Stephen King is 75 years old and at yet another thrilling peak of his writing powers with his new fantasy epic, Fairy Tale. This is, of course, reason to celebrate for his long-time “constant readers” as he refers to them. Fairy Tale can also be seen as wondrous entry point for a new generation about to discover King because the beautifully youth-friendly cover will draw them in like butterflies to a gorgeous flower. But this masterpiece may be most thrilling to older writers.
This grand tale of a 17-year-old boy, a dog, a recovering alcoholic dad, a cranky old neighbor, and a hole in the ground to another world rich in gold and adventure and horrible dangers is King’s 64th novel. That it may prove to be among his best is electrifying, especially to authors of a certain age.
Yes, he is a singular talent, America’s storyteller, but King has also always been an author of approachable style that inspires writers to write. He has consistently used a blue collar vocabulary to weave fantastic stories that reflect a range of human experience, from the darkest corners of our souls to the brightest center of our heart. This energizes other authors to keep working to their best talents, in my opinion.
King’s new work offers additional delights as well. In an age of shorter novels, Fairy Tale is among his longer works, yet a reader can fly through it in a few truly enjoyable days. The heroes within aren’t perfect and the villains have recognizable flaws that temper our disgust, making for a richer experience all around.
King has always played honestly with his constant readers, and does so here right from the title. This epic cleverly flips, inverts, and spins well-known fairy tales of old and new. He shades characters to echo stories we grew up on. Ultimately, he creates a fascinating subtextual commentary on what we learn from these stories while offering insightful takes on character, theme, genre, and meaning in delightful, painless ways that never slows the wonderful pacing.
A master at work is always a joy to behold.
Fiction lovers have many reasons to embrace Uncle Stevie, but Fairy Tale might just make him our favorite relative of all time,
It came in a package so small it didn’t seem like a book had arrived. That added to the intrigue. Once opened, the 4.5” x 7” volume startled me. So petite, so slim. With a drawing of what turned out to be the Vejigante, a spirit creature, crying on the cover. Not what was expected at all.
Wait, “expected” is the wrong word. Assumed is more accurate, and serves this experience better. People make assumptions about books, authors, people, nationalities, cultures, and life, almost always to their mutual detriment.
We Came From an Island by Cynthia Pelayo smashes those assumptions, replacing them with an engaging mixture of Chicago grit and Boricuan mysticism. Her characters struggle under racism, conflicting national identities, rich cultural traditions, starkly hateful history, deep cultural sexism, misunderstood mental illness, and family secrets that define who they are, for better or worse.
All in 77 pages.
That’s powerful storytelling.
Better still, the three short stories included here work a magic together that is wondrously different from the spells they cast separately. “Boricua Obiturary” first appeared in PAQUE TU LO SEPAS! , a dynamic 2019 anthology, and “The Lament of the Vejigante” made its debut in the 2020 immigration -themed anthology Both Sides: Stories from the Border. But here, these works combine with the third tale, “The Puerto Rican Syndrome” to cast a cumulative magic and examine a deepening horror that goes from youthful innocence to adult awareness, and from ancient cultural mysticism to inherited trauma. The tales weave together the themes of stripped culture, fiercely protected spirituality, colonization, immigration, rage, sexism, racism, isolation, inclusion, identity confusion, mental illness, and the complexities of familial love to deliver a masterwork of modern horror that the stories cannot achieve apart.
To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the first two pieces when I read them separately. But experiencing them together in We Came From an Island allows for connections and reversals and evolution of stories not as easily apparent before.
The result is magical. And emotional. And wondrous.
Pelayo opens with a voice that is both as Chicagoan as the freezing cement sidewalks of that town and as rich as her island’s intriguing folklore. Clear observations of daily life and the supernatural elements enveloping it hook the reader. From the opening sentence, “If you went out at night you saw ghosts,” Pelayo sends us on a mesmerizing journey that weaves together the disparate threads of family tensions, spiritual belief, political reality, economic abuse, persistent racism, traditional sexism, emigration as escape, and immigration as isolation to create the Puerto Rican experience.
It is incredible.
This collection allows us to live the stories as a journey from long-standing family tensions to the horrors of casual racism to youthful encounters with supernatural beings, to cold, hard truths laid bare. We encounter ghosts as guiding memories, memories as haunting ghosts, and horrors that are progressively more real than supernatural.
Our experiences define us. Exterior forces, whether they batter or embrace, influence who we are. Navigating the many layers of life that create us necessitate facing horrors both ethereal and concrete, ranging from what is in our power to change to what threatens to overpower us if we cannot muster the personal strength to work through them.
