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How the Welcome to Night Vale writers turned their podcast into a novel

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Nina Subin

Welcome to Night Vale, the popular podcast from writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor chronicling the fictional goings-on in a strange desert town, pulls from a variety of unusual influences. The format obviously parodies community radio broadcasts, but the eccentric townspeople bring Twin Peaks to mind, and the writers’ love for weird jokes fits right in with the weirder corners of Twitter. But above all, Welcome to Night Vale is literary. Despite the podcast format, Cranor and Fink say they write the episodes as short stories for the narrator (“Cecil Palmer,” voiced by Cecil Baldwin) to read aloud. It’s no wonder, then, that Fink and Cranor have finally written a full-length novel about Night Vale. Here’s how they did it. 

1. Decide on POV characters. Unlike the podcast, the Welcome to Night Vale novel is not told solely through Cecil Palmer’s community radio show. His broadcasts appear as two- to three-page interludes throughout the book, and Palmer himself exists as a peripheral character, but the main focus of the story is two women of Night Vale: Diane Crayton, president of the Night Vale PTA and mother of a shapeshifting son, and Jackie Fierro, the 19-year-old pawnshop owner who’s been 19 for a long time.

“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 says. “I think Jeffrey got very interested in exploring her 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 to do something with. This character of Jackie, this young owner of the pawnshop who started seeing lights over the desert out her window. That’s how she started, and it kinda grew from there.”

“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,” Cranor says. “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 new readers.”

2. Make it accessible to new readers. Making the novel an easy entry point for new readers was a top priority for Fink and Cranor, though they also made sure to throw in new bits for longtime fans of the podcast as well. Jackie, for example, is a brand-new character with a whole new arc, and when Night Vale standbys pop up (such as John Peters, you know, the farmer) their gimmicks are re-explained.

“It’s written to be a satisfying story within itself, both for fans and for newcomers,” Fink says. “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 liked the cover, and have an enjoyable reading experience.”

3. Adapt to the new form. Because of Night Vale’s built-in literary quality, the transition from podcast to novel wasn’t super difficult, but Fink and Cranor did have to adjust their storytelling process.

“One of the things with the novel is we had to work on tying up loose ends,” Cranor says. “On the podcast we can resolve the storyline but we can also have a bunch of loose threads that don’t go anywhere because it’s a news program and with news there’s always that. With the novel we had to focus a little bit more, brings things back in regularly to tie it together.”

Harper Collins

4. Deepen your characters. Cranor and Fink have been writing stories about Night Vale for three years now, but the process of the novel allowed them to deepen their world even further.

“When you have room on a page to allow characters to take action and make choices, you start learning how to craft them, how to make them different, how to explore how you would react versus in a situation versus what’s actually interesting in a storyline,” Cranor said. “Diane was a one-off character, you just needed her for storytelling purposes when you’re talking about a PTA bake sale to support the Blood Space War, but in the novel we were able to take it further. You think of Diane as a parent because she’s on the PTA, but it’s just that one word ‘parent’ until you actually give her a son. She’s not just ‘a mother.’ She’s the mother of Josh who changes shape.”

5. Build your fanbase. Promoting a novel in 2015 isn’t what it used to be. Modern promotion requires cross-platform awareness and all kinds of social media saturation. Luckily, Welcome to Night Vale has proved extremely popular on Tumblr. The podcast was downloaded 150,000 times in its first year of existence; sudden Tumblr popularity got them over 2 million in July 2013 alone, Fink and Cranor remember.

“I get the sense talking to fans that a lot of it had to do with the culmination of the Cecil/Carlos storyline, having representation of a gay lead character in a way that wasn’t an after school special,” Cranor remembers. “That was meaningful to a lot of people, and that stirred up a lot of excitement that led to a lot more people downloading.”

The duo put their Tumblr fame to use promoting the novel.

“We started a Tumblr account for the Night Vale novel so we can help do more organized publicity, more than just weird jokes,” Cranor says. “We have a place to put all the stuff that comes with publishing a book – here’s a sweepstakes, here’s a giveaway, here’s a cool thing I got from a fan, that stuff.”

Welcome to Night Vale is available now.

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