Introduction from Amazon: “John Palisano is well known to readers of Horror Library, Darkness On The Edge, Lovecraft eZine, Phobophobia, Lovecraft eZine, Harvest Hill, Halloween Spirits, the Bram Stoker nominated Midnight Walk, and many other publications. NERVES is his latest novel.
“Available Light” was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award® in 2013.
John’s had a colorful history. He began writing at an early age, with his first publications in college fanzines and newspapers at Emerson in Boston. He’s worked for over a decade in Hollywood for people like Ridley Scott and Marcus Nispel. He’s recently been working as a screenwriter and has seen much success with over a dozen short story sales and his novel NERVES gaining critical and reader acclaim. There’s more where that all came from. Lots more.
You can visit him at
where you can learn about the writer and his upcoming projects” (http://www.amazon.com/John-Palisano/e/B007EEH9JA/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1375536252&sr=8-1).
GL: Are you a pantzer or a plotter? Or, does it change—depending on what you’re writing?
JP: A little of both, actually. I studied screenwriting and fiction in college, and spent many countless hours in story development working in Los Angeles. That means three act structure is burned into my psyche, for better or for worse. I don’t like to set out knowing too much, initially, because then writing becomes kind of a fill-in-the-blanks kind of thing. But structure is very important to most people who will read your stuff. My rebellion against traditional Hero structure in NERVES rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. It also helped add suspense to the story. There wasn’t a single clear hero. Everyone’s doing beautiful things and then horrible things. It’s messy. This isn’t Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star and coming home to a parade. This is more how life is. It’s jagged. It meanders. It goes down the wrong path. Things don’t often end well for people who we love. To me, that’s just a hell of a lot more interesting than following a structure that was outlined a thousand years ago.
I do write out plots, though. Very often. This gives me a starting ground. If I’m stuck on a particular day, I can refer to it, and I can move forward. Or, as is often the case, I can deviate from it and go exploring.
With my screenplay work, though, structure is everything. Setting up the payoffs can be highly rewarding for both writer and audience. It’s like solving a mystery and finding ways to surprise within structure is just as valid and artistically challenging as going off the map.
When I was young, my father told me, “You need to learn the rules in order to break them.” So very true.
GL: You write fiction, screenplays and songs, so I’m very curious about which bands you listen to, if any, when writing your fiction and screenplays.
JP: Having studied the Method during college, ever so briefly, those lessons and tools stuck with me. I often put on songs the character might listen to, or find something representative. Very often it’s not something I usually listen to on my own. In both NERVES and BiPOLAR EXPRESS, creating music was necessary. I wrote an entire album with music and lyrics for Minnesota Flatts, who is a semi-famous r&b singer we find playing in a mid-sized venue. There needed to be details. Same thing for BiPOLAR EXPRESS. Manic Clause has a big show-stopper in “I’m So Glad (The World’s Sad)” and that required actually writing the song.
Being a musician, another big tool I use is composition. For most of my projects, at some point, I’ll write music for them. And not just soundtracks for possible films. More like soundscapes. These often inform the writing. I look for rhythms in the words during later drafts. I try to find the melodies. Of course, that’s not always possible or appropriate or needed, but often I do.
I think most creative people create in multiple disciplines, and are talented at them all. It’s just natural. Think of Clive Barker, who is a phenomenal painter. Also, and I’m lucky enough to have played with them, Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, and Dave Simms all are musicians, and fine ones at that. How can that not inform their writing? I’m convinced it does.
GL: You’ve been published by both big and small presses. What are some of the pros and cons of each?
JP: Most my experience has been with smaller presses. The nice thing is that you’re getting your work out there to an audience that’s ready for just what you’ve got. It’s also very hands on, in most cases. Roy Robbins from Bad Moon Books was absolutely the best possible shepherd for me. He and Liz worked so hard on getting NERVES just right. The cover art was fantastic. The layout was top notch. We even had two very detailed passes on the writing, which is unheard of.
On the flip side, I’ve been in some really sketchy anthologies. Some of them just look so thrown together it’s embarrassing. Those were early on, and kind of came and went, which was kind of a bummer, because sometimes you wait a year or more for a story to appear, only to find…my God…I can’t tell anyone about this. It looks dreadful. So you live and learn as you build your bibliography.
