Josh Malerman Paints Post-Apocalyptic World with “Bird Box”

By: Toni Cunningham | July 30, 2014

Take a moment to think of your deepest, darkest fear. Whatever you’ve come up with, it likely pales in comparison to the premise of Josh Malerman’s debut novel, “Bird Box.”

The Ferndale-based author’s horror novel rivals a mash-up of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening.” Except, ya know, it happens to be a great piece of literature, not a crummy piece of film like “The Happening”—just a similar premise. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, “Bird Box” is centered around an entity that causes people to go into a homicidal or suicidal rampage as soon as they catch sight of it. The book follows survivor Malorie and her children five years after the first episode—when it’s time for them to flee.

I don’t want to give too much away because, well, you’ll just have to read it yourself. Malerman managed to write the first draft of “Bird Box” in merely 26 days. He said the process went off without a hitch, and he stuck to writing between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon throughout the month of October, churning out over 4,000 words per day.

“Of course, the manuscript changed mightily since day 26, but that run was so vivid I can feel it again, right now,” Malerman said. “By noon I wrapped up and by bedtime I had an idea of what I’d write the next morning… For reasons I can’t answer, the story continued to unspool, comfortably, minute by minute, day to day, until I understood she was done, at which point I immediately scheduled a costume party.”

Malerman has always been a writer, which is evident through the prose of “Bird Box,” as well as the songs he composes for the band he fronts, The High Strung.

“The truth is, I never felt like a writer. For a long time I held the weird idea that a writer was someone else… they talked (differently) than I do, they definitely dressed (differently). But what I didn’t know then was that a real writer is a little different than any other writer and no two writers are the same,” Malerman said.

When this realization set in, Malerman said it felt like being welcomed into an extraordinary club—one that he explained as the “Each Man an Island” club, with a cluster of islands all off of the same stretch of horror coast.

If you’re not yet hooked on the premise of “Bird Box,” allow Malerman to convince you. This isn’t just any ol’ horror novel; it’s one about man’s inability to imagine infinity.

“I’d say, ‘Hey Jon, imagine you hear a knock at the front door, you go to open the door, your hand on the knob, when you realize it’s infinity outside. You know you can’t comprehend infinity. You know it’ll drive you mad. But you wanna know what it looks like. Do you open the door?’ That’s ‘Bird Box.’”

Malerman is a huge horror fan, and he has his uncle to thank for getting him interested in the genre. While playing a game of basketball with his brothers and cousins as a child, his uncle called him inside to watch “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” and Malerman was hooked instantly.

“(With that), a corner of the universe opened up to me, and a man in a white suit was standing there, waving me in, ‘Come on!’ he mouthed, ‘You’re gonna love it in here!’”

He finds inspiration from other horror authors as well, and is currently reading “The Bridge” by John Skipp and Craig Spector to fuel his horror diet.

Malerman seemingly had no difficulties writing the book from a woman’s perspective. The only research that went into “Bird Box” was studying the trimesters of pregnancy, since he wanted to know what would happen to Malorie’s body throughout the course of the book. The story itself, he said, was stemmed from an idea and a vision.

“I loved the concept of infinity personified. An unfathomable monster on your front lawn,” Malerman said. “And, for no reason, I liked the image of a woman traveling down a river blindfolded. I set to work on the latter, realized she was fleeing the former, and the book ballooned from there.”

“Bird Box” hit shelves this spring and has been incredibly well received. So well, in fact, that Universal has already picked up the rights to turn the book into a feature film. Thus far, two drafts of the script have been written and a director is being finalized.

Malerman has no plans to write a sequel to “Bird Box,” but said he isn’t opposed to the idea, either. Right now, he’s working on two books, one of which will likely be his follow up to “Bird Box.”

“I do like the idea of beginning a sequel before the first book ends. Maybe change some things. The ending. Just to add another abstract layer. Alternate realities within an alternate reality. But we’ll see. Too many other ideas on the table,” Malerman said.

Malerman loves the anonymity that comes with being an author, which is vastly different than the spotlight that comes with fronting The High Strung. With a band, there’s a need to be something besides an artist, and as an author, he can simply be himself.

“Let the musicians play. Let the writers write. And I’ll love them all for being great at what they do,” Malerman said. “I love writing songs as much as books. They satisfy sister needs within me.”

For more information on Malerman and his novel, “Bird Box,” visit his Facebook page.