The Big Idea: Mark Matthews

Editor Mark Matthews has experience with the world of horror, and the terrors of addiction. In the anthology, Orphans of Bliss, both are explored, with the help of a host of authors who craft stories with both in mind. Here’s Matthews to get under the skin of the anthology.


Orphans of Bliss: Tales of Addiction Horror, the follow up to theShirley Jackson Award nominated, Lullabies for Suffering, is now out of the womb and breathing on its own. This is the third and final fix of ‘addiction horror’ anthologies, and as editor and a contributing writer, it’s been an exhausting, amazing, and cathartic experience.

What’s the Big Idea—Why addiction horror?

I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict, and spent years waking up needing a fix.

Now, as a substance abuse therapist, I’ve seen addiction on a daily basis.

Writing about addiction for me came natural. It’s perpetually part of my fiber. When I bleed on the page, it’s in the color of my blood. I didn’t set out to write horror, I set out to write, and as the addiction element was tapped from my veins, what came out was horror.

Horror felt the only fit, and horror tropes are apt analogies.

Imagine, someone just shot up heroin for the first time, and soon their body will be aching for more the way a vampire thirsts for blood. Someone right now is buying a half pint of vodka with shaky hands at the liquor store, trembling with terror. Parents live with children who seem as if possessed, and soon enough, identify their overdosed body at the hospital.

Truth is actually darker than fiction, and horror shines a revealing light onto the demons, the dark truths of addiction, in a manner no other genre can.

After writing my own addiction horror novels such as Milk-Blood and All Smoke Rises, the Big Idea was—What might other horror writers do with this topic?

And the addiction horror anthologies were born.

One requirement I had for inclusion in the anthologies is empathy and understanding for those who have lived with addiction. Last thing I wanted to do was stigmatize the condition, but rather, illuminate its impact and increase awareness. I wanted a deeper understanding of, and even compassion for, the sick and suffering addict. “Horror is not about extreme sadism, it’s about extreme empathy,” Joe Hill so aptly noted. Until you’ve had your mind and soul hijacked by addiction, it is difficult to comprehend. In the throes of a craving, the desire to obtain and use substances equals the life force for survival itself. Imagine yourself drowning and being told not to swim to the surface for air. Obsessions should be so mild.

Horror is a uniquely powerful genre to reveal larger truths about the world we live in. To hear about the nature of addiction in a story, putting the reader into the addict’s body, brain, and spirit as it morphs into something horrific, makes the larger crisis much more personal than simply citing a statistic. The stories inside these works, some of which include the supernatural, are true, even if they didn’t happen. More people will die of an opioid overdose in the time it takes to read the three anthologies, than actually die in the books.

While the works offer an unflinching portrayal of addiction and those it impacts, the goal is not to condemn those who use substances. God knows I wish I could join you, but I’m one of those who can’t. It’s impossible for me to drink or drug without leading to disaster. I’ve learned to live with the cravings, as so many in recovery have, and how to not feed the beast. It’s statement of the perseverance and power of the human spirit that people continue to fight, and recovery from addiction is something to celebrate.  

Horror as a genre is a testimony to this ferocity of the human spirit that faces our demons. We love Jamie Curtis from the Halloween franchise because, like her, we all have to constantly fight monsters, often from our childhood. And even if the battle is won, the war’s not over. Michael Myers gets up from the spot on the lawn, after that cathartic moment when you were sure he was dead, and he runs back to the darkness from whence he came. Like addiction, the monster is not conquered, but only in remission.

In all, there are 15 different writers spread out over the three analogies. A few writers are in all three, most are only in one.  Feels only right to name them, so pardon me this list, alphabetical by first name: Caroline Kepnes, Cassandra Khaw, Christa Carmen, Gabino Iglesias, Glen Krisch, Jack Ketchum,  Jessica McHugh, Johan Thorson,  John FD Taff, Josh Malerman, Kealan Patrick Burke, Max Booth III, Mercedes M Yardley, S.A Cosby, and Samantha Kolesnik.

Many stories are told from the perspective of family and loved ones who are impacted by addiction, rather than the substance user themselves. (and in fact, the addiction is not always just to substances.) Settings range from treatment centers, to deep space, to the rural woods, to dystopian landscapes. Many tales are as much speculative science fiction as horror.

This is my Big Idea and I hope these books bring people together through increased understanding and awareness, since there’s no better way to tell a dark truth than through a dark work of horror. Horror has the capacity to speak to this trauma in a unique fashion, and when readers journey through tales of trauma, it binds us together as if we’re part of a family, no longer living alone with our fears.

Orphans of Bliss: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the editor’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

3 Comments on “The Big Idea: Mark Matthews”

  1. hard pass…

    I’ve gone back to day drinking after failing to find any competent treatment for depression that was available in NYC

    reading about addiction? no need, I can talk to myself in front of a mirror

    one of those brutal tropes of depression, if I’d committed a murder at age 18 then I could have gained early release by 28, but depression is a life sentence without possibility of parole… 61 and still in prison…

    so yeah, hard pass

  2. Jeez – I usually stay away from horror but will have to check this out. Me and multiple loved ones have all been touched by addiction. I’ve been reading about fetanyl and it sounds, well, horrible, even by addiction standards.

    I think addiction is a fascinating topic, and in another life might have been an addiction counselor.

    I don’t think I’ve read a Big Idea that got me more on a gut level. Mark you remind me a bit of Russell Brand, someone else who has put his hard-won lessons to good use. (I wonder if you could get on his podcast.)

    Also, if you have a source for this quote – “Horror is not about extreme sadism, it’s about extreme empathy,” Joe Hill so aptly noted. – I would appreciate it. Lotsa Joe Hills out there!

  3. Thanks all and special thanks to Jon for featuring this post, and thank you to Hillary! (I couldn’t find a way to reply directly)
    Russell Brand has so much to offer the recovery world by speaking out. I’m a big fan of the book/movie Beautiful Boy, if you’ve never checked it out, highly recommend.

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