INTERVIEW WITH PAUL TREMBLAY ABOUT SLEEP
I met Paul Tremblay at last year’s ReaderCon, and then I read his novel The Little Sleep, a noir about a detective with narcolepsy. His condition causes him to hallucinate and to confuse dreams with reality, which makes his investigations really difficult and his reliability as a narrator uncertain at best. I really dug it. Now there’s a sequel, No Sleep Till Wonderland, just out, so I asked Paul some sleep-related questions…
Mark Genevich, the narcoleptic detective who is the hero of The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland, has a seriously disruptive condition. He essentially hallucinates half of his investigations. Sometimes he hallucinates the cases themselves. Have you ever had a hallucination resulting from lack of sleep? Did you try to reproduce some of the mental states that Genevich experiences?
I’ve never had the vivid and lengthy hallucinations that Mark Genevich experiences. Like most people, I’ve been half-awake (or half-asleep) and felt falling sensations or seen glimpses odd people in the bedroom. Those little reality blips are mini-hypnagogic hallucinations that almost everyone experiences at some point in their lives. So says my research.
I didn’t try to reproduce any of Mark’s mental states. I ain’t no method actor. I do have some experience with a sleep disorder, however. I suffered from sleep apnea in the mid-to-late 90’s, had to wear a sleep mask (C-pap it’s called) for a bit, then had surgery to correct it. Deviated septum was undeviated, tonsils and uvula removed; no really, I have no punching bag in the back of my throat. Apnea wasn’t narcolepsy, but I do remember the crushing fatigue, a few dicey almost-falling-asleep-at-the-wheel moments.
And once, during an overnight sleep study in a hospital, with electrodes and the like hooked up to my head and chest, I dreamt that squirrels were coming out of the walls and attacking me. I held my ground though, because in my dreams, I’m a hero.
Scientific American says that the world record for staying awake is about eleven days–a high schooler named Randy Gardner did it in 1965. Eleven fucking days! I’ve done about 40 hours. Have you tried to see how long you could possibly stay awake?
Pfft. What do American scientists know, anyway. There’s no such thing as dinosaurs, the moon landing was faked, and that Randy Gardner is the devil.
Against my will, I once went 40 hours without sleeping and it wasn’t pretty. Or I wasn’t pretty. Toward the end I was stuck in a tiny airport in St. Thomas, sitting in a chair, twitching and flailing in and out of sleep. I woke up on a bus with a stranger sitting on my lap and the bus was going to a hotel I didn’t know existed.
You’re deliberately writing in the noir genre with these books, but applying a conceptual twist that allows you to exploit noir tropes even further. Genevich’s psychological handicaps allow you to amplify the paranoia and reversals and false identity themes of a traditional noir. What noir books do you love? What are the ancestors of the Genevich novels?
Yeah, Nick, one of my goals with the novels was to have fun with the noir tropes. Not in a way that satirized them, but to mess with reader expectations and build the theme of identity, memory, reality being malleable or fluid.
Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye are clearly huge inspirations. Other noir favorites are all books that played with the idea of identity or reality in some way. Those include Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music and Motherless Brooklyn, PK Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and a Scanner Darkly (and yeah, I’m saying those books are noir), Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist’s Handbook, and Will Christopher Baer’s brilliant Phineas Poe trilogy. I think Phineas Poe (Baer’s damaged and unreliable narrator/protagonist) is as much an ancestor of Mark Genevich as Philip Marlowe.
It’s worth noting that in the past year plus there have been a bunch of interesting novels that are twists to the noir tradition with what some folks are calling weirdboiled: books that mixed fantasy/surrealistic elements with the detective novel. I blogged about the weirdboiled here:
Do you write in the morning or at night? Does your brain (specifically the creative part) work differently at different times of day?
I haven’t noticed any creative differences with certain times of day. I work whenever I can. That said, I prefer to work in the morning. At night there’s less energy and I’m more susceptible to the temptations of email, blogs, or reading someone else’s book.
I like the scenes where Genevich describes his nightmares, like when he has the narcoleptic attack in a parking lot and then dreams that the parking lot is a black ocean where monsters with “machete-sized teeth” are swimming below and talking about him. What are your nightmares like? What happens in them and do you ever put it in books?
Glad you like those scenes, Nick.
As a kid my dreams were almost exclusively nightmares. Despite my love of good horror movies and fiction, I was (and still am) a scardey cat. My nightmares were full of monsters and teeth and claws, including a recurring dream of Killer Shrews (yes, from the terrible old B-movie). In fifth grade I saw JAWS and had a decade plus of shark nightmares. Still get a shark nightmare occasionally.
I love the movie, JAWS, by the way. Probably seen it forty times. I still won’t watch the scene where Quint gets bit in half. Can’t do it.
My sleeping nightmares don’t consciously make it into my fiction very often. My waking nightmares, those imagined worst-case scenarios that run through my head for too many hours in the day, they’re what my fiction is made of ninety-nine percent of the time.
That other one percent of my fiction is made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails.
Can you remember your dreams from last night? If not, what’s the most recent dream you can remember?
I don’t remember last night’s dream. The most recent remembered dream is kind of pathetic. Stephen King was in my house (but it really wasn’t my house, didn’t look anything like my house) reading his praise-filled review of my work. Then I turned into Cujo and ate Dee Wallace’s children. Well, that Cujo-part didn’t happen, sadly. It would’ve been more interesting.
Was there any debate (in your mind or between you and the publisher) about Till in the title of No Sleep Till Wonderland? That is, Till Wonderland rather than ‘Til Wonderland or Til Wonderland or Until Wonderland? The Beastie Boys went with No Sleep till Brooklyn while Motörhead went with No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith. Are there no rules??
I do like me some Motorhead (particularly Ace of Spades and Overkill), but the book title is a riff on the Beastie Boys.
I am not aware of any rules, but at the same time there wasn’t a whole of debate. Only an iron-fisted ruling from my editor Helen, who said that it was Till, not ‘til. She lives closer to Brooklyn than I do, and I assume she’s been there, and I haven’t, although I am planning on visiting my cousin who lives in Brooklyn soon, March probably. That’ll be cool.
So, anyway, with all those Brooklyn-related factors to consider, I deferred to Helen’s judgment on the matter of Till.