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Thursday, February 15, 2024 | Exclusives, Interviews


There’s a reason Gwendolyn Kiste is one of the biggest names in horror. From turning classics on their head to redefining horror tropes, she has made a name for herself as one of the fiercest women in horror today. Kiste’s newest novel, THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD, turns the tried-and-true haunted house trope on its head in a suburban ghost story about a small town that traps three young women who must confront the past if they’re going to have a future.

RUE MORGUE recently had the opportunity to sit down with Gwendolyn Kiste and chat more about THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD, coming from Simon and Schuster on March 5, 2024, to bookstores and online retailers everywhere.

THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD is a suburban ghost story about a neighborhood that has disappeared from its small town, taking its residents along with it. This unique concept turns the “haunted house” trope on its… doorstep? What inspired the idea of a spectral neighborhood?

Author Gwendolyn Kiste.

It started out in a fairly simple way. During the pandemic quarantine, I picked up several photography books, including ones from Cindy Sherman and William Eggleston. In that stack, there was also a first edition of a book called Suburbia by Bill Owens. It turns out that particular book and its pictures, which depict an interesting blend of suburban malaise in an American neighborhood from the 1970s, was used as a reference for both The Virgin Suicides and Edward Scissorhands. I started thinking about how much I would love to create my own neighborhood like that, but I didn’t want to do another period piece right after Reluctant Immortals, which is set in the 1960s. That’s when I came up with the idea of having the neighborhood itself separated from the rest of the world. THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD isn’t a period piece; It’s set in the present day, but the ghostly neighborhood itself is stuck in the past.    

The concept of home has always been an elusive one for me. Your home is supposed to be a place that you feel safe, a place that’s a refuge. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case for everyone. So often in haunted house stories, there are secrets from the past coming back to haunt the present, but I couldn’t help but think how it often takes more than one person (and more than one house) to keep those secrets. A whole neighborhood that gets trapped in the past seemed so different to me, and I was surprised that I’d never really seen it done before. It’s always an exciting moment as a writer when you get a chance to do something you haven’t already read, so I definitely seized the opportunity to create this world. 

There are so many themes throughout this book, but perhaps some of the strongest are overcoming grief and trauma, both from Talitha’s perspective and that of some of the other characters. After all, there’s more than one way to be haunted. Can you tell us more about how you approached these in the story?

 I’ve always been drawn to ghost stories and haunted house tales that are really a bigger metaphor for the way each of us is psychologically haunted. That’s part of what makes Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House work so well. Eleanor is haunted by the specter of the past – and particularly the specter of her own mother – and that’s what draws her to Hill House and vice versa. So, anytime I’m reading a ghost story (as well as anytime I’m writing one), I’m always questioning what’s secretly haunting these characters because that’s often where the most interesting things are happening. 

In terms of writing about trauma itself, I wanted to be really careful to never be exploitative about it. Trauma is a tricky topic, and it was important for me that nothing felt gratuitous or done for shock value. This is also a story that deals with queerness and the trauma that too often goes along with coming out and embracing who you are. Being bisexual myself – and not being accepted for it in the past – is something I wanted to write about, but I also didn’t want it to be all about trauma either. There’s so much resilience in the LGBTQ+ community. I wanted that strength to be on the page as well. 

While THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD is the kind of novel that will certainly appeal to a wide range of readers, it’s a fiercely female story. Sisterhood. Motherhood. Best friends. So many dynamics of female relationships percolate throughout. Can you talk more about what it’s like being a woman in horror, and writing women in horror?

In general, I feel like horror is a really great genre for female authors. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the horror community, and so many female writers are out there supporting each other every single day, which is so incredibly heartening. I love Women in Horror Month, and even though its popularity has waned a bit over the last few years, it’s still wonderful to celebrate the women of horror every March as well as throughout the rest of the year. 

Horror has always been a great place for female characters, too. From the early days of gothic literature to the slashers of the 1970s and 1980s, and up until today, you can always find interesting, complicated female characters in the genre. The Brontes, Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and Angela Carter are just a few of the authors who have written amazing characters in equally amazing stories, and it feels very much like we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. In so many ways, horror is the perfect place to be a woman and a writer. This is our genre, and it always has been.  

This book really puts the old adage “you can’t go home” into the spotlight. What do you want readers to take away from THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD (should they be able to leave)?

I love your caveat, “Should they be able to leave!” You know, I’m never too worried about telling readers what they need to get from my work. I’ve definitely heard from people who have interpreted my stories in wildly different ways than I have, and their perspectives are truly as valid as mine. I feel like, as authors, we’re putting our work into the world, and then the world gets to decide what it means.

That being said, if forced to choose, I do hope that this story haunts readers as well as gives them a different way of looking at trauma. Talitha’s personal journey is all about self-acceptance and self-discovery, and, if nothing else, I would like for readers to have a sense of empathy for what she’s going through because so many of us have had traumatizing experiences that still haunt us.   

As always, what’s next? 

I’m currently at work on both a new horror novel and a new horror novella. I never like to reveal too many specifics because it always worries me that the story will immediately scurry away from me! But both of the books are coming along well, which means so far, so good.  

In terms of what’s coming out next, I’ve got a number of new horror short stories scheduled for release this year, including, of course, in the fabulous Mother Knows Best anthology from Black Spot Books. I’ve always loved short fiction so much, and now that it’s almost the seventh anniversary of my first collection (seriously, where does the time go?), I’m hoping to put together a new collection at some point in the next year or so. Definitely a lot of writing plans, so fingers crossed that I’ll have more to announce very soon!

Lindy Ryan
An award-winning author, editor, professor, and short-film director, Lindy Ryan was recently named one of horror’s six most masterful anthology curators, alongside Ellen Datlow and Christopher Golden, for her work in UNDER HER SKIN, a women-in-horror poetry showcase, and INTO THE FOREST: TALES OF THE BABA YAGA, a forthcoming women-in-horror anthology from Black Spot Books and Blackstone Audio. A 2020 Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree and previous board member for the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Lindy is a long-time advocate for women-in-horror and an active member of the HWA and ITW. She is the current chair of the Horror Writers Association’s Women in Horror Month. The author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, Lindy’s work has been adapted for film. Her debut horror-thriller novel, BLESS YOUR HEART, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books.