Out of all the horror authors, few have the reputation of Jack Ketchum. His novels and stories are often the center of controversy and one only needs to read one of them to see why. He is unafraid to show us the ugliness in our own nature and presents to us fears that are particularly unnerving because they are of threats that we could face on any given day. If you ask this blogger, reality-based horror is much scarier than people crawling out of their graves (no disrespect zombie people!). Because of his unflinchingly realistic style, Ketchum’s work has been a huge influence on my own writing, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him this week.
Read on for the full interview.
LM: How did you come to write professionally?
JK: I pretty much always wrote, all through junior high, high school — I first started submitting to the magazines then — and college, where I had a couple of one-act plays produced and poems and stories in the college literary magazine. My first paid job was writing soft-sell ad copy for the Psychology Today Book Club’s monthly pitch magazine. Essays as to why you really need to buy this book. Then I got a job as an agent for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, where I did major work for Henry Miller, Robert Bloch, Nick Tosches and Marion Zimmer Bradley and minor work for Evan Hunter, Norman Mailer and Arthur C. Clark, among others. Three years of that grueling, sometimes downright nasty business, and though I’d learned an enormous amount about publishing, I was a burnt-out wreck (see HENRY MILLER AND THE PUSH in my little book of memoirs, BOOK OF SOULS for the full story on that.) And I figured by then if I could sell some of the shit my clients were writing I could probably sell my own stuff. I knew who was who among the magazine editors back in 1976 so it wasn’t too hard to get the ball rolling.
LM: What about opting to writing reality-based horrors, rather than supernaturatl creatures, do you feel is the most effective?
JK: I don’t know about you, but what scares me most is what you just might encounter in daily life. Not just the guy who keeps his kids chained up in the basement or the kids who shoot up high schools but the death of a loved one, the roadside accident, alzheimer’s, the marriage gone suddenly south on you. So while I dip into the supernatural now and then those are the things I mainly want to explore.
LM: When beginning a project, do you ever imagine that it will shock and provoke the way that THE WOMAN and OFF-SEASON did?
JK: Sure. Take a look at WEED SPECIES. Probably the cruelest piece I’ve ever written. Only two people, both victims, in the entire cast of characters who aren’t human monsters. I wanted to really kick your butt with that one, make you question a whole huge slice of the human race. Take a look at ONLY CHILD aka STRANGLEHOLD, where daddy’s screwing his eight-year-old son.
LM: Who are some authors working in the field today that you admire?
JK: By “the field” I presume you mean horror? Because if you don’t, the list of writers I admire would go on forever. So, to name but a few, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Graham Joyce, Tim Lebbon, Edward Lee, T. M. Wright, Douglas E. Winter, F. Paul Wilson, Thomas Tessier, Ian McEwan, Joe Hill — wait a minute, this list is going on forever! And I’m leaving a lot of excellent people out…
LM: What is next in the world of Jack Ketchum?
JK: I’m working on a new project with Lucky McKee, totally different from THE WOMAN but conceived the same way — as both a book and movie together. And on my own screenplay based on WEED SPECIES. Which for the above-mentioned reasons I think may be unproduceable. I’m doin’ it anyway.
LM: What is the most important thing that someone who wants to enter the field should know?
JK: That the money usually sucks. If you don’t mind that, stick with it.
LM: What is a fun, little-known fact about you that fans and readers may like to know?
JK: That I once fucked an evergreen tree…honest…