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The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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Happy Equinox Birthday, King and Wells!

Happy Birthday, Stephen King and HG Wells!

written by Kerry E.B. Black

KingThe Autumn Equinox is a good birthday for a writer, apparently.

Today, Stephen King, horror expert extraordinaire, celebrates. With over 50 novels and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction works to his credit, Stephen King holds such a special place in the literary world that he’s a household name. On 10 September, 2014, President Obama presented him with the NEA’s National Medal of Arts. Not a bad birthday gift, eh? Born in 1947 in Scarborough, Maine and raised by a self-sufficient mother, Stephen King credits his wife, Tabitha, for the completion of his first novel, Carrie. (He had thrown the beginning into the trash. Tabitha retrieved it and encouraged her husband to complete it.) His works have seen adaptions for big and little screen. He’s even acted within some of the adaptations. He published several works under the pen name Richard Bachman. Stephen King’s garnered prestigious awards and encouraged new writers. He said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

Wells“Nothing leads so straight to futility as literary ambitions without systematic knowledge,” said another literary great. Also born on this day in 1866 was H.G. Wells, the Father of Futurism and Science Fiction. Herbert George Wells published such brilliant works as The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds. Hundreds of essays, articles, nonfiction works joined this Londoner’s expansive body of fiction works. His writing explored issues of social class and economic disparity and predicted the rise of major cities and development of suburbs, economic globalization, and military conflict. Many of his tales inspired theatrical and silver screen productions. Most famous was the 1938 presentation of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles that inspired panic throughout America. HG Wells died 13 August, 1946.

Also born today were Chuck Jones of Bug Bunny fame (The Warner Brothers Halloween specials bring macabre glee to many) and Ghost buster Bill Murray.

*First published at Halloween Forevermore

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Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft

Happy birthday, H.P. Lovecraft

written by Kerry E.B. Black

One of the twentieth century’s most influential horror HP Lovecraftwriters, H.P. Lovecraft, would have celebrated his 128th birthday today, if he hadn’t taken Death’s hand to start a new adventure on the Ides of March, 1937. (Howard Phillips Lovecraft was almost 47 years old when he died.)

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft began writing horror stories at the age of eight.  It wasn’t until he turned 31 that he published in a professional magazine. Three years later, he became a regular contributor to “Weird Tales” magazine. Unfortunately, this ingenious author of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow Out of Time,” and “At the Mountains of Madness” found supporting himself with the written word illusive.

As a child, Lovecraft experienced hardships. When Lovecraft was three years old, his father Winfield Scott Lovecraft succumbed to psychosis and was institutionalized. Winfield remained in the Butler Hospital until his death in 1898. Young Lovecraft recited poetry by the age of three and wrote complete poems by six. His grandfather Whipple Van Buren Phillips encouraged Lovecraft to read such classics as “The Arabian Nights” and “Bulfinch’s Age of Fable,” and he retold gothic tales of terror to his grandson. Lovecraft suffered Night Terrors.

Lovecraft started school late, and he missed a lot of school due to illness. He left school in 1908 without graduating after having a nervous breakdown caused in part by his aversion to mathematics. After ending his academic pursuits, he lived for five years isolated with his mother. He wrote poetry and in 1913, a pulp magazine published a critique of Fred Jackson’s love stories. The ensuing debate garnered the attention of the United Amateur Press Association, and he joined the UAPA in 1914. He published a story, “The Alchemist” in “The United Amateur” in 1916. He mentored and corresponded with many contemporary writers, including Robert Bloch (Psycho).

His Mother died in Butler Hospital in May, 1921. For two years, he married Sonia Greene and moved to New York. After, he returned to Providence. There, he lived in a Victorian house on Barnes Street. (He used the address in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”) He fostered a friendship with Harry Houdini.

He died impoverished of cancer. In 1977, his fans bought a tombstone of his own in Swan Point Cemetery. Inscribed thereon is the quote, “I am Providence.”

H.P. Lovecraft’s writing continues to influence writers, including Stephen King. He is called upon by modern writers to serve as a character of cunning, occult knowledge, and guile.

*first published at Halloween Forevermore

Birthmarks’ mystique

Marked Child

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

Although doctors know a birthmark are a clumping of blood vessels, heightened melanocytes, smoothed muscles, keratinocytes, or fibroblasts, they don’t know why they occur. Thus, human nature fills in the gaps with folk impressions and superstition.

