Horror novelist speaks, signs books Saturday at Waterford Public Library
“August 19, 2015!”
As though he’d just nailed the big-money answer in a quiz show, Paul Tremblay smiled with happy confidence. Absolutely, he said, he remembered the date when Stephen King, in an unsolicited tweet, gushed to hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers about the greatness of Tremblay’s then newly published horror novel “A Head Full of Ghosts.”
“It wasn’t just that King did it,” said Tremblay, talking to a small group of fans Saturday in the Waterford Public Library, where he appeared on behalf of his newest novel, “The Cabin at the End of the World.” “It was how he did it. He could’ve just tweeted, ‘You should read this, it’s good.’ And that would have been amazing. Instead, though, he said —” Tremblay smiled again, quoting from memory — ”‘This book scared the hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.’”
Tremblay recalled he’d been having a not-great day; it was hot and he’d been moving furniture. Suddenly, his phone started “blowing up” with friends responding to King’s tweet. “I didn’t know what they were talking about. I figured it out, though, and suddenly I felt a lot better,” Tremblay said. “I got a six-pack out of the refrigerator and had a one-man party just watching the social media response roll on.”
In the three-plus years since “Ghosts,” Tremblay, who lives outside Boston with his family, has seen his career ascend to best-seller status with the precision of a warhead. He followed “A Head Full of Ghosts” with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” in 2016 and has won a Bram Stoker Award and a British Fantasy Award.
And “The Cabin at the End of the World,” which came out last June, was optioned for film before the book was even finished. And, on publication, King chimed in again — “Tremblay’s personal best. It’s that good.”
Indeed, “Cabin” is a mesmeric fusion of two different classic horror tropes that Tremblay twisted like a pretzel. Part apocalyptic vision and part home invasion story, “Cabin” manages to isolate and prey on a variety of primal and familial fears with a sense of brooding menace and a rhythm that accelerates like a black-magic metronome.
Tall and dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, with a neatly trimmed beard and black glasses that accurately suggest his “day job” career as a high school math teacher, Tremblay read briefly from “Cabin” and then talked a bit about process and how the book came about. He explained that some of his books require a full-blown outline while others have characters or plot ideas he prefers to develop as he writes.
“Cabin,” he said, required a “Eureka!” moment. His original two-book deal was up and his editor and agent wanted 50 sample pages and a summary of a new book to move forward with a new contract. Tremblay hadn’t had much success with any new concepts but, on a flight back to Massachusetts from Los Angeles, he was doodling on a notebook he carries with him in which he hopes to record inspiration.
“I realized I’d drawn a cabin and suddenly it hit me: a home invasion story about a family at a desolate cabin.” Tremblay laughed. “The thing is, the home invasion story is definitely my least favorite genre in horror. They all seem to resolve with violent endings. And so I said, ‘Alright, Big Mouth, how would YOU do it?!’”
Thus inspired, Tremblay went to work and delivered sample chapters and his agent secured a new deal. Almost immediately — indicative of the status earned by “Ghosts” and “Disappearance” — Tremblay’s agent heard from eight different film production companies wanting to talk about “The Cabin at the End of the World.”
“I didn’t even know how it ended at that point,” he said.
Tremblay said the first movie representative he talked to about the book fit every possible Hollywood stereotype. Explaining he’s not good at impersonations, Tremblay nonetheless dropped into credible “LA-speak” as he quoted the film rep. “Hey, dude! I wanna be in the Paul Tremblay business!”
Tremblay asked what the man thought of the book, going back into character to capture the man’s response. “I haven’t read it, but it’s about time travel, right?”
Tremblay said his subsequent conversations with other film professionals went much better. In fact, talking about the then-unfinished “Cabin” with so many people helped Tremblay figure out the vagaries of the book’s plot and he finished the manuscript with steady momentum. Movies may or may not ultimately happen, but that’s something he doesn’t think much about; he’d rather be writing. A collection of short fiction is due next summer and a new novel the following year.
“I like the hope of horror fiction, if that doesn’t sound too weird,” Tremblay said. “It implies a shared recognition that something’s really wrong and we’re all in it together. We all face the same situations and fears. ‘Yeah, we’re screwed,’ but maybe it works out in the end.”