If you're looking for some great summer reading, and are up for a good scare, you'd do well to pick up Paul Tremblay's new collection of stories, "Growing Things." Tremblay has been called "Horror's Newest Big Thing," as he's piled up acclaimed novels and awards. Stephen King said Tremblay's novel, "A Head Full of Ghosts," "scared the hell" out of him. Like King, Tremblay is very much a creature of New England. He lives in Stoughton and kept his day job teaching high school, even as his writing career has taken off. Tremblay spoke with WGBH News' Arun Rath and discussed how Massachusetts made him the writer he is. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Paul Tremblay: I grew up and Beverly went to Beverly High School. I've been pretty much a hopeless parochial New Englander my whole life.
Arun Rath: Well I’ve got to ask you, is there something about this ‘parochial New England life’ that set you on a path to writing?
Tremblay: It's kind of hard to know if it's New England itself, but I do think that Gothic ghost story feel is almost hard to escape. I mean especially growing up in Beverly, which is right next to Salem, where I like to joke with people who aren't from the area, you know, where the witches came from.
One of my formative memories, and I don't know if this is unique to New England, but there was a show on Channel 56, pre-cable TV, when we had to get up and change the channel, the program was called "Creature Double Feature." And it's funny, when I come across a fellow Massachusetts-ean of a certain age, the other face lights up about "Creature Double Feature." But for me, that was my introduction to horror and maybe even storytelling. I was really young. I was really drawn to the Godzilla movie because that was what would be shown first. Then the second movie would be more like a black and white exploitation sort of horror movie or crime or Hammer horror film, and those would really scare me and give me nightmares.
Rath: Some classic blood and guts ...
Tremblay: Sure, stuff like, “Attack of the Colossal Man.” A lot of things that had "attack" — "Attack of the 50 foot man," “Attack of the Giant Shrews,” which is such a goofy movie. You know, it's been lovingly spoofed on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." But at the time as a kid I remember having a killer shrew nightmare.
Rath: And in terms of the literary side, it's not an original observation that New England has a tradition if you go all the way back to Poe, through H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and now you. Did you have an awareness of that growing up?
Tremblay: I did. Poe definitely loomed large, so much so that — you know, I'll admit to maybe not being the most ambitious student in middle school and high school, so whenever I was assigned a paper, I would write a paper on Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was definitely sort of my first New England introduction to Gothic literature or dark literature.
I was really a movie kid until — I didn't really start reading for pleasure until later in life than most writers because I was a math major in college. I went on to get my Master's in math, and I was at the end of my college career when I found my way into an English class almost randomly. But in that class we read Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Now I remember reading that and thinking, “Oh, I didn't know there were stories like this, I didn't know people wrote things like this.” Shortly after that my girlfriend, who's now my wife, Lisa, bought me Stephen King's The Stand for my 22nd birthday. So those two things are really sort of the literature ground zero for me that turned me into a reader. So once I read those two things, I spent the next two years supposedly getting my Master's in math — which I did by the skin of my teeth. But I really spent those two years just reading everything I could get my hands on.
Rath: Do you think there's something about this area, something that evokes horror?
Tremblay: Well, I do. I mean, for this country, the United States, it is one of the older regions. I know every region has their own ghost stories, but I don’t know that they have the amount that we do. For example, when I was writing my follow up to "A Head Full of Ghosts" called "Disappearance at Devil's Rock," for fun I did a search for New England things named after the devil. I can't tell you the number of things but it was legion. Sorry for the pun, there are so many devil’s rocks, devil’s cribs, devil's corn cribs, devil all around the state, obviously the leftovers of the puritanical roots, I suppose, of our current society.
Rath: And I guess they saw the devil everywhere here.
Tremblay: Yeah, absolutely! I know. For me I feel like the rhythm of literature too. This might sound a little bit goofy, or made up, but I take it seriously — the idea that we actually have seasons, the change of seasons. The change from spring, the summer, to fall and winter. That neverending cycle, that rhythm as a lifelong New Englander, I feel it. I think I would have a difficult time living elsewhere, as I enjoy visiting Los Angeles, for example. I don't know, I think some part of me, some subconscious part of me would be driven mad by the same weather all the time.
I kind of feel those four parts in every story. I tend not to think of my books in terms of three acts or anything like that, but in retrospect, especially in my novels, I kind of feel like, 'Oh yeah, there's four parts to this,' but I don't do it purposefully. I just feel like it sort of happens organically.
Rath: Keeping on the local theme, the new book is a collection of short stories, and several of them are set in the area. There is a wonderful one of the shorter stories called “The Getaway,” which is set in in Worcester. It's kind of a crime story that turns strange.
Tremblay: Yeah, Wormtown, right? That's how they refer to Worcester. That was sort of a story for hire at the time. There was an anthology, it was going to be called “Supernatural Noir.” So they wanted a supernatural element mixed with a crime story, and at the time I'd written a few crime novels, so that was kind of where I was approached. But I think with most of my New England stories, I like the idea that there is this history so you can use it and add to it — or more often than not, I like to tweak it a little bit, or maybe subvert some of the expectations of what a New England story would look like, or in the case of Worcester, a place that really isn't written about very often, and show that side of New England as well.
Rath: There's just a short amount of descriptive writing, but you kind of capture a little bit of the town's mix of old, and now there's some new shininess to it as well.
Tremblay: Sure, and I think and within the characters themselves it's almost … well, it's the Massachusetts version of Boston vs. New York, right? Or what people say about Boston feeling inferior to New York. I know a lot of people from Worcester, and they make cracks about Boston all the time like, “Oh, you people ignore anything that happens west of 128.” You know, I definitely tried to infuse that into the set of desperate characters who start the story off robbing a pawnshop.
Rath: What happens — and I want to be careful with these stories not to give spoilers, because there are revelations that take place in them that are just delicious and people should enjoy it for themselves — but what happens with this sort of robbery that goes wrong ... people start to disappear.
Tremblay: Part of the fun was to open it up as sort of a street crime story until there's this really strange — so ground everything in reality, and then have something be off. You know, sometimes it can be very slightly off. In this case it's really loud, in your face. One gunman who was supposed to have climbed into the trunk of the car just disappears into almost like a hail of blood in the back. And I don't do gore all that often, particularly in this collection, but it felt like it fit the tone of that story anyway.
Rath: Looking at some of the other stories as well, disappearance is certainly a theme, and even going back to your novels, it just seems like it's an interesting way that you keep taking on death in a way that unpacks it, strangely.
Tremblay: Sure. That's interesting. It's funny, because I think you're right. I hadn't realized that, because a lot of other people have read my previous works talk about how kids and parents are a definite theme, and even the title of the collection is "Growing Things." I do think that's an overt reference to — a lot of the stories are about kids or about parents, but there are also quite a few about maybe middle-aged people growing older, or even growing within your career, like “The Teacher.” And I do think the disappearance aspect of this, as you grow, you change, and what happened before or what you were before does pull this "disappearance."
That’s horror author Paul Tremblay. His new collection of stories, "Growing Things," is out now. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.