Gwendolyn Kiste grew up on horror. “I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and both my parents were horror fans, monster movies, horror films, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ray Bradbury. Horror is my comfort food. Literally every step of my life, horror has been there,” Kiste told us. And her comfort in the genre is evident.
Each of her stories delves into the realistic horrors of our world through a spectacular and fantastical lens. No matter which book you pick up, you’ll be transported someplace otherworldly but recognizable. Yet, the struggles her characters go through resonate deeply with readers because of how familiar and personal they are.
We were thrilled to sit down and talk to the three-time Bram Stoker award-winning author about each of her books, including her latest novel, Reluctant Immortals.
And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe
An unlikely fan is contacted by a murdered movie star. A woman keeps dying on her wedding night, and another gives birth to birds. In her debut collection, Kiste weaves fourteen spellbinding stories exploring rebirth, grief, loss, and death through the lens of dark fantasy and horror.
“This is my first and only collection, but I hope to do another one at some point. I’ve always loved short fiction, so it was really exciting to have my first book be a short fiction collection,” Kiste says.
Pretty Marys All in a Row
On a lonely highway, a young woman who says her name is Rhee hitchhikes at midnight. But she’s known by another name: Resurrection Mary. Every morning, she’s transported home to a decrepit mansion. And she’s not alone.
“I love folklore and fairy tales, and my husband and I started talking about all the Marys of folklore—Resurrection Mary, Bloody Mary, Mary Lloyd, Mistress Mary Quite Contrary, and Mary Mack," Kiste said. "I think it’s so interesting that all these names are the same throughout all these different tales, even from different parts of the world. And I started thinking, what if they’re all connected?”
They are the Marys. Every evening they share the nightmares they’ve induced, savoring the terror amongst themselves. But when Rhee follows Bloody Mary through the mirror, all the Marys begin learning how to navigate through their worlds. And how much stronger they are as one. But they are bound to the mansion for a reason. To find their freedom, Rhee has to find the truth of who the Marys were before they were nightmares or risk the shadows claiming them all forever.
The Rust Maidens
“The Rust Maidens was my first novel, and its release was a big, life-changing moment because that was the moment where a lot more people started reading my work and talking about it. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel and was a really wonderful, happy surprise that it resonated with readers,” Kiste said.
Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline just graduated high school. But the future is uncertain for the girls in Cleveland. One by one, their bodies are withering away, the skin rotting to expose their bones. Spectators flock to their neighborhood, desperate for a glimpse of the Rust Maidens. No one knows why the girls are transforming, except maybe the girls themselves. Alternating timelines, Phoebe has to try and solve the mystery of her past or risk losing everything—her home, her best friend, and even her body.
“I’m originally from Ohio,” she continues. “And I went to undergrad in Cleveland. There was a lot of personal stuff in that one, in the way all things writers write is personal. It was kind of like going back to my roots.”
Boneset and Feathers
“I always wanted to write a witch book because I love witchcraft, magic, and witch-themed horror. I always want more, especially when the witches aren’t evil. I’m not saying take the evil away, but I get tired of always having the evil witch.”
By the time the witchfinders are coming, it’s too late. Odette knows this all too well. Isolated in a small village, Odette barely escaped the last round of executions with her life. But for all her magic, she couldn’t save her family. Now, she’s the last witch left. Odette wants to forget her magic, but her magic won’t let her. As she struggles to overcome the strange occurrences happening around her, her worst nightmares come to life. The witchfinders are coming. And they won’t let her get away twice.
“I think that feeling of being different, an outsider, and then ostracized is something a lot of horror fans can relate to. And how if you try to push certain parts of yourself down it sort of starts leaking out in weird ways. That can be difficult and confusing and emotional. We always talk about coming-of-age as one time when we’re teenagers, but I think we keep discovering more about ourselves as we get older.”
The Invention of Ghosts
Instead of going to parties around campus, Everly and her best friend prefer to spend their Saturday nights dabbling with the supernatural. Maybe it’s a bit of an obsession, after all, Everly knows almost everything there is to know about the supernatural. But it’s all in good fun. Until one broken promise throws everything out of control. Now, Everly has to use everything she knows about controlling the supernatural if she ever wants to escape a ghost far more deadly than all her magic combined.
“This was a limited-edition chapbook through Nightscape Press Charitable Chapbook series. The story is centered on a pretty toxic friendship, and it’s weird because we probably have more friendships than romantic relationships, but we don’t talk about them the same way. But friendships are also relationships, and you can lose yourself in them just as easily.”
The world knows who Dracula and Mr. Rocherster are. But what about the women who survived them? Lucy Westenra and Bertha Mason are their undead immortals, living in Los Angeles in 1967.
“I love the women of Dracula and I think they are such interesting characters. We tend to focus more on the male characters, so it was really fun to explore Lucy’s character in a full-length novel. And then Bertha from Jane Eyre; Rochester’s first wife is barely even mentioned. It was really fun and really exciting to be able to give her a voice.”
But when Dracula and Rochester return to Haight-Ashbury, Lucy and Bertha have to work together to escape the toxic men determined to destroy their lives. The world wants to forget them. The men want to control them. And they’ll do whatever it takes to reclaim their lives and destiny for themselves.