February is Women in Horror Month! Though I agree women should be celebrated on the same level as men every day of the year, I like to partake in Women in Horror projects as a catalyst for spreading the good news and works of women in the genre in hopes that it will carry on throughout the year. It’s time to celebrate and show off what we got! For those of you reading, men AND women both, make an effort to read and watch more horror produced by women this year.
For the #HookonWiHM, or Women in Horror Month at Hook of a Book, we’ll be hosting interviews conducted by men and women with other women in horror. Watch for those spread throughout the month, and if you want in, contact me! Find more info HERE.
Now, without further wait, I’d like to introduce Calvin Demmer who has enthusiastically interviewed the amazing author Gwendolyn Kiste! I am more than pleased to say that I share a TOC with them in the Unnerving anthology Hardened Hearts and very much enjoyed both their stories. Further, I was excited to recently find out that Gwendolyn is originally from Ohio, where I currently live!
Take it away, Calvin – enjoy!
INTERVIEW WITH HORROR AUTHOR GWENDOLYN KISTE –
Was it difficult to select which stories to include in your debut collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe (Published by Journalstone)?
Overall, it wasn’t too terribly difficult, though it was so important to me not only to select the right stories but also to curate them in the absolute best order. This definitely took some time, and I was lucky to have my editor Jess Landry there to help me. All fourteen of the stories that I submitted to her for the collection made the cut for the book, but she helped with the order, opening with the avian horror story, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” and closing with the darkly romantic body horror tale, “The Lazarus Bride.” She felt both of those pieces focused similarly on themes of death and rebirth, and worked well in conversation with each other, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
As for other considerations in putting together the collection, several of the previously published stories are available for free online, so I felt it was important to offer readers something completely new. That’s what led me to including five stories original to the collection. Now that’s it been almost a year since publication, it’s interesting to take stock of the table of contents again and realize that I can’t imagine a different order or different stories.
These fourteen tales definitely cover all of my favorite themes: body horror, fairy tales, sisterhood, twisted romantic relationships, and of course, otherness and the role of the outsider in pushing back against the confines of society. I’m so grateful every day to Jess and JournalStone for releasing this book. It’s completely changed my career and brought me to so many more readers, which is the only thing that a writer can ever truly want for their career.
How did you find the process from writing short stories to writing your novella Pretty Marys All in a Row (Broken Eye Books)?
It was a really wonderful—as well as daunting—experience to make the leap from short fiction to a longer form. In some ways, my approach to short fiction is a bit more free-flow: because the projects are shorter by design, I let them evolve much more naturally and then go back and edit the stories if I find that I ultimately didn’t need certain details or subplots. However, with a novella or any longer fiction, that free-flow approach can become more problematic. What’s easy to edit when it’s only 5,000 words can quickly become a nightmare for a 30,000-word story.
So I would say the main difference for me is how much more planning goes into my longer works. For example, prior to even starting the first draft of my novel, The Rust Maidens, I wrote out an 11,000-word outline. Almost none of those words ended up directly in the novel, but I knew every single direction the book was going to take. Every character, every setting, every scene. There were no surprises at all, which made drafting the book much smoother.
I took a similar approach with Pretty Marys All in a Row, though the outline was a little more informal with a page or two of notes for each chapter that included locations, character goals, and specific starting and ending points for all the scenes. Part of me really loves the spontaneity of letting a story evolve like I do with my short fiction, but when the moment comes midway through a longer project that it starts to become a bit of a struggle, I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve planned ahead. It’s definitely what’s helped to keep me going so far with my longer works.
You collaborated with Emily Cataneo for the novella In Her Flightless Wings, a Fire (which will appear in Chiral Mad 4). How was the experience working with another writer?
I’d never collaborated with another writer before, especially on such a big project, so I had no idea what to expect when we started. Fortunately, Emily and I quickly worked out a good system for how to make the collaboration dovetail with both our visions. Once we had the basic elements for the story—ballet, sisters, witchcraft, turn-of-the-century Europe—we each crafted a point-of-view character, and wrote our alternating sections from our character’s perspective. Then we came together and worked to smooth out any inconsistencies and create a cohesive whole. Ultimately, In Her Flightless Wings, a Fire ended up in novella-length territory, and we were both very excited with how it turned out. When editors Michael Bailey and Lucy A. Snyder accepted it for Chiral Mad 4, I imagine you could hear Emily and I both squealing for joy for a several-mile radius.
Your debut novel, The Rust Maidens, will be published this year. Can you tell us a little about it?
Well, first off, I’m insanely excited and a little nervous about it! Obviously, it’s a big moment for every author to have a novel, but it’s so wonderfully terrifying too. And of course, you want to be sure that it’s the right book for your debut. Fortunately, I think I found a good balance with The Rust Maidens, since it at once includes elements from my short fiction while expanding upon my work in a number of ways that I hope readers will enjoy.
Based primarily in 1980, the book follows one Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood as the economy starts to unravel at the same time that the local girls begin transforming into something otherworldly. I’ve been describing it as David Cronenberg’s The Fly meets The Virgin Suicides. Lots of body horror, gruesome transformations, and coming-of-age themes in the Midwest, which is where I grew up. I never thought I’d “go back home,” so to speak, in my fiction, but once I came up with the concept for this book, I knew it was definitely a direction I was always meant to take. I wanted to write something about the economic losses so many people in the region have dealt with over the years, as well as the ecological disasters that have plagued Lake Erie for decades. To be honest, once I started writing about the Rust Belt, I realized just how much horror haunts the everyday recesses of the area, so it seems very naturally situated for a darkly supernatural novel.
We don’t have an official release scheduled yet for The Rust Maidens, but that date should be coming very soon, so definitely watch my website and the Trepidatio Publishing social media pages for those details!
Who are some of the female horror authors you believe people should be reading?
Honestly, there are way too many to list here, but I will do my best. I’m a huge fan of Farah Rose Smith, Brooke Warra, and Eden Royce in particular. We already mentioned Emily B. Cataneo, but her name certainly deserves to be repeated as well. My editor at JournalStone/Trepidatio, Jess Landry, is also a writer and a fantastic one at that.
Of course, I could go on and on: Lori Titus, Anya Martin, Nadia Bulkin, S.P. Miskowski, Denise Tapscott, Sumiko Saulson, Catherine Grant, Scarlett R. Algee, Rebecca Allred, Carrie Laben, Kenya Moss-Dyme. I usually focus on fiction, but in terms of horror poets, Christina Sng and Saba Razvi are two names everyone should definitely seek out. Truly, there are so many wonderful female horror authors working today, and it’s such an honor to be among their contemporaries
Gwendolyn Kiste, Biography –
Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, her debut fiction collection 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. A native of Ohio, she spends her days hanging out on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh where she lives with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can find her online at gwendolynkiste.com.
Book Purchase Links –
And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe
Pretty Marys All in a Row
Thanks so much to Calvin Demmer for highlighting Gwendolyn!
Calvin Demmer, Biography –
Calvin Demmer is a dark fiction author. His work has appeared in Broadswords and Blasters, Empyreome Magazine, Mad Scientist Journal, Ravenwood Quarterly, Switchblade, and others. When not writing, he is intrigued by that which goes bump in the night and the sciences of our universe. You can find him online at www.calvindemmer.com.
Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre.