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Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel Hardcover – October 20, 2015
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From the Publisher
Patrick Rothfuss talks with Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Patrick Rothfuss: What the hell? Seriously. How the hell do you pull this off as your first novel? What sort of dark forces have you aligned yourselves with, and would you mind terribly giving me their phone number?
Joseph Fink: Hey, thanks, it's very kind of you to say we're aligned with dark forces. In some ways we were developing this novel long before we even thought of writing it. While it's in the style of a community radio show, the Welcome to Night Vale podcast shares a lot more similarities with a short story or solo spoken word piece than a radio drama or play script. Told mostly from a single point of view, and with twenty or more episodes a year, we had written two novels' worth of serial podcast scripts before we started tackling the novel.
Jeffrey Cranor: Obviously there are a number of differences in style between the novel and the podcast, but we had a couple of years' head start to fully develop a universe of characters, places, laws, and the unique vibe of the town itself.
Rothfuss: Welcome to Night Vale is already one of the best radio shows/podcasts out there. What made you want to try to bring some of the story into novel form?
Fink: We both grew up loving reading. I have wanted to write a book since the first time I understood what that concept meant. When the podcast became popular (beyond all expectations), we knew immediately that a novel was the next place we wanted to take it. A novel gives us the chance to explore Night Vale as a town, to create new characters and develop old ones, and to see this universe from new perspectives that we can't do in the radio format of the podcast.
Rothfuss: While writing duos aren't unheard of, they do tend to be the exception to the rule. How does your collaboration work?
Cranor: We've been writing together for a bit more than five years, and we've developed a pretty effective system of writing solo and then exchanging and editing. Our collaboration relies on our trust in each other's abilities as writers and as friends. It's been a nice balance of meeting all expectations with a few pleasant surprises along the way.
Rothfuss: If you got to pick one superpower, what would it be?
Cranor: I'm stealing this answer from Cecil (Baldwin, the narrator of the podcast and of the novel's audiobook): I would love to be able to speak and understand all languages.
Fink: I would own a dog.
Rothfuss: Do you have any writers whom you particularly admire or try to emulate in your work?
Cranor: Two of the biggest influences when we began writing Night Vale were the playwright Will Eno and the novelist Deb Olin Unferth. They both write with clear, assertive voices. They use clean, matter-of-fact sentences that subvert whatever our expectations of normal behavior are. Both develop such rich poetry with their economic use of language.
Fink: I think the main thing we learned from them is that it is possible to take surprising turns not just in the overall plot or within a chapter but also within a single sentence, landing the language in a completely different place than the reader expected. It's that magic trick of language that I have been chasing ever since.
Top customer reviews
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Someone keeps leaving pages from it under my pillow while I sleep. Every morning a new one.
They are not in order.
I'm a long-time follower of the podcast this book is based on, so I of course appreciated its regular interjections from Cecil and the cameos from (and new insights into!) such town regulars as Old Woman Josie, Carlos the Scientist, Mayor Dana Cardinal, and that guy Steve Carlsberg. (Get it together, Steve.) And of course I like callbacks to the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, the Glow Cloud, and the town rivalry with Desert Bluffs, as well as Cecil's continual smugness about how hot and talented his scientist boyfriend is. All the in-jokes are there for us, while just being random weirdness if you're new to the world: You pay your bill at Big Rico's with a certain strange ritual, crises generally resolve before Cecil is done reporting on them, and mountains aren't real (or maybe they are, but that's controversial). And some food is invisible.
Plot-wise, it's lovely to follow characters for much longer than a podcast episode--and see things through their perspective without necessarily feeling that Cecil is narrating their experiences--and I enjoyed how everything was weird and not necessarily satisfying but still leaves you with that feeling that Something Happened. But it's not just weird; it's got some honestly gorgeous images in it that smack you sideways unexpectedly. It's haunting. I'll share some of these quotes at the end, where the concepts are both bizarre and beautiful. The scene of Diane and Jackie joining forces to escape the library was incredibly exciting, and their relationship was deliciously complicated--as was Jackie's relationship with her mother--and it was funny that the cover art on a biography of Helen Hunt tried to attack them. Oh, and remember, scientists are pack animals, and you have to whisper a secret into the car's cup holder to start the ignition.
It's just really interesting that the book hits the nail on the head about Cecil's voice letting us let things go. We let go of questions even as his voice brings us more of them. Also, the tradition continues for intern work at the radio station to be a dangerous job with a high mortality rate. Not to mention one of your duties is editing Cecil's slash fiction.
Before I share my favorite quotes, I want to talk about some of the important social points in this book. Most notably, it deals heavily with a father who abandoned his partners and children, how those mothers who raised those children coped, how the father cannot expect to just reappear after the hard work is done and be equally important to the children, and how said father can still be a helpful, useful, "good" person while still having done something that damaged his families. This was represented with the character Troy literally being multiple versions of himself, dozens of Troys everywhere, without a single one staying to raise his children. I loved Diane's speech regarding her son's wanting to find his father:
I raised you for fifteen years. I fed you and clothed you. I loved you and still do. I love you because you have been with me for fifteen years. I am your mother because we have been together your whole childhood. I have earned you as my son. Troy does not get to be your father simply because he participated in your creation. Troy does not get to earn your love as a son because you are biologically his. I have done the work. I have put in the time. I have loved you. Troy does not get to be my equal in your life because he has not earned it. I need to protect myself. And I need to protect you.
