Saturday, August 20, 2016

THE MFA DEGREE DOESN'T MATTER. THE WRITING DOES.

I feel like whenever I log on to the internet these days, or pick up a writing magazine, all I see are people complaining about MFA programs and how they are worthless and a complete waste of money when you can learn everything you do in one, not only for free, but in the comfort of your own home by yourself. Naturally, I have a lot of feelings about this, and as someone who has graduated from one (Seton Hill University’s MFA Program forWriting Popular Fiction), worked as an assistant to another (Carlow University’sMFA Program for Creative Writing), and is currently teaching in yet another one (Western Connecticut State University’s MFA Program for Professional andCreative Writing), I think I’m entitled to my opinion here…just as all of you are entitled to yours.

There’s no denying that if you want to be a writer that you (1) have to write and (2) have to read. And yes! You can do that in the comfort of your own home. I myself read about 100 books a year and write at least four times a week (if not every day), and hell, I’ve been doing all of that to some extent since I was eight years old. Do I have to pay a shit ton of money to do any of that? No, but I guess that also depends on your book buying habits and how close you are to a library.

Now what I didn’t have access to was countless resources and mentors and critique partners and networking. Sure, some of you may be blessed and be way more intelligent and extroverted than I was/am, but when I graduated from undergrad, I had no idea half of this industry existed—and I’m talking about the conferences that I attend each year, the organizations that I have memberships with, the computer software that I use, some of my favorite authors, etc. I virtually knew nothing other than I liked horror, read a fair amount of it, and published with a ton of magazines that didn’t pay me and thought that giving me exposure was good enough.

News flash—it’s not.
Get paid for your work.

So yeah, I needed guidance and I needed an MFA program to show me the ropes of publishing and introduce me to a world that I eventually became savvy in, but more than that, I wanted the attention and the hand-holding and the community because I didn’t have the confidence to write a manuscript by myself. I wanted someone standing over me with a red pen smacking me when I did stupid shit, critiquing me when I made the same tedious mistakes, and I wanted to be in an environment of other like-minded people who had the same goals as me and wanted to learn about the industry.

If I didn’t go to Seton Hill, I wouldn’t know how to evaluate a contract. I wouldn’t know how to seed out shady people who make promises to me about my writing and don’t deliver. I wouldn’t know how to find an agent, properly use a comma, write a query letter, pitch my novel, build a website, create an author platform, teach a workshop, or have met half the people I know, love, and work with now.

And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Seton Hill did for me, but regardless, wanting and learning all of that doesn’t make me pretentious. It also doesn’t make me a stupid. I got my MFA because I wanted to make myself a better writer and that was the best way for me to do it. My career goals and aspirations were worth the loans to me if I was going to be taught how to hold my own in this field, and I also wanted a terminal degree that would allow me follow my dream of becoming a professor, and you know what, all of those things happened…and more.

Seton Hill changed my life. 
  • Will I be in debt forever? No (laughs painfully), but yeah it will take a while to pay off. 
  • Was it worth it? I would sell my soul to the Devil himself to do it all over again. Shit, if they started a PhD program or fronted another certificate tomorrow, I’d be there waiting in Maura first thing in the morning.


The fact of the matter is, everyone learns differently. What worked for me may not be your cup of tea and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean my way is wrong, just like it doesn’t mean your way is right. Maybe you can do it on your own, and if so, I tip my hat to you, but I couldn’t, and I shouldn’t get ridiculed or attacked for paying for my education. I spent 2.5 years writing, studying, working three jobs, and not sleeping for me to take that lightly or not personally. So no, you don’t need an MFA to be a writer. What you do is need is the passion, drive, and commitment to learn and do whatever it takes to make you the best writer (and forever reader) you can be, and yeah, for some people, that means going to an MFA program to hone their art.

The point is that the degree itself doesn’t matter unless you’re trying to get a job as a professor. What does matter is if you learned how to write in the program and if you did something with the tools that you were given. If you did, then your money was well spent and to some respect, you can’t put a price on that.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

SO YOU WANT TO BUILD A SUICIDE SQUAD, EH?

This post will probably earn me my own place on a suicide squad, but I’m going to say it anyways. I’m not a big fan of superhero movies. I try to be—really. I’ve watched (and own) a decent handful of them, but for whatever reason, they’re just not my thing. Having said that though—since I’m a walking contradiction—I love Batman. Always have. He’s the one superhero that I’ve always been drawn too, even as a kid with the television series, and I think what I like most about him is that he’s in a constant struggle with himself. Sure, now there’s probably going to be a ton of people that comment on this telling me that all superheroes are struggling, but guess what? That’s fine and dandy and I salute you, but I only really care about Batman.

