horror writers association

Cultivation & Connection at StokerCon 2018


A professor from my alma-mater 

told me I needed to start going to conventions.

I’d been feeling down and unaccomplished. I still only had a handful of articles published and getting an agent seemed to be a very far away dream. I was toying with the idea of getting a Ph.D. and had applied to Georgia State and the University of Colorado. I thought about trying my hand at being an agent and looked into internships. I had shopped a book around that was drafts away from being ‘complete.’

I was Lost with a capital L.

If you’ve ever been Lost, you’ll remember, you tend to get desperate and look for help in every nook and cranny. You hope that someone, anyone, some other fellow traveler, might hold that one piece of helpful information. That one crucial tidbit that will nudge you off the edge into what would hopefully be much needed water.

I (unprofessionally) began to talk about my plights at my grad school’s alumni party. A professor I hadn't worked with and had only spoken to a handful of times during my studies pulled me aside. He said that I needed to stop spinning in circles. I needed to start going to conventions and shaking hands.

“That’s the only way you’ll meet people,” he told me, empathetic and kind.

I gave the usual excuses.

“I’m broke. What about my husband, job and dogs?”

“Figure it out,” he said.

That’s where is started. He’s one of the people I need to go back in time and thank, because he was the fellow traveler who took the time to set down his drink and explain it to me in small, understandable, meaningful words.

So: Thank you.

I went to conventions. A blog I worked for at the time (Dwarf+Giant) was only too pleased to have me go and be boots on the ground. The first one I attended was StokerCon 2017. I knew a couple of my friends were going and figured it was a good place to start. I was so broke I stayed for only two days instead of four, mostly drank green tea and crashed on friend’s couches on the way down to LA from Northern California.

I drove the entire state for this one.

And three incredible things happened. What do they say about life? Most of it is just showing up?


One. I was able to give Dwarf+Giant five interviews and a write up of the Con. I had new material to share and publish. To this day, the authors I spoke with are near and dear to me. They’re the first ones to reach their hands out into the void and offer their assistance should I ever want to talk to anyone else. All I have to do is ask.

Two. One of those authors hired me.

A fledgling literary magazine, Gamut, was hot off the press and I desperately wanted in. They were dark and gritty and aware. The editor-in-chief was Richard Thomas, a friend of my graduate program. After we met at the Con, Richard reached out to me and asked if I could help out.

Three. I got to meet George R. R. Martin. My former professor-turned-mentor, Stephen Graham Jones, knew I had a deep, unhealthy love for GRRM. You know. The kind where you just want to revert back to a five-year-old, sit on the person’s feet, squeeze their legs hard and keep them rooted to the ground?

But I’m way chill about it.

Stephen introduced us. Not only did I get to chat with Martin, but he also asked to
see an essay I wrote about his craft during graduate school. Regardless of if he actually
read it or not, my essay sat in GRRM’s inbox.


So, by putting myself out there at just ONE convention, I changed the trajectory of my life. Gripped the bull by the horns. Ran the train off its tracks.

 Later, I had the pleasure of going to World Fantasy for Gamut, where I met with Tananarive Due and Karen Joy Fowler: two amazing powerhouse women who dominate both the fantasy and horror genres. Not only did I go with the intention of meeting people, but that time, I got paid for it.

StokerCon 2018 was the first event Lisa and I attended together to represent our fledgling project, Ladies of the Fright. I’m pleased to report that just by reaching out our hands, just by being there, we rerouted everything in the best way. Ladies of the Fright took root. We aren’t going anywhere.

We started our podcast as a fun way to talk about everything dark. We thought it was a cool and interesting idea. To our great surprise and delight, people agree with us.

Because of StokerCon, Lisa and I were able to grab the wheel and turn.


May our past life trajectory remain quiet and untraveled. Gather snow. We’re on a new road now, and we’re so thankful for everyone who’s helping us pave the way.

Please: new reader, author, editor, enthusiast. Go to these conventions.

Go to the classes. Watch Grady Hendrix perform stories. Listen to Paul Tremblay lecture about Shirley Jackson. Hug Ellen Datlow. (I mean, ask her first. Be cool.) Wait forever for the elevator, and then sidle in among friends. Buy books. Introduce yourself. Bring business cards. You never know who you may run into. Who you may just click with.

Oh. And look for us. We’ll be there. By the glass elevator that overlooks the city. One way or another, Lisa and I will be bringing our podcast to these events because the people, that’s what it’s all about. And we want to find them, tell their stories. Help them get their words out into the world.

We’re going to.

Go find yourself at StokerCon. Wrap arms and legs around the new you and never let go. 




It’s 1988 and everything is perfect.

Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since they were ten.

They’ve shared everything. They eat together. They play volleyball together. They share the same group of friends and sleep over at each other’s houses, even on weeknights. When Abby has terrible, awful skin problems, Gretchen buys her make-up. When Gretchen isn’t allowed certain kinds of music, Abby introduces her to Madonna. They sing Billy Joel at the top of their lungs and call each other at 11:06 every night.

And then a demon possesses Gretchen.

Abby watches Gretchen grow distant, dirty, and overall just not herself. To Abby, it seems like everywhere Gretchen goes, evil, destruction, and chaos follow. As the one who knows Gretchen best, Abby is the only one who can truly help her.

Abby will have to call upon an unlikely exorcist, her love for Gretchen, and a different brand of faith to get her best friend back.

The back of the book says it best. “My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession.” This book? It’s like someone combined The Exorcist and Breakfast Club. The Omen and Sixteen Candles.

Fire up the DeLorean, this book takes you to the past and gives you everything you could expect from a demonic possession story (vomit, blood, and evil) while simultaneously pulling you along a classic 1980’s high school story that spills over with the usual tropes of love, best friend adventures, and a solid soundtrack. When it’s over, you’re left in a puddle crying, wanting more.

Damn you, Grady Hendrix. Damn you for writing the perfect book.

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