“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.

Press Release: Visiting Writer David Wanczyk

 

Released by Idaho State University                                                                October 25, 2018

Contact: The Department of English and Philosophy 282-2478, isu.edu/English

beepPoster

POCATELLO —On Wednesday, November 7th, Idaho State University’s Department of English and Philosophy will host Visiting Writer David Wanczyk, author of Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind.

During his visit, Wanczyk will hold a public reading and give a talk at ISU’s Diversity Center. Additionally, Wanczyk—who is editor of the prestigious literary journal, New Ohio Review—will attend a Q&A session with Black Rock & Sage, ISU’s journal of the creative arts, and others interested in literary publishing and editorialship. All events are free and the public is welcome to attend.

Schedule/location of events:

Diversity Resource Center (Rendezvous 129):          12 pm, Conversation on Beep

Liberal Arts 256:                                                         3 pm, Literary Editing Conversation/Q&A

Bengal Café (Pond Student Union)                            6 pm, Public Reading

A 2018 Junior Library Guild selection, Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind explores the history and the present state of an adaptive sport with an increasingly global reach, and tracks in detail the fortunes of teams and individual players competing intensely in the pursuit of a complex range of athletic, psychological and social ambitions. In the L.A Review of Books, Joshua Jackson describes Beep as “a work of sports reportage. . .but also some fine travel writing, a history of the relatively new game, an exploration of an underrepresented culture, and even a memoir. [Wanczyk] gives beep its due respect as a sport, and he reveals its heroes and goats not only as athletes, but as humans.”

David Wanczyk holds a PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University. He has written extensively on novel sports for publications such as Salon and Slate. He has also contributed essays, poems, and criticism to venues as diverse as Woolf Studies Annual and the food journal Alimentum. He is the editor of New Ohio Review and director of special programs for the English department at Ohio University, where he presently teaches.

Wanczyk’s visit is made possible by support from the Idaho Humanities Council, ISU’s Department of English and Philosophy, ISU’s Disability Services, ISU’s Diversity Resource Center, and Black Rock & Sage. For more information, contact ISU’s Department of English and Philosophy at (208) 241-2478 or schubeth@isu.edu.

The Idaho Humanities Council is a State-based Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

Interview with Mari Christmas

This week we chat with writer Mari Christmas, who will be doing a reading at Portneuf Valley Brewery, Thursday, October 18, at 5:00pm. We hope you can join us!

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  1. How did you get your start in writing?

MC (Mari Christmas): Through a lot of false starts. The first was in high school, after reading Kurt Vonnegut – even now I think it’s impossible to read him without thinking he’s having a lot of fun. I had struggled with writing for so much of my early education (I failed every state-mandated writing test to the point where I had to sit in a special classroom writing five-paragraph essays on my favorite day of the week, and other horrible mind-numbing, deviant-building stuff). I wrote my first short story soon after that, using what I learned from reading Vonnegut. Then, my mother, even without reading my story or telling me, sent the piece off to the National Young Arts Foundation (they were having a short story contest for high school students – and my mother wanted desperately for me to go to college but didn’t think anyone would take me). It was a draft, and it received honorable mention! I think we were both equally surprised, especially when they sent me money. After that, I quit, totally, until I was halfway through undergrad. By that point I had built up all this internal pressure inside myself, and it was too overwhelming. It took me another five years to get over that.

  1. What influences your writing? Specific writers? Environment? Current events?

MC: Everything. I’m always listening for and seeking material. It’s a good way to be in the world, always listening, mining for another vein. Sometimes I listen to story podcasts or to lots of older novels using Librivox. I get into moods. I do a lot of walking around. I surround myself with books that I want a particular story to sound like – just to get that voice in my head. I’m drawn to writers who talk frankly, who write clean, strange sentences (Grace Paley, Etgar Keret, Nick Flynn, Jerzy Kosinski, J. D. Salinger, etc.). Not to mention, a lot of my personal anxieties play out while I write. Tom Waits talks about following the sound of the sound, but I wonder if I am, instead, chasing a feeling down, trying to get my hands on it so I can turn it over and really look at it.

