In Convo with Dino Parenti at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Hi, Dino! So, what can you tell my readers  to pick up? 

Dino Parenti – Well, two days ago I finished the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead which just won the Pulitzer and the National Book award in the same year. The book is amazing, it’s beautifully written, wonderful prose, but it is a brutal, brutal book, subject matter-wise, but it’s amazing. Just started reading today The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch. I’m only in chapter one but the book, it’s just awesome. I’m already hooked. She wrote The Small Backs of Children. Lidia Yuknavitch is an amazing writer and that’s pretty much it right now, and really whatever short stories I can get my hands on. 

MK -And what is it you do for the industry? 

DP – Right now I’m a writer and I’m also one of the fiction editors for Gamut. We’re in hiatus right now because we just fulfilled our slots for 2017. 

MK – I know! That’s incredible. Congratulations.

DP – We were getting slammed with submissions. The first time we opened for submissions we closed in twenty-four hours. The second month we closed within twelve hours.

MK – Twelve?

DP – We cap at three hundred submissions. They just rolled in, which we are thankful for. We’ve had some great work come in. I don’t know when we’ll open up for 2018, I mean, assuming we’ll still be up and running at that point. 

MK – I’m sure you will, if you’ve had this much traction in just the first part of the year. 

DP – Yeah, but we are subscription based, so go to the website and subscribe. You’ll benefit from some wonderful and awesome fiction you can really sink your teeth into. 

MK – Go to Gamut! Keep them alive! Now, you, Dino Parenti, are one of the sponsors here at StokerCon

DP – Gamut is a sponsor. Our names are on the gift bags and we’re here and we have this purple tag on our name tag so, we’re fortunate enough to listen to all of the wonderful panels and so far it’s been fun.

MK – Have you been to other StokerCons?

DP – No! No, this is my first ‘con’ ever. And this is my first interview ever. 

MK – It’s a pleasure. Tell me, would you encourage writers to come to StokerCon? I realize it’s only the second day but…

DP – If you really want to meet the writers, you’re not going to find a more open and accepting bunch of people and I mean, people think ‘horror writer’ and assume we’re weird but really…

MK – They think we’re scary.

DP – Right? And we’re teddy bears. Teddy bears with issues but still, teddy bears.

MK – I’ve heard too that horror writers are more empathetic, because if you write horror, you tend to want to connect with what makes people tick, what makes them scared.

DP – Yes! And I’ve been to the literary functions and there are some incredibly stuffy people hanging around so, it’s hard to find down to earth people. The great thing about this field is, it was known as “genre”, but it’s becoming so much richer than that. There’s incredible literary merit in everything you’ll find here, for sure. 

MK – Indeed. I did a study last year where I read the most beautiful horror I could find. BirdBox, When we Were AnimalsMongrels,  The Fisherman. So, I have this theory that the horror authors are making a breakthrough that other writers in other genres aren’t. I have read some beautiful fantasy and sci-fi but it seems to be the horror writers that are making the most drastic leaps. Could you give me a comment on that idea? 

DP – Good craft is good craft, whatever genre you are writing on. Gamut is doing a series of “craft videos”—you can buy them online—and mine was how genre and literary actually make perfect bedfellows. The rules still apply, regardless of if you’re writing a straight literary piece or a “genre” you still have to delve into character arc and motivation. How you employ language, point of view, setting and atmosphere and how they all work together to tell the story. Horror writers get the worst rap because I think it’s hard for people to think that the horrific can also be beautiful or, vice versa. 

MK – Totally. We all need to respect each other as writers. 

DP – Exactly. We’re all in the same boat. [He says this, arms extended, aboard the Queen Mary] Literally! It’s a disservice to pit writers against each other, to say that what someone does in the New Yorker is any different than what someone in Cemetery Dance does. If you could lay them out on a cutting board, all the same stuff is coursing through their system. 

We’re all in the same [totally haunted] boat.

MK – Anything you want to add? 

DP – Read more horror! Read reviews and get your hands dirty. Be brave. Read horror. It may be scary but it’s stuff we all deal with. 

When not scribbling twisted musings into spiral notebooks, photographing the odd puddle or junk pile, or building classy furniture, Dino Parenti earns a little scratch drawing buildings. He’s also one of the fiction editors at Gamut Magazine. When not plowing through slush, he writes. His work can be found in a several anthologies, as well as the following journals: Pantheon Magazine, Cease-Cows, Pithead Chapel, Menacing Hedge, and the Lascaux Review, where he won their first annual flash fiction contest. His short-story collection, Dead Reckoning and other stories, has been recently accepted for publication and slated for an early 2018 release with Crystal Lake Publishing.

