Josh Malerman is a member of the rock band The High Strung, who have been spotlighted on NPR’s This American Life, and profiled on VanityFair.com. Their music has been featured on many movie and TV soundtracks, including the title and theme song for the Showtime series Shameless. BIRD BOX has been optioned by Universal Pictures with Andy Muschietti, known for the cult horror hit Mama, to direct.
The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
Josh Malerman: A story about motherhood, and man’s inability to comprehend infinity.
TPP: What inspired you to write Bird Box?
JM: I went into the rough draft with two things in mind: one was “infinity” as a physical entity/monster, the other was a simple image of a woman rowing down a river blindfolded. I started writing the latter, and soon realized she was fleeing the former. From there, the details and the story blossomed. It was like filling a balloon with air, watching it expand. As far as any movies/books/etc that inspired it, my history with horror is so rich, that I’m not sure I can point to a single work and say this or that got me to write Bird Box. The genre just continues to propel me, all the time.
TPP: What was the most difficult aspect about writing your novel?
JM: The first draft was such a smooth experience. The only real speedbump was a part of the book I can’t talk about without giving things away! But it’s safe to say that having the lead character blindfolded for 80% of the novel proved to be a juggling act at times. Still, I loved that act.
TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?
JM: I hope the colors of the story come through, more than I’m worried about how well written it is. I hope the spirit of the genre is somewhere between the front and back cover. I once heard that Berry Gordy decided if a Motown mix was finished when he saw the janitors tapping their toes to the music. I hope that happens with Bird Box. As they read the book, I hope the janitors are tapping their toes.
TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?
JM: Do not wait for inspiration. Inspiration is a monster. The inverse of a monster; it haunts us when it’s not around. And don’t be afraid to write a bad rough draft. Fly through the thing, hate it if you must, but get that rough draft done, and from there you’ll be able to fix it, with the confidence of having finished a novel.
TPP: What was your experience with the process of getting your novel published and the film rights being picked up before it was released?
JM: My agent, Kristin Nelson, is absolutely wonderful. She walked me through the process step by step and made it all feel natural and fluid. That’s not to say I didn’t experience a few internal freak outs, but through Kristin I met a group of fantastic people, including all the staff at ECCO/HarperCollins. I’m constantly surprised at how nice everyone involved has been. I think a lot of us writers imagine that these mysterious editors, producers of films, and agents are coming from a harsh. anti-artistic place. But it’s just not true. My editor is every bit the artist I am.
TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on a playlist for Bird Box.
JM: Ooh! All of the soundtracks for the following three movies worked wonders while writing it: Creepshow (John Harrison), Vertigo (Bernard Herrmann), and Dressed to Kill (Pino Donaggio.)