Kendall Reviews interviews Gwendolyn Kiste, author of ‘And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe’ and ‘Pretty Marys All in a Row’, we chat writing, music, inspirations & cat museums.

Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, her debut fiction collection available now from JournalStone, as well as the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology, among others. You can find her online at gwendolynkiste.com

I took the liberty of ordering Bloody Marys, seemed appropriate…

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KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’m a horror and dark fantasy writer based in Pennsylvania. My debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, came out last year through JournalStone, and was recently nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. I also have a dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, out with Broken Eye Books. As for my non-writing life, I live on a 30-acre former horse farm with my husband and two cats, all three of which help me to hunt (mostly unsuccessfully) for ghosts on our property.

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KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

You mean, there are things in life other than writing?!

Seriously, though, most days, it does seem that I spend the vast majority of time at my writing desk. Fortunately, my husband helps me to keep a balance. He and I tend to find weird places or events to occupy our free time. Cat museums, Mad Hatter tea parties, brunches with owls: there’s always something wonderfully bizarre going on in the Pittsburgh region and just beyond, and we’re fortunate enough that we can make time for all things strange in our life.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

Well, the very first book I learned to read was The Berenstain Bears’ The Spooky Old Tree. I was around three years old, and I was very proud that not only could I read at that age, but also that I was reading a creepy book. Or as creepy as they come for that age range anyhow. So that one will always be a favorite.

Beyond that one, many of the books I read when I was a kid were intended for older readers. Poe and Bradbury were huge childhood favorites of mine, and obviously remain huge influences to this day.

KR: What are you reading now?

I’m a big fan of anthologies, so I’m working my way through two fantastic ones right now: Sycorax’s Daughters and Looming Low. Both books have been nominated for awards and featured in Best of lists or anthologies. The tables of contents also include some of my favorite authors writing today: Eden Royce and Lori Titus in Sycorax’s Daughters, and Brooke Warra, S.P. Miskowski, and Nadia Bulkin in Looming Low. It’s always such a joy to pick up a book that has so many stories from authors you already love, and it’s also so much fun to discover new work from authors you haven’t read yet.

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I’m also rereading a couple recent poetry books that I really enjoyed: A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sng and I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland. The former won the Bram Stoker Award for poetry for last year, and the latter already has my vote for best poetry collection this year. I’m certainly not a poet myself, which just leaves me more in awe of writers who can do so much with so few words.

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KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

Wow, it’s really hard to winnow it down to one favorite album. But if I had to choose, at least at the moment, it would be a three-way tie with Houses of the Holy from Led Zeppelin, Moondance by Van Morrison, and Hejira by Joni Mitchell. I wasn’t born until the 80s, but for some reason, that doesn’t stop the 1970s from being huge in terms of influence for me.

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Music definitely plays a role in my work. There’s the obvious way in that I often listen to music while writing, but more than that, a number of my stories found an initial kernel of inspiration in songs, or specifically the emotions certain songs conjured for me. The last story in my collection is called “The Lazarus Bride,” and it was inspired in part by the Zeppelin song, “Tangerine.” More recently, I wrote a dark fantasy story that appeared in Mantid Magazine, and that one came from listening to the Florence + the Machine song, “Which Witch?” I’ve also written a couple stories that use music playlists as a wraparound, so music has certainly wormed its way into my work in so many ways over the years.

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KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury are probably the two biggest inspirations for my writing, especially in terms of getting me started as an author. I also adore Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. I’m not sure I would be writing darkly twisted fairy tales today if not for her guidance. As I already mentioned, Edgar Allan Poe is a big one for me too. My dad is a huge Poe fan, so I’ve been familiar with “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” since I was a kid, to the point that it feels like Poe’s characters are dysfunctional members of my own family!

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

With short fiction, I’m more likely to just see where an idea goes. There might be a bit of planning along the way, but with shorter works, I’m more eager and willing to go on the ride, even if I have no clue where it will ultimately lead.

