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Local horror author Paul Tremblay taps into pandemic fears in new novel

BOSTON — Paul Tremblay was tired of zombies.

Two years ago, the 49-year-old horror author from Beverly was kicking around ideas for his next spooky tale.

He had already tackled home invasion in “The Cabin at the End of the World,” demonic possession in “A Head Full of Ghosts,” and missing kids in “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock.”

But he couldn’t stomach another generic story about the living dead.

“Like most people, I was like, zombies?” Tremblay laughed, after letting out a big sigh.

“Once I knew I wanted to mess around with zombies, or be zombie-adjacent, I wanted to make it as realistic as possible,” he said.

Tremblay’s new novel “Survivor Song” -- a story of two friends trying to outrun a deadly virus in Massachusetts -- is more than just another zombie book.

It has eerie similarities to what many have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Oh, super eerie,” Tremblay said. “The first interview I did for the book was in early April for Rolling Stone, and I came off as like apologetic and really bummed out, to the point where my publisher was like, ‘Paul, you can’t apologize. Stop apologizing for the book. You didn’t cause this.’”

The virus terrorizing the characters in “Survivor Song” resembles a fast-moving rabies infection, nothing like coronavirus.

But the book’s description of crowded hospitals, quarantines, vaccines and personal protective equipment seems chillingly prescient, considering the book was written more than year before anyone knew what COVID-19 was.

“Some of the things that parallel what we’re going through is the result of research I did through my sister who works at one of the biggest hospitals in Boston,” Tremblay said.

“My worries for her are sort of wrapped up in the book,” he said.

Tremblay’s career took off five years ago, after Stephen King shared a glowing review of his fourth novel, “A Head Full of Ghosts.”

“Scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare,” King tweeted on Aug. 19, 2015.

If you’re able to freak out the Master of Horror, then you know you’re doing something right. Like King, most of Tremblay’s stories take place in New England.

Tremblay grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Beverly High School.

He lives in Stoughton and a large chunk of “Survivor Song” is set in Norwood Hospital.

“I haven’t really traveled a ton, so I’m writing about the places I know,” he said.

“But I mean, come on, New England, it’s really the home of the American horror story in many ways,” Tremblay said.

Tremblay said he is already working on his next novel, “The Pallbearer’s Club,” which is partially set in his hometown of Beverly.

“We are seeing an upswing not only in the popularity of horror literature, but also the acceptance of it,” Tremblay said.

“It’s a little bit less of a stigma to be called a ‘horror writer,’” he said. “You’re starting to see people take it a little more seriously.”