Editor’s note: StokerCon is the annual convention of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) when, among other things, they honor the Bram Stoker Award winners. This year, the 4 day event was held at the historic and very haunted Queen Mary. We sent our own intrepid Mackenzie Kiera into the mouth of the beast to look around, and haven’t heard from her since. Luckily, she dashed off a few reports before… POOf. We don’t know, she’s just gone.
Mackenzie Kiera – Hi, John! Could you tell me who you are?
John Palisano – I’m John Palisano. Vice President of the Horror Writers Association. Bram Stoker Award winning author.
MK – Very cool. What year did you win?
JP – Last year! 2016.
MK – What brought you to HWA?
JP – I joined fifteen years ago. I met Lisa Morton when she was at the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood and I was trying to get back into the fiction world after being in the movie business—I’d been writing screenplays—and I love it. It’s an amazingly supportive organization for new writers and I felt like I had met my tribe.
MK – So what’s the name of your Stoker award?
JP – It was a short story and it won for Outstanding Achievement in Short Fiction. It’s called “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop,” and it was in the anthology Eighteen Wheels of Horror, edited by Eric Miller.
MK – What are you working on now?
JP – I’m writing a couple of short stories for a new anthology, it’s called Monsters Exist. And there’s another really fun story I’m working on for a book called Alternate Histories, or, something like that. I don’t think they’ve settled on a title. I chose Marilyn Monroe, and everyone thinks Marilyn was ditsy but she was actually very smart. In the story I have her as an undercover agent and she has the ability to call out demons, and there’s a demon that’s making the Korean war happen, so she goes into the jungle, does her little act and then she goes into the jungle while everyone’s asleep and glams this demon out of the forest—out of the woods of Korea—captures him in a diamond, puts him on her finger and walks out.
MK – So, diamonds really are a girl’s best friend?
JP – [Laughs] Absolutely, because, if you know anything about Marilyn, she’s very intellectual. Avid reader.
MK – Was she?
JP – Oh, yes. That’s why she married Arthur Miller. She was wicked smart. So, for the short story, I thought it would be so perfect because no one would suspect that she really has a demon on her finger. The story is called: “The Prince of Darkness and the Showgirl.”
MK – Nice!
JP – It’s been really fun to write.
MK – So, short stories tend to be your wheelhouse?
JP – I write everything. I write non-fiction, I write for Fangoria, I’ve written for Dark Discoveries and soon, hopefully, for BlumHouse. I’ve done screenplays over the years, I have had some tiny films made. My first love is fiction and poetry. Like beat poetry. I love it.
MK – Have you tried your hand at poetry?
JP – Sure. I have a couple published poems out there. I was in a collection that was Alfred Hitchcock themed and my poem was titled: “Mother You Can Watch.” I have another big poem in the HWA Poetry Showcase called, “Meet the Beetles.” That poem is about a battered wife who kills her abusive husband by putting poisonous spiders in his bed, and the poem is all watching him slowly decay as the flies and beetles go into him, and the beetles ultimately fly away with what’s left of him into big clouds and then disperse. It’s a riff on the Beatles album.
MK – Very scarab-like.
JP – Yes, it absolutely has Egyptian-like qualities because, you think: “How can we dispatch of someone these days?” It’s really hard because they can find anything. And, for a while, you could feed a body to a wild boar. That doesn’t work anymore because now they can test the DNA of the pigs guts for traces, whereas they couldn’t before. I was so angry because I was like, well damn. I should have acted sooner.
MK – Maybe now all of your stories can take place in the eighties? Before the DNA tech savvy stuff came out. So, what can you suggest for people to read at The Last Bookstore. What are you reading right now?
JP – What am I reading right now? I just read Michael Griffin’s Hieroglyphs of Blood and Stone and it’s unbelievable. A very slow burn. It’s more haunting than visceral, I tend to go towards that, because, I love the new horror that’s out, the weird-fiction and the noir. It isn’t about that crazy guy chasing teenagers, it’s about a different kind of ‘crazy’ and it’s more reflective of the times. What’s scary these days is that life is changing, the world is changing and a lot of people are getting upset. Political opportunities, doors closing, and all of it’s horrific because you start to wonder if you have a future anymore and there’s a collective helplessness that has invaded our country and I think the art is starting to reflect that. That’s something horror has always done, is reflect the times. If you think of the zombies, that’s when they first came out they were kind of immigrant based in the 20s and 30s. They came off ships. Then they were brought back in the sixties, around when there was nuclear fear. They were the ‘living dead’ zombies and were created from nuclear bombs. And then in the seventies, they were in the mall, and were reflective of consumerism. Now, with The Walking Dead, I think it’s reflecting terrorism. So, horror always reflects the times.
MK – So, any other books you would recommend?
JP – The Fisherman, by John Langan was excellent. I think I’m not alone in being obsessed with Stephen Graham Jones and trying to track down everything he writes. I mean, Mongrels is just . . . it blew my mind and it’s a very different style.
MK – Indeed. And the two books that you mentioned? Have you noticed that horror writers are bridging the gap between literary and genre?
JP – Yes! You’re right! It’s a beautiful thing that’s happening, and I hear there are even publishers that are calling it, ‘literary horror.’ Trying to distinguish between say, a slasher from Frankenstein. But really, I think the thing with a writer, is it’s so much about the voice of the storyteller, people ask me, “Why was Twilight popular, why was Fifty Shades of Gray popular?” It’s all in the voice. So, if there’s a voice you can connect with, no matter what, you’re on board with that character. Think about Stephen King or Anne Rice, you feel it: the escape. The world.
MK – Is that what you like to create most? Other worlds?
JP – I try. And you know, when you write a short story, there’s just as much world building as, when you write a novel, sometimes. Because if you really want to do it well, you’ve got to know all these details.
MK – Absolutely.
JP – So, a lot of times when you’re writing a short story you have to build it all and maybe you only use a sliver, in a novel you can use the whole thing.
MK – And you enjoy that?
JP – I do. It’s pleasurable.
MK – Anything else you would like to share?
JP – I’ve always enjoyed writing. I love everything about it. The process. I mean, I do a lot of other things. I’ll play music or draw or something. Actually, if you’re a writer, you tend to have many different talents because if you’re creative, you’re creative.
MK – Absolutely. So, where can we look out for you?
JP – My website is my name, JohnPalisano.com and I’m on Facebook and Twitter, where you can find me pretty easily. I love talking to people, as you may have noticed.
MK – It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for your time and congratulations on your Stoker award.
John Palisano has a pair of books with Samhain Publishing, Dust of the Dead, and Ghost Heart. Nerves is available through Bad Moon. Starlight Drive: Four Halloween Tales was released in time for Halloween, and his first short fiction collection All That Withers is available from Cycatrix press, celebrating over a decade of short story highlights. Night of 1,000 Beasts is due soon from Sinister Grin press.
He won the Bram Stoker Award© in short fiction in 2016 for “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop”. More short stories have appeared in anthologies from Cemetery Dance, PS Publishing, Independent Legions, DarkFuse, Crystal Lake, Terror Tales, Lovecraft eZine, Horror Library, Bizarro Pulp, Written Backwards, Dark Continents, Big Time Books, McFarland Press, Darkscribe, Dark House, Omnium Gatherum, and more. Non-fiction pieces have appeared in FANGORIA and DARK DISCOVERIES magazines.