‘Authors Anonymous’ and real-life critique groups

Authors Anonymous movie

After watching the movie Authors Anonymous on Netflix, I realized something important about participating in a local critique group: A little manuscript help isn’t worth suffering other writers’ neuroses.

Most writers are neurotic, one way or another. Put five to ten of us in a room together, and shit happens. Usually, that means some lively (at times heated) story discussion, and sometimes outright arguments. There are always pros and cons. The critique group is a crawl — you can get a full manuscript critique from an online writing partner in the time it would take a local critique group to do one or two chapters — but the trade-off is the atmosphere and community. It’s about being united with your fellow writers and motivating each other to improve.

One tense scene in Authors Anonymous shows what happens when that little community implodes: Jealous of another member’s success and annoyed by everyone else, one character bitches out each writer in turn (mostly saying their work is crap) before quitting. It isn’t long afterward that the whole group falls apart. Each character has too much emotional baggage to support anyone; they only end up sabotaging or demoralizing them instead.

Real life can be similar. When writers start picking fights, gossiping, or taking criticism too personally, it’s time to say sayonara. If you’re not getting emotional support from the group, it’s not worth going.

Have you ever been in a writing / critique group with personality problems? What happened?

What Daredevil can teach us about good writing

Daredevil Netflix

Last weekend, I binge-watched Daredevil season two on Netflix. And I’ve got a LOT of thoughts, guys. So many feels.

As an aspiring novelist, I try to take a writing lesson from as many sources as I can. Obviously, if Daredevil could sucker me into watching 13 hours of television in three days, it’s got some pretty good writing (and acting, and action, and … all the things).

So here are five reasons why Daredevil season two is so damn good — and yes, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

Good villains play off the hero

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how bad-ass Jon Bernthal was as the Punisher. Now, I’ve never been a huge Punisher fan, but Bernthal blew me away — bang.

In this new season, Daredevil faces how his presence has escalated crime in the city. With one vigilante comes another. For each criminal he puts behind bars, more take his place. And locking a bad guy away doesn’t guarantee that he won’t be walking the streets again in a month.

Frank Castle (Punisher) wants the same thing as Daredevil: to rid New York City of scum. But his tactics are different: He uses guns, and he shoots to kill. Daredevil believes in preserving human life — in second chances, in the law. Castle is lawlessness.

Daredevil Punisher Frank Castle

The best villains reflect facets of the hero and take them to an extreme. There is darkness in Murdock — season one showed us that he worries about the devil inside of him, a rage that almost convinced him to kill Wilson Fisk — but Frank Castle is what he’d become if he played judge, jury, and executioner.

But Castle is also a likable character. One we can empathize with. Daredevil believes there’s good in him. Karen sees him for the father and husband he once was — a good soldier who lost everything — even after finding herself in his crosshairs. We like Frank because, even though he’s unhinged and a murderer, we know in his own messed up way he’s just trying to do good. Real villains are relatable.

Characters have lives outside of the protagonist

Season one showed Karen and Foggy hanging out a lot, drinking and talking in Josie’s bar. We saw a huge transformation in Karen that burdened her with shame and a secret, and Foggy had to reexamine his friendship with Matt when he learned who the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen was. But season two does an even better job of giving these characters autonomy.

In fact, Karen and Foggy spend more time on their own in season two than together with Matt. They take action apart from him. Foggy realizes he can hold his own in court — that he’s a damn good lawyer. And Karen discovers she has a knack for journalism.

Although they both get dragged into Matt’s drama, not everything in their lives revolves around him. And that’s what makes them authentic.

Daredevil Karen

Change happens (a lot)

Daredevil covers more in 13 episodes than most shows manage in a full season. With action comes change — hard and fast. Matt and Karen get together and break up. Fisk is the low man in prison and then seizes control. And the law firm of Nelson & Murdock is bursting with clients and then shutters completely.

So much happens in season two because it isn’t afraid to heap conflict on more conflict — and that means moving the story forward through tangible change. And that leads us to …

Failure makes the good guys stronger

The more permanent the change seems, the more devastating it feels. Season two leaves us with the closure of Nelson & Murdock — nobody saves the firm by the end of the 13 episodes, and Matt’s relationships with Karen and Foggy are broken apart. We don’t know if or when they’ll get back together.

Yet failure makes the good guys stronger. Our heroes lose Frank Castle’s trial just when it was looking good, and the blow hits them hard. But because of his solo performance, Foggy scores a job at a high-paying firm, and he learns that he can be an amazing lawyer without Matt by his side.

Even when Daredevil fails, he comes out tougher. Daredevil versus Nobu in season two is a very different battle than it was in season one. Our hero’s got better gear — better armor and weaponry — and more experience than he had before. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, he’s better equipped to deal with whatever threat arises next.

Matt Murdock

Cliffhangers keep the momentum going

An hour is a lot of time to spend watching one episode, but all a good show needs to do to keep you pressing play is to tuck a cliffhanger into the final few seconds.

Daredevil did this nearly every episode in season two — so well that I watched six episodes in a row before taking a break. Splitting the season into two arcs — one focused on Frank’s crusade, the other more on Elektra and the Hand — gave me a nice breather in between. But the momentum never slowed.

And let’s not forget about that finale. THAT FINALE. Can I have season three now? Please?

The Maze Runner movie

The Maze Runner: I have no idea what I’m in for

James Dashner’s The Maze Runner is, well, weird.

Basically, I have no idea whether the movie — which hits theaters this Friday — is going to be awesome or The Langoliers corny. Back when I was a kid, I thought that Stephen King film was the most frightening thing ever (I mean, come on, monsters that eat reality itself?!?!), but when I rewatched it as an adult, it was goofy as hell.

The monsters in The Maze Runner — an easy read of 300-some pages — remind me a lot of those bad CGI creatures. That is, I have no idea how they’re going to manage to look cool on the big screen when their descriptions in the book are so bizarre and … kind of stupid.

Let’s back up. The Maze Runner is sort of like The Langoliers meets The Lord of the Flies. A bunch of boys are thrown into a walled-in area they call the Glade — with no memories of who they were or how they got there — and forced to investigate a deadly, gigantic maze for a way out. The maze surrounds them on all sides, so while they have to form their own organized and civil society (they even have a council) just to survive, the braver few go out into the labyrinth during the day and try to learn its secrets.

The Langoliers movie

The Langoliers: Totally not scaring after the age of 12.

Not everyone gets along, though, and that’s made worse when the newest recruit, Thomas, arrives and weird things start happening. Including the appearance of a girl — the first ever in the Glade.

Cue awkward teenage sexual feelings and, erm, telepathy.

Yes, The Maze Runner is kind of a cheesy book, made weirder by the slang the boys throw around as their own primal island language. Words like “klunk” and “shank” and phrases like “good that” are totally normal conversation. They might as well be jumping from trees and sticking pig’s heads on stakes.

But the monsters are something else. Part slug, part death-metal-torture machine, the Grievers that patrol the maze are … totally ridiculous to imagine and maybe not as frightening to picture as Dashner thought. But then again, I’m not the target age group for this book.

I plan on seeing The Maze Runner in theaters later this month, mostly because I’m just damned curious — either it’s going to be the lamest young adult movie ever (maybe dumber than If I Stay seemed?) or it’s going to be somehow totally amazing, and Grievers will become the stuff of my nightmares. I mean, I dig mazes, so anything’s possible.

Can robotic slugs freak me out? Will I ever be able to take the words “shuck-face” and “Greenie” seriously? I have no idea.

Let’s find out.

If I Stay

Why I won’t be seeing the movie If I Stay

I want to talk about If I Stay, the young adult book by Gayle Forman. All 231 pages rest on one question: What would you do if you had to choose?

As in, if you found yourself looking down on your comatose body after surviving a terrible car crash that kills your parents and only brother, would you want to stick around for all the ensuing pain or hightail it out of there?

When I saw a commercial for If I Stay (out Aug. 22) and Chloë Grace Moretz’s (one of my favorite young actresses) character got all weepy saying, “He wrote me a song,” my heart didn’t flutter. I thought it looked dumb and badly acted:

Like, this scene looks boring:

But maybe the book is good, I thought. OK. Nope. Not any better.

If I Stay has the potential to be good, but it’s a hugely overrated book. While wandering the hospital all corporeal and watching her loved ones talk to her broken body, the character Mia debates whether she wants to stay (and live without her family) or let herself die. You figure the author isn’t going to write a book where the message is “life isn’t that worth living,” so you know she’ll probably choose to live — but the point is more to explore the decision and all its implications. After all, who really gets to choose? Probably doesn’t happen all that often.

