Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and her debut novel, The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing. 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.
Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm
outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough
UPDATE: As of Sunday 12th May 2019, Gwendolyn is in fact the Bram Stoker-winning author of The Rust Maidens, which was awarded for Superior Achievement In A First Novel.
1. So, what’s new from you?
I’m right between two big projects at the moment. My debut novel, The Rust Maidens, was released in November 2018 from Trepidatio Publishing, while my next book—a novelette called The Invention of Ghosts—is due out this coming November from Nightscape Press.
2. How did it come about?
The Rust Maidens and The Invention of Ghosts were ideas that lived with me a long time before finally making their way onto the page. Both books deal with friendship and loss and the horrifying ways that we learn to cope with pain and ostracism. That being said, plot-wise, the stories are very different. Friendship is a form of salvation in The Rust Maidens whereas the relationship between the two protagonists in The Invention of Ghosts becomes more complicated and even treacherous. As with many writers, there are certain themes that I love, and I always think of myself as circling those ideas like a vulture or a shark, trying to examine them from as many different vantage points as I can. I’m hoping that readers that enjoyed The Rust Maidens will like what I’m doing in The Invention of Ghosts, since there’s overlap while definitely telling a new story, but I guess we shall see when the novelette is released!
3. Tell us about the process of how you created it.
My process often varies so much, not only from story to story but even across the development of each particular piece. I would say for both The Rust Maidens and The Invention of Ghosts, the process started with lots of research and prep, and then from there, I did a bit of formal outlining before jumping into the writing itself. In my experience, it helps to have something of an outline for longer works, though I do my best not to feel locked into a plan if the story starts to develop in a different way.
I also try to do a decent bit of editing as I go, so that when there’s a full draft of the story completed, I don’t still have a mountain of work ahead of me. All that being said, one person’s process is another person’s prison, and I personally think there are very few steadfast rules as to what’s the “proper” way to write a story, which is why if one approach isn’t working, I have no problem with completely throwing my own plans and rules to the wind. Writing can feel like a strangely magical process at times, so I always remind myself that when things get tough. In my experience, if you stick with a piece, you can usually find a way out.
4. What was your favourite part of the process?
The research for both of these books was a lot of fun. For The Rust Maidens, I really enjoyed investigating more about Cleveland in the 1970s and 1980s, all the ins and outs of the landscape and the economics and the pop culture of the time. I’m from Ohio originally, so there was something special about delving into that history, which is extremely personal for me. For The Invention of Ghosts, I got to explore a lot about the history of the occult. Much of the information I already knew coming into that project, but through my research, I definitely went deeper into the specifics, including about the Fox Sisters, Mother Shipton, and the Victorian occult movement in general. As so often happens with research, there was so much that I wasn’t ultimately able to include in the final stories, but it was such a tremendous experience simply spending time researching those subjects, which are both so near to my heart.
5. What was the toughest part of it?
Getting a project across the proverbial finish line is often the hardest for me. Starting a new story is always an exhilarating feeling, but sometimes, midway through, the ideas can get so muddled, as you realize certain subplots or favorite lines just don’t fit with the whole anymore. Editing can be such a rewarding part of writing, as the final book takes shape, but it can certainly be frustrating too. And the only way out is to write your way through it all. At least in my experience, there are no shortcuts with writing. You just have to keep going until you figure it out.
Much of my work deals with coming-of-age, horrific transformation, and characters—in particular women who are outsiders—trying to find their place in the world. These two books in particular take on those themes, though in very different ways. With The Rust Maidens, the body horror is absolutely at the forefront, as a group of teenage girls are literally transforming into rust and decay. The Invention of Ghosts, on the other hand, deals more with body horror through the perspective of what it means to be a ghost, to be invisible, to conjure loss in a physical sense through working with the occult. I’ve always loved stories that deal with hauntings, and it was a really incredible experience as a writer to get to take my love of the supernatural and the occult and see how I could tell a ghost story in a different and even more surreal way than I’ve done before.
7. If you had to sum this book up in three words, what would they be?
For The Rust Maidens—decay, transformation, and freedom.
For The Invention of Ghosts—occult, friendship, and loss.
8. Where can/will we be able to get hold of it?
The Rust Maidens is available now from JournalStone and Amazon, and The Invention of Ghosts will be released in November from Nightscape Press. That pre-order page should be up in the coming months, so until then, feel free to keep up with me at my author website, for updates.