BR&S Fall 2019 Book Club!

Join us in the Black Rock & Sage office (LA 160) this Wednesday (10/23) at 3:30 to talk about The Golden Compass!

There will be light snacks and stimulating conversation. Even if it has been ages since you’ve read it or if you’ve only ever seen the movie, come on by; all are welcome.

Online Issue Submission Window Closing Soon

Hello everyone!

It has been a bit crazy over here in the Black Rock & Sage office, what with mid-terms and all. But really, we are just sitting on pins and needles waiting to review the submissions for the new online publication. Our team decided to try this out for the first time over the summer and are (im)patientially waiting to put our editor caps on and dive into a this new creative venture.

All that being said, you, our lovely community, still has time to throw your respective hats into the ring. But time is, as ever, running out.

The submission window officially closes this Sunday (October 13th). So, dig out one of your pet-projects and send it off into the world.

Check out the page for more info: https://blackrockandsage.org/new-online-issue/

Your incredibly nervous yet excited editor,

– Kristen

“Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” – a review

As promised, BR&S editors have been hard at work putting together another a review for something engaging that they have come across – games, music, movies, books, a cornucopia of random points of interest.

This week, Sammy has reviewed Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood”.

Sammy S. –

For readers like myself who survive on professor recommends and an unholy amount of Sarah J. Maas and YA fantasy, finding something captivating outside of the go-to genre is challenging. After three years of college English courses my “go-to” genre wasn’t cutting it.

I’m still not sure if I can endorse celebrity autobiographies; some are so poorly written that I mostly cringe my way through it, but that wasn’t the case with Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I chose this book to recommend to readers who are wanting to discover new reads and maybe don’t know where to start.

First thing to note is that Trevor Noah is currently a stand-up comedian and host of The Daily Show. He brings that sense of comedy to this book. I haven’t laughed so hard while reading a book since Junie B. Jones.

The comedy is well placed in this book as Trevor’s life revolves greatly around the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa. Comic relief is a great technique but Trevor’s comedy throughout the book never seems to cash in on one-liners or making light of a situation. In fact, most of the comedy comes from Trevor explaining how the social norms of modern-day USA are so different from what they were while he was growing up in South Africa. To name one memorable tidbit, was when Trevor praised his friend Hitler for his “killer dance moves.” Trevor of course will explain to you that there is a reason kids were often named Hitler or Mussolini or even Napoleon, but I won’t pretend to fully grasp the culture and attempt to relay it here. You’ll just have to read it (Ch. 15: Go Hitler!).

Second thing to note, Trevor Noah has done a very good job of explaining the culture he grew up in, part of that being the explanation as to why some South African children are named after dictators. That being said, the way he portrays his family and friendships is priceless. Even to a complete outsider Trevor captures the “oddness” of his situation with both family and friends, as he was born mixed race.

I don’t claim to know everything, even as an English major, and so I personally didn’t know much about apartheid and what it even was. I didn’t even really understand the true gravity of racism in other countries, which is something I believe many of us still don’t fully understand. This book helped though. Perhaps it’s not a literary masterpiece, though I’m sure I could argue for it. Perhaps it’s not the most ingenious portrayal of modern cultural instability. However, this book taught me more about how I see myself, and how I see others. Trevor Noah is a good writer, and he is good at keeping your attention. He knows what he’s talking about, he should after all; it’s his life!

I just wanted to leave off with some of my favorite quotes from the book, if what I have written hasn’t been enough to convince you.

  • “We had a very Tom and Jerry relationship, me and my mom. She was the strict disciplinarian; I was naughty as shit,” (11).
  • “I never felt poor because our lives were so rich with experience,” (72).
  • “That experience shaped what I’ve felt about relationships for the rest of my life: You do not own the thing that you love,” (100).

Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Spiegel & Grau, 2016.

Interview with Lauren Camp

Black Rock & Sage reached out to writer, and all around great human-being, Lauren Camp, author of One Hundred Hungers and asked a few questions in anticipation of her upcoming visit.

