A native of Ohio, she currently dwells on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can find her online at gwendolynkiste.com.
Pretty Marys All in a Row (paperback)
Weird dark urban fantasy that follows the (after)lives and times of five ghosts and their haunts. Pretty Marys All in a Row combines contemporary fairy tale and urban legend in a story that shows that being dead isn't always a bed of roses.
MARY, MARY . . .
You’ll find her on a lonely highway, hitchhiking at midnight. She calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her by another name: Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to a decrepit mansion on a lane to nowhere, she’s not alone.
In the antique mirror, call her name three times, and Bloody Mary will appear. Outside, wandering through a garden of poisonous flowers is Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, a nursery rhyme come to gruesome life. Downstairs is another jump-rope rhyme—Mary Mack, forever conscripted to build her own coffin. And brooding in the corner with her horse skull is the restless Mari Lwyd.
They are the Marys, the embodiment of urban legend and what goes bump in the night. Every evening, they gather around the table and share nightmares like fine wine, savoring the flavors of those they’ve terrified.
But other than these brief moments together, the Marys are alone, haunting a solitary gloom that knows them better than they know themselves. That’s because they don’t remember who they were before—or even if there was a before. And worst of all, they don’t know how to escape this fate.
That is, until a moment of rage inspires Rhee to leap from the highway—and into the mirror with Bloody Mary. Suddenly, the Marys are learning how to move between their worlds, all while realizing how much stronger they are together.
But just when freedom is within their reach, something in the gloom fights back—something that isn’t ready to let them go. Now with her sisters in danger of slipping into the darkness, Rhee must unravel the mystery of who the Marys were before they were every child’s nightmare. And she’ll have to do it before what’s in the shadows comes to claim her for its own.
"A clever, twisted melding of modern myth and folklore, resonating way down deep to the schoolyard childhood, slumber parties, and whispered campfire tales, Pretty Marys All In A Row brings that nostalgia factor while also spinning a tense new take, a unique sort of ghost story." (Christine Morgan at the Horror Fiction Review)
"Underneath the creepy images and ghostly lore, Gwendolyn Kiste has created a story about the power of women's friendships, a subject often handled with all the cloying sweetness of a bag of candy corn. But these Marys are wicked and wonderful—just the gals you'll want to hang out with on a dark and stormy night. A darkly fantastic delight!" (Wendy N. Wagner, author of An Oath of Dogs)
"Pretty Marys is at once touching and dark, and there are moments of lightness and humor as well–Abby’s delight at meeting a real ghost, the old woman Mari Lwyd haunts wanting to teach her how to bake cookies, and Mistress Mary’s prehensile vines. All these elements are perfectly balanced and make for a satisfying whole." (AC Wise, Women to Read at Book Smugglers)
"[Pretty Marys] visits the idea that attention breeds power and skews it into a strange, supernatural, grim mystery, packed neatly into just fewer than one hundred pages." (Eddie Generous writing with Unnerving Magazine)
"Five Marys from urban legends, folklore and possibly even history—all living in one house. All not quite dead. Pretty Marys All in a Row is a story of women in peril. Afraid to admit something is wrong, even though their afterlives, their legacies, their identities are in danger. Gwendolyn Kiste excels in creating subtle, unsettling disturbia. Her writing is clever, imaginative, eerily beautiful. It lingers with you days later—perhaps long into the night as you stare at the shifting light on the ceiling—twining itself through your thoughts. Pretty Marys harkens back to the writing of Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMaurier, whose work speaks to the fears of women and our struggle to find and keep our space in the world. The fear of not being heard. Of being replaceable. Perhaps most nerve-wracking of all: being forced to confront the darkness that lies inside all of us, telling us we’re not worthy, we’re not enough. Kiste writes empowering horror, handling these challenging subjects deftly and with a tough tenderness that lets the reader know: yes, there will be a fight... but you can do this." (Eden Royce, author of Spook Lights)
