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Gwendolyn Kiste: On Reimagining Classic Gothic Novels

Award-winning author Gwendolyn Kiste discusses how she gave voice to silenced characters from classic gothic novels in her new novel, Reluctant Immortals.

Gwendolyn Kiste is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, Reluctant Immortals, Boneset & Feathers, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, Pretty Marys All in a Row, and The Invention of Ghosts. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vastarien, Tor's Nightfire, Black Static, The Dark, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, 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 GwendolynKiste.com, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Gwendolyn Kiste: On Reimagining Classic Gothic Novels

Gwendolyn Kiste

In this post, Gwendolyn discusses how she gave voice to silences characters from classic gothic novels in her new novel, Reluctant Immortals, her advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Gwendolyn Kiste
Book title: Reluctant Immortals
Publisher: Saga Press
Release date: August 23, 2022
Genre/category: Horror
Previous titles: The Rust Maidens, Boneset & Feathers, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe
Elevator pitch for the book: Reluctant Immortals follows two forgotten women of gothic literature—Lucy Westenra from Dracula and Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Jane Eyre—who are undead immortals living in 1960s California when the toxic men from their past make a sudden and shocking reappearance in their lives.

Gwendolyn Kiste: On Reimagining Classic Gothic Novels

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What prompted you to write this book?

I’m a huge fan of gothic horror, in particular the classics Dracula and Jane Eyre. I’ve loved both books and their many film adaptations ever since I was a kid. I was always sad, though, that each story had a female character who didn’t get the chance to tell her own story.

In Dracula, that’s Lucy Westenra, Dracula’s first victim, and in Jane Eyre, it’s Bertha Antoinetta Mason, the so-called madwoman in the attic and Edward Rochester’s first wife. I wanted to know more about them and hear their stories from their points of view. That’s how Reluctant Immortals was born.

Once I came up with the basic concept, I started constructing a world centered on these two characters, which was so much fun as a fan of the gothic. I really enjoy both reading and writing retellings because there’s nothing better than being able to spend time with characters you already love!

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

From the moment I got the idea, it took just under three years to finish the novel. The story absolutely evolved over time. I had originally planned to include the characters of Dorian Gray and his ill-fated girlfriend Sibyl Vane. I very much feel like Sibyl shares some of the same forgotten status as Lucy and Bertha.

However, my editor wisely recommended that if I wanted to make this novel a mash-up of three different books that it would have to be a much longer story. I knew I wanted it to be a tighter tale than that, so I decided to focus specifically on Lucy and Bertha.

Now I can’t imagine any other version of Reluctant Immortals than what it’s become. That being said, I definitely still hope to write a Dorian Gray retelling one day. Writer goals for the future!

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Up until now, all my books have been through small presses in the horror genre, so having a novel released through an imprint of Simon and Schuster was definitely a new experience for me. Fortunately, the biggest surprise was how much the process was actually quite similar.

Working with an editor and a copywriter honestly feels the same—in a very good way—no matter who’s publishing your work. It really comes down to working with people who are passionate about books, and so long as you’ve got that, then it’s a wonderful experience.

The biggest change with Reluctant Immortals is having a publicist advocating for the novel, which has been incredible (a shout-out to Lucy Nalen who is a true rock star!).

Gwendolyn Kiste: On Reimagining Classic Gothic Novels

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The biggest surprise was really just discovering interesting facts and locales in 1960s California as I was researching. Going into this novel, I already knew a lot about the history of that decade, but it was such a joy to learn about more specific places or factoids from the era, especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco where the novel takes place.

One of my favorite finds was a now-closed amusement park in San Francisco called Playland at the Beach. It was such a fascinating place with all these neat rides and a haunted house and a funhouse with an animatronic clown named Laffing Sal. There are so many lovely photos from the park’s heyday, so it was a delightful opportunity as a writer to incorporate it into my story.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

More than anything, I just hope that readers think about the characters of Lucy and Bertha from a different perspective. They’re both so fascinating in their original books, so if this simply makes people stop and consider those characters from a fresh point of view, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

I also hope that readers have fun with the story. It’s a bit of a gothic adventure in the vein of old Hammer horror films. In a way, it’s everything I’ve loved about the horror genre since I was a kid, and this novel gave me an outlet to express that fandom. So hopefully, people will have a good time with Lucy and Bertha in 1960s California.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Write the stories you want to read. It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing you need to write to a certain market or in a certain way, but beyond anything else, we need stories that the authors truly love and believe in. Those are the ones that stick with readers.

So, write whatever weird story is living in your heart. That’s what the world really needs.

Don't miss Gwendolyn at this year's Horror Virtual Conference!

Horror Virtual Conference 2022

On October 1, 2022, our WDU Horror Writing Virtual Conference will provide expert insights from four award-winning and bestselling horror authors on the finer points of how to write horror. Spend the day learning techniques for honing your craft from four different published horror authors, then (if you choose) you can have your query letter critiqued by one of our participating literary agents.

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