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 debut horror 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.
#1. Looking back, what’s one fiction book that you feel truly made an impact on your writing? Do you still gravitate towards that author?
#1. From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury was a huge influence on me. Its impact started when I was very young, and my mom read me the story, “Homecoming,” that serves as the backbone for the entire book, which is itself a series of short stories put together as a novel. When I finally read From the Dust Returned in its entirety years later, I decided that I had to return to fiction writing and dedicate myself to it.
Even now, thirty years after my introduction to his work, Bradbury remains a big inspiration for me. In particular, during this time of year, I feel his influence everywhere I go and in everything I do. The fall seems like it belongs to Bradbury. It doesn’t hurt that his best collection is called The October Country. For me, it basically wouldn’t be Halloween without Bradbury.
#2. How do you feel about the use of sub-genres in the industry? How do you describe your work overall?
#2. While I’d rather see publishing as a whole go more “label-free,” I do think subgenres have their place, if only as rough signposts that help readers figure out which direction to go in choosing titles. Too often, though, I think subgenres are so reductionist, and many readers end up overlooking things they might otherwise enjoy. But to some degree, we all categorize the things we love. I’m as guilty of it as anyone.
As for my work, I would describe it as body horror with many darkly fantastic and fairy tale overtones. I draw a lot from myths, folklore, and fairy tales, and many of my stories also explore the horrors of coming of age and being an outsider or ostracized from society. Is ‘outsider horror’ an accepted subgenre? If not, maybe it could be! That’s probably where most of my writing would fit, if such a label existed.
#3. What about your writing process do you think is unique or quirky? What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
#3. It’s funny, because there are probably plenty of odd things about my process that I’ve just internalized as “normal” at this point. I do talk to myself extensively during the writing process. That includes when I’m writing in coffeehouses. I have no problem reading my drafts aloud to myself as I work through any issues. That’s probably pretty strange to onlookers. Also, to help me think, I’ve always been a bit of a doodler, only the shapes I tend to draw on the margins of my notebooks look a little like the pagan designs that are used to resurrect demons in horror films. (For the record, I’m yet to actually bring forth any noteworthy creatures, so no worries about me inadvertently summoning the end of the world. Not yet anyways.)
As for writing advice, although this genuinely works for some people, I’ve always hated the advice that all writers should write every day or that you have to hit a certain word count. The truth is, I do write the vast majority of days, but I want to feel like I come to it organically each time rather than approaching the craft as a slog. Also, what exactly counts as “writing every day” anyhow? So much of my process goes on in my head, so that when I finally sit down to write, a story usually comes together very quickly. But a finished draft might follow several days of seeming inactivity since I’m not sitting at my laptop hitting a specific number of words. Again, though, if word counts do work for some writers, then that’s awesome; please keep doing whatever helps you reach your goals and create stories you’re proud of. I’ve just found that too much writing advice in general applies broad brushstrokes without recognizing how much each person is different.
#4. How does music and media factor into your writing? Do you feel it plays as much an inspirational role as literature?
#4. Music absolutely plays into my work. I’ve written two stories—“Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends” and “Holiday Playlist for the End of the World—that actually use a song playlist as a wraparound for the entire story. I also tend to listen to music throughout the writing process. If it’s a time period piece, then I work to find songs that fit in that era, but otherwise, it’s mostly me trying to match the feel of the music to whatever it is I’m writing.
In general, it varies widely as to whether literature or music influences me more. Those two aforementioned stories were definitely inspired more by music than fiction, but I’ve had so many other tales in which the music influence was more tangential. One of the things I love most about writing fiction is that you can pull from so many directions simultaneously. Everything from music and literature to my backgrounds in photography, film, and fashion design have become fodder for stories. It gives all those hobbies of mine some purpose (or at least that’s what I like to tell myself!).
#5. As an author, how much do you engage in social media? Do you feel it is more for your own entertainment, or for marketing and networking?
#5. I’m fairly engaged with social media, though I definitely use it for marketing and networking more than anything else. If I wasn’t a writer, I wouldn’t have a Facebook or a Twitter page. Sometimes, I think how we’re at once very fortunate and also a little doomed to live in an age of social media as writers. It’s so much easier to connect with fellow authors and with readers, but you almost can’t have a successful career these days without having some online savvy. And no matter how genuine you try to be, there’s always a performative aspect to an online presence; we’re all curating our own lives to some extent, be it to a large or small degree. It’s certainly a double-edged sword. Still, I don’t want to sound too fatalistic about it. I’ve met so many wonderful writers, readers, and reviewers through Twitter and Facebook. Those individuals definitely make this journey better whenever things inevitably get rough online.
#6. Where do you see the future of horror fiction heading? In turn, what changes would you love to see, either socially or technologically?
#6. That’s a tough question, because horror is expanding and becoming so many different things these days. I love that thanks to the creative output over the last few years, the genre now includes such a wide array of book and films. There’s certainly room for everyone and something that can appeal to everyone, from the quieter literary horror to the hardcore horror stories.
Along that same line, I would love to see horror continue to become more inclusive. There are so many phenomenal voices out there who haven’t been heard yet, in particular among mainstream audiences, so I would very much like to see those new authors find a larger readership base.
#7. What can you tell us about any forthcoming projects? What titles would you like to promote now?
#7. My debut novel, The Rust Maidens, is due out on November 16th from Trepidatio Publishing (http://journalstone.com/bookstore/the-rust-maidens/). It’s about coming of age in the Rust Belt in the 1980s, only with lots of body horror and monsters and sinister undercurrents in seemingly safe neighborhoods. Basically, all of my favorite things! Truly, though, this book has been a part of my life for nearly two years at this point, so I’m incredibly excited that it will soon be making its way into the world. So if anyone is reading it, please find me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/gwendolynkiste) or Twitter (twitter.com/gwendolynkiste), and let me know what you think. I’m super eager to hear readers’ feedback on the book!