Malerman Reflects on Bird Box Success
Josh Malerman was in the lobby of Mann’s Chinese Theater, mere moments after the end credits commenced for the Hollywood premiere of the movie adaptation of one of his books. “…as the audience poured out, I saw (director) Susanne Bier emerge from the flowing crowd and she came to me and asked, ‘What did you think?’ And me, I remember smiling, sincerely able to tell her, “I loved it…!” before we were both swallowed up into that crowd for the rest of that night. That moment is now a treasure of mine.”
Even if you don’t have a Netflix account, you have likely noticed an advertisement, maybe even caught the trailer, for the streaming service’s production of the dystopic tale adapted from the 2013 novel that Malerman wrote. Bird Box stars Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and John Malkovich; it finds the world in chaos when unknown entities begin roaming across the continents, causing any observer of their form to flip out into a suicidal spell….
These “creatures” in the story, whatever they are…, seem to appear to you as your greatest fears or at least instill in you a paralyzing sense of doom. Survival requires blindfolds, survival requires teamwork. But the apex of suspense comes when Bullock’s Malorie finds herself tasked with shepherding two four-year-old children down the choppy waters of a wild river, to hoped-for (but not promised) sanctuary…, all while blindfolded!
Born and raised in northern Oakland County, Malerman has since been residing in Ferndale for the last five years—a move he made not too long after his first publishing deal with Harper Collins’ Ecco imprint. Since Bird Box, four other novels and two novellas have been released, and his next one is set for April, 2019.
Malerman is a lifelong fan of the horror genre. As early as his late teen years, he began writing novel-sized thrillers and weird tales that manifest creations and conceits from his intensely imaginative brain. Just out of college, at the turn of the millennium, he found himself in Brooklyn, forming a band that would stand to this very day, The High Strung. He’s since written (or co-written) lyrics for eight albums’ worth of High Strung songs, but never stopped writing his books, even if it meant long-hand through notebooks while in the back of a tour van.
“From the minute Bird Box was picked up, people have asked me some variation of what if they butcher your book?” said Malerman. “But I’ve been in a real good place with it from the start.” The way he sees it, the core ideas remain intact: a mother must find a way for her two pre-school age wards to survive in a world that’s, currently, too horrifying for them to look at. But what’s been really fulfilling, for Malerman, is to see the core idea…, being terrified by something you can’t see (but perhaps can imagine), become a viral meme (mostly on Twitter), as a wave of fans (reportedly nearly 50 million) took to social media to share their feelings and reactions.
Bird Box has become part of the cultural zeitgeist, now. When asked to describe his own reaction to the worldwide reaction of the Bird Box film, he is, uncharacteristically, speechless. But when he can collect himself, he’s able to pinpoint what could be a universal appeal (or a universal scare?). “At some point, while writing (Bird Box), the book became something of a Rorschach Test. There’s no monster so easily delivered here, so what do you see? What do you see in this tale of madness, of sadness, and of spirit, too? That’s always been the most chilling aspect of Bird Box for me. That nobody is telling me exactly what I should be scared of. Rather, I’m being asked to describe, on my own, what might drive me mad, what might be too much for me to imagine…”
Staying focused, now, has become a juggling act, Malerman said. Yes, Bird Box appears to be a smash hit—it’s got its detractors, or perhaps some doubters of its full impact, but when celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, or Missy Elliott, or even the “king” of horror, Stephen King, sing its praises on social media—then you know you’ve got not only a legitimately good horror film, but you’ve also got a great (core) story!
But Malerman has just released, with his band, The High Strung, a new album. They’re already working on material for a ninth album, and he’s still looking forward to the April release of his next novel, Inspection. All the while, he’s not only wondering whether another of his published books could make it to the big screen, but he’s also got to get back to the typewriter and finish the next (as yet untitled) novel, which we’d probably see in 2020. It never stops… He’s relishing this moment, while also turning his attention to the other projects, particularly to the next book.
“It’s wonderful. But, okay, let’s also turn our attention to the (April 23) release of Inspection. Let’s write the next book! Let’s gear up for the new High Strung album. I’ve been practicing this type of juggling for years. ‘I juggle bowling pins, Mister Malerman, what do YOU juggle..?’ I juggle works of art. And if I drop one, we’ll just go ahead and include the dent in the story.”
Initially, years ago, Malerman’s manager successfully optioned his debut novel for film. “I believed him because I believe in everything Ryan Lewis, as well as Kristin (my agent), and Wayne (my lawyer) say. They’re three brilliant, innovative people who all understand the momentum of the artist as well as the placement of that art. So shortly after HarperCollins picked Bird Box up, Ryan shopped it to some producers, and they brought it to Universal.” Netflix later bought it from Universal, and the rest is essentially history.
He said that nothing will top seeing “Based On The Novel By___” next to his name in the credits, but he also enjoyed getting to meet the cast. He got to meet some of the supporting cast and particularly bonded (of course, over horror films and horror novels) with actors like David Dastmalchian (Ant Man, Dark Knight), as well as character actors like Viven Blair and Happy Anderson.
He didn’t become Sandra Bullock’s new best friend, if you’re wondering. Though they did meet. And, particularly, it is her performance that Malerman may appreciate more than anything, with this experience. “For all the incredible ensemble cast, for the scene-stealing done by Boy and Girl, for the music, the cinematography on the river, John Malkovich’s complex character… nothing makes me feel better than seeing Sandra Bullock as Malorie, blindfolded, leading her kids to that boat, turning the boat over, and getting in. While writing the book, Malorie felt like a sister to me. A twin, even. And she felt the same when Sandra Bullock played her. Like I was rooting my sister on, believing she was strong enough to navigate the river, that life, to get where she set out to go…!”
The more books Malerman writes, he says, the more he “can’t ignore” the emergence of running themes. “And they’re almost unknown to me at the time of writing; themes I then look for traces of in the earlier books.” Fans online have pondered whether there’s a metaphorical connection to make between “not looking” at the horror outside, and “not looking” at the horrors that are on our social media feeds…
…But Malerman would bring you back to that Rorschach inkblot analogy. It could be nothing at all…, an empty space for you to squint at, asking yourself… ‘Is something there? There’s got to be a monster there…. Is there?’
We’ll leave that question up to the viewer. Or, should we say…, the reader!
The High Strung, featuring Malerman on guitar and sharing lead vocals, can be found online at: thehighstrungmusic.com – and on Facebook @thehighstrung.
More info: http://joshmalerman.com/ / https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/2155404/josh-malerman