Hiding in Plain Sight
Story By : Jeff Milo
Photo By : Bernie Laframboise
FERNDALE HAS HAD ITS SHARE OF FAMOUS FOLKS HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT. BUT FEW ARE AS OUTGOING AS AUTHOR JOSH MALERMAN; HE’LL TELL YOU HIS STORY IF YOU BUMP INTO HIM. More likely, he’ll probably want to hear your story. As a writer, he’s naturally fascinated by people. He has a knack for getting familiar very fast. That’s expected, not just as an author who’s naturally fascinated by people, but also from years of touring with and performing at countless local rock venues with the band The High Strung.
Next year, Malerman’s breakout horror novel, Bird Box, is being adapted into a major motion-picture production, with a cast that includes Hollywood icons like Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich. His third novel on a major publishing house came out on Halloween, and his fourth will be out by Spring of next year. Oh, and you can hear his lead vocals over the rock music of The High Strung’s song “Luck You Got” during the opening credits of Showtime’s Shameless. Life begins at 40, they say, but for Malmeran, so does fame…, but that “fame” only comes after writing more than a dozen novels before his first publication, and after almo
st 20 years in his band during which they released seven LPs and logged about 2,000 days of touring.
“I knew from the moment Universal (Pictures) optioned Bird Box that I’d have no say in the script, the music, the process; I’m fine with that. Not just because that’s the natural process for an unknown author selling a book to the movies, but because I’m a true fan of collaborative art! I’m interested as hell to see what they do with it! Have fun with it, I say! The book will always be there.”
Bird Box made a big splash in the genres of horror and dystopic thrillers: a near future world (set in Michigan) where an uncanny new species has infiltrated civilization, the mere sight of these supernatural entities can spiral any observer off into destructive mania. “So, I just hope three things for the movie: that it’s scary as hell; that the music is phenomenal, and that everyone involved has a really good time making it. That’s where I’m at with it.” He said he feels the same way about next year’s Unbury Carol, another horror novel, which will be out on Del Rey, and has its own potential to be adapted some day.
His most recent, Goblin, came out on Halloween. It’s a novel told in six short, interconnected stories; effectively presented as “What if The Twilight Zone were an actual city?” And the citizens of this fictitious municipality known as Goblin seem to be aware that their town is naturally supernatural, and that an intangible entity of danger resides in its recesses.
“And that can easily be said about America as a whole, right now,” Malerman mused. “Things are crazy. We all know it. And yet, aren’t we all still proud to be from the USA? Aren’t we still glad to call this place home? Now, Goblin doesn’t have the same political madness, but it certainly has that pride. Everyone in Goblin is a bit obsessed…Behind every closed door and draped window, there’s a person fixated on something in their life that would sound crazy to the rest of us who are, really, in turn, fixated on our own infinitesimal things.” It being a horror novel, though, you can expect that Goblin residents often flirt with near or certain doom due to the malevolent magnetisms of their fixations.
Malerman says that Goblin shares very few similarities with Ferndale. Nevertheless, our city’s unique charms still influence Malerman’s imagination in other ways. “Ferndale is exactly the right-sized city in which, when you go out, you have a good chance of running into someone you know—but you still might not.
So when you do run into someone: it’s a spark! Ferndale is a great mix of
“small town” and “city,” so it definitely plays into the landscape of whatever book I’m writing. There are enough bookstores here (Library Bookstore, John King North) and in Oak Park and Berkley, where I can hope to find an old horror novel I’ve been searching for. Couple that with the coffee shops, here!Trip that with the bars! Then, let’s quadruple that with the folks inside those bars; yeah, Ferndale plays a major part in my life, which in turn plays a major part in the books.”
As Malerman tells it, he finds inspiration here in more eclectic forms. (And that, as you’ll read, is notably due to his partner, in life and in art, Allison Laako.) “Ferndale is the kind of smaller town that has completely adopted the big city freedom of expression,” Malerman says.
One weekend night, Laako enthused Malerman to head out to Zeke’s to see a band; that she’d catch up later. Only thing was, his driving ahead on this frigid winter night meant she’d have to walk there. “The band has already started and I suddenly see someone in a penguin suit outside walking up to the door. I think, ‘Hmm, we have a penguin suit…! I wonder…?’ And sure enough, brilliant Allison found the warmest thing in our house to wear, penguin-head and all. Everyone in the bar, they laughed, they got into it! You can be a freak in Ferndale! But…the locals are also hungry enough to ask a little something more of your freakishness—be clever about it, use it in a powerful or fun way. If you’re gonna let your freak flag fly, let us all hear it flapping in the wind. We like that sound in Ferndale!”
Laako is a hybrid, visual artist, improvisatory thespian, singer, and makeup visionary. Her creativity and vibrant imagination have certifiably inspired Malerman during their six years together—intimate scenes of which are captured in Quilt of Delirium, a recently released documentary streaming online, directed by Scott Allen. That film can continue telling the story of Malerman, beyond this page. It’s a story that includes his band, The High Strung, as well as unpacks the source of his deep love for telling stories.
Goblin is out now; Unbury Carol is on the way, and a movie version of Bird Box will be out after that. Oh, and then there’s that new High Strung album…All this creative output, surging right out of Ferndale.