On Halloween, you might expect Josh Malerman to be dressed in ghoulish costume, ready to scare the heebie-jeebies out of kids on the streets of Ferndale or exploring some abandoned building, looking for inspiration for a new short story or novel.
But that’s not likely to be the case.
Malerman, who has made a name for himself in horror writing circles, has no definitive plans. He may visit a haunted forest, but seems lukewarm about that prospect. All Hallows Eve has slipped by in the past with nothing on his calendar.
“Halloween is really all year for me,” says Malerman, who grew up in West Bloomfield and has been writing fervently for more than a decade. “Last year, my fiancé and I talked about going to a party or a haunted forest, but we ended up doing nothing. As a horror guy, I do feel a little guilty letting Halloween pass by without doing anything.”
No matter, this Halloween will likely be a memorable one.
On Tuesday, Earthling Publications will release Malerman’s “Goblin,” a novel in six novellas, all of which are set in the fictional town of Goblin, where dark forces and the pall of endless rain keep the townspeople and unlucky visitors at their mercy.
“Halloween is almost the worst day to receive ‘Goblin,’ ” he says, noting the book has been shipped to those who couldn’t wait. “You want to read scary books before Halloween.”
And this week Netflix is slated to begin filming an adaptation of “Bird Box,” Malerman’s well-received, first published novel. The film stars Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich and is directed by Susanne Bier, who won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011 for “In a Better World.”
“I think the book is in good hands,” Malerman says. “A bunch of people are involved who are really great. All the elements feel good to me. I think they’re going to create something really good with ‘Bird Box.’ ”
Published in 2014, “Bird Box” is an apocalyptic tale set in a Michigan riverside community, where the inhabitants must wear blindfolds or face going mad (and kill themselves) if they look at the invading aliens. One woman decides to search for something better and blindfolded, leaves the community with her children in tow on a rowboat.
“I had this image of a mother and two children rowing down a river blindfolded,” Malerman says. “I thought that was a scary premise to begin a story with. You’re living with something before your eyes that you cannot fathom. It would drive you mad.”
Kirkus Reviews called the novel “a chilling debut” and “an unsettling thriller,” comparing Malerman’s story with Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” as well as the finer efforts of Stephen King and cult sci-fi fantasist Jonathan Carroll.
This praise and his success comes amid the release in the spring of Malerman’s Detroit-centered novel, “Black Mad Wheel,” about a group of musicians asked by the government to investigate a “malevolent sound” emanating from the Namib Desert in Africa, and the signing of his second major book deal on Del Rey Books (Penguin/Random House).
The prolific Malerman has wrapped up the first novel of the two-book deal, “Unbury Carol,” set to be published in April, and is busy writing and rewriting the second.
“There’s a lot of excitement right now,” he says. “All this momentum building and that’s good — not just for my career, but for me as an artist.”
And if that’s not enough, Malerman is also the front man for the Detroit garage-rock band The High Strung, formed nearly two decades ago with musician friends from his childhood. He is busy writing and recording a new album.
“It’s a strange career,” says Malerman, who began writing in earnest — and without success — in college. He majored in English literature at Michigan State University, where he “barely graduated.”
“My mind was already latched onto books,” he explains.
The years touring with The High Strung, performing as many as 200 shows a year, proved fruitful for the short story and novel writer. He spent long hours on the road in the passenger’s seat, writing and rewriting.
“I wrote songs and books at a manic pace for a long time,” he recalls.
He traces his passion for books to childhood. He remembers his parents responding enthusiastically when he read aloud a book from cover to cover.
“They seemed excited. I was excited,” he says, disappointed he no longer remembers the book’s title. “I tried writing comic books after that and I started a novel in fifth grade. It was a bust. I wrote some horrible emotional poems in high school.”
Horror as a genre emerged after his uncle shared, “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” with him.
“I couldn’t get enough horror after that,” he recalls. “I’d sneak down and watch shocker movies. There were always scary movies on Friday nights.”
His literary education included reading countless classics by William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” spurred him back to horror. His breakthrough occurred when he was 29 and completed — after years of effort — the first draft of a novel. He spent many late nights writing at a 24-hour coffee shop in Birmingham.
“After that, it opened a floodgate. I’ve written 27 novels in the last 13 years. It’s been an absolute explosion and I’m still swimming the waters that busted that dam today,” says Malerman, 42.
He finds writing in horror freeing and limitless.
“Horror to me is the imagination unbound, especially in this day and age,’ he says. “We’re in the Golden Era of the documentary. Everything is trying to be so real. Horror admits it’s fiction. It’s the imagination. If you let yourself get into it, you’ll have the time of your life. It’s nice to have something that says I’m fiction and I’m fine with that.”
While he has endless list of writers he admires, he places the late Richard Matheson, author of several TV episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” and the novels, “I Am Legend,” and “Hell House,” at the top. “I return a lot to him because he is a straight shooter. He’s very to the point. He’s the Hemingway of Horror.”
Where he finds inspiration is a bit of mystery, but he feels fortunate to have some sort of creative monster within. The ideas keep flowing.
He writes, he says, not only to scare readers, but also himself.
“I’ve scared myself by writing many, many times,” he says.
Greg Tasker is Michigan-based freelance writer.