Greetings all! It’s your friendly neighborhood werewolf Humboldt Lycanthrope here with a new edition of the Writer’s Lounge. I recently had the pleasure of talking with author Paul Tremblay about his new novel A Head Full of Ghosts, a tale of demonic possession so terrifying it actually scared Stephen King!
Humboldt Lycanthrope: Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. First, how did you get started writing and who are your influences?
Paul Tremblay: I got a late start compared to most writers. I took my only college-level English course second semester senior year, and in it I read a short story by Joyce Carol Oates called Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? I remember thinking I didn't know that people wrote stuff like this. Shortly after that class, Lisa bought me Stephen King's The Stand for my birthday and I devoured it. I spent the next two years struggling to get my master's degree in mathematics, while also reading all the King books I could get my hands on, and then Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson, and so many more. After two years I had a math teaching gig and an itch to try writing a story.
Humboldt Lycanthrope: So, Stephen King was a big influence and now he is on twitter saying how your book A Head Full of Ghosts "scared the living hell" out of him. I imagine that must be quite satisfying.
Paul Tremblay: Oh hell yeah. That was so amazingly cool and generous of him. I don't know what to say about the moment without sounding too fanboy. The day of the tweet had been kind of a cranky day and I was moving furniture around and my back hurt and then my phone started blowing up with other people telling me about the tweet. I'm not ashamed to say I got emotional when I read it.
Music has always been a big influence too. I often go to songs and lyrics for ideas/inspiration. The title of Ghosts is a riff on Bad Religion's My Head Is Full of Ghosts.
Humboldt Lycanthrope: I noticed that about the title. I love Bad Religion. I'm an old punk rocker myself. Do you consider your writing an extension of the punk ideal to disrupt, point out society's flaws, and make people look at the world differently?
Paul Tremblay: I'm a huge fan of punk music and I would never presume to call myself punk (he of the middle class lifestyle and whatnot), but I do like to think my work reflects a certain punk aesthetic, and trying to look at the world differently is near or at the top of my list.
Humboldt Lycanthrope: Very nice. So, while A Head Full of Ghosts is horror, your other novels— The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland—are more noir/crime books, do you plan on writing more horror in the future?
Paul Tremblay: Definitely. When I first started writing, I wrote nothing but horror short stories. So, I've always been writing horror in some form, with the Genevich novels a little crime detour, I guess. Until Ghosts, my short fiction always tended to be horrific and my longer work, while still dark, humorous (well, hopefully humorous). The novel that's supposed to come out next summer (I'm about to wade into the edits) has horror elements for sure. It's much quieter than Ghosts, but hopefully people will dig it.
Humboldt Lycanthrope: Paul, in many ways A Head Full of Ghosts is an indictment against reality TV shows, how they manipulate situations and twist the truth, ultimately destroying the lives of the people who are their subject matter. Did you start out with this as a theme or did it come about organically in the writing process? Also, can you tell us a little about how you personally feel about reality TV and the strange cult of personality it has created?
Paul Tremblay: I went into the book thinking/knowing that the reality TV intrusion would make everything worse. It's pretty clear to me that so many of the train wreck kind of reality TV does damage the lives of those who participate in it. Still, there's an undeniable appeal to the shows, and their ubiquity, especially on purportedly educational channels like Discovery and Animal Planet (which, as far as I can tell, rarely has any shows with animals in them). I mean I watch Chopped and have watched stuff like Suvivorman and Finding Bigfoot and other stuff. I think even those lesser-evils of reality TV strike that bogus "American Dream" chord, you know? That anyone can make it and be famous, because look, there they are on TV.
Humboldt Lycanthrope: I see. In your novel you call The Exorcist "one of the most conservative horror movies ever," in that the "pure, pristine little white girl [is] saved by white men and religion." I couldn't agree more, and honestly, this section of your novel, which is a blog written by Merry, is one of my favorite parts of the book. In this chapter you discuss horror and popular culture, referencing everything from American Horror Story and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Nabakov and Tolkein. Was one of your goals with the book to usurp the conservative agenda of The Exorcist?
Also, you discuss the sexual issues regarding tales of exorcism and demonic possession in great detail in this chapter. Do you think society in general has such a hard time dealing with the sexual awakening of our children, our daughters in particular, that they tend to search for outside influences, such as demons (or even movies and reality TV) to blame for their children’s awakening libidos?
Paul Tremblay: I couldn't have said it better myself, both in terms of the politics and gender/sexuality issues. I mean, in The Exorcist, those anxieties are so in your face, right? I definitely wanted to comment on the politics of conservative/reactionary horror, and try to describe what I think are the bes kind of horror stories. I actually wrote an essay for Nightmare Magazine on this: The Politics of Horror
Humboldt Lycanthrope: Wow. Paul, I loved your essay in Nightmare. Thank you so much for the link. (note to readers: check this out it is awesome!)
In the book Merry states that she likes to imagine Marjorie "possessed by the vast, awesome and awful monster that is popular culture," and, Marjorie claims to be possessed H.P. Lovecraft's dream witch Yidhra. Are you trying to say that pop culture and horror literature have some responsibility for children acting out in strange, violent, and sexual ways?
Paul Tremblay: Jeeze, no, and I hope no one comes away thinking that. I hope that people think that it's the adults making everything worse for Marjorie (whether she's sick or possessed) and not anything she might've watched or read.
I like think Marjorie is speaking for all of us with the pop culture quip (and echoes what happens in the blog posts). I'm a pop culture junky and I worry if that's a good or a bad thing (particularly as so many people are now taking a pop culture candidate for president seriously). I like the idea of people being possessed by this huge conglomeration of shitty ideas and good idea and forgettable ideas that make up pop culture.
Humboldt Lycanthrope: Lol, I thought so, especially after reading your essay. I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that quote and didn't know how else to phrase it.
The creepypasta community has a lot of aspiring writers, any advice for them?
Paul Tremblay: Read, read, read. Read in your genre and out of your genre and read books that are like yours and not like yours. Give yourself permission to fail because we all fail. Then read some more.
Humboldt Lycanthrope: Excellent. Well, Paul Tremblay, it has been a pleasure and an honor talking with you. On behalf of myself and creepypasta.wikia I thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your wonderful and terrifying novel A Head Full of Ghosts.
Paul Tremblay: Thank you so much for wanting to talk about the book. My pleasure!
Author's note: The film rights to A Head Full of Ghosts have been picked up by Focus Features and Robert Downey Jr.’s Team Downey and Dan Dubiecki’s Allegiance Theater will be producing, so expect to see it on the big screen sometime soon.