Gwendolyn Kiste is a speculative fiction writer based in Pennsylvania. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as LampLight, Nightmare, Flash Fiction Online, and Electric Spec as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology. As a regular contributor, she writes for multiple travel and entertainment sites including Horror-Movies.ca, Wanderlust and Lipstick, and her own 60 Days of Halloween, a collection of humorous essays chronicling her autumnal misadventures. She currently resides on an abandoned horse farm with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can find her online at www.gwendolynkiste.com and on Twitter (@GwendolynKiste).
Geosi Gyasi: How did you discover the horror and fantasy genre?
Gwendolyn Kiste: It’s strange because in a way, speculative fiction really found me. From watching Twilight Zone marathons at age six to my parents reading me Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe since I was born, I never remember my life without horror and fantasy. Many people find the genres so subversive and unusual, but macabre things have always been part of my life, so genre fiction writing feels like a natural extension of that.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in writing?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I’ve taken several courses in writing from various universities over the years, though I’ve never pursued an MFA in creative writing. I do have a graduate degree, but it’s not in the arts; it’s in psychology, which is actually remarkably helpful to a writer in a sort of tangential way.
Geosi Gyasi: What motivates you as a writer?
Gwendolyn Kiste: Fiction has inspired me my whole life, so my hope is my fiction could do the same for others. Although I write stories with dark and often morbid elements, my goal is to make people think about the world, muse about our place here, and even challenge viewpoints, especially destructive perspectives on frequently marginalized people. Ultimately, if I can make the world even a slightly better place for my being here, then I feel as though that will make my writing worthwhile.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of horror writing?
Gwendolyn Kiste: It was probably something I wrote when I was in grade school. I do recall an atmosphere piece that featured a creepy house late at night with a line like “birds on the roof, walking, walking.” Because my parents were my only audience back then, they of course read it, and the line soon became well-known in our family. To this day, my parents will sometimes say the word “walking” and repeat it in homage to that story. It’s good to have fans, even if they are related to you.
Geosi Gyasi: You currently reside in Pennsylvania with your husband. Could you describe a little bit about the literary scene in Pennsylvania?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I live near Pittsburgh, which is a great place to be as a horror writer since the city is often considered the Zombie Capital thanks to George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” movies being filmed here. However, I’m most involved with the virtual literary scene since I’ve met the majority of my writing friends online. I’ve been lucky enough to become part of an eclectic group of artists from around the world, and meeting such a diverse group of people has certainly helped to enrich my work.
Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?
Gwendolyn Kiste: Everyone in my family is super supportive of my writing career. However, I have heard some negative things from friends that amount to “So what is it you’re doing now? Writing? Really?” or “That’s cute, that little writing of yours.” There are also some people who don’t understand it. It’s interesting how a career in the arts is almost regarded the same as a life of crime. Granted, there probably are some similarities, though I think I speak for artists everywhere when I say the pay isn’t as good. Overall, though, my friends and family have been very supportive, so I’m fortunate in that regard.
Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you regard as the best writer of all time?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I often refer to my triumvirate of writers: Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Richard Matheson. All three wrote a variety of fiction (and even some non-fiction) that blends elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and general literature. If I could someday accomplish even a tenth of what they did in their careers, I would be more than thrilled.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your story, “Date with the Devil”?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I’ve loved Greek and Roman mythology since I was in middle school, so writing “Date with the Devil” is definitely a result of that fascination. I’ve also read a lot of stories in the last year that feature female protagonists being forced to make some terrible bargain to “save” their romantic partner, so I wanted to use that trope and do something different (and comedic) with it.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “The September Ceremony”?
Gwendolyn Kiste: Back to Bradbury, I love his book, From the Dust Returned, and how most members of the Elliot family have supernatural powers, but those abilities are more or less accepted as being part of who they are rather than something they fight against. As such, I wrote “The September Ceremony” as a kind of “slice of life” of this odd family who accepts themselves and all the morbid underpinnings that go with it.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best feedback you’ve received from a fan of your stories?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I’ve had readers describe my stories as “strange and beautiful,” and on a couple occasions, people have contacted me to say how deeply a story of mine affected them and even how it’s become one of their favorite short stories of all-time. It’s always incredibly rewarding to know the words you send out into the ether really impact someone that much. On the days filled with rejections and rewrites and general artistic disappointment, those are the comments that keep you going.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write for a living?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I’m lucky that for the time being, I’m able to write full-time. Because of how supportive my family is, we’re able to make it work, even though clearly my fiction has yet to make me a millionaire.
Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I’m always trying to surpass my previous work. I never want my prose to stagnate, so I’m constantly aspiring to push myself and to experiment with new ideas. The most difficult part of writing for me definitely comes when I’ve a finished story that I genuinely like but that I don’t think is the absolute best thing I’ve ever written. Then I’m torn between sending the piece out to publishers or hiding it in a file on my computer.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that writing plays is difficult as compared to writing short stories?
Gwendolyn Kiste: For me, the process is quite similar, so I think difficulty depends on the particular tale you’re telling. Some stories, whether in prose or playwriting format, are easier to convey, and some are incredibly disagreeable. I enjoy writing dialogue, and since theater relies so much on dialogue, that aspect I really enjoy. But having to tell almost the whole story directly through the characters’ speech can become arduous at times.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your works?
Gwendolyn Kiste: Yes and no. Several readers have contacted me personally, and I’ve met lots of people online, but since I’ve been published in a variety of venues that don’t necessarily cater to exactly the same audience, I know I haven’t met everyone. What has been most surprising is that even though most of my protagonists are female, I have a lot of male readers who respond positively to the work. It makes me happy my fiction can cross gender in relation to readers. Horror is interesting in that way since many main characters throughout literature and film are female, and readers/viewers accept that readily for the most part.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you hope to achieve with your writing?
Gwendolyn Kiste: In a broad sense, I would like to appeal to people who feel like outsiders and let them know they’re not alone in this world. Being different is often so hard, and discovering a piece of fiction that speaks to you and your “otherness” can go a long way in helping you through a day. Since authors have done that for me, I hope to be able to do that for others. From a practical standpoint, it would also be nice to pay off my student loans, so that’s always a pipeline dream too.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on any new projects?
Gwendolyn Kiste: Between now and the end of the year, I have a number of new stories set for release, so I’m looking forward to seeing those debut in the world. One of my biggest projects is a Halloween anthology I’m spearheading. It’s called “A Shadow of Autumn,” and I’ll be editing and promoting that for the next couple months. I’m also in the early stages of a novel, but I’ve been saying that for awhile, so it will be interesting if this so-called novel makes it beyond the planning process this time.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer or notebook?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I actually use both. I feel the words often come easier if I write longhand and then transcribe it. My typing classes in junior high really stuck, so I’m a relatively fast typist, which makes the transcription process mostly painless. Mostly.
Geosi Gyasi: Would you consider yourself as a great reader and what book(s) are you reading now?
Gwendolyn Kiste: I would like to consider myself an avid reader, though I have friends who finish a book a day. I’m not quite that prolific, even if I’d like to be. Right now, I’m rereading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, which is one of my absolute favorites.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you manage to find time to write?
Gwendolyn Kiste: Not to cultivate the stereotypical image of the introverted writer, but I don’t have much of a social life, so in general, it’s fairly easy for me to find time to write. I actually need to carve out more time for “real-life.” My husband and cats would appreciate it.