We live in a time when not being truthful can be really harmful. Which makes Chelsea Sedoti’s new novel It Came From The Sky (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook) — in which two guys fake an alien invasion — seem all the more relevant. In the following email interview, Sedoti discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as why old adults might enjoy this young adult novel.
Photo Credit: Mindy Bean
Let’s start with a plot overview: What is It Came From The Sky about, and when and where does it take place?
It Came From The Sky is the story of a science nerd and his prankster brother who perpetuate an alien hoax and cause mass hysteria in their rural, Pennsylvania town. It’s sort of a modern take on the Orson Welles War Of The Worlds radio broadcast that fooled listeners into thinking aliens were actually invading.
While it’s a comedic book, it does take on some heavier subject material: cults, MLMs, the cost of achieving fame, and the moral implication of hoaxes and conspiracies.
Where did you get the original idea for this story, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote it?
Usually, I can trace my book ideas back to something concrete: a newspaper article, for instance. But this one popped into my head out of nowhere. I remember sitting on the couch one night, trying to find something to watch on TV, and randomly thinking, “I want to write a book about an alien hoax.”
I was working on another novel at the time, and it was going terribly. I’d started to dread sitting down to write every day. So, just for fun, I wrote down the first line of my alien book. Then the next. Then the next.
Before I knew it, I’d decided to abandon the other book and go full force on this one. The book had a lot of moving parts — a huge chunk of my writing process was just untangling all the subplots — but the overall story hardly changed from when it first popped into my head.
Why did you decide to set It Came From The Sky in rural Pennsylvania as opposed to New York City or London or West Orange, New Jersey?
I mean, doesn’t small town Pennsylvania seem like the exact sort of place an alien invasion would happen?
Seriously though, I live in Las Vegas and set my previous book, As You Wish, in the Mojave Desert (not far from Area 51, actually). I wanted a different location for the new book, simply because I’d get bored writing the same setting again. I’m originally from the Pittsburgh area, and know it pretty well, so it seemed like the logical choice.
Rather than choosing an existing small town as the setting, I created a fictional one so I could give it some eccentricities — like the 63-foot lava lamp that towers over the otherwise idyllic town square.
And why did you decide to write It Came From The Sky as a mix of interviews, blog entries, narration, and other ways as opposed to as a typical prose novel? Or, for that matter, as an oral history?
I adore mixed-format books. [Mark Z. Danielewski’s] House Of Leaves, [Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s] Illuminae, [Grady Hendrix’s] Horrorstör, whatever it is, if you tell me its mixed-format, I’ll read it. I always wanted to eventually write one myself, and when I started It Came From The Sky and realized the main character was going to directly address the reader — something I hadn’t consciously planned on until I wrote the first line — I knew this was my mixed-format book.
Funny you mention oral history, though. That’s another type of book I’m intrigued by. I fell head-over-heels for the format after reading Rant by Chuck Palahniuk, one of my favorite books of all time, and I’d love to try it myself one day.
Now, the press materials for It Came From The Sky also say it’s a young adult novel. Some YA books are written for teenagers, some are just stories that aren’t inappropriate for young adults. Where does It Came From The Sky fall?
Well, for starters, I don’t think anything is too inappropriate for young adults. Teenagers are mature enough to handle the truth of the world and trying to shield them from it will only be detrimental. (Maybe I should note that I come from a family where my parents never restricted what I read, so my opinion could be skewed.)
But this is why I love writing teenage characters: they’re like adults except amplified. Every emotion they have is so strong and they don’t hold back. Their decisions are often impulsive and illogical. It’s incredibly fun for a writer — there are less rules to follow. My characters can get themselves into ridiculous situations because they didn’t stop to analyze their actions the way an adult might.
With that being said, I also tend to give adult characters significant roles in my books. In It Came From The Sky, the antagonist is the millionaire CEO of a multi-level marketing scheme who takes advantage of the alien hoax by peddling an extraterrestrial fountain of youth.
So do you think adults will enjoy It Came From The Sky as well?
I like to think It Came From The Sky would be enjoyed by a particular sort of person, and not a particular age group, if that makes sense? A lot of the subjects it covers have nothing to do with age: the desire to be seen, the danger of fake news, how group think can escalate, the question of how far a person might go for success. Though the main character is a teenager, when he gets himself wrapped up in the hoax, he finds himself confronting very adult problems — problems that I think people of any age would relate to.
