One afternoon late this summer, Cecil Baldwin was hunched over a microphone in his living room in Brooklyn, recording a community radio show.
In a soothing baritone, he read off a mix of local news — statements from the mayor’s office and the city council, the weather report, and some community calendar announcements about an ice cream social and a day of free opera.
But things immediately started to seem sinister. The free opera was being broadcast from loudspeakers on every residential block and inside homes. The ice cream social would be held in an underground bunker and was open only to members of the Illuminati, a secret sect.
Before signing off, Mr. Baldwin urged his audience to “stay tuned next for the sound of human breathing, which is probably just your own breathing. Probably.”
Mr. Baldwin is the hypnotic, beguiling voice behind “Welcome to Night Vale,” a popular podcast set in a fictional Southwestern town where aliens, angels and ghostly apparitions are as commonplace as P.T.A. meetings and yard sales.
With its uncanny blend of the macabre and the mundane, the news out of Night Vale sounds like what might occur if Stephen King or David Lynch was a guest producer at your local public radio station. Since it began in 2012, the show has been downloaded more than 100 million times.
Now, the creators of the podcast are extending their brand of bizarre storytelling into print, with a 401-page novel that expands on the show’s eerie existential themes (which could be crudely summarized as, “Don’t panic, but we’re all going to die”). Its publisher, Harper Perennial, has printed just over 100,000 copies of the novel, “Welcome to Night Vale,” which comes out on Tuesday.
If the Night Vale novel succeeds, it could inspire more podcast-to-book projects as publishers search for new mediums to mine.
A handful of books based on some of the most popular shows are already in the works, including “The WTF Oral History,” based on the comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, and “Adnan’s Story,” a book by Rabia Chaudry that is based on the murder case that inspired the wildly successful podcast “Serial.” It will contain new information about the case and will be published by St. Martin’s Press. Harper Perennial has acquired three more books from the Night Vale creators, including illustrated scripts of the show’s first two seasons and another Night Vale novel.
With its surreal premise, “Welcome to Night Vale” stands out in a medium dominated by nonfiction. And while most free podcasts rely on corporate sponsors, the “Night Vale” creators — the experimental playwrights, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor — have shunned advertisers. Instead, they take in money through live performances, donations and merchandise, like “Night Vale” mugs, posters and T-shirts.
Mr. Fink, 29, says he was drawn to the format because he felt it offered creative avenues, and the barrier to entry was low, requiring little more than a $25 microphone.
“There was still a chance to do something new with it,” Mr. Fink said during an interview at his office in Williamsburg. “I came up with this town where every conspiracy theory was true.”
The “Night Vale” headquarters is a sunny apartment brightly decorated with quirky fan art. The space is surprisingly cheerful, apart from its murder-themed bathroom, which has blood-red handprints on the shower curtain.
Sitting on a plush couch across from Mr. Cranor, Mr. Fink described how he came up with the concept after a family tragedy. (Against his agent’s explicit advice to wear shoes and pants, Mr. Fink was barefoot and in shorts.)
Six months before Mr. Fink had the idea for “Night Vale,” his father died of complications from heart surgery, a condition that he had lived with for years.
“You have this town where death is common and there are terrifying things that are coming at every second, and everybody is ok with it and gets on with their lives,” he said. “In Night Vale it’s aliens, and in real life it’s cancer.”
He found eager collaborators in Mr. Cranor and Mr. Baldwin, who plays the deadpan narrator, Cecil Gershwin Palmer. Both were writers and performers in an experimental theater group, the New York Neo-Futurists, with Meg Bashwiner, who is married to Mr. Fink. He and Mr. Cranor had written a play together about time travel, and shared a wry, offbeat sense of humor.
When the first episodes were posted in June 2012, they barely generated a ripple.
“At the time, I don’t think I could even get my mom to listen to the podcast,” Mr. Baldwin said. “She was like, ‘Oh, another nonpaying job, that’s great, sweetie.’ ”
They kept at it, posting a new 25-minute episode every other week. Over the next year, the show was downloaded roughly 150,000 times.
Then, for reasons its creators still can’t fully explain, the audience exploded overnight. In July 2013, the show was downloaded 2.5 million times. It shot to the No. 1 spot on iTunes, surging ahead of popular programs like “This American Life” and “Radiolab.” That August, it was downloaded 8.5 million times. Rabid fans were obsessively dissecting each episode on sites like Reddit and Tumblr.
“The Internet wouldn’t stop talking about it,” said Ransom Riggs, author of the best-selling novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” who became a fan of the podcast after seeing repeated references on Twitter. “It’s got a ‘War of the Worlds’ thing going on where if you didn’t know anything about it, you might think you stumbled on an actual small town radio station.”
Mr. Fink and Mr. Cranor were besieged with offers from TV producers, filmmakers and publishers seeking spinoff projects. Audiences flocked to their live shows.
Mr. Fink quit his marketing job with a green energy company and Mr. Cranor quit his job as a database manager at Film Forum. Mr. Baldwin, who had been fired from his job waiting tables, managed to avoid getting another day job.
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They found a literary agent, Jodi Reamer, through John Green, the best-selling author of “The Fault in Our Stars” and a fan of the podcast.
Ms. Reamer arranged meetings with nine publishers. HarperCollins won over the authors partly by displaying books by Thomas Pynchon, Ursula K. Le Guin and Michael Chabon during the meeting.
“We knew that it came with a built-in audience, and we knew that the way that their brand was presented to that audience was very important to the authors,” said Amy Baker, the associate publisher of Harper Perennial.
“It was like, ‘Oh, you take us seriously as writers,’ ” Mr. Cranor said.
Mr. Cranor and Mr. Fink worked together on an outline, then alternated writing chapters of the novel, a process that took about eight months. The story centers on two Night Vale residents, a pawnshop owner named Jackie who doesn’t age, and a single mother named Diane, whose shape-shifting teenage son, Josh, disappears. The women set out to find him, a journey that leads them to a mysterious and dangerous neighboring town called King City.
The ending was especially tricky. Finally, Mr. Fink settled on something that would be almost impossible to pull off on the radio: a single, punctuation-free sentence that stretches on for nearly four pages. The project has given him a deeper appreciation for the challenges of writing long-form fiction.
“You want to go up to every person that’s written a novel and go, ‘Good job,’ ” he said.
A version of this article appears in print on October 20, 2015, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: From the Ear to the Page. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe