Random-Ass Interview: Gwendolyn Kiste
Can you think of any famous Gwendolyn’s? I’m serious, for some reason all I think of is Genivere.
GK: There’s the wonderful poet Gwendolyn Brooks. She’s majorly cool. But otherwise, Gwendolyn doesn’t seem to be a name that you come across too often. We’re practically the coelacanths of well-known people, and I’m okay with that. It makes us more strange and special that way.
Is it safe to say that you are heavily influenced by fantasy? Fairy tales?
Absolutely. I’ve loved the creepy aspects of fairy tales ever since I was a kid. The villains are so mythic and melodramatic and memorable in fairy tales and folklore. The settings are familiar yet bizarre and unnerving at the same time. Sure, many of the stories are moralistic as well, but the morals are very hard fought. People lose toes and eyeballs and family members and whole kingdoms before it’s all over. They’re some of the scariest stories we have, and we read them to children. It’s horrible and wonderful and so incredibly awesome.
Have you seen any new critters in your backyard?
A tiny and unimaginably fluffy black kitten ran across my path recently, but she hasn’t been back despite us leaving out generous meals for her. For the best really since our other two cats are definitely not eager for company. Otherwise, it’s been mostly the same critters as usual roaming about the property. Hawks calling out from high up in the trees, bats squawking near the windows at night, crows hanging out all around us. I am glad to report our outdoor goldfish have done a good job of repopulating their family since the tragic otter attack a couple years back nearly decimated all of them. As Ian Malcolm mused in Jurassic Park, life finds a way.
Did you ever think you’d win awards for your first novel?
No, definitely not. I just wanted a few people to read it and like it. I remember when the first review came in and it was positive, I felt like a million bucks. Having such a huge amount of support for the book has been such a tremendous and humbling experience. No one has to spend time with your words, your characters, your ideas. For people to choose to take a kind of sojourn with my book is truly the best thing as an author. It never stops feeling so incredibly special.
Why does REM want to know what the frequency is, and why are they asking Kenneth?
You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that song, but I do know it’s a reference to when Dan Rather was randomly attacked in the 1980s by some guy who yelled “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” at him. Stranger than fiction for sure.
If you could be a vampire, would you? I hop back and forth on it.
Probably not. The eternal youth thing sounds like a cool idea at first, but all that bloodlust and hiding from the sun would get tedious after a while. And heck, it’s not like you can even enjoy your eternal youth since you can’t see your own reflection anymore. Also, there seems to be a lot of rules for a vampire, like they’re gremlins or something. No sun, no garlic, no wooden splinters. So I think I’d just get tired of following all the guidelines and probably end up a pile of dust within a week. So much for that eternity.
You have a new story in Behold the Undead of Dracula. How did that one come together, and if you can say, what is it about?
First off, I’m so excited about Behold the Undead of Dracula! It’s such a fantastic concept! My story in the anthology is called “Over the Violets There that Lie,” which is a phrase borrowed from an Edgar Allan Poe poem. The tale is based in the 1960s and is all about an actress cast in a strange anthology film based on Poe’s work. Before it’s all over, things go to very dark and horrific places with doppelgangers, unexpected monsters, and a film that knows what it wants. I’ve always loved Hammer films, so getting a chance to write a story inspired by that aesthetic was just a horror-loving dream come true. Then getting to share a table of contents with you, Christa Carmen, Gemma Files, William Tea, Matthew Bartlett, and so many other amazing authors makes this one very cool experience.
Do you find it easier to write novels now, or do you find it just as hard, if not harder?
So far, it hasn’t gotten any easier, but I’m only finishing up my second novel right now, so maybe my opinion will change with time. One thing with novels is that they’re harder to get experience with, especially compared to short stories. A writer could turn out ten short stories or more in a year and get a good sense of the process, of what works and what doesn’t. A novel by its nature takes so much longer, so you don’t have the opportunity to try as many different approaches as with short fiction. Novels, of course, have their own rewards and are still a worthy pursuit (something I always have to remind myself about halfway through the process), but it’s definitely an experience all its own.
Worst pizza you’ve ever had?
