Horror Writers Association Blog

Halloween Haunts 2013: Opening the Vein by John Palisano


Palisano_nervesWe’ve heard for years how to write. We’ve learned three-act structure, possibly subconsciously, through countless hours of movies, television shows, and novels. We’ve read articles about sentence structure, grammar, what kind of dialogue tags to use, point of view, how to format the best of our best for submission. You name it. But there’s something else that I feel is equally as important as all the above. That’s opening the vein. Ripping open your heart. Spilling your guts on the page. Making the emotional connection.

But what will make the difference? How does one connect to other people? How do we reach through our letters and phrases and stick our knives in other people’s hearts?

We open our own.

We go to our darkest places. Our most embarrassing, vulnerable, cringe-inducing lows need to be had. These are the places we are most human, and others might recognize within their own lives. It’s that emotional truth that needs to be present. It’s not easy.

Readers can tell if it’s insincere or censored. Putting it all out there is terrifying. But if we’re not terrified, how can we expect anyone else to be? If we’re not in love so bad it hurts, or hurting so bad we love it, any soul reading our words will know it.

Of course there are plenty of okay stories out there. That’s fine, too. There’s lots of fun stuff to kill the time. Lots of mediocrity to zone out into. Summer tent pole movies. Formulaic sitcoms. By the numbers novels written for mass consumption. Perfectly cool, and there’s certainly a place for them to be enjoyed.

But what we’re talking about here is a certain transcendence; horror at its very best brings us to the scariest places within. The areas where we not only might have cracked, but have split in two and our guts are spilled, our hearts are beating and moving across the floor, slipping in our blood and bile, our most intimidate insides open and exposed to examination. It’s within these messy depths our real stories are found and told. It is where we discover our individuality and uniqueness.

It’s not always about the big moments in our stories or readily apparent in our pitches and jacket copy. Sure: family moves from city to suburb after a job loss and find their house haunted. We’ve seen such a story countless times, haven’t we? It’s up to the writer to find a unique spin. Their voice. Their guiding hand. Their pain. Their joy. Their in-betweens. Tell the story only you can. After all, your version of, The Shining would feel like an entirely different book than anyone else’s, or at least is should, if you’re playing with all those newly freed internal organs we discovered on the bloody floor a few paragraphs back.

Horror at its best has a heart. It feels. Hurts. Loves. Heals. It can be a mirror of many of life’s disappointments, tragedies, fears, and losses. The stories reflect the reader, allowing the story to become a part of the reader just as the reader sees themselves inside the story. We fight the darkness together. Inside the pitch black tunnel, we guide the way. It doesn’t always end well, but there’s always a chance it could…that there might be relief and a break from the agony, even if, as is so often the case, tragedy is just a zombie’s hand jumping out of the dirt away for the whole damn thing to start again.

So open your vein with a rusty old pen, dig deep, and let it all leak out onto the page. You’ll pass out on the floor, but they’ll find a manuscript warm and sticky, hot with that organic human scent. Maybe, if you hit the right juncture, at just the right moment, they’ll  be unable to look away, even though they know they should. The words will stick. They’ll resuscitate you and hold up that bloody page, and as you fade back in, you’ll hear them say, “more, please,” and you’ll offer your arm, eager to please, ready to bleed one more time.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: John is offering one free e-book copy of Nerves.

Giveaway Rules: Enter for the prize by posting in the comments section. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail. You may enter once for each giveaway, and all entrants may be considered for other giveaways if they don’t win on the day they post. If you would like to comment without being entered for the giveaway, include “Not a Giveaway Entry” at the end of your post. You may also enter by e-mailing memoutreach@horror.org and putting HH CONTEST ENTRY in the header.

Palisano_bioJOHN PALISANO is a Bram Stoker Award® nominated author with dozens of short stories, novels, and more, in circulation in venues such as Blood Type, Horror Library, Darkness On The Edge, Lovecraft eZine, Phobophobia, 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 as his novel Nerves is gaining critical and reader acclaim. There’s more where that came from.

You can visit him at: www.johnpalisano.wordpress.com

AMAZON Author Page: 

12 comments on “Halloween Haunts 2013: Opening the Vein by John Palisano

  1. Pingback: October in Review: Links, Treats, and Nary a Trick in Sight | Annie Neugebauer

  2. Pingback: Halloween Haunts 2013: Opening the Vein by John Palisano+++++ Edgy, engaging, informative +++++ | +++++ Edgy, engaging, informative +++++

  3. Great post John! I totally agree that horror works better than other genre fiction because it allows us to strip away the layers of our characters and in turn, shine a mirror on our own foibles.

  4. Excellent post! That’s real horror writing, I think, when you write from an uncomfortable and emotional place. More than other genres, you gotta let your personal pain flow. Love it!

  5. Good blog John, really enjoyed it. It’s all about exposing our visceral selves as writers to connect with the audience, I can identify with that!

    Not a Giveaway Entry – I already own the book.

  6. Pingback: ‘Opening The Vein’ on the HWA Blog | John Palisano

  7. Pingback: Halloween Haunts from the Horror Writers Association

  8. I agree with your thoughts. I try to tap into my life in my writing too. I often use real places, items, ideas, situations, from my own life for that realism in my writing.

    My SHINING would have had more guts lying around…


  9. I agree that pouring heartfelt honesty into your work helps. It is an important tool, which sits alongside the others you mentioned, like structure and language, on my utility wall. I reach for it first every time.

    In order to fully connect with a reader, I try to create instantly engaging characters that seem three dimensional. The amateur writing scene on-line reached saturation point years ago, in my opinion, with basic descriptive characters. There are gems out there, I’ve found a few, but had to sift through the boggy marsh of hundreds before I do.

    Take John’s advice. Give your characters afflictions and perversities. Pathological fears and angers. It all makes for a more realistic, and in turn, more engaging read.

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