Bestselling writer Josh Malerman discusses his new novel Malorie
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (not the worst idea these days) or avoid memes like the plague, you’ve heard about the global sensation of Bird Box, the hit bestselling novel and one of the most viewed feature films in the history of streaming media.
The new novel continues the story of Malorie, the blindfolded hero who is forced to adapt when the earth is suddenly populated by creatures that will make you murderously insane if you so much as look at them.
Or will they? This is just one of the many questions Malerman ponders in the thrilling follow-up to his initial story.
Will the creatures finally be revealed? Will there be a new movie? All the answers below, straight from the source:
Before we get into the novel itself, can you talk about how and why the idea for Malorie developed?
Writing the sequel was three-fold: 1) I’ve long had a thread in my pocket, a thread removed from the rough draft of Bird Box, a thing I believe diluted the one-note hum, the scare, of that book, but one I believed could stand on its own, 2) After watching the movie, I simply wanted to see more, and 3) The success of the movie told me, “If you’re gonna do it, why not do it now?”
The thread that helped prompt writing Malorie died a second death as I ended up scratching it from this book, too. And what an odd thing: a thread that inspired two books, ultimately unused in both.
There are multiple times in this novel I felt there was an almost religious devotion to Malorie’s safety regimen. Was it a conscious decision to ramp up the dogma between people like Malorie and those who are the extreme opposite?
I think so. I know I definitely leaned into Malorie’s devotion to the fold, consciously, throughout. But it rang for me less fanatical and more foundational. There’s a real clean simplicity to the blindfold, right? We all know it works. Why try anything else? The game is to survive the new world, so who needs progress if you’ve already discovered the means by which to succeed?
But Tom [Malorie’s son] isn’t having that. Nor should he! I find myself agreeing with both of them. Malorie is 100 percent right when she says a piece of cloth is all the defense they’ll need, but there are two sanities, are there not? The first is the ability to keep it together, to withstand the urge for your mind to spring in all directions. The fold ensures that much. But the second is a little bit higher: the sanity of feeling useful. Tom is looking for purpose. Malorie, while able to recognize that, considers that kind of loftiness a luxury.
There are also moments when the wearing of a blindfold almost seems a political statement, something we can equate to the current pandemic and the politicizing of wearing a face mask. Do you agree or am I reaching?
Totally agree. The difference might be that, in Malorie’s world, defying the “mask” isn’t necessarily a bad idea in the long run. Yes, any experimentation puts yourself and your peers at risk, but unlike Covid-19, the people aren’t trying to squash a curve, they’re trying to figure out a way to live free amongst creatures who drive you mad.
So while Malorie would obviously represent the wise mask-wearers of our world, Tom’s desire to get loose with the rules isn’t so much anti-Malorie — certainly not to make a point — as it is to discover all he can about the problem. In other words, there’s nothing philosophical about not wearing a mask in the face of Covid-19, but there is in the Bird Box universe.
A lot of the story takes place inside Malorie’s head, which ramps up the frenetic action, stress and terror that she goes through. As an author, did you ever find yourself describing something and then deleting it after realizing your character wouldn’t have that information?
To answer the latter part of the question first: yes! Both with Bird Box and Malorie I caught moments, habits really, where I’d had a character doing something they could only do with their eyes. Like “looking” for example. Haha.
But overall, it’s been an accidental dream. I stumbled upon a scenario in which every scene is, by nature, piqued. Every scene is naturally intense. As my mom told me after reading the rough draft for Bird Box so many years ago, the scenario turns “the scary scene” inside out. Normally you’re scared of what you see in a horror story, but here nobody sees a thing, nobody’s allowed. I could write 100 books in that world. But, as you know, I have 100 other ideas, too.
A big chunk of the novel takes place on a train. Avoiding spoilers, can you discuss the root of this idea? It’s an interesting progression of the way people are adapting to this “new world” inhabited by the creatures. Ten years after the events of Bird Box, do you see a world that is adapting, or failing?
So the train idea was Allison’s [Malerman’s fiancée]. I’d been working on this other thread, and while I liked some of it, particularly a dance scene in a repurposed prison that didn’t make it into Malorie, I could tell something was missing. Allison framed it this way: in a world where nobody can see, the only safe mode of travel would the one where the vehicle is fastened to the road. Hence, a train. Or, if you’d like, a roller coaster. So long as the tracks are clear and the train moves slow enough for that to be ensured, it was a golden setting for this book. It also harkens to the Old West, steam engines, early train travel, and I liked that about it, too. To me, that’s progress. No doubt. What [the engineer] has done in Malorie, especially given his own personal tragedy, is incredible. He’s like Tom the man, Tom the son, but something else, too: a man who not only has the gumption to make change, but the exact tools available to do it.
On the cover of the advance review copy of Malorie, there’s a subheading A Bird Box Novel, which infers Malorie might be one of many tales to come in this universe. Are there plans for future novels or stories?
Well, I do think that one thread should remain dead. It did its thing, it helped me write two novels, and it died twice along the way. Okay. Let’s move on from that. As goes writing another book in this world, it’s not easy to say. I love this world. I love Malorie. I could see an entire novel where it’s just her in a cabin. I could also see scenarios that don’t include her at all.
One fantasy I have is a Bird Box novel in which the world is back to normal. Everyone believes the creatures are gone. Maybe there’s one or two people who walk around blindfolded. They’re considered a little nuts. People are driving, waving, parking, laughing, going to the bank, eating at restaurants, drinking on patios … and the whole time there’d be this ticking time bomb, right? Because there’s no way an entire novel could go this way, right? Something’s gotta happen. Yet, you could sustain that tension for such a long time.
Okay, imagine a scene of a woman entering that bank. She turns around at the sound of the door closing behind her. Is it a creature? Is the book about to explode into madness? Nope. Just George Higgins from two blocks up. “Hi, George.” The woman looks back to the teller. Oh no! Will something be behind the glass? Something she shouldn’t see? I mean, this is endless. What a playground. I can almost see a version of this that goes all the way to the last page, maintaining this tension. It would be meta, in a sense, the inverse of Bird Box. We’re no longer scared that the creatures are here. We’re scared that they’re gone.
The question on a lot of people’s minds, of course, is whether there will be a sequel to the film. What can you tell readers about that, if anything?
I can’t say much, but I will say this. Development has begun.
Last question: If you were in the Bird Box universe, would you see yourself more as a Malorie, always siding with caution, or more like her son Tom, who wants to take risks in order to live more freely?
Malorie, all the way. But I would encourage progress. I would encourage the optimists I encountered. I’d even take part in whatever harebrained schemes these good people came up with, if they needed me, so long as I, like Malorie, could continue to live by the fold.