miércoles, 5 de junio de 2019

Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste: "The rust that emanates from her letters"

 By Amparo Montejano
(You can read the interview in Spanish here)

It is an immense pleasure and honour for me today to be able to interview the brand-new winner of the Bram Stoker Award (in category Best First Novel): Gwendolyn Kiste. 
A native of the American Midwest, specifically “The Buckeye State” (Ohio), we have before us a writer of speculative fiction novel, for that of sprouting from her prose a hot hybrid gestated with an amalgam of genres: fantastic, with shades weird and with science fiction itself; a young writer who has collaborated on a large number of anthologies of stories, primarily horror (Welcome to Miskatonic University [...], Mental Ward: Experiments, Lamplight-V. 4...) and with authors of the stature of Vic Kerry, M. Earl Smith, etc; but who, after writing two entirely her own works in 2017, Pretty Marys All in a Row and And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe (the latter nominated for Bram Stoker), has surprised the world of letters by winning a prize that will make her a world-renowned author, and not to lose sight of when shuffling their stories like the impossible nightmares that none of us here would like to suffer in the flesh.
Dear Gwendolyn, welcome to our humble "Lovecraft Circle". 

G. K. (Gwendolyn Kiste) - Thank you so much for inviting me to your site! I’m so excited to be talking with you! 

A. M. (Amparo Montejano) - We know that your fondness for letters is imprinted in your genes because (a little bird has told us) you grew up in the shadow of the poetic prose of the great Poe (since your father recited paragraphs from memory of this great nineteenth-century writer). Is this really the moment you fell in love with this unconventional literature? Were you the typical "weird" high school girl who, instead of reciting Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (for example), enjoyed the most existentialist and "strange" literature ... like Lovecraft's? 

G. K. - I was very much a typical “weird” high schooler in almost every way: usually dressed in black, lots of eyeliner, black boots, and an absolute love of horror and the macabre. That being said, I enjoyed reading and reciting both Shakespeare and the greats of strange literature like Lovecraft and Poe. My tastes have always leaned toward a blend of the literary classics alongside horror. I never saw one as being better or even necessarily all that different from the other. If I enjoy something, then I’ll consider it great literature without needing to put too much of a specific label on it. Because I was introduced to Poe and other horror literature so young, a love for all things strange has always been a part of my life. I truly can’t remember a time when I haven’t been an ardent fan of the horror genre. To be able to devote myself now to horror storytelling is absolutely the best. I can’t imagine a better or more exciting way to spend my life than in the constant grip of terror—of the fictional variety anyhow! 

  Image: Gwendolyn Kiste

A. M. - And what about Lovecraft's literature in your stories? That is to say, do you like to use the Cosmic Horror to gestate -as he did- that indisputable atmosphere of tension and anxiety in the face of what is incomprehensible to us? 

G. K. - The cosmic horror in my work primarily stems from loss of identity, particularly in a world that can be so immensely hostile to anyone who’s different. That’s not necessarily Lovecraftian, but I do think it dovetails with his stories and how he dealt with being forgotten or unimportant in a cosmic sense. I would, however, argue that my characters quite actively fight back against such hopelessness, by doing their best to combat the cosmic horror through forging bonds with one another. These relationships, though, are constantly threatened by both supernatural and natural forces, which is where much of the horror and dark fantasy elements of my work come into play—through this idea of having to fight to maintain even a shred of your own identity in a world that is always ready and eager to erase you. For me, a sense of loneliness, either on a cosmic level or even just a deeply personal one, can be the most incomprehensible horror of all, and that’s a theme a lot of my stories explore. 

A. M. - You began in the world of literature by creating stories, fundamentally of terror; well, what do stories have, Gwendolyn? What oniric magic do they give off for the canvases to be considered, quintessentially, that manage to create the effect of "captivating horror" in the reader-observer? And what would you say to all those (as it happens here in Spain) who consider the story to be a "minor genre" than that of the novel? (Give them a row for me, please, hahaha!!) 

G. K. - I love short stories immensely, and I agree with you that sometimes, they’re brushed aside as not being significant enough. As mentioned above, I grew up on the tales of Poe, so I’ve always adored a shorter story. Obviously, novels can be so amazing too, but there’s something particularly magical about reading a short story that feels like it contains a whole rich world within it. 
What I personally love about short stories is that you can fall into the pages as a reader and feel so fully immersed. Then it’s over just as quickly as you discovered it, and you have to somehow pick yourself back up again. With a novel, it’s easier to savor it, to take your time with it. But that jolt of energy from reading a well-crafted short story is something entirely different, something that I feel can’t be matched. There’s really nothing like it, and I never grow tired of discovering short stories that in the span of a few pages can completely change my perspective on the world. That’s incredible. 

  Illustration of Luke Spooner

A. M. - You see, when I started to prepare for your interview, there was something that surprised me, and that is that, in addition to writing literary fiction, you were a writer of film scripts. Tell me how your facet as a screenwriter influenced your facet as a novelist, or if it was the other way around; or whether there was feedback from these two visions when recounting facts or events. 

