Night Time Logic with Gwendolyn Kiste

Night Time Logic with Daniel Braum

“The Summer of Love: Wild. Psychedelic.
Like a super-feminst Hammer film.”

photo of author Gwendolyn Kiste
Gwendolyn Kiste

Night Time Logic is the part or parts of a story that are felt but not consciously processed. Those that operate below the conscious surface. Those that are processed somewhere, somehow, and in some way other than… overtly and consciously. The deep-down scares. The scares that find their way to our core and unsettle us in ways we rarely see coming…

Hello and welcome. My name is Daniel Braum, I am an author of strange tales, a term coined by Robert Aickman to describe his unique brand of stories. Aickman’s stories were often what we now may call “quiet horror” and often it was ambiguous as to what if any supernatural elements were present and in play. Aickman’s strange tales operated with “Night Time Logic” — the kind of scares and elements that were felt but not consciously processed.  In this column, which shares a name with my New York based reading series, I explore the phenomenon of Night Time Logic and other notions of what makes horror and good fiction by looking at the stories of my favorite authors along with the work of new voices. 

My previous column with author Brenda Tolian explored her collection of stories relating to a setting specific supernatural phenomenon. Gwendolyn Kiste’s latest book Reluctant Immortals is also set in a very distinct place and time in addition to presenting a fresh take on some very well-known characters. Gwendolyn has been a guest of the series both in person in New York and online. You can find one of her appearances here. We begin our conversation with the character of Lucy Westenra from Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula.

DANIEL BRAUM: “Of course I never want to spend my nights with him but what I want doesn’t count for much.”

The narrator of the story is Lucy Westenra who is living in Hollywood in 1967 the Summer of Love. Dracula has been “vanquished” and his ashes kept separated in a series of urns that Lucy stands guard over day and night to prevent them from reconstituting into Dracula.

“Please. As if men like him are ever that easy to vanquish. They always figure out the best way around the rules, bending the world in their favor. For most of us, death is the undeniable end. For him, it’s only a minor inconvenience.”

From the start it is apparent this is not only the story of Lucy and Dracula, it also operates and can be read as the story of every woman and every man who has wronged, hurt, abused, and oppressed her.

The theme of the way women are treated in this world is one that populates many of your works. I found it deftly and skillfully written how the story operates both as a fun and on the surface level fast paced story yet also deftly operates on a much larger and thematic level.

Before we talk about Lucy and Bee could you tell me about this theme as it appears in some of your other works such as your short story collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe?

GWENDOLYN KISTE: This is such a potent question right now, more than ever before. In my collection, there are several stories dealing with the way women are treated. “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray” is about all the would-be princesses who have taken a bite of a poisoned apple and found themselves waiting for a prince they never asked for. “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” is about a woman who keeps giving birth to birds and the way that people ostracize her for it. I’ve written a number of revisionist fairy tales with feminist themes — Angela Carter is one of my literary idols — so those ideas definitely come up a lot in my fiction. 

In my first collection, there are also several stories, in particular “Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions” and “The Five-Day Summer Camp,” that deal directly with totalitarian societies erasing personal freedoms. When I was writing those stories years ago, I’d hoped they would remain wholly fictional, but they don’t feel so distant anymore, and that’s utterly terrifying. 

Your short story “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary) appears in Issue 86 of Nightmare Magazine. Did the short story and idea for the novel come at the same time? Or when did the notion that a larger format tale about Lucy was something you wanted to tell?

The short story that appeared in Nightmare Magazine definitely came first. It was actually the most difficult short story I’ve ever written, and it took me over a year to write it. I very much wanted to get it right, because I’ve always loved the character of Lucy Westenra so much, and I wanted to do her justice. I had been tinkering with it for months, to no avail, until one day, I was taking this pensive walk with my husband, and it suddenly occurred to me to start all over and approach it from a completely different angle. That’s when the list format of her describing all the people who murdered her came into play.

I was so thrilled when the finished story was accepted at Nightmare. But then the morning of the story’s release, I remember feeling this wistful melancholy, because I realized I would have to start saying goodbye to Lucy now that the story was out. It was that moment that I thought, “Why not expand the story into a full novel?” Instantly, I thought of putting Lucy with Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Jane Eyre. That original concept also included Sybil Vane from The Picture of Dorian Gray. My editor at Saga very wisely suggested that it might be a tighter story if I focused on just Lucy and Bertha. Now looking back, I can’t imagine having the space for all three in the story. That being said, I still have plans for Sybil Vane and Dorian Gray in a completely different story, so hopefully that will come to fruition one day as well. 