“Maternal impression” sprung up to explain the occurrence of birthmarks. If a mother-to-be experienced a strong emotion during pregnancy, her baby might bare a mark representing the mom’s feelings. Trans-positioning of sorts involved a pregnant woman beholding something unpleasant resulting in an ugly mark upon their unborn child. Women were therefore protected and surrounded by peace and beauty when in their “delicate state.” In parts of the Middle East, some believed touching a pregnant woman’s stomach during a solar eclipse or time of a comet passing resulted in marring the child’s skin.

Other theories for birthmarks involved diet. A mom-to-be had to monitor her cravings. Eating too many strawberries resulted in red marks, some thought, while indulging in chocolate resulted in a café-colored spot. Beets, jams, and jellies could cause marks on the infant in port-wine hues. However, another theory involves not giving in to cravings, pointing to a woman’s intuition. If a woman craved something, it was best to give her the desired food. If not, the child’s skin might bear the mark of the denial.

Birthmarks could indicate the child’s future. Marks on the right brought prosperity, while those on the left bore challenges. However, a birthmark on the left foot indicated intelligence, wanderlust, and adventure, so even the folk wisdom is confused. A birthmark could even provide a clue to a past life, according to some cultures. A hemangioma could indicate how a person met their end before they reincarnated.

Some feel birthmarks indicate blessings. The word for birthmark in Italian, Spanish, and Arabic are all related to the word for “wishes.” They can indicate divine favor. Thus, touching a birthmark conveys good luck. Others feel the birth-marked child is tainted by evil as evidenced by the unnatural marking.

Birthmarks, be they referred to as nevus, mother’s marks, beauty marks or stains, strawberry marks, stork bites, or angel’s kisses, can be viewed as an enhancement of the child’s natural beauty, or a detriment or blemish.  

Skin is idiosyncratic. Areas of heightened pigment can be any shade of brown, rust, plum, or strawberry in color. Some fade or disappear with time and aging, while others last into adulthood. Cindy Crawford, Mikhail Gorbachev, and New Orleans Saint Drew Brees all bear their marks with pride. They can appear on any patch of skin, head to adorably plump toesies, and since about 80 percent of babies are born with them, and since they are benign, embrace the uniquely marked child!

 

Happy birthday remembrance of George A. Romero!

Birthday of the Zombie Master!

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Born in the Bronx, New York, on 4 February, 1940, George A. Romero began his film-making career with his 8mm at the age of 14. He studied at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon University and filmed a tonsillectomy segment for “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” before founding “Image Ten Productions” with nine of his friends. His most famous film, the black-and-white “Night of the Living Dead” ripped onto the American social conscience in 1968, changing the definition of zombie forever. (Hitherto, Hollywood presented zombies as people under the thrall of a powerful sorcerer. Romero’s zombies hungered for brains.)

This writer, director, editor, cinematographer, and actor has been involved in over twenty film projects, including “Dead” sequels, “Martin,” and “Knight Rider.” He collaborated with Stephen King on 1982’s “Creepshow,” 1988’s “Monkey Shines,” and “1993’s “The Dark Half,” and his flair for the macabre proved an invaluable asset on the set of television’s “Tales from the Darkside” from the mid 1980’s. He’s even acted. For example, he served as one of Hannibal Lecter’s jailers in “The Silence of the Lambs.” He authored and co-authored several books, spearheaded DC Comic’s “Toe Tags” and Marvel’s “Empire of the Dead,” and stars as himself in video games.

His works often contain a frequent metaphoric commentary including consumerism and the collapse of the family unit. This sneaky social conscience and skill in film making is acknowledged in his influence of other filmmakers such as Tarantino and his friend fx master Tom Savini. He was awarded the “Mastermind” award by Spike TV in 2009.

Mr. Romero died in July, 2017 after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.” He passed while resting near his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero and listening to the score of one of his favorite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man” according to a family statement made to “The Times.” He lived 77 years.

 

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe!

edgar-allan-poe-portraitOnce upon a January dreary, while she labored, weak and weary, there came a gentle cry into the chill Boston air…

Born the second son of actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe, Jr. in 1809, Edgar Poe became an orphan by the time he was two when his father abandoned the family and his mother died. John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia took him in and kept him until he grew to adulthood. Although they never formally adopted Edgar, they gave him the name “Edgar Allan Poe” and had him baptized in the Episcopal Church. During Poe’s formative years, the family travelled to Scotland and England. Upon his return to the United States, he served as a lieutenant of the Richmond Youth Honor Guard when the Marquis de Lafayette visited. Poe attended the University of Virginia for one semester, majoring in ancient and modern languages, but left when he couldn’t pay for higher education. Using an alias, “Edgar A. Perry,” and lying about his age, Poe enlisted in the Army in 1827 and published a collection of poetry “Tamerlane and Other Poems” as an anonymous “Bostonian.” He obtained the highest rank for a non-commissioned officer, but he ended his enlistment early.