G. K. - I don’t write film scripts anymore, but in my late teens and early twenties, that was certainly a huge creative outlet for me. I think the main way that screenwriting has affected my fiction is that I always envision my stories playing out like images in a film. I want to create that sense of setting and really root the reader in something visual. One of the drawbacks when I was an independent filmmaker was not always having the budget to create the scenes that I imagined. Transitioning into fiction allowed me to continue telling stories that aimed to be very visual but without any of the budgetary restrictions. That’s been a wonderful shift as a storyteller. 

A. M. - How would you define your literary style? I mean, what are we going to find in Gwendolyn's prose: surrealist terror with touches of macabre? Psychological terror as well as extravagant fiction? All at once? 

G. K. - Hopefully all at once! I love to create stories that blend psychological terror with the macabre as well as a little bit of extravagance. Depending on the story, the imagery and language in my writing can be dense and very lyrical, so I do like the word, “extravagant,” to describe it. That seems very fitting. Ultimately, though, as much as I have certain ways that I would love for my fiction to be interpreted, once I release a book out there for the world to read, it’s up to the audience to decide what they think or how they would describe it. I try not to get too caught up in how I want something to be viewed, because sometimes, I’ll read a review, and someone will take an entirely different perspective of my work that I’d never considered, which is such an unusual and special experience as an author. More than anything, I just hope that readers take something meaningful from my writing. That’s more than enough for me. 

  Covers of several works by Gwendolyn Kiste

A. M. - Gwendolyn, tell us about your Bram Stoker-nominated work, And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe, because, it is not a novel as such, rather a fiction collection in which you mix brushstrokes of fairy tales with surprising and heartbreaking images that leave the reader breathless. What is in the creative spirit of a writer who is capable of bringing all this together, and doing it in a surprising and different way? Which authors have inspired or inspire Gwendolyn's work? 

G. K. - Truly, there are so many inspiring authors out there that it’s hard to name them all! The big influences for me include Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and Angela Carter. All of those authors’ works are so rich and uniquely their own, which is exactly the type of writing I aspire to create. As for more modern authors, I love the fiction of Christa Carmen, Anya Martin, Brooke Warra, and Sara Tantlinger. I’m also very fortunate to call each of those four writers personal friends, which means I sometimes get to read the advance review copies of their work before they’re released to the public. A true honor, without a doubt! 

A. M. - In 2020 and thanks to DilatandoMentes Editorial, Spanish readers will be able to enjoy your novel The Rust Maidens, which is a luxury for us (because we can read your work and get to know you here in Spain -it's about time!, by the way-). Well, without making spoilers, what are we going to find in this incredible novel in which women mutate, change, oxidize? Is there a certain attack on the more canonical sectors (with respect to the denial of climate change), or does this environmental phenomenon have nothing to do with what happens to the Denton girls? 

G. K. - Environmental changes definitely play into the novel. It takes place primarily in Cleveland during the year 1980, so the main characters—best friends Phoebe and Jacqueline—have to deal with the poisoned water of Lake Erie and the smog from the city landscape. That ultimately influences the fate of the eponymous Rust Maidens. As for what else to expect, it’s a tale about body horror and outsiders as well as a coming-of-age story for the main characters. There’s a strong sense of friendship at the core of it, but don’t worry: the strange terrors of horrible bodily transformations and the loss of identity keep it in the realm of dark fantasy and horror. I’ve even had several readers describe the story as science fiction as well, so I do think The Rust Maidens includes a little of everything for genre fiction lovers. 

  Illustration of Daniele Serra

A. M. - New projects, Gwendolyn, because I know you're about to edit another book with NightScape Press. Could you give us a little advance? (We're dying to hear more about you).

G. K. - I’m so thrilled to be working with Nightscape Press on The Invention of Ghosts! It’s a limited edition novelette that’s being released as part of their Charitable Chapbook series. The story is all about two close friends in college who start to explore the occult and discover themselves drifting deeper into magic and further from each other. As unexplained sounds in the walls close in on them, and the energy from spirit boards consumes their lives, the two friends come to a terrifying crossroads, and an inadvertently broken promise has disastrous consequences for them, as they spiral out of control and into a surreal haunting that neither of them expected was possible. 

I used my own interest in the occult as a starting point for the story, and then went from there in crafting a different sort of coming-of-age tale than I’d written before. Throughout the process of drafting it, I described this story as a bit of a counterpoint to The Rust Maidens. In that novel, friendship is a form of salvation whereas in The Invention of Ghosts, the friendship at the heart of the story is more complicated and damaging. As an author, I love to take certain themes or ideas and then look at them from several different angles, just to see how many perspectives on a particular concept I can uncover. 

The release date for The Invention of Ghosts is November 26th, which seems like a long time from now but will be here before we know it. This is my big release for the year and my fourth standalone book, so it’s definitely an exciting time as news of the book is starting to make the rounds on social media and beyond. I truly can’t wait to see what readers think of the story. 

Gwendolyn, it has been a pleasure for me to talk to you, and I want you to know that I admire you deeply, as a woman and as a writer (I also try to make my little steps in this complex world of literature). I hope that this well-deserved award will be the first of many others, and that "Lovecraft Circle” can be there, enjoying them with you (despite the geographical distance that separates us). 
All the best, dear Gwendolyn! 
A pleasure and an honour!

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