Josh Malerman’s life, just like his bestselling novel Bird Box, is fascinating, original, and often inclined to take a turn for the unexpected. He’s spent the quarantine in Franklin with his fiancee, Allison Laako, two dogs, two cats, some fish, and a snake. And recently, he opened up his spare bedroom to three small ducklings.
Apparently his dog wrested some duck eggs from their nest, and Malerman and Laako bought an incubator to hatch them at home. Until they can build an outdoor duck house, Malerman says, “the three of them own the extra bedroom.”
Malerman sits in his kitchen watching his dog guard the ducks’ room. He’s wearing his signature outfit: a button-down, black jeans, and a cap. “There’s something about that outfit that makes me feel like not just a writer, but a writer of weird tales,” he says.
As far as “weird tales” go, Bird Box certainly qualifies. It tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where humans wear blindfolds as their only form of protection from an unknown monster. The book was published in 2014 but exploded in popularity after its 2018 Netflix adaptation, which starred Sandra Bullock.
The sequel takes place 12 years after the events of the original. In it, Malorie, the protagonist in Bird Box and now the titular character in its sequel, ventures into the outside world in search of other survivors.
When Malerman started writing Malorie (Del Rey, July 2020) he says, “I found myself so excited to be in that world again.”
“I absolutely loved being with Malorie again,” he says. In fact, the character has always been deeply special to him.
“I’ve just always related to her in a root way,” he says, “not as if she’s a lover, not as if she’s a friend, … but almost like a twin sister of mine. I’ve felt that way about her since day one.”
He agrees that the linguistic link between Malorie, his character, and his surname, Malerman, symbolizes some subconscious connection. “Did I give her a name that’s similar to my own because she is similar to me? Yeah, probably,” he says.
For any other writer, the astronomical success of a book like Bird Box might have put pressure onto a follow-up. That’s not the case for Malerman. He says his writing exists, for him, in a place that is “untouchable,” free of self-doubt or other external distractions.
That mindset has been valuable to Malerman, who once spent six years on the road touring with his band, The High Strung. “I ended up writing books while we were driving from city to city,” he says. “I ended up writing books in a loud bar. I ended up writing books when I was staying at my dad’s for a month and completely unsettled and rudderless.”
He adds, “And that same philosophy, that same place in my head where the writing happens, was also untouched by the pressure of a follow-up to Bird Box.” He clarifies that he doesn’t want “to sound like the literary Tony Robbins,” that inspirational self-help guru with enormous white teeth.
Perhaps Malerman’s ease with writing has something to do with his other creative endeavor: playing guitar for The High Strung. “I don’t want to go as far as to say writing a book is jamming,” he says. But he does have a habit of imagining an invisible drummer sitting behind him while he writes his books. “I’ve never seen him before,” Malerman says, “but I know he’s there, and he’s been there for 32 books. And he plays the drums and I write to his beat.”
In terms of a movie adaptation of Malorie, Malerman says “it looks like they’re moving forward.”
“I’ve talked to the producers about Malorie,” he says, “So I’m involved, but at the same time, not part of the day-to-day thing.”
Instead, his “day-to-day thing” involves writing more electrifying thrillers, running around his backyard with his dogs, and, now, raising three little ducklings. “[The ducks] put us at our limit,” Malerman says. But in a way, their addition is fitting. Who would the author of Bird Box be if his home menagerie didn’t include a few birds?