Whether she’s combing through a mountain of works in progress or creating a new Halloween decoration to showcase on her 60 Days of Halloween blog, Gwendolyn Kiste isn’t one to be in one place (or art medium) for too long. The blog is a daily project for Gwendolyn and showcases DIY Halloween decorations, delicious autumnal recipes and Gwendolyn even goes on a field trip now and then! Gwendolyn is the type of lady that makes a mockery of the twenty-four hour day clock, a Halloween enthusiast who manages to squeeze every last drop of creativity out of every second of the waking day.
Gwendolyn also is a huge fan of Ray Bradbury, a man I am quite familiar with. Having lived in the non-fictional Green Town all my life, I find it particularly comforting to see and feel a lot of similarities between Kiste’s work and Bradbury’s masterpieces.
Most recently, she’s proudly unveiled an anthology that celebrates the Halloween season, as she contributed a tale to the collection as well as edited A Shadow of Autumn. The anthology is a true labor of love for a woman who has had Halloween in her blood since birth. She’s also got a number of short stories available, including a new one in both Nightmare Magazine and the September edition of Flash Fiction Online. You will find a link to her story, Ten Things To Know About The Ten Questions, later in this interview. If you feel like a good old-fashioned creepy story, give it a read immediately.
Fittingly, on the day I gave Gwendolyn a call to chat, it was the first day of the year that actually felt like autumn. The slightest chill was in the air and the sun highlighted leaves that aren’t quite as green as they were two months ago. It was the perfect time to chat about writing and anointing the Martha Stewart of Halloween.
MANGLED MATTERS: You are literally all over the literary landscape. Care to share where readers can find some of your latest work?
GWENDOLYN KISTE: Well, right now, I am in Nightmare Magazine, with my short story Ten Things To Know About The Ten Questions. I’m really excited about that one. I also have a science fiction work of flash fiction in Flash Fiction Online, which came out earlier this month. Of course, my biggest thing right now is A Shadow of Autumn, which just came out on e-book and paperback as well. It’s been a really crazy month!
MM: Regarding Ten Things To Know…, without any hyperbole, that story almost immediately became one of my favorite short stories I’ve read in a long, long time. There is definitely a Bradbury feel to the story. It’s got a really nostalgic old school feel and I just loved it.
GK: Well thank you so much for reading! Bradbury is always in my writing. I always feel like Bradbury is looking over my shoulder while I’m writing (laughs), I’m such a big fan. I even got the name Tally from Bradbury’s The Lake. There are so many stories, and that one in particular, that really made me think about this- about girls who vanish. They either die way before their time or simply disappear. And that’s what really got me thinking, about how many great stories there are out there like that and why is that? How can I play with that idea and do something different with it? That was a major part, and starting point, of this story.
MM: You also have a pretty strong background in psychology. I thought it was really awesome that this is a very interactive story, complete with the test throughout the story and the point tally at the end of the piece. It certainly added to the creepiness of the story! (MM note: I got a 28 on the test, so I am at moderate risk of disappearance. If I come up missing… )
GK: Well, thank you! I was in psychology for a very long time and saw that as, really, my career. But I always loved horror and writing. So, in my mid-twenties, I started asking myself if a career in writing was practical and I finally said, “I don’t care if it’s practical- I want to be happy!”
I always hoped I could use psychology in a really direct way in one of my stories and kind of have fun with the things I learned and know about the topic.
MM: Not many stories give me the genuine creeps, but this one did.
GK: (Laughs) Thank you! I tried!
MM: A Shadow Of Autumn was a big project. You contributed to the collection and did the editing. How did this project come up?
GK: I’m kind of crazy and I always like to give myself new challenges, so I figured it was time to do something really challenging and this is what I came up with. I get bored really easily so I wanted to do something different. It was the middle of July and I was thinking, “there’s some great Halloween anthologies out there but we could always use more!” and I know so many amazing writers, so I started to contact a few that I knew were big Halloween fans. It started to really come together very fast. It all came together in like two months. My husband is an artist and did the illustrations and cover, so we were able to do a lot of stuff in-house, as well. I also had help with copy-editing. My dad is Yale-educated and he helped with proof-reading. A good author friend of mine, Scarlett Algee , was able to help me with editing, too. It was a really fun experience.
MM: With the project coming together so quickly, how did you get the group of writers together?
GK: Scarlett was the first person I contacted and she was super excited about being a part of it. So I started reaching out to people and they had thirty days to get me a story! I asked on July 15th and their deadline was August 15th (laughs)
It was asking so much from people and every single person who agreed to do it got great stories in, on time! They deserve so much credit. Halloween gets horror writers really excited so I think that helped a lot, too (laughs)
MM: You were born and raised in a household that really embraced the macabre. What does horror mean to you as a person?
GK: I often describe it as the feeling of coming home. It feels like home to me, like comfort food. That’s really strange to say about something when there’s blood and guts everywhere and all that, but that’s absolutely how I feel about it.
