Ginger Nuts of Horror is honoured to bring you an interview with Jack Ketchum, one of the true giants of the genre, a man who has been an inspiration and an influence on countless writers. The landscape of horror would not be in the same shape without the contributions of this great writer.
Jack Ketchum is the pseudonym for a former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk -- a former flower child and baby boomer who figures that in 1956 Elvis, dinosaurs and horror probably saved his life. His first novel, Off Season, prompted the Village Voice to publicly scold its publisher in print for publishing violent pornography. He personally disagrees but is perfectly happy to let you decide for yourself. His short story The Box won a 1994 Bram Stoker Award from the HWA, his story Gone won again in 2000 -- and in 2003 he won Stokers for both best collection for Peaceable Kingdom and best long fiction for Closing Time. He has written eleven novels, the latest of which are Red, Ladies' Night, and The Lost. His stories are collected in The Exit At Toledo Blade Boulevard, Broken on the Wheel of Sex, and Peaceable Kingdom. His novella The Crossings was cited by Stephen King in his speech at the 2003 National Book Awards.
Hello Jack, it is an honour to speak with one of the greats of the genre. This month sees the release 35th anniversary edition of Off Season looking back at your career as a writer do you think the censorship issues that the book had upon its initial release may have actually helped drive your career forward?
I don't think the censorship helped at all. At its first release, I was the only one who knew it was censored. But I think the outraged reviews helped. The Village Voice went on for two long columns excoriating it, with a review titled YECCCHH! I figure that didn't hurt
The book came out during a period when films such as Texas Chainsaw, The Hills Have eyes were popular, what you think was the driving force behind these books and films becoming so popular at that point?
That's a question for the sociologists, not me. When I wrote it Reagan was in office, John Lennon was shot dead. I think a lot of us Vietnam-era brats were finally coming into our own, and our work might well have reflected the world-view bred by that.
On a similar note it’s certainly been an interesting period in American history. And horror has always found inspiration in current events, how do you see the genre evolving with regards to this new era we are entering?
With Trump in the White House? The mind boggles....
Your latest novel The Secret Life of Souls is also released this month, how did you come to work with Lucky McKee?
Lucky optioned my novel RED to direct and THE LOST for his buddy Chris Sivertson to direct, and we immediately hit it off. Creatively we were on the same page from the very beginning. And eventually, with THE WOMAN, we thought it would be neat to come up with an original book and movie written by the two of us. We had a great time and followed it up with I'M NOT SAM and a few short stories, and now, THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS. Both SAM and SOULS have screenplays already written and ready to go, by the way, should anybody out there feel like making another McKee/Ketchum movie.
The book features a gifted dog, what was the inspiration behind this?
Lucky and I are both shameless animal lovers. I had dogs all the time growing up and then when I moved into the city, cats. Lucky's pretty much always had a dog too and just got his first cat this year. I can no sooner imagine a life without an animal in it than I can imagine one without people in it. They're essential to my well-being, and they have so much to teach. I suspect Lucky feels the same. So with SOULS, we got to celebrate that a bit.
Our original title for the book was HEELER, by the way. Because Caity's a Queensland Heeler and what's a good cat or dog but, among other things, a healer?
You are known as the “scariest man in horror” do you ever feel pressured to maintain this image?
Nah. If you've read my entire output you know that I'm all over the place writing-wise and have been for many years now. There's a good deal of black comedy in there, for instance. And you can't really call RED or COVER or even THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS horror novels, strictly speaking. Plus as I grow older I find that there's a lot more out there which, fundamentally, is a lot more horrifying than splatter.
What has been the one thing you are most proud of as a writer, and what is your biggest regret?
Hell, I'm proud of surviving in this business, for one thing. And then I guess making some small contribution to the dialogue about what's meaningful in life, and about empathy. Regrets? Some clunky writing here and there. But that's about it.
I hear that you like to have a whisky when you finish a novel, what’s your favourite brand?
Any one of a number of single-malt scotches. Right now I'm particularly fond of Oban. Nice smooth stuff.
What are you working on now?
Just finished the introduction to a charity anthology about dreams. Then I've promised a few short stories and when Lucky finishes his movie we'll be talking about a new collaboration. We've both got some ideas to toss around.
Thank you for the opportunity to chat with you, it has been a huge pleasure.
Pleasure's mine. Keep reading, folks!
Check out our review of Off Season here