After his foster mother died, Poe moved in with his Baltimore relatives, the Clemm’s, published a second book, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems,” and entered West Point. His relationship with his foster father deteriorated, and Poe was disowned. He was court martialed in 1831 and pursued the life of a poet and writer. Fellow West Point Cadets helped finance his third book titled “Poems,” which was printed by Elam Bliss of New York. He placed prose in journals and won a prize for his short story “MS Found in a Bottle.”

27-year-old Poe married his 14-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm on 16 May, 1836. She died of tuberculosis in 1847, two years after the publication of his famous poem “The Raven.” Alcoholism plagued the Poe family. Edgar’s elder brother died because of alcohol in the early 1830’s, and Edgar himself lost positions due to drunkenness. He hoped to edit and produce a literary journal, but he died of unknown caused on 7 October, 1849 before he published.

Despite detractors such as Griswold and Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe left a legacy of writing, much of it gothic. Poe is credited with penning the first detective stories. To this day, Edgar Allan Poe’s iconic works influence popular culture in the United States and beyond. Several of his residences are preserved as museums, and The Mystery Writers of America present The Edgar, an annual award for distinguished writing established in his honor.

Halloween Forevermore remembers this amazing writer on his birthday.

“And so, being young and dipped in folly, I fell in love with melancholy.” Edgar Allan Poe

A Witch for Epiphany

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

In Italy, presents are delivered to children on the eve of 5 January, Epiphany (also known as Three Kings Day) by a benevolent crone named La Befana. Children tidied up their rooms and hung socks from their bedposts, hoping to earn little gifts from the Christmas Witch. For the well-behaved, La Befana left figs, honey, dates, candy, and other small gifts, but for the naughty, she left onions, garlic, coal, or a switch. Although families left a glass of wine and a plate of food for the hag, any who dared spy on her work received a thump on the head from her ever-present broom. If feeling generous, La Befana sweeps the abodes, as though sweeping away the previous years’ troubles.

Some historians theorize La Befana derives from the Roman goddess Strenia. Strenia presided over the distribution of New Year’s gifts of fruits and sweets in ancient Roman households.

La BefanaAnother legend places her in Bethlehem when Mary bore Jesus. The magi stopped at her house to ask if she knew where to find the new-born king. She did not know of Jesus’ whereabouts, but she offered hospitality to the travelers. La Befana’s reputation for excellent housekeeping saw her rise early to begin chores. The grateful magi asked La Befana to join them in their quest. “Alas, I am too busy,” she replied, and they proceeded following the Star to find Jesus. Later in the day, La Befana reconsidered and sought the magi, but she could not find them or the King.

The tradition states that La Befana regretted missing meeting the holy family, and so on the night of the magi, Epiphany, she travels in search of him. She leaves presents for good children because in them she sees the spirit of God. She hope to warn the wicked from their bad courses with her messages.

Hanging stockings for La Befana

Old lady puppets resembling La Befana often are cast into fires on the night after the New Year in Italy, as though representing the old year’s leaving.

Though since WWII Santa delivers presents to the kids in Italy on Christmas Eve, the witch remains in favor. Throughout Italy and in places with dense Italian populations, parades and performances celebrate the crone. As far away as Toronto finds La Befana choirs singing the praises of the popular Christmas witch.

*First published at Halloween Forevermore

Submitted for Your Approval: A Tribute to Rod Serling

Submitted for Your Approval: A Tribute to Rod Serling

written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination—your next stop, ‘The Twilight Zone!’” With these iconic words, the rich-voiced Rod Serling introduced “The Twilight Zone.”

If he still lived, Rod Serling would be 93 years old this 25 December. Alas, this master of the anthology-style “Twilight Zone” (1959-1964) and “Night Gallery” (1969) television shows died in 1975.

An American screenwriter, play write, television producer, and narrator from New York took stood against censorship in his lifetime. In high school, he wrote for his high school newspaper and joined the military the day after graduation, serving in the Pacific during WWII. Private Serling received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal. His later writing reflected his realization of the unpredictability of life after serving. He said, “I was bitter about everything and at loose ends when I got out of the service. I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest.”

He earned a bachelor’s of arts degree from Antioch College in Ohio. He worked in radio, film, and, of course, television, accumulating numerous Emmys, Golden Globes, as well as the Edgar Allan Poe and Christopher Awards. His writing was often recognized the Writer’s Guild of America.

