10 CLOVERFIELD LANE [Review]

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I know what you’re thinking — the only person in the world who enjoyed Zoolander 2 is back with another review! This time, it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane … And it’s pretty darn good!

A lot has been made of its development from a not-Cloverfield movie into a Cloverfield movie, and while conversations about its production history are interesting, having them now does the film a disservice. Director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a film that treads the knife-edge between restricted-domain thriller and dark family comedy. The fact that it has the Cloverfield brand attached means more than increased box-office takings, it means viewer enter assuming a shared universe with the found-footage, alien-invasion romance Cloverfield. When Howard (John Goodman) tells Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), that he is keeping her prisoner in his bunker to protect her from an “attack” above ground, we think of Cloverfield. Even though Goodman’s shtick is transparent as all hell, we second-guess ourselves because we have seen Cloverfield. This may have evolved into a Cloverfield film, yes, but the belief it occurs in a shared universe adds a complexity to those bunker scenes (and that’s before you start to doubt yourself, as I did, and genuinely think JJ Abrams only had the title changed to mess with us for JJ giggles).

10 Cloverfield Lane is tight, claustrophobic and tense. It will make you squirm, thanks in large part to Goodman’s stellar impersonation of Sam Smith when you don’t return his texts. Goodman plays entitled-nice-guy to perfection. Winstead and John Gallagher Jr are given less to work with, but when the film calls on one of them to carry it in its final moments, they do it with aplomb.

See this one in theatres. The sound design deserves more than laptop speakers. There’s a scene with a set of keys that gave me a tension headache, thanks in large part to the sound choices.

For the moment, Cloverfield is an anthology series. JJ has said there is a “larger idea … [to] see through”, but until then, they’re stand-alones. Support this one, if only so we can see JJ’s plans come to fruition, and write catty think-pieces if it doesn’t meet the hype (Oh, hi, Super 8).

Vale #PTAChat

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Tonight at 7:30pm AEDT, Twitter is hosting the final #PTAChat. While I’m certain there’s amazing bookish stuff just around the corner, this is a bittersweet moment for me. It was the #PTAChat community who embraced me when I resurfaced with The First Third. Their encouragement was inspiring, and the book banter was always top-notch. My TBR pile is five times its usual size because of the recommendations I’ve accumulated over the years, and I just wanted to say thanks, not only to the awesome @PenguinTeenAus but to every author, reader, blogger who made #PTAChat the incredible beast it was.

We’re sad to see you go, Felicity (@FlossAus). You led the way, and made us so. excited. about. everything. Thanks for believing in me, @FlossAus. And for old times’ sake, here’s a collection of my greatest shirtless selfies, ordered by gym pump …

Loving someone is never age-inappropriate

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I thought I’d post a quick hello (Hi!), and thank you to everyone who commented and shared messages of support (Thanks!). Last week was an intense week, both professionally and personally, and I really appreciate your words. While I haven’t heard back from the school regarding last week’s events, I’ve been made aware of the school’s response, copied in below:

FROM THE PRINCIPAL
Dear Parents/Caregivers,
Over the last few days, there has been story in the media that involves [Redacted school name]. I am writing to you to clarify some of the details about that story.
In 2015, author Will Kostakis was invited to the College to speak about writing and, in particular, his first novel, The First Third. The talk to students was well-received and Mr Kostakis was invited back to speak to the Year 7 and Year 8 students at the end of March this year. At that presentation, Mr Kostakis would have the oppor[t]unity to promote his new novel, The Sidekicks, which was about to be released.
Part of the due diligence that teachers undertake in preparation for these visits is to ensure that what is being presented to students is content and age-appropriate. Because The Sidekicks had not been released and therefore read by teachers, a request was made to Mr Kostakis to reference his first book in his presentation to students. Mr Kostakis’ blog had indicated that his new novel includes a same-sex relationship between two young people. Without having had the opportunity to read the novel, and to ensure that the content was appropriate for Year 7 and Year 8, a request was made to Mr Kostakis to reference his first novel rather than his soon-to-be-released one. I want to make clear that Mr Kostakis’ invitation to the school was not withdrawn.
As a Catholic College, we are inclusive and compassionate and tolerant. I am disappointed that there could a perception anywhere that would suggest something different than that. Of course, the teachings and the ethos of our Catholic faith sit at the heart of who we are and what we do. We also take our responsibilities to our students and our parents very seriously. The request to Mr Kostakis was made in this context.
Thank you for your understanding with this matter and for your continued support of the College.

My return visit in March was intended as a book launch for The Sidekicks. While some might argue that you can’t have a book launch for The Sidekicks without the book, The Sidekicks, I have sought to clarify whenever interviewed that I was only told I could not talk about my new book (as evident in the initial Buzzfeed article).

I respect the school conducting its due diligence. I had, erroneously, assumed that since The First Third was deemed “age-appropriate” (it features a same-sex relationship, consensual casual sex organised through a gay dating app), then a novel that features a similar sub-plot, written with similar language, would be equally appropriate.

I call it a sub-plot because it is “sub” to the actual plot. The Sidekicks is about three different young men navigating grief after the sudden death of a close friend, learning to be more accepting of each other’s difference. There was no mention of the sub-plot on my website beforehand, because I wanted the reader to experience that part of the story unspoiled.

In the school’s email requesting that The Sidekicks launch event go ahead without The Sidekicks (which again, is not technically cancelling the event), it was stated:

We have a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.

