Gwendolyn Kiste – Women in Horror Month

In conversation with Gwendolyn Kiste

Since publishing her first short story in 2014, Gwendolyn Kiste has risen through the ranks to become one of horror’s brightest stars. This incredibly prolific author has produced a stunning oeuvre of work ranging from drabbles to full-length novels. However, my introduction to Kiste’s work was her story “All the Red Apples have Withered to Grey” (Shimmer Magazine, 2016). As a fairy tale fan, I was immediately hooked, and I’ve been following her ever since. Unsurprisingly, Kiste’s first short fiction collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe (2017) received rave reviews and award nominations. She followed this up a year later with her award-winning debut novel The Rust Maidens (2018). In 2020, she published The Invention of Ghosts and Boneset & Feathers, so it’s not surprising that the University of Pittsburgh’s Horror Studies Collection has archived Kiste’s work for generations to come.  

In 2022, I devoured her third novel Reluctant Immortals (2022), a riff off her award-winning short story “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary).” Set in 1960s California, the novel’s protagonists, Lucy Westenra (from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1897) and Bertha Mason (Mr. Rochester’s attic-bound wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, 1847) work together to overcome the monstrous men who stole their humanity, damning them to an eternity of hunger and decay. I loved everything about it, so I’ve been anxiously awaiting Kiste’s newest novel The Haunting of Velkwood, which was released earlier this month. When I started researching my retrospective on women in horror in 2022, Gwendolyn was one of the first writers I reached out to. In that interview, Kiste said, “Femininity can be horrifying. We’ve all been taught to be beautiful, placid, and quiet. I think people who are into horror understand not only the danger of that mentality, but also how to subvert it.” I personally believe that it is this subversion that makes women’s horror sing, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Kiste will orchestrate next. –Carina Bissett

About Gwendolyn Kiste

About Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust MaidensReluctant Immortals, Boneset & Feathers, Pretty Marys All in a Row, and The Haunting of Velkwood. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in outlets including Lit Hub, Nightmare, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vastarien, Tor Nightfire, The Lineup, and The Dark. She’s a Lambda Literary Award winner, and her fiction has also received the This Is Horror award for Novel of the Year as well as nominations for the Premios Kelvin, Ignotus, and Dragon Awards. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, their excitable calico cat, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com

Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste

BISSETT: Who or what terrifies you?

KISTE: The state of the world terrifies me. The ambiguity of the future terrifies me. All the ways that we can destroy ourselves terrifies me. I suppose the short answer is that people terrify me. It’s such a strange thing, though, because people can also be capable of such profound kindness and decency too, so I absolutely don’t think we’re a lost cause. But it’s the uncertainty of how people can behave and the ways that we can hurt each other so profoundly that truly scares me more than anything else.  

BISSETT: What do you think the future holds for women working in horror right now?

KISTE: I’m going to be hopeful and say that the future holds a lot of possibility and promise and visibility for the women working in horror today. I do feel that things have taken a turn for the better over the past decade or so. There are so many more female voices out there in the genre these days. It’s not difficult at all for fans of horror fiction to be able to name plenty of living authors who are working and writing right now. It used to be everyone would say Mary Shelley or Shirley Jackson when prompted for a female horror author, and while we should absolutely still be celebrating their immense contributions to the genre, there’s a lot more visibility for newer voices now than ever before. So, my hope is that the future is filled with lots of fiction and nonfiction from amazing women in the horror genre. May their work win many awards and stay in print for years to come. 

BISSETT: What advice do you have to women working in the field?

KISTE: Keep going. Keep writing. Keep telling the stories that matter to you. We need your voice in the genre. We need your words to keep horror moving forward. Women in horror are absolutely vital, so continue writing as well as networking with other women in the genre. We’re in this together, and we’re most certainly stronger together as well. 

BISSETT: What are you currently working on?

KISTE: I’m in the process of finishing a novella and a novel. I don’t want to give too much away, but I feel like both books touch on themes of my previous work while also breaking ground in new directions for me, which is exciting. Otherwise, I’m busy as always with my short fiction and short nonfiction. I try to keep busy all the time with something related to the genre; it most definitely brings me joy. 

BISSETT: Last year, your third novel Reluctant Immortals won the Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Fiction. Do you think LGBTQIA+ representation has changed in horror? If so, how do you think this will impact readers and writers as we continue to move forward?

KISTE: I definitely think that queer representation in horror has changed so much over the last ten years, and from what I’ve seen, it’s all changed for the better. We’re seeing so many more queer characters, and those stories are so often written by queer storytellers. I feel like queer representation in literature allows more people to feel seen and understood, and it also helps to foster a sense of empathy among non-queer writers and readers. Sharing those experiences through our writing helps us to connect with others in the LGBTQIA+ community as well as bring more people into the worlds we create. It’s an incredible time to be in the genre; we’re really at a watershed moment in the best possible ways.

