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The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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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

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!

King of Cameos

King of Cameos

written by Kerry E.B. Black

Not only is Stephen King a prolific writer with fifty novels and hundreds of short stories to his credit. His non-fiction, columns, essays, poetry, and comics garner praise, and he additionally writes screenplays. He’s even made cameos in some of the adaptations of his stories and books.

His first published novel, “Carrie,” also became his first to be adapted to a film in 1976. Stanley Kubrick famously changed “The Shining” in 1980. “Stand By Me,” “Misery,” “Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Green Mile” became major motion pictures, while “Salem’s Lot” (twice), “It,” “The Tommyknockers,” “The Stand,” “The Langoliers,” “Storm of the Century,” “Rose Red,” and “Bag of Bones” became made for television miniseries. Stephen King created television series, too, including “Golden Years” (1991), “The Dead Zone” (2002-2007), “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” (2004), “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” (2006), “Haven” (2010), and “Under the Dome” (2013).

Of the over twenty adaptations of his works for film or television, Stephen King appeared in many. Also, he acted in a couple of established tv show episodes. Follows is a list of some of his appearances on silver and small screen:

Creep Show                       (1982 movie)   starred in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”

Maximum Overdrive      (1986 movie)            uncredited appearance as man at cash point

Creep Show 2                    (1987 movie)            played a truck driver in “The Hitchhiker”

Pet Semetary                    (1989 movie)                      played a minister

The Golden Years            (1991 tv)                              played a bus driver

Sleepwalkers                   (1992 movie)                      played a cemetery caretaker

The Stand                        (1994 tv miniseries)         played Teddy Weizak

The Langoliers                   (1995 tv miniseries)         played Tom Holby

Thinner                               (1996 movie)                      played Dr. Bangor

The Shining                         (1997 tv miniseries)         played the band leader

Storm of the Century  (1999 tv miniseries) as lawyer in & a reporter on a broken tv

Frazier                      (2000 tv series episode “Mary Christmas”)          played Brian

The Simpsons           (2000 tv series episode titled “Insane Clown Poppy”) “played” himself

Rose Red                     (2002 tv miniseries) uncredited appearance as pizza delivery guy

Kingdom Hospital             (2004 tv episode finale) played Johnny B. Goode

Fever Pitch                         (2005 movie)  himself throwing out first pitch at a Red Sox Game

Gotham Café                     (2005 movie)   Mr. Ring

Diary of the Dead             (2007 movie voiceover) news reader

Sons of Anarchy                (2010 tv episode “Caregiver”) played Richard Bachman

Stephen King is scheduled to appear on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on 11 September, 2015. He and his wife Tabitha also acted in George Romero’s 1981 “Knight Riders,” portraying Hoagieman and his wife.

Said Mr. King, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Stephen King lives by this motto. His considerable talent is supplemented by dedication to his craft and a desire to experience life in his own creative way, be it through participating in the band “Rock Bottom Remainders,” acting, writing, or private pursuits.

*First published at Halloween Forevermore

Article: Jane Austen’s Gothic

janepictJane Austen had a dark passion.

She read Gothic romance novels. In fact, she read some obscure Gothic literature, even works written in German.

These atmospheric tales of the supernatural provided a springboard for her satirical “Northanger Abbey” published in 1818. This novel sees Isabella Thorpe recommending a list of gothic classics to her friend Catherine Morland. The impressionable young woman begins to recognize in her associates gothic victims and villains.

For years, Austen’s readers assumed the “horrid novels” the girls read together were mostly the invention of the author’s fertile imagination. However, historian Michael Sadleir researched the titles and rediscovered them.

First mentioned in the exchange between Isabella and Catherine are two well-known gothic gems by Ann Radcliffe, “The Mysteries of Udolpho” and “The Italian.” The other titles provided the basis of Mr. Sadleir’s literary investigation. They include “The Castle of Wolfenbach” (1793) and “The Mysterious Warning – A German Tale” (1796) by Eliza Parsons, “The Necromancer, or, The Tale of the Black Forest” (1794) by Ludwig Flammenberg, “The Midnight Bell” (1796) by Francis Lathom, “The Orphan of the Rhine” (1798) by Eleanor Sleath, and “Horrid Mysteries” (1796) by Marquis de Grosso.

These rediscovered stories were bound and reprinted first in 1968 by The Folio Society and again in 2005 by Voran Court Books. “Northanger Abbey” therefore proves even the proper and intellectual Jane Austen had a taste for the macabre.