Camp will give a talk entitled Migration & Exile at 5:30 PM at the ISU Bengal Cafe Monday, September 9th. 

Black Rock & Sage (BRS): Throughout your career you have engaged with an incredible range of artistic mediums – poetry, visual art, radio, etc. – how does working amongst such variety impact your approach to writing and teaching?

Lauren Camp (LC): Manipulating sound and, at other times, colors and patterns, has been surprisingly good practice for training my ear and eye to create. I read and read, and I recommend that approach for understanding what a poem can do. The two other art forms, radio and visual art, gave me unexpected ways to hear and look at a poem. Is it synesthesia if I’m drawing on media with which I have a great deal of muscle memory? I’m not sure. I know I want to see a poem, its negative space, its composition. And thanks to an immersion in jazz, I crave the riffs in it, want to unbalance its regular sounds.  

BRS: What does your creative process look like?

LC: I write to catalogue what I’ve experienced, what I want to hold, or maybe even what I want desperately to let go of, to let slip through me and out to some other side. I write to figure out what I can’t reason to a perfect conclusion in the shower. To figure out that not all things are knowable. If I don’t have an idea, an image, a plan or something else, I don’t write.

To me, the first draft is just a beginning—what editor Lewis Lapham calls “breaking rocks.” Then, comes the exciting part: revision.

BRS: I feel as though there is a deep sense of musicality in your poetry. Is that sense of rhythm something you consciously work on or does it come from something more innate?  What is the role, if any, of music in poetry?

LC: Listening to a lot of jazz turns out to be a brilliant way to learn improvisation and fragmented melody. I’m not a musician, but I spent 15 years in broadcasting, mixing music: first, with a strictly jazz show, then with a show that ranged to wider genres.

I don’t like an even thing. I never cared for the perfect, easy sound (or in visual art, color) combination. I don’t want a poem to lock shut very often. What I crave most is a bit of friction and something uncertain or almost unpleasant. My goal is to take someone along, but maybe make some quick turns along the way. I read my poems aloud while I work. Though what I’m after is highly intuitive, it comes down to striving for a specific meter or stress that meets the subject and style

BRS: I am especially intrigued by the elements of memory that are woven through your works – in the retelling of other histories as you do in One Hundred Hungers as well as in your work at the Mayo Clinic – mostly due to my own experience as a caretaker for family with severe dementia. Recognizing that being in such a position can be both terribly difficult yet incredibly rewarding, have you struggled to balance the need to make clear your own voice with your sense of responsibility to voice the memories of others?

LC: I struggled with this in One Hundred Hungers, especially. Though I had almost no personal details available to me, I was trying to tell the story of my father’s childhood.

I knew I wasn’t writing for him, which allowed a kind of freedom. Even so, my imagination and research of the heritage and place had to feel accurate. It was equally challenging to describe a place that no longer exists in the way he lived it, a place I couldn’t visit and capture.

The poems that detail dementia offer a different set of challenges and openings. I think the actual writing gave me the opportunity to hold another role. In addition to seeing as “daughter,” I was able to be simply “a witness.” That allowed the heart a rest.

Those poems mainly voice family memories that are already known facts. But it is certainly muddy ground when one tries to describe someone else’s reality. This is heightened even more when one intends to enter the space of someone who doesn’t have language to exert their own agency. I could make accurate guesses, and that is where the effort really came in. I neither wanted to ease and make beautiful, nor put my opinions on what was happening. Also, it’s possible that a person with Alzheimer’s may not be thinking anything! That’s the dilemma, how to show what you can’t possibly know

BRS: What other voices we should be listening to? Are there any artists or authors flying under the radar or otherwise hidden that we should seek out to read or otherwise engage with?

LC: I could name dozens, maybe hundreds, of poets here. For my work in radio, I read widely. It’s a practice I’d recommend. It keeps one from creating derivative work. We should each want our voices to shine through. What we’re really after is what we have to say, not what someone else has already said well.

I’m inspired and influenced by so many contemporary poets, sometimes for a phrase or a perspective, sometimes for the gut-punch reaction or a sort of clarity.