It Came From The Sky is your third novel after The Hundred Lies Of Lizzie Lovett and As You Wish. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on It Came From The Sky but not on your other novels?
While there’s humor in my previous books, It Came From The Sky definitely strays the farthest into comedy — specifically, farce. So when I was crafting the story, I studied some of my favorite farcical books and movies.
My favorite author, John Irving, is the master at blending comedy and tragedy. The first half of A Widow For One Year — the segment that takes place in the 1950s — definitely influenced Sky. On the movie front, I rewatched some of my most-loved farces: Burn After Reading, The Birdcage, and Noises Off! They helped me figure out how to escalate the absurdity of the alien hoax while keeping it believable and how to bring the story around full circle at the end.
What about TV shows or games? Did any of them have a particularly big influence on It Came From The Sky?
Well, I’m a huge X-Files nerd. My prized possession as a teenager was a life-sized cardboard cutout of Fox Mulder. (And yes, I do still have it.) I’d say that show was an enormous influence.
In general, I’ve always been both fascinated and terrified by alien abduction stories. I’ve spent countless hours listening to Art Bell’s radio program, Coast To Coast AM and watching Ancient Aliens. Even Unsolved Mysteries had at least one abduction episode I remember seeing as a kid — that actually might have been what sparked my interest / fear in the first place. Currently, I mostly get my alien fix from The Last Podcast On The Left.So, there’s a lot of different media that influenced this book in one way or another… Except no games. Now I’m trying to think of any alien abduction video games. There was a very small part in one of the Silent Hill games, but it was so insignificant I don’t really count it. If anyone knows of a game centering around an alien abduction, please let me know, because I’d love to play it.
Well, there’s Destroy All Humans! You abduct a bunch of people in that.
Anyway, this is my last question about your influences, no matter how nicely you ask. Who had a bigger influence on It Came From The Sky your goofy dog or your evil cat, and how do you think it would’ve been different if you had an evil dog and a goofy cat?
Well, the cat lives in a closet and only emerges to glare and hiss at me — with an occasional claw swipe thrown in for fun. The pup, meanwhile, curls up at my feet during all my writing sessions. So I’d say the dog is, if not a bigger influence, at least more supportive.
All in all, probably better that the cat is evil, though. At least he’s small. It’s kind of like Chucky from Child’s Play. Yeah, he’s creepy, but if the situation gets dire, I can just kick him across the room. The dog, meanwhile…we all know what happened in Cujo, right? An evil dog is no joke.
Now, as you probably know, alien invasion novels like It Came From The Sky are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is It Came From The Sky?
It Came from the Sky is definitely stand-alone. I’ll avoid spoilers, but… Let’s just say, the ending doesn’t leave room for a sequel.
Earlier we talked about the movies and TV shows that influenced. But has there been any interest in adapting it into a movie, show, or game?
No movie deal, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed!
Do you have a preference as to what form it should take?
It would almost have to be a movie — after all, all hoaxes must come to an end (for better or worse), so I can’t see it fitting TV show format.
And if that happened, who would you like to see them cast as Gideon, his brother, and the other main characters?
So, this might be weird, but I can’t cast my books because I don’t really know what my characters look like. I have some idea, of course. I know that of the two brothers in It Came From The Sky, Ishmael is conventionally attractive. I know he’s tall. I know Gideon struggles with acne. But aside from that, I only have the haziest images of them.
It’s the same with all of my characters. I know a few of their physical traits, but I can never entirely visualize them. As I write, I focus on their emotions. I know their feelings, the body language they use, the gestures they make, the way they speak — but I’m never sure what color hair they have.
As you can imagine, this leads to my books having very sparse descriptive details. It’s one of my biggest writing flaws and I’m constantly struggling against it.
Finally, if someone enjoys It Came From The Sky, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one and not the other one?
Of my prior novels, I’d say As You Wish is more similar to It Came from the Sky. It plays with format, includes adult perspectives, has a male narrator, and strays more into speculative — it takes place in a strange, desert town where everyone gets to make a wish on their eighteenth birthday.
Though I hope there aren’t too many similarities between any of my books. As a writer, I’d get bored writing the same thing over and over, and I’m betting readers would get bored too. After all, there’s nothing quite as wonderful as discovering a brand new world.