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If you’re a fan of “Welcome to Night Vale” but you thought the universe was reserved exclusively to its twice-monthly podcast, you’re dead wrong. And, you’re in luck. Creators Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink are on a book tour once again with their second novel “It Devours!”
The story follows Nilanjana Sikdar, who works for Night Vale’s top scientist Carlos. When she receives a special assignment to investigate the outskirts of town, she stumbles upon the Congregation of the Smiling God. We caught up with Cranor to ask him about his touring schedule, the inspiration for the story and how he and Fink created Night Vale.
What motivated you to explore this story?
For us, it was a chance to create a thriller about something that’s destroying Night Vale from below, and this idea of Nilanjana pursuing the answer to what’s happening here. Along the way, she meets Darryl who is romantically interested in her. Darryl is also part of this religious organization. It is kind of meshing together this idea of the logic of science and the ethos of religion and putting those, sort of against each other, as a backdrop to this thriller.
When we make the podcast, we have a long-form, serial storytelling, but we have character changes that have changed dramatically by the 110th episode, hopefully. When we tour a live show around the country or a novel, we wanted something that didn’t require you to listen to 128 episodes of a podcast first. It’s not a stipulation of that, but it’s something that if you’re a fan of the show, it’s all brand-new to you, but even if you’ve never even heard of the other novel or the podcast, you can pick it up because you like the cover, or storyline like, ‘I’m just going to read this as its own thing.’ Obviously, being set in the world of Night Vale, it sets the tone of being comedic and surreal. It’s very odd, it has quirky characters and things like that.
I’m sure that there are many advantages to having two writers work on a project together, but did you ever butt heads about where the storyline should go?
I think the great thing about working with Joseph, was that from the beginning, we had a really good working relationship. When we were writing theatre and short stories together, it went well. We just have a very understanding work environment, so that doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements on how to frame something or write something, but we can usually pretty easily argue our cases and then come to a conclusion about how best to do it.
Writing the novels has been nice because we’ve got over 100 episodes of this world, of this town of Night Vale and of all of these characters. When we set out to write a novel set in the world of Night Vale, there’s a lot of things we already knew about the rules there and about the town that we don’t have to create from scratch every time we write a book, so that’s really, really helpful.
When we develop a character like Nilanjana for this book, who wasn’t really that developed in the podcast, that’s the exciting part. We can now be like, ‘Here’s this whole new thing to explore, which is this person. What are her wants? What is she trying to do? What does she really want in her life? What does she really want out of this mission that she’s on? Those are the really fun parts with Night Vale as the backdrop.
Do you have any other projects that fans can look forward to in the future?
We’ve already started working on a third book. I couldn’t tell you really anything else about that, but it’s definitely a thing where we get really thinking about this character of Nilanjana and Carlos’ lab and the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and this what we have written down and a thing we want to explore.
Just like in the podcast, there is some satire in this book. What are some of the themes of this book that you hope the audience takes away?
I think Joseph and I are both people who believe strongly in science as a force for good in the world. I think that the idea of the scientific mind and the mindset of science is really important to us as it is to many people. And, the advancements that science can make to make the world better. But also, the many ways that science and technological advancement can make your world worse.
By the same token, religion is something that’s been very important to Joseph and me separately our whole lives. We both grew up with very different religious backgrounds, but it’s something that’s played a huge role in how we shape our worlds. And spirituality is, I think, a really important component to life, to understanding the world. Spirituality, by its very nature, is not very scientific it’s sort of anathema. It’s a nice balance to a very scientific approach, trying to disprove and disprove and disprove until you can find truth.
I think Joseph and I were really interested in juxtaposing those two things in a way that wasn’t about just your standard city council argument about whether we should have “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. To really get at the heart of what makes a person of faith and a person of science tick, and why they do things. How they come to see the problem and resolve the problem. In a way, we’re satirizing that, but our goal was never to satirize religious belief, or satirize scientific knowledge or anything like that.
How did you and Joseph meet?
Joseph and I met in New York back in 2009. He first moved to New York City from California and he didn’t know anybody when he moved here. I was in a theatre company called the Neo-Futurists and he came to our shows and did some workshops and things like that. From the moment I saw him in the workshops, I realized just how good of a writer he was. When he came to the shows, I’d always make a point to talk to him and he always commented on my performance and on my writing too.
We always had these pretty direct, honest and pretty intriguing conversations. After a year of this, I said, ‘We should write a play together.’ He said, ‘That sounds great,’ and after several months of working together and working on a play that was about time travel, we co-produced and performed it together in New York City in 2011. During that process, we both learned how much each other liked podcasts and all the podcasts we were listening to and Joseph thought, ‘Well, now that we’ve written a play together, let’s write a podcast together.’ He came up with this idea for Night Vale and we just went from there.
What is your favorite part of touring?
It’s super exhausting but it’s really amazing. You get to go all over the country and this book tour is even more extensive than the last one, which is great. Two years ago, we didn’t get to go to Lansing, we didn’t get to do Iowa City, Houston or Denver or Portland, Maine. Getting to some of these towns, I’ve been to a few before, but getting to go there to talk about Night Vale is really exciting. I think it’s these smaller towns like Lansing, Michigan, that they don’t get to have Night Vale come through and so I don’t get to meet the fans in those places very often. That’s always really exciting for me, to get to some of these towns to talk about what it is we do.