‘Welcome to Night Vale’: Chatting it Up with Author Jeffrey Cranor

When you listen to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, it doesn’t matter if you were a fan from the beginning, or you became one after listening. Maybe you found it on Tumblr: the thing that becomes immediately apparent from the moment you first hear Cecil’s voice is that this is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Welcome to Night Vale is funny, sometimes creepy, always fascinating, and you’ve definitely struggled to describe what it’s about to someone before.

Now, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the minds behind the podcast, have come out with It Devours! A Welcome to Night Vale Novel, following the 2015 release of their first, Welcome to Night Vale: A NovelBooktrib was lucky enough to catch up with Jeffrey Cranor for an interview, where we talked about inspiration, diversity in characters, the importance of creative control, and Carlos’ hair.

Booktrib: So, just to start out with, and I’m sure you’ve had this question before: Welcome to Night Vale is creatively brilliant, it’s imaginative, it’s different. How do you write something like this, and then keep coming up with new material that’s just as good, and out there?

JC: I think that the way you do something like this is sort of the way you do anything – you like doing it, and so you keep doing it. I’ve written a lot of non-Night Vale stuff before, and it all kind of ends up building to certain things, and for whatever reason, Welcome to Night Vale really connected with a lot of people. I mean, we thought it was a great idea when we started it, but no more so than any other quick ideas I’d had before too, so it was amazing that it sort of connected to the people, and as you go on you just kind of build this world, and you keep writing for it; you always just have different takes on the world, different ways to approach the characters, and I feel like a lot of writing and a lot of creativity comes from just reading a lot, and taking a lot of other things in – watching a lot of television shows, and movies, and reading a lot of books that have all the things you want to explore as a writer.

Booktrib: Are there any tv shows, or books and movies that you watch in particular to get inspiration from?

JC: It comes from so many different places – I loved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when I was a kid, and I think that always sent me towards the absurd, which I’ve favored. I’ve always liked the strange, and the weird, and things like Twin Peaks; the Swedish film-maker Roy Anderson is realy great at the absurd. I think just sort of things like that, and you also find writers that you really connect with in terms of their writing style. A person I read a lot of is Will Eno – the way he writes monologues, the way the characters interact so directly with the audience is just so – the characters build these really elaborate, really beautiful, really poetic stories of these worlds, and the destroy them, and it’s sort of funny in the way that it’s done, and it’s always weirdly confrontational. I’ve always loved that, because reading his stuff and seeing his plays, really taught me about acknowledging the audience as present even when they’re just listening to it half a country away.

Booktrib: Speaking of your audience, your characters are really diverse, not just in terms of race, but also in gender and sexuality – in It Devours!, the main character is a woman, and a scientist, working next to another female scientist. Was this representation something you both considered and made an effort to include? 

JC: You know, the thing about representation is, I don’t pretend to be able to tell every person’s story, or feel that this is my job to tell all these stories, and I don’t know if Night Vale necessarily covers as much ground as is represented in the world, but the thing about representation in making characters is actually twofold: one, you have to look are the world that you live in and realize that it’s not all male middle-aged white guys, and a lot of media kind of shows this in that when you think about the population of roles in shows, it does not match the population of men and women in the world, nor does it often have the racial and sexual diversity of the world. So I think you just have to really look around you, and when you’re making a character, you have to build the world that you actually see.

Two, I think that with just writing in general, not even speaking about diversity, but effective representation, is that you have to treat all your characters as actual humans and not just objects to get you to a next thing. Obviously there are flat characters that just sort of become a punchline, or part of the background, and as you build characters and give them agency, you have to start thinking of them as actual human beings, and not just saying “oh, I have a woman character, so she’s a romantic interest” or, have a black character just to be the best friend; you have to give actual agency to characters.

Booktrib: So, this is the second Welcome to Night Vale book, and the two of you are now New York Times best-selling authors, you’re going on book tours, and the podcast has such a huge fan base – when you first started the show, did you know that it was going to strike a chord with people like this?

JC: No, we had no idea! We would have started it much sooner if we did. Joseph and I did theater in New York, and we wrote plays and performed them, and did stuff around town, and we both really spent a lot of time talking about how much we loved podcasts, so we just thought, ‘well, let’s try that for our next thing,’  especially since podcasts are a lot cheaper to produce than plays are; and so that was really it. We wrote something that we both wanted to listen to, which was really the goal, and it just seemed like other people wanted to listen to it as well. It’s weird, because I see a lot of things, whether it’s theater or tv shows, or I read a book, and I’m like “how is this not more popular?” You realize that there’s so much great art out there that most people don’t know about, and then there’s a lot of great art that people do discover and it really touches a nerve, and Night Vale did that, and that’s really  – I wouldn’t know how to replicate it if I tried.