Cynthia Pelayo demonstrates such strength, crafting an experience that continually evolves on all levels, beginning in frustrating reality, then becoming more spiritual so that both characters and readers are prepared when she plunges us back to riveting, heartbreaking everyday life.
We Come From an Island is one of those rare reading experiences that attaches itself to us, inspiring reflection, comparison, and, hopefully, a better understanding of how the myriad paths we travel intersect to make us who we are.
Sony’s Morbius is a bad film that gets worse the more it is discussed. Moon Knight is a promising show that improves with analysis. This illustrates the basic mistake film companies outside Marvel Studies continue to make when producing comic book intellectual properties (IPs).
Each of these characters can arguably be considered B level at best. From this vantage point, we can discuss how the respective companies seem to have developed their project. Yes, Marvel’s Moon Knight is a six-part television season rather that a feature film like Sony’s Morbius, but both function to establish the character’s origin and position him as an ongoing part of a larger fictional universe.
Why each company produced works featuring a lesser known character is similar as well: they want to grow their already lucrative franchises. Neither surprise nor complaint there. Film studios are in business to make successful films. It is how they work toward that goal that seems to cause problems.
Marvel clearly proceeds from the position that great storytelling equals success. Sony repeatedly has provided evidence to suggest they believe boardroom decisions equal success and story is less important than spectacle.
We see a pattern of Sony cramming too many characters into their films, under-developing their scripts, and shoehorning scenes into films that are meant to force sequels rather than seed plot points that pay off satisfactorily in later films.
This ruined the Andrewverse, Venom, and now Morbius. Some may argue that it didn’t ruin Spider-Man: No Way Home, but that was developed with Marvel, with a script holds up beautifully under close scrutiny. Morbius collapses under casual post-viewing discussion; a study would annihilate it.
Moon Knight can also withstand the storytelling microscope. Is it perfect? Nah, no story is. But this project, like so many Marvel IPs, has been developed with the amount of care and respect needed to make a lasting tale that fans can play with intellectually and emotionally. That makes all the difference.
Does Marvel have an immaculate record of doing this? No. Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Eternals are examples of when they didn’t quite get there.
The former fell victim to the sort of corporate interference Sony and DC films seem hamstrung by, where commands from on high as well as boardroom goals of marketing and franchising seem to receive more time and attention than the actual stories.
The latter sought to introduce and develop too many characters at once, not allowing us time to become familiar with and decide to root for them (and it committed the cardinal sin of changing a character considerably without immense justification – the shortcut plot twist never works). The Eternals would have worked much better as a six-part (or longer) series on Disney+ rather than in theaters.
The most sadly intriguing difference between Morbius and Moon Knight is that the Disney+ show stands up better to scrutiny than the Sony film even though we have only seen one episode so far. That is damning not only to the Living Vampire’s potential but to Sony’s interest in telling the Marvel stories available to them. They seemed far more interested in spectacle and setting up their long-held goal of ramming a Sinister Six movie down our throats than in telling a compelling tale. And Morbius, with its classic monster myth structure, could have been so much more than it is.
The regrettable result is I, at least, will remain reluctant to plunk down cash to see any future Marvel story told by Sony. And I would much prefer to applaud their good story well told.
Sony, please pay more attention to the main rule for storytellers: SERVE THE STORY. As Marvel continually shows us, once you get the story right, everything else (marketing, franchising, toy sales, box office success) can happen.
Been a long, challenging week. Got my geezer badge, irreversibly sliding into the fourth quarter. Buried a mother who was at best equal parts battle and blessing. And I did all that with my Irish siblings whom I love, but we are always a tension fest around each other (they will argue with me over that, too). So I needed a never-fail album to chill out with today.
This was not a job for Ozzy, beloved energy god that he is. Allmans weren’t gonna do it today, though they usually come through. Peter Gabriel? Talking Heads? Dua Lipa? James McMurtry? BB? The Dan?
My soul was still too exhausted for these favs. I needed a sonic couch to lounge in. A silk-sheeted king-sized bed to sleep in on.
I needed Kacey Musgraves.
She is perfect for a Sunday chill. Softly welcoming. Musically comfortable. Intelligent, clever lyrics sung from the back seat without needing to shout. And that voice. Part yearning, part warm hug, with the ease of afterglow pillow talk, it can shoo away just about anything.
She’s got Golden Hour if you’re in love and Star-Crossed if that love has crashed. Both soothe, each in their own way. They hang out, never making demands that you sing along, dance, or grab a guitar yourself. What a relief.