Away Too Long

Another http://www.carrotranch.com 99 word prompt has inspired exploration of Ward’s predicament in my novel-in-progress, “Wolves at Bay.”

 

Away Too Long

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

Ward relied on memories as frayed and faded as an old coverlet. Remembered roads looked unfamiliar. Street names sounded foreign. As he struggled to recognize a landmark or some continuity of recollection, the thread unraveled further. He squinted, envisioning younger trees and buildings without patina.

A child carrying a wicker basket rushed ahead. Ward called, “Pardon me? Is this the way to Accalia?”

As he backed away, Ward imagined in his upturned eyes a resemblance to an old school companion. The child clutched his basket. “Can’t talk to strangers.” He ran.

Ward sighed. “Guess I’ve been away too long.”

 

F is for Flax

F is for Flax

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

october_medieval_gardening

Humans have harvested flax since ancient history. Archeologists discovered flax remnants in Stone Age lake-side dwellings in Switzerland. The ancient Egyptians created fine linens from flax fibers, as well as the wrappings for royal mummies. Phoenicians apparently brought linen to Gaul and Britain, and the Romans spread linen production through their empire. The plant most likely originated in the Mediterranean region.

Flax is mentioned in the Bible several times. Leviticus tells priests wore garments made of flax. Exodus instructs the devout on using twined flax linen to create curtains for the tabernacle. When men were sent to scout out Jericho in the Book of Joshua, the men hid under stacks of flax. Ezekiel describes a sail made of fine flaxen linen from Egypt, and the dead are wrapped with flaxen linen before their internment in the tomb.

Walt Whitman’s “Faces” mentions using flax for fabric production in “Faces” (“…Her ample gown is of cream-hued linen, hand grandsons raised the flax, and her granddaughters spun it with the distaff and the wheel…”) and again in “A Carol of Harvest for 1867.” (“…Clip the wool of California or Pennsylvania, cut the flax in the Middle States…”) Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Work and Contemplation,” Jonathan Swift in “To Stella Who Collected and Transcribed His Poems,” and Countee Cullen in “Heritage” mention working with flax, as did Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his tribute to “Keats.” Ralph Waldo Emerson lists it among important plants on a farm in “Hamatreya.”

Judy Grahn in “Helen in Hollywood” takes a different approach to the plant, describing a starlet with the line “… her flesh is like flax, a living fiber…” In the Christian Hymn 125, Christ’s compassion for the weak and tempted is described thus: “…He’ll never quench the smoking flax, but raise it to a flame; the bruised reed he never breaks…”

The flower of the plant is described by Longfellow in “The Wreck of the Hesperus” (…blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax, her cheeks like the dawn of day, and her bosom white as the hawthorn, that ope in the month of May…”) as did A.E. Housman in “Bring in This Timeless Grave to Throw.” (…but if the Christmas field is kept awns the last gleaner overstept, or shriveled flax whose flower is blue, a single season, never two…”)

Producers grow two types of flax, seed flax which is grown for its linseed oil, and fiber flax grown for the fibers in its stems. Linseed meal is fed to livestock, and chickens fed a diet of flax produce high omega-3 eggs. Flax is included in some skin treatments and makeup products, and consuming it is believed to keep human hearts healthy. Linseed oil is used in oil painting and varnish. Flax continues to be made into textiles, ropes, and papers. In fact, these days, a major flax paper product is cigarette paper.

AtoZParticipant2017

D is for Dandelion

For 2017’s A to Z challenge, I’ll write about herbs and plants in literature. I hope to include information about their uses and our ancestors’ beliefs regarding them.

winged-dandelion

D is for Dandelion

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Delightful dandelion, tenacious bane of suburban lawns. Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Proud Little Apple Blossom” teaches a lovely bloom the value of the “pitiable” dandelion. When the apple blossom belittled the dandelion for its common appearance and ugly name, a sunbeam danced along and said, “I see no ugly flowers. They are all beautiful alike…” Children made crowns of the yellow puffs and an old woman made medicine from dandelion, proving its value to the haughty apple blossom.

Culpepper, Gerard, Bown, Grieve, and Fuch mention the many uses of the perennial in their herbals, touting medicinal values. Dandelion leaves can be dried and made into herbal beers and drinks, and the flowers are used to make Dandelion Wine. Ray Bradbury wrote a work called “Dandelion Wine,” an amazing exploration of living a full life and accepting death.

