Interview: Joseph Fink: Welcome to Night Vale

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The popular fiction podcast is fun to listen to and now fun to read with a novel and two volumes of episode scripts.

A favorite fiction podcast with a devoted fan base, Welcome to Night Vale recently celebrated its 100th episode, released a standalone Welcome to Night Vale novel, and published Volumes 1 and 2 of scripts from its first two seasons with commentary from authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and others involved with its production. Night Vale is described as “a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.” We are hooked on the podcast and the books and were thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Joseph Fink. 

Shelf Unbound/Podster: I read on Twitter this morning that you just finished the manuscript for the second Night Vale novel. Will will see any familiar characters in this one?

Joseph Fink: The second one is a standalone novel, not a direct sequel to the first novel, but it does take place in the same continuity. So people who have read the novel and listened to the podcast will recognize all sorts of characters but it can also be read on its own by people new to Night Vale. 

Shelf Unbound/Podster: How does the process of writing the novel differ from writing the podcast? 

Joseph: The work flow is the same. Jeffrey and I have been writing together for seven years or so and we’ve developed a work flow that works. We get together and talk about what the story is and we assign parts and then we go our separate ways and write separately. 

That said, a novel is a very different thing. We approach writing it very differently, as we are thinking about writing for the page and developing a story on a much larger scale than with the podcast. With a podcast we can develop a larger story incrementally over several months, but with a novel we need to know where we are going at the start.  

Shelf Unbound/Podster: Did you have any idea when you started the podcast that you would still be going strong 100 episodes in?

Joseph: We had no expectations at all. It was just a thing that we were doing for fun. It didn’t occur to us that a podcast was something you could do on a large scale; it was just that we both liked podcasts and we had the ability to do it. That said, even if we had never found an audience and were never able to make it our full-time jobs, I think we would still be doing it because it is fun to do. 

Shelf Unbound/Podster: What did you read growing up that influenced your work?

Joseph: I read a lot as a kid; my parents didn’t let me watch much TV. I was a huge Redwall fan as a little kid. In high school I was into Douglas Adams. And I was very into folktales, especially Jewish folktales. I read Howard Schwartz’s collections of Jewish folktales, Mariam’s Tambourine and Elijah’s Violin—they have a certain rhythm to them that influenced my writing.  

Shelf Unbound/Podster: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Joseph: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I understood what the concept was, around the age of 4. Chris Van Allsburg, who wrote Jumanji, is someone whose work I really love and he had a book called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Each two-page spread was one illustration and a title and a sentence, and the idea was to encourage you to write your own story. I wrote a short story called The Harp, which was probably similar in structure to the folktales I was reading. I don’t remember a lot of the details but it was about a kid who wakes up in a magical forest. Whenever I couldn’t figure out how to get a character out of a narrative problem in my stories I would have them fall unconscious and then when they woke up everything would be taken care of. 

Shelf Unbound/Podster: Do you have a favorite character in Night Vale to write?

Joseph: A lot of characters are fun to write but the most fun ones are those that have a specific pattern of speech. Like the Faceless Old Woman has a very distinctive way of talking, and Michelle Nguyen has a great rhythm to the way she talks that is a lot of fun to write. 

Shelf Unbound/Podster: Do you ever struggle to come up with new ideas after all these years of writing Night Vale?

Joseph: I’ve been doing this my whole life and so I’ve had years and years of practice. Writing is exactly like playing the violin or being a doctor—there are specific things you do and you have to practice them over and over. In lots of ways it is a technical thing. You have to practice and after years of practice you reach a point where you need to write two pages and you trust your brain to fill that in.  

Shelf Unbound/Podster: What elements did you have to learn in writing a podcast?

Joseph: Both Jeffrey and I came out of downtown New York theatre— that’s where we met—and we did a lot of work there before doing the podcast. We wanted to write a fiction podcast in the same way we were already writing for theatre. In downtown New York theatre there are not a lot of sets and costumes and big theatrical elements because nobody has any money. There are performances where someone is standing on a bare stage in normal clothes and what they are saying has to be enough to hold you. I love that because it is about how perfect can you make the storytelling, how gripping can a single voice telling you a story be?

Shelf Unbound/Podster: You’ve been doing live shows across the country for a few years. What’s it like at the live shows?

Joseph:Because we come out of the theatre we love to do the live shows and we bring a lot of experience to them. They are designed to be standalone stories that can be enjoyed by people who have no idea who we are. We go back to the idea of how gripping can you make a person on a stage telling you a story. The answer is: very gripping. Cecil Baldwin is a trained stage actor, so he is able to take an audience places and control an audience with his performance. We try to write for live energy—which is not the same way we write the podcast. With a live audience in mind we’ve even included the audience in the story at times. I’ve seen a lot of live theatre in my life and feel like we put on one hell of a live show.  

Read an Excerpt:

Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1

by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Hello listeners.

To start things off, I’ve been asked to read this brief notice. The City Council announces the opening of a new Dog Park at the corner of Earl and Summerset, near the Ralphs. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the Dog Park. People are not allowed in the Dog Park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the Dog Park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the Dog Park. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the Dog Park and especially do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. The Dog Park will not harm you. 

And now the news. 

Old Woman Josie, out near the car lot, says the angels revealed themselves to her. Said they were ten feet tall, radiant, one of them was black. Said they helped her with various household chores. One of them changed a lightbulb for her, the porch light. She’s offering to sell the old lightbulb, which has been touched by an angel (it was the black angel, if that sweetens the pot for anyone). If you’re interested, contact Old Woman Josie. She’s out near the car lot. 

A new man came into town today. Who is he? What does he want from us? Why his perfect and beautiful haircut? Why his perfect and beautiful coat? He says he is a scientist. Well, we have all been scientists at one point or another in our lives. But why now? Why here? And just what does he plan to do with all those beakers and humming electrical instruments in that lab he’s renting, the one next to Big Rico’s Pizza. No one does a slice like Big Rico. No one. 

From Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Harper Perennial, harpercollins.com. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 

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