So if you are looking for way to reset for the upcoming week and none of your go-to records are working, Kacey might have what you are looking for. She is sure as hell helping me watch the embers of last week finally fade away.
What music helps you do the Sunday chill? Share your go-to music in the comments below.
When I was a kid, I delivered newspapers in the morning and put the Sunday papers together at Tony’s candy store. From the money I made, I put $5 aside every week for comic books. At the time, the cost 20 cents each, so I was reading 25 comics every week. That allowed me to read almost anything that came out. It also taught me vocabulary, pacing, foreshadowing, character development, and a love for mixing genres, as comics mixed adventure with romance with sci-fi with local coming of age with horror with mystery with suspense with supernatural, often in the same issue!
That was then, this is now. Comics are approaching $5 each and most kids get their stories online or on TV. They see the heroes I read about in big budget films and TV shows, for better or worse.
Disney+ and Marvel Studios have delivered, to varying degrees, on most of the story telling techniques and genres mentioned above, but are not known as horror houses. Or maybe they are and always have been. Let’s see.
How about horrifying heartbreak? Have either company ever killed parents in service of story? Ask Bambi, Thor, Iron Man, Dumbo, Simba, Cap, Wanda and Pietro, Cinderella, and Hawkeye.
Have they supplied suspense? Have dealt with accident tropes, as well as strangers, lies, missing people, escapes, fear inspiring revenge, sleep, and spooky treatment. Both story factories are actually experts with forest fires, pirates, ticking clocks, sleeping potions, figuring out how to handle big sisters from Hel, stampedes, mischievous half-brothers, power mongers, purple aliens, and terrorists.
Are there any creepy, powerful antagonists? Malificient. Cruella. The circus owners. Nasty step-mothers. Arrogant, jealous uncles. Corporate greed. Nazis. A god of mischief . Genocidal robots. And again, that purple alien.
Do they offer story elements that frighten both characters and audiences? See above.
So yeah, Disney+ and Marvel aren’t strangers to these story elements. So why does Moonknight feel like their first foray into true horror?
Maybe because it is really good at telling the tale offered. I suspect the keys here are the fast-paced, excellently executed combination of genre elements presented and the storytelling risks they are taking.
First, they put Oscar Issac in the lead roles. He doesn’t know how to give a less than arresting performance. And that wasn’t a typo; Isaacs plays at least four characters. Well, he plays one character with a minimum of four personalities – Steven Grant, Marc Spector, Moonknight, and Mr. Knight – as he suffers from dissociative identity disorder. And the identities are battling for dominance, often to save their shared lives. Bringing the audience in close on Steven Grant’s struggle with DID and establishing immediately that he does not understand what is happening to him, put the audience in the harrowing position of going along for his nearly insane ride.
The choice to launch this series in the midst of Steven’s struggles adds to the psychological horror feel as we are dropped into the middle of his suffering through a life in shambles. He fights to stay awake, ties himself to the bed, uses locks, chains, sand circles, and painter’s tape to confirm he hasn’t wandered in his sleep. When all of that fails, he wakes up in a variety of dangerous situations and cannot fathom how any of it has come to pass. He misses time, dates, and a weekend (egads!). And, oh yes, is being chased by ancient Egyptian gods and their servants, and an apparent cult leader. So, yeah, suspense and fear abounds.
And there be monsters. Initially, just an assortment of people who treat Steven horribly, then the more powerful and otherworldly kind. (SPOILER!) and it is only when he is cornered by jackals serving as ancient Egyptian hellhounds that he gets any answers. And those would truly freak out even the bravest among us.
Finally, his reality breaks. Or is it his allusion cracks letting a far scarier reality in? Either way, we are clearly in horror town by this point, right in time for the titular hero to make his dramatic entrance, and he’s scarier than anything we’ve seen thus far.
These are my arguments supporting the idea that Marvel has injected true horror into their universe. Yes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced us to Ghost Rider, but at the time that show “wasn’t canon.” (It is now.) And with Moonknight making his scary ass debut, fun’s being offered up with the exciting genre quality that has become Marvel’s signature style.
If you are looking to sit back with some popcorn and a cool beverage to get your entertainment on, click on over to Disney+, select Marvel, and bask in the Moonknight of it all. This is great comic bookie horror fun.
The year 1970 was the beginning of a golden era of great music from many genres. Records hit the airwaves that still resonate today, from “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel to “American Woman” by The Guess Who, “War” by Edwin Starr, “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5, “Let It Be” by The Beatles, and so many more.