The story is set in Hollywood, in 1967 the Summer of Love and thus it seems the perfect blend of two of your interests horror and classic film.

This is a glittering city haunted by the ghosts of dead girls and dead dreams. In that way, Bee and I fit right in.

I love that line. It is a perfect encapsulation of the set up to the story. Before we talk about what happens let’s talk about the setting. 

The story is full of California details such as Cape Canaveral and the Mariner 5 launch. As well as movies like James Bond’s You Only Live Twice all of which are ripe with resonance. 

Why did you choose the time and the place to tell the story?

The 1960s have always fascinated me. I feel like there are some people that only think of them as being this fun time with flowers and hippies, but in reality, it was such an intense, tumultuous time. It was gritty and difficult but hopeful too with so many young people rising up and speaking out against oppression. In that way, I feel like it’s our best blueprint for how to move out of the current moment in time. 2022 is not so different from 1967. It gives me hope that people were able to move forward in many positive ways from that time period, so maybe we can too. 

I also love California as a setting, because it’s not only a place, but it also feels like a promise. There are certain ideals of American life that are centered in California. There’s the dream of stardom in Hollywood and the constant sunshine and the possibility. I even think of how the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath looked at it as a place of salvation. It’s a beautiful state (my husband and I were actually married in the Redwood Forest), and I haven’t been able to visit for years, so it was nice to go back there, even if only in my imagination. 

 The night it happened, there was no black cape or black bat or blood clotting Technicolor red across a crisp white blouse. It was far duller than that. Just me and him on an iron park bench at midnight. My broken curfew, his broken promise. A man who takes what he wants, and a girl who has to pay the price. That’s the way these stories always go.

Another wonderful line that shows this story is operating as both Lucy’s story and as every woman’s story. Another reason I love this paragraph is it takes a very gothic moment, a very gothic aspect of a classic moment in horror, in the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula a moment many of us have read and watched in several iterations — a moment that is “romanticized” and it de-gothics it, de-romanticizes it, and deconstructs it. As someone who thinks a great deal about stories and horror this paragraph delighted and excited me.

We are given the promise of Dracula not through the lens of a romanticized gaze, not through the lens of a heroic, anti-heroic, or villain we love or love to hate, but as a rule breaker, a wielder of power, and breaker of rules and trust.  Can you talk about this portrayal in the context of gender dynamics and the dynamics of power and abuse of power that so often come with it?

Growing up, I loved Dracula movies, especially the Hammer films, but I never for a moment found Dracula to be romantic. That actually confused me as a kid. To me, he was always a monster. Now monsters can of course be really cool, and I certainly think Christopher Lee was cool, but the horrifying aspects of his behavior, especially against women, were always apparent to me.

Writing Lucy and Dracula’s dynamic for the book was so much fun, because there’s such a push and pull between them. Plus, there’s only a few glimpses of these two characters together in the original novel, which meant that I could really guide what their relationship was without even having to address the preexisting literature. The sky was really the limit with the two of them, so that was so exciting as a storyteller. I did want to explore the experience of being bitten by a vampire from the perspective of the victim. That’s not something vampire films or books focus on quite as much. It’s usually more of a moment that’s played for titillation, but for Lucy, even in the original novel, this was a moment of utter danger and disorientation. I wanted to capture how real and visceral and cruel it is. I love that you say it “de-gothics” it, because that was exactly what I was going for: to make it horrifying but also a bit more mundane. Something recognizable and also something very human. Because as much as he’s a monster, the way Dracula breaks women’s trust is a remarkably human thing to do.   

Bertha Mason, the attic-bound wife of Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre is also undead and is Lucy’s roommate, friend, and companion in the story. The story opens with Lucy and Bertha known as “Bee” in the midst of their nightly ritual of going to a drive-in movie in Hollywood.

There are tales about Rocester and Dracula, books and movies where Bee and I have mostly been written out, deleted from our very own story, our own lives.

This book Lucy and Bee are center stage again. This is their stories. And they are telling them. Lucy Westenra might be more familiar to readers of horror than Bertha. Can you please tell us a bit about the novel Jane Eyre. And also what about it, or what inspired you to include Bertha in this story and have her team up with Lucy?

 Jane Eyre is such a tremendous work of gothic fiction, one of the absolute best. It follows the eponymous governess as she falls in love with her brooding employer, the rich and mysterious Edward Rochester, only to discover he’s harboring a dark secret in his sprawling estate. Spoiler: he’s got his first wife Bertha locked in the attic. 

cover of Reluctant ImmortalsBoth Lucy in Dracula and Bertha in Jane Eyre are characters that have so much potential, but in their original stories, they’re not given as much time on the page as I feel like they deserve. Likewise, the film adaptations tend to gloss over them to a certain extent. But the characters that are forgotten have often been the ones that have fascinated me the most. Since both Jane Eyre and Dracula are such classic, recognizable works of gothic fiction, I thought it would be so much fun to take two of their less-appreciated characters and see what would happen if they joined up and became allies. Reluctant Immortals gave me that opportunity, and honestly, it was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. They’re such rich characters, and I adore them both. I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to spend time with the two of them! 

Even in some of my favorite horror stories and films both classic and contemporary misogyny and chauvinism is present. I’m a newcomer to a lot of horror especially classic horror films. 

Upon seeing Suspiria for the first time one of my thoughts was how the story took for a given that the witches were evil, with barely a nod to their story. In Inferno, during an elevator ride the male lead scoffs when learning of the female lead’s profession and tells her his opinion of what a fitting occupation for a woman should be. Seeing scenes like that for the first time very recently as I did, I found them to be jarring and stood out from the rest of the film. 

The way I’ve come to terms with these examples and others like them is that they are depictions of the way things were and stand as an example and depiction of the past, “warts and all,” and act as a window to the way things were via a film made during the time. Which is awfully close to the “man of the times” argument, a sentiment which I find troubling. I don’t believe things should not be depicted and portrayed in art but I am all for calling things by name and calling them what they are.  What are some tropes and depictions of women in otherwise outstanding work that you’ve encountered that you find particularly vexing?

The way female characters are often reduced to a trope or a background character has always bothered me. Out of all genres, I feel like horror does this the least, but it definitely still happens sometimes. Also, when the female character’s entire motivation stems from being a wife and mother, that irks me as well. It can be such a trope that women are nothing more than mothers, and in films and books that treat them as these “mother bears” that will do anything for their kids, they often lack any additional motivation or character development, which is always so disappointing. As someone who’s childless by choice, I can’t connect with that at all. It’s so one-dimensional. 

However, a film that does a great job of subverting this trope is The Babadook. It was so fascinating and powerful to see a story delve into the apathy and internal conflict regarding motherhood. I would love to see even more books and films that either disregard motherhood as a motivator for female characters or show how complicated some women’s feelings are toward being a mother. Because it’s not as straightforward and simple as a lot of people try to make it seem.  

In addition to being a work with many levels lending itself to social commentary, Reluctant Immortals is fast-paced and fun and full of unique supernatural happenings. Mr. Rochester can call to Bee from somewhere hidden across the distances. Dracula, while divided up and in ashen form, also calls to and tempts Lucy as she tries to prevent his escape. 

Sunlight doesn’t kill us, it never has. That wasn’t one of the original rules, but these stories become twisted, don’t they? They take on a mind of their own, and suddenly you’re living in someone else’s invention of what you should be.

In addition to this being a book where Lucy takes her story back, new powers and additions to vampire lore are present and the record is “set straight” with some familiar ones.  For example we learn that vampires bring decay to the physical places they inhabit.

Tell us about these vampire and undead powers that are depicted in the book. And how you played with them, set them straight, and came up with new additions to the lore?

I’ve always loved how the vampire legend is so malleable. It feels like every new story adds something to it. In a way, we’re all authors of this folklore, which is so neat. In Reluctant Immortals, I wanted to play with the idea of Dracula’s ashes, specifically how he would still be sentient, since in the movies, he always rises from the grave again and again. Lucy’s done her best to subdue the ashes by keeping them in different urns, but his remains are always restless and have a mind of their own. That seemed like such a fun, campy homage to many of the Dracula films, especially the ones from Hammer. 

I also adore how every vampire castle is always filled with decay and cobwebs, so I decided to make that a feature of vampires: that decay literally follows them everywhere they go. Lucy can’t escape the rot and cobwebs even if she wants to. All the undead powers are a constant reminder that the past is always right there, seeping into the present. No matter where Lucy and Bee go, the memory of who they were is following them. The past and how it sticks with us has long fascinated me, because one way or another, we’re all haunting ourselves. 

We help each other. We’re only safe if we’re in this together.

This line has a lot of resonance for me. And is another example of a line that is both key to the plot and to the theme.

What does this line mean to you? What does it mean to Lucy and Bee?

Something that’s made me grow increasingly weary over the years is the idea of the “lone hero” who saves the day. That isn’t how life works. For true, lasting change to happen, we need to be working together. Lucy and Bee know this. They’ve come to understand how much they need each other if they’re going to not only survive but perhaps one day even thrive. 