But it’s important to remember that influences come from other places, too. Thelonious Monk is a master with space, Cy Twombly with interwoven shapes, Eva Hesse with the almosts of repetition. I like reading philosophical texts, fables, technical manuals. In some ways, my most innovative self comes when I choose to translate the effect I get from another medium into the one I’m using.

It’s nearly impossible. All I’m able to do is learn the reaction I want to go after. Getting there is a good labor and confusion and attempts. I end up with something new and fresh—and never actually like the model.

BRS: What is the role of the artist in the world?

LC: To make us feel. To remind us to see, or to point us towards what we’d never think to see.

BRS: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

LC: Read, write. Go easy on yourself. Don’t compare to anyone else. Find new vistas. Read more, write more. Learn to love revision. (I tell students that’s where all the magic happens.)

Judgment for PS4 – A review

Every couple of weeks one of the illustrious editors for Black Rock & Sage 2019/2020 will be posting a review for something fun that they have come across – games, music, movies, books, a cornucopia of random points of interest. First up, Tori and a review of Judgment for PS4.

Tori S. –

I’m a fan of the Yakuza series from Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios, so I was over the moon when I heard they were announcing a new game. The fact that it wasn’t going to be Yakuza 7 didn’t bother me much, and I was excited to watch all the trailers showcasing the combat system and drone racing. 

The launch for Judgment wasn’t a smooth one, though. Similar to other games from RGG’s roster, Judgment launched in Japan before it came “out west.” Unfortunately, though, it had to be delayed after one of the motion-capture actors for a main villain was arrested on cocaine charges. Due to the strict climate of zero-tolerance for drugs in Japan, the game had to be altered before it could continue selling in Japan and be released worldwide. 

When the charges were first announced, there was some speculation that the game would never come out anywhere but Japan. I was contemplating buying a Japanese region PS4 just so I could get the game and struggle through an online translation to play. Luckily, though, I didn’t have to do that, as the problems with Hamura’s voice and motion-capture actor were resolved and the game launched smoothly on June 25, 2019, five months after the Japanese release. 

One thing I was worried about when I heard about Judgment being created was that the game would just be living off the popularity of the Yakuza franchise; Sega could have easily chosen to bog the game down with star-struck references to past games that got in the way of making a new game that stands on its own. 

As it turns out, my worries were wholly unfounded. 

Judgment is an action-RPG set in a made up red-light district in Tokyo, Japan called Kamurocho. However, condensing it down to that small sentence does the game an injustice. It’s impossible to discuss Judgment in a neat and tidy few sentences; there’s just too much going on.

The game starts out with a serious tone: a man has been murdered and you, Yagami, a former lawyer, are tasked to set out and discover the true story behind who killed the Kyo-Rei yakuza member without starting a turf war between the Tokyo clan. Sounds like a pretty serious game, right?

Well, that doesn’t take into account the numerous side stories the game is host to. A cutscene about the woman whose death Yagami feels responsible for can finish and I can immediately walk 200 meters and get a side story about a man wearing a wig who insists it’s just a hat. Then I have to chase this man’s “hat” at least four times. While Yagami’s mind must be reeling from the facts of the case he keeps uncovering, I take him out to the arcade and play claw-machine games before I’ve gotten enough plushie toys to decorate my office with. Then, I make Yagami shoot zombies for thirty minutes until I’m satisfied with the score I get. 

While the story in Judgment is a much welcome improvement compared to the often nonsensical and complicated plots of Yakuza games before it, the minigames and side stories are really what makes Judgment a masterpiece. While some of the games are difficult to play just because of my inexperience with Eastern board games like Shogi, others are as simple as drone racing or Texas Hold ‘em. Drone racing is an especially welcome addition, since it feels intuitive and fun. Previous Yakuza games had slot car racing, but players never got to control the cars, but now we get to race drones through the streets of Tokyo. 

The friendship system is another welcome addition. Whenever you help out a certain character, like your landlady, you gain progress towards being friends with them. After you help a person out enough, they start giving you items that you can use for crafting. 

