The path for literary adaptions usually goes book to movie or book to TV show, or maybe book to movie to video game. Unless, of course, you’re Willie Block and Jake Emanuel, the co-authors of the post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller mystery The Edge Of Sleep, which went from podcast to TV show to novel (available in hardcover, Kindle, or audiobook). In the following email interview, Willie and Jake discuss what originally inspired and influenced this story, and how the print edition of this story is different from the one you already heard or saw.
Willie Block (Photo Credit: Richard Block), Jake Emanuel (Photo Credit: Max Emanuel)
For people who didn’t listen to it, what was The Edge Of Sleep podcast about, and when and where did it take place?
Jake: Okay, here’s a very, very spoiler free summary…
The Edge Of Sleep podcast follows a night watchman named Dave. Dave’s experienced graphic and disturbing night terrors all of his life. He’s spent years of his life in and out of hospitals, but no one can diagnose what’s truly wrong with him.
After his shift ends at his job, Dave and his work friend Matteo discover that everyone who went to sleep the previous night is now dead. Dave, Matteo, and a few other survivors have to stay awake and try to figure out why people are dying in their sleep.
How’d I do?
Willie: Not bad.
Where did you guys get the idea for The Edge Of Sleep podcast?
Willie: We were approached by our friend Rob Herting, one of the co-founders of QCode, to write an audio drama for his new company. We’d never written an audio drama before, but we tried to be pragmatic and write a story that worked for the medium.
Jake: We realized that audio dramas could be epic in scale because you’re not confined to the budgetary restrictions of movies and TV shows. We could have as many locations as we wanted, as many effects as we wanted, as long as the audience could follow along.
Willie: Right. But at the same time, if you have more than three or four characters talking in a scene, it’s very hard for the audience to follow along. In audio, you have to write for a limited amount of characters. So there’s this interesting paradox where audio dramas can be epic and intimate at the same time.
Jake: So the strengths and limitations of the medium were the initial perimeters that guided the story.
As you said, an apocalyptic number of people in this story die in their sleep.
Willie: Yeah. We killed billions. Whoops.
Why did you have them die in their sleep as opposed to everyone just dropping dead at noon or maybe people staying asleep but not dying?
Jake: If they just fell asleep as opposed to dying, that would’ve been nicer, I guess. But who said we’re trying to be nice?
In a similar vein, The Edge Of Sleep is set in Santa Mira, California, a fictional town that’s been the setting for such movies, shows, and novels as E.T., Dean Koontz’s novel Phantoms, the 1956 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and a bunch of the Sharknado sequels. Why did you decide to set it there, as opposed to in a real town or a fictional town you made up?
Willie: As a writer, you’d be surprised how much time we can spend coming up with character names and fictional towns.
Jake: Hours. Sometimes days.
Willie: Santa Mira felt like a fun nod to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, a huge influence on the show. And we think it’s a cool tradition that many writers and creators have used the same town.
Now, it sounds like The Edge Of Sleep is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. Is that how you’d describe it?
Jake: There’s also a mystery at the heart of the story. Why is this all happening? We might call the genre a sci-fi thriller mystery.
Willie: And we think that the genre continues to shift as the story progresses. But to get into other genres it dips into, might get into a spoiler territory.
Jake: We do love to blend genres. We went to college during the Korean Cinema new wave. And we fell in love with the movies of Chan-Wook Park, Kim-Ki Duk, and Bong Joon-Ho. All of those filmmakers subverted the expectations of those genres in ways that were always surprising. The movie The Host is a terrifying giant monster flick. But it’s also a hilarious family drama with a heartbreaking scene about child loss. It’s really unexpected.
Willie: We tried to take the story in directions the audience wouldn’t expect.
Speaking of The Host, you’ve mentioned a couple movies already. What else influenced this story?
Jake: We had so many influences.
Willie: The podcast is four years old, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that dreaming plays a part in the story.
Jake: Shut up!
Willie: You shut up!
Hey, no fighting. If you keep it up, I will turn this interview around and NO ONE WILL GET ICE CREAM! Anyway, you were saying…
Jake: Both are non-fiction books that take an anthropological approach to the study of Dreaming in ancient cultures.
