If Josh Malerman’s name sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably already heard it. The frontman for Detroit-based indie-rock band the High Strung has appeared on stages across the country and been featured on This American Life. So how does a rock star wind up selling his first novel, Bird Box, at auction to Lee Boudreaux at HarperCollins, in a two-book deal, for six figures?
“Josh is an unstoppable creative force,” says Boudreaux. “He’s written something like 15 novels that I haven’t even read yet. Josh is always writing, or composing, or drawing, or thinking. He’s a true original and that came across in the DNA of his novel.” Bird Box’s plot won’t disappoint anyone looking for something outside of the, um, box. It’s a horror thriller set in an apocalyptic future, and much of the book focuses on a mother and her two children, who are traveling downriver by rowboat—blindfolded.
Malerman’s many, many attempted novels—at age 29 he started two at the same time in a Michigan coffee shop, neither of which he finished—all had dark undertones, but he’s quick to explain that Bird Box is more than a scary story. His agent, Kristin Nelson, used to run a disclaimer on her website saying she didn’t do horror. “People tell me Bird Box isn’t just horror,” says Malerman. “Maybe that’s why Kristin liked it.” And it’s a good thing she did. “I’d be a complete mess without her, shopping the craziest rough drafts imaginable,” says Malerman, who estimates that he wrote the first draft of Bird Box in 26 days, averaging 4,500 hundred words a session. “It was a delirious, emotional explosion. I finished it on Halloween—a coincidence I enjoyed,” he says.
Boudreaux, who has launched the careers of a number of debut writers who have gone on to exciting careers (Kevin Wilson and Ben Fountain among them) couldn’t be more thrilled to add Malerman to her list. “There’s nothing about him that isn’t unique,” she says. “Last Valentine’s Day, he sent me a photo of him and his girlfriend—they’d spent the entire day cutting a hole through a serving platter so they could stage a photo of her seemingly severed head. It was so stylish! And gory and hilarious as well!”