The bigger presses I’ve worked with have been fine. Mostly, it’s been pretty anti-climactic. They take the story. The check or PayPal comes quickly, and then the book appears. Then there’s usually no contact after that. So it’s bizarre to me in that regard. You’ve got a top notch book you’re in, but it’s kind of isolating. There have been a few of those cases that panned out completely differently, though. Some of the editors and myself have become great friends. So one never knows. Hopefully I’ll be able to still work with both.
Two of my biggest goals I’ve yet to accomplish are to get a story into one of the national magazines, and have a story or book that is widely available at traditional book stores like Barnes & Noble. I’m kind of close with an interview I did with Robert Englund for Fangoria that should be in September. That’s a national magazine, certainly in big book stores, and it has a touch of my writing in it. That’s a dream I never thought possible, so I never pursued it, but luck dropped it into my lap.
GL: How did NERVES and The BiPOLAR EXPRESS come about?
JP: NERVES is part of a much larger mythology that began with a short story (still unpublished) over ten years ago. I had a vision one morning of a man with clear skin where you could see through inside, only his organs were not like ours at all. Then he raised his hand and his nerves shot out from his fingertips. From there, I wrote a novel (not published yet) THE DIVINE and moved on. There were other books written, but I had this nagging story in my head which was NERVES. That took over a year to write because of the amount of world building I needed to do. There is a side book, SPICES, set in the same world, but with very different things happening, but some of the NERVES people bleed over. Currently I’m about halfway through a prequel to NERVES, which I don’t have a title for. I tried several times to jump back into the world and failed, stuck, having gone the wrong way inside. Now I’m knee deep into it and it’s a pleasure hanging around these people again. And hopefully this will answer many of the questions people had about NERVES. That book truly is the middle of a much larger story, and I hope readers stick around and read the others.
BiPOLAR EXPRESS is quite different than anything I’ve ever done. It’s almost pure parody and a lot of fun, I hope. It’s also quite slim compared to my other massive stories and will be my first novella. While downing Shock Tops at the Frolic Room in Hollywood one night, someone asked how I was doing. I told them, “still riding the BiPolar Express,” and the phrase stuck in my mind. From there it was a quick, fun write. The editors who picked it up enjoyed my previous work, and I knew they’d be a good home for it. Should be out by the end of summer.
GL: I recently had the pleasure of reviewing AFTER DEATH…, and there wasn’t a story in the collection that wasn’t an excellent read, but I was particularly struck by your story, as it combined horror and hope—a pairing I haven’t seen that often. Please tell readers a bit about how your story came about.
JP: I’d sent a story to the editor and he wasn’t that fond of it, so I licked my wounds and thought about why it might not have made it. Death is the heaviest of all topics (kind of like how D minor is the saddest of all keys, right Nigel?), so I knew I had to go somewhere special. In my case, whenever I really open a vein and bleed on the page, good things happen. If I try and shoehorn into some preconceived story idea, they just don’t work, and don’t sell. But when I get under the skin, and pour my soul out, then, Boom! That’s what works for me. FOREVER was very much like that. I was crying constantly while writing it and during editing it. I’m in animal rescue for my day gig, and have always had a special connection to animals, so imagining reuniting with one in the after life was magical. Who better to guide you into the next world?
Horror and Hope go hand in hand. That is what makes horror move. The final girls all have hope, and it’s 50/50 if they make it. In the deepest of our most horrific experiences, we have hope we will get through. As the Trade Centers fell, every one of us had hope they’d find survivors in the rubble. How amazing if they had. When my son was in the hospital, fighting a freak brain aneurysm, the absolute horror and uncertainty was coupled with tremendous hope he’d make it through. We’re blessed he has.
There is darkness ready to overtake each one of us. It’s a constant battle. Telling tales of horror allows us to confront our worst fears head-on, and hope we make it to the light on the other side.
GL: Great answer! Switching gears, I had the pleasure of meeting you in person at World Horror Con in New Orleans this year. Will you be at WHC 2014? What other conventions are you attending the tail end of 2013?
JP: I’ll be lurking around the Festival of Fear in Toronto at the end of August, KillerCon in Las Vegas in September, the West Hollywood Book Fair, and the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro, also in September. Likely more during October, if the HWA LA chapter gets some things up and running. Definitely will be at WHC 2014 in Portland. Really looking forward to seeing that city.
GL: Where can readers go to connect with you and your wonderful work?
JP: I’m easy.