Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m chatting to a modern day fairytale writer, Gwendolyn Kiste. Welcome to the tearoom.
Thank you so much for my invite, Paula. This is an amazing place to get to, and so well hidden. The coffee smells wonderful too.
I’m so glad you approve. Let me start by asking you to tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
Right now, I’m working on my third novel, Reluctant Immortals, which will be out in 2022 with Saga Press. It’s all about Lucy Westenra from Dracula and Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Jane Eyre as they navigate the tumultuous Summer of Love in 1960s California while dealing with Dracula and Edward Rochester who have shown up in their lives again. The book is actually a combination of two of my previous stories—“The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary” and “The Woman Out of the Attic”—so it’s an idea I’ve been working on for a while now. Also, as a longtime fan of both Jane Eyre and Dracula, I’ve thought a lot about the characters of Bertha and Lucy over the years, and how I feel they both deserved better, so this is certainly a concept that’s lived in me for some time.
As for my most recent book that’s already been released, that would be Boneset & Feathers from Broken Eye Books, which came out in November 2020. It’s all about witches and witch hunters, and that’s definitely a concept that’s been on my mind for years. Way back in elementary school, I did a big project on the Salem Witch Trials, and it always terrified me how an entire town could do that to their own people. So writing a book about witch hunts has been on my mind for decades at this point.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
For my short fiction, I almost never write a synopsis, and I usually don’t write chronologically, but novels are such a different beast altogether. For those, I definitely write a synopsis first. It helps me to see the shape of the overall story. It’s so easy to lose the thread of a novel or lose track of specific details as you’re going. I also tend to write my novels in order, and I don’t tend to move on to the second chapter until the first one is fairly solid and edited. That way, I’ve got a strong base for the rest of the story.
When reading your work through do you ever find that your daily mood swings are reflected in your writing?
That’s certainly happened before. Overall, I would say my work tends to reflect certain periods in my life more than a specific day or mood. I can look back on my books or stories I’ve written and be able to recognize particular images or ideas or themes that were really resonating with me at that point. As writers, our work is sort of this living document of our lives, tracing where we were at moments in time, almost the same as a diary except that the contents are fictional—or at least mostly fictional, let’s say!
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
For my latest book, Boneset & Feathers, I did a lot of research into fairy tales, witchcraft, witch trials, and that general era in European history. The book wasn’t solidly set in any time period—I wanted it to feel like a fairy tale, which can have a rather timeless quality to it—but I did want to draw on certain specific details just to root it in reality.
For my next book, Reluctant Immortals, it’s been really fun to research California in the late 1960s. It’s one of my favorite time periods, so it’s been great to explore everything about that time. The clothes, the cars, the day-to-day news. It was a tumultuous era, and in a way, that brings me a strange sort of comfort since we’re living through particularly tumultuous times now. It’s good to remember that people can get through difficult periods in history and come out the other side of it.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
Hmmmm… I never know what people might be surprised to know. So here are a few random details about me: I’ve taken about three years of ballet dancing (and I’m still pretty terrible at it). I have a lifelong hatred of iceberg lettuce and green peppers. I can’t roll my tongue. I have no piercings or tattoos. I used to be a fashion designer, and I put together over fifty fashion shows and dozens of photo shoots during my 10+ years in the industry. Hopefully, something in there was a surprising detail!
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
Absolutely. I’ve found so often that writing is an act of free associating and that my mind almost goes into a dreamlike state when I’m working. When I’m done with a story or a book, I’ll reread it and see certain images recurring or certain themes that I didn’t necessarily realize were lurking in my mind at the time when I was writing it. Then in the editing process, I’ll actually go through and bring those ideas more to the forefront, since that’s clearly what I was thinking about in the first place, albeit subconsciously.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
I’m not usually very good at setting daily word counts. I’ve found when I set word counts, I work toward a number rather than working toward the best possible quality. So often in fiction, less really is more, so just writing, for example, 1,000 words doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good 1,000 words. There have been many days where I’ve deleted far more words than I’ve written, and those are usually much better writing days than the ones where I hit a higher word count. That being said, I know that word count goals work so well for many authors; I’m just not one of them, which goes to show once again that there’s no one set way to be a writer. Whatever works for one writer might not work for another, and that’s not only all right, but it’s actually expected and a really good thing.
How many hours in a day do you write?
That really depends. Before last year, I would say I usually wrote about six hours a day and almost always in the evening. Now, however, I’m at home all the time because of the pandemic. Without anything to do outside of the house, I write a lot more often. I’d say most days I’m writing twelve hours a day. That’s not always fiction writing, of course; it could be nonfiction, content for my blog, guest posts for other sites, etc. But I’m definitely at my computer far more these days. That’s both good and bad, to be honest; it’s nice to have more time to write, but in the past, many of my best ideas have come from when I’m away from my computer and my mind has time to wander and free associate. I’m hoping to make better use of my writing time in 2021, but we’ll see how that works out for me!
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I love naming characters. It’s such an exciting process, especially since you might be looking at that name for weeks or months to come. If it’s a historical book, I try to research what names were popular then to make sure that whatever I call my characters is also time period appropriate.
I wish I could say that I know everything about my characters before I start writing, but I actually find the act of writing in itself to be an act of discovery. As I write, the characters often reveal themselves to me in unexpected ways, which is one of my favorite things about the creative process. It can be such a magical experience to have a story start to take a different direction than you were expecting, especially when you realize that the direction is even better than the one you were originally planning.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
That can change so much from project to project. I’ve had short stories that have come together in a day or two, and other stories that have taken literally years. For example, my Stoker-winning story, “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary),” took almost two years from the time I came up with the concept until it was ready for submission. For my short fiction, I would say an average is probably about two to three weeks for a story, but again, that can differ wildly.
As for my novels, that’s even more variable. The first draft of my first novel, The Rust Maidens, took about three months, while my second novel, Boneset & Feathers, took a year. When it really comes down to it, it seems like every project has a mind of its own. And maybe that’s exactly the way it should be. At the very least, it keeps writing interesting!
Thank you for joining me in the tearoom, Gwendolyn. To find out more about Gwendolyn’s writing and books please click on the links below.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Members’ Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.