"Wholly original and profoundly haunting, Pretty Marys All in a Row is Gwendolyn Kiste’s finest work to date. Her prose glides effortlessly through the (after) lives of her protagonists, adding an unfamiliar humanity to the women of myth that we feared as children—a humanity that will resonate within the darkest heart. Devastating in the best sense of the word, Pretty Marys All in a Row will leave you wanting more of Kiste and her undeniable talent." (Jess Landry, author and publisher)
"Kiste's craft and artistic ambitions are all very much in top form here... What fascinated me about the story is the relationship between Rhee and the legend to which she becomes bound. Rhee is not simply Resurrection Mary. The same myth that sustains the Marys' twilight existence also chains them to hungers of a much more powerful and frightening force. A very clear line is drawn between how the roles the characters inhabit in the afterlife--maiden, mother, matron, mourner, and monster--seduce and enlist the next group of Marys. The stories they are unwitting participants in produce more storytellers eager to tell them. As Rhee struggles to free herself and her sisters, she struggles to rewrite our culture's most pernicious fables, the ones so sweet and ubiquitous, we don't even realize why they were written." (Ancient Logic, by Morgan Crooks)
"Pretty Marys All in a Row is a ghost story mingled with folklore and urban legends. It really delves into the life of a ghost and what it means to be alive and free. Again, like with all her stories the writing is wonderful, dark with a literary edge. She adds beauty to dark stories. Her masterful command of prose is deeply evocative you really feel like you are there with Rhee standing on the highway. I love the thinking behind the story, it's really out there offering a really fresh perspective on tales we all take for granted. Pretty Marys All in Row is deeply moving. It is a story of survival after tragedy, of never giving up and finding the strength within you." (Come and Behold My Dark World, by SJ Budd)
"I love this Rhee, who is a ghost of herself and how she is shown herself in a book when she was still alive, a ghost story for a ghost...[A] uniquely fey book." (Des Lewis' Gestalt Real-Time Review)
"The storyline is spectacular...The action is non-stop..Five stars." (Amie Gaudet at Amie's Book Review Blog)
"One part Candyman, one part The Final Girls, stir until it's something that feels like you could play it as a World of Darkness expansion, and you've got an idea of Gwendolyn Kiste's brilliant little novella." (Orrin Grey at Amazon)
"Like the legends of the Marys of the title, this book is simple on the surface but hints at a darker, more complex world that the characters themselves are only beginning to understand." (Carrie Laben on Amazon)
Made AC Wise's list of Favorite Novels and Novellas of 2017, Tangent Online's 2017 Recommended Reading List, Ancient Logic's list of favorite stories from 2017, Nick Cato's Top Ten Reads of 2017 at the Horror Fiction Review, and Maria Haskin's 2017 Suggested Reading List.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Folklore and fairy tales have always been a huge inspiration for me, both for their whimsy and their remarkably dark underpinnings. As a horror writer, there’s nothing as familiar and unsettling as many of the original fairy tales most of us grew up reading.
"In that vein, Pretty Marys All in a Row started from a conversation I had with my husband, who is a fellow devotee of folklore. He and I went through all the Marys who appear in fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and other legends. It’s astounding when you list them all, how often the name appears in different incarnations (ditto for the Jacks, though he’ll have to wait for another story).
"That conversation led me to a series of questions that immediately unnerved me. What if these Marys know they’re storybook legends—and what if they want no part of it? If the choice to be in our folklore was never theirs to make, then what if we’re perpetuating their torment by continually retelling these tales? And if the Marys, like Resurrection Mary and Bloody Mary in particular, are the embodiment of nightmares, then what kind of powerful force controls the nightmares? That last question terrified me most of all—the notion of something else, something unknown to them, controlling the Marys—and from there, Pretty Marys All in a Row was born.
"Ultimately, the story became one about loss and identity and finding yourself and your home and family, even when all other choices have been ripped away from you. To have Pretty Marys join the incredible roster of releases at Broken Eye Books is beyond thrilling and humbling. This is a journey that’s been a wonderful one to take as a writer, and I hope that readers feel the same way."
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