Review: Stephen King’s “On Writing”

Stephen King is a household name. As one of the most popular authors in America, his books routinely place high on The New York Time’s Best Sellers list. Such is his fame that even people who have never read his works still know his name–largely due to the success of the film and tv adaptations of his books.

When I first picked up “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”, I only knew two things about Stephen King: 1. He is wildly popular; and 2. He writes horror. I had never read any of Stephen King’s books, or watched any of the movie or tv adaptations of the same. Here’s why: I’m a wimp. I can’t handle scary. I was no fan of Stephen King, so why did I feel drawn to this book on my husband’s bookshelf?

It was the title that caught my interest. “On Writing.” After being laid off due to Covid-19 and deciding to launch a freelance writing career, writing was suddenly more important to me than ever. It could become my livelihood.

I wondered, What pearls of wisdom could I learn from this world-famous author, who has been in the game for decades? What secrets to success might he reveal? In this way, I approached “On Writing” like a pilgrim climbing the summit of a mountain to ask a holy man the meaning of life. 

I didn’t find the meaning of life, and in the beginning I was even afraid I was going to be disappointed. King sets the stage in the First Foreword by talking about a band he formed with a few other famous authors, causing me to suppose I was in for several chapters’ worth of boring, vintage-Hollywood memories and pretentious name dropping. Autobiographies like that are a dime a dozen.

Little did I know that after reading the brief First Foreword and even briefer Second and Third Forewords, and diving right into the C.V., I would be hooked. Filling the first half of the book, the C.V. is King’s memoir, a series of memories from his childhood and early adulthood, and it is a testament to his storytelling skills.

King shares his memories honestly, infused with the fondness of an adult who realizes that all of these things–the good, the bad, and the ugly–are what made him who he is today, and he wouldn’t change a thing. His treatment of his family is no-frills: no villains or heroes here, just real people who may have been flawed, but were loved nonetheless. 

His memories are never boring or drawn out; he never makes up stuff to fill in the gaps. If he doesn’t remember why something happened or the exact timeline of events, he simply says so. Even more refreshing is King’s sense of humor. His dry wit and periodic self-deprecation took me by surprise by actually making me laugh out loud.

Reading the C.V. was as enjoyable as reading a novel; King followed his own advice “…to make the reader welcome and then tell a story…to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.” 

While the first portion of the book feels like hanging out and sharing memories with an old friend, upon arriving at the second portion of the book, we find the fourth wall is firmly back in place. There, King reminds us, You’re the reader. I’m the author.

The second part of the book is On Writing, King’s how-to guide for writers. It is later revealed that King wrote this second portion while recovering from the life-altering accident that almost killed him, which could account for the change in tone. 

Because the sections are longer, reading this part of the book felt like a tougher slog than before. Even so, On Writing is peppered with personal anecdotes and King’s trademark humor that keep the reader’s interest and balance out the scholastic nature of the content.

King has certainly earned his stripes, but he’s never overbearing or pompous with his advice, generously sharing all the wisdom he’s got. He describes the “toolbox” every writer should have, stocked with vocabulary, grammar, and the elements of style, plus skill with description, dialogue, theme, plot, etc. 

He shares his own writing process and encourages the reader to find what works for them. Most importantly, he declares that there is no secret to becoming a successful writer, only hard work. It’s maybe not what writers want to hear, but he is emphatic.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

And so the holy man gives the pilgrim the answer that should have been obvious all along. But instead of the stereotypical ending where the pilgrim walks away abashed, shoulders slumped, this pilgrim is thrilled and inspired. 

I discovered that Stephen King is not some wild-eyed sadist, churning out horrific tales of blood and gore. He’s just a regular guy who had a typical childhood, loves his family, and faces the same struggles as anyone else. He also happens to love his craft and has worked hard to be the best. 

And as writers, we actually have a lot in common. “On Writing” validated some of my feelings about writing, and provided me with fresh perspectives and ideas to implement in my pursuit of a writing career. “On Writing” is full of nuggets of wisdom that can benefit any writer. 

I will end this review with one such nugget, issued forth by Stephen King like a Braveheart rallying his warriors, and hopefully it will inspire us all to bring nothing but our best to our writing.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

Locke & Key

Review: Netflix Original “Locke & Key”

For your next summer binge, unlock spooky, suspenseful fun with Netflix’s original series, “Locke & Key”

Has COVID-19 put your summer vacation on hold indefinitely? While physical travel might still be out of the question, there’s nothing to stop you from travelling in your imagination. Indulge in a mental vacation by bingeing Netflix’s original series, “Locke & Key”. Visit a world that may look the same as ours, but is filled with magical possibility and is plagued by demons, caught in a classic ‘good versus evil’ dynamic. 

The Plot

“Locke & Key” is adapted from the comic book series of the same name written by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, and is brought to the Netflix big screen by Carlton Cuse, Meredith Averill, and Aron Eli Coleite. 

The series focuses on the Locke family: three youngsters whose father is murdered right in front of them. Their mother whisks them away to the coastal “Keyhouse,” a mysterious old mansion where their father spent time in his youth. They soon realize the building houses more mysteries than they ever thought possible, when the youngest Locke, Bode, discovers an ancient key. 

After some simple experimentation, Bode discovers the key’s magic: when the key is used to open a door, that door can become a portal to anywhere he’s ever been before. He later finds the Mirror Key, as well, which turns any mirror into a portal to a dangerous maze of neverending funhouse mirrors. When his mother accidentally becomes trapped in the mirror dimension, Bode calls upon his teenage siblings, Kinsey and Tyler, to save her. 