  1. Do you find that there are recurring themes or questions that your work explores?

MC: I’m interested in the end of things (death, marriages, relationships) – like really, what happens afterwards? How do we go on? We always seem to. Overall, I work in two modes, one more serious than the other. It’s been a good balance, and I need both – the light and the dark. At the moment I feel I am in some sort of transition-period in my writing. I don’t know what it means yet.

  1. Is it difficult to wear both the editor and writer hats?

MC: Editing (whether for an issue or through teaching) other writers has served me well – and as a result I’m particularly brutal with my own edits and appreciative of receiving criticism from other editors. It’s about shaping material rather than saying that a sentence was “bad” or “good” or fixing grammar. If a section or sentence is not serving the rest of the narrative, it can and should go. End stop. Everything should be in service of the voice, the story – and usually I am at the point where I am desperate for feedback because I’m at the end of my own rope. So yes, editing has helped me get to that place where I’m absolutely looking for fresh horses, and by the time I ask a friend or colleague for comments, I’m totally on-board and grateful and willing to try whatever might get a story back on the trail. I also really trust a good reader and editor. They honestly have better things to do, so if they reach out, I really listen.

  1. What is some of the best writing advice you have been given?

MC: It’s more an exercise – one that I was taught early in my MFA by the amazing Valerie Sayers at the University of Notre Dame. I didn’t think it had such a profound effect on me until I noticed I wrote much better after having done this for a full semester. I use this in all my classes. It’s so simple and easy: basically, every time you read a book/story/whatever, you must write down the sentences that you love or find technically helpful. I’ve done this for years now, and when I can’t think, I go back and use them as templates.

  1. What are some of your favorite literary journals?

MC: I’m a huge fan of Joyland, Fence, The Literary Review (TLR), n+1, Cosmonauts Avenue, and, of course, the Paris Review. While I read a lot of established journals, newer journals take more risks so I love reading what they have to offer. I also love to look at the winning entries for contests judged specifically by writers I admire. Most journals hand those stories out for free online.

  1. Outside of writing, what are some of your hobbies?

MC: I draw. I love making and touching things with my hands, and I really want to get into woodworking. Last winter I started cross-country skiing. I need solitude to hear myself think. I like the winter, it feels like a hobby – liking winter – especially if you were raised in the south.

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

MC: I don’t play board games.

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

MC: Hands down, I would love to meet a dead Grace Paley. I bet she would offer a good perspective of the after life.

  1. Finally, can you tell us about any projects we can expect to see from you in the future?

MC: I’m currently rewriting a book draft. Let’s hope it’s that.

FILM REVIEW: Ari Aster’s Hereditary

Ari Aster’s Hereditary is family drama with a splash of King Paimon. Hereditary does utilize those familiar horror tropes (everything aside from cheap jump scares), but given this family drama first, horror film second, Aster manages a creepy film revolving around the mysterious past of Annie’s recently deceased mother and grandmother to both Charlie and Peter.

By mentioning King Paimon I fear I’ve let the demon out of the closet and spoiled the surprise, but what makes Hereditary a successful horror film is Aster’s ability to first focus entirely on the family and their relationship with one another then slowly erode that bond due to character flaws and apparent superficial coincidences. The obvious cultish undertones does not result in predictability.

The story takes place somewhere in rural Utah and within a single household. By cinematic design, the film’s mise en scène simulates the types of Annie’s interior/exterior miniature model building, suggesting that they themselves are influenced/molded by a higher power, which is evident by the deceased grandmother’s lingering presence. The film shifts perspectives from Annie, the mother, to Charlie, the reserved daughter, and finally to Peter, an anxious and disillusioned teen. By changing focus, unearthing the differences in these character’s relationship between one another, and slowly heightening the demonic/cultish forces at play, the film creates an unpredictable storyline with unpredictable characters.

The dysfunctional family drama can easily be overplayed within Hereditary, but as an audience member the horror is heightened once you realize you are rooting for and against characters that are and are not entirely to blame as they become second victims of past and present demonic rituals. While watching Hereditary you are unaware of the pillory you are caught in and unaware of the film’s slow burn towards an unforgettable climax that will make you question: who in the hell is King Paimon?

Review by Richard Thornell