Friday, October 4, 2013

20 Questions for Horror Authors: Mark Matthews

Mark Matthews is from Detroit and the author of 3 novels. On the Lips of Children is his latest piece of dark fiction and has just been released from Books of the Dead Press. His first novel, STRAY, is based on his experiences working at a substance abuse treatment center that shares a parking lot with an animal shelter. He is an avid runner, and has two running-based works including The Jade Rabbit and Chasing the Dragon: Running to Get High. Follow his blog at Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon or on twitter: @matthews_mark

1. What do you think makes a good story?

First we need to be intrigued by the characters. Then we want to see what they are made of when the weight of the world is thrown against them. When storytelling is at its best, it reveals truths of a large passage within all of us.

2. What do you think makes a character a compelling villain or hero? Everyone is the hero of their own story, and they should think of themselves in that way. A villain who sees himself as a hero is always great to follow, as is a hero who’s faced with the choice of a villain. I love when a characters flaw’s get in the way of what they want. Faulkner called it “The heart in conflict with itself.”

3. What did you learn from writing your book that you think would help other writers out there with their craft?
Shrink the plot to the basics and the five senses. We experience the world through the palms of our hands, our eyes, our smell. When I came up with the premise of my last novel, it was pretty outlandish, but by the time I finished, many of the reviews were that “This could really happen.” I hope this is because the reading experience is so personal and intimate. Good storytelling is like a first-person shooter video game with emotion.

4. Are there any horror books that have influenced your life? If so, what are they?
"Cujo" is the one I go back to as my reference for horror novels and is an example of horror at its best; our inner fears expressed in a tangible horrific situation. A woman feels alone, alienated and betrayed by her husband and she ends up stuck in a pinto with a dead battery, her son near death, boiling alive in the car, with nobody to help her. A family dog, who is supposed to show loyalty and unconditional love, like a spouse, is on the attack.

5. What is the scariest book you ever read, and what was your reaction to it?
I’ll pick an unusual one. “Watseka: America's Most Extraordinary Case of Possession and Exorcism" by David St. Clair. It’s out of print now. It’s the story of a true possession, so to speak. I read it at a young age which is why I think it left a mark.

6. Do you think that writing will be a long-term career goal for you?
However little I write, I will keep writing. The adage I am living by these days is: Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still. I hope to retire a full time writer. This may mean I will do so at age 50 or 60 or 71. I want ‘Writer’ on my tombstone.

7. Who is your favorite author, and what have you taken away from their books?
Lately I am having a huge Gillian Flynn crush. Growing up I got drunk to the rhythm of Jack Kerouac and wanted to be him. On a more literary bent, I find Richard Ford writes the most amazing prose and Cormac McCarthy paints the page with the most vivid of tones. As for the master, as respected as he is, I think Stephen King is underrated by those who don’t take his work seriously. Posthumously, his stock will skyrocket.

8. While this may seem like a given to some people, others may be wondering, why write horror? What is it that attracts you to the macabre?
I am not the first horror writer who doesn’t really see himself as a horror writer. Perhaps Dark Fiction fits better. This is not because I am against the label; I just think it is perceived by others as somehow more simplistic. This perception is bullshit. Sure, there’s some horror simply for the sake of entertainment, but smart horror brings forth the most deepest of human emotion. Fear is the primal root of everything.

Fiction is just drama with the heat turned up to create conflict, and if you turn the heat up high enough, it becomes horrific and it gets labeled as horror. Horror to me is as much marketing as it is a genre. Something bleeds in every novel. My first novel was the horror of drug addiction. My second novel the horror of being abandoned and losing your identity. Neither would be called horror as a genre. My latest is more of the Jack Ketchum variety.

10. Halloween is just around the corner. Have you ever had any interesting/spooky/fun experiences during the best holiday of the year that you'd like to share with your readers?
I wanted to kill someone on Halloween two years ago. A man purposely scared my 5 year old daughter with a glowing skull in a mailbox trick and then laughed as she cried. I still may kill him. In fact, I am going to kill him after I get through answering these questions. And slowly. Like over six months. In my basement. I will give him food and water enough to keep him alive but also dissect and dismember him a bit as he screams. Centipedes will be dropped into his mouth and leeches will be applied to his wounds. When he finally dies, I will put his own skull in the mailbox of his home with the note, “How do you like them apples?”

11. What is the one thing that scares you the most?
Being powerless while a fragile member of my family is hurt or threatened. (see above).

12. How were you introduced to the horror genre?
My late brother introduced me to the classics. "Night of the Living Dead." "The Evil Dead." "Phantasm." "Last House on the Left."  He could watch them over and over and talk about them all the time. In my novel I acknowledge that without him, my latest novel would never have been. I have imaginary conversations with him after every horror movie I see.

13. What is your favorite horror movie?
Rather than recite the usuals, one movie I think is under-rated is "Candyman."  Other shout-outs: The remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" was incredible, and I love the intensity of "House of 1,000 Corpses" and "The Devil’s Rejects."

14. Do you use childhood experiences and your own nightmares as inspiration? Have you ever used some of your own personal phobias in your writing?
I was an insecure little fellow who internalized the terror of the outside world into a big ball of fear in my gut, so there’s that. One moment of fear is stuck deep in my brain. I was sleeping in my basement one night and was terrified by the thick black darkness. I started hearing noises that weren’t just noises, but like something breathing in the room. I was convinced we built our house on top of hell and thus by sleeping in the basement I was sleeping in hell. I slept under a blanket, hot and sweaty and shaking.

15. Does your creative process, the one where you originally come up with the concept for a horror story, involve daydreaming, brainstorming, ripping stories from headlines, research into legends and myths, or just using plain old terrific fantasies that you've had?
I get many of my best ideas as I run. 45 minutes into a run the ideas flow like sweat and my imagination is loose like I’m drunk. Sometimes the ideas suck, but often times not. On the Lips of Children was conceived after a dark trail run just as described in the novel. 51% of that novel is true. The rest, of course, is also true even if I made it up.

16. What is one thing that you'd like people to know about horror writers?
They have the finest hearts around. Those who are most sensitive to life’s terrors experience it the deepest and can describe it with the most detail.

17. What got you interested in writing, and how long have you been doing it?
As early as sixth grade writers were my heroes. The power of a book and a story amaze me, and the minds of those who came up with them have my highest respect.

18. What, for you, is the hardest part of writing? How do you overcome writer's block?
I don’t really get Writer’s Block. I may waste a lot of time writing something I don’t use, but really, it’s just a long way to stumble upon a road that’s worth riding on. For now, the hard part is I want to write too much, and just don’t have the time.

19. Tell us about your current novel.
It’s the story of a tattoo artist who falls in love with his human canvass. They travel with their child to run a marathon in San Diego, but the day before, they are taken hostage by a bizarre family living in a San Diego to Tijuana drug tunnel. The two children in this family had to be fed the blood of hostages to keep them alive, and this has changed them forever. Throw in a mysterious tribe of homeless men and some bath salts for good measure.

It turns into a family versus family battle, with two mothers doing their all to protect their children. The title is inspired by the saying “Mother is the name for God on the lips of all Children”. In some ways, I like to see it as an adult retelling of the childhood classic, ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ More about that here.

20. Are you working on your next novel or short story at the moment? If so, what is it about?
I have a story appearing in a James Ward Kirk “Cellar Door” anthology. The story is written to the Neil Young song “The Needle and the Damage Done.” I also have a short story in the Dark Carnival project this month on the Pen and Muse writing site. It’s titled: “Wicked Smart Carnie”

“Placebo” is the tentative title of my next novel, which still needs a ton of work, but is the story of a new opiate drug that has some very unsettling effects on a Detroit Neighborhood. Like all my works, the setting will be one I am familiar with. Stay tuned.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks Cassie! Since we're both from Michigan, I can point out where the man lives who scared my daughter with the glowing skull in the mailbox on Halloween. Of course, then you'd be an acomplice in my crime.