Their mother, Nina, immediately forgets about the incident, but Kinsey and Tyler are now in on the secret. They discover that they, too, can hear the whispering beckoning of the hidden keys. 

But there’s a problem: In a desperate attempt to save his mom, Bode gave the Anywhere Key to the “Well Lady” (aka Echo), an evil demon personified, and now she is loose in the world. She demands that Bode give her all the keys they find, and threatens harm to his family if he does not comply. She will stop at nothing to get the keys; after a series of callous murders, she is shown to have enormous power and no conscience. 

Throughout the series, the Locke children unlock many wondrous magical experiences, all while grieving the father they lost and learning more about the father they never knew. Their mother, Nina, is also seeking to learn more about her husband’s past, and reconcile the small-town mysteries she discovers with the haunting memories of his death.

Bode, Kinsey, and Tyler share their discoveries with a few newfound friends, who band together to fight against Echo. They strive to keep the keys away from her and to destroy her forever, all while dealing with the normal struggles of adolescence. 

While not “happily ever after”, the series does end with a feeling of contentment and hopeful possibility. The Lockes have confronted their father’s killer and protected the magic of the Keyhouse from evil. They learned a lot about themselves along the way, not the least of which is that they are actually happy in their new home. But within the last few minutes of the final episode, it’s revealed that not all the characters may have been who they said they were, setting the stage for more drama in the next season.

With only ten episodes of 45 minutes each, “Locke & Key” is a good candidate for a quick binge. The plot moves along quickly…too quickly, it sometimes felt. Each episode hops from action point to action point, with very little time given the characters to fully explore the magic of the keys. 

Neither do they take the time to consider the implications of what the keys can do, or the possibility that there may be more keys out there, so they seem to always be taken by surprise when things go wrong. Their decisions seem rash, as if the characters are not taking their situation seriously enough. This is especially noticeable when the Lockes are so quick to share their secrets with just about everyone. One would think they would use a little discretion if they understood how dangerous the keys can be.

The series is so fast-paced that the viewer might sometimes be confused. The story prompts the viewer to ask themselves a lot of good questions, like puzzling over motives and wondering what might happen next. But the presentation creates a lot of questions in a bad way:  Wait, what just happened? Why did they do that? Leave the room to grab a snack from the kitchen, and you might miss an important detail. In addition, the story encompasses a lot of different characters from two different time periods, so the viewer might struggle to keep up with the action if they’re still trying to figure out who all the characters are.

Those same characters can be a bit difficult to relate to for older viewers. Perhaps this series would resonate more with young teens, but as an adult, the characters’ flaws are less endearing and more irritating.

Locke & Key main characters

The Characters

Bode, the youngest Locke (played by Jackson Robert Scott), has a strange tendency to vacillate between acting like a wise old soul and a child. Halfway through the series, you realize he’s the smartest of the Lockes, but the script has him acting like a five-year-old when it’s convenient. How odd.

The other two Locke children (teenagers, really), are a bit bland and stereotypical. When Kinsey (Emilia Jones) removes fear from her head, she transforms overnight into a punk rock Barbie, which is just one step above the old nerdy-girl-takes-off-her-glasses-and-is-suddenly-super-hot trope. Worse, she loses her ability to consider the consequences of her actions, and ends up destroying the few solid friendships she had built.

We could believe that big brother Tyler (Connor Jessup) is grieving the death of his father and therefore guarded, while simultaneously trying to be the rock of his family. Yet his actions are typical of every male protagonist in any given teenage drama. Unfortunately, this idea that teenage boys are driven only by a desire to fit in or the more carnal desires of hormones is tired. The hints of depth we glimpse in his character when visiting memories of his dad are overshadowed by his self-centered and impulsive decisions.

Their mother, Nina (Darby Stanchfield), is a recovering alcoholic whose presence is sometimes merely decorative. Her relationship with her kids is so awful that we can only assume one of two things: either the writers are not good at dialoguing motherly affection, or Nina is actually just a really bad parent. It is possible that the writers intended her interactions to be clouded with grief, but the character has no trouble focusing on side characters, such as Joe the biology teacher, her new friend, Ellie, or her potential love interest, Detective Matuku. So not only is Nina mostly unrelatable, but there’s just enough ‘off’ about her to make her unlikable.

Locke & Key Keyhouse

The Rest

The special effects used throughout the series are pretty decent, at least to the untrained eye. The scoring perfectly complements the storyline in a way that “Harry Potter” fans will relish. One scene in particular pairs the two to great effect: after finding the Ghost Key and unlocking the door to the spirit world, Bode soars over the nighttime landscape as a ghost. This is the first time the magic of the keys actually seems amazing; sadly, the series moves too quickly to dwell on the enchantment of any of the other keys.

The premise of “Locke & Key” is certainly interesting, and, for all its minor faults, the story is engaging. The viewer can’t help but want more, which is the best thing that can be said of any television series. Hopefully the second season (expected to run in 2021) delivers the goods.

Overall, “Locke & Key” is easily recommendable, especially for family viewing with older kids. It’s a fun mix of spooky, suspenseful action and the exploration of human emotion and relationships. But do be aware that some scenes may be too intense for young viewers. The violence is not gory but often happens suddenly and on-screen, and one scene implies a sexual encounter. The series is officially rated TV-14.

For fans of fantasy or anyone needing a break from the depressing realities of the real world, “Locke & Key” is an engaging adventure in a world filled with magic. The story is quick and interesting; the characters are perhaps a bit stereotypical but the viewer can definitely root for them. The overarching theme that good can conquer evil is a refreshing taste of hope in a time when we need all the conquering good we can get. 

Watch the producers and stars talk about what drew them to “Locke & Key” on IMDB

By Emily Domedion

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