Dandelion acts on the body as a diuretic and was taken by our medieval predecessors for bladder and urinary complaints, gallstones, jaundice, cirrhosis, dyspsia, and constipation. Washes made with dandelion are said to help with acne, eczema, and acne, and the plant’s high content of vitamin C makes it an addition to spring salads. Culpepper adds, “It helpeth also to procure rest and sleep to bodies distempered by the heat of ague-fits.”

Roasted dandelion roots are made into a coffee substitute, as referenced by Susanna Moodie in her work. Her character said, “It possesses…all the fine flavor and exhilarating properties of coffee without any of its deleterious effects. The plant being of soporific nature, the coffee made from it when drank at night produces a tendency to sleep…” and goes on to compare the flavor with the best Arabian coffee.

What child hasn’t wished upon the grey dandelion-gone-to-seed? According to E.P. Roe in “The Home Acre,” dandelions are little earth stars that intensify the sunshine shimmering on the lawn. “Moreover,” says M. Roe, “they awaken pleasant memories, for a childhood in which dandelion had no part is a defective experience.” John Burroughs wrote of these common flower and calls it the pledge of May.

Folk wisdom grants dandelion the ability of prognostication. Blowing on its seed heads can predict true love. If no seeds remain after a single breath, the seeker is loved. If but a few seeds remain, the seeker’s love interest has reservations. If many seeds remain, alas, there is no reciprocation of passion. The blown seeds are said to carry thoughts and dreams to loved ones.

If the day got away from someone, blowing on a dandelion seed head would tell the time. Alexander F. Chamberlain in his “The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought says,“The dandelion is called the rustic oracle; its flowers open about 5 AM and shut at 8PM, serving as a shepherd’s clock.” In H.W. Gibson’s “Camping for Boys,” observing seed-headed dandelions indicated weather changes. If full and fluffy, the weather would be fair. If closed like an umbrella, rain should be expected.

Walt Whitman, Hilda Conkling, Henry Sylvester Cornwell, and Helen Barron Bostwick wax poetic about the wild and wide-ranging flower. Other names for the plant from the Asteraceae family include Priest’s Crown, Swine’s Snout, Piss-a-bed, Dent de Lion, and Dens Leonis.

Sadly, Crayola announced yesterday it will be retiring the color “dandelion” this year. Artists will have to make their own equivalents from the remaining hundreds of colors.

AtoZParticipant2017

 

B is for Balm

For 2017’s A to Z challenge, I’ll write about herbs and plants in literature. I hope to include information about their uses and our ancestors’ beliefs regarding them.

 

B is for Balm, Bee Balm, or Bee Plant

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

Bees find balm attractive. Hence its common name. Scientifically, though, this lemony-scented perennial is designated Melissa Officinalis. With its square stem and persistent reproduction, balm belongs in its mint family. It bears small white flowers in spring.

William Shakespeare mentioned the plant in “Anthony and Cleopatra” when the queen resorted to befriending hungry asps. “…as sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle. O Anthony!” A contemporary botanist Gerard believed “…baume makes the heart merry and joyful.”

In Beowulf, the writer describes the ideal woman as “a balm in bed to her battle-scarred husband…”

To the medieval mind, balm healed wounds and illnesses and prevented putrefaction, but Biblical references probably referred to a resin from a different plant, balsam. In the Old Testament, a caravan from Gilead bore “spicery, balm, and myrrh.” Jeremiah later asked “Is there no balm in Gilead?” In the late 1800’s, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Raven” referenced Jeremiah’s question.

The ancient Greeks most likely the resin and not the herb to preserve Hector’s body preserved during the Trojan War. This use as a fragrant way to conserve finds its way into our modern word “embalming,” or preparation of the dead.

The North American cousin to the English bee balm is found in the monarda family and is used to create Oswego teas. Its produces larger flowers which tend to be pink, purple, or red. Many Native American tribes use the plant as a medicinal aid for stomach and bronchial complaints, and early US colonists made tea from it.

Balm is sometimes called Bergamot, which is not to be confused with the French citrus of the same name. There is also a lemon balm, and the plant was believed to be sacred to Mary.

The word balm was used as a verb meaning to anoint with balm or medicine. It also means soothing and healing, and it is used metaphorically as well as literally. Because of its memorable scent, balm is applied during many religious ceremonies. It is an ingredient in some perfume, cosmetics, and shampoos, as well.

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