So she does a lot of thinking, mostly about music and her boyfriend. Her parents were rockers in their day, and her boyfriend has his own band that’s gaining popularity, but she plays the cello. Lame — or at least she thinks so. Most of her recollections deal with her doubts, not about whether her boyfriend Adam loves her but why he loves her. She can’t believe someone so cool would care about someone as plain as her. She doesn’t feel like she even belongs in her own family.

Then Adam shows up at the hospital (back to real time now), and she’s a mess. Seeing him makes her want to live, and that complicates her decision to call it quits. Because romance.

If I Stay is a pretty easy read — and it ends so abruptly you’ll be disappointed (I didn’t realize the 100 pages at the end of my version was all authory, previewy stuff). I wanted Forman to dig deeper into the question of why someone would stay (and what it means not to), but she never did. She never ventured beyond the obvious or connected all the stuff Mia thought about — music, love, family belonging, friendship — back to her final decision in a way that felt like it actually meant something.

And what about the movie line where Moretz’s character cries and smiles and says, “He wrote me a song”? Yeah, that never even happens.

So I don’t know about you, but I’m chalking this one up as another overrated YA book and skipping the theaters.

Grade: D

In The Hunger Games, Peeta is Katniss’s ‘movie girlfriend’

Peeta Hunger GamesMy friend dug up an NPR article from back in November about how The Hunger Games movies are smart and valuable not just because Katniss’s character challenges the way we portray women in film but also because they ask us to rethink how we represent the opposite gender.

As a girl, Katniss is physically capable, so she doesn’t need rescuing as a damsel, and she’s not helpless. But she’s also emotionally insensitive and unavailable, which isn’t a feminine trait according to what Hollywood and society teach us.

Peeta works in a bakery while Katniss hunts and is the obviously more formidable player in the Games. She saves him with physical strength and prowess while he saves her through goodness and kindness and sacrifice. Their relationship is a reversal of gender roles:

She kisses him sometimes, but she keeps him on a need-to-know basis, and she decides what he needs to know.

He loves her as she is, while knowing he’ll never change her and parts of her will always be mysterious and out of reach.

And Katniss’s choice between Peeta and Gale, the NPR writer argues, is essentially a decision between a movie girlfriend and a movie boyfriend:

Gale works in the mines, not in a bakery. He’s a hunter. He grabs her and kisses her because he simply must. He’s taller. (Real talk: HE’S THOR’S BROTHER.)There’s more to the unusual gender dynamics in these stories, in other words — particularly, I think, in the films — than the idea of a girl who fights. There’s also a rather delightful mishing and mashing of the ideas of what’s expected from young men in movies where everybody is running around shooting and bleeding.

Of course, referring to these characters as “movie boyfriend” and “movie girlfriend” sort of misses the point because the argument is that gender can mean anything, not just what we as a society say it does. But these terms do their job in helping the message hit home, and the whole idea is something I didn’t quite realize this fully until now.

Early Michael Crichton (that Jurassic Park guy) books coming out


If you’re a Michael Crichton fan, then you’ll be happy to know some of his earliest works are releasing as e-books soon. No need to travel to a secret island to find copies (you can grab them in print form, but many sell for hundreds of dollars).

Crichton wrote 10 novels under three different pen names at the start of his career, back when he was studying in medical school in the 1960s. Open Road Integrated Media is publishing the first digital editions of books like Odds On (his premiere novel) and even Dealing or The Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, which Crichton wrote with his brother Douglas.

Open Road referred to them as “The Med School Years.” *snicker*

The author used the pseudonyms John Lange, Jeffery Hudson, and Michael Douglas.

Here’s the full list:

Writing as John Lange:

  • Odds On
  • Scratch One
  • Easy Go
  • The Venom Business
  • Zero Cool
  • Drug of Choice
  • Grave Descend
  • Binary

Writing as Jeffery Hudson:

  • A Case of Need 

Writing as Michael Douglas:

  • Dealing or The Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues

Hello, Kill Screen! Celebrating Twin Peaks and Deadly Premonition

Today I’m happy to introduce my first piece for Kill Screen: “How Twin Peaks finds new life in the world of Deadly Premonition.”


As you can guess from the headline, the story links the popular nineties’ television show Twin Peaks to the cult hit video game Deadly Premonition, which got reprinted today as a director’s cut for PlayStation 3.

I’m obsessed with both fictions, so I had a lot of fun writing the article. It was cool getting some answers from the game’s designer, “Swery.” Big thanks to everyone who helped make the article so awesome and polished in its final form.

I’ve written about Twin Peaks before. Click here for a fun rundown of the best and worst characters and all their drama.