So how’s this for peculiar?
There’s a small town in the Southwestern United States where strange things happen. There’s a dog park, but neither people nor dogs are allowed in it. You can go to the Arby’s, but you have to ignore the mysterious lights that are floating above it. The Sheriff’s Secret Police patrol the skies in their friendly blue helicopters—but you want to steer clear of the black choppers.
The town described above is the fictional burg of Night Vale, and it’s the setting of the mega-popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Described as Lake Wobegon as if it were written by Stephen King, the twice-monthly podcast is a news report narrated by fictional character Cecil Palmer, who tells the listener about the weird, wacky stuff that takes place in town. The podcast was created by writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and it’s been downloaded more than 100 million times worldwide since it was launched in 2012.
But that’s not the strangest part: Fink and Cranor, masters of the interwebs, subscribed to by fans and listened to on countless electronic devices around the globe, have adapted Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial, 2015) into a book, with ink and pages and everything, the way that spooky tales have been spun for generations.
“One thing about doing the novel, which has been great, was taking it out of Cecil’s voice and not making it a 400-page radio show,” co-author Cranor recently told Entertainment Weekly. “That gave us the choice to explore the world, to touch on characters fans are familiar with, but ultimately to just build an entirely new universe for readers.”
“It’s written to be a satisfying story within itself, for fans and for newcomers,” Fink told EW. “It definitely has stuff in there that’s meant to be new information, even if you’ve listened to the entire series three times. At the same time, we want people to pick up the book just because they read an interview in a magazine or just really like the cover and have an enjoyable reading experience.”
So how does the novel welcome newcomers to Night Vale? It does so by telling the story of two women. The first is Jackie Fierro, who is 19 years old. In fact, she’s been 19 years old for as long as she can remember—centuries, maybe. She owns the Night Vale pawn shop, and a mysterious man in a tan jacket hands her a paper marked “KING CITY.” Why? She has no idea—but she’s going to find out.
Then there’s Diane Crayton, the PTA treasurer and single mom whose teenage son Josh is pretty moody. Typical for a teenager, right? He also happens to be a shape-shifter and he’s trying to understand more about both himself and who his father might be. Meanwhile, Diane starts to see Josh’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as he did the day he left years earlier, when he and Diane were in their teens.
The depth and breadth of the podcast, which has been the subject of online forums, art, fan fiction and cosplay from millions of enthusiasts around the world, allowed the authors to bring relatively underdeveloped citizens of Night Vale to the forefront. “Diane is a character who’s been in the podcast since the beginning, although as a very minor character as part of her role in the PTA,” Fink told EW. “I think Jeffrey got very interested in exploring their life in a deeper way.
“Meanwhile, I had this character who hadn’t been on the podcast at all but was stuck in my head from very early on that I knew I wanted something to do with,” he said, discussing the character of Jackie. “That’s how she started, and it kind of grew from there.”
So if you’re looking for a spooky destination this Halloween, get off your computer and take a trip to Night Vale the old school way, via bookstore or public library. If you’re confronted by the Night Vale librarian, however, remember: try to make yourself bigger than the librarian. Do not try to run away. And never get between the librarian and its cubs.