April 25th, 2017


The Scariest Part: Mark Matthews Talks About GARDEN OF FIENDS

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author and editor Mark Matthews, whose new anthology is Garden of Fiends. Here is the publisher’s description:

The intoxication from a pint of vodka, the electric buzz from snorting cocaine, the warm embrace from shooting heroin — drinking and drugging provides the height of human experience. It’s the promise of heaven on earth, but the hell that follows is a constant hunger, a cold emptiness. The craving to get high is a yearning as intense of any blood-thirsty monster.

The best way to tell the truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.

The stories inside feature the insidious nature of addiction told with compassion yet searing honesty. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental deaths, and some of the most incredible names in horror fiction have tackled this modern day epidemic.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark Matthews:

In certain ways, the scariest part of Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror is that it is a reflection of the modern day epidemic of opiate addiction. Certain dark truths of our world require a piece of horror to do them justice. Facts aren’t always felt, but stories are, and fiction makes the reader feel the true devastation of addiction. Such is the case with these stories, where some incredible names of horror have portrayed addiction in all its brutal honesty. Jessica McHugh, Glen Krisch, and Max Booth III (as well as my own tale) feature heroin and opiate addiction, while Kealan Patrick Burke, John FD Taff, and Jack Ketchum tackle the insatiable, unquenchable thirst that is alcoholism.

On a more personal level, the scariest part is that addiction will remain in my own subconscious no matter how many years it has been since my last use.

I’ve used every drug that appears in this anthology, and it nearly killed me, but I’ve been clean over 24 years, and, after going back to school to become a licensed professional counselor, have worked in the field of addiction treatment for much of that time. Working with other addicts has helped me keep my own sobriety, but dealing with the cravings that remain never stops. I still dream about drinking. I still feel a jolt of lightening in my spine when I watch someone snort cocaine or crystal meth in a movie. I’ve come to expect the cravings and learn to live with them, and when I write dark fiction, the culture and pathology of addiction pervades, and writing is incredibly therapeutic.

I am so thrilled at the list of writers who appear in Garden of Fiends to portray this affliction. This anthology is a way of bearing this burden to the world. Not just my burden, but the burden of sick and suffering humans everywhere. As you read this, someone just shot up for the first time, and soon their body will be aching for heroin the way a vampire thirsts for blood. Someone right now is buying a half pint of vodka with shaky hands at the liquor store, trembling with terror. A mother just identified their daughter’s overdosed body at the hospital. Another is writing their son’s obituary. Everyday we hear horror stories such as toddlers found in the back-seat of a car with overdosed parents in the front or a batch of fentanyl-laced heroin killing scores of people over a single weekend.

The scariest part is that what’s inside this anthology is a mirror of our world, not a teleporter to another.

Here’s a brief summary:

A Wicked Thirst — Kealan Patrick Burke
An alcoholic’s incessant thirst for drink has caused a trail of devastation in his path. A blackout one night puts him face to face with the specter of his past. A powerful opening punch and quite simply vintage Kealan Patrick Burke.

The One in the Middle — Jessica McHugh
“The best way to take atlys is to inject it straight into the testicles,” thus begins Jessica McHugh’s excerpt from The Green Kangaroos, which blew my freaking mind (cliché as that sounds). Captures the tone, lifestyle and craving for heroin in a wonderfully transgressive fashion. William Burroughs himself would be proud.

Garden of Fiends — Mark Matthews
The father of a heroin addict is tired of his daughter relapsing, so he takes drastic measures to protect her. He thinks he’s cut out her disease, but he’s only made it spread. Pretty soon, there are addicts all over the city of Detroit trying to get his daughter high.

First, Just Bite A Finger — Johann Thorsson
This flash fiction piece is a lightning shot across the page. An addict keeps convincing herself she can quit her bizarre addiction — “She could quit if she wanted to, and she did, and went until Thursday evening.”

Last Call — John FD Taff
Last Call is about the type of alcoholic I am quite familiar with — one who frequents AA meetings, can’t stay sober, and often shows up drunk. His sponsor offers him one last chance at sobriety by visiting the most unusual of places: a liquor store. A perfect illustration of the family legacy of alcoholism.

Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will — Max Booth III
Max Booth’s story is about a recovering heroin addict who relapses after a bizarre turn of events and an infatuated (and quite creepy) girlfriend. It includes a bleeding penis, spiders, a Walmart worker, and Max’s unmistakable wit. Your jaw will drop.

