The Franklin resident shares how the Netflix film inspired him to write ‘Malorie,’ expected to come out next year.
By Monica Drake
Photography by Dan Lippitt
The lights in author Josh Malerman’s Franklin home flickered and turned off as he talked about the terrifying world he created in his bestselling novel “Bird Box.”
With a panicked look on his face, Malerman looked out the rain splattered windows — as if expecting to see one of the monsters from his book. But, of course, there was nothing there. In fact, even though Malerman was the one who created these creatures, even he doesn’t know what they look like.
“The creatures are unfathomable to humans — like infinity. If I described them to you, then they’re not incomprehensible. If I tried to describe them, I would probably die,” Malerman laughs.
“Bird Box” was published in 2014 by HarperCollins and is set in a post-apocalyptic world in the not-so-distant future. The story follows the character Malorie and her two children in a world where creatures lurk outside and, upon seeing them, people are driven to violence and, ultimately, suicide.
At the end of 2018, the movie adaptation of “Bird Box,” starring actress Sandra Bullock, was released on Netflix, and, according to the streaming service, it made a record-breaking debut with more than 45 million accounts watching in the first week.
In the last 10 months, Malerman, 44, has become a New York Times bestseller; rubbed shoulders with A-list celebrities; gained about 10,000 Instagram followers; and recently bought his first home — moving from a small rental in Ferndale to a large ranch-style home in Franklin with his fiancée Allison Laakko.
Earlier this year, Malerman, a graduate of West Bloomfield High School and Michigan State University, also decided to write a much-anticipated sequel to “Bird Box,” titled “Malorie,” which is set to be released next summer.
“I’ve always thought maybe I would write a story in that same world with different characters. After I watched the movie, I said to myself, ‘I’m curious what happens to Malorie next.’ This book is her story, and it was really wonderful to be able to hang out with her again,” Malerman says.
“I’ve written characters who were strangers to me, aroused me or were someone I could be friends with. But, always from the start, Malorie has felt like my twin sister. … Bar none, she has been my easiest character to write.”
Malerman says he was influenced by Bullock’s portrayal while writing “Malorie.” But, still, whenever he pictures the character, he sees the same woman he imagined while first writing “Bird Box.”
“In the book, Malorie is more of a fly on the wall, watching everyone. In ‘Malorie,’ she is center stage, wondering if she’s hysterical or if this is how you’re supposed to raise children in this world,” he says.
“Malorie” takes place eight years after the end of the first book; the title character is almost 40, and her kids are now teenagers. After all she has been through, Malorie is suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and she’s more cynical, harsh and paranoid than in “Bird Box.”
“There are a few advancements in society, and all these people are trying to make progress — some are trying to catch a creature, and others are trying to come up with devices that lower the drapes if there’s motion outside,” Malerman says. “But, for Malorie, the ultimate defense will always only be a blindfold.”
Malerman’s close friend, James Henry Hall, was one of the first people to read “Malorie.”
“Josh pitched me the idea for the sequel, and I was immediately in love with the idea,” says Hall, a Clinton Township resident. “I knew right away it was going to be something fans — myself included — would love. What I read checked every box that I could want out of a follow-up story.
“It’s a wonderful continuation of these characters. One of the things I hear people talk about most after reading ‘Bird Box’ is Josh’s tight writing style. It’s lightning fast and knocks you out of your chair. Fans will see more of that wit and punch in ‘Malorie.’ ”
Malerman and Hall, who is also a writer, have been bouncing ideas for stories off each other since they met 10 years ago. Last year, they successfully completed their own personal challenge — to write one complete book every month for five months.
“Josh is like the wild, eccentric uncle you had as a kid who, when Mom wasn’t looking, would sit you up on his lap and tell you stories of the macabre, bizarre and twisted,” Hall says. “Josh’s writing style is purely rhythmic,”
Hall adds he couldn’t be happier for his friend’s success, and he is still processing everything that has happened in the last year.
“Someone in my inner circle having extraordinary success has certainly inspired me,” he says. “It reminds me that good things happen to good people. Especially those who work hard.”
Malerman’s book, “Malorie,” is available to preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target and Audible. As for “Malorie” becoming a movie, Malerman’s literary agent Kristin Nelson, says she cannot publicly answer that question (fingers crossed that means yes).
Nelson says future projects by Malerman include his novella “A House at the Bottom of a Lake” being optioned by Netflix, his short story “A Ben Evans Film” being adapted by Michigan-based Magical Jungle Productions and his indie-rock band The High Strung recording its ninth album.
He says writing is his top priority, though, and it’s still surreal that the career he’s wanted since the fifth grade has become a reality.
“A lot has happened. Book deals, awards, reviews and a phenomenon of a movie that brought everything to a whole other place. It’s wild,” Malerman says. “I’m proud to be an artist. … This is what I’m going to do forever because I love it.”