The only blog post that touched on same-sex attraction was my own “coming out”, a personal reflection on how a former partner’s cancer diagnosis made clear just how my being in the closet during our time together diminished his significance in my life.

In embracing The First Third, and its representation of diverse sexualities, the school did prove it was inclusive, compassionate and tolerant. The school then rejected The Sidekicks for not being content or age-appropriate without reading it, based on a blog post I wrote about my own personal experiences.

I need to make this clear: I am a male author who is attracted to men. While my experiences inform who I am, and how I write, that is not all I am, that is not all I write. When I visit schools, my main priority is to foster a love of reading, and I cannot do that without promoting my own work.

In the spirit of being inclusive, compassionate and tolerant, I would suggest that the school treat a book that features two boys kissing in the same way it would treat a book that features a boy and a girl kissing.

Loving someone is never age-inappropriate.

In case you want to send me this email

sidekicks1I’m going to try avoid editorialising this as much as possible. This is an email I was sent today, and this is my response to it. And my heart is raging through my shirt.

The email:

Hi Will,
We have a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.
I have nothing personally against you and it sounds like a touching story that would love to read, however I feel it isn’t appropriate. If you want to promote The First Third on March 30, you are more than welcome however I have been advised we can’t promote your new book. I understand this isn’t in your best interest so we can cancel the meet and greet.
I spoke to [your agent], we still absolutely want you in June, but if possible can you please do the same talk as last year with focus on becoming an author and The First Third?
Thanks,
Regards,
[Redacted]

My response:

Hi [redacted],
I appreciate you taking the time to email, and I understand it probably wasn’t the easiest email to write.
I was worried about this happening with The Sidekicks. To be honest, I was worried about this happening with The First Third – which in addition to zany Greek hilarity, features a gay character coming to terms with his sexuality in the context of his disability. That gay character engages in casual sex through an app, fearing rejection, but yearns for something more. In the end of The First Third, he gets it.
That plotline wasn’t for Catholic schools, it wasn’t for parents, it was for students, students like me, who felt less than adequate because they loved someone “they weren’t supposed to”.
I am thankful for the leadership my high school showed in selecting texts that championed diversity. Some people were uncomfortable reading about two boys kissing, but it prompted discussion and working through prejudice. And even though I was not out, I felt like less of an outsider. I felt safe.
Coming out publicly was difficult. I feared I would have to choose between doing what I love/earn a living from – engaging kids to read and be truthful in their writing – and not having to hide my partners from colleagues as “friends”. I had hoped, having spoken at some Catholic schools, those schools would be comfortable with my revelation knowing what I bring to my presentations and workshops. And that my sexuality, while it informs who I am, is not the subject of my presentations.
Professionally, it would probably be wise to still present in June, your students were a lovely audience, but I have to stick up for my 16 year old self, and say this is personal.
The First Third dealt with queerness only slightly less than The Sidekicks, both are written carefully and with respect to students (and their parents) who may find confronting the idea of two people of the same gender kissing. The First Third was acceptable, but now I have a blog post saying I like men, The Sidekicks is not.
And that is not something I will accept for the promise of a pay cheque.
All the very best for the future, and I hope you find the courage my teachers did.
Cheers
William

Reintroducing myself

sidekicks1Before each of my young-adult novels, I’ve had to introduce myself. When Loathing Lola came out, I was William Kostakis, the teenager. When The First Third released, I was Will Kostakis, a little more mature, and a lot more ethnic. With each release, I have grown more confident sharing more of myself. As The Sidekicks hits shelves, I feel like I ought to tell the rest.

A close friend was diagnosed with cancer last month.

That was how I told most people. “A close friend”. When we dated, I would never admit he was close to that. “Oh, him? Oh I know him through a friend,” I would say. He was always just an acquaintance, to throw anyone off the scent that maybe, I liked kissing boys. I was scared people would look at me differently if they knew.

It was an act of self-preservation, hiding him for the eight-or-so months we dated. And when he told his friends about me, I was angry he had the nerve. They could tell someone, who could tell someone who knew me, and they might look at me differently.

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s hard to preserve yourself by making someone else invisible, so we faded, from more to close friends.

And after a phone call, last month, he went from invisible to almost gone.

I’ve always been comfortable gently implying where I sit on the Kinsey scale, hoping I say just enough, or write just enough that surely, people realise without me having to say.

But I have to say. Time tricks us into thinking we have a lot of it, we don’t. One minute, all is fine, the next, you’re driving your close friend to a sperm bank before he undergoes chemotherapy.

We stopped at McDonalds on the way. I filled the space with awkward jokes. I asked if he thought the nurses made pornography recommendations. Kind of like David and Margaret at the Sperm Bank.

“Production values leave a bit to be desired, but it’s Australian. 5 stars!” I joked.

We laughed and I worried. I didn’t want it to end. And I regretted everything. Romantically, we had failed, but he had never denied me. He had never diminished my significance or value in his life, and I, like some horrible cliché, was only recognising that when he was almost gone.

Almost. Turns out, his surgery was successful and he doesn’t need chemotherapy. There will be two years’ worth of tests and anxieties, but it appears, my dark-hour fears were just that.

He isn’t going anywhere, and I get another chance:

He is my close friend, and we used to date. He was my first relationship, the confirmation this wasn’t a phase, and that it could be just as wild, messy, lovely, perfect as hetero love. He was significant.

He is significant.