Melissa Keil is the lovely and talented author of Life in Outer Space, the first novel to be published through the Ampersand Project. We recently had a chat with her about her book, the editing process and debut novels that make her ugly-cry.
How did you hear about the Ampersand Project?
Through a YA blog. I remember thinking it sounded like a great opportunity, and that my manuscript would probably be unsuitable for it (for no other reason than my default position is self doubt!)
What was the first thing you wrote?
I think it was a picture book about a party under the sea, maybe when I was eight or nine. My teacher liked it so much he read it out in front of the class, and I was so mortified by the attention that when he asked me how I came up with the idea, I told him it was something I had read in a book at home (it wasn’t). To this day I regret not claiming the credit!
How long did it take you to write what became Life in Outer Space?
I wrote the first draft in about four months, writing pretty solidly to a daily word goal. I reworked it for another seven or eight months more before submitting it to Ampersand.
Where were you when the idea came to you? Did you have an Ah-ha! moment?
I was meeting my friend Sophie at a café in Melbourne. We used to catch up every weekend to write, and I was a bit stuck with the story I had been working on, so this weekend I decided to set it aside and to try and write something new. I was doing an awful lot of staring at walls and drinking tea, when my eye fell on a Melbourne Horror Film Society poster, and the voice of Sam, my protagonist, just popped into my head. I was really lucky the café had WiFi, because my knowledge of horror movies was (at the time) pretty slim; I did a lot of googling and browsing IMDb, and then wrote what eventually became the first chapter.
Tell us about your day job.
I am a children’s editor; in the past I have worked on YA fiction and non-fiction, but I’m currently working on a much younger list, which is a great balance to my writing. I find it a bit difficult to focus on my own stories when I have other people’s characters and worlds floating around in my head.
How are you finding/how did you find the editing process? (loaded question…dumdum dahhhh)
Ha, the editorial process has been great, but a lot more emotionally charged than I was expecting. As an editor, I’m used to stepping outside of a story and looking at it with a dispassionate eye; I don’t think I was really prepared for how difficult it is to do that with your own writing. And, I know all the ‘bad author’ tropes that make editors want to cry, and was really wary of falling in to any of them. I think the editor half and the writer half of me may have been duelling for some of the process! But the work that the editorial team have put into the manuscript has been truly amazing, and I know that the novel is so much the better for it.
What is your favourite debut novel?
Tricky, there are loads. Recently I’ve loved The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – beautiful concept, beautiful prose, and it made me do that hiccupy, ugly-cry (although admittedly, I do cry quite easily).
Life in Outer Space will be released in February 2013.
There’s another Q&A with Melissa over at YAtopia.