This was also an era when complete albums were enjoyed as a unified artistic statement. There are stacks of classics from that time, but for this Throw Back Thursday, let’s look at Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes, and add a toss back to 2019, when The Tedeschi Trucks Band (with guest Trey Anastasio) released Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’), two classic albums worth revisiting for very different reasons.
The original Derek and the Dominoes album featured Eric Clapton and Duane Allman trading guitar magic while both were at the absolute top of their game. This homage to heartbreak and romantic want became one of the must-have albums of that era and was put to work after every relationship crash by rock and blues fans everywhere. Sorrowful lyrics sung in a clearly aching voice over dueting guitar legends made it legendary as much as the love triangle that inspired it did.
And the album still stands up, whether going back to the original pressing or various anniversary remasterings. The pure emotional ache rings through in each guitar lick and vocal. Definitely worth a revisit.
Now in 2019, with Layla Revisited, The Tedeschi Trucks Band offered the same material from a different emotional space. Susan Tedeschi and Derek Taylor have been in love, married, and performing together for a long time, and their bond tempers these love songs, making them more about renewed vows, proclamations of staying with that love, and weathering life’s challenges together.
That timbre and the exceptional musical talents of the band and Trucks and Anastio’s twin guitars provide a fresh interpretation that is a respectful, inspiring alternative to the original, creating a second classic that can stand alongside the first. If you haven’t heard it, why are you punishing yourself? Dive in.
Both are highly recommended, the original for when you are blue, and the newer version for when you are chilling with your loved one,
Today I turn 60 years old. And I feel like I have hardly begun.
Yes, I have been an award-winning journalist, teacher, union president, Board of Education vice president, actor, producer, and director, but mostly, I’ve been a writer.
I’ve written press releases, news articles, columns, editorials, plays, comic books, sketch comedy, stand-up routines, screenplays, short stories, novellas, and novels. And I produced, performed, or published most of them.
And yet, as I turn 60, I feel like I am just now approaching the starting line. Everything else has been training, a warm up for the main event.
I realize today that I am a work in progress.
After six decades I am finally concentrating on writing as my job. As I approached 60, I dared to ask, “What if?” What if I finally dedicated my professional energies to writing? What would I do? What would satisfy me?
I forced myself to take my time and consider the possibilities before answering. And I arrived at two answers.
First, I wanted to take full professional responsibility for the four novels I have published independently. They have already earned awards and some solid reviews from a small audience of readers. Nothing more needed to be done there beyond promotion to keep them in the buying public’s eye. I found I disagreed.
While all four had been written, rewritten, proofread, corrected, beta read, rewritten some more, then proofread and corrected again before they were published. But I played with the idea that maybe they could be better if traditionally published, so I did some research. You know what I learned? Traditional publishing wants nothing to do with independently published works (the vast majority of the time).
A couple of my writing heroes have suggested that any novel that has been rewritten more than 30 percent can be considered a new work. I wanted that to be true for me. I needed it to be true for me. But I just can’t get there. I rewrote about 60 percent of two of the novels. They changed dramatically, expanding the story while trimming fat of the prose, developing antagonists better, and overall improving the work. According to the sage advice I received, these should be new books, right? Maybe, but to me they are essentially the same story told better.
So these novels seem fated to remain independently published. As a result, I have to guarantee they are the best possible work I can produce. So, with 60 breathing down my neck, I hired professional editors and took the final step to assure quality. Now I have three of those four novels ready to return to market. All three will be available, renewed, refreshed, better written, developed, and executed than before, in my 60th year.
See? Work in progress.
I have also begun my second path, traditional publishing. During the Covid years, I was published traditionally for the first time in a long while. Flash fiction. Author interviews. Short stories. All published and serving as indication this path is not necessarily closed to geezers.
I have three more pieces coming out so far this year, a pop culture essay and two short stories. And more work has been submitted. Further, I just finished the most daring bit of writing I have ever taken on, a crime horror story told in free form verse. It, too, will be beta read, edited, and then sent to market.
Work in progress. At 60.
Next up is finishing an all-ages thriller that is about 75 percent done (the rest is loosely planned). This will be beta read, professionally edited, and sent to market, as will more short stories, etc.
I am aware that 60 usually signals a winding down, but I feel more alive than ever, more vibrantly unfinished and worthy of effort than I have for years.
Hey, how ya doin’? How’s your Ma? Tell her I said hello, all right?
Look, I know why you’re coming around. Books. Everyone who wants to see me is looking for a good read. Legally, I don’t know what any of youse are talking about, you know what I mean?
