This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.
My next guest is Gwendolyn Kiste! Gwen’s debut novel The Rust Maidens was released in November this past year and it quickly became one of my favorite recent horror novels. I am thrilled to get to know more about her amazing work. Happy reading!
Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of The Rust Maidens, Pretty Marys All in a Row, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare, Shimmer, Black Static, and Interzone, among others. A native of Ohio, she currently lives on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com
ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)?
GK: I’m a horror fiction writer. Over the past five years, my work has primarily been short fiction, which includes my first collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, which was released through JournalStone in 2017. I’ve also written a dark fantasy novella from Broken Eye Books about the Marys of folklore called Pretty Marys All in a Row, as well as my debut horror novel from Trepidatio, The Rust Maidens, that just made its way into the world this past November.
ST: Congratulations on the success of The Rust Maidens! It’s an incredible debut novel and I madly adored reading it. Your prose in the novel and in And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is so gorgeous and poetic. Have there been any particular influences or inspirations who have helped you discover your storytelling voice over the years, or has it developed more from any certain techniques or processes you use?
GK: First off, thank you for your kind words. That means a lot, especially since I admire your work so much, Sara!
It’s definitely been an incremental process of discovering my voice as a writer. Lots of trial and error, for sure, and the process is still ongoing. Hopefully, it always will be. I have certain inspirations—Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter—but there have been a lot of other influences that have sneaked in there too. Everyone from Edward Gorey, Richard Matheson, and Ernest Hemingway to Sylvia Plath, Edith Wharton, and Jane Austen have had varying levels of impact on me and how I see the craft. With techniques, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is to open up more and just let it flow. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into yourself and explore the uncomfortable or frightening places of yourself. When I look back over all my work so far, readers have responded the most to the stories where I was at my rawest and most honest.
At the same time, there’s also something strange and magical in writing. No matter how much you research and refine, there are times you have no idea where it all comes from. That’s probably one of the many things that keeps me intrigued as a writer, the mystery of it all.
ST: I really like your point about the always ongoing process of discovery — I think that’s definitely what makes writing so unique and magical. There’s always room to grow and learn.
Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?
GK: Both my parents are fans of horror, so the genre has always been part of my life. In that way, horror is like home to me. It feels oddly safe and comfortable. But it goes deeper than that, too. I was recently having a conversation with a writer friend of mine, and we were going through lists of things that scared us as children. In the course of that conversation, I realized just how many fears, both irrational and rational, I’ve had over the years. Horror has without a doubt helped me with those fears. Having an oasis where fear is not only acceptable but openly welcome makes it easier to express my anxiety without worrying so much about being ridiculed for it. It allows me to go into those depths and look at what scares me and work through it. Writing doesn’t necessarily “fix” the anxiety, but it does allow me some semblance of control over it. In that way, I feel like I wear the fear, rather than it wearing me. That alone is such a huge influence that the horror genre has: to empower you, even at your most afraid.
ST: I now want a t-shirt that says, “I wear the fear” — love that!
What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?
GK: The main advice I have for writers in general is to just keep going. Even when it gets hard, keep moving forward with your work. For female writers in particular, this is probably even more important advice, because being a woman in a male-dominated industry is challenging, to say the least. It can be demoralizing to see yet another table of contents with only one or two (or no) female writers. But that means we need these new voices in the genre.
As for what I wish I knew ahead of time, I’m honestly glad I didn’t know everything that I know now. Sometimes, just jumping in and going for something is the only way to do it. I’m afraid that if I knew then what I know now about publishing, then I might not have wanted to move forward. It can be a hard industry with a lot of rejection and a lot of unexpected disappointments, but there are so many wonderful things about it too. Even on the worst days, I’m very glad I’m a writer, so it’s probably best not to know every bad thing that can (or will) happen, because you can so easily lose sight of the good. And there is good, so much of it fortunately, and that’s worth pushing through the bad.
ST: Those are great points! Even through the challenges, it’s difficult to imagine not being a part of this wonderful madness called writing.
I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?
GK: Christa Carmen. Her first collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, was released last year, and it’s one of the best debuts in a long time. The stories run the gamut from heartbreaking and quiet to visceral and supremely intense. Such a huge range, especially in a first book. Christa’s also a personal friend, and one I’m so fortunate to have. Her positivity and support of other writers is so inspiring. It’s one thing to be incredibly talented—and she most certainly is—but to also be such a huge force of good in this industry only makes her that much more amazing.
ST: I really enjoyed Christa’s collection, too. I can’t wait to see what else she does!
One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?
GK: This has been said so many times before, but I think it’s worth repeating here: my hope is that one day we’ll not only not need a Women in Horror Month, but that the notion of having to dedicate a special month to female authors will seem really dated. I want to see a future when women writers are given as much time and space on bookshelves as male authors, and that people will take that as second nature rather than something they need to consciously consider.
Fortunately, in the five years I’ve been writing professionally, I do feel like things have improved. Not as much as we’d like obviously, but with the continued steam that Women in Horror Month has gained and now the year-round dedicated team at Ladies of Horror Fiction plus, of course, all the constant hard work of female authors in the horror community, we’re absolutely making strides. That gives me hope, which is what gets me through and helps me wake up every day and get back to writing.
ST: I’m with you 100% on all of that.
What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?
GK: This year’s new releases are mostly short fiction for me. I have stories forthcoming in Welcome to Miskatonic University from Broken Eye Books, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence from Pantheon, and the Haunted Houses anthology from Flame Tree Press, among a few other publications that I don’t think I can officially announce quite yet. In terms of current projects, I’m finishing up a novella that deals with doppelgangers and cinema and the insidiousness of nostalgia, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m also in the early stages of outlining a new novel, as well as in the even earlier stages of putting together my second collection. Never a dull moment in a writer’s life!
As for other writer-related activities, I’m also excited to be heading out to some events in the next few months. I’ll be at The Outer Dark Symposium in Atlanta in March, and at StokerCon in Grand Rapids in May. It’s always helpful and inspiring to get away from the computer screen for a couple days and be surrounded with other writers.
Anyhow, in the meantime, anyone who wants to keep up with me can head over to my website at gwendolynkiste.com. I’m also fairly active on Facebook and Twitter, so you can find me there as well. I tend to talk mostly about writing, movies, witchcraft, and my cats, so be warned! 😊
ST: Thank you so much, Gwen! I’m really looking forward to StokerCon and saying hello to you there. I can’t wait to read your new work that’s coming out this year, too. Cheers!
Make sure to follow Gwen’s links and social media up above. This is a writer whose work you don’t want to miss.
Check back on Wednesday to see who my next guest is!