Four on the Floor with Gwendolyn Kiste


Four on the Floor with Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award–winning author of The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio PublishingAnd Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; and the dark fantasy novella Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books.

Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare MagazineBlack Static, Daily Science FictionShimmerInterzone, 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

James Gallagher: Why is horror such a powerful medium for delving into the human condition?
Gwendolyn Kiste: Horror is such a visceral, unapologetic genre. It isn’t afraid to expose the things that unsettle and haunt us. This allows us as horror writers to stare down aspects of being human in an unvarnished and often wrenching way.

Also, because horror so often features a supernatural element, the genre can explore the human condition in strange and symbolic ways. In that regard, horror can work in the same way as dreams: to give us an outlet to dive into our fears while not being in any actual danger.

Despite its reputation for just being “blood and guts,” horror can help us feel less alone in our trauma because it can show us that there are others out there who share our same pain and experience. That can be such a tremendously comforting feeling, especially when the world is at its darkest and most hopeless. Horror can be that light to get us through.
JG: Are there any persistent themes you find recurring in your work?
GK: Absolutely. Outsiders trying to find their place in the world is one of the major themes that I tackle. My stories frequently feature characters who are fighting for somewhere to belong or fighting to escape the past or an oppressive world.

I also often write stories that deal with sisters, loss, rebirth, hauntings as well as birds, though usually not all of those things in the same story. Body horror and fairy tales both serve as pretty big inspirations for me too.

At times, it’s a strange, primordial vat of ideas and imagery that I’m pulling from, but I like to believe that it all works once I get it on the page!
JG: What role does editing play in your writing process?
GK: To me, editing is where the proverbial magic happens in the writing process. While early drafts of a story help to get the plot and characters down, it’s the editing phase where the prose really comes to life.

Editing gives you a chance to take your vision and really refine it and get it right. On average, I usually do anywhere from two to four drafts of a given story. Each version gets a little closer to what I want to say, with the last draft being the smallest amount of fine-tuning.

Again, though, that’s where the story really happens. I’ve had works I’ve nearly given up on but that I stuck with through one more draft of editing, and it was that last round of fine-tuning that finally brought the story together. Editing can be so remarkable in that way.
 JG: Are there any recent TV series, books, or movies that you’ve found particularly compelling?
GK: I’m a huge Sharon Tate fan, so Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood was a really unusual experience for me as a viewer. I had tremendous reservations about the film prior to its release, and it still has its fair share of issues, but overall, I adored the nostalgic and loving nod to the late 1960s and the way that the film honors Sharon’s life rather than focusing on her death.

I’m still holding out hope for the forthcoming Sharon Tate biopic that’s been rumored for a couple of years, but until then, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood was an auspicious step in the direction of reclaiming Sharon’s legacy.

Also, while I’m talking about Sharon, I always love to recommend her film Eye of the Devil, which is a strange and dreamy folk-horror film that’s all about the occult, witches, and family secrets. A great offbeat film for horror fans as well as classic film fans.
As for recent books, I was lucky enough over the summer to read advanced copies of Sarah Read’s collection, Out of Water, and Sara Tantlinger’s vulture-horror novella, To Be Devoured. Two incredible horror books and both highly recommended!

Don’t forget to follow Gwendolyn on Twitter (@GwendolynKiste)!

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