While I will admit that the game is incredibly fun and I’ve sunk nearly 200 hours into the game so far, it does have its flaws. The most glaring flaw to me is the dating system. I can’t blame Sega for trying to appeal to the male audience, but I’ll still complain about it anyway. 

Much of the dating system is pleasant and doesn’t make me feel skeevy, but knowing my character is a 35-year-old guy dating a girl who’s not even old enough to drink (19) doesn’t make me feel super great. Ultimately there’s nothing truly wrong with this since they’re both adults, but I felt like the game emphasized her youth in ways that made me feel like they would have called her barely legal if they thought they could get away with it. Luckily, though, there’s three other options of women to date, but I can’t ignore such a creepy aspect of a game I otherwise love. 

Judgment truly made a name for itself outside of the Yakuza franchise. There are references to RGG’s previous games, but they don’t overshadow the experience Judgment tries to create. Further, the fact that the game is fully voiced in English is something that Sega and its localization* teams should be proud of. While I understand it would have been too difficult to get both the English and Japanese voice actors to sing karaoke and that’s why Judgment doesn’t have the minigame, I’ll still be upset I never got to take Kaito, the protagonist’s best friend, to karaoke. 

All things considered, here’s my ratings for Judgment:

Story- 9/10. While the story has many twists and turns that got me thinking hard about the clues I was given, it’s not convoluted and doesn’t make me feel like I’m losing my mind trying to understand what’s happening.

Gameplay: 10/10. Given the nature of the rich environment full of minigames, sub stories, fighting, and just being able to wander around, Judgment is overall an incredibly fun game to play. The combat system is fluid and refined and upgrades feel good to come by.

Graphics: 7/10. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks fantastic, but I’d like to remind Sega that women have pores, too. Often characters would look greasy due to how high definition things were, or the lighting would look odd in certain scenes. The Dragon Engine the game is written in is gorgeous, but it’s not without flaws.

Overall: 9/10. Judgment exceeded every expectation I had for it and surprised me with its lovable characters and interesting story. 

You can pick up a copy of Judgment from your favorite brick-and-mortar game store or from the Playstation Store. And definitely check out the official website for more information:

https://yakuza.sega.com/judgment/home.html

*The localization team is responsible for translating and capturing the intent of the original Japanese text. It can be an especially difficult task given the amount of sayings that have no direct translation into English.

Talking BEEP with Visiting Writer David Wanczyk

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Black Rock & Sage had the opportunity to chat with writer David Wanczyk, author of Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind. Wanczyk will be visting ISU Wednesday, November 7th. For a schedule of events (all free and open to the public), please see the press release. In the meantime, checkout our Q&A!


  1. From your publishing background, it’s obvious that you’re a fan of sports. So, what made you decide to take that love for the game(s) and write about it?

DW (David Wanczyk): By the time I started pushing 30, my main childhood obsession—sports—had started to wane in importance for me. But I missed the preoccupation. At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling that the do-or-die chatter that surrounded baseball, in particular, was missing something—adult perspective. When I became a parent, it was a little bit hard to be exercised about an error or a late-season trade. In Beep baseball—baseball for the blind and visually impaired—the perspective, the clear feeling of what matters, is on display at every moment. It’s still about winning, but the deeper story is there, too. So the game seemed like a way for me to get back into sports but also to think about the adversities that we face and how they impact the things we love to do. Being obsessed with beep ball was like being obsessed with life.

  1. How do you pitch Beep, your first book, to potential readers?

DW: Beep is full of colorful characters doing something improbable. They’ll shatter your expectations.

  1. When did you first learn about the world of blind baseball?

DW: In 2012, I saw a very small item in Harper’s Magazine that listed the rules. But it didn’t include any of the history or anything about the star players. In a way, it defined the sport as nothing more than a curiosity, but I was pretty sure it would all be more complicated than that. I ended up on a road trip with ISU professor, Matt VanWinkle—a great baseball fan in his own right—and we took in the Beep Baseball World Series in Iowa. The clash between the Austin Blackhawks and Taiwan Homerun was one of the most memorable sporting events I’d ever seen, and it spurred me to keep following them.

