Interview with Life in Outer Space author Melissa Keil

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.


Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

Ever since I’d read that Melissa Keil would be the first author to be published as part of The Ampersand Project I was curious to read it.  The goal of the project is to help debut YA authors get published.  Life in Outer Space sounded wonderful and exactly my sort of book.  I was lucky enough to get to read it back in December and I fell in love with it from the first line.  I loved it so much that I’ve read it twice, and I loved it even more the second time around.

Sam Kinnison is a geek, and he’s totally fine with that. He has his horror movies, his nerdy friends, World of Warcraft – and until Princess Leia turns up in his bedroom, worry about girls he won’t. Then Camilla Carter arrives on the scene. She’s beautiful, friendly and completely irrelevant to his plan. Sam is determined to ignore her, except that Camilla has a plan of her own – and he seems to be a part of it! Sam believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from the movies. But perhaps he’s been watching the wrong ones.


I love absolutely everything about Life in Outer Space! It’s full of cool characters that you want to be friends with, great dialogue, pop culture references galore, and hilarious moments that will have you laughing out loud.  Reading Life In Outer Space made me feel like I was at a comic book convention or a book conference, because I felt totally surrounded by people who were just like me.

Melissa’s characters feel totally real and you can imagine seeing them walking down the street or waiting outside the cinema to catch a movie.  Sam’s voice is so authentic that I’m sure Melissa has a teenage boy trapped inside her.  Sam is an incredibly likeable character, from his extensive knowledge of movies and his ability to relate them to real life, to his loyalty to his friends. He’s got a great sense of humour, but he’s also quite awkward.  He says that ‘everything useful I do know about real life I know from movies,’ and I love the way that he proves this frequently throughout the book. All of the other characters stand out too, especially Sam’s friends.  Adrian is the clown of the group, Mike is Sam’s gay best friend, Allison is their tom-boy female friend, and then there is Camilla.  Camilla is the cool new girl who arrives at Sam’s school at the start of the story and quickly becomes part of his group of friends.  She has an unusual name, a British accent, a tattoo, she’s from New York, she has a great smile, and she’s objectively attractive, all of which means she scores highly in Sam’s ‘mental social scorecard.’ Not only this, but she also knows a lot about movies and she wants to be friends with Sam.  I found myself falling for Camilla and I just wanted Sam to hurry up and kiss her.

Melissa’s writing is witty, heartfelt and incredibly funny.  I clicked with Sam straight away and I loved his point of view.  I loved Melissa’s description of characters through Sam’s eyes, like this one of Sam’s dad,

“My father likes Harvey Norman, the Discovery Channel, and for some reason, lizards.  He last smiled in 2008, which is one of the few things we have in common…My dad also looks like me – i.e. sort of like a storm-trooper.  And not the cool Star Wars kind.”

The dialogue is witty and I had to put the book down a couple of times because I was laughing so hard at some of the conversations between Sam and his friends.

I loved all of the pop culture references in Life in Outer Space.  I’m a huge movie geek so I loved all of the references to Sam and Camilla’s favourite movies and their debates about the merit of different movies.  Everything from Superman and Star Wars to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead gets a mention. Every time they would mention a movie I hadn’t seen I wanted to write it down so I could add it to my list of to-be-watched movies.

Life in Outer Space will make you think, feel, laugh and leave you wishing that Melissa’s characters were real.

5 out of 5