*This interview originally appeared in Dwarf + Giant

In Convo with John Palisano at StokerCon 2017

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.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant

In Convo with Paul Tremblay

Lisa Quigley – I actually read your two most recent novels—A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock—back to back. Needless to say, I’m a little traumatized. But, what intrigued me about both of them is that the supernatural element (in both of them) is never really explained or even really confirmed or verified. So you’re left wondering, was that aspect really real, or were they imagining it, or what? Which is almost more terrifying than having it explained, I think. Would you explain your thought process for choosing to make those elements of the novel more ambiguous?

Paul Tremblay – You are a wonderful glutton for punishment!  Or ambiguity…

Treating the supernatural as ambiguous (ie. is there really something supernatural going on or not?) is one of the links between the two novels. I wanted what happened in reality to be the most horrific aspects of each novel, with the hope that the ambiguity and maybe-supernatural would be what lingered and nagged at the reader once they were finished with the novels. Some of that satisfies my own skeptic’s brain; it’s difficult for me to commit to full on supernatural-ness. If that’s not a word, it is now. I try to take a realistic approach to the supernatural insofar as I think that if I were to personally experience a supernatural event, I believe it would be very subtle, difficult to describe or explain or identify. It wouldn’t be obvious that something supernatural happened and I’d be left with doubt and a sense of something being off, a glimpse of the cracks of things.

LQ – There’s a lot of social media in your newest novel, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, almost to the point of commentary in my reading of it. It’s like, there are all these pros and cons. It unites us in a really empowering, global way, but it can also be really horrifying when people’s unfiltered thoughts are just unchecked and on display like that. What are your thoughts on social media?

PT – Besides the ambiguous supernatural element, I wanted to treat Tommy’s disappearance as realistically as possible. I wanted to zoom in on the emotions that his friends and family would be experiencing, and also explore what the day-to-day would look like during the investigation, and what that all would look like now, particularly if something weird was happening at the edges.

There are definite pros and cons to social media. Without going too far down that rabbit hole, giving voice to the voiceless and instant data and reaction are/can be great things. At the same time, social media gives people as false sense of safety and comfort. Social media attention often muddies the waters and makes incidents/tragedies worse. Just last week the Twitterverse was sharing the name and photo of a man who was not the Dallas shooting suspect, right?

I’m addicted to social media and I’ve become more and more, if not frightened by it, then anxious over it.

LQ – I loved when Elizabeth goes down a google rabbit hole after her mother sends her the article about “felt presences.” And then the comment about how the article was the kind that people usually share without reading the entire thing. It’s funny, I remember being a kid/teenager, and when I wanted to learn about something, I had to watch a documentary or go to the library. Now, there’s google and, not to mention, everybody sharing everything (true or not) on facebook, on twitter, etc. It’s a virtual information shitshow. (Haha.) Do you think this has helped and hindered us and the way we now absorb information/learn things?

PT – It’s done both, though I fear that we may be reaching a point in the Internet’s brief history where we should be calling it the ‘misinformation age.’ That both Google and Facebook curate their algorithms and pages according to the users data, which means the user on sees what she/he is predisposed to believe in, which in turn hinders learning, discussion, and the sharing of true information. Instead, we get comments sections…

LQ – I’m curious about the decision to include Tommy’s journal entries as actually handwritten, along with his drawing of the “shadowman.” What was the thought process behind doing that, rather than allowing the reader to conjur these images with their imagination?

PT – I wanted the diary pages to look more personal, more like they actually came from Tommy. I think that kind of visual cue can make for a more powerful connection to the character for the reader.

The drawing of the “shadowman” is so important to the story plot-wise, I wanted the reader to have that image. Again, I think it help to build Tommy’s character; you get to see part of his personality, his talent as an artist, and whatever it was he saw or experienced.

Besides, it was also an excuse to ask one of my favorite artists, Nick “The Hat” Gucker, for an illustration. He’s such a talented and gracious guy. Now I have to write more books with pictures in them…

LQ – It’s hard for me not to compare your two most recent novels to each other, given that I read them back-to- back. And though there are similarities between them—I’m thinking of the blog/reality TV show in Ghosts, and the social media/Internet in Disappearance—they are also very different in tone, voice, and texture. Tell me a bit about your writing process—how do you hone in on the specific tone/style of whatever you’re working on?

PT – For every choice I make in the novel writing process, my first question is ‘does this serve the story? Everything from setting, character, style, and point of view. A Head Full of Ghosts would not have worked as a third person account. It would’ve been a cheat. Merry had to be the one telling the story and from her unreliable first person point of view. I didn’t think Disappearance at Devil’s Rock would’ve worked as first person as I needed multiple character point of views and it wasn’t going to be as expansive (and certainly nowhere near as brilliant) as Marlon Jones’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, where his story had the space for all those amazingly constructed first person voices. DaDR needed to be close third (for the most part), with a similar style and tone, I think, throughout, to help build a claustrophobic feeling.

