You may know Mark Matthews best from his Milk-Blood books–a dark and brooding, heroin-laden nightmare of a world where heroin and it’s victims are the monsters who do the unspeakable. Matthews has recently compiled an all-star anthology where addiction plays the ugly antagonist in each tale, featuring authors Jack Ketchum, Kealan Patrick Burke, Jessica McHugh, Max Booth III, and more, including Matthews himself, and we’ve managed to get an inside look at the project.
What made you decide to create an anthology with this theme?
Dark truths need a piece of horror to do them justice. Horror is at its best when it reveals something larger about the reality we live in, either through metaphor or by shining a light into the dark places. Addiction has touched everyone in some way or another, and I expect this anthology will resonate with readers. Garden of Fiends is certainly socially relevant as well as personally therapeutic.
You’re putting the anthology under your own Wicked Run Press. Does this mean we can expect to see more future releases under it?
I think it’s like child-birth, or what I imagine child-birth to be. During the pain of doing it, you swear you’ll never do it again, but once you see the beautiful product and watch it grow up, you forget the pain and want to produce again. Without the help from a small team, the endeavor would have been too much. I’ll continue to do some special projects, but I am not insane enough to think I can compete as a small publisher. Doesn’t mean the books aren’t worthy, it just means that I don’t expect the proceeds to pay my mortgage.
Seeing how this is your first time compiling and editing an anthology, what is the biggest lesson you learned while doing it? And what is something you didn’t anticipate.
It was incredibly illuminating. (Everyone should drop acid or compile an anthology at least once.) Some lessons learned: there are more writers out there than I imagined. The webpage soliciting submissions got 10,000 hits. And many of those who then submitted just completely ignored the guidelines. I think writers machine-gun fire from their back-list when they see an open call. I don’t mean to whine, since I realize I’m ‘just me’ but half of the submissions I received were well outside the theme. The other half were very difficult to choose from.
Most of your own work deals with the horror of drug addiction. Why do you think you’re so drawn to it?
As might be (or might not be) obvious, I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict. I’ve been clean and sober over 24 years, and have been working in the field of addiction treatment for 20 years. There were so many people in recovery who helped me get sober, and I wanted to pay it back, but after a while, the material soaks into one’s soul. I’ve seen my share of miracles but can get drenched in despair. Odd thing is, some of the darker elements of my stories are actually an understatement from reality. I think most horror writers are in touch with the fragile light of the human spirit, and that is why we write.
After the anthology is out, what’s next for you? Have we seen the last of the Milk-Blood world?
The well might be running dry, and I think I need to move on. Sequels for sequel sake turn into shit unless there is a new character, a new arc, and a story that exists by itself rather than just a long denouement of the initial. When I wrote All Smoke Rises, the follow up to Milk-Blood, part of my goal was to provide some hope. I needed some rising up from the ashes of despair, but I also gave it a whole new style and characters. I’ve revisited the world of Milk-Blood again in my Garden of Fiends novella, but it was just a small dip. As I believe any writer will tell you about their own stories, the world of Milk-Blood lives on in my head and the characters still speak to me, whether I write about them or not.