Monday, July 8, 2013

On the Lips of Children by Mark Matthews: Interview


Hello Mark. Thanks for stopping by.  I’m really excited to find out more about youyou’re your book!  First, tell us about your latest release, “On the Lips of Children”

 It’s the story of a tattoo artist, his human canvass, and their child who get kidnapped by a family living in a San Diego to Tijuana drug tunnel who are raising their own twin children underground.

The twins had been trapped with their mother in the tunnel as babies, and the only way they were able to survive is for the mother to feed them the blood of hostages who were trapped there as well. When the tunnel to the United States’ side is opened, the children have been changed forever.

~Released just a month ago, the novel has received excellent reviews on amazon. The title comes from the phrase, “Mother is the name for God on the Lips of all Children,” which is tattooed on a main character.

As horrific as it sounds, the story is about family and what the human spirit will endure for what we love.  These are real characters with yearnings for happiness and wholeness. Much of the feedback on the story is how it could actually happen.

Where does the story come from?

The idea came from a predawn, dark run in San Diego on a secluded trail along the highway, nearly exactly as described in the novel. It was so dark I could barely see the trail, and ran by faith, not by sight.  As I ran, bodies of sleeping homeless men were strewn about the trail; some of them shuffling, some rising.  I felt the specter of Tijuana not far from me, and my imagination grew

I’ve actually been to Tijuana, and not just the tourist areas but deep in the bowels to places where I wouldn’t go back. I did research into Tijuana drug cartels and kidnappings, and worked hard to make the exotic setting a strong presence in the novel.

In some ways, I see the novel as a retelling of the children’s literature classic, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and the book is directly referenced in the story.

This novel seems of a different genre than your first two, what are your thoughts on Horror?

There is plenty of darkness in my first two, but this novel does take it a bit farther. It is my belief that horror provides perhaps the most powerful, visceral, and deeply moving ways to experience art.  Not only that, but the darkest of horror writers have the finest hearts around

Yes, in Horror, people are threatened. People get hurt. People are killed. There’s evil. There’s blood. You feel threatened by dark forces. But I would argue that something gets cut open in any novel, each story has something that bleeds, (even if it’s just Holden Caulfield’s innocence, for example) My novel uses the darkness of horror with the purpose of highlighting the glow of the human spirit. You need the dark to see the stars, as my character Dante says after snorting some bath-salts.  

What helps you to write?          
Running, for one. During every run I take a do a little writing in my head. About forty-five minutes in to any run my writing mojo is released. My ideas become more grand, and heated blood lubricates my insides such that loose associations flow through my veins. My characters have conversations, my plots turn incredible and I am master of the universe.  ROAR!!!

Of course, some of this writing sucks.  I return home and the reality of putting this on paper hits and it doesn’t always seem as great as it did during the drunkenness of the running moment. Despite the notion that Runners are the dorks of the world, running really brings out some edgy shit. It makes you sweat and bleed all over the world, and sometimes, the sweat and blood ends up on the page.

Is there a piece of advice about writing that you have received that has really stuck with you?

That 50% of what I write might be crap, but it’s important I write it anyway, because you can chisel and chisel away at the crap and find a gold nugget inside. 

What do you think makes a good story, and how does your novel do this?

We have to care about the characters.  I love my characters more than God himself, as the saying goes. The job of the story is to squeeze the characters to find out what’s inside. On the Lips of Children takes all the internal fears of my characters and turns them inside out into an external war on a horrific day. The situation makes them act, and quickly, as the whole novel occurs in a 24 hour period.

What was the scariest moment of your own life?

I had a lot of nightmares as a child. I remember sleeping in our pitch dark basement once and the air was black as ink. Undecipherable noises seemed to mock me, and I felt the presence of something in the dark. I decided then that our house was built directly on top of hell, and that when they dug into the earth to make our basement, they dug right into Hell. I hid under my blanket thinking if I was quiet enough the monsters wouldn’t know I was there.

Fast forward to adult years, and I became an addict and alcoholic. I have done most every drug I have ever seen, and I have seen most of them all. The result being I’ve had some pretty bad trips to dark places, seen things that the best CGI couldn’t reproduce, and had plenty of times I didn’t want to live. 

Fortunately, I am now 21 years clean and sober, and the irony is, now that I am no longer getting stoned, I am free to think ‘stoned’ thoughts and write about them.

Well, that's about it from me.  How about ending by telling us one of your favorite paragraphs from the story:

From the prologue:

“Their tongues were dry, her milk was gone, and the last bit of water in the plastic jug had evaporated. She wondered if her monthly bleeding would arrive to help her measure the time. She urinated often at first, but this had stopped, and there was little bowel to pass. Her fingers clamored over the flesh of her children, always feeling their skin, comforting every piece, holding them against her flesh, cradling them together. They may have been better off had their eyes never opened.”

*Between 2008 and 2012, US authorities discovered at least seventy-five drug-smuggling tunnels along the length of the 1,950-mile border between Tijuana and Southern California.
 This is the story of one of them.
When her child dies of a fatal heart defect, the intense grief gives Erin Facinelli the urge to cut her skin, same way she had as a teenager.  Instead, she gets a tattoo, and soon falls in love with the sweet sting of the tattoo needle as well as the tattoo artist himself, Macon.
Macon fathers her second child, his artwork starts to cover her old scars from cutting, and years later they travel to San Diego where Macon plans to run a marathon.
But the trip becomes much more than a footrace, and it is here that the cutting continues.
During the darkness of a predawn warm-up run, Macon is greeted by a three-headed dog at the trail's entrance, and stumbles upon a network of homeless men who stalk him. Soon he falls prey to a bizarre, Tijuanese family who have lived in a drug smuggling tunnel with their two children, and survive by hijacking and carving the skin of their victims for food and money.
A harrowing, twenty-four hour test begins for Macon to rescue his family. Their love will be tested in extreme, horrific measures.  Family meets family, and mother meets mother, in a world where the saying is confirmed: "Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children."

Mark Matthews is a therapist who has worked in the behavioral-health field for nearly twenty years and has been writing for just as long. The novel, "On the Lips of Children,"  is based on an actual morning run he took on a trail in San Diego, where the lubricants of running made his imagination flow. His first novel Stray is based on experiences working in a treatment center with an animal shelter right next door within barking distance. He is an avid marathoner, and his second novel The Jade Rabbit is the story of a Chinese adoptee who runs marathons to cope with her history of trauma and struggles to save youth in a Detroit-area runaway shelter. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, a licensed professional counselor, and lives near Detroit with his wife and two daughters. He blogs at Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon. Visit his author page on Amazon, or reach him at
On Twitter.  @matthews_mark


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