Night Worm Reviewer, Beth Griffith interviewed Mark Matthews for Night Worms
Are you a fan of Mark Matthews? Well, I am! I am much too antisocial to make an actual fan club, but I put aside my crippling anxiety and epic awkwardness to interview him and find out the juicy details on all the topics tumbling around in the back of my mind. Mark took my fan-girling in stride and sent back some truly insightful replies to my questions. (Please note: This interview has been edited for length.)
BG: So, who are some of your favorite horror authors?
MM: As I start making a list, it falls short because of who I leave out, so instead I’m going to focus on my favorite recent reads.
Last three works of horror were Josh Malerman’s “Malorie”, Paul Tremblay’s “Survivor Song”, and Stephen Graham Jones’ “The Only Good Indian”. These three were like the holy trinity. Loved all of them. Good Indian made me literally gasp out loud more than any book I can remember.
Another piece that blew my mind for so many reasons is “True Crime” by Samantha Kolesnick. That work made me feel like a puppet, dangling there defenseless as she pulled my strings. (Thank you, Samantha, may I have another?)
I have a huge appreciation for classics, Poe, Kafka, Mary Shelly (I’m more Shelly than Bram Stoker).
BG: It seems you feel most comfortable with your stories being set in an urban/inner city setting. Do you agree? If so, why?
MM: I love when the setting is also a character, when the internal and external landscape are matching. Everything I have written is based on true settings. A place I have been and felt the pulse and vibe of the area.
There has been a lot of comments about the poverty of “Milk-Blood” and “ All Smoke Rises”, but it’s actually understated from what I’ve seen in Detroit. As a social worker, I did home visits with the families, and I remember one mom who feared letting her daughter outside to play due to stray dogs in the area. Others have had their electricity or water turned off, and I tried to help them get it turned back on. Or those who, often through error, had their bridge card (Michigan term for food stamps) cut off and living off of donations from food pantries. The disparity of wealth in the area is terribly disheartening.
I should add that Detroit is a fantastic city, its scars make it beautiful, and right now it’s booming. The splendor of the city just needs to spread to neighborhoods that need it.
BG: I have read and enjoyed both of your anthologies (“Lullabies for Suffering” and “Garden of Fiends”). I read a lot of anthologies and it is difficult to find a good balance of stories. Your anthologies are both excellently balanced! How did you manage that? Do you think you did something different than other editors?
MM: Thank you. One difference is the works are longer than many anthologies. This lets the reader stay inside the world a little longer. I prefer this as a reader, so it’s something I asked for from the writers.
I think in both books, the writers inside have all written a work only they could write. I like to think the subject matter lets their essence spill out, like the way an inebriated drunk well tell you all their unfiltered truths.
“Garden of Fiends” was a mostly open anthology, with some invites, and I’ll never do that again. God bless those who do open calls, for you’d not believe what happens. I think the success of Garden helped me get to Yes as I invited writers to ”Lullabies for Suffering”, as well as the fact the topic is so ripe and has touched all of us. I literally did an excited victory lap around my living room upon receiving emails of those who agreed to be included.
I still get submissions for addiction horror anthologies, even though I’ve got nothing in the works. Oftentimes from incredibly talented, established writers who love the topic and reach out asking, Hey! You doing another one of those? Cause I want in. It’s flattering and exciting but it’s all so much work and a huge money investment. I want to be a publisher second and a writer first.
BG: You are well known as a master of addiction horror. Do you see yourself branching off into any other directions, either another sub genre of horror or something completely different?
MM: Master of addiction horror is a phrase I’ve not heard, but I’ll gladly take that label, earned or otherwise.
I do think there’s a risk in writing the same story over and over again with the topic, so my next novel branches out and goes out on some limbs.
My novella “Body of Christ” hasn’t a trace of substance use inside and ironically, it is probably my strangest. It’s certainly the most oh my God this writer is high AF kind of story.
