Providence College Alum’s Novel Adapted to Film￼
“Oh, you mean August 19, 2015?” said author and Providence College alumni Paul Tremblay ’93 about renowned horror novelist Stephen King’s positive commentary towards his fourth book, A Head Full of Ghosts. “I have the date memorized.”
“A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay: Scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare,” wrote King in a tweet on the date Tremblay immediately recounted. To Tremblay, this was the highest recognition—in graduate school at the University of Vermont, King’s novel The Stand catalyzed his horror-writing career.
“I’m not ashamed to say I got emotional when I saw his tweet,” Tremblay said. “I mean, I became a reader because of him, nevermind a writer.”
Tremblay has published nine works, all a combination of literary fiction and horror, winning various honors such as the Bram Stoker Award for Horror Novel and the Massachusetts Book Award. Many of his novels take place in New England, where he was raised, which gives Tremblay’s stories an expert edge.
“New England has a rich long tradition in horror and gothic fiction,” Tremblay said. “I think that’s a wonderful advantage, because I can either lean into the knowledge that so many readers already have about fiction that takes place in this area, or I can try to manipulate that and upend expectations of what a New England horror story is.”
Tremblay begins the process of creating a novel with concepts scribbled into his notebooks, which he keeps on hand for moments of spontaneous insight. If an idea sparks his interest, he begins to craft a short summary of the storyline. Tremblay’s strengths lie in character voice and development, he said, so utilizing a “roadmap” of the plot while writing is key. To Tremblay, the exciting part is watching how the story changes throughout the process.
In writing A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay knew initially that there would be fatalities within the main family, but did not yet know what mechanism would cause it. At the beginning of the book, what he had written as a minor character detail—the younger sister’s distaste for spaghetti sauce—turned into a principal factor of the novel’s ending.
“It seems like such a serendipitous thing, but I think as the writer—it’s hard to explain how you do this, but you learn to trust your subconscious,” Tremblay said. “You don’t know why a certain detail goes in, but you’ll trust it needs to be there. The more you allow [your subconscious] free reign, the more it’s going to help you.”
The Cabin at the End of the World, released in 2018, was recently adapted into a movie, Knock at the Cabin, by director M. Night Shyamalan. The movie features actors such as Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint and hit theaters on Feb. 3, 2023, reaching No. 1 at the box office just two days after its launch. Tremblay’s role in the movie was slightly removed, he said.
The film production company, in Tremblay’s case, FilmNation, “optioned” the book in 2017—essentially obtaining the right to use an author’s work as the basis for a motion picture. Later, in late 2019, Shyamalan became interested in producing the movie, which developed into an interest in both writing and directing it. After discussing it with Tremblay, he decided to write the screenplay, and Universal bought the rights according to the terms negotiated on the FilmNation optioning deal. Soon after, filming began.
Tremblay was simultaneously nervous and excited for the production. The Cabin at the End of the World was a “personal project” to him, but the nature of creation is cemented on taking inspiration from other works and retelling them in a unique way, he said.
“In some ways, that’s what the horror genre is, right?” he said. “If you think of it as this 200-year history of horror works. There’s the tropes, you know, vampires, zombies, et. cetera. The fun part is using the stuff that’s already been established and trying to create something new.”
Ultimately, Tremblay was pleased with the overall film. Having only observed one day of filming on set, the premier was his first full viewing. The premier, though stressful due to the unknowns, proved to be a true horror experience.
“There are parts [where] I was getting teary eyed because it was so close to the book, and there are other parts where it just felt so intense, like I wanted to get up and run out of the theater,” Tremblay said. “My favorite parts of the film are its visuals; it’s [a] stunningly shot, gorgeously composed movie. My other favorite part is the characters themselves, the actors. I think their performances are fabulous. They all really inhabit the emotional lives of the characters that I envisioned in the book.”
Tremblay attributes his confidence to his time at Providence College, and finds Friartown as the place that piqued his interest in reading. His second semester senior year, a graduation requirement placed him into a freshman-level English class. However, the professor, Professor McLaughlin, fulfilled the common stereotype of the “Cool English Teacher,” he said, and connected with Tremblay instantly.
“In that class, we read a short story called Where are you going? Where have you been? by Joyce Carol Oates,” he said. “And I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t know people wrote stuff like this.’ I thought it was just so clever. It was so not like the other stories that I had been assigned in high school. It felt really personal and sinister, even though there’s no violence on the page. There’s just a crackling threat of it.”
To aspiring writers, Tremblay has two simple pieces of advice.
“Besides read all the time,” he said, “I think the best advice is to give yourself permission to be patient with yourself. It’s okay to learn from rejection. To me, it’s always been about if you’re patient and persistent, if you keep writing and you keep submitting, it’s a numbers game. If you give yourself more and more chances, then the odds are more in your favor.”
To students of the College in particular, Tremblay recounts that some of his best memories included the people he surrounded himself with.
“I found the confidence to be who I was at Providence. I went to a fairly big public high school; it was easy to get lost and I just wasn’t a very confident kid. College, PC in particular, felt like a chance to start over. The biggest thing I remember are the friends and how non-judgmental everybody was. Everyone was just excited about your passions and your interests. And to me that was like a world changing thing.”