by Monica S. Kuebler



ONE IN SOME FORM. In its worst incarnations, it is ca- pable of birthing the kind of real-life horror stories that make the nightly news. Ones marked with tragedy, grief, and the cooling bodies of those gone far too soon.

Given art’s propensity to draw inspiration from life, it’s no surprise that addiction spawns equally compelling and terrifying fictional narratives, es- pecially when it dares dance with the supernatural – and other hungry things that stalk the night for a fix. This is borne out in graphic detail in a pair of no-holds-barred anthologies, 2017’s Garden of Fiends and this year’s Lullabies For Suffering (both edited by Mark Matthews and available from Wicked Run Press).

“We are in [the midst of] an explosion of great, powerful, poignant horror, and I believe that is be- cause horror has the capacity to speak to trauma in a uniquely personal fashion,” Matthews tells Rue Morgue. “What better way to capture the barren emotional and spiritual states that come with addic- tion than horror? The craving for a substance is not much different than that of a vampire who craves blood. The addict must stay hidden in the shadows to exist, a perpetually cold emptiness in their gut that is never satiated.”

It’s a feeling Matthews knows intimately given his own struggle with addiction; not only has it found its way into these anthologies, but it’s also driven his stand-alone novels (Milk-Blood and All Smoke Rises, among them). Consider it a particularly on- the-nose example of the old adage “write what you know.”

“I can so easily tap into that feeling,” he says. “It’s a part of me. Part of what we learn in recovery, and

something I can just feel is true, is that you don’t fully recover from this. At least I don’t. I’ve been in recovery for 25 years, but I still feel the addiction inside me, speaking to me. My mouth waters when I think of vodka. I feel an electric jolt down my spine when I see someone snorting cocaine in a movie. In this way, recovering addicts like myself remain as possessed as Regan with her head spinning and her body getting torn apart, perpetually

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awaiting exorcism. Yet, at the same time, what testament to the human spirit that the desire for health and wholeness can battle such demons.” While many anthologies are hit and miss, both Garden and Lullabies de- liver a gut-punch right from the first tale and keep the blows coming until the final one. There’s a reason for this: the stories have been carefully and painstakingly curated.

“Each of the writers has a piece inside that only they could write,” Mat- thews explains. “Gabino Iglesias with his ‘barrio noir’ has a tale set in Puer- to Rico that blends genres. Caroline Kepnes flexes her literary muscles and uses her heralded second-person point of view which helped turn her novel YOU into one of the greatest series on Netflix. Kealan Patrick Burke delivers a master class in writing horror with his Faulkner-type prose. Mercedes Yardley nailed the landing with the last story in the book, a bittersweet, sweeping emotional love story. John FD Taff was the backbone, encouraging me to think big.” And big it is. The new book is both longer and broader in scope than the first, with Matthews spe- cifically seeking out novelettes and novellas, which would allow for greater depth. As a result, the addic- tions explored are more varied. There are the usual substances, but other stranger, darker cravings find the light of day, too. “Addiction” wasn’t Matthews’ only stipulation for these collections, however. His own battle with drink and drugs made him demand authenticity from each of the stories; after school special-type morality tales and cliché takes on the subject need not apply.

“I didn’t want [the addict] demonized,” he ex- plains. “Flawed, fractured and damaged, hell yeah, but not belittled or demonized. Everyone is the hero of their own story, and that holds true here. Joe Hill put it so aptly when he said: ‘Horror is not about extreme sadism, it’s about extreme empathy.’ To hear about the nature of addiction in a story, putting the reader into the addict’s body and spirit as it morphs into something unrecognizable and horrific, makes the larger crisis much more personal. In this way, horror facilitates understanding, empathy, and even compas- sion.”

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