Rod Serling's Night Gallery

The popularity of “The Twilight Zone” found resurrection in a comic, a magazine, two later television series, and a film. Rod Serling’s image visited the television show, “The Medium,” and his likeness appeared on a US Postage stamp. His name graces the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

To celebrate his life, I plan to re-watch the seasonal “Twilight Zone” special “Night of the Meek” and recall my thrilling trips on the Tower of Terror in Walt Disney World.

“As long as they talk about you, you’re not really dead, as long as they speak your name, you continue. A legend doesn’t die, just because the man dies.” From “A Game Of Pool,” written by George Clayton Johnson, aired on The Twilight Zone, October 31, 1961.

*First published at Halloween Forevermore in 1994.

Happy Birthday, Shirley Jackson

Happy Birthday, Shirley Jackson

I wished to share my enthusiasm for an amazing, versatile author, Shirley Jackson.
Her amazing short story “The Lottery” provided my introduction to Ms. Jackson’s writing when I was but an enthusiastic junior high student. Setting a brutal ancient rite in small-town America haunts me to this day. “The Lottery” appeared in the “New Yorker” in 1948 and created an unprecedented stir. It was named the O. Henry Prize Story in 1949.
hill houseShirley Jackson’s body of written work is varied and plentiful. Her hundreds of short stories found homes in most of the magazines of the time. Subject matter varied from “real life housewife” stories to thrilling horror tales. “Louisa, Please Come Home” earned a nomination for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1961. In 1966, she won Best Short Story from Mystery Writers of America for “Possibility of Evil.”
She penned children’s literature including The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956), Nine Magic Wishes (1963), and The Bad Children, based on Hansel and Gretel, which was adapted as a play. She wrote what she called “disrespectful memoirs of her children” called Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.
Her novels include The Road Through the Wall, Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest (1954), and The Sundial. Her We Have Always Lived in the Castle garnered the accolade “One of ‘Time’ Magazine’s 10 Best Novels in 1962.” The story was successfully adapted for stage.the lottery
Stephen King and Neil Gaiman acknowledge her influence on their work. Mr. King calls her novel, The Haunting of Hill House (published in 1958 and adapted for the silver screen at least twice) “one of the best ghost stories.” It was nominated for the National Book Award.
On 14 December, 1916 Shirley Jackson was born in Burlingame, California. She attended school in Rochester, New York, where she met her husband, literary critic Stanley Edgar Hayman. The couple moved with their family to North Bennington, Vermont. She died on 8 August, 1965 of heart failure at the age of 48.

The Ghosts of Winter

VGS 2The Ghosts of Winter

written by Kerry E.B. Black

*First published at Halloween Forevermore

At this “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” such crooners as Andy Williams promise “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”. Certainly, Charles Dickens in the Victorian era put his pen to good use, writing fictions including his beloved “A Christmas Carol” peopled with ghosts and spirits, but he followed ancestral examples in so doing.

Washington Irving mentioned listening to tales of “popular superstitions and legends” in his 1819 “Sketchbook.” William Shakespeare incorporated the supernatural into his theatricals. In his “Winter’s Tale,” it is said, “…a sad tale’s best for winter; I have one of sprites and goblins…” (Winter’s tales are sometimes synonymous with ‘old wives’ tales.’) Christopher Marlow’s Barnabus in his “Jew of Malta” from 1589 said, “Now I remember those old women’s words, who in my wealth would tell me winter tales and speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night.”

Some scholars point to telling such supernatural stories as echoes from ancient times, when rituals and rites shaped the activities of the midwinter. Ancient Celts and Northmen set fires and scared one another with their mystical adventures.

Perhaps something in the deeper and longer periods of darkness of the season inspires writers toward Gothic sensibilities and Romantic inclinations. H.P. Lovecraft wrote an account of Yule horror called “The Festival.” In 1904, “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” was published by M.R. James. The impeccable “Turn of the Screw” by Henry James begins with a recollection at a holiday gathering. “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You,” “A School Story,” and “Number 13” all have aspects of the festive season involved as well.

Victorian ghost storiesI’ve recently heard of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, with its religious recitations and occult rituals. Richard Darby edited “Ghosts for Christmas” in 1988, Peter Haining “Christmas Spirits” in 1983, and Horrified Press just released “One Hell of a Christmas” in 2014.

“There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas, something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts…” rightly said Jerome K. Jerome in his preface to “Told After Supper.”

So perhaps is behooves us to pull a chair close to the hearth, snuggle together with a hot cuppa, and nod to our ancestors with a spooky remembrance. Thus I wish you Happy holidays to all, and to all a good fright!

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