Thursday, February 8, 2018

Interview with Josh Malerman, Author of Bird Box

This is an interview with Josh Malerman, mostly covering his novel, Bird Box. The story, soon to be a movie starring Sandra Bullcok, follows Malorie as her turns upside down. Something is outside her door; if she looks (or allows her children to look), she will die.,204,203,200_.jpg 

Ames: You have said you got the idea for Bird Box from the concept that you cannot fathom infinity or you would die or go mad. In your book, infinity is a monster, personified–you see it, you die. The mind just can’t understand. Is infinity God? In religion, if I remember correctly, man cannot view God or they would die. Exodus 33:20 (God to Moses), But," He said, "you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live." Could God be your infinity?

Malerman: This has crossed my mind. But after the fact. Long after writing the book. It’s a fun thing to consider: what if God came to town? In pieces, everywhere, in the form of many creatures, all over the world... all over Riverbridge... up and down Malorie’s street. Could result in something like the book, huh. I’ve been asked before if I thought the book was a metaphor for “not wanting to look out your window cause the ways of the world might drive you mad.” And while that’s totally not what you’re asking here, it’s also fun to think about. But the truth is, I didn’t think of either of those things while writing. So there’s no definitive answer. Not that you want one. But I do like the idea of God... floating down in pieces... confetti throughout the globe... reaching almost everyone... all but the blind and the already mad.

Ames: Out of your many unpublished novels, do you have any that are coming of age tales? Could you tell us a little about that story? Did you place it in your childhood of the 80’s? If not, please write one. I would love to see your take.

Malerman: First off, thank you for saying you’d like to see me write my own childhood. I’m not lying when I say that might be enough for me to go ahead and try it. But the answer is: yes, I have written a “coming of age” novel, two of them, but they don’t take place in the 80s. I don’t wanna give too much away about either because I’m definitely planning on releasing both, but one is about a track team that encounters a really bad thing on a very long run. And the other is about a boy who discovers a chance to rectify the reputation of a girl who is wrongly loathed by everyone around her. He does it by way of crawling, inch by inch, into the past, to the moment things went terribly wrong for her.

Ames: You have said you can’t just sit in front of people and read because that would be boring, and you have some stage fright. Does your stage fright stem from something? How have you learned to overcome that as a frontman for a band?

Malerman: No idea where it came from. But I hate it, that’s for sure. Thing is though, once I’m up there, I’m fine. It’s the build up that kills me. Once I’m rolling I don’t like to stop. Has the band helped? It has to have. We’ve played 2000 shows across the country... sometimes for many people, mostly for not so many. In other words, I’ve gotten up in front of a wide variety of people and crowd sizes. It was pure luck that my first published book happened to include blindfolded people so that when we went to do the readings, the idea of blindfolding the audience didn’t only make for a spectacle, but helped me avoid freaking out. I’m scared of a lot of things. But something I’m discovering lately is... I’m more afraid of being afraid than I am of the actual experience at hand.

Ames: You blindfolded people for The Bird Box. For Black Mad Wheel, you used props, had music, people wore outfits, and your band, The High Strung, played. What have you decided on doing for Unbury Carol?

Malerman: I want full theater this time. As close as we can get. Actors and scripts. Live music and lights. Stage props. Memorized lines. I can still narrate from the side, etc. But I’m hoping we can pull this off. I wanna rent a theater for the release or do it in a bar that has a theatrical slant. I think things were elevated between Black Mad Wheel and Goblin. Each had individual elements of theater that didn’t necessarily overlap. I’d like to do one that includes it all. For Goblin I even acted out the role of Wayne Sherman. My fiancee Allison Laakko played numerous parts, silently, as my friend Kristi Billings narrated. They were both fantastic. But with Unbury Carol I’m thinking the lights go out... curtains part... and the audience is on the Trail with Moxie and Smoke.

Ames: You have said you never looked at books as dollar signs, but always fantasized: Why? What is it about writing and language that brought you to writing, and do you still have that same motivation, almost 30 books later?

