Nerdiness, the apocalypse, ROFL-ing, movies, popular culture references, comic books, and small-town australia-the Melissa Keil Blog
I am a nerd. I have known this for some time. I like movies, strategic board games, Threadless t-shirts and Scooby Doo. I can have passionate arguments about which half of the Star Wars series is superior; I have spent hours Googling Bill Willingham’s Fables series and playing Oblivion on PlayStation. But most of all I really love books. At the moment I especially love Melissa Keil’s books.
Melissa Keil is an Australian writer who says that she has been a “giant book nerd” for as long as she can remember. Her first novel, Life in Outer Space was released in 2013 and I read it as a judge for the Inky Awards. This book is amazing! It made me fulfil the internet cliché of rolling on the floor laughing and, for once, I could read a teen romance where both of the main characters are nerds. Sam loves movies. Camilla loves music. The spark of their friendship comes from World of Warcraft. When Sam’s friend Mike seems weird, Sam is inspired to stage an intervention after watching Karate Kid. Camilla goes to her school formal as (SPOILER ALERT!) Jabba the Hutt; Sam is a clone trooper. This book is a joy to read. The characters are real, funny, smart. I want to be in this book. I want to steal scenarios from this book to use in my daily life (the way Camilla distracts Sam from his parents’ divorce and resulting sadness is genius). I want to meet these people. I want to be these people. I adore this book and just today recommended it to a friend of a friend. I would recommend Life in Outer Space to anyone who ever feels a bit nerdy, anyone who likes movies or music, anyone who wants a good laugh, anyone who enjoys a good pop-culture reference, anyone who’s feeling a bit down and wants to feel better. In short, I recommend this book to any YA reader that breathes.
Keil’s second novel was only released recently. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl has cemented Melissa Keil onto my favourite author list. It does not lack the nerdy fun of Outer Space but, I feel, turns up the notch a bit with the pop culture references: “Someone starts a Twitter account for Ned’s moustache and by morning, it has twelve thousand followers.” I had to take a quick reading break and look up from the book, smiling like a crazy person as I hugged it to my chest and tried not to squeal at every Threadless, Fables or Double Indemnity reference. From the nod to Wonder Woman in the first paragraph, comic references pop up throughout the book making it a dream world. Alba loves and designs comics. Grady (like Sam) loves movies. I (yet again) want to be in this book. The characters are wonderful and I wish I lived in Eden Valley so I could know them, spend time with them, be friends with them. A few times I had to tell the book that it understood me, that I knew how it felt (yeah, yeah, I talk to books. I already said I was a nerd didn’t I?). The plot has a unique premise that fits the attitude of the twenty-first century world and is executed perfectly by Keil: a video of a guy prophesising the end of the world is leaked to YouTube and people buy it, flocking to the nothing-ever-happens small town of Eden Valley. I have already told my friends to read this book, leant it to one of them. I have stroked the cover. I have smelt the book. And even though I read it weeks ago I cannot stop thinking about it. I loved this book almost more than I loved Life in Outer Space. At least that’s what I thought until I decided to re-read Outer Space and fell in love with it all over again.
Melissa Keil was awesome in agreeing to be interviewed for this blog:
1. What inspired you to write YA?
My first job in publishing was working for a small children’s and young adult publisher, and my training as a book editor was with kids and YA books, so of course, I had to read everything I could get my hands on. I just fell in love with YA – it felt like there was this whole section of the bookstore I hadn’t explored that was hiding all these wonderful stories and amazing authors. I was always a closet writer, but it wasn’t until I discovered the world of YA that I really found my niche. I still feel really connected to me that I was when I was a teenager, so it doesn’t feel like a stretch to draw upon all those emotions and fears and feelings, and it’s such a rich, wonderful time to mine for stories.
2. Did you have a favourite book when you were a teenager?
I had lots of favourite books! My reading tastes have always been pretty eclectic – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy was and still is one of my favourite books ever – I think it directly inspired my love of wacky, surreal comedy and clever wordplay. I was also really obsessed with Anne of Green Gables – oh, what I wouldn’t have given for carrot red hair.
3. Both Grady in Cinnamon Girl and Sam in Outer Space love movies. Are you a big movie fan? If so what are your favorite movies (or genre if movies are too hard)?
I’m a huge movie fan - I actually studied Cinema before I studied writing, so my characters can’t help but be influenced by movies. Like Sam, I feel like it’s just way too traumatic to try and narrow down my list of favourite movies – Star Wars and The Sound of Music would both probably be in there somewhere! I do love a good romantic comedy though, and adore those old Hollywood screwball comedies from the 30s and 40s. It’s a sadly maligned genre; I think most people underestimate how difficult it is to write a really funny, touching, clever rom-com script (and it probably doesn’t help that there are so many bad ones out there – Kate Hudson, I’m looking at you).
4. Does anyone read your manuscripts before you send them to the publisher?
Yes, absolutely. I workshop the manuscript with my writing group for months, and I have an editor friend who also reads my drafts and gives me lots of helpful feedback. I don’t think you can have too many eyes over your work before you send it to a publisher. And it’s really important to have people that you can trust to give you honest feedback, even (or especially) on the bits that suck!
5. If Cinnamon Girl was made into a movie what actress would you like to see play Alba?
You know, I have no idea! I’m really obsessed with gathering visuals for all of the characters in my books – I have pages and pages of clothes and room décor and hairstyle – but I could never find a real world person who I thought looked like Alba (or Sam from LiOS for that matter). I think she would have to be a very spunky unknown, who could pull off loud, sweet and a little brash - like a rockabilly Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.