We have already published our review about Josh Malerman's debut novel (Bird Box), you can find it here (in Hungarian). Now we are managed to make an interview with the author via email. Josh Malerman talked about the essence of horror, monsters, madness and future plans.
stv: Your debut novel, Bird Box, is about facing the unknown. You have some really special monsters in the story. Could you talk a bit more about how you create monsters?
Josh Malerman: I knew Malorie and the kids were fleeing Infinity, an incomprehensible concept, something their minds couldn’t assimilate, something that would drive them mad if they even attempted to understand it. And you can’t not try to understand a thing if you look at it. You can’t help but immediately ask yourself… What is it? So that left Malorie (and everybody) in a very tough spot; if by looking at it, you’ll go mad… your only option is to not look.
stv: Both the mysterious entities and the humans can be monsters. One of the characters in the house is the most terrifying "monster" in the book. He is completely insane, although it is not obvious at first. How does it fit into the basic conception of your book about fearing the unknown?
Josh Malerman: For those who walk the boundaries of madness, those who know where it is, the creatures might have a different effect. There’s the kind of crazy that howls on all fours and crawls around your city streets naked, and then there’s the icy crazy, the kind that can hold a job, raise a family, all while harboring completely insane fantasies and plans. This latter group is the one that interests me more, or interested me more while writing the book. Maybe people like that could exist safely in a world like Bird Box.
stv: Insanity is an important topic of the horror genre and has a great tradition in cosmic horror. Why do you think it is a common theme?
Josh Malerman: In the same way “possession” is horrifying, it’s the idea of losing control of yourself. Madness is out of your reach, you can’t just wrap it up in a blanket and stuff it in a crawlspace. You’ve got to live with it, be it, share your body with it, like you would a demon. We all fully understand how important our individual perspectives are; our entire worlds are made up our tastes and judgments; your idea of success is your own, your idea of the woman you want to marry is your own; so what could be more terrifying than removing the confidence in this ability to make decisions for yourself?
stv: What is the essence of the horror genre?
Josh Malerman: There are many, but for me the biggest is the childlike imagination at play. I can read any horror novel and imagine a huge kid wrote it, eyebrows arched, the bedroom lights dim. And so there’s a combination of wisdom and naiveté, a precocious kid. And kids who know more than you do are scary as hell.
stv: The bird box is a quite important tool for survivors in your story. It's also a metaphor. Could you explain why?
Josh Malerman: When Tom brought home the box of birds I understood that he’d also brought home the title of the book. Troika dolls; the birds inside the box are like the people inside the house are like all the houses upon the planet. All one big box, boxed in, by the unknown lurking outside.
stv: How do you endure the editing process?
Josh Malerman: There were intense moments, you know, but for the most part I saw the book getting better and so I didn’t resist it. The rough draft was such a spectacular experience that I suppose the edits had to be hard. Balance. Or something like it.
stv: Are you planning a sequel to Bird Box.
Josh Malerman: No plan. But I’m not opposed to it. I think about Malorie a lot. I miss her.
stv: Which authors have had the biggest influence on you?
Josh Malerman: Too many. Every one I’ve read. Hundreds. I could say James Howe, for writing Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, The Howliday Inn, the first scary books I read. Maybe he started my love affair, maybe he lit the match. I suppose he did.
stv: If you had to name the greatest horror author, who would be? Why?
Josh Malerman: Again, too many. Hundreds. High up on the mountaintop is Poe, Lovecraft, King, James, Blackwood, Straub, and Machen. Stoker and Shelley. But there are just as many who just aren’t as well known, who maybe didn’t make the same money, or just haven’t had that one signature piece that propelled their names high enough for everybody to see.
stv: Who are your favorite classic authors? Why?
Josh Malerman: I went on a classics bender for a number of years in my early twenties. Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Woolf, Nabokov, the Beats, Proust, others. But that run led me back to Dracula and I’ve been on a strict horror diet ever since.
stv: What are you working on now?
Josh Malerman: Rewrites of book 2 for ECCO/HarperCollins. We’re getting closer. Almost there. And I can’t wait to hug her, pat her on the back, and send her out into the world.
stv: Thank you for the interview.