The Tao of Horror
By Mark Matthews
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Thanks to Nightworms for letting me blab for a bit about horror on their blog.
And I’m gonna blab about the Nightworms catchphrase: “where horror is our happy place.”
How the hell can horror be a happy place? Because in a sense, I hate horror—the trauma, the unjust suffering, the nefarious powers beyond our control that threaten everything we love. The worst of humans. The darkest of monsters. But to vividly outline the precarious state of being human, of facing all our hurt, all our pain, the multitude of fears that threaten everything we covet, there is nothing I love more than horror. It is art that is about life, not about death. Good horror is life affirming and actually challenges me to be a better person, to look inward.
I’ll call it The Tao of Horror, where things are given definition by their opposite—the material of the bowl itself is not what gives it meaning, but rather the empty space. Every candle we light creates a dark shadow, everything has its opposites, and opposites give things meaning.
As Joe Hill so aptly noted: “Horror is not about extreme sadism, it is about extreme empathy.” When I read a work of horror that resonates, it’s because I want to “hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me,” for the best of horror understands us on the most primal level and is never afraid to go there.
I’ve met so many horror writers who have the finest hearts around, for they are in touch with the sensitive, fragile nature of the human spirit.
The way I view the world, I feel the horror everywhere. I am constantly trying to escape to freedom, to that proverbial cabin in the woods only to find it a deep, dark spot in my own psyche where monsters lurk that can’t be killed by one shot, can’t be put down until I face things that I was trying to avoid. Odd thing is, good horror actually relaxes me. I need the catharsis, the intensity, the onslaught. Both in the art I consume, and the art I create.
There’s a section of Stephen King’s IT where adult Bill Denbrough, the horror writer, states “People always ask me where I get my ideas, and the real question is why I get my ideas?” (slight paraphrase)
And the why I write horror? It is not because I am trying to scare others. That is not it. I am happy with any feeling besides boredom and apathy I can create with a story. Nope, I figured out that I like to write horror because I am the one who is scared. I am just a scared little boy, and writing squeezes that out of me.
My fears have changed, and I am not so much scared of monsters under my bed or the sounds in my dark basement, my fears are now elsewhere
I am scared of a universe with a God that does not exist. Or a non-caring God. I am scared of the randomness of tragedy. Scared of my own feelings and expressing them. Scared of looking certain people in the eye and they’ll understand me for a second. Scared that I am doing it wrong. Scared you are mocking me right now. Scared that something I missed long ago made everything I am doing right now irrelevant. Scared I’m waiting for my real life to begin while I live some fake one. Scared that the finest humans of this world are destroyed by the worst in a mass genocides, and my own daughters are next.
So that’s why I write horror. Because I am the one who is afraid, not that I am trying to scare others.
It makes perfect sense that a coward like me relied on drugging and drinking for so long, using every substance I could get my hands on until it nearly killed me. But the greatest fears grow the strongest courage, and somehow I found the courage to stay clean and sober. Writing is the new drug that brings out the weird. The dark. The terrible fear I have.
Before you go calling 911 to have someone come and check on me, I should note that I have an immense capacity for joy. I smile often, have an incredible family, am blessed with many riches, and my favorite song growing up (which still makes me happy) is Disney’s "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." There are plenty of days I can't open my mouth without a song jumping right out of it. I feel the light and happy just as much as the dark, and do believe there is a spirit that flows through all of us, and it is one of beneficence.
All those existential fears need a face, and I need to stare them down so I can move on. Much of deepest fears involve addiction, and so when I bleed on the page, that is what comes out—addiction horror.
My novels Milk-Blood, On the Lips of Children, and All Smoke Rises, portray addiction with an unflinching honesty but with empathy for the plight of the addict. After writing these works, I reached out to other horror writers and edited the anthology Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror, and then the follow up: Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror. I hope you give it a try and see if it suits your tastes.
Check out LULLABIES FOR SUFFERING, available on Kindle just .99 Cents from Friday, May 15 through Tuesday, May 19th.
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~The Library Journal, (Starred Review)
"A plunge into the agony and the ecstasy, the inescapable nightmare of addiction."
~ALMA KATSU, author of The Deep and The Hunger
Caroline Kepnes, author of You and Hidden Bodies
Kealan Patrick Burke, author of Sour Candy and Kin
Mercedes M. Yardley, author of Pretty Little Dead Girls
John FD Taff, author of The Fearing
Mark Matthews, author of Milk-Blood
Gabino Iglesias, author of Coyote Songs
Mark Matthews on AMAZON