This is incredibly relevant to anyone who's raised a child after the other partner left, and that's become common in many people's households. There is also a really interesting, related point in this story about how family is what becomes from the relationships you cultivate; a father is not a father just because he contributed genetic material, but someone who did not contribute genetic material can be more of a father sometimes. Characters who are not technically related can become like sisters because of what they develop. Many of us in the real world can relate to this too. It's also refreshing that when it's revealed Troy left Diane, Jackie makes a remark about Troy being bad because of it, which makes Diane feel validated. She'd always before felt that she was to blame for "making a mistake" by being with him, but the text explicitly puts the onus on Troy. Wonderful.
Relatedly, I also really enjoy how consistently the character Jackie experienced condescension and dismissal because of others' perception of her age. As a perpetual nineteen-year-old, Jackie knows nothing but being discounted because of her supposed immaturity, and it was interesting how Diane's knee-jerk reaction was to boss Jackie around and immediately tune her input out. There was quite a lot of this, and after Diane learned how it felt to receive this treatment, she wasn't so hasty to dish it out to Jackie or her son. It's very important for adults to realize how their advice comes across and how easy it is to ignore someone's input if it's clear they don't respect you.
And of course, in the midst of so many extremely weird things happening and extremely normal things being taken for weird, same-sex relationships are never invoked as odd at all. Pretty much every relationship or potential relationship just is what it is, with Diane being as willing to imagine that her son might have a crush on a boy as she was to imagine he might have a crush on a girl. And when her son thinks she might be dating, the potential relationship she calls out as a shield is a woman named Dawn, but her son believes she's saying "Don," and neither possibility is weird or remarkable. The words "gay," "straight," and "bisexual" are never used, and while some people think it's frustrating to have queer relationships without labeling them, I think it fits well with the tone. (Also, there is a sort of nod to asexuality in there; a character is describing what happens when kids grow up, and remarks, "and they get interested in boys and girls, or they don't, and anyway they change." No acknowledgment is made of nonbinary genders, but this was an unusual acknowledgment that growing up does not automatically mean we all form those kinds of relationships.)
Okay, and these are my favorite quotes.
You will smell must and soap, and feel a stab of panic about how alone you are. It will be like most showers you've taken.
All of the angels in Night Vale live with Josie out by the car lot. There are no angels in Night Vale.
On pet care:
Now it was time to feed those items that were alive. Some of the items were alive. Some of them were dogs, and some weren't.
On great deals:
Get out to Lenny's for their big grand opening sale. Find eight government secrets and get a free kidnapping and personality reassignment so that you'll forget you found them!
Diane was like most people. Most people are.
The avocado was, of course, fake, as all avocados are.
On invisible consumables:
The Moonlite All-Nite Diner along Route 800 served okay coffee. Okay pies. Some of the pies and coffee were invisible, and, for the people who like invisible pie and invisible coffee, this was a real plus. Here's what: if you like a thing, and only one place in town serves that thing, you're going to be pretty excited by that thing, regardless of quality.
On the Faceless Old Woman:
The faceless old woman who secretly lives in their home crawled by on the ceiling, but neither of them noticed.
On sponsored content:
And now a word from our sponsors. Or not now, but later. Much later. You won't know it when it happens. It'll be just one of the many words you'll encounter that day. But it will come leaden with unseen meaning and consequence, and it will slowly spread throughout your life, invisibly infecting every light moment with its heaviness. Our sponsors cannot be escaped. You will see their word. And you will never know.
On science fiction:
No one knows why science fiction is kept separately from the rest of the nonfiction. Tradition is a powerful thing. These shelves were much less censored than the main nonfiction section, since science fiction tended to be about day-to-day stuff that everyone already knew.
On the nature of the world:
The world is terrifying. It always is. But Cecil reminded her that it was okay to relax in a terrifying world.
More sponsored content:
And now a word from our sponsors. Having trouble sleeping? Are you awake at all hours? Do birds live in you? Are you crawling with insects? Is your skin jagged and hard? Are you covered in leaves and gently shaking in the gentle breeze? You sound like a tree. You are perfectly healthy. Also, you don't need to sleep. You're a tree, a very very smart tree. Are you listening to the radio? Is a human assisting you? What plan do you have for our weak species? Please, tree, I beg of you to spare me. Please, tree. Spare me. This message has been brought to you by Old Navy. Old Navy: What's Going to Happen to My Family?
We don't have our children. We have the faint, distorted echoes of our children that this town sent back to us.
If you aren't familiar with the podcasts (I wasn't) and aren't already a fan, here's a way to decide if you want to buy this book--read the sample, paying attention to the style of the writing. If you like the quirkiness, buy the book and enjoy it. If you find yourself skipping over the odd bits to find out what happens next, don't buy it because those odd bits are what make up the rest of the book--I've surrendered after reading about a third of it.
A+++ Very much enjoyed!!!
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