If you’ve read my review of Life in Outer Space you’ll know how much I loved it. Life in Outer Space is Melissa Keil’s debut YA novel and Melissa was lucky enough to have it published as part of the Ampersand Project. I’m incredibly thankful to the Ampersand Project and Hardie Grant Egmont for publishing Melissa’s wonderful story, as I still can’t get it out of my head. Melissa kindly answered some of my questions about Life in Outer Space.
- Sam’s voice is so authentic that I’m sure you have a teenage guy trapped inside you. Did Sam’s voice come to you easily?
Thanks – that is very flattering (in an odd way!) Sam’s voice was really the catalyst for the novel – one of those weird writing moments where one second he wasn’t there, and then he just was. In the back of my mind I was always aware that I was writing the experience of a person who I had never been, but I chose early on not to let it hamper me. I did make some conscious decisions about certain ‘boy’ things – the way he would interact with his friends, for instance (and writing conversations between teenage boys was lots of fun!) But Sam always felt like a real person to me, and his voice was the driving force behind the story.
- Which of your characters are you most like?
I guess there are little parts of me in all of these people; Sam’s befuddlement about the world around him was quite familiar to me in high school! I never had Camilla’s confidence or self possession, but perhaps a little of her optimism. I guess in a weird way I even relate to Adrian social awkwardness – but to me they were always people in their own right.
- Do you have a hidden talent, like Sam’s screen writing or Camilla’s song writing?
I definitely have no musical abilities (I have mastered a few chords on guitar, but that’s about it). I do have a talent for storing useless trivia. I suppose writing was my ‘hidden’ talent for a long time; I was with my writing group for almost a year before I worked up the courage to actually bring some writing to workshop. It took quite a bit of prodding to send Life in Outer Space out to a publisher! If it wasn’t for my writing group, I think my ‘hidden’ talent would have remained hidden for quite a while longer.
- If a movie were made of your book and you had an unlimited budget who would you want to play Camilla?
Wow, that is a very cool thing to be thinking about. One of the things I love doing when I’m writing is creating ‘mood boards’ for my characters – I have pages and pages of images of the clothes that they wear and the minutia of their bedrooms, right down to their jewellery and books – but in all my research, I’ve never found a real-life person who I think is right for either Sam or Camilla. I have her voice and face so clearly in my mind that it’s hard to equate her with anyone in the real world – I guess she would have to be an unknown! With, you know, musical ability, and great hair.
- Sam says that everything useful he knows about real life he has learnt from the movies. What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learnt from the movies?
Never ignore the quiet, bespectacled person in the corner; they’ll always turn out to be the most fascinating (and gorgeous) person in the room. Or they’ll turn out to be an insane serial killer. But most often, the first one.
- Like the best movies Life in Outer Space is full of great, witty dialogue. Did you find your characters having conversations in your head even when you weren’t writing?
Absolutely. I spent a lot of time ‘researching’ (read: procrastinating) by hanging out at the places they visited in the book and just imagining them chatting. It really did feel like they were with me all the time – I was that vague-looking person standing in the middle of the Astor Theatre or Minotaur just staring into space, usually with a note book in hand.
- Camilla has an obsession with 80s movies. What’s your favourite movie era and why?
As a film buff with wide and weird tastes, that is a very hard call. My favourite movies come from pretty much every era; I love those great Film Noir movies of the 40s and 50s, and I am a little obsessed with contemporary superhero movies. And I love Star Wars, though the first film was made before I was born. Even though I was a teenager in the 90s, I do have a soft spot for the teen movies of the 80s (The Breakfast Club gets a periodic re-watch every few months). There is something in the tone of 80s teen movies that I really wanted to capture; I love that the good ones can take what are, on the surface, stock characters, and imbue them with personality and warmth and heart.
- Were there any scenes in the first drafts that didn’t make the final cut that would make your blooper reel?
Or directors cut? There were a few! One of the bits I had to lose was the scene where Sam asks Allison to the dance. In the first draft, right before he asks her, he mentions that he sometimes tries to frame uncomfortable conversations as pieces of a screenplay – I had a lot of fun writing that ‘screenplay’ dialogue between them, but it really was superfluous to the plot so didn’t make the final draft. And because these characters were always nattering in my head, I have lots of half-finished scenes which were only ever intended to be for me, for the purposes of character building and fleshing out the time between chapters – for instance, at some point in the book, Sam mentions in passing that he spent a few hours on the phone with Camilla talking about the screenplay of Alien – I may have this conversation between them somewhere in my notes as well.