The 13th Floor

Exclusive Interview: Author John Palisano on the Art of Horror and the Horror of Heartbeak

John Palisano may be a new name for many horror readers. But his gradual climb to the literary limelight has been through all the briars and obstructions that life throws in an artist’s way.

His short fiction has been nominated three times for the Bram Stoker Award; he’s won the John H. Edmond award for some literary pieces, and the Latent Image award in screenwriting; he also had a script hit the top 100 in Project Greenlight. His story “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop” made it onto this year’s Preliminary Ballot for the Stoker Awards, along with the anthology it appears in: 18 WHEELS OF HORROR, edited by Eric Miller. His new novel GHOST HEART was just published.

The story of Palisano’s writing career is one of perseverance. He told us more about it in this recent interview…

18 wheels

BLUMHOUSE.COM: You’ve been working on your prose writing for about a decade. Prior to that, you’d done some songwriting. What made you concentrate on prose?

JOHN PALISANO:  I toured all over the east coast with one of my alternative rock bands shortly before college. I always had a notebook with me for songs, but often found myself exploring the places we’d play by myself. I liked hitting parks or coffee shops and writing stories; it was a way I recharged to prep for the gigs. There were some good ideas back then, but I hadn’t quite found a voice. That took me much longer.

BH: You went from short story to novel writing. How did that progression help you?

JP: Well, publicly at least… having short stories placed in pro markets was hard. It may seem easy on the outside these days, with so much self-published and micro-pressed work, but being in a pro-rate book took a lot of time. After a few of these appearances, and meeting publishers, they’d inevitably ask if I had anything longer. I was ready, having literally several unpublished novels in wait; only the very last of those was truly ready. That became NERVES, which was reviewed well, but didn’t exactly set sales records. It took another three years to find a publisher and editor willing to try something again.

The biggest lesson, no matter who you’ve published with, is to diversify where you publish. In this modern climate, it’s imperitive to have your assets spread out. Any publisher can drop you or go out of business, no matter what. That’s good financial advice for anything, really.

BH: Have you been doing something differently with your writing? The focus on the story seems to have zeroed in for you. What inspired that change?

JP: I’ll be honest here and reveal the biggest things that happened to change my writing were traumas. My son went through a grueling period early on of being in and out of the hospital; it was touch-and-go and very brutal on my psyche. In the midst of this, my father suffered a terrible stroke. When I came back from visiting him, I was shocked to find divorce papers. I still am unsure what really happened. But that betrayal of the American Dream broke me and brought me to zero.

I literally began rewriting myself, and the writings, always a constant, followed suit. I was able to access and communicate emotions at a new level. I think that was the aspect that pushed me forward… that opening of a vein and bleeding on the page… that place is what I believe connected with editors, and eventually readers.


BH: You have just become vice president of the Horror Writers Association, which is the premiere organization for horror authors. What are your feelings on that new role?

JP: I believe horror fiction has so much to offer. It’s a place for many who feel disenfranchised; it’s very therapeutic; it can comment on issues in ways other genres can’t without feeling patronizing. The world is a horror story already — our [stories] give readers a healthy, proactive way to put it all in perspective and to work out what’s happening.

They say art should be a reflection of its environment, allowing for dialogue and thought; that’s what great horror does, and why it connects with audiences consistently. Think of how horror stories have empowered people!

BH: If you could back up a decade and approach the business of writing and publishing differently — based on what you’ve learned — would you do it?

JP: Honestly? I was the one who had to grow into this place of being where what I was working on was worthy. I wanted to grow a readership slowly and thoughtfully. I’m just beginning to see that take hold, because they’re ready… and I’m finally ready, too.