But we can chat in certain, purely theoretical, terms that won’t ruffle any anti-reading ignorance enforcers out there. Let’s agree to talking about “imaginary wedding gifts” if books were what we gave as gifts to start lovebirds on their lives together. We’ll go Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue, all right?
OLD: Penguin Horror’s edition of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson with a key introduction by Guillermo Del Toro.
Jackson’s classic tale is a must read for horror fans, and this particular edition includes an amazing essay by the Oscar-winning director that serves as a master lecture on the genre itself. Not to be missed. I mean, thank the government this threat to wholesomeness is gone!
NEW (tie): Classic Monsters Unleashed edited by James Aquilone and Even in the Grave edited by James Chambers and Carol Gyzander.
Well, “new” has to be theoretical since books are banned now, right? Okay, but if they did exist, these two new anthologies would really launch a marriage well. Luckily, printed thought no longer tarnishes national safety.
But if they did? You kidding me? Classic Universal monsters roaming the earth again? Unleashed by legendary authors? It’s a slam dunk, McGuinness! (Theoretically speaking.)
Still newer (not that I know anything about illegal reading materials) is Even in The Grave, an anthology filled with authors from the tri-state area. A lot of them happen to be affiliated with Horror Writers Association’s New York Chapter (which I officially know nothing from nothing about, okay?), offering exciting chills to keep couples close and everyone else quivering in their boots.
BORROWED:Blood in The Garden – The Flagrant History of the 1990’s New York Knicks
If books weren’t banned around here, this would be a sports tome people purchased, read, cherished, and then some friend would borrow it and that’s all she wrote. Boom. Gone. Eventually, you would buy a second copy, reread it all over again, loving all the great details of Knicks basketball in that decade, enjoying Chris Herring’s fast-paced, full court press writing style, and then your brother would come over and “just want to see it overnight” and that copy would be history. Not that I have ever officially owned a book. Nope. Not me.
BLUE: Since books are not kosher any more, I’m going to use this one to quote another form of writing. The world is crazy these days, but we each gotta live our lives anyways, ya know? And sometimes, well, things get bad there, too. We all go through pain and loss, and sometimes we need help so we know we aren’t alone. Ray Charles summed up that feeling well, and has helped heal me on many an occasion when he sang …
A rainy night in Georgia, A rainy night in Georgia, Lord, I believe it’s rainin’ all over the world, I feel like it’s rainin’ all over the world.
Hey, stay safe, and if you are able, do what you can to bring others in out of the rain.
History was made at the Oscars last night with a more diverse set of winners than ever before, including people of color, deaf performers, women, and LGBTQ artists.
And yes, a comedian was slapped by a husband for a cheap, dated joke about his wife.
Last night’s diversity is progressive and should be celebrated. Each moment deserves to be replayed and cheered as helping us fulfill the Idea of America – the concept that anyone can come here and do the hard work to make dreams reality.
The slap will, sadly, take on a life of its own.
But there is another Oscars story that doesn’t seem to be getting the coverage it deserves. This is a tale of the winner of the most categories of the night – Dune, which took home gold for six of the nine nominations it received.
The sci-fi reboot won Oscars for Visual Effects, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Score, and Sound. While the film fell short for Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Picture, we shouldn’t sleep on how well Dune performed last night.
Undoubtedly, Best Picture is the big prize, and Coda deserves celebration for its historic accomplishments on so many fronts. A great story well told should always be honored and supported by film lovers, and this is definitely one to cherish. Coda’s triumph underscores the crucial truth that movies can and should be inclusive because deeply moving tales come from all of our lives.
Also, awards going to POC, deaf, female, and LBGTQ artists are welcome not only because the performers deserve and have earned their honors, but also because these wins wonderfully emphasize that our country can still be, in fact and in deed, a beautiful mosaic, no matter what the minority view might be.
To those points, I believe we also have an important reason to praise the biggest winner of the night.
Sure, Dune won in the technical categories that may not be as sexy as others, but collectively they express a similarly historic point. Those honored for their contributions to Dune represent a huge, diverse, talented, and dedicated collection of international artists who worked together to offer the world a breathtaking tale exploring the human struggle of nobility vs. greed, duty vs. self-discovery, and the power of imagination.
There is a wonderful takeaway from last night’s Oscars that should be embraced as passionately as the other triumphs of the evening. Dune offers an experiential feast for the senses and nourishment for the soul brought to us by our aforementioned beautiful mosaic. And we are better for their efforts. Bravo.
Let’s be honest, some are born with gifts, some aren’t. This piece is for those of you not quite as fortunate as I am. While these abilities come to me naturally, I believe that if you follow my advice you too can become a King of Chill. Here’s how.