As for today, I'm very excited to welcome Mark Matthews to Book Den! Mark is the editor and a contributing author of the addiction themed anthology Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror.
Planting the Seeds of the Garden of Fiends
From an early age, books shaped who I was. Writers were heroes to emulate. I wanted to be Thoreau, I wanted to be Mark Twain. I wanted to be Jack Kerouac.
There was something inside me that only stories could reach, a music only literature could play.
A similar reaction occurred when I had my first drink. The warm confidence, the blissful contentment. A union with God. All my curses lifted, all my deficits erased. It was love at first sip. Other drugs soon followed. I said “no” to nothing, “yes” to everything.
Pretty soon, I needed it to function. I started drinking alone. Getting shakes. Sweats. I went on drug binges and mixed drinking with cocaine, acid, or crystal meth every chance I could. I needed substances to feel normal, otherwise, I had perpetual flu-like symptoms and was intensely angry and bitter at the world. I didn’t care if I died and was quite certain that, due to drugging and drinking, I would die before I was 30 years old.
I nearly proved myself right. By 23 years old, I had alcoholic hepatitis of the liver, a swollen pancreas, my stomach was bleeding and I was shitting blood (sorry, I know that’s gross to read). More than once I went to detox to sober up after the pain got too much, but then I would drink soon as they released me. When money got tight and I needed $1.89 for a half pint of vodka, I visited car washes since that was the best place to gather 10 cent cans. Crazy thing was, the more disgusting I became, the more I needed to delude myself about who I really was. In my twisted mind, I was some misunderstood genius who society hadn’t found a place for, and therefore drinking was my only crutch to live with lesser mortals. Truth was, I was a pathetic lump of flesh.
A turning point came when, rather than just detox, I finally succumbed and went to residential treatment for 3 weeks. I didn’t want to go, but I had no other options. My body could not take any more liquor in it. My spirit was drenched with despair. I remember sitting in the treatment center, unable to stop the tears, and looking out the window with plans to leave, but I had no place to go. Instead, I stayed put, endured the pain of living, and found some humility and some courage. Each day sober felt like a miracle. I learned so much about why I was doing what I was doing, how to stop it, and most importantly, decided my life was worth saving.
No way in hell did I ever think I would go back to college to help other addicts, but that’s what I did. I got a masters in counseling, became a certified addictions counselor, and worked in many different treatment centers. My curse had changed to my calling.
And I returned to my desire to write.
Once I got sober, I started writing again. Writing out the darkness I had experienced was incredibly therapeutic, for if you want to tell the truth, best to do so by making up a story. I wrote one novel, Stray, which was based on a treatment center where I worked that shared a parking lot with an animal shelter. Next I wrote MILK-BLOOD, which tackled poverty, urban despair, and heroin addiction with a supernatural slant. Many readers were shocked by the darkness in the book, but the crazy thing is, it was all true (even if it didn’t happen) and much of the darkness in the book was actually understated. After writing the sequel, All Smoke Rises, I decided to reach out to other authors of dark fiction to see how they would tackle the subject of addiction.
The blog post for ‘addiction horror’ received 10,000 hits. I received hundreds of submissions and had to boil these down to eight pieces, largely of long fiction and novellas. I can’t promise you’ll like this collection, but I can promise it is different. In scope, in length of stories, in content. I’m incredibly proud of what’s inside, since addiction and horror seem a perfect fit. In order to tackle the modern day epidemic of addiction, it takes works of horror to fully explore the devastation.
Addicts, in a certain sense, are not that different than vampires: they live within society but hide their true nature while they feed off the living, siphoning their money, their sanity, always safest in the shadows. They feel cursed with their affliction but unable to stop the compulsion to suck the blood out of others.
And the family of an addict suffers as if something monstrous has taken over their loved one. I can’t help but think of the movie The Exorcist, perhaps the most terrifying horror movie ever made, as an analogy of a family dealing with addiction.
In The Exorcist, a desperate mother seeks out every kind of professional help after her daughter starts acting strangely. Nobody has answers. Things get worse, the young girl’s behavior gets more bizarre. Her very skin seems to be changing. The last resort is to seek help from something spiritual. A war begins to save a life. This true horror story happens every day, probably on your street. Parents losing their child to an addiction that has possessed their spirit. Thankfully, there are parents who are having their child saved through recovery. I know it works. I’ve seen the horror and the damage done, and I’ve seen many come out the other side and survive. Not without their share of scars.
This is the story of some of them. Check out Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror
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.
- A WICKED THIRST, by Kealan Patrick Burke
- THE ONE IN THE MIDDLE, by Jessica McHugh
- EVERYWHERE YOU'VE BLED AND EVERYWHERE YOU WILL, by Max Booth III
- FIRST, JUST BITE A FINGER, by Johann Thorsson
- LAST CALL, by John FD Taff
- TORMENT OF THE FALLEN, by Glen Krisch
- GARDEN OF FIENDS, by Mark Matthews
- RETURNS, by Jack Ketchum