Interview with Joseph Iorillo

by Camille Ambrose for Dark Realms Magazine

For the past eight years Joseph Iorillo has been a feature writer for Dark Realms, contributing articles on topics as diverse as ghosts, the afterlife, prophecies, mystical relics, secret societies, and alien visitation. His lifelong interest in the occult and the paranormal have inspired him to write several short stories with supernatural themes and co-author The Gothic Tarot Compendium. In his debut novel, This House Is Empty Now, Joseph draws upon his fascination with the paranormal to tell an emotional and haunting mystery about a man living with an unseen presence that tries to guide his life.

How did you come up with the idea for This House Is Empty Now?

The story had an odd origin. Back in 1999, I was at a movie theater and over the loudspeakers in the lobby a lot of recently released songs were playing, including "This House Is Empty Now," a ballad written by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. It didn't make much of an impression on me at the time, but one summer morning in 2004 I woke up feeling strangely compelled to go out and buy that song. I found the album, and the tune became my all-time favorite song. It's a heartbreaking ballad about a man wandering around the empty rooms of his house, trying to cope with a romantic loss and all the grief, anger and bewilderment that the loss has left him with. The title was very stark and poetic, and I wanted very much to use it for a novel. I then began toying with the concept of a man whose house is haunted, but the havoc wrought by the ghost is ironically not as terrifying as the ordinary phantoms that haunt his day-to-day life, his loneliness, his sense of failure and his troubled relationships.

Who are some of your favorite authors that have influenced your writing?

I grew up reading Stephen King's great early works like The Shining and Pet Sematary. Those novels taught me how to write and taught me the value of developing a clear, conversational, easy-to-read writing style. F. Scott Fitzgerald also had a strong influence on me. His writing has a graceful elegance that I often try to emulate. I also admire Kurt Vonnegut's works for their moments of absurd, dark humor.

Have you ever had a paranormal encounter?

While I haven't had any actual paranormal experiences, members of my family have had some odd experiences that may be supernatural. For example, my brother, who is a police officer, told me about going on a call to check on the welfare of a young mother and her child who were staying at a rundown motel. I think the mother was an addict or an alcoholic, and it was clear that she was incapable of caring for herself, let alone a child. In this shabby motel room, my brother saw this dark, oppressive shape hovering in the air like a large cloud. I believe another officer witnessed it as well. To this day he has no explanation for what that spectral entity was.

Do you believe ghosts exist?

I do. I believe some souls can become so obsessed with places and events on this earthly plane that they refuse to graduate into the next world. They will linger at locations that had some profound meaning to them while they were alive. It's almost as if they believe that if they can revisit some place or tragic event, they can go back in time and change what happened there. I think ghosts are souls looking for a second chance.

Aside from its supernatural elements, This House Is Empty Now is also an interesting love story. How do you relate to the main character, Ray Strickland?

There are many similarities between the character of Ray and myself. We're both single and unlucky in love. (laughs) Seriously though, one of the central issues of the novel is something that's very real to me—the difficulty in finding a lasting relationship. Like Ray, I often feel frustrated when I see friends and acquaintances who are married and have kids, and I frequently wonder if that will ever happen to me. Of course, unlike Ray, I don't live in a haunted mansion, so hopefully that improves my odds.

You've worked with artist Joseph Vargo on several projects such as Tales From The Dark Tower and The Gothic Tarot Compendium. How did those projects come about?

In 1999, Joseph Vargo began laying the groundwork for an anthology of vampire stories inspired by many of his gothic fantasy paintings. He felt it would be a great way for unknown, emerging writers to get their works published, and I jumped at the chance when he asked if I'd like to contribute to the project. I wrote "Vesper Tolls," a gritty action tale of revenge, and I co-wrote "Shadows," a ghost story about a man who is haunted by demons from his past.

Joseph and I have become very good friends over the years. In 2005, he approached me to write the text for his art book, Born of the Night, chronicling his career as a fantasy artist. In early 2007, at the urging of many fans, Joseph planned to release a detailed guidebook to his bestselling Gothic Tarot deck. However, the original author he had enlisted to write the text was unable to follow through on the project, so he was forced to take on much of the writing himself. Since I had done extensive research on the tarot and its history for various articles I had written, he asked if I would be interested in co-writing the book. I gladly accepted and we were able to complete The Gothic Tarot Compendium in time for its planned May 2007 release. It was really an honor to see my name on the cover of a book for the first time, and I was very grateful for the opportunity.

You've written numerous articles on paranormal subjects? What compels you to explore such topics?

I've always been interested in the question at the core of all religions and philosophies: what is the meaning of our lives? To me, it seems that by studying paranormal subjects you can come closer to getting an answer to that question. For example, for an article I wrote about theories of the afterlife, I learned that many psychic mediums report that the spirits they communicate with say the earth is a school and our souls plan out the events we experience in our lives, much in the way a college student selects the classes he will take. I think that understanding paranormal subjects like these can shed light on our own purposes in life.

What are the next projects on the horizon for you?

Joseph Vargo and I are currently working on an anthology of horror stories, many of which have appeared in the pages of Dark Realms. I've also written a story for the follow-up to Tales From The Dark Tower, which is expected to be published in the next year. In addition, I'm working on a couple of ideas that may grow into full-length novels. One idea involves a man's attempt to work his way up through the ranks of a secret society until he reaches the top and the ultimate secret is revealed to him, but the secret turns out to be something he never bargained for.

That sounds great. I can't wait to read it. Thank you for taking the time to chat.

The pleasure was all mine.