Josh Malerman's ‘Bird Box’ Named Horror Novel Of The Year

Image - iStockphoto: imagospot
Image – iStockphoto: imagospot

Also: Finalist For A Bram Stoker Award

You write because you love reading, and you write horror because you believe in the monsters, you believe in the imagination, you believe in the dark. I BELIEVE IN THE DARK.
Josh Malerman
Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman has won This Is Horror’s Novel of the Year award blindfolded. Don’t take it from me, read the book.

The author’s Bird Box was named the winner on Tuesday (February 24). We covered the release of Malerman’s book here at Thought Catalog because it was one of freshest, most intelligent debuts of 2014. The book also offers one of the strongest, most sophisticated female protagonists you’ll find in a lot of reading — one whom Malerman told me “wants to smash her fist through the wall.”

The book was well-received but never seemed to get the kind of publishing-house support it needed to move into the channels of real attention it deserved. Its release timing didn’t make it a trade-show title, something that could have been reconsidered. And there were managerial changes at its Stateside HarperCollins imprint, Ecco Books. At the London Book Fair, the novel — from HarperCollins Voyager in the UK — was standing on a shelf at the company’s sleek, big pavilion at Earls Court. But it wasn’t one of the titles the publisher’s folks had chosen to play up.

By comparison, this is one of the books that did not get the kind of attention that Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Elevengot both in the States from Random House’s Alfred A. Knopfand in the UK from Macmillan’s Picador.

Malerman has not spoken to me about these observations. They come from my own perspective on the industry. My opinion — not to put words in anyone’s mouth — is that Bird Box is one of the books we hear about that did not get the backing from its Big Five publisher that could have made it a “big book.” Any publisher makes the best calls possible at the time, of course, about which books are to be pushed and which not. And hindsight wears no blindfolds — it’s easier now, perhaps, to see the book’s potential. But I think Bird Box fell prey to some miscalculations, judgment calls that somehow determined that it was not to be given a major, sustained roll out. The kind of attention it now is getting may indicate that things might have been done differently.

Indeed, Bird Box has just been listed on the final ballot for the Horror Writers Association, a finalist in the Bram Stoker Awards. The winners will be announced May 9 in Atlanta at the World Horror Convention. Malerman is within striking distance of an award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

Earlier this month, the paperback edition of the book was released with a strangely Dial M for Murder-ish cover. Yes, a phone figures in the story, but  the original cover from designer Suet Yee Chong is far closer to the otherworldly, fearful quality of the plot. This isn’t a dripping-blood kind of horror tale. But I’m glad to see the next stage of the book’s life and especially to see readers finding and praising the book with its Serling-steady control and deeply unsettling worldview.

The original cover of the the hardback release of Josh Malerman's Bird Box.
The original cover of the the hardback release of Josh Malerman’s Bird Box.

As related here before, his was an exceptionally long march to publication: Malerman wrote book after book — 17 books — across more than a decade, before allowing anything to be seen. He knows every step of the route:Going on in his award acceptance message, Malerman reminds me of comments he made when I did a live interview with him in Los Angeles at the Writer’s Digest Conference there last summer. He writes about finding one’s way into writing in the big, wide genre called “horror” through small, incremental stages of self-discovery.

Maybe you start with poems, unrelated chunks, paragraphs. This may lead to short, freaky stories. Then you’re finally writing books and (holy cow) now you’re publishing books. And then you receive a notice that your book, your scary book, has won the best novel prize from a great website, a purity in the field. Nobody does it better than “This is Horror” and so not only is this a glorious chain of events for me, it’s also a magnificent HONOR. Thank you, This is Horror, and may I always maintain my end of the bargain, that when a reader reads a book of mine they will think, ‘THIS is horror.’

Having spent several hours this year in interviews and conference settings trying to convince Malerman that his debut is more literary than horror — to no avail, the guy simply is not having it — I’ve come to the conclusion that “horror” lies in the mind of the reader. Or writer.

Malerman had birds flying free in the room with him as he wrote Bird Box. For me, that’s horror enough. Finches. But still. And yet, when I read his book — as Ebury’s Rebecca Smart tweeted from London, with “heart racing” — I get something more primordial and psychologically menacing than what I think of as horror. I sense a force of danger, others will think monsters. That’s all fine.

The new paperback edition cover of Josh Malerman's "Bird Box."
The new paperback edition cover of Josh Malerman’s “Bird Box.”

#MusicForWriters readers might like to know that Malerman is a committed writer-to-music and collects horror film soundtracks to use as he works. He knows his Hollywood hatchet scores, never mind that he’s also the front man for a band called The High Strung. (And you have to bring up the irony of that ensemble’s name, he won’t.)

Based in the Detroit area, Malerman is one of agent Kristin Nelson’s most promising talents, and Bird Box, yes, has a film option that’s working its way through the Beverly Hills with exactly the speed that tends to make those events horrors that even I can recognize as such.

Malerman’s win is on a page at, with winners and runners-up in this year’s awards. The name of the site, This Is Horror, works on the serious side in the same way that cozy mystery writer Elizabeth S. Craig’s wonderful site title works in humor: Mystery Writing Is Murder.

I decided that as long as the talented Mr. Malerman is going to continue hangin’ with the horrified no matter how much I try to put the fear of literary into him that I’d learn a little about This Is Horror, the outfit conferring the award. After all, if this is the kind of thing these folks call “horror,” maybe I need to revise my expectations.

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether: ‘Bird Box’ Named Horror Novel Of The Year

Originally published by Thought Catalog at


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