Image courtesy of nightvalequotes.tumblr.com

Booktrib: In creating the kind of show that you wanted to listen to, is there anything that you wanted to include but felt like you couldn’t? 

JC: We have a lot of ideas that just never fully form, and that’s just either because we can’t make them work for the show, or we just lost interest. Anything that I have in my head is stuff that I’m happy to make happen, or have already made happen, and that’s the nice thing about being fully independent. With the books, we’re given a lot of room to make them the way that we want, and then with the podcast, Joseph and I fully own it, so there’s no other company that’s like “your show is cancelled if you do this!” or whatever.

Booktrib: And that gives you guys all the creative control, because you’re not answering to anyone else.

JC: We’re very fortunate, and we spend a lot of time encouraging people to work independently if they can, just because it gives so much more control to the original creators. I mean, the finances of that don’t always work out – sometimes if you have the opportunity to sell something, it just makes more sense financially but we’re very fortunate to be able to own Welcome to Night Vale independently.

Booktrib: Do you have any advice for aspiring or struggling writers?

JC: I think there are two things that I would think about. One, you have to read and write all the time, and that’s just kind of it- it’s like getting in shape: you can’t say “oh, i went jogging and now i’m in shape.” You have to stay, and always be working at it, and sometimes you can run everyday but at a certain point that won’t be as effective to working your muscles; you have to start working in other things too as your body adapts, the same way that your mind does too – you have to kind of broaden your horizons, and read different writers. Maybe put down your usually books, and pick up something else for once.

The second thing is that I really enjoy collaborative efforts. If you can find someone to work on something with you,  I think that’s really great. Because it cuts down the work count of things that you need, and it really is somebody else to bounce ideas off of, and to kind of keep you in check, and keeps you beholden to deadlines; deadlines I think are the most important things for actually producing work, for actually making a production of something, whether it’s going to be a play, or sending a novel to an agent, or if it’s just going to be ‘hey, we’re going to do a podcast together.’

Booktrib: Usually that’s my last question, but I promised my college roommate that I would ask: is anything bad going to happen to Carlos’ hair?

JC: We gave him that haircut once, which did not go over very well! The thing about Carlos’ hair is that I’ve never really spent any time visualizing exactly what it looks like. I love the podcast medium because it’s without visual, and you’re sort of forced to have these abstract dream concepts of what exactly perfect hair looks like. Joseph wrote in the first episode, that he [Carlos] had teeth like a military cemetery, and it was just really amazing – the idea of a perfectly white, perfectly shaped, perfect row of teeth. But we never really said what kind of hair he has: does he have kind of a standard, bad left-part, or does he use gel, does it come curly and big, or long? I don’t know, it could be any number of things, and I’ve always loved that it could kind of be anything.

It Devours! A Welcome to Night Vale Novel is available for purchase now. 

For more information, please visit the Welcome to Night Vale website, at welcometonightvale.com

Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor are on tour for ‘It Devours!’. Here are the upcoming tour dates.

October 26th – Raleigh, NC – James B. Hunt Library at the North Caroline State University

October 28th – Boston, MA – The Boston Book Festival

October 29th – Boulder, CO – Boulder Bookstore

October 30th – Denver, CO – Tattered Cover

October 31st – Minneapolis, MN – Grace-Trinity Community Church

November 1st – Cincinnati, OH – Joseph-Beth Booksellers

November 2nd – Madison, WI – The Wisconsin Book Festival at the Madison Public Library

November 4th – Dallas, TX – Barnes and Noble Booksellers

November 5th – Austin TX – The Texas Book Festival

November 6th – Houston, TX – Murder by the Book

November 7th – Los Angeles, CA – Diesel Bookstore

November 8th – Santa Cruz, CA – Book Shop Santa Cruz

November 9th – San Francisco, CA – Booksmith

November 11th – Portland, OR – Wordstock: Portland’s Book Festival

November 12th – Seattle, WA – University Temple

November 13th – San Diego, CA – Mysterious Galaxy

November 15th – Rhinebeck, NY – Morton Memorial Library

November 16th – Saratoga Springs, NY – Gannett Auditoriam at Skidmore College

November 17th – Portland, ME – University of Southern Maine

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeffrey Cranor is co-writer of the Welcome to Night Vale and Within the Wires podcasts. He often writes and directs for stage, and collaborates with choreographer/wife Jillian Sweeney. They live in New York. He has both a twitter, and a Tumblr.

 

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