Malerman: Don’t know the “why” of it other than to say I was very interested in books early on and have fallen deeply in love since. As goes retaining motivation: I’m about 150K into one book, 18K into another, and I absolutely wanna write this third one, too. So I’m beginning to juggle three new ones as I’m rewriting book two for Del Rey and getting ready for the releases of Unbury Carol (Del Rey, Penguin Random House) in April and On This, the Day of the Pig (Cemetery Dance) on Halloween. I’ve never seen myself as “motivated,” necessarily, as I’ve never entirely needed to motivate myself to get up and do it. It’s pure unobstructed fun, despite the grueling rewrites and the ten times I end up reading my own books on the way to wrapping them. If I need any spark, I just think about what I’d like to do instead. And while I like to do many things, I always return to mapping out the next book, thinking about the current one, and onward we go.

Ames: You wrote Bird Box in 26 days, not plotting it. Have you plotted other novels? Have you found pantsing harder with the longer novel you are working on (or have you finished it?)?

Malerman: Long before I met so many other writers and editors and, really, artists, too, I used to pride myself on not using an outline. Not because I thought it was badass to leap into a book having no idea where it was going, but because in the end it felt like I’d read the book as I wrote it. Which was a helluv an experience. But recently I did use an outline to map out the second book for Del Rey, most of it anyway, and there’s no doubt it helped me. I used to think that an outline was like the shortest story ever. Haha. Like the book was already written, each chapter just a sentence or two. Why expand? But it was nice knowing what was next, and working my way to those moments. So we’ll see. For the next one? We’ll see. But my instinct tells me the big one will continue to be pantsed and this other one I wanna write will be outlined. Let’s keep trying it both ways.

Ames: You are the frontman and writer for the band, The High Strung. You mention being a writer before you became a musician. Since diving into writing music, what do you find to be the most difficult thing about making music, be it an aspect of producing it, writing it, touring, or another reason altogether? Why? What have you learned that helps you overcome that difficulty?

Malerman: I have this fantasy where I’ve already written an album’s worth of lyric sheets so I can just try all kinds of chords and melodies with the existing words. But it never goes that way. Instead, I’m screwing around on the guitar and I end up liking a little thing and then I kinda get married to said little thing and then I find myself trying to find lyrics to fit what I’ve already got started. And while this has resulted in a lot of songs, it’d be liberating as hell to go that other route. As goes touring: sure, it was exhausting but we were playing our songs in a different city every night for something like six years. It was fantastic. And I love recording because 1) you can redo it if it’s weird and 2) I love listening back to the last minute adds, the psycho piano solo you decided to toss in at the buzzer that’s become the song’s most exciting part. I’d say the “difficulties” in writing music are the same ones with writing books. It’s all a matter of sitting down to do it, right? We all know that.

Ames: I love the way Bird Box leaves out much of the backstory and details that other books use, making the pace frightening, the focus on the senses. Did you do this to make us focus on her senses the way she had to? In that world, it would seem you would have little room for reflection, so the style seemed to fit.

Malerman: Again, not consciously at first, but I recognized this was happening early into writing it. At some point I started to tell people I was writing a “slice of life” horror story, in which I didn’t think it needed a backstory or really any resolution at all. I wanted the lights to come on mid-action and for them to go off again the same way. We’re always talking about slice of life drama etc, but is there really a better place for that than horror? The less that’s explained to us, the freakier a freaky situation might become. I’d love to write a movie where unexplained characters carry out a series of really fucked up deeds. And when the credits roll, the audience can talk about what the characters were doing and why. Maybe one person would think they were desperate bank robbers. Maybe someone else would say they were all brothers and sisters. Could be a living Rorschach Test. What do you see in this image? What do you see? There’s a way to do that without it being too abstract to follow. I’m on it.

Ames: You cut a lot from your rough drafts before publishing. Is your style similar to Bird Box, without much backstory, more of a close-up view of the action – in the now? If there was one darling you could bring back from Bird Box, what would it be?