  1. It can be difficult to write about disability (especially in sports) and avoid inspiration-porn territory. Was this a challenge you encountered?

DW: Right, yes. And I’m not sure I did it right, but I always had that canned “inspiration” story in mind as something—not quite to avoid, but to write against. Because the game is inspiring, but labeling something that way can be an easy escape from thinking about it with any sort of depth. It’s 5:00 News thinking, and it misses the fact that these inspiring guys might be jerks, or might have zany senses of humor, or might actually have sadnesses that they’re not yet triumphantly overcoming. My first article after that road trip I took was called “Don’t Just Be Inspired By Beep Baseball.” I wanted people to see it as an exciting game with multifaceted participants.

  1. Outside of the book world, what are some of your hobbies?

DW: I like playing guitar; I like watching Muppet movies; and I like being silly with my kids—rhyming challenges, puns, improvised characters such as “Daddy Porpoise.” I also like fading into the oblivion of an evening by reading the same news coverage I’ve already read three times. And by “like,” I mean, “don’t like but do instead of those other things quite a bit of the time.”

  1. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

DW: Assuming someone knows who I am—a big assumption—and they know I’ve written a book—maybe an even bigger one—I think people might be surprised to know that I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a writer. I’ve built up that term my whole life: a writer is someone who is absolutely dedicated and magically wise. But sometimes my dedication fades, and my moments of magical wisdom don’t come as quickly as they should. But maybe a writer is someone who works even when not feeling total dedication and simply tries to create the circumstances for magical wisdom. Who’s always (or often) thinking about the stories we’re dominated by. Maybe in that sense I’ve sometimes been a writer. But I’m still trying to earn the title.

  1. If you could have dinner or drinks with anyone in the world—dead or alive—who would it be and why?

DW: I enjoy my wife’s company, especially when she thinks my jokes are funny. Also, John Ritter.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring editors and/or writers?

DW: I’m not sure if this will work for everyone, but I’ve been most successful producing work when I make myself write for 30 minutes a day. I can find myself in ruts where I don’t write if I don’t follow that method. And usually the 30 minutes expands because you get over that initial fear and into the fun-and-honing part.

In terms of putting writing out into the world . . . everyone gets rejected. Please remember that tired human beings with various tastes and pressures and budget concerns and voices over their shoulders might be making those decisions, and so I invite you to come up with some (possibly profane) affirmation that allows you to consider those rejections a certain kind of step forward.

On editing, my job isn’t to be a better writer than someone I’m working with, but to ask the questions a reader might. Seems silly to declare or demand something of a creative person, but equally silly not to try to work on a story or poem if you see a possible improvement.

Beyond that, when it comes to smaller publications, we have a great opportunity to make an impact on the writers we’re working with, and we can promote our journals’ work in ways we couldn’t have ten years ago—a couple lines on twitter or facebook can reach people. We should take advantage of that and build up the writing and writers we like.

One person reading a good poem, and one poet hearing positive feedback on what they’re doing. . .that seems to me like a social good that’s worth the work. Then we multiply that a few dozen times.

Also, run a spell-check.

  1. Besides New Ohio Review, of course, what are some literary journals that we should be reading?

DW: I really like Gulf Coast, which comes out of Houston. They have incredible energy and consistently try new things—whether it’s video, audio, supporting readings, running interesting contests. And their taste is good!

Ohio journals Brevity, Mid-American Review, Cincinnati Review, and Quarter After Eight are worth a second and third look.

  1. Finally, can you tell us about any projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the future?

DW: I have a pipe-dreamish idea for another labor-intensive nonfiction book that would require me to learn about an entire subculture and even develop new skills in my own life. I think it would require reading at least twenty books, taking lots of trips, engaging in fruitless practice sessions on the above mentioned skills, and spending evenings interviewing the subjects instead of putting my kids to bed. Right now, this seems daunting, so I think it’s more likely that I will first write the 45-page YA classic, Puberty Stinks: A Winston Stercus Mystery

But that other nonfiction thing? Look for that in 2023.