“The Police Melt As They Question You” – Josh Malerman on the BIRD BOX Movie, GOBLIN, and UNBURY CAROL

This interview was originally published back in October 2017 in Dark Moon Digest Issue #29. Read the full issue for a ton of great stories, including Josh Malerman’s “Jessica Malerman.” Purchase it directly through us or via Amazon. You can also subscribe to our magazine for just $1 a month through Patreon.

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Dark Moon Digest: So, how was New York Comic Con? The pictures made me very jealous I hadn’t also been in attendance.

Josh Malerman: It was like swimming in a living rainbow. Like the first time I tried mushrooms and thought my face had left my head, only all the faces and heads were multicolored, costumed enthusiasts and here I was, worried that I was going to have to pee during my panel or crap my pants during the book signings. In a word, it was wonderful! It’s not Comic Con’s fault I’m a bundle of nerves. I wonder if someone was dressed as that… a bundle of nerves.

DMD: Both Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich are starring in a film adaptation of Bird Box, a novel you wrote. What the hell is going on? This is getting out of hand.

Malerman: I found out John Malkovich was officially on board as Allison and I were taking a bike-cab downtown from Comic Con to meet up with John Taff, J Daniel Stone, and Erik T. Johnson. Man… what can I say? There’s a part of me that’s just itching to see the movie like I would be itching to see a movie made from a Taff story, a story I love. And then there’s this reality side of me that keeps knocking on my window, saying, “Hey, man! Sandra Bullock is playing Malorie!” I love it. I love her and John Malkovich and I hope the movie is scary as hell and I hope the music comes out on vinyl one day and I hope that all involved have the time of their lives making the movie.

DMD: Your story “Jessica Malerman” deals with you, Josh Malerman, having a one-night stand with the person you would have been if you’d been born a girl. How the hell did this idea originate? Walk us through your process here, because this is one bizarre story you cooked up.

Malerman: I’ve always known that, had I been born a girl, my name woulda been Jessica. This is partly because, for a long time, I didn’t like my actual name. Josh starts well and ends soft. I asked Mom what other names I might’ve been called. She said Jake. That sounded good, good enough for me to imagine life as Jake. Then Mom told me about Jessica and I imagined life as Jessica, too. I almost don’t wanna think about how different her life would be/is from mine… like… the same way I don’t wanna think about how the puffer fish in my living room doesn’t have as much room as I wish he had. To be fish-tanked by our names… by our gender… creeps me to pieces. And it should. No matter how well you’re doing, what-might-have-been is tantalizing as hell… teases you like a bizarrely insightful bully, the kind that knows everything about you. The real you. I realized all along that, given the chance to actually meet Jake or Jessica, I’d take it. And so… I had a chance, here, to meet Jessica. And I took it.

DMD: You just released Goblin, a novel-in-parts. I remember reading this was the first book you intended to seek representation for, but switched it with Bird Box at the last second. How did you come to the decision that Bird Box was a better fit for a debut author?

Malerman: Goblin is a very colorful thing. So many colors that it’s almost difficult to explain to someone, briefly, when you’re sitting at a bar with them, talking about what you have going on. But Bird Box has always felt like a black and white movie to me, a real straight shot… and so while my manager and I were discussing books, etc, Bird Box just kept coming up as a firm handshake, whereas Goblin was a handshake with a wink and we agreed that maybe the best way to meet someone, for the first time, was to shake their hand and to save the wink for the second or third conversation.

DMD: Tell me about your hometown. Similar to Goblin or what?

Malerman: Absolutely. The Police melt as they question you, the woods are impenetrable, and the local magic shop is run by a very kind man. The zoo tour guide is a hulking manchild and the local historian is terrified of the history he can’t stop reading about. The local big game hunter is a prick. And all the little boys and girls sneak into the adult theater just to watch the audience, never the big screen.

(edited to note: I was raised in the ultimate suburbia, strip malls and wide sidewalks, bike rides to the party store that sold Mad Magazine and comics and my first love, Book People. It rained. It shined. And it had secrets, of course, buried in the lawns.)

DMD:  One of the novellas in Goblin deals with a man cutting pieces of himself off and mailing them to his girlfriend. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done to prove your love?

Malerman: That exact thing.

(edited to add: in the early days of Allison, I kept the gum she’d chewed and strands of her hair on this shitty little nightstand next to my army cot-sized bed. One day she pointed at the collection and said, “What’s that?” So I told her and she looked worried.)

DMD: Unbury Carol comes out next year and I think it might be your best book so far. I was honestly a bit surprised that you’d written a western. It was a nice surprise. It feels like at this point you can write just about anything. What’s a genre you’re afraid to tackle? One you haven’t tried yet but plan to? Ones you’ve already executed but the public has no idea about (yet)?

Malerman: First, thank you. I would love to write a very small (in scope) “romance-horror.” A man and a woman and… a third thing that’s not any good for anybody involved. As goes the other books, the two-dozen rough drafts in my office… to me they’re all “horror.” Bird Box and Unbury Carol included. But I’m beginning to understand that, as different as Bird Box is from Unbury Carol, so is (Pest) from Inspection. Decorum at the Deathbed from Merry Impresario. I’m not totally aware that I’m adding a slice of something unhorror to horror, until I’m well into it. That happened with Carol, silly as that sounds. At some point I said, “Well, holy shit. You’re writing a western. Maybe you should have an airplane land on page 100 to make it all a bit harder to describe.”

DMD: What’s the closest you’ve ever come to being buried alive?

Malerman: Hid in the trunk of a car to sneak into a music festival in mid-Michigan. There was another dude in there with me. Longest forty minutes of my life. You couldn’t help but think, “What if all our other friends in the body of the car just suddenly… died? And the car started rolling slowly to a stop… on the side of a mid-Michigan country road… how long before… before… before…”

DMD: So let’s say the government approaches you one day during band practice and tells you about this weird sound coming from the desert that’s driving people mad, and they want you to investigate it. What’s your response?

Malerman: We’re on it, sir. You can count on the High Strung. Just give us a case of Jack Daniel’s and some heroic movie score music, a 4 track recorder and some sunscreen, and we’ll get to the bottom of this terrible thing.

DMD: What color is the piano?

It’s…

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Preorder Unbury Carol. And, once again, order Dark Moon Digest Issue #29 for Josh’s story, “Jessica Malerman.”

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