1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
Like a lot of authors, I’ve been writing in one form or another for most of my life. When I was very young, I started putting together little stories about anthropomorphic animals (a la The Church Mice books, if anyone remembers that series). I even illustrated my tales—very badly, of course, since I can’t draw at all. From there, I kept writing and eventually expanded to plays and screenplays through high school and college before circling back to my first love of fiction writing. In between, I explored a ton of other fields too: psychology, filmmaking, fashion design, teaching, nonprofit management, event promotion, travel blogging. I always like to challenge myself, so at the very least, I’ve rarely had a boring moment.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
Since I was a kid, I’ve loved folklore and urban legends. As corny and on-the-nose as it may sound, I remember when the movie Urban Legend came out back in the 1990s, and how excited I was to see it. Spoiler: it’s not necessarily a great movie, but it was a great starting place for me when I was young and wanted to learn more about these strange modern myths we tell each other. The next Christmas, my parents got me an entire encyclopedia about urban legends, and after that, it became something of an obsession for me.
It wasn’t until a little over a year ago when my husband and I were discussing folklore that I realized how often the name Mary comes up in these tales. We went through and listed as many as we could think of, and I was shocked at how prolific that name really is. I hadn’t explored too much about urban legends in my writing up until that point, and I figured spinning a tale about these characters—who they are and how they got that name—would be a perfect place to start.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I had so many ideas and themes in mind when I first started writing the book, but perhaps the biggest one for me was the notion of family and how sometimes the people closest to us are not our biological relatives but instead those we happen to find along the way. The Marys cobble together a family in their decrepit haunted house, and this bond is key to getting them through what’s to come.
Also, the power of resistance, of fighting back, even when the odds might seem insurmountable, was incredibly important to me with this story. The world can be so cruel, especially to those who are different, and I wanted to tell a tale about characters who are fighting to be heard despite a force trying hard to drown them out. In everyday life, I’m often hopeful to a fault, so I tend to believe that even in the worst times, all is not lost, which is certainly a major theme in Pretty Marys.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
Horror has always been part of my life—literally, my entire life. My dad was very happily reading me Edgar Allan Poe while my mom was still pregnant. Horror in my family goes back even further than that too; my grandfather was a big Poe fan, and he shared that love of all things macabre with my father, who then of course passed it on to me. Growing up, there was always a Hammer movie on the TV or a book of horror short stories on the dining room table. I was reading Poe and Bradbury in elementary school, which was always a point of pride for me. (Although it could be hard sometimes to be the “strange kid” in a small town, I still relished my weirdness too.)
As I got older, my love of horror never waned, so I knew I had to become part of the genre in some way. This choice definitely changed my life. I even met my husband back when we were both struggling horror filmmakers. When I finally decided to switch gears and go back to fiction writing, it very much felt that I found my place in the world.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
I love this question! I’ve never thought about it before, but I guess if I could sit down with anyone from Pretty Marys All in a Row, I would probably go with Rhee (Resurrection Mary). I’ve already spent so much time with her, it seems, because she’s the narrator of the book, so she would be the one that I’d love to meet in person. As for questions, I think I’d just ask her about her day. That probably sounds boring, but I would love to hear the little details about what’s going on with her and how her afterlife is different from everything we as the living would take for granted.
That being said, if I was just in the mood to hang out, I’d probably choose Lew (Mari Lwyd). She’s so feisty and always has a bottle of booze hidden somewhere, so that would make for a good party anytime!
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I’ve had some good luck with meeting readers and fellow writers on both Twitter and Facebook. There are things I like and dislike about each site, so it probably depends on the day as to which I prefer. Also, if I’m entirely honest, I’m not as social media savvy as a lot of writers. In fact, I’m not very tech savvy at all (I still have a flip phone from circa 2009), but I do my best to muddle through. Even for a Luddite like me, it really is wonderful to be able to connect with others in real-time online, and the friendships I’ve built on social media have definitely helped during the times when writing gets difficult. And at some point, it always seems to get difficult!
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Keep going. Keep honing your craft, and keep learning both what works and what doesn’t work for you in your writing. Not every piece of publishing advice out there is going to be helpful for you, and that’s okay. Figure out what does work, and go with that. Don’t give up, even when it gets hard. Especially when it gets hard. Your voice is needed in this world. Keep going.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I try to keep pretty busy writing—it helps to keep me mostly sane—so I usually have a few things in the works at any given time. Right now, the biggest project on the horizon is my debut novel, The Rust Maidens, which is due out later this year from Trepidatio Publishing, an imprint of JournalStone. The story is set in Cleveland, primarily in the year 1980, and deals with my Rust Belt roots as well as themes I’ve explored in my short fiction: coming of age, body horror, and unlikely friendships.
I also have several short stories slated for release this year too, including my horror tale, “An Elegy for Childhood Monsters,” which should be out soon in Grey Matter Press’s Suspended in Dusk 2. That anthology has a table of contents filled with horror authors I greatly admire, and I’m still in awe and shock that I get to be part of that lineup.
Finally, my collaborative novella with author Emily B. Cataneo, “In Her Flightless Wings, a Fire,” will be appearing in the forthcoming Chiral Mad 4. So there will definitely be several places to find my work over the next year if you’re so inclined!
In the meantime, you can also find me at my author site (http://www.gwendolynkiste.com/). On my regular blog, I share a monthly roundup of open submission calls and posts about writing tips along with a series of interviews with up-and-coming authors and artists. There’s always so much great stuff going on in the publishing world, so it’s certainly an incredible time to be a writer.