Virtually Meeting Author Josh Malerman

27 Oct

I haven’t attended any virtual author events until now and it would, of course, be a local library that finally got me to do it. A library about thirty minutes from me was hosting a virtual event with Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box. (See my book review, book club reflection, and movie review.) Malerman is from Metro Detroit so I’ve always had an eye open for an event with him and was excited to jump on this one having recently learned he’s doing a sequel to Bird Box titled Malorie.

Malerman talked a lot about his process of becoming a writer and publishing Bird Box. He said he started to write emo poems in high school but he didn’t want to show those to everyone and kept them to himself. When he was in high school, his basketball team went to a tournament in Ohio and when he returned, he wrote a story about the experience. This, he was finally ready to share and after showing it to one person, it got passed between his teammates, coaches, and fans. He said that finally made him feel like a writer.

When writing, Malerman ‘failed’ to write a novel four times. He said these are only failures because he didn’t finish them. He was writing a spooky ghost story when he realized he could finish the book and would have an ending. He’d written the book by hand and did a re-write as he typed it into a computer. He sent it to his brother who had it printed. It’s titled Wendy. Once he realized he could do this, he did it again and again, writing a novel about every six months. He encouraged interested writers to keep up their momentum. Even if you don’t end up where you thought you’d be, you’ll end up somewhere. He believes that some artists (including writers) are paralyzed that the art they produce has to represent them in every way. It needs to express their political, religious, moral, and life views and they are paralyzed at the idea of putting all of that into one book. Well, if you write two books, you get to spread that out a little bit. If you write a third, even more. Each book can represent a part of you in a different way; it doesn’t all have to be in one novel.

Malerman also advised not to be afraid to talk about your books. He publicly shared it when he finished a book and a friend read it and shared it with a lawyer who offered to find him an agent. He was so uninformed about the publishing industry that the draft was not indented and was in all italics. The agent they found was one who ‘didn’t do horror’ but agreed to represent the book anyway. It was sold to HarperCollins. The film rights sold before the book was even published so he had no leverage to influence the movie or screenwriting much. He was able to go on set one day and met Sandra Bullock. They were filming the scene at the beginning where the car she’s in with her sister flips. She spoke to Malerman and apologized if they were butchering his book. When he finally saw the final film, it moved him to tears.

A lot of the participants asked about his newest book, Malorie. Malerman’s first draft for Bird Box was twice as long as the final version. He took out a major thread and had wanted to write a second book about that thread ever since. Writing Bird Box was easy for Malerman, writing up to 60 pages in a sitting. When he returned to Malorie, that ease came back. Malorie is very similar to him. He mentioned that he knows her so well that it sometimes feels like a sister or close friend named Malorie is having success with the books instead of him. Of the 33 (!!) books he’s now writing, Malorie is the character he feels closest to. He’s even considering a 3rd book because he could spend more time with her.

He was asked about the faceless monsters and told a story about when he was in high school and a teacher said to him that if someone seriously contemplated the concept of infinity, they would go insane. So he started to do it and found the idea crippling. The monsters are ‘infinity personified,’ something that’s so vast and unbelievable that a person can’t grasp what they’re seeing and loses their mind.

When asked about the title, he recognized that he’s been asked before why an object with such a small part in the book was recognized in the title. He said that Malorie was trapped in the house like the birds are trapped in the box. And humans on Earth are trapped. And on and on like nesting dolls. The title is about the narrowed world Malorie finds herself in.

It was a small group and I was able to ask Malerman about the craziest assumption someone had made about him because he writes horror. He said a friend constantly sends him gruesome crime articles because he thinks he’ll find them interesting. I was also able to tell him about my experience reading Bird Box and how I’ll never forget it. I was camping out before a charity bike ride and my husband was arriving late so I was waiting for him in a tent. It was after 9:00 and pitch dark out before he arrived. I was reading the book by flashlight and jumped every time someone passed my tent!

I’m looking forward to reading Malerman again, though I might stick to indoor settings with reliable electricity. It was a pleasure to meet him and I hope to meet him in person sometime.

Until next time, write on.

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