When it comes to longer fiction, however, I like to outline everything. I won’t hold myself to every single step in that plan, but I do feel that it helps me to have a detailed guide of where I’m headed. Longer works, especially novels, are such a huge commitment, and I’m much happier as a writer if I know from the start that I have some kind of plan. That way, I’m less likely to get lost in the proverbial forest halfway through a project.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I have a background in research, so this is one of my favorite parts of being a writer. I love digging for answers online and in libraries, trying to find out more about topics, especially the really strange things that fascinate me. Now with so many newspapers being scanned and available online, I’m always pleasantly surprised at how many specifics I can find about topics with just a few well-placed clicks. Each project is different, but I usually like to spent at least a week or two researching. What kind of research can be a surprise, even to me. For example, for my upcoming novel, I looked into everything from baseball schedules in 1980 to the life cycle of cicadas and midges. All in a day’s work for a writer, I guess!

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

I really don’t have a “usual” writing day. From one week to the next, my process somehow always feels vastly different, which can be a bit disorienting anytime I try to explain to someone what I did with my day. However, on “good” writing days, we’ll say, I spend an hour or two researching whatever project is currently in progress or coming up next. Then hopefully, there will be three or four hours of decent writing time as I move forward on a story draft. There’s probably also a couple hours total on social media in there too, checking out what other writers are up to and bookmarking articles or stories to read later.

To be honest, though, writing still seems like magic to me. Stories might languish for hours, days, or months before I suddenly look at the document after a good writing session, and the story’s done. I’m not even always sure how it happens, but somehow, it does. Again and again. So as long as that magic doesn’t run out, I’m happy.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

This is always such a tough question! Right now, I would say that it’s probably my dark fantasy story, “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends.” It appeared last year in Black Static, and writing it definitely felt like coming home, in part because it was one of the first times I’ve ever written about Ohio, which is where I grew up. As the title suggests, this is one of those stories that used a playlist to help unfold the emotional conflict of the main character’s haunting.

Also, elements of this story helped to inspire my forthcoming novel, The Rust Maidens. I’d had an idea for the book rattling around in my head for over a year, but it wasn’t until I wrote “Songs to Help You Cope…” that I realized how to bring it all together. So that story is certainly close to my heart.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

I do, actually. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but it can be an interesting experience. What surprises me the most is how much I’ve learned to be able to take reviews (mostly) in stride. When I was younger, I was never all that great at taking criticism, but now fortunately, I’m better at processing it. Not everyone is going to like your work, and that’s completely okay. Plus, it’s always a wonderful thing when someone has read your work at all and taken the time to share their thoughts. So long as it isn’t mean-spirited, a lot can be learned from reading reviews, and it’s been a very good experience for me overall. At least so far!

KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

Just keep going. It’s a tough industry, and sometimes a cruel industry too, but we need new voices in literature, perhaps now more than ever. So even when it gets difficult (and it will always get difficult at some point), just keep writing. Keep polishing stories you’re proud of. Keep sending those stories to markets. Keep networking and building relationships with other writers. Keep going.

KR: What scares you?

Loss of identity is a big one for me. A disintegration of self, either mentally or physically. This is probably why body horror appeals to me so much as a writer. It explores both elements: how our flesh and bone as humans can betray us, and then also how that betrayal affects us emotionally.

This might sound a bit strange, but just everyday living can be really scary too. Getting through a day in a world that can be so cruel and so dark is terrifying unto itself. On social media, I’m always making jokes about my existential dread, but it’s a real thing for so many of us these days, and for me, that’s scary in ways that most monsters will never be.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

Paperback for sure. I love the experience of holding a paperback book, how it conforms to your individual grasp, and feels like yours. It’s also so easy to tuck a paperback in my bag and carry it with me wherever I go. Plus, of course, there’s that great book scent! That being said, I am slowly warming up to ebooks, especially with how convenient they are. And naturally, I love a hardback as well. I mean, what book lover doesn’t?