I do think I’ll continue to write on addiction. If I follow the adages to write what you know, write what you fear, and write from the wound, it will come out naturally. A relapse back into my own addiction is certainly my biggest fear. I’ve been in recovery for 25 years, but I can still taste it, sense it. It doesn’t take much to waken the voice of addiction inside me that wants to snort a big fat line of coke or crystal meth for breakfast and wash it down with a pint of gin and juice.
Even though my life now is incredible, and I’d have so much to lose, I don’t kid myself and say I don’t want to get high, because I do, I’ve just learned to live with it. And the idea of having this monster inside you lends itself to the genre of horror. I don’t write to scare others, I write what I am scared of, because I’m the one in fear (I wrote on this for Nightworms a while back- The Tao of Horror
BG: So do you feel your own struggle with addiction makes you a more effective horror addiction writer? Or do you feel it creates more of a challenge not to romanticize your own addiction?
MM: I have worried at times about romanticizing addiction, but what my characters live with and go through, there is nothing romantic inside. I don’t restrain myself when talking about the effects and pull of drinking and drugging. I just tap into the part of me, right in my gut, and try to tell the truth through other people.
I suppose every time I put a character through hell, I’m playing my own tape through of what will happen next, and the anthologies allowed me to read my own story through other writers. I would be Kealan’s Character in “Wicked Thirst” if I drank again, and as I raise kids, I fear what Taff wrote about in Garden and the legacy of addiction passed on from father to son.
I reflect on the stories in both anthologies often. There’s something so sad but sweet to have “Garden of Fiends” end with the story by the late Jack Ketchum, where a ghost returns to make sure his cat is being taken care of by the still suffering alcoholic he left behind. I liken that to Jack (Dallas, as we know him) looking over us now, to make sure we are all taking care of each other.
BG: Generally speaking, your stories do not have happy endings. At the best of times, they have ambiguous endings that depend on a character doing “the right thing”. Do you agree or am I just being too pessimistic?
MM: You are spot on. I think my tastes in endings differ from many others. I loved the end of the Sopranos, for example, where the ding of the bell and fade to black is just the start of a whole new story that we are not sure how it will play out. “All Smoke Rises” tried to add some redemption in the end where “Milk-Blood” did not, but every new beginning is some other beginning’s end. Conflict is never over.
I don’t go so far as to not provide resolution, but always with something that starts a new story playing in the reader’s head. I think that’s why I love the endings of works such as Caroline Kepnes’ “Monsters” in “Lullabies for Suffering”. That ending hit me and I literally have been writing the story in my head of what happens next. Same with Gabino’s piece in Lullaby. I’ve told him a dozen times I want to write fan fiction of the world he created in “Beyond the Reef”. [I second this!]
BG: I am *almost* up to date on your current novels, so is there something new for me to look forward to?
MM: Yes! Super excited for my next novel; “The Hobgoblin of Little Minds”.
This is a project over 6 years in the making that I kept coming back to and I’m so excited to unleash it. I was plotting it out in John Skipp’s class at Stokercon years ago. It tackles mental illness, primarily bipolar disorder, with stark honesty but sensitivity. It is based on my 25 years working in behavioral health.
The novel rewrites the Werewolves mythos and origins, though it never uses the word ‘werewolf’ even once.
It takes place in the very real setting of the abandoned Northville Psychiatric Hospital, a huge, legendary compound not far from my house. For 15 years it was famous for trespassers who visited the building, especially the underground tunnels that connect the many buildings. It housed 2000 patients at its peak. It was finally demolished two years ago, and the climax of the novel occurs during the demolition. In a sense, this is historical horror, as I told Alma Katsu. (Master of Historical Horror, a title she’s earned) I researched the place thoroughly and I hope the verity inside satisfies the numerous fan sites and bloggers who know the area so well.
Vincent Chong is doing the cover art, and he’s spectacular to work with. Stay tuned for more exciting news about this book!