Paul Tremblay has taken the literary world by storm and brought horror back into major prominence with his hit novel, A Head Full of Ghosts. The novel has also won a Stoker Award, which cements Tremblay’s name in history alongside the likes of Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Brian Keene and Peter Straub.
So what is all the fuss about with A Head Full of Ghosts and whey did it scare the pants off horror fiction maestro Stephen King? Well, I got an opportunity to chat with Paul and he had some unique answers for his fans.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): A Head Full of Ghosts… it really seems to put a whole new narrative on possession horror and how it parallels modern society. It was interesting to see how you used the classic lore and incorporated it into your own story, and then gave readers an opportunity to hear “the other side of the story” via blog posts and a documentary filmmaker. It almost seems as though you were trying to draw a parallel in your story to how society actually responds to the real possibility of a possession. So, were you really going for a story here that forced an audience to visualize it like a movie that prominently features fictional news reports?
Paul Tremblay: There’s some of that going on, no question. Hopefully, though, all the different viewpoints on the story works to build the story’s ambiguity. If there’s a visualization of the story, it’s a muddy one. Merry’s fifteen year old memories, the reality show clearly working within its own agenda, the blogger commenting on the action…they all work to make the question of what’s real and what isn’t real difficult to answer.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): There were a few points early in the book were it seemed like it was going to unfold like a classic possession story. But then you pulled the rug out from under the clichés and gave fans a new perspective, or a new point of view in the story. It is rare when a writer can pull off a novel switching up the 1st person narrators, but in A Head Full of Ghosts, it really seemed to flow well. Is it possible that you first considered using 3rd person narrative, but maybe decided that it didn’t have the strength of a 1st person account?
Paul Tremblay: I knew right from the start that the only way the story could be told was through first person, and that it would be Merry (the younger sister to Marjorie, who may or may not have been possessed) telling and/or trying to figure out the story. Memory and identity are slipperier than we like to think. Merry has had this awful thing happen to her and her family and it has shaped who she is now, but how can she know how it shaped her if even she isn’t sure about her own memories or what really happened.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): You also did a really good job of developing characters in this book. Sometimes, writers have cited that the people in their own lives influence the way they invent fictional characters for their novels. Did you have anyone in your own life that influenced the development of any of these characters in A Head Full of Ghosts?
Paul Tremblay: Thank you! I think all my characters have pieces of myself and people I know or have met in them. I had a great model for the eight-year-old Merry living in my house. My daughter was the same age while I was working on the book and I certainly used many of her little quirks to build Merry, but I also used some of my older son. Merry was also an homage to Merricat Blackwood from Shirley Jackson’s brilliant novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Marjorie’s name is a nod to Stewart O’Nan’s Marjorie in The Speed Queen. Frankenstein-ing (if I’m allowed to turn the good doctor into a verb) together characters and having your own little monster at the end is a fun part of writing. At least, it’s fun for me.
Congratulations to Paul Tremblay, who just won the Stoker Award for A HEADFUL OF GHOSTS! Told you it was good!
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 16, 2016
Nick Younker (FJ Press): The Horror Writers Association recently gave you their top honors for A Head Full of Ghosts, winning in the category of “Superior Achievement in a Novel.” That was also going up against the likes of Clive Barker for The Scarlett Gospels. This is something that has caught the attention of Stephen King on Twitter, who had previously given the novel a shining endorsement. How does it feel to have any industry titan like King give your novel such a glowing review and to receive such a prestigious award from the HWA?
Paul Tremblay: Shining endorsement. I see what you did there…
It’s hard to wrap my head around the idea of being on a ballot with Clive Barker and getting praise from Stephen King. Both authors are two of the big reasons why I fell in love with reading in the first place. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a little emotional the night Stephen King first tweeted about A Head Full of Ghosts.
The response and support I’ve received from so many colleagues in the horror/dark fiction community has really been inspiring, and I’ll be forever grateful.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): This might be the tired old question that every writer of horror novels gets, but what made you decide to write horror fiction?
Paul Tremblay: I’ve been a scaredy cat and a fan of horror for most of my life. My imagination tends to either react to the absurdities of life with humor or horror, so to my writing. My first two novels were humorous (hopefully) but odd detective novels, for instance.
I am attracted to the idea of horror as being transgressive, and being outsider art. So I’m happy being called a horror writer. I’ve been called much worse….
Nick Younker (FJ Press): Would it be safe to assume that you, as a horror writer, decided to write about the things that scare you the most? Also, your fans are curious just how much William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist novel might have influenced you growing up and whether he scared you?
Paul Tremblay: It’s less about the scare for me than it is about being unsettled or disturbed. And again, the idea of transgression, of revealing an ugly truth about us/the world/the universe and having characters react to that transgression. A Head Full of Ghosts was clearly a response to the Blatty novel and the tropes and clichés of horror film in particular that were inspired by the novel and Friedkin film.
I actually didn’t see or read The Exorcist until I was in my late teens. Its reputation was scary enough for the kid-me.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): I would also like to follow up that question with what other horror books, or movies, scared you – just to get a feel for what kind of books we can expect to read of yours in the future?
Paul Tremblay: There are too many favorites to name. I get inspiration or instruction from everything I read and watch. One of my favorite horror novels is House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. Just a brilliant, mind-warping, addictive rabbit-hole of a story. The movie Lake Mungo is a recent favorite of mine as well. So quiet and sad and creepy.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): So now that you have accomplished such a major feat in your literary career with A Head Full of Ghosts, do you plan to keep trucking forward in the horror genre or do you plan to switch up your genres?
Paul Tremblay: As long as my publisher wants the dark/creepy books, I’m happy to try to keep on writing them. I would like to write a comedy, or a book with comedic elements at some point too.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): You are just about to release your new book, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Can you give your fans a quick preview on what they are about to read?
Paul Tremblay: The novel opens with Elizabeth Sanderson getting the midnight call that every parent dreads: her teenage son has mysteriously gone missing. Tommy and his two friends were at a sleepover and snuck out into a local state park, but Tommy did not return. And the novel spirals into dark and darker places from there.
Nick Younker (FJ Press): Thank you so much, Paul, for taking time out of your schedule to answer a few questions and give us some insight into your book. Is there anything else you would like to add for your fans out there?
Paul Tremblay: Thank you, Nick. Happy reading and be sure to support your local libraries.
Fans of Paul Tremblay’s horror novels can pre-order Disappearance at Devil’s Rock on Amazon, which releases on June 21.
[Image via Paul Tremblay]