There’s only one pizza I’ve had that can compete for the title of worst pizza ever, and oddly enough, it’s related to writing. My husband and I were in Quincy, Massachusetts for Readercon in 2018, and other than the hotel restaurant, there aren’t a lot of places to eat in the area. It’s pretty desolate in terms of dining. Following a long, arduous search, we finally found this pizza place in a strip mall, which seemed like it was perhaps a lifeline to dinner. However, after waiting nearly an hour to get our pizza, we took it back to our hotel room and discovered that it tasted like slimy cardboard. Like, it was genuinely confusing how pizza could even be so bad. So with disdain, I flung my half-eaten slice back in the grease-stained box, and since I needed to get my mind off the terrible lack of food, I proceeded to sit down at my laptop and finished the final edits on The Rust Maidens. So maybe the moral of the story is bad pizza equals the anger motivation to complete a novel? That seems like it might be a worthy lesson.
Favorite obscure phrase?
It’s not super obscure, but I love the phrase, “mileage may vary.” There are plenty of other adages that communicate the same sentiment, but that one amuses me for some reason. Too often in the world, it seems like people get very upset if you don’t like the same movies/books/fill-in-the-blank thing that they do, so this phrase encapsulates how that’s totally okay. My mileage is this, your mileage is that, and let’s all be cool with it.
Do you believe in sea monsters?
Why not? I think a world brimming with sea monsters would be a far more grotesque and whimsical place to be. Plus, it feels like every region has its own sea monster legend. The Loch Ness Monster obviously, but there’s also Champ in Lake Champlain and the beloved Bessie up in Lake Erie near my old stomping grounds in Cleveland. In one version of The Rust Maidens, there was even a reference to Bessie, just a quick throwaway line about her, but it got trimmed from the final version. I should write a follow-up story where the Rust Maidens are chilling in the Cleveland flats with Bessie, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and complaining about Lake Erie’s pollution. Actually, let’s face it: that’s probably the book I should have written in the first place. MISSED. OPPORTUNITY.
How do you deal with haters? Do you tell them to stop drinking on that hatorade?
Oh, haters, the sad omnipresent reality of the world. What I’ve found over the last couple years is that there will always be someone (or many someones for that matter) who want to see you fail or want to hold you back. It’s painful, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life. On a positive note, there will usually be more people who want to see you succeed—or people who just don’t care one way or another, which is also fine since at least they won’t actively try to hold you back or stand in your way. So you’ve just got to focus on the positive as much as possible, because it is there. That being said, if all else fails, telling them to stop drinking hatorade seems like a completely viable back-up plan.
What’s your idea of a pleasant evening?
Hanging out with my husband, eating non-Quincy pizza and watching old movies. There really isn’t much better than that.
It’s funny, because even though I can curse like the best of the sailors, I don’t really have a favorite swear word. I see them more as arising from the moment organically. For example, I don’t want to use an F Bomb when a simple damn or hell would suffice. So that means either I don’t have a favorite swear or they’re all my favorites. Probably the latter to be honest.
Red or white?
Red for sure. Red like blood and poppies and stop signs and 1950s pinup model’s lipstick. There are so many cool things that are red. White, on the other hand, is pretty boring. I dislike white so much that even my wedding dress was red. Fie on white; long live red!
My forthcoming novelette, The Invention of Ghosts, is due out in November. It’s all about dangerous friendships, spectral forces, and the occult. As part of Nightscape Press’s Charitable Chapbook series, a third of the proceeds from the book will go to charity—in the case of Invention, the National Aviary in Pittsburgh—so you can hang out with my ghosts and help keep birds happy, healthy, and soaring through the sky at the same time. If that sounds like your thing, you can pre-order the limited edition paperback right here: http://www.nightscapepress.pub/p/test-store.html#!/The-Invention-of-Ghosts-by-Gwendolyn-Kiste-Charitable-Chapbook-6-pre-order/p/135341082/category=0
Otherwise, I’ve got the aforementioned Behold the Undead of Dracula anthology as well as the recently released Welcome to Miskatonic University from Broken Eye Books. I also have a forthcoming story in Nightmare Magazine that will be out soon, and I’m so thrilled about that one. It’s a retelling of Dracula from Lucy’s perspective, and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I’ll definitely be hollering from the rooftops about that story once it’s released, as well as The Invention of Ghosts, so certainly stay tuned for my exhilarated author screaming.