Interview: Paul Tremblay On his Growing Things and Other Stories, his characters, writing, recommendations, and inspirations. | More2Read
 

Interview: Paul Tremblay On his Growing Things and Other Stories, his characters, writing, recommendations, and inspirations.

Photo by Allan Amato


Paul Tremblay has won the Bram Stoker, British Fantasy, and Massachusetts Book Awards and is the author of The Cabin at the End of the World, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, A Head Full of Ghosts, and the crime novels The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland. His collection Growing Things and Other Stories will be published in early July 2019. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and his essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly online, and numerous year’s-best anthologies. He has a master’s degree in mathematics and lives outside Boston with his family.



Lou Pendergrast

Welcome and congratulations on your new short story collection The Growing Things, and your book that reached many best of lists for 2018 including mine, Cabin at the End of the World. 

What is the inspiration behind this Bat shit craziness cabin tale?

 

Paul Tremblay

CABIN started with a doodle in a notebook. I was on a plane coming home from Los Angeles and I was beginning the process of trying to come up with another novel idea (as my editor had that very weekend rejected a proposal of mine). At one point I zoned out and then looked down at the notebook and found I’d drawn a little cabin. (I’m no artist, so it was a rectangle with a V as a roof). The site of the cabin instantly made me think of the home invasion subgenre of horror, which is one of my least favorite subgenres. But that weirdly made me excited, and I thought to myself, “Okay, big mouth, how would you write a home invasion story?” 



Lou Pendergrast

Tell me more about Merry and Marjorie from A Head Full of Ghosts what was the inspiration and story behind creating them and the novel? 

 

Paul Tremblay

In February of 2013 I was 100 pages into writing a different novel, and it wasn’t going very well. I happened to be reading a collection of essays about the film The Exorcist, called The Exorcist: Studies in the Night Film (Centipede Press). After finishing the collection (which included essays about the politics of the film and an essay about the purported ‘true story’ the book/film was based on), I went into a how-would-I-do-it headspace, similar to the thought process described above in regard to CABIN’s origin. 

Hollywood continued to pump out possession films but there hadn’t been a possession novel published in quite some time. How would I write a possession story? I knew very early on in the process that I wanted it to be from the maybe-possessed younger sibling’s point of view. Merry and Marjorie both have literary antecedents (Merry named after Shirley Jackson’s Merricat and Marjorie named after Stewart O’Nan’s Marjorie from his brilliant novel The Speed Queen), but I also found myself returning to two sisters I wrote about in my 2010 short story, “Growing Things,” which is, of course, the title story to my upcoming collection.



LP

This new collection for 2019, Growing Things and Other Stories, there are two in particular I liked to mention that I loved, Her Red Right Hand and Where We All Will Be, what are the stories behind them? 

 

Paul Tremblay

Thank you! Both stories were written at the request of two anthology editors. Chris Golden invited me to write a story featuring Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. I was honored but also a little panicked. How in the heck was I going to write a Hellboy story? My panic got so bad that I even tried to back out of writing the story, but thankfully, Chris wouldn’t let me. My way into the tale was to focus on the young, budding artist protagonist. I love the stories, of course, but I continue to go back to Hellboy because of the art. Some of the most memorable scenes of the comic are the ones without dialogue or even any action, and follow Hellboy through an aftermath of some sort. There’s such a sweet melancholy to those images, which I think is the magic of Mignola’s art. I tried as best as I could to capture that feeling in my story.

Joe Pulver wanted a Thomas Ligotti-esque story and “Where We All Will Be” was the result. I don’t know if I did a very good job of the Ligotti part, but the story grew out of anxieties related to the early academic struggles of one of my children. That, and an abnormally warm day during in the middle of one of our New England winters that resulted in thousands of moths hatching/waking (I’ll admit ignorance to the moth lifecycle here) and then surely dying a day or two later when the temperatures plummeted a day or two later. 


LP

When, where, and with what do you write?

 

Paul Tremblay

I keep notes and sketch out story ideas and characters in little notebooks. I probably have ten scattered throughout the house. I should probably do a better job of keeping track of them. When I settle into a novel, though, I choose one notebook and keep it handy. 

When it comes down to the actual writing of a story, I use a laptop. At home, I’ve taken over what was supposed to be a small dining room off the kitchen as my writing space. Have laptop will travel though, and I often do work at school if I have some free time in the morning. Otherwise, during the school, I’m usually writing at night.