Malerman: It changes with each book. But I do like the close-up PRESTO here we go thing a lot. And if I were to bring back one aspect of the rough draft of Bird Box it would probably be the italics the entire draft was written in. I found it so nightmarish... a whole present tense book in italics... as if the whole experience was simply too gelatinous for Malorie to fully comprehend.

Ames: Thank you for agreeing to do this. I hope people enjoy this interview.

Some links to find Josh Malerman:
Amazon Page

Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box, Black Mad Wheel, Goblin, and Unbury Carol. He's also one of two singer/songwriters for the band The High Strung, whose song "The Luck You Got" can be heard as the theme song to the Showtime show "Shameless." He lives in Ferndale, Michigan with his fiancee Allison Laakko and their many pets.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Richard Chizmar Interview - Co-Author of the Upcoming Novel, Widow's Point

For those that don’t know, Richard Chizmar is an award-winning author and editor, as well as the CEO and founder of perhaps the best-known horror publishing house, Cemetery Dance Publications. Recently, Richard has grabbed headlines for his novella collaboration with Stephen King, Gwendy’s Button Box. The story, set in one of King’s favorite stomping grounds, Castle Rock, is a great lesson in third person narration.

What you may not know is that Richard will be releasing another great collaboration, Widow’s Point, on February 28th of this year, but this time Richard worked with none other than his own son, Billy Chizmar. Having had a chance to read and review an ARC of Widow’s Point, I can say the story of this haunted lighthouse will not be easily forgotten. One has to wonder, with Billy having experience in film, if Widow’s Point isn’t destined for the big screen. Only time will tell.

I am very thankful Richard decided to do this interview. I hope everyone enjoys.

Ames: Thanks for being here, Richard. To start, may I ask who decided to set Gwendy’s Button Box in Castle Rock? Though Needful Things was said to be the last King story set in there, what is it about the town that keeps bringing us back?

Chizmar: That was all Steve. He had started “Gwendy’s Button Box” as a short story back in 2016 and it kind of stalled on him after about 7,000 words. When we decided to collaborate, I just picked up where he had left off…so the Castle Rock setting was already in place. It was also very intimidating, I have to add! I really felt like I had to do justice not only to Steve’s amazing writing, but also to the legendary town of Castle Rock.

Ames: In both of your collaborations, Gwendy’s Button Box and Widow’s Point, there is no way to know who wrote which parts. May I ask how you and the authors you have worked with accomplished such seamlessness?

Chizmar: Well, first and foremost, I think the seamlessness was a result of my sharing similar storytelling philosophies with my two collaborators. I think both Steve and Billy believe that “story” is King and “character” sits directly at the King’s right-hand side. After that, it was most likely a result of how the actual collaboration process worked for us: we traded drafts back and forth multiple times, and felt complete freedom to revise/tweak the other’s work. When you do that enough times, the words become layered, and if you’re lucky they transform into a combined third voice.

Ames: Did you learn anything new from working with Stephen King or Billy Chizmar that you can pass on, about craft, language, style, or writing methods?

Chizmar: Steve and I both work pretty quickly, so Gwendy felt like a really cool game of Ping Pong or chess, with each of us spending a few days scribbling, then hitting SEND, and yelling “Your turn!” It was fascinating to see the choices Steve made, both with his own sections of the story and the handful of revisions he made on my sections. I got to see all his trademark qualities up close – the true-to-life characters, the crisp prose, the sharp dialogue and clever turn of a phrase – and once I got past being scared to death, the whole experience was a blast. Dream come true stuff.

Billy just recently turned nineteen years old, so it was an eye-opening experience to work with someone who has so much creative energy. Man, the ideas just rocketed out of his head. I told him early on that Widow’s Point was one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of stories, and he really ran with that idea. At times, he tried to toss the kitchen sink in there, too, but I did my best to rein him in.  Truthfully, Billy reminded me that it was okay to be a little daring and wild with the characters, to let them go to some unexpected places at the last possible moment. He also contributed some excellent writing. It’s been extremely cool to read the early reviews and see Billy’s contributions specifically praised.

