Interview with Mark Matthews, author of “On the Lips of Children”
Mark Matthews is the author of three novels, a recovering alcoholic and addict, and a therapist who has worked in the behavioral health field for nearly twenty years, including psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse treatment, and runaway shelters. He has run in thirteen marathons, has two children, and writers have always been his heroes. He is a licensed professional counselor who has worked for many years as a therapist, but many more years as a writer. His first novel, Stray, is based on experiences working in a treatment center with an animal shelter right next door within barking distance. His second novel, The Jade Rabbit, is the story of a woman, adopted from China as an infant, who now manages a runaway shelter in Detroit and runs marathons to cope with her stress. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, an avid hockey fan, and lives near Detroit with his wife and two daughters.
During a warm-up run, Macon falls prey to a bizarre man and his wife who dwell in an underground drug-smuggling tunnel.
They raise their twin children in a way Macon couldn’t imagine: skinning unsuspecting victims for food and money. And Macon, and his family, are next.
Q. You say writers have always been your heroes… who are some of your favorite writers?
A. Books have shaped who I am, and the worlds and art writers create gives them God status in my mind. As for who are my favorites, there are so many to mention. As a teenager, it was Thoreau, Jack London, and of course I read Stephen King and Clive Barker. I remember reading so many Conan the Barbarian stories he entered my dreams.
When I started drinking and drugging, I wanted to be Jack Kerouac and had my tattered version of ‘On the Road.’ That book shaped and described my yearnings for freedom and ‘kicks’ and still does, but I nearly died of drinking just like Kerouac. Instead, I got sober, and now it has been 20 years. I may no longer get stoned, but I still think stoned thoughts.
These days I have a writer’s crush on Gillian Flynn after reading just one book. I love her dark, twisted, and bent-up characters.
Q. In On the Lips of Children the monsters are human, and some of them the people you’d least suspect: children. How hard was it to make the twins believably sinister?
A. Ironically, they aren’t necessarily sinister, they are just living out what they know. They would have died had they not had been fed the liquid of blood as babies, and this became the only fodder their body could handle. They stopped seeing anyone outside of their family as actual people, so for them to feed on the blood of others is like us opening our mouths to the rain. I think of the expression that others judge us by our actions, but we judge ourselves by our intent.
Q. The plot pits two very different families against one another… what can you tell us about them?
A. They are the yin and yang, shaped the same yet opposite each other. Two woman who both love their children, who are both “God” to their children, and will do all they can to help them survive. One reviewer nailed it so well when she stated: One comes from a place of fetid, rancid darkness, the other from a world of searing, cutting light. While the men who surround them fight, maim and torture each other, these two mothers plot, with razor like precision, just how they are going to accomplish their goal
The scenes where the children of both families meet and try to play still buzzes when I reread them.
Q. In a ripped from the headlines twist, bath salts are involved in and so is cannibalism. Without giving too much away, how do they fit into the plot?
A. It was a blast to include that, and in the back of my mind, I imagine this novel as the back story for the highway face-eating incident from Florida. The Bath Salts don’t cause the cannibalism in my novel, but it fits right in. The family was smuggling crystal meth until the tunnel got closed, and since bath salts are readily available, they became the natural substitute. Of course, Bath Salts create some pretty severe paranoia and psychosis. It’s all in there.
Q. You have two other books under your belt, but On the Lips of Children seems to be the only horror/suspense novel. Do you think writing in other genres has helped you develop your writing style for this book?
A. Horror elements are sprinkled in both of my first two novels. In The Jade Rabbit, the runaway shelter is in an old nunnery, and a ghost story is told among the children of a nun who was dissatisfied with the care children were receiving, so hung herself in the basement. She hadn’t done it correctly, so she dangled there slowly starving and gagging. The sounds of her gags were said to have been heard by midnight staff.
Stray has all the horrors of substance abuse; crack cocaine dens, pit bull fighting rings, bloody heroin needles. Both of these novels are character-driven, and I think this is how it helped me write my latest and darkest work.
All fiction is about characters and people’s lives. It is not about the premise, but how someone experiences that premise. Horror just puts characters in some extreme situations. When my brain wanders off to story ideas, it naturally goes to some dark conflicts, but only in order to highlight the human spirit. You need the dark to see the stars, as my character Dante says after snorting some bath-salts.
Q. Do you think human monsters are the most compelling kind?
A. Either humans, or at least those with human characteristics. Scariest thing is the monster who, in the story of their own life, feels no monster at all, but justified in their evil.
Q. Is there anything you’d like our readers to know that we haven’t already covered?
A. On the Lips of Children contains the ever present character of the setting, and that is the underground tunnel between Tijuana and San Diego and all the darkness that comes out of it. The exotic nature of the drug tunnel needed as much care in developing as any character. And I suppose you should know that most of me is still in that underground cavern, wondering if I’m sitting in my grave. With the novel being published, I think I see a trace of light, and I will finally come out for some air. But before I leave, I hope you join me.
Where to Find Mark Online:
On the Lips of Children on Amazon
Stray on Amazon
The Jade Rabbit on Amazon
~ by Sumiko Saulson on June 10, 2013.