About The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste (Saga Press, March 2024) 

About The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste

From Bram Stoker Award–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a chilling novel about three childhood friends who miraculously survive the night everyone in their suburban hometown turned into ghosts—perfect for fans of Yellowjackets.

The Velkwood Vicinity was the topic of occult theorists, tabloid one-hour documentaries, and even some pseudo-scientific investigations as the block of homes disappeared behind a near-impenetrable veil that only three survivors could enter—and only one has in the past twenty years, until now.

Talitha Velkwood has avoided anything to do with the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, drifting from one job to another, never settling anywhere or with anyone, feeling as trapped by her past as if she was still there in the small town she so desperately wanted to escape from. When a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to come back to enter the vicinity, Talitha claims she’s just doing it for the money. Of all the crackpot theories over the years, no one has discovered what happened the night Talitha, her estranged, former best friend Brett, and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago. Will she finally get the answers she’s been looking for all these years, or is this just another dead end?

Award-winning author Gwendolyn Kiste has created a suburban ghost story about a small town that trapped three young women who must confront the past if they’re going to have a future.


Carina Bissett

Women in Horror Month By Carina Bissett

Carina Bissett is a writer and poet working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and fabulism. She is the author of numerous shorts stories, which are featured in her debut collection Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations (Trepidatio Publishing, 2024), and she is the co-editor of the award-winning anthology Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas. She is currently a Bram Stoker finalist for her essay “Words Wielded by Women” (Apex Magazine, 2023), a comprehensive retrospective of women in horror. Links to her work can be found at http://carinabissett.com.


Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations

 Dead Girl, Driving and Other DevastationsWomen in Horror Month

In this powerful debut, Carina Bissett explores the liminal spaces between the magical and the mundane, horror and humor, fairy tales and fabulism. A young woman discovers apotheosis at the intersection of her cross-cultural heritage. A simulacrum rebels against her coding to create a new universe of her own making. A poison assassin tears the world apart in the relentless pursuit of her true love—the one person alive who can destroy her. Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations erases expectations, forging new trails on the map of contemporary fiction. Includes an introduction by Julie C. Day, author of Uncommon Miracles and The Rampant

Praise for Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations

Check out Steve Stred’s Review of Dead Girl Driving here

“Carina Bissett is one of my favorite speculative authors writing today—magic and myth, horror and revenge, wonder and hope. Her stories are original, lyrical, and haunting—Shirley Jackson mixed with Ursula LeGuin and a dash of Neil Gaiman. An amazing collection of stories.—Richard Thomas, author of Spontaneous Human Combustion, a Bram Stoker Award finalist

“Carina Bissett’s collection is a thing of wonder and beauty. It is a true representation of Carina herself: whimsical, visceral, lovely, and fierce. You can hear women’s voices screaming while roses fall from their lips. Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations is a triumph.”—Mercedes M. Yardley, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Little Dead Red

“From fairy tale revisions to fresh takes on monstrous transitions and the absolute horrors of being female, no one knows how to write a story like Carina Bissett. Fierce yet fragile.”—Lindy Ryan, author of Bless Your Heart

“In a debut collection weaving folklore and fairy tale and told in magical, lyrical, irresistible prose, Carina Bissett inveigles readers with the breadth of her skill. A feat of woven wonder, with spells sketched in the air and strands stretched taut, Dead Girl Driving and Other Devastations is an enchanting tapestry of silken stories, the collection establishing Bissett as a world-class author of fabulism, fantasy, and horror. A must-read for lovers of Neil Gaiman, Angela Slatter, and Carmen Maria Machado.” —Lee Murray, five-time Bram Stoker Awards-winning author of Grotesque: Monster Stories

“Ravishing flights of fantasy.”—Priya Sharma, Shirley Jackson award-winning author of All the Fabulous Beasts and Ormeshadow

“Dark, often violent, Dead Girl, Driving & Other Devastations doesn’t lie to you about the nature of its stories. Between the title page and the Afterword lies a harrowing alliance of nightmare and fairytale. The pages are full of strange birds, resurrections, second chances, monstrous women, enchantments, and inventions. These stories explore a dark and permissive imagination, unafraid to disturb the monster at the back of the cave. It is a collection for the brave and forlorn, for those seeking escape, vengeance, transformation, or grace. There is wonder here, and freedom from shackles—for those fierce enough to wrench loose of them.”—C. S. E. Cooney, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Saint Death’s Daughter

“Carina’s short stories are absolutely luminous and deeply unsettling. Savour this collection like a fine blood-red wine. It’s absolute perfection and will linger long after the pages are closed.”—KT Wagner

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Author

  • Carina Bissett

    Carina Bissett is a writer and poet working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and fabulism. She is the author of numerous shorts stories, which are featured in her debut collection Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations (Trepidatio Publishing, 2024), and she is the co-editor of the award-winning anthology Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas. She is currently a Bram Stoker finalist for her essay “Words Wielded by Women” (Apex Magazine, 2023), a comprehensive retrospective of women in horror. Links to her work can be found at http://carinabissett.com.

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