Horror Writers Association

Women in Horror: Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste

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Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust MaidensReluctant Immortals, Boneset & FeathersAnd Her Smile Will Untether the UniversePretty Marys All in a Row, and The Invention of Ghosts. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vastarien, Tor’s Nightfire, Black Static, The Dark, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, and LampLight, 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 ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com

What inspired you to start writing?

It feels like I’ve always been writing. I’ve been telling stories in one form or another since I could basically hold a pencil and scribble down words. My dad has written fiction for most of his life as well, so I grew up with the click-clacking of his typewriter in the background of my childhood, and he would always tell me about what he was writing, and he’d often read me his work. It just seemed so neat to me that anybody could become a storyteller, so that’s when I started writing stories of my own.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

Horror has always been part of my life. My parents are both horror fans and they even got married on Halloween back in the early 1980s, so I feel like the genre is honestly my destiny in that way. I grew up with Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, and Hammer movies every weekend. I’ve always felt a strange sort of comfort in horror. The world is a terribly scary place; horror acknowledges that. In that way, it feels more honest than any other genre. That’s something that I love about it so much.

Do you make a conscious effort to include female characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

My work is certainly focused on female experiences and female characters. The themes in my fiction usually revolve around freedom and identity, spotlighting characters who are trying to carve out a place for themselves in a world that can be quite hostile to anyone who’s different. Growing up, I always felt like there weren’t enough female characters in books and films, especially female protagonists with agency, so it’s always been important to me to write those stories that I felt were missing when I was younger.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

I really love this question, because I think horror can reflect so much of ourselves and the world back to us. Writing always forces me to look at myself and who I am as well as how we interact with each other in the world. Out of all the lessons horror has taught me, the most important one is not only how to deal with the fact that there are horrifying things in the world, but also that we can face those things and sometimes even win against seemingly insurmountable odds. That’s a very specific aspect of horror that I find so comforting: the way you both face-off with the horror but also learn how to survive it.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?

In many ways, horror has become more welcoming in general over the last few years. There’s still a long way to go, but I do feel like things have gotten a lot better in terms of representation. My hope is that the genre will continue to evolve so that we see even more diversity. Everyone needs to have a voice in horror; it’s vital for all of us.

How do you feel women have been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?

There are so many amazing female horror writers out there today, but of course, I want to see even more women in horror! As I mentioned in my previous response, the last few years in particular have really opened up to women writing in horror. Even when I started in publishing eight years ago, it felt like it was harder for women to get noticed. That’s definitely been shifting for the better. Again, there’s still a long way to go in terms of representation and creating a respectful community for everyone, but we’re at least moving in a very positive direction.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

So many! But a few favorites include Merricat Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray from Dracula, Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Jane Eyre, Ripley from Alien, and Aliens, and any of the heroines from Angela Carter’s work, in particular from The Bloody Chamber.

Who are some women who write horror you recommend our audience check out?

Again, there are so many, and this list will inevitably leave off some very vital voices, but some favorites include Christa Carmen, Eden Royce, K.P. Kulski, Sara Tantlinger, Brooke Warra, Gaby Triana, Christina Sng, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Lee Murray, Lisa Quigley, Mackenzie Kiera, and Larissa Glasser. Also, a few emerging voices I would definitely recommend people put on their radar are Eva Roslin, Eve Harms, and Hysop Mulero. They’re going to really set the horror world on fire over the next few years.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

Do your best to have fun with writing. Social media in particular is a blessing and a curse. It can be such a great way to network and meet new people, but it can also siphon away a lot of time, and sadly, there can be a lot of negativity on there as well. So do your best to take the good from social media, and have fun. But more importantly than that, just have fun with writing. That will help stave off burnout more than anything else.

And to the women who write horror out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

Try not to let anyone else’s opinion of who you are or what you should or shouldn’t be writing affect you. Write what you want to write. Write the stories you want to read. Obviously, this can be easier said than done, but just remember that your vision for your work is worth more than anyone else’s vision of you. So long as you’re writing the stories that truly inspire you, that’s what we need in the world.

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