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Author Josh Malerman Returns To 'Bird Box' Universe In His Sequel, 'Malorie'

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Josh Malerman's debut 2014 novel "Bird Box," the world was besieged by mysterious creatures that turn people who so much as look at them lethally violent. And now there's a sequel, "Malorie," named for the character played by Sandra Bullock in "Bird Box" - the hit Netflix movie based on the first book. When we meet her again, Malorie and her children have been hiding from the creatures for over a decade at an abandoned camp. To stay safe, they're still blindfolded most of the time, and they seem to be getting by until a stranger shows up at their door. Josh Malerman joins me now to talk about his new novel, "Malorie." Welcome to the program.

JOSH MALERMAN: Hi. This is very exciting. Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm very excited to have you here.

MALERMAN: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For those who might have missed your first book and the movie, tell us about Malorie and who she is.

MALERMAN: Sure. So when the creatures arrive out of nowhere without any seemingly obvious agenda or anything, Malorie is just realizing that she's pregnant. And that story is interspersed with her, four years later, fleeing the house that she was living in with that kid, who is now 4 and another kid who is 4 So that's Malorie's, you know, "Bird Box" background.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And not much has changed for Malorie in the last decade. When we catch up with her now, she and her kids are living this kind of static life where the only goal is to survive, right?

MALERMAN: Yep - the only goal by her, anyway. So, you know, she's of a mind that the blindfold works. We know the blindfold works - there's absolutely no reason to do anything else - and why would you, right? But Tom, her son who is now 16 in the story "Malorie," you know, as any teenager might - he's like, hey, we can make progress - we can do better than the generation before us, and we should try.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A census taker appears at their camp, leaves behind these documents, and there's evidence of an outside world that is changing and proof that maybe not everyone is living like Malorie and her kids. Tom, who, as you mentioned, is a teenager - he's pushing back against his mother's strict rules - reads these documents about people who are living unblindfolded, and he wants to sort of see this world. What are you setting up? What is the dynamic here that you're trying to set up?

MALERMAN: Well I've always considered the "Bird Box" world - the Malorie world - as more of, like, a philosophical problem rather than a physical survival story. I've never seen it as an apocalypse. I've more seen it as, like, a problem that is here. And who knows when it's going to go away? And so what's more exciting to me than, how do they survive eating, or who do they battle physically? - what's more exciting to me is, like, which philosophy wins out. And Malorie is coming from the pure - what has become - old school of just living by the blindfold. And, Tom, unfortunately for Malorie, is leaning towards that, hey - let's try what we can to see if we can actually observe these things. That's the ultimate goal - was to set up a clash of philosophies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I couldn't help but think that there are parallels to the current pandemic in this book, right? Between blindfolds and a mask - we're seeing some people in this country - you know, they don't want to wear a mask because they say it infringes on their freedoms, even though it's been proven to keep us safe. I'm assuming, you know, you obviously wrote this before the pandemic, but it does have more resonance now.

MALERMAN: For sure. I'm a little hesitant to draw any lines just because "Malorie" is the good scare, right? All horror fiction and film is the good scare, and what's happening in the world is not. It's the bad scare. It's health. It's money. It's lives - this kind of thing. But, OK, I can't also not notice the link between a face mask and a blindfold. So Malorie is, obviously - like myself - 100% for covering the face. But I really do think that the bigger dread - the bigger sort of link between the two - is not knowing when the pandemic is going to end. It informs everything that you're doing, right? Not knowing.

Because, like, here's Malorie - how long does she have to live this way? If it's only a few more months, well, then Tom might not be as inspired to be progressive and these sort of things. And so rather than an apocalypse, I think what we're seeing is almost a slice-of-life horror. And in that way, it really represents a pandemic because a pandemic isn't necessarily an apocalypse, but it is something that has to be endured. And that, to me, is, like, the biggest parallel between this world and the fictional world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you think about it when the book was, you know, slated to come out and this pandemic started - did it - did you just all of a sudden think of the book in a different way?

MALERMAN: Yeah, a little bit, you know? I read so much horror fiction - right? - that I've read so many end times stories. And I got to be honest - I thought at the head of this lockdown that I wouldn't want to read anything like that or see anything like that. But then I read a book called "Wanderers" by Chuck Wendig. And it could not have been more spot on with what's going on right now. And I actually found myself comforted by it. I think I almost had a sense of, like, hey, pandemic, we've thought of you. And because we've thought of you, maybe we can solve you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have a question that I'm very curious about - the creatures, as you call them, still go undescribed and unexplained in this book. It almost makes them seem more like a force than living things. Why not give them shape?

MALERMAN: When I was writing "Bird Box," I kept saying to myself, OK, well, eventually, you're going to have to describe them, you know? (Laughter) And I'd be like, no, no, no, no - you describe this right now - you're literally cutting the bow string. Now all tension is gone. And I realized that what that did for the story was give it - you can almost play a single note through all of "Bird Box" and "Malorie" - one note on the piano or one note on a synthesizer - like, a low, freaky note. And there is nothing there to interrupt that note. There's no second - there's not really - no second scare or a second thread. And I think that leaving them offstage almost makes them, you know, one of the scariest, you know, creatures I could have imagined.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because they live in, I guess, our collective imaginations - we can invent who they are.

MALERMAN: Yeah. And I think, in that way, "Malorie" and "Bird Box" are more of, like, a Rorschach test - an ink blot - than they are a horror story. It's like, what do you see here? What are you afraid of here? What do you think is knocking on the door? And that - man, I could play with that idea for a hundred more books.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Josh Malerman. His new novel is "Malorie." Thank you so much.

MALERMAN: Oh, that was wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.