LQ – More about your writing process: Your books often have terrible, dark secrets that are revealed at the end. Do you start off knowing what those things are and then work your way backwards? Or is the process one of discovery for yourself as much as it is for the readers?

PT – It depends on the story. I got lucky with A Head Full of Ghosts in that I knew the structure of the story almost right away. I knew where it started and where it would end, and I only had to figure out how to get from A to Z. When I get to work that way, I find it fun to have a beginning and ending in mind, and then the challenge is to find the winding path between them in the middle.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was much different. I wrote a 15 page plot summary before writing the book, and before that I filled a whole bunch of notebook pages with plot ideas and character sketches and the like. That book was pieced together over a much longer period of time and through many revisions and edits, including an ending in the first draft that was slightly different than what we ended up with.

For me it’s less about finding the process that works me, or any notion of a personal process, but the process that works best for that particular story. I think that keeps things fresh for me, and it feels like I’m starting over from scratch each time I start a new novel.

LQ – Something that makes me giddy is the way your novels are genre-bending. I’ve heard them described as ‘literary horror.’ Do you do that on purpose? What are your thoughts on the ‘genre’ vs. ‘literary’ debate?

PT – I do. It’s my agenda. Muhahahaha!

Horror remains, I think, the genre that is most associated with its worst works; the mostly crappy and exploitative Hollywood films (not the good movies, which are almost all indie productions).

That said, I do think we’re seeing a shift toward a more progressive and inclusive attitude toward genre, but you still see asshat comments (reeking of classism and narcissism, among other things…) like the following from Glen Duncan in a review of Colston Whitehead’s Zone One:

“Colson Whitehead is a literary novelist, but his latest book, ‘Zone One,’ features zombies, which means horror fans and gore gourmands will soon have him on their radar. He has my sympathy.”

I interviewed the great Peter Straub recently and he said the following as a part of an answer to the genre question: “…everybody of any sense, anyone who can read at all well, should understand it’s the way the things are written and not what their content is. There are good books and bad books.” I’m on team Peter. The very idea that horror genre elements would preclude or disqualify the use of character development, style, theme, symbolism, and any other techniques of literature is patently ridiculous.

Horror fans are not blameless in the literary vs. genre discussion as far too often readers will view or use “literary” as a pejorative. But as I said above, I’m hopeful these attitudes are changing.

LQ – Which authors did you grow up reading? Who were you most inspired by?

PT – I didn’t fall in love with reading until I was a mathematics graduate student. I didn’t know any better…

Second semester senior year I found my way into a freshman lit class (don’t ask) and I read Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” and it blew me away. I had no idea people wrote stories like that. Soon after, my girlfriend (now my wife) bought me Stephen King’s The Stand for my birthday. I inhaled it. And then for two years in graduate school, struggling to get my degree, I read all the King books, and moved on to Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson, more Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, and so many more.

LQ – Who are your current favorite authors?

PT – I’m afraid to leave some of them off here, but, let’s go with…

John Langan, Laird Barron, Liz Hand, Stephen Graham Jones, Megan Abbott, Victor LaValle, Livia Llewellyn, Nathan Ballingrud, Jeffrey Ford, Aimee Bender, Junot Diaz, Mark Danielewski, Nick Mamatas, Kelly Link, Stewart O’Nan, Sara Gran, Michael Cisco, Brian Evenson, and I know I’m leaving off many others…

LQ – Okay, I’ve got to mention it: Stephen King blurbs your novel A Head Full of Ghosts. How did it make you feel to hear that that though he’s not easily scared, your novel terrified him?

PT – You mean August 19, 2015…yes, I have the day of his tweet memorized… I fell in love with reading, never mind writing, because of Stephen King. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got emotional when I read his tweet about the book.

Other friends had seen the tweet before I did and my phone was blowing up with notifications. It was a fun way to find out. I immediately sat down with a few adult beverages and my laptop, and watched people react to it for a little bit. That was a good night.

LQ – Do you have any book recommendations, anything new and fresh we should know about?

PT – Stephen Graham Jones’s coming of age/road/werewolf novel Mongrels. Joshua Gaylord’s werewolf novel without any werewolves When We Were Animals. John Langan’s epic The Fisherman. Livia Llewellyn’s collection Furnace. Laird Barron’s forthcoming collection Swift to Chase. Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom. A little bit off the beaten path, but Karen Runge’s collection, Seven Sins, is just fantastic too.

LQ – We’ve got a lot of readers who are also writers. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

PT – Read, read, read, and read some more, and as widely as possible.

Also, it’s okay to have patience with your writing and career. Don’t let jealousy take over your mental energies. You can fool yourself into believing it’s healthy and motivational, but it isn’t.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant