The Greatest Hit is (also) coming soon!

Surprise! I’m releasing two books this year!

I’m so thrilled to be an Ambassador for Australia Reads, joining Beck Feiner, Anna Fienberg, Jacqueline Harvey, Peter Helliar and Dervla McTiernan. In November, we’re inviting all Australians to share and celebrate the joys of reading. Whether you’re picking up a book for the first time or your head is already stuck in one, there’s plenty of books, activities and events as part of the Australia Reads festivities. Thursday 12 November is the main event – Australian Reading Hour. You’re invited to stop what you’re doing for an hour, pick up a book and read to yourself or the children in your life.

To celebrate, I’ll be releasing a specially priced novella in November, The Greatest Hit:

Tessa is a teenage has-been.

While everyone else her age is taking their bold first steps into adulthood, she’s accepted she peaked at 14 (thank you, viral music video).

But now — an opportunity. A profile as one of the 5 Most Forgettable Internet Celebrities of the Decade So Far gives her the chance to right a wrong, and the courage to sing her greatest hit as it was originally written.

As I told Twitter between general isolation ramblings, the premise for the novella was one of the framing devices I considered for The First Third. A ‘washed up’ pop singer by 19, Billy tried to revive his career with a greatest hits compilation. Instead of completing his yiayia’s bucket list, Billy’s tasks were inspired by his old tracks.

I abandoned that framing device because it leaned too heavily on ‘the media’, which Loathing Lola had already explored, and the ‘washed up’ aspect hit too close to home after Loathing Lola underperformed, and I still felt like achieving my dream as a teenager was a grave error.

Ultimately, removing that framing device and zeroing in on family was the right call for The First Third. And now, a decade-plus into my career, I’m totally ready to explore the emotional uglies of underwhelming teenage success, in a heartwarming original story about singing your love from the rooftops.

Support Aussie Bookstores

I’ve been considering how to best support the local booksellers who have supported me so much over the years, and I think I’ve settled on something.

Spend $50+ at any bookshops listed here in one transaction from 26/3/2020-26/4/2020, and you’ll get either:

1. A signed Will K book (your choice!) posted when all this is over, or
2. A 20-minute video call with me, during which we can talk books, the writing industry, the weather, whatever. If you want to show me a brief sample of your writing for feedback, happy to give it. If you just want to heckle me, happy to take it.

Simply send me your proof of purchase via DM on social media or email and we’ll go from there.

ANSWERS TO FAQs THAT HAVEN’T BEEN ASKED YET
You can buy whatever you want from those booksellers, but if those purchases did skew towards Australian authors who were alive, I wouldn’t be angry.

If you need recommendations, I’m happy to give them.

If your local bookseller isn’t featured on that list, let me know, I imagine it’ll be 100% okay.

If you and a friend make separate orders on the same day that total more than $50, let me know, it’ll be okay.

If you’re looking to support LGBTQIA+ booksellers, Sydney’s The Bookshop Darlinghurst is offering 20% off and Melbourne’s Hares and Hyenas is operating as an online store.

Rebel Gods is coming soon!

Received some wonderful news tonight – in addition to its shortlisting for the Indie Book Awards, Monuments has been selected as a CBCA Notable Book.

In other news, its sequel Rebel Gods has a blurb and a cover. Scroll down, but beware Monuments spoilers in the blurb.

With the Monuments gone, there’s nothing stopping the rebel gods from reducing the world to ruin.

Well, newbie gods Connor, Sally and Locky are supposed to stop them, only they don’t know how. While Sally searches for answers and Locky makes plans to change the world, Connor struggles to keep up appearances as an ordinary teenager. But soon he’ll have bigger problems than his mum finding the giant sword hidden under his bed.

Rebel Gods is the second book in the Monuments fantasy duology from YA superstar, Will Kostakis. It’s a heartfelt look at family, friendship and the parallel lives we lead.

Can’t wait to share it with you!

Sequels and The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve been thinking a lot about sequels this year. It’s a side effect of actually having to write one. While it isn’t all that evident in my work, Star Wars is one of my biggest inspirations. As YA author and ‘Deadline City’ podcast co-host Dhonielle Clayton says, the series “refills my creative well”. Sit me in front of the original, the sequels, the prequels, the new sequels, and by the time the credits roll, I’m energised to write. After seeing the 1997 rereleases as a kid, I imagined and plotted my own sequel trilogy, and brought them to life in low-poly glory thanks to Microsoft 3D Movie Maker. As a teenager, I would take the material George Lucas gave us with the prequels, and rework them as writing exercises. Not to say my versions were better, they often weren’t, but I developed my critical eye. So, I thought I’d cap off my year by discussing The Rise of Skywalker through the lens of what I’ve learned about sequels.

This will end well for my mentions.

Now, there’s no way I can discuss the film in this way without spoilers, so if you have yet to see The Rise of Skywalker, please don’t read further. But so that you don’t feel like you’re leaving empty-handed, here’s a spectacular video about editing Star Wars that illustrates how changing and rearranging a story can elevate it.

Now, how do we sequel? To borrow from Bassim El-Wakil and Lucias Malcolm of ‘The Story Toolkit’, good storytelling is all about set-ups and pay-offs. You set something up to then pay it off. When you sequel, you have to look at what the previous story set up, and figure out an exciting way to pay it off. In a great sequel, the plot emerges organically from that pay-off, as it inspires new set-ups that must, in turn, be paid off.

These set-ups aren’t always obvious. Take Toy Story 2 for instance. It has a happy ending. The toynapped Woody not only returns to Andy, but he welcomes abandoned toy Jessie into the fold. As children, we were all devastated by ‘When Somebody Loved Me’, and then elated by Jessie’s second chance at love. Set-up and pay-off. Film over. Audience satisfied. It wasn’t until we viewed Toy Story 3 as adults that we realised the happy ending of the previous film is actually a hollow one, because Andy and his sister are going to grow up, and Jessie is just delaying the inevitable ‘When Somebody Loved Me’ reprise. And we get that reprise in Toy Story 3. It’s for that very reason that sequels are dangerous. They re-frame the stories that come before them. Toy Story 2‘s ending is no longer a happy one.

Pivoting to Star Wars, the sequel trilogy was launched by JJ Abrams, the king of set-ups. He loves himself a ‘mystery box’, a metaphorical box whose secret contents the audience yearns to discover. I am an Abrams fan. While I have never out-right loved one of his films, Alias is one of my favourite-ever TV shows. I was addicted to it during its initial run. Week after week, I was teased with mystery box after mystery box. The show’s answers always led to more questions, and I was excited to see how the series would eventually resolve its overarching mysteries. Shock-horror, it ended with a whimper. For a long time, I blamed the show’s creative decline on Abrams’ departure after the second season to explore other projects. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that Alias faltered because no mystery box’s actual contents is ever as satisfying as what we think might be in them. And the longer mysteries are teased, the better their resolutions need to be.

The Force Awakens is a film of two very different halves. The first half introduces the new cast, we learn a lot by observing their ordinary (and extraordinary) lives. The film cleverly sidelines Luke Skywalker, so that there’s time for the new cast to endear themselves to us. If Luke was wandering around with his lightsaber, we’d spend the run-time wondering why he wasn’t the one saving the universe, so he’s set up as the film’s MacGuffin (the plot’s necessary object) to be sought out. The film then abandons that particular search in its second half, focused instead on the Third Death Star Starkiller Base. The search for Luke is hastily resolved in the final minutes by a randomly awakening R2-D2, which is a weak pay-off considering the prominence of that search in the opening crawl.

Like an Abrams TV pilot, the film is packed with set-ups it doesn’t resolve. What is going to happen when Rey hands Luke the lightsaber? Come to think of it, why is Luke, famous for helping his pals, in hiding? Why did they say he held himself responsible for Ben Solo’s Dark-Side turn? What happened after Return of the Jedi that led to the First Order’s rise? In fact, what is the First Order? And who is Snoke anyway? Who are the Knights of Ren? They sound cool, when do we get to see more of them? Who is Rey? Why is she so powerful? Why does Kylo respond so intensely when “the girl” is mentioned? Does he know who she is? How long will Finn be in that coma?

Some of these, like the lightsaber cliffhanger, are genuinely laying the path for the sequel. Some of these are the fault of the final cut of the film, which doesn’t adequately set-up the dynamics of the New Republic, the Resistance, and the First Order before (literally) blowing them up. The Hosnian System, and the New Republic it is home to, is destroyed by Starkiller Base. It’s a pay-off without a proper set-up, so it lacks the emotional punch of say, establishing Alderaan as Leia’s home-world before destroying it. And some of these, like “Rey from nowhere’s” true identity, are mystery boxes, designed to tease and inspire fans to theorise.

Fans who grew up with the original trilogy, and the expanded universe that fleshed out its sometimes wafer-thin narrative and character work, expected the sequel trilogy to pay-off every set-up, satisfy every mystery and justify every mention, in a way the originals never did. Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, was more interested in exploring the characters Abrams’ created. Check out this incredible video essay about the film.

He swiftly dealt with The Force Awakens‘ lingering questions and crafted a story that tested its protagonists. It does this while also honouring all of the Star Wars films that came before it. The Last Jedi makes sense of Luke’s absence, actually gives Leia something to do, acknowledges the (let’s face it, unintentional) Jedi uselessness in the prequels, explains Rey’s power by redefining what “balancing” the Force means: the Force actually balancing, and not simply good overcoming evil. The potent nostalgia is purposeful this time around. This is a film not about letting the past die, but rather, about learning from its mistakes and growing. This was willfully misinterpreted as Rian Johnson disrespecting the history of Star Wars by fans who listened to the villains and not Yoda.

I felt odd after first viewing The Last Jedi. It challenged me. I knew I loved it, it features some of my all-time favourite Star Wars moments (R2-D2’s Leia hologram, Luke’s first lesson, the throne room, Yoda’s lesson, Holdo light-speed, that entire opening sequence that makes us cheer when the ship blows up, then shows us Leia devastated by the casualties, forcing us to confront the human cost of war and learn Poe’s lesson alongside him), but yeah, challenged.

First, it was not the film I expected it to be. I mean, where were the Knights of Ren? And it didn’t feel like a middle chapter. It felt like an ending, because the set-ups weren’t obvious. The Resistance was decimated, but that felt less like a cliffhanger and more like a sad state of affairs. And I’d been conditioned by The Empire Strikes Back to expect a cliffhanger that more obviously signposted a way forward. It didn’t help that on first viewing, I didn’t get the Broom Boy sequence. It felt like a jarring epilogue after the everyone-all-together tableau on the Millenium Falcon. It felt separate, when I really should have been looking at those two moments together. Leia tells Rey that they have everything they need, and then we see the legend of Luke Skywalker inspiring the galaxy’s most downtrodden.

The Last Jedi sets up the rise of the entire galaxy against the First Order, not just one special person. While it kills off Luke, it allows him to live on as an inspiration. Strike me down and … well, you know the rest. It also paves the way for the sequel trilogy’s Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, to be his own master and do what his grandfather never did. It positions Rey to look beyond her past, Poe to be Leia’s successor, and Finn to … Well, this trilogy has no idea what it’s doing with Finn. He is no longer devoted to Rey, and rather, he’s in the Resistance because he wants to be there, but that’s not much of a launch pad. More than anything else though, it sets up a true end to the saga: the balance of the force.

The Force Awakens‘ set-ups were obvious. They were questions. The Last Jedi‘s set-ups were situational. How did The Rise of Skywalker honour those set-ups?

Um … Not well. It undoes the characters’ progression. The film resurrects Emperor Palpatine as the Big Bad, and in doing so, denies Kylo Ren the mantle. Poe doesn’t assume the leadership until all of Carrie Fisher’s unused footage is awkwardly re-purposed, and even then, all he does is co-general with Finn, who has reverted back to his The Force Awakens state (running after Rey, screaming, “Rey!”). Rey learns her surname, then learns to be her own person, buries the Skywalker lightsabers and then … adopts their surname. Rose is somewhere else looking at Star Destroyer cross-sections or something. The result is a film that, as film critic Daniel Lammin puts it, “is so desperate to be liked”. It’s non-stop fun. The characters are a trio now! Banter! There are things to find! Quests! And answers! The film zooms from place to place, heavy with exposition, only to end up exactly where we expect it to: a confrontation with Emperor Palpatine.

The problem with this trajectory is, we’ve been here before. Return of the Jedi. The Emperor died and the Empire fell. Only it didn’t really. The First Order rose and Emperor Palpatine returned. So when The Rise of Skywalker resolves in almost the same way, it doesn’t feel permanent. Instead of reflecting our times (Nazis are trying to make it okay to be Nazis again!), and exploring how the First Order came from the Empire, and really grappling with what must be done to keep a Second Order from rising in its wake, we are given Emperor Palpatine, professional puppet master and his Final Order. The mystery boxes are opened. Snoke was a clone! Emperor Palpatine was always the villain, and now that we’ve melted his face off his skull, the Nazis are gone forever!

The film attempts to explain this convenience away by saying the confrontation with Emperor Palpatine inspires the galaxy to rise up against the First Order … So, Abrams spent the entire film re-establishing The Last Jedi‘s set-up, only to pay it off in a montage that lasts seconds. Luke Skywalker is reduced to a ghost mentoring one person, and chastising her for tossing his weapon disrespectfully. It is so preoccupied with answering fans’ supposed grievances that it shrinks itself. The Force is left imbalanced. But at least we have answers. And The Knights of Ren were there. That mystery box was sort of opened and just like the others, its answer underwhelmed.

Sequels are dangerous. They re-frame the stories that come before them. By revealing Snoke is simply an extension of Emperor Palpatine, the celebrated throne room sequence in The Last Jedi loses most of its power. Kylo Ren’s actions are retroactively made less significant. And I don’t believe Abrams is unaware of this danger. The Force Awakens was a risk. Luke, Leia and Han were denied their Return of the Jedi happily ever after to launch a sequel trilogy. Now that it’s over, we have to wonder, was the reward worth what they lost?

Crisis of Opinion

I don’t want to write my opinion, but I have to. I have a new book out, so I need to remind you I exist, nudge you a little closer to visiting your local bookstore and asking for it by name (it’s Monuments, by the way).

Sustaining a career in publishing isn’t newsworthy. A fifth book isn’t as shiny as a first. So, like everyone else with something to sell, I must share my opinion. Ideally in a publication that pays per word, but I’ll settle for a flat fee … or the inclusion of a link to purchase.

But what is my opinion? There are already so many opinions, and so many bad ones, that our media seems reliant on for conflict, content and clicks. Just last week, Ita Buttrose told ABC Breakfast that political correctness had gone too far and Kerri-Anne Kennerley suggested motorists use protesters “as a speed bump”. You know … regular, normal opinions. And before then? I get dizzy thinking about the column inches and cable news tirades, mostly by men like Andrew Bolt, devoted to teenagers – what’s appropriate for them to learn in schools, what’s appropriate for them to think, and what’s appropriate for them to say when cutting world leaders down to size at UN climate action summits.

We’ve been told that attention is difficult to capture, that news cycles must move quickly to compensate, but the protracted response to the youth-led climate strike seems to defy this logic. It seems, it’s always newsworthy and timely to dunk on teens who have the audacity to rise to the occasion and demand adults join them.

Many responses to the climate strike protests relied on anger and misogyny – how dare teenagers organise their protests in air-conditioned classrooms and how dare some of them be girls! Others were less obviously harmful. They were overwhelmingly reasonable. Their authors agreed with the message but not the means of communicating it. Joe Hildebrand made references to Damascene conversions because he’s an intellectual, and to Doogie Howser M.D. because his appetite to be condescending trumps any desire to be relevant.

Unlike most opinion writers, my job has me meeting tens of thousands of teenagers a year. I’ve spent the past seventy days touring schools across the country and I can see the impact our nation’s crisis of opinion is having on our teens.

On the whole, adults underestimate teenagers like the adults who underestimated them. Those who have opinions about teenagers are no different. What they underestimate most is teenagers’ capacity to listen to us. We teach them respect, but when they’re respectful of others’ difference, we call them snowflakes. We teach them expert knowledge, and when they apply that knowledge, we say they’ve been brainwashed.

But they are respectful, and they are smart. That scares some of us.

Over the past seventy days, I have asked teenagers what they would do if they had the power to change the world. The climate is a pressing concern, but not their only one. They want to better support the homeless. They want to end refugee detention. They want to stifle discrimination in all its forms.

Most teenagers reject the injustices we adults have come to accept as the way things are. That’s heartening. I leave schools elated, only to later scroll through Twitter and be consumed with rage. The gulf in maturity between our teens and our adults – the leaders, the talking heads on television, the angry op-ed army in print – is staggering.

Immature as they are, garbage opinions endure. We make room for them in the media and call it discourse, and when we disagree with them, we relish it. We share the garbage opinions with rolled eyes and pithy takedowns, not realising that we’re amplifying those opinions with digital megaphones. And teenagers are, I cannot stress this enough, listening.

Take the myth of political correctness for instance. Every few weeks, it emerges, and every hot take about it is staler than the last. No one really interrogates the actual idea, because like all Sky News After Dark talking points, the notion of political correctness crumbles under an ounce of scrutiny. When framed as treating people with respect, politically incorrect starts to sound a whole lot like civility.

The most popular joke of my teens was saying, “Gay,” when someone did something we didn’t like or understand. It was hilarious. Not allowed now. Some might call it political correctness. Others might wonder why it was ever funny in the first place.

Oh, it’s just stating that people are same-sex attracted. Oh, I can see how that might make them uncomfortable. Oh, I can see that it isn’t really a joke, we’ve just learned that it’s funny, and we laugh out of habit. Oh, we can construct a better joke from the context. Cool.

I say all this because I want you to buy my book, but what are these other opinion merchants selling? Fear. The times are changing, like they always do and always will. If that scares you, they will speak for you. Subscribe. Don’t change the channel.

When talking heads on TV moan about “political correctness gone mad”, teenagers listen. I hope that most dismiss it, but others listen. One teenager raised her hand at Brisbane Writers Festival and asked me if, because she intended to work in politics one day, she should shy away from writing about politically incorrect topics.

For a moment, I worried she wanted the freedom to write whatever she pleased without caring who she’d offend – oh, the Lionel Shriver of it all! – but in fact, she was simply asking permission to write about gay people, because she identified as gay. It was heartbreaking on two counts. Not only did she see her sexuality as a barrier to pursuing a career in politics, she had taken their “We can’t talk about gay people anymore!” to mean she couldn’t reflect on her identity in her writing.

The oppressive bogeyman that is political correctness isn’t the only divisive talking point that filters from our opinion writers down to teenagers. During creative writing workshops in Melbourne recently, I asked teenagers what they could say about our world through a fantasy story premise. One teenager wanted to explore how universities stifle the political expressions of one side of politics (a common right-wing complaint … as if scrutinising poorly thought-out ideas and challenging dangerous rhetoric doesn’t belong in an education institution). Another lamented that feminists were taking over the world (he was startled to learn that thinking his mum and dad were equal made him a feminist too). Another believed that criminals should be sent back to where they came from (he later said that reforming the ways we rehabilitate people might be better).

Now, why do I think thirteen-year-old boys sometimes sound like they’re reading Chris Kenny’s first drafts? Because teenagers listen. They internalise the garbage opinions that any editor or TV producer worth their salt should identify as hollow or dangerous and filter out. But unlike Chris Kenny and his ilk, they’re open to discussion, and often, quick to see the flaws in conservative rhetoric.

We all assume that wisdom comes with age, but what if that was just a lie to keep the young at bay? What if we learned something from our teenagers, so full of empathy, so willing to do away with garbage opinions. There is a standard of discourse we should expect, and there should be consequences for those who don’t meet them. Like, maybe somebody who (allegedly) jokes about motorists mowing down protestors shouldn’t enjoy the celebrity and salary being on television affords them.

But that’s just my opinion.