Ginger Nuts of Horror
Mark Matthews’ All Smoke Rises perfectly encapsulates horror
as a reflection of real life.
To celebrate the launch of Mark Mathews latest novella All Smoke Rises, Ginger Nuts of Horror is proud to be given the opportunity to bring to you Kealan Patrick Burke's introduction to this sequel to the excellent Milk Blood.
The prequel to All Smoke Rises was given a glowing review on Ginger Nuts of Horror. Please read on and if you like the sound of the book please consider purchasing it through the Amazon links contained within this article.
A reader once asked me if I thought it was possible to be a horror writer without experiencing any kind of emotional trauma. It was an interesting question and also, like most interesting questions, rather tough to answer. I do think it’s possible to write horror without having had a hard life or any skeletons in the closet, but who among us is lucky enough to claim that we’ve never endured death, heartbreak, fear, or loss of some kind? I know plenty of horror writers who are jovial, happy people, many of whom had “perfect childhoods” (a description I am predisposed to find suspicious) and seemingly great lives. But life, by its very nature, trains us to be horror writers. The fears, anxieties, concerns that are waiting for you every time you open your eyes and prepare to face the day, are really all the tools you need to open a Word document and start to explore the dark corners of both your psyche and the world around you.
And if somehow, by some miracle you weren’t raised by demons or suffocated by death and depression and your past contains no trace of dark blemishes that have stained your soul, well, you can still turn on the news and see how nightmarish life can be for people who are not quite so blessed.
As long as there are people, there will be horror, and those who feel compelled to analyze it. This leads to another question and one I get asked almost as often as the dreaded “Where do you get your ideas?” and that’s: “In a world this fucked up, how can you justify writing horror?” The answer to this one, at least, is simple: “To understand it.” With so much darkness and hate and violence and madness in the world, sometimes the only way to try to make sense of it is to personify it as a conquerable monster. We can’t keep people from being massacred in Africa or Serbia or inside our own schools and movie theaters, but we can drive a stake through the heart of a vampire, vanquish a werewolf with a silver bullet, or lop off the head of a shambling zombie. It’s horror we can control, even if that just means closing the book. It’s a door we are allowed to close.
We have no such power over real life.
Which brings me to the book you hold in your hands now.
Mark Matthews’ All Smoke Rises perfectly encapsulates horror as a reflection of real life.
When it was first released, some reviewers had difficulty with the subject matter—that of a child needing frequent injections of heroin to stay alive—and the fact that there are few, if any, sympathetic characters.
I find this somewhat baffling, and these are two of the novella’s characteristics that most endeared me to it.
Horror fiction has always been most powerful when it subverts, subjugates and scrutinizes the predominant fears and anxieties of a given time period. In a way I found reminiscent of another suffocating and gloriously dark genre piece, Darren Aronofsky’s film Requiem for a Dream, All Smoke Rises trains a cold, unwavering eye on addiction, the circumstances and desperation that lead to it, and the far-reaching consequences of that addiction. Is there any horror more devastating and tragic than the death of a child, or of a young girl being born into addiction and made to be its slave?
A few weeks ago, I saw a news story about a nine-year-old boy here in Columbus who suffers from the inescapable compulsion to scream, throw fits, and bite people whenever they get close to him. He can’t concentrate when there is any kind of stimuli nearby, he cannot relate to people, even his parents, and he has to be medicated to sleep. And why? Because his mother took heroin when he was in utero. The child has a counselor, endures ongoing therapy, but it seems as if there is little that can be done to improve his condition. The boy was doomed before he was even born. He lives in a shitty, rundown neighborhood where low income families are shunted, only for it to become a no-go area when desperate people turn to crime to make ends meet. “Problem zones” the city calls them and it’s exceedingly rare that anyone takes responsibility for the creation of those zones in the first place.
One of the things I loved most about All Smoke Rises is that—and this is the case with everything from Frankenstein to Ringu—the monster at the heart of the story is also the victim and as such we are horrified even as we are forced to understand and even sympathize with them. In Matthews’ story, like that poor kid from Columbus, Lilly didn’t ask to be born an addict, and now, emerged from the chrysalis of death, she has no choice but to feed on the tainted blood of others to keep the pain from tearing her asunder. Her condition is not presented as a metaphorical one, but that hardly dissuades the perceptive reader from divining plenty of subtext herein. Lily is her neighborhood, she is the cost of society’s blind eye, the product of a failed system. Lily is the victim, a monster of our own creation. Children are so often at the mercy of their parents that it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for the child, charred skin, dead eyes and homicidal henchmen notwithstanding. She is a product of her environment, of the careless decisions of others, her life shaped for her long before she was born. By us, because we are the true monster.
These are things everyone knows, but when it comes to the horrors of addiction, of poverty and the consequences of dubious choices, Mark Matthews may know more than most. Per his official bio, he is “a licensed professional counselor who has worked in mental health and substance abuse treatment for over 20 years”. If you consider all that he must have seen and heard in those two decades, I think you’ll agree that we are fortunate All Smoke Rises is short and only as horrifying as it is. And make no mistake, when it comes to citations of true horror, you’d be hard pressed to find a deeper and more challenging example than you will here. Matthews knows the heartbreak and tragedy of his subject. By the time you’re done reading this, you will too, and that’s something you should see, even if you don’t want to, even if it makes you uncomfortable, and creeps under your skin like milk-blood.
Because that, too, is the definition of horror.
Kealan Patrick Burke
Ten year old Lilly is the victim of a terrible house fire and a wretched family. Her father is an addict with mental illness, her mother was murdered and then buried across the street, and her uncle got her addicted to heroin.
Lilly's tragic story has been told in the book ALL SMOKE RISES, and it may be true, for the author has broken into your house, and placed Lilly's body on your kitchen counter. He demands you read the manuscript, before cutting his own wrists and bleeding out on your floor.
Now you have decisions to make, for her body may not be dead, and her family is coming for her.
ALL SMOKE RISES is a follow up to MILK-BLOOD but can also be read as a stand-alone story.
OPTIONED FOR A FULL-LENGTH FEATURE FILM
Lilly is ten years old, living in poverty, born with a heart defect, and already addicted to heroin. Her mother is gone from her life, and there are rumors that she was killed by her father and buried near the abandoned house across the street. The house intrigues her, she can't stay away, and the monstrous homeless man who lives there has been trying to get Lilly to come inside.
For her mother is there, buried in the back, and this homeless man is Lilly's true father, and both want their daughter back.
"Incredibly powerful! Guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat."
-THE HORROR BOOKSHELF