Fun facts:
  • I dig Batman because he’s an ordinary guy (okay, I mean yeah, maybe a billionaire isn’t ordinary, but whatever) doing something amazing.
  • I love the voice and the suit and the symbol of the bat, as well as the story behind it.
  • Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred and Lucius hits me right in the feels.
  • I’ve watched all the Batman movies (except when he was fighting Superman… not sure how I feel about that one yet), and I’ve read a decent bit of the graphic novels, although not nearly as many as I probably should have because I’m only really interested in certain villains, Arkham Asylum, and the suicide squad.
  • Oh, and I’m obsessed with the Joker.

That last one is probably the most important to me when it comes to this DC franchise. The Joker is everything that I love in a villain—he’s brilliant, destructive, chaotic, and has a wicked rad sense of humor. I like the idea of him being a jokester and I will probably always have a soft spot for Jack Nicholson’s version of him, even though my heart will forever be with Heath Ledger now because when I watched that Dark Knight, my mind exploded. That was how I envisioned Gotham, how I imagined the mob wars going down, how I wanted the characters to interact and push each other, but more importantly, it was everything that I wanted in the Joker: sass, swagger, intensity, madness, and the willingness to send a message just to keep everyone on their toes.



I could write about the Joker forever, and maybe someday I will, but what’s relevant to me right now is what I just saw in Suicide Squad. Now let me perfectly honest and upfront with everyone when I say that I was pissed off about this movie as soon as I saw the trailer for it. It wasn’t anything like that I thought it was going to be, I wasn’t a big fan of the character development, and when I saw what Jared Leto was doing to my man, I about had a heart attack. BUT I figured that I couldn’t properly bitch about this until I went and saw the movie, which I did, yesterday afternoon.

Verdict: Disappointed, but not as much as I thought I was going to be.

I thought Will Smith played a wonderful version of Deadshot, and I was actually really impressed with his portrayal of him. Same with Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Jay Hernadez as El Diablo. Count me happy—I thought their performances were vibrant, very relatable to the graphic novel series, and I believed what they were selling to me. My only complaint here is that I thought the breaking line with El Diablo should have had to be worked more---it seemed like he went from zero to 100 pretty fast at times, and sure, that might be okay for some people, but I like to see more psychological torment, especially in a character like him, who for so long, refused to access that side of himself.

I can’t talk about Killer Croc, yet. It’s too soon.
I’ve never been more disappointed with a character representation in my life.

But now we come to Jared Leto as the Joker, and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Now like I said, when I first saw the trailer, I was angry—super angry. I thought they were making jokes (no pun intended) out of two of my all-time favorite characters, and in a lot of ways, I didn’t want to see the movie because of that. So let’s start with the Joker:



  • I get that playing the Joker has to be pressure like one would believe—especially after Ledger’s portrayal of him. So yeah, if I was going to do this role, I would want to bring something completely different to the table and do my own thing with the character. And truth be told, that’s what Leto did. Is it the Joker that I love? No. But did I hate him like I thought I would? Surprisingly, not.
  • I will be honest and say that I do not like the look of mob-boss-gangster Joker. The tattoos and the grill don’t do it for me, and nor did the laugh, which I think is a pretty deal big here. Seriously, have a listen at the laughs over the years. Which one do you think is the weakest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aweuxVULizg
  • And that kind of brings me to my next point. Was I entertained watching his character? Yes. In fact, my favorite parts of the movie were when the Joker showed up and started interacting with Harley, BUT I was never afraid of him and I didn’t think he came off as crazy. Sure, there’s definitely a few nuts and bolts loose up there, but I didn’t get the loose cannon, unnerved, tormented, and genius-deviant that I wanted.
  • And hello? The smile was gone. Another one of my favorite character traits about the Joker is that no matter how dark he is…he’s always permanently smiling. The cartoon had the razor sharp giggle, Nicholson brought the stretched out smile with the prankster laugh to go with it, and Ledger had the scars and the manic hysterical giggle that made our hair stand on edge. But Leto? The laugh wasn’t there, the smile wasn’t there, and at one point, it was drawn on his face with black marker or something, and to me, that just felt insulting to the character.
    • But I’m going to play devil’s advocate here now and give them a pass. Something that I really did like in means of character development was the tattoo of the smile on his hand. I thought that worked really well with who/what they were trying to pull off with this character, and hell, it even made me smile when it first showed up. So I’ll give them some credit here. Not a lot. But some, because it still upset me.
Now for dear, dear, Harley.