Willie: There’s also Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the 1956 film as well as the original book by Jack Finney.
Jake: There was also a dash of David Lynch and Werner Herzog, who were huge influences on us.
Now, the reason we’re doing this interview is because The Edge Of Sleep is now a novel. But is it a retelling of the podcast’s story, an expanded version of that story, a prequel story, a sequel story, a side story…what?
Willie: The book is an expanded version of the story.
Jake: It’s a great place to start if you haven’t listened to the podcast.
Willie: And if you have listened to the podcast, there are brand new stories we haven’t told yet. We check in with what’s happening to other people, all around the world.
Is there anything that was a big influence on The Edge Of Sleep book that wasn’t an influence — or maybe wasn’t as big of an influence — on the podcast?
Jake: Hmmm? I don’t think so?
Willie: The influences were the same for the podcast, book, and TV series.
Yes, I was about to ask about that. The podcast was already adapted into a TV show. Did that version of Sleep have any influence on the book?
Jake: Well, I guess one of the ways we’ve been “victims of our own success” is due to the popularity of the podcast, we had the opportunity to write the series as a Quibi (didn’t work out), then a TV series, then as a book.
Willie: Writing the same story over in over again in different format is…a strange challenge.
Jake: And for our own sanity, we had to change the story every time to make it interesting to ourselves.
Willie: Also, each medium had its own strengths and challenges that forced us to adjust to each format. Going from podcast to TV series was the greatest challenge, because for the first time we had to worry about budget, length, costs, things like that.
On the cover, it says this book is by “Jake Emanuel and Willie Block with Jason Gurley.” What did Jason do?
Willie: After working on The Edge Of Sleep for so long, and in so many different iterations, we needed a fresh set of eyes. Jason had some really creative and cool ideas to expand the story.
Jason Gurley (Photo Credit: Rodrigo Moyses)
Who decided to have you work with someone else?
Jake: It was all of our decision. The three of us got together… I forget who arranged the meeting, but we were fans of Jason’s writing. We all met and talked about The Edge Of Sleep, and it just felt like the right fit.
Without spoiling anything, what kind of “really creative and cool ideas” did Jason came up with?
Willie: It was really helpful to see the story that we’d worked on for so long through someone else’s eyes.
Jake: Jason gave us insights into the story, we could never had made ourselves.
Willie: We were too close to it.
Jake: Jason also listened to the podcast, read the podcasts scripts, and was given early access to the TV series. So he was able to help us curate some ideas from the podcast and the TV series to create a hybrid in the book.
Willie: He was also monumental in creating the side stories, following characters from around the world, we haven’t seen before.
Jake: We’re confident that the book feels like a distinctly different experience than the podcast and TV series, and we have Jason to thank for that.
The Edge Of Sleep has been a podcast, a TV show, and now a novel. What’s next? A movie? A game? A line of collectible plates? Or are you thinking sequel…?
Jake: We’d love to do it all.
Willie: We hope Season 2 of the podcast is next. The fans have been waiting for years, a cruel amount of time.
Jake: But audio dramas are expensive and challenging to make. We’re proud of the aesthetic and sound design of season 1. All of the foley, sound design, and music was meticulously planned. We’ll only direct season 2, if we’re confident we can obtain the same level of quality as season 1.
Willie: Time will tell.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about the book version of The Edge Of Sleep?
Jake: If we did our jobs, the podcast, the TV series, and book should all be unique experiences. We just want to thank everyone who goes out and buys a book.
Willie: There are also so many people we’d love to thank who’ve been on this journey with us since the beginning; Mark Fischbach, Rob Herting, Brian Kavanaugh Jones — they are all raconteurs, big dreamers, and disrupters. And without their help, Sleep would have just been a dream.
Jake: A bad dream.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Edge Of Sleep, what post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel or novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read?
Willie: I’ll choose a classic I know we’ve both read it: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s really about loneliness, and the search for human connections.
Jake: It’s also scary as hell.