When I asked the creators of the celebrated podcast Welcome to Night Vale if they’d want to live in their fictional city, I was met with a resounding no — but maybe the “vague yet menacing government agency” of Night Vale just told them to say that to keep me away from the dog park.
Started in 2012, the Welcome to Night Vale podcast is narrated by radio personality Cecil (voiced by Cecil Baldwin) and circles around the odd occurrences of a small desert town. Creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor were surprised by its popularity.
In our interview, Fink admitted, “Mostly we just hoped that a few people we didn’t personally know might eventually listen to it.” Over 80 episodes later, people are still listening — and loving every strange second. Now, the boys have taken their podcast and turned it into Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel.
As a Night Vale listener, I was wary of the new format, as a lot of the show’s charm is based on Cecil’s narration and reports of seemingly unrelated city events. I love how the show jumps from topic to topic but keeps a steady thread of running jokes, like the ominous hooded figures and violent deaths of all radio station interns. I wondered, how would Fink and Cranor translate these elements to the page?
Well, there had to be a main story, a main conflict, and it had to fit with Night Vale’s usual conspiracies and horrors. Fink, for one, has always dug conspiracy culture. He said, “I’ve always been fascinated with conspiracy theories and wanted to do something where every conspiracy theory is true, and, at least in America, if you set it in a town where every conspiracy theory is true, it doesn’t make sense to set it anywhere but in the desert.”
This sensitivity to conspiracy bore the Night Vale podcast, but it does indeed translate successfully to the page as we follow dual heroines Jackie Fierro and Diane Clayton in their search for a man nobody really remembers but who keeps talking about a place called King City before rushing off into the night.
The novel, like the podcast, is funny and thought-provoking in the same measure, and even sad at times. When I asked Fink and Cranor about the multi-faceted aspect of Night Vale’s genre, Fink said they tackle their fictional world with honesty. He continued, “We know that the world of Night Vale is a strange one, but all the details that make it up have to come from us trying to look clearly at our lives and the world around us and reflect that in our writing. And there are a lot of funny things in the world, and a lot of awful things.”
Cranor added, “‘Write what you know’ is true, but what that phrase leaves out is that you can filter what you know through all sorts of surreal fictional worlds as long as the core feelings and the human details feel real and honest.”
The Night Vale novel portrays real humans dealing with real problems, albeit under weird circumstances. There is definite honesty and heartbreak and the questioning of our own mortality. There are appearances from radio host Cecil, too, plus the aforementioned inside jokes, which I just had to ask about. Do Fink and Cranor have a flow chart of all their ongoing bits?
Cranor said, “Since it’s just the two of us writing the show, we rely entirely on our own faulty memories and the hope that at least one of us will notice a mistake during editing. Mostly that works. Sometimes we miss something and the Internet lets us know about our mistake. Then it’s our job to find some plot reason why that mistake is no longer a mistake.”
My question made Fink admit maybe they should start a show bible — perhaps to stop any miscommunications with the secret police.
As the popularity of the podcast continues, I think the Welcome to Night Vale book is an entertaining and skilled companion to the show. Both Fink and Cranor have wanted to write a book since they were kids, so it just seemed natural, although there is a distinct difference between writing a book and writing an ongoing podcast.
Cranor said, “Endings are always hard. Unlike a podcast, you have to wrap everything up and can’t just push some of the plot into the next episode. Or so our publisher tells us.”
One of the running jokes in the city of Night Vale is the danger of entering the library. People don’t often come back from the library, and this was an easy pun for the authors, both bookworms, who use censorship as an oft-repeated theme.
“We both love librarians and books,” Fink said, “which is why it’s so much fun to turn that around and make them powerful and dangerous in our world. Also because real librarians, being the people that still know where all the answers can be found, are in fact very powerful and dangerous and should be treated with a lot of respect.”
What’s the most important thing you need to know to survive a trip to Night Vale? Well
The remainder of this article has been confiscated by a vague yet menacing government agency. Beware black helicopters.