If you ask author Josh Malerman how his novel Bird Box came into being, he’ll freely admit that the original concept sounds pretty high-minded.
It all began when two rather interesting yet totally disparate thoughts collided, and earlier this week, he sat down with iHorror to discuss just how they came together, and his excitement at how Netflix has helped bring his novel to a new audience in an exciting adaptation.
“What if a concept came to your town, the concept of infinity, and it was solid enough to be called a creature and to knock on your door,” Malerman explained. “That idea was really powerful to me because our minds are ill-equipped to comprehend infinity. Trying to make sense of it would drive us mad.”
At around the same time, the author had another image in his head that he could not quite get rid of that involved a mother and two children attempting to navigate a river blind-folded. He began to write about the three of them, but he was blocked as to how they ended up in this precarious situation.
Suddenly, like two pieces of a puzzle, the ideas joined. Something unfathomable was all around them, and to escape the danger, they had to move, but they had to do it blind.
“The idea just kind of exploded in my mind,” he said. “I wrote about 4300 words a day for 26 days; it was one of the most fluid experiences of my life. I felt like I was reading the book while I was writing it!”
And soon, the story of Malorie, a pregnant woman who finds herself sharing a house with the other survivors of an enigmatic plague of creatures whose very presence causes madness and her eventual bid for escape to a safe haven, was written, edited, and picked up by Harper Collins for publishing.
The author’s head was already spinning at his good fortune when three months later his agent, Ryan Lewis, called to inform him that Universal had purchased the rights to adapt his novel into a film. Soon after, Netflix purchased the rights from Universal and the process of adaptation was taken on by screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Light’s Out).
“A lot of people have used the word ‘surreal’ to describe all of this and it seems like the right word to turn to, but there’s also something that is hyper-real about it,” the author explained. “We’re children of a movie generation, so there’s a sense while writing…you see it cinematically.”
Still, even though he had envisioned what an adaptation would look like, he never dreamed it would involve star caliber like Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich.
Malerman admits it was the character of Malorie that he related to more than any other while writing the book, comparing her to what one might feel for a twin sister, and he was surprised to find that kinship extended onto the screen.
“I knew her very well; I knew she could do this, and I knew she could survive,” he said. “When I was watching the movie, I found myself feeling the same way. She’s smart; she’s strong, and I had that same connection.”
Malorie, herself, is a very complex character, a terrified mother raising children in an environment where survival is more important than affection which can, he points out give people the wrong impression initially, and he was happy that in the adaptation, they followed his example of allaying those fears early.
He was also pleased that Netflix was racially diverse in casting Bird Box, perhaps taking a cue from something that was absent in the novel.
“Someone pointed out to me early on in the life of the book that they didn’t think I ever mentioned any racial descriptors in there,” he said. “Are they white? Are they African American? Are they Jewish? They could be anyone, I left those descriptors out intentionally and I’m glad that Netflix did the same.”
When all was said and done, when he’d watched the first screening of the film at the Netflix offices, Malerman admits he could not stop smiling. Necessary changes were made, and some he admits he even wished he had written himself.
And what would he tell fans of the novel who are reticent about trying the film?
“I’m so honored this adaptation happened and the way I see it is this,” Malerman explained. “If I had directed the film, which I didn’t…if I had starred in the film, which I didn’t…if I had written the screenplay, which I didn’t…it would still not be the book. There are things that would have to be different. I’m just glad it was in their hands.”
Bird Box is currently available on Netflix, and the novel is available in bookstores and in multiple formats from online sellers.