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KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

My last book release was my dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row. It’s about the Marys of folklore: Resurrection Mary, Bloody Mary, Mary Mack, Mari Lwyd, and Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary. I loved the idea of how this name of Mary was used so frequently in the stories we tell each other, so I decided to put these characters together and explore their otherworldly origins.

Mary, Mary…

Always hitchhiking the same lonely highway, she calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her as Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to the same decrepit, nowhere mansion, she’s always got her sisters.

Call her name three times, and Bloody Mary appears. In the poisoned garden, Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary. Downstairs, Mary Mack, forever building her own coffin. And brooding with her horse skull, the restless Mari Lwyd.

They are the Marys, embodiments of urban legend and what goes bump in the night, every child’s nightmare. But as the walls between their realities start to crack, the shadows threaten oblivion.

To save herself and her sisters, Rhee must unravel who the Marys are before the darkness claims them.

KR: What are you working on now?

I’m currently finishing up the edits for the novel that I mentioned, The Rust Maidens. Based mostly in 1980, it’s about a group of girls in a Cleveland neighborhood who are slowly turning into the rust and rot that surrounds them. There’s body horror and coming-of-age, and it’s also a bit of a twisted, gothic fairy tale in its own weird way. That should be out later this year with Trepidatio Publishing, an imprint of JournalStone.

Otherwise, I’m working on more short fiction. I just finished up a couple new short stories, and I have a few more that I’m hoping to polish up in the next month. My blog also features interviews with writers and roundups of submission calls, so I’m usually pretty busy with that, too. It seems like something is always going on in the publishing world, and I’m just glad if I have a chance to catch my breath!

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

Oooh! This is a super fun question!

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

I’ll go with Rhee or Resurrection Mary, the protagonist from my novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row. She’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created, and I also think it would just be very cool to hang out with a ghost and ask her questions about the afterlife.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

I’ll have to go with Merricat Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I feel like I didn’t know fictional characters could be so incredible until I discovered Merricat. Of course, if she gets bored or scorned on the deserted island, she might poison the sugar bowl, but that’s okay; that’ll just ensure that I don’t overdo it on sweets anyways.

c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.

Hanging out with Shirley Jackson would certainly be fun, though it might be awkward for Merricat to meet her maker. However, if the real-life person still has to be living, I’ll take a pass on that last one. With a well-dressed ghost and a surly murderess on my island, it might be crowded enough already!

KR: Thank you very much Gwendolyn.

You can follow Gwendolyn on Twitter @GwendolynKiste

To find out more about Gwendolyn please visit her official website www.gwendolynkiste.com

Please visit Gwendolyn’s author page here

A murdered movie star reaches out to an unlikely fan. An orchard is bewitched with poison apples and would-be princesses. A pair of outcasts fail a questionnaire that measures who in their neighborhood will vanish next. Two sisters keep a grotesque secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub. A dearly departed best friend carries a grudge from beyond the grave.

In her debut collection, Gwendolyn Kiste delves into the gathering darkness where beauty embraces the monstrous, and where even the most tranquil worlds are not to be trusted. From fairy tale kingdoms and desolate carnivals, to wedding ceremonies and summer camps that aren’t as joyful as they seem, these fourteen tales of horror and dark fantasy explore death, rebirth, and illusion all through the eyes of those on the outside—the forgotten, the forsaken, the Other, none of whom will stay in the dark any longer

You can buy And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Mary, Mary…

Always hitchhiking the same lonely highway, she calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her as Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to the same decrepit, nowhere mansion, she’s always got her sisters.

Call her name three times, and Bloody Mary appears. In the poisoned garden, Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary. Downstairs, Mary Mack, forever building her own coffin. And brooding with her horse skull, the restless Mari Lwyd.

They are the Marys, embodiments of urban legend and what goes bump in the night, every child’s nightmare. But as the walls between their realities start to crack, the shadows threaten oblivion.

To save herself and her sisters, Rhee must unravel who the Marys are before the darkness claims them.

You can buy Pretty Marys All In A Row from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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