Schwamberger: When and why did you begin writing?
Paul Tremblay: When, as always, is easier to answer than why. I didn’t start messing around with writing until the mid-’90s. I was fresh out of grad school and had landed a math teaching gig. My Aunt Mary gave me a true crime book about serial killers for Christmas, and after reading about that nice group of folks I tried writing a story about Death being upset with a new serial killer because he took out a person he wasn’t supposed to. It was a terrible story, but it was my first, and it’s safely locked away in the trunk where it can’t hurt anyone. I messed around with both writing stories and music until early 2000, when I made my first short story sale. I put the guitar down and got serious about writing after that.
So why did the math major suddenly decide to start writing? I’m not sure to be honest. I fell in love with reading first, then I guess I thought I had something worth saying in print. All writers are a little narcissistic in that sense.
Schwamberger: Do you have a specific writing style?
Tremblay: I try to use different styles and techniques, particularly when I’m writing short fiction. The Genevich novels were written in a Chandler-esque voice, that hopefully, still had my own voice/style mixed in as well. I like to think I have a “that’s a Tremblay story” style, though I can’t really describe it. I tend to use first person POV and present tense a lot. How’s that?
Schwamberger: What books/short stories/authors influenced you, and why?
Paul: All of them. I take and learn and steal from everything I read. Even the stuff that sucks. Learning what not to do, or learning why a scene or character or voice fails is as important a lesson as any proscriptive how-to-write advice.
Now, cue a stream of conscious mini-list of authors/books who most consistently inspire me as an artist, in no particular order: Aimee Bender, Stewart O’Nan, Mark Danielewski, Nicole Krauss, Kurt Vonnegut, early Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates, and so many more. For me, those authors represent a fresh way of looking at story and character, and a certain fearlessness to tell whatever story they want to regardless of genre label.
Schwamberger: What are your thoughts on Print on Demand and e-books taking over? Especially now that Dorchester Publishing has gone mainly e-books, which includes their Leisure Horror imprint.
Tremblay: Eh, despite the undeniable growth of e-book sales recently (in terms of percent growth in unit sales), I’m not yet convinced they’ll “take over.” Yet. Blogs and publishing news outlets breathlessly report on the big jump in July sales and dismiss the ebook sales decrease that lasted the first four months of 2010. Ebooks still only represent about 15-18% of the entire book market. So, we’ll see. The next few years in publishing will certainly be interesting.
Schwamberger: What draws people to horror novels and movies? Why do we, as readers, like to be scared?
Tremblay: People like to learn about and watch other people. We’re hopelessly social. And the horror movie affords the opportunity to see people at their lowest, or worst, or most vulnerable. It’s certainly voyeuristic, but I think there’s an almost evolutionary quality to watching horror movies. No, really. We’re still like the neanderthals watching some unlucky sap from our clan get chomped by a tiger as a way of learning and remembering to try and avoid the tiger: it’s a see-a-dire-situation-and-learn-from-it thing that’s hardwired in us. It’s why people will sit around and talk about their zombie or apocalyptic contingency plans, right?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s as simple as, “Man, glad that isn’t happening to me, so I’ll just eat some popcorn and watch.”
Schwamberger: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use a set formula?
Tremblay: I tend to come up a character first, and then build the plot around him/her by presenting situations, and having the character make decisions that then leads the plot. Not every story starts that way, clearly, but it’s what I tend to fall back on if I’m stuck. If I’m really stuck for ideas I go to the newspaper and/or music. I get a lot of inspiration from songs and snippets of lyrics. The title to my short story collection is the title of a Helmet song. Other stories in the collection, “The Two-Headed Girl” are directly inspired by songs (“Two-Headed Boy” by Neutral Milk Hotel). “Rhymes with Jew” and “Headstones in Your Pocket” are both purposefully didactic stories mined from news items.
Schwamberger: What book or story you wrote was the most challenging and why? When it got frustrating, did you ever think about just stopping midway and starting something new?
Tremblay: My second published novel, No Sleep till Wonderland was the most challenging. When I wrote The Little Sleep, I had no intention of writing a follow-up with the same character. But I was offered a two-book deal and the second book had to feature Mark Genevich as well, and I figured there were worse problems to have than having to write an unplanned follow-up. Easier said than done. I had a real hard time getting started. Unconsciously and consciously I was resisting the book, saying to myself, “I already wrote Mark’s story,” and was stuck for ideas. I couldn’t stop and go onto something new as I’d signed a contract and had a real live deadline. My way into the second book was to think of the first’s theme. The Little Sleep was very much about Mark’s memories and his past (and how malleable they were, ultimately). So, I figured the second book would focus on Mark’s present. Once I settled on that, I was able to give Mark a second story. It was a hard book for me to write, but I learned a lot, and I think I ended up with a really good book too. My Mom really liked the book, anyway.
Schwamberger: I see you have a new collection, In The Mean Time, due out this month from ChiZine. Could you tell us a little about the collection and why you decided to put the stories together as you did?
Tremblay: In the Mean Time’s fifteen stories are very much of the hear and now, stories of the information age -there’s one story that’s written in blog form – and hopefully these stories reflect our current societal paranoia, our fears of apocalypse, of the rapid change, etc. As far as TOC order is concerned, I mostly went by feel. The book opens with it’s biggest gut punch, I think, with “The Teacher” (a story about a history teacher who begins his AP History class with a day care’s ominous surveillance video, which in part causes a student’s home life to deteriorate).
Schwamberger: What are you working on now?
Tremblay: I’m co-writing a young adult novel with Stephen Graham Jones. It’s not horror, but dark, and kind of science fiction-y, I guess. Co-writing has been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot from Mr. Jones. Including not to go mountain biking when there’s snow on the ground. I’ve also plotted and written a few pages of another adult fiction novel. And I hope to continue squeezing in some short fiction here in there. I have a story called “The Getaway,” which will be appearing in Ellen Datlow’s Supernatural Noir anthology.
Schwamberger: Where can folks check out your work?
Tremblay: Hopefully, at their local bookstore and library. Otherwise, there’s links to all the goodies at Paul Tremblay and The Little Sleep. And here’s a link to the CZP page for: In the Mean Time, which will include (hopefully by the time this interview appears online) a link to a free podcast of a bunch of the stories in my collection. The cool part is the podcast features other authors – Sarah Langan, Michael Cisco, Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, Mur Lafferty – reading my stories.
Ty Schwamberger is an author in the horror genre. To learn more about his work, you can visit his website at: Ty Schwamberger