Torment of the Fallen — Glen Krisch
Scarecrows, rats, syringes, and heroin are the ingredients for this Glen Krisch story. When you see real demons, sometimes the demon of addiction is all that will hold them back.

Returns — Jack Ketchum
Ketchum didn’t write this short story to serve as the perfect ending to Garden of Fiends, but he might as well have. This is a sweet, somber story about a Ghost visiting his alcoholic ex-lover, watching her drink herself to death, and trying to find his purpose for this return to his old life. I’m so grateful to have another one of my writing heroes included in Garden of Fiends.

Mark Matthews: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Garden of Fiends: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Mark Matthews is a graduate of the University of Michigan and is a licensed professional counselor. He is the author of On the Lips of Children, Milk-Blood, and All Smoke Rises. He lives near Detroit with his wife and two daughters. Reach him at WickedRunPress@gmail.com.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.


Doctor Who: “Smile”

“Smile,” the second episode of the new Doctor Who‘s tenth season, is a pretty good episode. It’s not an instant classic or anything, and there isn’t much plot going on until the last ten minutes or so, but the episode exists mostly to give the Doctor and Bill an opportunity to continue bonding and learning about each other, and in that regard it absolutely succeeds. The mentor relationship between the Doctor and Bill works so much better for me than the “space boyfriend” dynamic Doctor Who has been trafficking in since the revived series began, and as a result this season feels like a breath of fresh air. Peter Capaldi continues to shine as the Doctor — his performance is so assured it rises above even the weakest material — and I continue to hate the fact that he’s leaving at the end of this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen afterward, or for how long Doctor Who will stay on the air, but I’m convinced Capaldi will go down as one of the best new Doctors.

As I mentioned, the plot isn’t all that special, and it’s definitely one of those stories you don’t want to examine too closely or the logic will fall apart. For instance, the Vardy don’t really show many signs of self-awareness, and you’d figure the vital mechanical interface of a new colony would have some form of self-defense program anyway just in case the colony was attacked. Rebooting the system and wiping the Vardy’s memory doesn’t remove their knowledge of money, in particular pounds sterling, even though it removed everything else. The Vardy are construction microbots, so how exactly do they “eat” people down to the bone? What would make the Vardy then decide to use those bones as calcium fertilizer for the gardens? The questions could go on, but as I said, this episode was more about the Doctor and Bill than about the story happening around them.

There’s not a whole lot of Doctor Who neepery to share for this episode. The basic plot has some similarities to the 1988 Seventh Doctor serial “The Happiness Patrol,” which also involves the execution of colonists who aren’t happy all the time, although that story was really much more a response to Thatcher’s England. There are also a few superficial similarities to the 2008 Tenth Doctor episodes “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” with microscopic-sized creatures eating people down to the bone, and the 2005 Ninth Doctor episodes “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” with nanotechnology gone awry. And I suppose the Vardy are in some way a truly Moffat-era antagonist — we’ve had “don’t blink” creatures and “don’t breathe” creatures and “don’t turn around” creatures, and now we’ve got “don’t stop smiling” creatures. But that’s all I’ve got. There are surprisingly few callbacks to the classic series this time around. (Although ending this episode with what is basically the start of the next is a very classic series thing to do!)

We have another mysterious mention of the vault the Doctor has promised to guard without leaving Earth, although no more clues as to what’s in it or why he made that promise. There’s a funny joke about the Doctor not being Scottish, just very cross, and another about how Scottish colonists seek independence on every planet they inhabit. The Doctor claims he is 2000 years old now, which I found quite surprising. When the Doctor says to one of the interface robots, “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too,” my mind immediately went to the 1980 David Bowie song “Ashes to Ashes” — an earworm that grew so insistent I actually had to listen to the song later. (We know Capaldi is a fan of Bowie, so I doubt this was merely a coincidence.) My only real complaint is that Nardole is basically sidelined for this episode, and I suspect he won’t be in the next one, either, since it appears to be set in the past. I want more Nardole, please! (Also, it didn’t feel quite right that he was jealous of Bill’s presence in the TARDIS. Less of that, please.)

We may only be two episodes in but season ten is looking to be a strong one, thanks to solid scripts, good actors, and especially the rapport between Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.