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Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

Award-winning author Paul Tremblay discusses how a school-wide assembly inspired his new horror novel, The Pallbearers Club.

Paul Tremblay has been the recipient of the Bram Stoker, British Fantasy, and Massachusetts Book Awards and is the author of Survivor Song, Growing Things and Other Stories, The Cabin at the End of the World, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, A Head Full of Ghosts, and the crime novels The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland. He lives outside Boston with his family. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

Paul Tremblay

In this post, Paul discusses how a school-wide assembly inspired his new horror novel, The Pallbearers Club, why he begins his writing process with a summary, and more!

Name: Paul Tremblay
Literary agent: Stephen Barbara
Book title: The Pallbearers Club
Publisher: William Morrow
Release date: July 5, 2022
Genre/category: Horror/literary
Previous titles: A Head Full of Ghosts, The Cabin at the End of the World, Survivor Song
Elevator pitch for the book: The novel is a found memoir that begins in the late 1980s with a high school loner starting an extracurricular club for volunteer pallbearers at poorly attended funerals. A mysterious woman, who may or may not be a supernatural figure from New England folklore, joins the club, shoots Polaroid pictures of the corpses, and comments on the memoir.

Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

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What prompted you to write this book?

I’ve been a high school teacher for more than 25 years and in the fall of 2019 a student at my school attempted to start a Pallbearers Club. His announcing the club at a school-wide assembly instantly got my writerly wheels turning. I put my long-ago high school self in the shoes of the club organizer and the story grew out from there.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

Once I had the book’s title and main character, I let those elements percolate for a handful of months while I worked on a few other things. I finally got around to writing a rough nine-page plot summary in March/April of 2020.

I usually write a summary for my novels before I work on the story proper. This time I had to, as my publisher wanted 30 pages and the summary before they could make an offer on the book. I was happy to oblige. I finished a draft of the novel in early April 2021. I didn’t get edits until July. I then spent that month cutting about 30 pages from the manuscript and generally tightening things up.

The main idea of the story didn’t change much after I started writing it in earnest. However, the last third of the book saw a big plot change, compared to what was described in the summary.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

This book has an important and unique interior design element. One of the characters writes notes in the margins of the book, giving her critique of some of the events as they’re being presented. My biggest and most pleasant surprise—my publisher was going to go the extra design mile for the book.

While writing the book, I knew the marginalia would be a pain to actualize, but I didn’t realize how much of a pain. My editor has kindly asked, or commanded, to ease up on design elements for the next book. I told her, “Don’t worry. The next one will have pop up pages and holograms!”

I always learn from my hero editor Jennifer Brehl. This time around, she didn’t give me specific orders on what had to go or stay in the draft. She instead described a thorough, tightening up vision of what the story was, or could be. Of course, hard-headed me didn’t see it or get it right away, but I did when I returned to the manuscript and started digging through.

Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Prior to writing this book, I made a self-discovery of why I write, or why it is I think I write: to prove to that lonely teenager stuck inside me that I have something worth saying/writing about. I thought the act of writing this book and spending so much time in that kid’s headspace would help exorcise some of those self-doubt demons by exposing them to light/air. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but I am very proud of the book.

Also, without getting spoilery, I learned a ton about a subset of New England folklore that I previously knew nothing about.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope readers will relate to the struggle of not being very popular in high school, relate to the humor and self-deprecation, relate to the narrator’s love of music and yearning to create, and relate to being in a complicated friendship that is both supportive and not all that healthy.

I also want readers to be creeped out and too scared to turn out their bedside lamp.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Read. Read, read, read. Read widely in and outside of your genre and/or comfort zone. More specific to the act of writing, when you get feedback or edits, give yourself 24 hours before your respond. I’ve found I’m much more able to be welcoming and objective about the feedback after that elapsed time.

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