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Jewish Heritage in Horror: An Interview with John Palisano


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John Palisano’s novels include DUST OF THE DEAD, GHOST HEART, NERVES, and NIGHT OF 1,000 BEASTS. His novellas include GLASS HOUSE and STARLIGHT DRIVE: FOUR HALLOWEEN TALES. His first short fiction collection ALL THAT WITHERS celebrates over a decade of short story highlights.
He won the Bram Stoker Award© in short fiction for “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop” and Colorado’s Yog Soggoth award in 2018. More short stories have appeared in anthologies from Weird Tales, Cemetery Dance, PS Publishing, Independent Legions, Space & Time, Dim Shores, 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 BLUMHOUSE, FANGORIA, and DARK DISCOVERIES magazines and he’s been quoted in VANITY FAIR and the LOS ANGELES TIMES.

He is currently serving as President of the Horror Writers Association.

What inspired you to start writing?

My parents were avid readers and encouraged the passion early on. Of course, that led to my own wish to tell my own stories. In second grade, our class was assigned writing a story based on a photo. Mine went over very well and I really felt at home in a profound way. It’s been part of me ever since.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

Again, I blame my parents. I’m dating myself, but I recall my Dad taking me to see ALIEN and I was just blown away on so many levels. I loved its artistry. I loved its world. I loved its darkness. Been hooked ever since. I recall seeing Stephen King’s NIGHT SHIFT at the bookstore … the one with the hand wrapped in gauze with the eyes poking through … and bought it and stayed up late reading it. I then scoured everything I could find of his. My dad also brought me issues of TWILIGHT ZONE and CEMETERY DANCE that we’d read and talk about. Meanwhile, my mom handed me a hardcover of a then new writer named Anne Rice. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE opened up so many worlds. I wouldn’t be doing this without my folks. Happy as can be about it, too.

Do you make a conscious effort to include Jewish characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

Absolutely. In many of my works, Judaism is present and obvious, as are many of the stories and life lessons that shaped me early on. And I don’t think it’s as conscious: it just happens naturally.

What has writing taught you about how to express your Jewishness or the experiences you’ve had as someone who is Jewish?

My faith, sexuality, and other personal journeys do make it into my stories. That being said? I’m generally private about such matters. My work is not usually autobiographical in that way, though. At least not that I’m aware of.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years and do you think there’s more that can be done to educate readers and authors on Jewish culture?

The massive cultural shift in horror has been very much welcome by me and many others. I do think it’s been represented well recently in books such as Denver Horror Collective’s JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR, but there is always room for more. Always. Horror has really broken away from the Christian-centered stories and fears. There are many new points of view and they are wonderful and fascinating. My mind still boggles at how the producers of JERUZALEM (sic) were able to shoot such an extensive horror film in Israel. I loved seeing a different mythology explored and different cultural norms presented.

Following up, how do you think that process will continue to evolve through the years?

I sure hope so. I see no reason why it won’t and shouldn’t.

How do you feel the Jewish community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?

Honestly? Over the years, not so great. I’m still stunned at how Shylock was portrayed in Shakespear’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE as such a caricature. Here’s hoping a more true picture is painted in the here and now. Sneak Peak: I do have a short story being released within the next year or so that offers Shylock a little long overdue redemption.

What is one piece of advice you would give Jewish horror writers out there who are just getting started?

Be yourself and follow your muse. Try to turn off all the noise and voices, find, and write your story as only you can.

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