by Karina Rose
Twenty three million worldwide downloads.
Hundreds of sold out shows.
One hovering glow cloud that watches us all as we point and scream at it in praise.
Welcome to Night Vale.
It’s hard to even find a place to begin when talking about the cult hit podcast Welcome To Night Vale, as even from the beginning its listeners have been shocked, terrified, and confused, but above all else in love instantly.
I can’t even describe Night Vale, and I talk about it literally every day. The only way I could imagine it would make sense to someone outside of it is to have them imagine an NPR broadcaster on opium describing the apocalypse with the amount of zeal and normalcy they would describe their annual winter squash festival. And you know what, that sounds an awful lot like something that would happen in Night Vale.
There is always something to talk about in Night Vale, as well as something you can get arrested or sent to mandatory re-education for talking about; Such as mountains, angels, and the dog park. But there is one thing that community radio host Cecil Palmer has talked about openly from episode one, with no repercussions: His love and eventual relationship, with Carlos The Scientist.
In a world where the government schedules the earth quakes, writing utensils are illegal, the president of the community college is a smooth fist sized river rock, and you can be arrested for consuming wheat and/or its by-products, it is refreshing that a relationship—that happens to be homosexual and interracial—between a community icon and a well respected scientist is seen as not strange at all.
The relationship between Cecil and Carlos begins as a crush from afar and is never questioned by Cecil. It’s never a concern of his, nor a shame to him, as he publicly makes his declarations of admiration, live on public radio for all to hear. This is in the same town where people make homemade tinfoil hats to protect themselves from daily thought scans. Yet Cecil’s infatuation knows no bounds and is never met by regret. Night Vale is a small desert community where you can be ostracized for not praising a glow cloud, but being gay is not something a citizen would even bat their one of possibly three eyes to.
“We’ve had a really amazing response from the LGBTQ community,” Says Cecil Baldwin (Voice of Cecil Palmer in WTNV) to Pop Mythology, “…It’s really awesome to see gay and lesbian couples come together to watch the show… The sort of more mainstream gay media hasn’t quite picked up on us yet.” He comments on the very “underground” nature of the show, saying they are not completely geeky, yet not gay enough, and in that occupy a niche space of their own.
But this may change as we welcome Welcome To Night Vale to the YAlit world.
The Night Vale team is no stranger to the literary world, having established independent publisher Commonplace Books and released their novels on the unused story ideas of H.P. Lovecraft and “What It Means To Be A Grownup” before the phenomenon of Night Vale. But this will be their first novel released that is based on one of their own already wildly popular creations.
And of course their agent Jodi Reamer is no stranger to the literary world herself at all. Having racked up names on her list of represented clients like John Green and Stephanie Meyer, Jodi has been behind some of our YA world’s most game changing novels and authors. And she is now behind the beast that is Night Vale, and guiding it to publishers Harper Perennial/Orbit.
The nerd niche project is expecting to hit the media hard, setting a new standard for representation in all forms: Gender equality, racial diversity, and LGBTQIA+ representation. With such a strong fanbase behind it, WTNV is sure to turn heads to where big media heads need to be looking: At the future of representation in young adult literature, to young adult films and television.
Obviously representation is important, but for some reason, it’s still a “risky” prospect for huge mainstream YA hits. WTNV has huge potential to be a mainstream phenomenon, and with the force of its huge fans behind it, it doesn’t seem “risky” for the media to hail it as such. But when you add the subject matter of WTNV, this is where things like “going mainstream” get complicated. Because there are a going to be lot of weird things in this new novel that you don’t see in much YA.
Like the character Megan. She’s a rare character, not simply due to the fact she is a little girl born in the form of an adult man’s hand. But she’s rare for what she represents as a subject in our culture; Transgender awareness.
WTNV may not be considered odd due to the unspeakable acts of street cleaning day, or multiple deaths of station interns. It may be off putting because of the nonbinary warrior of The Nomadic Masked Army.
Will it be the fact that librarians in Night Vale are foul beasts that prey on the young victims of The Summer Reading Program, or the fact that the well-read hero who rises above all else to defeat the librarians is a young black girl, that will make WTNV different from all the other YA novels?
Or maybe what makes Night Vale so different from our reality isn’t the fact that their mayoral candidates were a Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home and, literally, a five headed dragon. Perhaps it’s the fact that the winner of the mayoral election was Dana The Intern, voiced by a queer woman of color, Jasika Nicole.
There’s a lot of weird things going on in Night Vale, from The Whispering Forest to the radical diversity. And in Autumn of 2015, the question is going to have to be asked: What’s so weird about Night Vale? The hooded figures or the unprecedented representation?
Representation matters, and yet it’s hard to get into the mainstream media. I hope we can sneak it in, riding on the back of the five headed dragon of Welcome To Night Vale, where new realities arise from the ashes of the strange and unspoken. Mainstream diversification as well done and front and center as seen in Night Vale may seem like fantasy now, but if Welcome To Night Vale teaches us one thing, it’s that anything is possible.
Karina Rose and her ya/gay/nerdpunk novels are currently trying their luck in the publishing world. In the meantime, she hopes she is funny on twitter as @karinarosewhite, creepy on Tumblr as TheNightValePost, and as cool as she thinks in real life (Where, let’s be honest, she’s really not and probably just writing some more). She’s from a small beach town in Orange County, California which is why she’s so liberal and so broke.