Like I mentioned before, I was pretty upset when I saw how Robbie was portraying her. When I was reading Suicide Squad, I saw Harley as the perfect companion to the Joker: manipulative, insane, dangerous, and a woman of strength, power, and cunning. For those of you who know me, you know that’s what I love in female characters: someone with some bite. But was that who showed up in the film? Yes and no.


  • I didn’t hate Harley Quinn. In fact, if you put me under a lie detector test, I would have to tell you that I actually really liked her character. She’s strong, intelligent, a total bad ass, but still, calm, cool, and collected. I loved that. I dug the hair, the makeup, and even the wardrobe—which I know a lot of women will give me shit for, but the thing about this that we have to remember is Harley’s character is all about confidence. I mean, even her portrayal in the graphic series is in a corset with high stiletto books. Now mind you, I would have rather seen the actual costume because I’m a purist with these things, but I liked her look and how she wore it. In fact, they even had a throwback in the film where she picked up her jester costume and that totally made me smile. As a feminist, count me proud. But that’s the only pass I’m giving here with her looks.
    • I could go on a whole rant about the portrayal of the female form in comics, but I won’t because that’s not what this blog post is about, but I will say that the response that I’ve been hearing about Harley’s character isn’t that she’s this brilliant, beautiful psychopath, but rather that they got to see her ass for most of the movie. This is where I grow some fangs.
    • Margot Robbie is beautiful, and she looks beautiful in this film. But that’s not the point of Harley’s character, people! What I wanted to see here was an INTELLIGENT PREVIOUS-PSYCHOLOGIST LOSE HER IDENTITY WHEN TREATING THE JOKER AND THEN SEE HER TRANSFORMATION. To some extent, yeah, the movie showed me this and I liked it, but it didn’t show the struggle. I’m all about conflict, and I think that conflict has to be earned and showed for something to be pulled off successfully, and I didn’t buy it. I didn’t see the “I am woman, hear me roar” element in her, and I saw it in the graphic novel series. I saw how she fell for the Joker. I saw how she started embracing her crazy. I saw how she became strong and eventually, stood up to the Joker and told him how she really felt. That wasn’t in the movie—maybe it will be when she gets her own film, but Christ. Harley is a fucking a brilliant time-bomb. She’s not just some girl in short shorts carrying a bat. Shame on you, Hollywood. Shame.
    • *Deep breaths, Wytovich. Deep breaths.*
  • So now that I got that out, I can breathe a bit and talk about some elements I really did like. I loved how we were first introduced to her: a dancing/hanging ribbon act in her cell that she made out of what appeared to be a straitjacket. See, that’s my girl right there: graceful, beautiful, calm, and deadly. She attacked guards, had to be restrained, and all the while, she still smiled as giggled and made sarcastic comments, and she pretty much did this throughout the entire film, which I thought was true to her character.
  • I liked that she went rogue and made it very apparent that this was a girl who was going to make her own decisions, and make them when she wanted and as she pleased so high five, feminism. But while I don’t want to spoil a whole lot here for people who haven’t read the graphic novel series, while I dig the toxic relationship between her and the joker for the plot (and seriously folks, that’s what it is—a toxic, abusive relationship. Let’s not romanticize it), I think there were a lot of elements missing here that showed her strength when it comes to love and standing up for herself, and being a woman. And again, maybe that’s why she’s getting her own movie and we’ll see it there, but I missed that in this film, and that tarnished it for me.
    • Devil’s Advocate: did I hate what they did to their story line, though? No. In fact, I kind of really enjoyed seeing how the Joker and Harley interacted with each other outside of Arkham, and I liked seeing the hold she had/has over my favorite villain. Did I buy it though? Not completely.



So I have some feelings. Some of them are warranted, some of them are me bitching because I’m a purist, and some of them are legit problems that I think a lot of people would agree on when it comes to character development. I don’t think the movie was a total failure, but I don’t think that it stands up to the momentum that we had with The Dark Knight series. The vibe felt off for me, the cheesy neon colors and backdrop of the film felt weird and misplaced, and like I said, I didn’t feel afraid of these most wanted, dangerous criminals.

Except for Deadshot. I think he’d just about kill anyone if he had a legit reason to.

Overview:
  • Would I watch the movie again? Yes
  • Would I pay to watch the movie again? No
  • Should you pay to watch the movie in theaters? I would wait till you can rent it.