"The bond between author and reader has always fascinated me. Without the reader's imagination, an author's words are dead in the dark. Only when you open their book do you make them come alive. It's like a spell. And you spread that magic because you talk about the book, post about it, or give it away to someone." - Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Hex & Echo.
I am thrilled that our next interview is with Josh Malerman. I thought I'd leave it to a writer to explain why I am doing this series of author interviews and I couldn't have said it better than Thomas Olde Heuvelt above. Bird Box was my first experience with Josh's writing. As he calls them his "wink" moments. For me the scene following the birth will always terrify me to think about it even though it's been years since I first read it. THAT'S horror.
You can preorder Josh's upcoming release Daphne HERE via our website (support indies).
Stay tuned to see which of his titles we'll be choosing for book club this fall. I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Stephanie Rose: You had written over a dozen books before writing Bird Box, can you tell us about the first book you ever wrote? Do you ever think you will publish that one or any of your others pre-Bird Box?
Josh Malerman: I had tried my hand at some four novels before finishing my first one. And after “failing” four times (and by “failing” I only mean: not finishing), my big plan was to write two at once. That way, if I got stuck in one, I could turn to the other, and vice versa, until I ping-ponged my way to a finish line, finally. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. I had two ideas: one a lofty coming-of-age/coming-of-artist book and the other a psycho-sexual horror novel about an evil shack of fantasies deep in the Michigan woods. I tried the lofty one first, made it two pages, turned to the horror story, and erupted through it. 310 pages in 28 days. Handwritten and glory be, one of the greatest artistic experiences of my life. Wendy changed my life. I wrote it at an all-night coffee shop near where I live in Michigan, surrounded by law students, all with their nose in their books, and I credit the fact that I got it done to that hard-work atmosphere.
My plan is to publish every book I’ve written. Goblin was written before Bird Box and she’s out in the world, and so I hope (and plan for) the others to follow suit. Why not? It’s not like any of these books were written with anything but “the real thing” in mind. No demos here. No practice runs.
SR: Do you think your writing has changed with the change of venue? Now that you're able to write more in one place rather than random places all over the country on tour?
JM: I love the question. And the answer is no. Long ago I tucked “writing” and “writing songs” and “art” and “an artist’s life” in a safe place in my head, an untouchable place where perceived failures and frustrations, drugs and drink, relationships and relations could not distract me from the work at hand.
So, whether in a tour bus, a bar, a library, or here, now, in my home office, I still step into the same place when I sit down to write a novel. It’s a piqued place. Emotional and enormous, full of joy and fear, confidence and assurance. While I’ve changed a lot over the course of writing 35 novels, my approach has not. It’s gotta be joyful, it’s gotta be true. And I work every day on the rough draft until it’s done.
SR: You said now that you are writing at home more you listen to horror film soundtracks. Any favorites?
JM: Yes! Here are some (of many): Under the Skin, Creepshow, Troll, Tourist Trap, The Boogeyman, Suspiria, Vertigo, Psycho, John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, Insidious, the a Nightmare on Elm Street box set, Chopping Mall, Cat’s Eye, The Beyond.
SR: You said in a past interview you wink at the page or screen when you think you've nailed a scary scene. When did you wink when writing Pearl?
JM: Ha, these questions are great! So, when Jeff climbs out his bedroom window, after seeing Pearl’s shadow growing in the hall, and he sees his dad crouched out there on the roof, Dad who hasn’t been in his life in years, Dad who left mom and the boys, Dad who has no earthly reason for being on this roof, for being present, and certainly no reason to be so chill, Dad who says, “Hi, Jeff,” and we know it’s Pearl’s doing, or maybe we don’t… at that moment… I winked.
SR: Do you think your Midwestern background has made an impact in any of your books?
JM: It has to have. I find myself writing about farms and smaller Michigan-esque cities. Bird Box takes place in the state, and on a Michigan river, no less. So, yes. But if the question has more to do with the “midwestern work ethic” or that sort of thing, I tend to shy away from ideas like that. I don’t know, I guess I worry that “work ethic” and “he works hard” somehow de-mystifies the magic of writing novels. I don’t want readers to imagine me “working hard.” I want them to imagine me conjuring story.
SR: If you could only choose one of your books to recommend to a reader which would it be?
JM: Well, my favorites today are Unbury Carol and Ghoul n the Cape. They’re both entirely free spirits. And while Bird Box may be a better example of tension, or even the power of the rewrite, Carol and Ghoul are me expressing myself in full, their stories, from cover to cover.
SR: Can you tell us about your upcoming horror projects? Any other adaptations in the works?
JM: We’re shooting a movie May 1st . It’s about four occult minded professionals who believe they have the night off. They think they’re just blowing off steam, drinking, dancing, talking. That is until they find themselves in the center of an occult occurrence, one they cannot write off or ignore. More on this to come, though I can tell you it stars the amazing occultist John E.L. Tenney.
And, as goes adaptations, I do have some wonderful news coming up and it’s all I can do not to reveal it all here, now. (thank you for asking and maybe if we were at the bar I would say, ah screw it, and reveal it)
SR: Any recent books, films, shows, or podcasts you want to recommend to our readers?
JM: Sure. I’ve been loving Kathe Koja’s newest, Dark Factory and Ross Jeffery’s The Devil’s Pocketbook. Midnight Mass, 1883, and Scare Me are some of my favorite newer shows and movies. And I’ve had some serious conversations on the Talking Scared podcast recently and I enjoy The Laydown Podcast and Vox Vomitus.
Lightning Round | Altered and Borrowed from James Lipton
SR: What is your favorite word?
SR: What is your least favorite word?
SR: What is your favorite scary movie?
JM: Hmmm. Let’s say The Blair Witch Project for now.
SR: What is your favorite horror book?
JM: Let’s say Interview with the Vampire for now.
SR: What sound or noise do you love?
JM: Shoes on a gravel track.
SR: What sound or noise do you hate?
JM: When the ice machine thingie just gurgles because it has nothing left!
SR: What is your favorite curse word?
SR: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
JM: Theater owner.
SR: What profession would you not like to do?
JM: Campaign manager.
SR: What is your favorite fall/spooky activity to do?
JM: A walk as the sun goes down, when it’s crisp enough to wear a scarf, leaves are swirling, and every house you pass looks haunted.
SR: What author dead or alive would you want to spend the night in a haunted house with?
JM: Jonathan Janz. I think we’d be scared shitless while having the time of our lives. Also he’d make me feel safe.