I’m so pleased to have Paul Tremblay kick off my new blog series on fear. Paul is one of my favorite writers, and if his books are any indication, he knows a lot about scary. After reading A Head Full of Ghosts, I knew that Paul was a writer I would be reading for a long time. His latest book, a story collection called Growing Things, is downloaded on my Audible app right now and accompanying me during my favorite month of the year.
It also helps that Paul is one of the nicest humans on the planet.
So, if you haven’t read any of his books yet, now’s your chance to fix that problem. And read on to find out what truly scares him. Here we go!
What is your greatest fear?
Witnessing the end of the world. In the ’80s I was convinced we would die in a nuclear holocaust. Now there are so many options to choose from!
Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
I don’t because they don’t exist. That’s the agnostic/math teacher me speaking (typing). He has control of my brain between 95-97.5 percent of the time. That guy, he’d say something like billions of people have died and if ghosts were a thing we’d be swimming in them. We wouldn’t be able to swing a dead cat without hitting a ghost, even if only a fraction of those billions had ghosts that came back to haunt us. It’s a numbers game. That guy (sorry I split my personality and went 3rd person too. Don’t know how I lost control of this answer so quickly) would claim there was a scientific explanation (low frequency waves messing with our brains, for instance) to ghosts or paranormal phenomena, and if a scientific explanation doesn’t exist, it’s only because we don’t know enough science yet. That guy (me most of the time) is a lot of fun at parties.
The other 2.5-5 percent of the time, I’m not so sure what I believe. These maybe-there-are-ghosts-and-other-things moments tend to occur after a terrible nightmare, or if I’m home alone at night and I hear a noise.
Do you have a recurring nightmare? What was your worst nightmare ever?
After seeing JAWS in fifth grade, in almost all my nightmares, I would end up in the water and then Jaws (that’s the name of the shark, you see) would attack me. I still have weird shark nightmares from time to time. I used to also have Freddy Krueger nightmares too, but not since I was a teenager. But now that I’ve typed this, I’ll probably have another one.
There was one other nightmare I had multiple times as a kid. I would be climbing the stairs to the third floor of my grandparent’s triple-decker and on the trip up, between the stairs or sometimes in a hole in the wall, would be a face. A face that the dream-me knew was pure evil. Evil in face form. I’m writing about this in a silly way because I don’t want to recall that face too closely or accurately for fear that it will come back.
What scares you most about the writing process?
I’m afraid I’ll run out of good or worthy ideas. I’m not sitting on this giant mountain of great ideas that are waiting to be plucked (plucked?). I essentially work from story-to-story and very rarely have a backlog. I have failed ideas or ideas that I spent time with and even outlined, but for one reason or another I decided they weren’t good/weren’t worth the investment of time and effort. Those lost ideas haunt me and I’m always tempted to go back to them, but it has yet to work out for any of those rejects. The losers.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?
What’s scary is so subjective. What scares you is likely different than what scares me, etc. I roll my eyes when someone whines ‘this isn’t horror because it’s not scary.’ Please spare me and spare us that irresistible review/insight.
Anyway, that all said, I think The Cabin at the End of the World, particularly the opening chapter, is the most intense and ‘oh no, oh no,’ thing I’ve ever written. It’s a lot of fun to read at readings/signings.
What is your favorite type of monster? Why?
Kaiju are my favorite. They’re so cool and fun, and they were my gateway to horror ultimately. On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid, there was a program called Creature Double Feature. The first movie was typically Godzilla, the second was a horror movie. Godzilla was the hook, and the second movie always scared the hell out of me. Thanks, Godzilla. Thanks a lot.
Though, in general, I like monsters that are lizard or dinosaur-like. A thing that’s almost plausible that it could exist. So the Creature from the Black Lagoon fits in my circle of monster love too.
What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why?
I’m not innately terrified of either, but both can certainly be scary. If I found a clown climbing on my bedroom wall instead of a spider, I’d be more freaked out by that wall-crawling clown. But, if I came across a spider the size of your average clown, I’d be more afraid of the spider. It’s all about context.
You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do? Also, is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?
I’d stop and help the kid, even if it meant my mostly-impossible supernatural death or demise. If it was a guy, I’d keep going. Sorry, lantern dude. Go home, you’re drunk.
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, the crime novels The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland, and the short story collection Growing Things and Other Stories. 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.