LP

Story mechanics, do you outline?

 

Paul Tremblay

For short stories I do not outline, but I do keep notes (usually about the characters) and a notebook handy. I’ve outlined the majority of my novels (5 out of 8, or going on my 8th now). Some outlines are more detailed than others. More times than not if I do an outline, they tend to be 10-15 pages long. Though the novel I’m working on now is only loosely outlined (about 3 pages). I did not write an outline for A Head Full of Ghosts, as I got lucky and knew what the story and structure would be very early on in the process. 


LP

What key advice would you give to the writer trying to write their first novel?

 

Paul Tremblay

Perseverance. That’s the hardest part, I think. Remind yourself a novel is not a sprint. There are exceptions of course (and insanely talented prolific writers like Stephen Graham Jones who would scoff at this, and he has more than earned this right), but you’re supposed to live with it and in it for months/years. That daily author experience is what makes a novel a novel I think. The everyday work, the ubiquity, breaking it into those smaller daily pieces and allowing room for your own life to weave its way in. The fun part of a novel (or it is for me) are the unexpected discoveries and serendipities that occur during the shared life of the novel’s long haul.

The 100 page mark of any novel-to-be is a big hurdle for me. Around that point I typically question everything I’ve written and seriously consider dumping it all and finding something else to work on. That’s where the perseverance kicks in, hopefully.  


LP

Writing, what do you hope to achieve with it and communicate to the reader?

 

Paul Tremblay

AFHoG and TCatEotW had some political themes to them, while Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was a quieter story that really focused in on the characters. The short story collection experiments with form more times than not. Every story is different, but generally I want to move the reader, make them feel and make them think. My favorite stories make me feel emotions that are difficult to describe and perhaps the only or best way to describe them is to point at the story and say, “That’s how to describe the emotions I felt. That story is how I feel.” 


LP

How is the adaptation of your work to screen moving forward into development?

 

Paul Tremblay

Slowly but (I hope) surely? There isn’t much news that I can share just yet, but things (things?) or the process continues to progress with adaptations for both AHFoG and TCatEotW. 


LP

Movies, classics or new, which are your favorite ones?

 

Paul Tremblay

Too many favorites to name, but the ones I continue to return to include The Thing, Jaws, Lake Mungo, Night of the Living Dead (original), Memento, Quatermass and the Pit, Evil Dead 2, Let the Right One In, The Babadook.  



LP

Ray Bradbury wrote: ”You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads..”
Libraries did you lurk in them what has libraries done for you and you feelings on them and their future?

 

Paul Tremblay

I do not spend as much time in libraries as I probably should. I do enjoy giving talks and visiting them. Libraries’ cultural importance and necessity cannot be overstated.  


LP

We are going to have little time travel. Pick an author and their book, you have a first edition and attending a book signing. What would be the one or two questions you would ask them about their novel, their writing, or writing life?

 

Paul Tremblay

I’m picking two: Shirley Jackson and We Have Always Lived in this Castle, Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughter-House Five. I honestly don’t know if I would want to ask them about the novels or their writing lives. I would instead want to have a conversation about whatever subject might come up. If pressed, I would ask Shirley about the origins of the opening paragraph of Castle and Haunting of Hill House.  



LP

Who are you greatest influences, and their books, that made you want to put pen to paper and become a novelist?

 

Paul Tremblay

I didn’t become a reader for pleasure until later in life, my early 20’s, and I can thank Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” and Stephen King’s The Stand for turning me into a lifelong reader. There isn’t one writer who made me want to put pen to paper. I learn and get inspiration from most everything I read. Most of my novels are in some way reacting to or are in dialogue with another book or film. 



LP

You get a lot of reading done and I notices many blurbs to your name. Which ones deserve a mention and recommendation?

 

Paul Tremblay

Well, they all do. I wouldn’t blurb a book if I didn’t think it wasn’t any good. (Just want to make that clear). I’ll mention a few books that are coming out soon/later in 2019: Nathan Ballingrud’s Wounds, Helen Marshall’s The Migration, John Langan’s Sefira and Other Betrayls, and Naomi Booth’s Sealed. 



LP

It has been an interesting peek into your writing life and inspirations, thank you for this chat today.

 

Paul Tremblay

Thank you!




Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 06 March 2019