Hi Folks! One of today’s WiHM interviews is with the super nice Gwendolyn Kiste. Gwendolyn is primarily a short fiction writer and you’ll find her her work in places like Nightmare Magazine and Lamplight. I’m super thrilled to have bumped into Gwendolyn recently on Facebook and honoured to have her stop by my blog for a chat!
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
GK: My background is a bit of a mosaic. Over the last fifteen years, I produced and directed horror films, operated a Goth/punk clothing line, launched a Halloween website, worked in the nonprofit sector, and instructed acting classes for teenagers until my eyes bled. I also have a graduate degree in social psychology and taught university-level courses for a few semesters.
All the while, my love of horror was always there, in the movies I made, the clothes I wore, even the horror-centric research papers I wrote in graduate school. My parents were married on Halloween (back in the early 1980s before it was as trendy as it is now), so I always say the macabre runs in my blood.
Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where something made you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?
GK: Everyone in my life is a horror fan, so in my little slice of the world, there’s nothing strange or subversive about it. To me, horror feels like coming home. I’ve been writing weird and creepy stories since I was about five or six, and I really need to excavate my parents’ basement someday to see if I can locate those early and now-yellowed manuscripts. I can’t remember the first horror story, though I’m sure I bundled it up with a terribly hand-drawn cover and sold it to my parents for a dollar. I was always a consummate capitalist when it came to my writing.
In terms of what draws me to horror, there’s something truly transcendent about terror. When you’re watching a horror film or TV show or reading a horror story, you experience something ghastly and unnerving and distressing, but here’s the thing: you always survive. In that way, every horror experience is like a resurrection. You go in as one person, and if the story or show does its job, you come out the other side, a survivor who will never quite be the same.
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
GK: There are so many good ones that it’s hard to choose. In terms of more literary horror, I love Ray Bradbury’s stories in The October Country, in particular “The Lake.” It’s a coming-of-age tale wrapped in a ghost story wrapped in the best and most horrifying nostalgia I’ve ever read.
Another of the earliest horror stories to get lodged under my skin was “The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon. I was around ten years old when I read it, probably a few years too young for a blood-drinking, time-bending alien-teddy-bear, but either way, it turned my mind inside out. Since then, I’ve (thankfully) never been the same.
Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
GK: All my published work has been short fiction so far, mostly horror with some fantasy and a little bit of science fiction in there as well. My personal favorites at this point are both horror: “Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions,” published in September at Nightmare Magazine, and “The Clawfoot Requiem,” which appeared last year in LampLight. Both stories deal with devastating personal losses and issues of conformity, and the female protagonists are thorny, difficult characters who were incredibly fun to write.
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
GK: Short stories have always been—and probably always will be—my favorite. However, I love all forms of storytelling. In particular, I’ve become a huge fan of horror podcasts. I’ve always loved radio, and growing up, I would lament how the days of great broadcasts, like the stories Orson Welles did in the 1930s, were long gone. But now with podcasts, I feel as though we’re really reclaiming that storytelling medium.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
GK: Finishing up edits on a few short stories, and also possibly working on a novel. I say “possibly” because it’s still relatively new, so for now, I speak in only hushed tones about it, out of fear of scaring it off. Young projects can be so delicate.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
GK: Shirley Jackson. My beat-up copy of We Have Always Lived in the Castle travels with me almost everywhere I go. I periodically try to analyze the prose and dissect exactly what it is I love about it, but every time, I get so swept up in the story that I forget I’m supposed to be “working.” That’s incredible to me: despite having read the story dozens of time, I can still lose myself in it. Even with the recent resurgence of her work, Shirley Jackson will always be under-appreciated, given what a true genius she was.
Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with?
GK: I have a couple women-centric anthologies on my to-read list, including She Walks in Shadows. I’m also on the lookout for any publications coming out for Women in Horror Month, including the February issue of The Sirens Call, which is always a lot of fun.
On the personal side of things, I’ve been talking with two of my writer friends, Brooke Warra and Scarlett R. Algee, about launching a shared world project that would focus on a girls school that tries, and often fails, to reform adolescent witches. However, that’s down the road, and probably won’t launch until 2018 at the earliest.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
GK: Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine is at the top of the list right now. After that, I’ll be reading Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove. There’s so much great fiction out there, and never nearly enough time for it all.
Q. What challenges have you encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges you have faced that are complicated by your gender?
GK: In some ways, as a writer, I live in a cocoon, which keeps me a bit inoculated. That said, I am always careful about the people I add to social media, and that’s something women are often more cognizant about than men. As in, “is this person okay? will he (or sometimes she) harass me or start leaving inflammatory comments on my page?” I don’t know that men think about those questions as often as women do, though screening potential associates is certainly a concern for everyone.
In publishing in general, there are still editors who expect all female characters to be traditionally “sympathetic,” and fit that nurturing stereotype about what a woman “should” be. It’s strange to me that male characters can be complex and complicated, but female characters are still at times expected to behave like “good girls.”
Fortunately, that expectation is changing, and overall, I’ve found the horror industry to be incredibly welcoming.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important?
GK: Every February, Women in Horror Month brings new female writers and artists into my orbit. Throughout the rest of the year, I try to learn as much as I can about women in the industry, but with daily spotlights and blogs through the Women in Horror Month website and interviews like the ones on this site, I always discover a few more authors, artists, and podcasters. Just yesterday, I discovered The Girls in the Back Row podcast, which spotlights different obscure and offbeat horror films each week. How could I not know that such a podcast existed? But I didn’t, and thanks to Women in Horror Month, now I do know. So that process of discovery in the month of February is such a thrilling one for me.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
GK: Keep going. Keep writing, keep submitting, keeping honing your craft, and keep networking. There will be tons of rejection. It will hurt. Some rejections will hurt worse than others, especially if you really want to crack a certain market. Just keep going. It’s worth it in the end.
Gwendolyn Kiste Links:
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Gwendolyn-Kiste/e/B00QXGAIUC/
Book Links: (* American, UK, etc.)