From an early age, books shaped who I was. Writers were heroes to emulate. I wanted to be Thoreau, I wanted to be Mark Twain. I wanted to be Jack Kerouac.
There was something inside me that only stories could reach, a music only literature could play.
A similar reaction occurred when I had my first drink. The warm confidence, the blissful contentment. A union with God. All my curses lifted, all my deficits erased. It was love at first sip. Other drugs soon followed. I said “no” to nothing, “yes” to everything.
Pretty soon, I needed it to function. I started drinking alone. Getting shakes. Sweats. I went on drug binges and mixed drinking with cocaine, acid, or crystal meth every chance I could. I needed substances to feel normal, otherwise, I had perpetual flu-like symptoms and was intensely angry and bitter at the world. I didn’t care if I died and was quite certain that, due to drugging and drinking, I would die before I was 30 years old.
I nearly proved myself right. By 23 years old, I had alcoholic hepatitis of the liver, a swollen pancreas, my stomach was bleeding and I was shitting blood (sorry, I know that’s gross to read). More than once I went to detox to sober up after the pain got too much, but then I would drink soon as they released me. When money got tight and I needed $1.89 for a half pint of vodka, I visited car washes since that was the best place to gather returnable cans. Crazy thing was, the more disgusting I became, the more I needed to delude myself about who I really was. In my twisted mind, I was some misunderstood genius who society hadn’t found a place for, and therefore drinking was my only crutch to live with lesser mortals. Truth was, I was a pathetic lump of flesh.
A turning point came when, rather than just detox, I finally succumbed and went to residential treatment for three weeks. I didn’t want to go, but I had no other options. My body could not take any more liquor in it. My spirit was drenched with despair. I remember sitting in the treatment center, unable to stop the tears, and looking out the window with plans to leave, but I had no place to go. Instead, I stayed put, endured the pain of living, and found some humility and some courage. Each day sober felt like a miracle. I learned so much about why I was doing what I was doing, how to stop it, and most importantly, decided my life was worth saving.
No way in hell did I ever think I would go back to college to help other addicts, but that’s what I did. I got a masters in counseling, became a certified addictions counselor, and worked in many different treatment centers. My curse had changed to my calling.
And I returned to my desire to write.
Once I got sober, I started writing again. Writing out the darkness I had experienced was incredibly therapeutic, for if you want to tell the truth, best to do so by making up a story. I wrote one novel, Stray, which was based on a treatment center where I worked that shared a parking lot with an animal shelter. Next I wrote MILK-BLOOD, which tackled poverty, urban despair, and heroin addiction with a supernatural slant. Many readers were shocked by the darkness in the book, but the crazy thing is, it was all true (even if it didn’t happen) and much of the darkness in the book was actually understated. After writing the sequel, All Smoke Rises, I decided to reach out to other authors of dark fiction to see how they would tackle the subject of addiction.
The blog post for ‘addiction horror’ received over ten thousand hits. Hundreds of submissions followed, and I had to boil these down to eight pieces, largely of long fiction and novellas. I can’t promise you’ll like this collection, but I can promise it is different. In scope, in length of stories, in content. I’m incredibly proud of what’s inside, since addiction and horror seem a perfect fit. It takes a works of horror to fully explore the devastation of addiction.
Addicts, in a certain sense, are not that different than vampires: they live within society but hide their true nature while they feed off the living, siphoning their money, their sanity, always safest in the shadows. They feel cursed with their affliction but unable to stop the compulsion to suck the blood out of others.
The blood they suck out is usually their family’s, who suffer as if something monstrous has taken over their loved one. I can’t help but think of the movie, The Exorcist, perhaps the most terrifying horror movie ever made, as an analogy of a desperate, powerless mother trying to save her daughter from addiction. Thankfully, there are parents whose children are saved through sobriety and recovery. I know it works. I’ve seen the horror and the damage done, and I’ve seen many come out the other side and survive. Not without their share of scars. This is the story of some of them.
with stories by; Kealan Patrick Burke, Jessica McHugh, Max Booth III, Glen Krisch, John FD Taff, Johann Thorsson, Mark Matthews, Jack Ketchum
“There’s something here to scare anyone and everyone. Garden of Fiends pushes all the wrong buttons in all the right ways!”-Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of Dogs of War and Mars One
“Garden of Fiends is scary in the realest of ways. What fertile ground for horror.” –Josh Malerman, Bram Stoker nominated author of Bird Box
“A brilliant and original concept, Garden of Fiends captures the struggles of addiction and the horrors they inflict on those affected by it. Yes, it is dark and visceral, but with moments of hope throughout that make this a memorable collection of stories.” –The Horror Bookshelf