Ames: Without giving away the ending to Gwendy’s Button Box, there could easily be a part two. Is this something you and King have discussed? What about with Widow’s Point? Billy hinted at a possibility of a sequel…

Chizmar: I’m not sure about Gwendy. I’ve certainly mentioned the overwhelming reader response to Steve. He knows folks would love a sequel. Who knows that the future will bring. As for Widow’s Point, I would actually love to sit down and write not only a sequel, but also a prequel. Billy is particularly busy in the Spring, with school and lacrosse, but hopefully we can knock something out over the Summer.

Ames: What wisdom have you given to your son, about writing, that you could share?

Chizmar: Mainly just to get the words down on paper, get the story out first, then go to work on achieving clarity and finding that rhythm of the language. I’ve also tried to impress upon him that you don’t have to try to break new ground every time you sit down to write. Just find something – a person, a place, a moment in time – that is meaningful to you and tell that story.

Ames: How did your family cultivate such a love for language and artistically expressing yourself?

Chizmar: I grew up surrounded by books and readers. Both my parents and all my siblings were big readers, and it rubbed off on me at a very early age. Billy and his younger brother, Noah, grew up in an even more book-oriented environment thanks to my publishing company. I mean, they were literally surrounded by books – at home and at my office. Billy likes to tell the story of how he always looked at all the scary book covers lining the hallway shelves and how he would turn around the particularly frightening ones so he didn’t have to see them anymore on his way downstairs. Other than that, my wife and I have always encouraged our boys to read for pleasure, treated regular trips to the bookstore as part of our normal schedule, and tried to expose them to the fun side of creating through Cemetery Dance. Once they become older, it was only natural for them to try their hands at writing their own stories and comics. As a father, it’s been an amazing thing to watch take shape.

Ames: Both of these stories, while different in style and content, grab the reader and never let go. There are real characters, ones that feel tangible and are fallible. Your short fiction stories do the same thing. If you had to guess, what about your writing captures your readers?

Chizmar: I probably wouldn’t have known how to answer this question before my last collection, A Long December, was published. But now that I’ve been blessed with so much reader feedback, both online and in personal email, I think I have a little better handle on it. Most readers have commented that my stories are so relatable to them – in both characterization and setting – that it’s very easy for them to get lost in the story I’m telling. Much like Stephen King or Richard Matheson, I tend to write about everyday people caught in extraordinary circumstances. Other than that, a lot of readers and reviewers have commented on the fact that I write believable dialogue. I’m not a flashy stylist, there’s not a lot of fanciful, elegant prose in my work; I just focus on telling a good story as honestly as I can.

Ames: You hear ‘show, don’t tell’ all the time as writers. When giving backstory and developing real characters people care about, it can be unavoidable. How do you write such deep backgrounds for a character while still upping the tension and keeping the reader hooked?

Chizmar: Honestly, writing backstory is one of the things I enjoy the most when telling a story. I don’t think I have any particular mindset or method when approaching backstory; I just let myself climb into the character’s shoes and live that part of his or her life. That’s fun to me. It’s such a wide open part of the process. Not a lot of rules to follow. 

Ames: Richard, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I wish you the best. Thank you for your time.

Chizmar: Absolutely my pleasure. Thanks for asking me. 

RICHARD CHIZMAR is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.

            He is the co-author (with Stephen King) of the bestselling novella, Gwendy’s Button Box and the founder/publisher of Cemetery Dance magazine and the Cemetery Dance Publications book imprint. He has edited more than 35 anthologies and his fiction has appeared in dozens of publications, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and multiple editions of The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories. He has won two World Fantasy awards, four International Horror Guild awards, and the HWA's Board of Trustee's award.

            Chizmar (in collaboration with Johnathon Schaech) has also written screenplays and teleplays for United Artists, Sony Screen Gems, Lions Gate, Showtime, NBC, and many other companies.

            Chizmar’s work has been translated into many languages throughout the world, and he has appeared at numerous conferences as a writing instructor, guest speaker, panelist, and guest of honor.

            Please visit the author’s website at:

He can be found here: