Lilliam Rivera on going sci-fi and embracing Los Angeles in YA novel We Light Up the Sky

Rosy Cordero
·4 min read
Lilliam Rivera on going sci-fi and embracing Los Angeles in YA novel We Light Up the Sky

Author Lilliam Rivera is a longtime sci-fi fan and has lived in Los Angeles for almost two decades, and now she's tackling both the genre and the City of Angels in her next book. We Light Up the Sky will hit shelves Oct. 5, and EW has your exclusive first look at the cover, along with details from Rivera.

The novel tells the story of three Latinx teens — Pedro, Luna, and Rafa — who attend the same SoCal school but run in totally different circles. The three end up thrust into each others' lives when an extraterrestrial being lands in their city and takes the form of Luna's deceased cousin, Tasha. As local authorities focus on protecting the privileged, the inner-city trio must decide whether their fate will fare better with the visitors or their fellow humans.

Below, Rivera shares her excitement about the book's fall release through Bloomsbury and discusses how she incorporated her passions for science fiction and her adopted home into a riveting tale with an impactful message.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One of your short stories was recently included in From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back, celebrating the hit Star Wars film, so your love of sci-fi is no secret. How is this your first time writing a novel in the genre?

LILLIAM RIVERA: Can you believe it? I tend to not write about the same things twice, and somehow I'm only just getting to write a sci-fi novel — and one set in Los Angeles, which I've also not done before.

I grew up reading sci-fi like The War of the Worlds and The Martian Chronicles, from Ray Bradbury, he was one of my favorites. I've re-read them and others like those while working on this draft. I'm always wondering on my own, too, about how we would react to something like an alien invasion right here in Los Angeles, and how would it all play out? That's what I think was lacking from these older books: They're looking at a situation from a point of privilege, and they would experience something completely different.

Was that the impulse behind writing this book?

After living in Los Angeles for almost 20 years now, it's become my second home, after my hometown of New York. This book actually came to be because one day I stepped outside my home to see this launch, I think it was for Space X, where some sort of rocket was going to fly around L.A. like two or three years ago. Elon Musk was out there doing something. [Laughs] I was trying to figure out the best place to view it from when I saw these young kids who told me I had just missed it but they'd captured it on their phones. Their excitement showing me their photos really captivated me. It led me to wonder what it would be like for these young kids to really experience an alien invasion.

Bloomsbury

Can you tell us a bit about the book's cover and what you like about it?

What I loved about Jor Ros, the illustrator, is that his work is so futuristic. He did the cover of one of my favorite novels, Patron Saints of Nothing, by Randy Ribay. I felt like he really captured the young-adult feel of my novel without it being too science-fictiony. I feel what he came up with gives me hope, especially the expressions of the three main characters, who he captured so well.

Which characters are which on the cover, and what can you share about who they are?

My hip girl Luna with her gorgeous braids is on the right; she's one of the popular girls in school who is grieving the loss of her cousin to COVID-19. Pedro is just behind her, closer to the top in the jacket; he's very outgoing, though he's struggling at home with a mom and homophobic uncle who don't know he's bisexual.

Rafa is below them, hiding behind his wavy, dark hair because he likes to blend in with the crowd. He's trying to hide the fact that his family is homeless. If Rafa looks a bit like the lead singer from Chicano Batman, that's no coincidence. [Laughs] I was listening to his music while I was writing, and his look felt right for the character.

I just really loved the idea of setting this type of a story in a high school, where not everyone is good friends, at least instantly. Adding the science-fiction element plus the role of racial and socioeconomic dynamics really interested me.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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