. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep supporting other authors. We need diverse voices in horror, so it’s so important that we don’t lose female authors who get understandably discouraged at the barriers that still exist. So please keep going if you’re a female writer. We need to read your work!
WH: So true. Just keep doing what you do, and an audience will find you. What do you feel makes a horror novel scary?
While I of course love a good jump scare, what really gets to me in horror novels are things that are more unnerving than outwardly terrifying. That’s why I always go back to Shirley Jackson’s work; most of her writing is infused with a sense of deep unease but only rarely does she go for a more obvious scare. It’s what’s left unsaid and bubbling just beneath the surface that makes her work so unsettling. The existential dread of living day to day in a world that can be so unwelcoming and unpredictable is what scares me so much, mostly because it’s very real and frighteningly relatable.
WH: I agree it’s the underlying dread that kills me (ha). Gore and jump scares are simply tactics, but the character’s journey into darkness makes the story. What is the most awesome thing happening in your life right now that you’d like to share with us?
This might sound clichéd, but just spending time with my family is a really awesome thing for me right now. Over the last year, I’ve been so busy with writing and traveling, and sometimes, it becomes too easy to take the people in our life for granted. I’m trying not to do that anymore. So for now, I’m spending as much time as I can with my husband, doing home repairs and hanging out with our cats, plus traveling over to Ohio to see my parents more.
Of course, that’s not to say that I’m not working on writing in some form. I’ll be gearing up very soon to start promoting my debut novel, The Rust Maidens, which is out in November. So that will be a big awesome thing in my life too!
WH: So excited and happy for you! What’s next for you? We can’t wait to see what you have coming up!
My novel, The Rust Maidens, is my big release for this year. The story is based in Cleveland across two time periods, 1980 and 2008, and focuses on a neighborhood where the teenage girls are transforming inexplicably into the rust and rot of the Rust Belt. I was raised in Ohio, which means the desolate factory landscapes have always been part of my life, so it was a real joy and challenge to incorporate that into my fiction. The book comes out on November 16thfrom Trepidatio Publishing, and I’m excited to see what readers think!
I’m excited as well and wish you the very best of luck and success! Thank you so much for spending time with me today. We are kindred spirits and I hope to sit and have coffee and scones with you someday soon. To follow Gwendolyn Kiste, follow her at the links below…
* Website: gwendolynkiste.com
* Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00QXGAIUC
* Latest release: http://journalstone.com/bookstore/the-rust-maidens/
* Facebook: www.facebook.com/gwendolynkiste
* Twitter: twitter.com/gwendolynkiste
Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, and her forthcoming debut novel, The Rust Maidens. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, and LampLight, among other publications. A native of Ohio, she resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can find her online at gwendolynkiste.com.
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