MM: You cite Bradbury, Jackson, Matheson as big influences on you as a writer and you can certainly feel their vibes coming through your stories. If you had to pick a favorite piece of work from each of these writers, which would you pick?
GK: The Lake by Ray Bradbury. I love everything in The October Country. We’ve Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson. It’s not quite horror but I love that it lives in this strange space where it’s so many genres at once. For Matheson, I’d have to go with The Faces/Day of Reckoning. It’s been released under several different titles. I read it as Graveyard Shift, the letters back and forth about the woman who has died and the child left behind. That one really disturbed me.
MM: The short story art form is so beautiful and certainly my favorite writing form. Stephen King once said, “A short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger”. What is it about short stories that intrigues you, both as an author and as a reader?
GK: I love that quote, because I think that really gets to the heart of how so many short story writers feel about the form. People think you have to create an entire universe in a novel and you can’t do that with a short story, but I would argue that. It’s surprising how much you can fit into a short story. For me, in particular, when I talk, I really like to talk (laughs) With short stories, it’s taught me how to par down my language and have it so there’s as few words as possible. When I eventually go back and write a novel, my writing will be so much more honed because I’ll be so well-versed in the short story form.
MM: You tend to write long-hand and then transcribe. I do that, too. I find it to be very therapeutic. Do you keep all of your hand-written manuscripts even after they’ve been published?
GK: Oh yes. I keep it all! I have journals, pieces of paper, index cards.. I feel bad for whoever is going to inherit my estate when I die because they’re going to be like “what is all this? That crazy lady kept everything!”
MM: I’d like to envision we have trunks full of yellowed notebooks somewhere in our house, but in reality, it’s always that- just stacks of papers and notebooks all over the place!
MM: Who gets to read your stories first right after you finish them?
GK: It’s usually my husband who reads them first, just to make sure there’s no huge plot holes. Then I give it to my dad, who is a great proof-reader and then Scarlett usually gets them third. Then I’ll go back, edit again and send them off.
MM: What are you currently reading?
GK: Oh boy, I have piles of books that I’m somewhere in. Every year I read The October Country by Bradbury and then I’m always reading anthologies. I also always go back to the Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, it’s from the 70s and it was the book that got me hooked as a kid, so I always keep a copy around. That’s where I first read Matheson, I believe. Theodore Sturgeon, that’s where I first read his work. There’s a bunch of others but I have no idea right now!
MM: Do you follow a firm schedule as a full-time writer?
GK: I try to let it flow organically. So while I try to keep some sort of schedule, I try not to think of it as a set schedule, or else I feel like it loses a lot of the creativity and freedom that I think you need to have as a writer. If I haven’t written for a day, I can feel it. I try to write six to eight hours a day. Sometimes it’s less, a lot of times it’s more. Sometimes I’ll be up until 11pm writing. It really all depends on how things are rolling that day.
MM: 60 Days of Halloween is a really fun blog. What made you start that project up?
GK: I had been saying for years that I wanted to do a sixty days of Halloween celebration, because you can never have enough Halloween! (laughs) So a few years ago, I had some extra time around the fall, and I figured I might as well finally do it. Keeping a blog on it kept me accountable- it would force me to write every day, which is what I really wanted because I wasn’t writing as much, every day, back then as I do now. It really did help and I think that’s why I’m able to keep such a strong schedule right now. The blog just came to life out of a true love for the holiday.
MM: You’re like the Martha Stewart of Halloween! There are recipes, Do it Yourself projects, there are little historical stories and field trips you go on. It’s a really fun blog to keep up with.
GK: Well, thank you so much! I write seven days a week on it, so there’s always something new going up.
MM: Do you have any special Halloween traditions you stick to in your household?
GK: Well my parents got married on Halloween, so we usually always have a little anniversary/Halloween party every year, so that’s a lot of fun. Beyond the fact that I feel every day is Halloween, there isn’t much we do special on the actual day!
MM: What are you currently working on?
GK: I have a whole bunch of flash fiction pieces that are just about done, so hopefully those will be going out in the next week or so. I also have about a dozen short stories that are just about finished, so it’ll be interesting to see which ones make it to the finish line and which ones don’t, so hopefully I’ll have a few more things done by the end of the year. I’m also going to be helping out with a podcast that will be launching next month, called The Lift. I’ll have one or two stories featured on it over the next few months. Once I finished A Shadow of Autumn, I thought ‘this is good! Even if I take a few weeks off, I’ve accomplished my big goal so I’m OK with that!’ (laughs)
MM: Regarding short story writing, you mentioned you have quite a few in the home stretch of being finished but you acknowledged they may not all make it to the finish line. Are you really strict on finishing every project you start or are you OK with sometimes just putting something away?
GK: It happens sometimes, but I try to put them in a folder and maybe come back to them in a few months and see if something clicks. But I don’t tend to work from one end of the story to another. It usually starts with an idea or a paragraph and then I build around that. It’s not a direct path every time so there are some stories that just don’t ever really finish up and I’m OK with that.