Also, too often in stories, when you have multiple female characters, they tend to be in constant competition with each other in a way that can be really mean-spirited. Ironically, in the first draft of the book, I took out too much of the conflict between Lucy and Bee because I didn’t want it to be too “Mean Girls.” My editor fortunately pointed out that the tension was lagging in those sections, and instantly, I knew why. I was able to go back and build in more tension, while still maintaining that core of friendship and trust that they’ve developed. Because their friendship truly is the heart of the novel. 

Lucy and Bee aren’t the only characters from classic books that appear. Jane Eyre arrives at Lucy’s door early on in the story. And something she does by accident is the inciting incident that sets the story off. Without giving too much away what can you tell us about the story? What do you want readers to know going into this journey?

This is definitely not a traditional reimagining of Dracula or Jane Eyre. In many ways, Reluctant Immortals operates as a sequel as much as it does a retelling. There have been so many great versions of both these books already, and I wanted to go in a decidedly different direction with the story. It’s a little wild, a little psychedelic, and it’s written as if it’s a super feminist Hammer film. Basically, I put all the things I love into this novel: classic horror, female empowerment, and the strange and heady days of the 1960s. More now than ever, I think it’s important to remember the fighting, effervescent spirit of that era; we’re going to need it to get through these next few years in a very changed version of America.  

Let’s stop at this point, the point where the story takes off, and encourage everyone to pick up the book and take the journey with Lucy. You’ve mentioned you are fan of the actress Sharon Tate. What do you think of films like Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and others like it that while are set in and seek to portray the past, yet are not bound to the truth or a classic storyline?

I think with any revisionist history that you have to be careful, especially if there are still people alive from that time period. I definitely feel like there’s a certain amount of care and respect that storytellers owe their subjects if they’re based on real-life people. That’s even more important if they or their families are still around. 

As for Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, she wasn’t in the movie as much as I would have liked — I could have watched an entire film of just her as Sharon Tate — but I think her performance was really sweet and incandescent. It was also so much fun that during the following October, there were so many people dressed up as Margot’s version of Sharon for Halloween. It was a nice homage to her that for once didn’t focus on her death. So as a fan of Sharon, that certainly made me happy. 

One more question. The book is very cinematic and I could easily see it being done as a film. I could certainly see Anna Biller directing and producing it. Hollywood are you listening? The color and style of Biller’s film The Love Witch, one of my favorite films, would be perfect. Biller’s deft and clever screenplay shines a light on the hypocrisy and misogyny of the same era as Reluctant Immortals takes place in. My last question is do you mind if I send my ARC her way?

I absolutely adore Anna Biller, especially The Love Witch. It’s such a gorgeous and magical film, and I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I’ve seen it at this point. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who hasn’t watched it yet. Such a beautifully shot film with a fantastic color scheme like you mentioned! Now of course I want to go watch it again right away! 

So to answer your question, I would love for you to send the ARC her way! I’m sure she’s incredibly busy, but it makes me happy just thinking about her having a copy on her shelf somewhere!


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

photo of Daniel BraumDaniel Braum’s stories often explore the tension between the psychological and the supernatural. He is the author of the short story collections The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales (Cemetery Dance eBooks 2016), The Wish Mechanics: Stories of the Strange and Fantastic (Independent Legions 2017), the chapbook Yeti Tiger Dragon (Dim Shores 2016) and the novella The Serpent’s Shadow (Cemetery Dance eBooks 2019) His third collection, Underworld Dreams, was released from Lethe Press in September 2020 and is out now as an audio book. His novel Servant of the Eighth Wind is coming from Lethe Press in Summer of 2022.

He is the editor of the Spirits Unwrapped anthology. His work has appeared in publications ranging from Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and the Shivers 8 anthology edited by Richard Chizmar to the Best Horror of the Year Volume 12 edited by Ellen Datlow. He is the host of the Night Time Logic series, and the annual New York Ghost Story Festival. Please subscribe to his YouTube channel DanielBraum where you can find free streaming versions of Night Time Logic interviews, readings, and more. He can be found on social media and at

About the New York Ghost Story Festival

When the year grows old and December’s daylight departs too soon it is time to fill the dark nights with stories of ghosts and the supernatural. The New York Ghost Story Festival is an annual event of ghost story readings and discussion hosted by Daniel Braum founded in 2021, featuring authors of the uncanny, strange and fantastic from New York and around the globe.

Stay in touch at the Daniel Braum or Night Time Logic pages on social media. Visit for information and dates of the December 2021 Festival.

Visit the DanielBraum channel on YouTube to tune in live to the 2021 Festival (and other content) or watch it later at your leisure.

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