John Kiste’s short story, Kettering Hall, first appeared in the second issue of THE DARK SIRE. As a winner of Best Fiction at the 1st Annual TDS Creative Awards, Kettering Hall also graced the pages of the special edition collector’s issue, The Dark Sire: Accolades, with best-selling author and owner of Cemetery Dance Richard Chizmar presenting the award.
“Even as the coach rumbled beneath the great wrought iron gates that announced
Kettering Hall, I strained my eyes through the side window without ever catching a
glimpse of the manor through the crisp late afternoon air”.
Kiste had me in his grips with this first line of Kettering Hall. His visceral descriptions pulled me into the story so smoothly that I didn’t even realize the real world had slipped away. After reading Kettering Hall, the epitome of gothic horror, interviewing Kiste became a need rather than a simple desire. I had to interview him to find out more about the mind that created such a splendid piece of writing.
TDS: You’re from Ohio. Were the town of Kettering or the real-life (Virginia W.) Kettering Hall (the residential facility at the University of Dayton) inspirations for the setting and its name? If not, why did you choose Kettering Hall as the name of the story and its setting?
John Kiste: I wish I could say I had a stroke of inspiration for the name Kettering Hall. I did not. It sounded like a manor from a Sherlock Holmes story – very old-fashioned.
TDS: What was the inspiration for the story itself, then? Was it Holmes or maybe Edgar Allan Poe?
John Kiste: Though Poe infuses most of my haunted house tales, Kettering Hall owes a great debt to a humorous ghost story from John Kendrick Bangs, The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.
TDS: Your narrator goes unnamed – why did you decide to leave him so?
John Kiste: Poe often left his narrators unnamed. I always felt it gave them an added layer of mystery.
TDS: Lord Kettering describes the cultists on his land as “wicked offspring who were blossoming into wretched adults” and “children.” Why did you decide to have them be children /young adults instead of the adult laborers?
John Kiste: Thank you for this question. I wanted to show Lord Kettering as a benevolent landlord who had cared about his laborers for decades. It was the next generation that destroyed that bond. This was not an indictment of teens or even peaceful pagans.
TDS: Lord Kettering is tormented by the victims he accidentally caused the deaths of. In Kettering Hall, it is explained as a curse placed on him by the cultists he’s driven away. To your mind as the author, do you think that is the sole reason he has the nightly visits, or could his own guilt or some twisted karma also play a role?
John Kiste: Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions about Kettering’s state of mind. I did intend the curse to be real, as others have also experienced its effects.
TDS: After reaching the end of Kettering Hall I was left wanting to know more. Do you plan on continuing the tale of Lord Kettering and the unnamed narrator? Will we ever know if they found the cultists and reversed the curse?
John Kiste: Interestingly, I got several paragraphs into that very sequel before I gave it up as diluting the mystique and the purposely unanswered questions of the first work. I rather like it as is at present.
TDS: What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? Have you researched for your stories, or do you rely solely on your imagination?
John Kiste: I am embarrassed that I have never heard the word plantser for someone who does both – but it is definitely me. I sometimes start with just a first line, and the story then retaliates by going off wildly. However, others have required a massive amount of research. As an example, one story that took place in the 1890s could not include modern terms, metaphors, or slang. It was amazing as I researched every phrase, to learn how many things we say came into usage in the Twentieth Century.
TDS: Would you share a bit more about your writing process? How many hours a day do you write? What are the most difficult and most enjoyable parts of your writing process? What risks have you taken in your writing that have paid off?
John Kiste: I only write when an idea comes to me. I keep these ideas as notes on my phone and muse them over, sometimes for a very long time. I generally write my first draft late at night in bed on my phone, then transfer it to my computer for editing. I love creating the proper atmosphere, and when I have written tangled mysteries, I love seeing the threads come together. I have authored a number of bizarre and unusual works, but many have not found homes. I once penned a banshee story called Thincoldnightwindkeenslikeabanshee (all one word for reasons explained in the telling) and Unnerving Press picked it up for the anthology, Haunted Are These Houses, the title notwithstanding.
TDS: Speaking of brainstorming ideas… Do you believe in writer’s block and, if so, what methods do you use to combat it?
John Kiste: Walk away. Do something unrelated. That’s the best way for me to work through it, though everyone has their own process.
TDS: Other than writing short stories, what kind of other creative outlets do you enjoy?
John Kiste: I proofread for my daughter, Gwendolyn, and I have a collection of Aurora monster models. I run planetarium shows at the McKinley Museum (in Canton, Ohio) and have done a one-man show of Poe dozens of times – in chapels, on trains, in theatres, for tour groups, and in schools. I am busy two months before Halloween preparing what neighborhood children say is one of the best houses for trick-or-treaters in the whole town: haunted walkway, graveyard with real coffins, guillotine, full-sized Hershey bars and bags of other candy for each. This October 31st will mark the 40th wedding anniversary of my wife Lonna and me.
TDS: Speaking of Poe and your Poe impersonation. What draws you to Poe and how long have you been an impersonator of him?
John Kiste: My childhood bedtime stories from my father were Poe and plots of Universal Horror movies. I have been a fan of dark fiction and all things Halloween as long as I can remember. Happily, my wife Lonna is the same, and we passed along this love to our three-time Bram Stoker Award winning daughter, Gwendolyn. I started impersonating Poe when I was President of the Stark County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. My tourism manager needed entertainment for a bus tour group at an old mansion, and she asked if I would perform as Poe. I have since done dozens of various Poe presentations.
TDS: Since you have a love of Poe and gothic literature, I’m very interested in your perspective on a current debate. Some readers/writers have expressed that the style of Poe is outdated and that a new gothic form of literature is needed. Today, gothic is combined with aspects of horror to create the gothic-horror subgenre, which, to some, is not true gothic literature as Poe (the father of American Gothic literature) envisioned it. The debate then is whether or not there is a market for real Poe-esque gothic literature. What are your thoughts on this?
John Kiste: Good heavens, I hope Poe is still relevant. Some complain of the flowery prose of classic authors like Poe and Hawthorne and Shakespeare, but these storytellers still show us the beauty of the English language, even as it evolves. Joseph Conrad’s native language was Polish, but he loved English so much that he learned it in all its nuances for his novels. The generation of Hemingway decided to write in a basic, straightforward way, and Papa H. and others like Steinbeck created barebones styles, but I truly believe there is room for old Gothic and new. And I can enjoy even hybrids of both.
TDS: Thank you so much for your time today. One last question: What stories have you published since appearing in TDS?
John Kiste: It’s always a pleasure! As for my work, Tinhorn Tintype, has appeared in the anthology Six Guns Straight from Hell 3; a flash fiction piece, Night Chat, was picked up by Third Flatiron; With Painted Words published Reflections on Reflection; and a Jolly Horror anthology called Coffin Blossoms came out last October with my humorous horror story Carl the Fortuitous. Most recently, however, was my short story An Inverted Haunting, published in the anthology Terrifying Ghosts by Flame Tree Press.
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John Kiste is the author of over one hundred short stories and one trilogy. He has also written with his daughter, Gwendolyn Kiste, a three-time Bram Stoker Award winner. John and Gwendolyn will be presenting at The Creative Quill Writing Conference on 10/23 at The Dover Public Library (Dover, Ohio) from 12-6pm. Join them by registering for the event at https://forms.gle/u95wPM7GxyqEapHU9. To learn more about this talented writer, visit his website or find him on Facebook.
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