Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box (ECCO/HarperCollins) and the songwriter for the Detroit rock band The High Strung. Ghastle and Yule is his second published story.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
I was outside, shooting baskets with my brothers and my cousin when my Uncle Bob called me inside and told me he had something I might want to see. He sat me before a small, crappy television and slid an unlabelled VHS tape in to the VCR and he had a twinkle in his eyes and I knew before I saw it that it was going to be weird. It was Twilight Zone: the Movie and I have no idea how Uncle Bob knew that I was the nephew that would get the biggest thrill out of it, but I was and I did. From there it’s been an unstoppable love affair.
What is your most notable work?
Bird Box, released in May of this year. A novel about a mother, with two kids in tow, traveling down a river blindfolded. They’re attempting to escape Infinity… a thing they can’t look at, can’t behold, for fear of being rendered insane.
What are you working on now?
I’m rewriting Nurse Ellen, the story of a soldier in the Korean War who chances upon a place in the woods where all the wars of history are fought at the same time. Phillip, our main man, encounters more than that, too, as he unearths the men responsible for the idea of war in the first place. It’s scary, kinda crazy, and thanks to our titular character, funny too.
How much planning and research do you undertake before writing?
I probably should do more than I do. But I liken the rough drafts to a barf-fest. A bunch of shit you just gotta get out of you. Explode on the pages, worry about the facts later. Sometimes it’s more important to me to have a draft I can later work with, rather than an outline I need to eventually write.
Describe your writing routine.
Frantic. I go for a few thousand words a day. Bird Box was something like 4,300 a day. Again, I just love a manic first draft. Of course my agent would rather I delivered a nice, neat stack of pages. But I fear losing those peripheral ideas, those tangents, if I’m too careful with the first go round. And once I start a book, I’ll work on it till it’s finished. Then? Then begins the insanity of the rewrites. But I don’t mind them so much.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
So SO many writers. I love Robert McCammon. Peter Straub. Brian Keene. I just read John FD Taff’s The End in All Beginnings and my mind was blown, up the middle. John Skipp and Craig Spector’s The Bridge belongs next to the all time greats of the genre. Richard Laymon is pure Halloween fun. Just getting into Lisa Morton. I loved Lumley’s Necroscope. Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver. Dan Simmons’ Song of Kali. This list is a big one. Directors, too. Films, of course.
I love it all. I like too much gore… not enough gore… what’s gore?… no gore… slow moving ghost stories… heads exploding in math class… gradual builds, gradual burns… brief encounters… bloated novels. I’m a fan, all the way through, and I don’t have a “type.” Lately I’ve lost love for the “torture” stories. Only because, like some vampire stories, they seem to take less imagination. One of the exciting things about being a horror author is creating new monsters. If Torture is your monster… well, he’s been the star of a lot of books and movies. But still… I really just love it all. I’ve always been able to fully immerse myself into a horror story, believe everything I read in there, and swim until it’s done.
Why should people read your work?
Obviously that’s a crazy question to answer, but I could try by saying that in Horror, more so than most places, you can really feel it when the author is coming from a burning, mad place. Like when you’re sitting around the fire and there’s that one relative who’s just good at taking you by the psychological hand and leading you somewhere creepy and thrilling. I think I’m good like that. Readers can trust that I’m not visiting the genre… that I live here with them.
Recommend a book.
Let’s pick one… how about… Phil Rickman’s Curfew. It’s a big one… a slow burn… but I loved it.
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