The Good Cringe: Julie Shoots Off At The Mouth About On The Lips Of Children
TODAY’S BREW: All The Coffee, All Flavors and Sizes
“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.”
Yeah, that’s just part of the prologue of Mark Matthews’ new novel, On the Lips of Children, the story of a tattoo artist, his human canvas, and their child who get kidnapped by a blood-thirsty tweaker family raising their twin children in a drug tunnel.
Because I am spoiled, and Mark is being published alongside me at Books of the Dead Press, I got to read this before the rest of you jimooks. This book is one of the rare ones that I could only read in small bits and pieces because it made me so emotional and wore on me so heavily. The wording is incredibly vivid and gut-wrenching, but it’s the sheer possibility of the premise that makes this such an intense read. I’d challenge any parent to be able to read it and not cringe at the thought that this could be you and your children. Mark says, “mother is indeed the name for God on the lips of all children, and love for family is at the core of this story.”
So, how the hell did this grim shit crop up in the gentleman’s mind? “The idea came from a predawn, dark run in San Diego. 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 as I passed, some rising, and my imagination grew. What if these men were part of some insidious network, what if they were after me? I felt the specter of Tijuana not far from me, and eventually did more research into drug cartels and Tijuana kidnappings.
I came up with the idea of a mother who was trapped with her babies in a drug tunnel and would do anything for their survival, even if it meant feeding off the bodies of others. The twins are raised this way, and it changes them forever.”
Mark’s writing playlist of Nine Inch Nails and The White Stripes, plus some influence from Cujo show through in the novel’s grim tone. I thought it was very cool that Mark actually has been to the area he wrote about. He said, “The exotic nature of the Tijuana to San Diego drug tunnel needed as much care in developing as any character. I have been deep into the bowels of Tijuana to places I wouldn’t go back.”
Also, Mark says cool stuff. I read books written by people who say cool stuff. He said this, for example. “I see fiction as life with the volume turned up, and nothing turns up the volume of life like a little darkness to outline the glow of the human spirit. You need the dark to see the stars, as the character Dante says after snorting some bath-salts.” Obviously, he can write.
I never want to go there either, but I would go back to On the Lips of Children.
Mark Matthews has worked in the behavioral health field for nearly 20 years, including psychiatric hospitals, runaway shelters, and substance abuse treatment centers. 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 runner, and his second novel, The Jade Rabbit, is the story of a woman, adopted from China, who is raised in Detroit and runs marathons to deal with lingering trauma. Follow Mark’s blog, Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon. Bother him on Twitter @matthews_mark .