Jack Ketchum is the pseudonym for a former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk. He is also 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 and he has written ten novels, the latest of which are Stranglehold, Red, and Ladies' Night. His stories are collected in The Exit At Toledo Blade Boulevard and Broken on the Wheel of Sex.
1) Tell Buried.com about yourself
Well, I was born in '46 and raised in New Jersey, in a small town much like that in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, got my B.A. in English from Emerson College in Boston, taught high school for two years -- and got in some political hot water there -- did summer stock for a while in New York, Maine and New Hampshire, crossed the country -- you almost had to if you were a hippie -- got a job doing soft-sell ad copy for the PSYCHOLOGY TODAY Book Club out of San Diego which I took back east with me, moved to New York and wrote theatre reviews for a little East Side giveaway rag called OUR TOWN, moved to New Hampshire and did my Thoreau thing way out in the middle of nowhere, came back to New York with some halfway decent writing under my belt, got an agent for a children's book called THE SANDCASTLE and an off-off-Broadway theatre company to produce a few one-act plays of mine, two of which I directed, then acted and sang some more in summer stock and finally took a good hard look at the bank account which was sufficiently insufficient to inspire me to get a "real" job as an agent for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, a job that lasted three hellish years, taught me everything I know about contracts, editing and marketing, handed me some invaluable contacts and slapped me with a near nervous-breakdown and finally kicked my ass into gear to get down to the business of selling what I wrote, not what everybody else did -- and the rest, except for a brief stint back in San Diego editing a paleontology magazine called FOSSILS, is on the resume. And that was one hell of a sentence.
2) What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you?
That I get to scare my friends. I never could manage that when I was just a little fat kid. No, seriously. I like its flexibility. Good horror grabs you and holds you. And once you've done that to a reader you can take him anywhere, talk about issues that are important to you, real matters of life-and-death. And then it's just plain fun to read and fun to write.
3) Your horror fiction is reality based, primarily with people doing horrible thing to each other, whether it be cannibalism (OFF SEASON) or killing without (seemingly) reason (LADIES NIGHT). Do you think you'll ever write a more fantasy-oriented novel?
Probably not. Though SHE WAKES is supernatural horror and so are some of my stories. But there are other guys -- King, Tessier, Straub, to name just an obvious few -- who do that with a lot more conviction and grace than I can muster over the number of pages it takes to write a novel.
4) Some writers say that what they write doesn't have much to do with themselves-others say that their writing is very much influenced by their own experiences. How is this with you?
Depends by what you mean by experiences. You see a sound-bite on TV that infuriates you as happened to me with RED, is that experience? I'd say it is. I draw from whatever comes my way -- what I read, see in the movies, a conversation in a bar, the lives of people I love or loathe. I find myself saying to friends a lot, "you mind if I steal that someday?" Most often they say sure.
5) You've co-written some short stories with "Ed Lee". How did that come about?
Lee and I met at our very first horror convention and immediately became fast friends. Some time later he asked me if I'd like to tinker with a story he thought was pretty good but couldn't seem to get a handle on. I'm a pretty decent editor so I did. The result was LOVE LETTERS FROM THE RAIN FOREST. Basically Lee's story with me doing some rewriting, polishing and editing. We did another one like that and then I had one I couldn't find an ending for, so I sent that to him, and that became MASKS.
6) What is the weirdest true life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?
Jeez. There are a lot of them in the books and stories already. One of the unlikely but true things I haven't written about that springs immediately to mind -- no big deal but, to me, pretty odd -- is that out of the five suite-mates I had freshman year in college, only one of whom I kept in touch with -- the rest having gone their separate ways, the Marine Corps, rabbinical school, all over -- I met the other four each by accident on the streets of New York City. But then New York's a weird town anyway.
7) Who is YOUR favorite horror author.
Herman Melville. MOBY DICK.
8) If you could take a SCREAM QUEEN home for a night who would it be and why?
Boy, is that an easy one. Jamie Lee Curtis. And if you have to ask me why you oughta have your head examined.
9) You have many of your books published in England. Do you think the foreign market is more receptive to horror than the U.S?
I dunno. I've published in England, Italy, Greece, Japan, France, and Russia. But not extensively, except in Japan and briefly, England. So I'm not really an expert in foreign markets. The Japanese seem to like my stuff a lot though -- they've bought and translated everything from RED to RIGHT TO LIFE. And OFF SEASON was even serialized in a magazine concurrently with its book publication.
10) Anything you want to add?
I never add. I use the calculator. I know, I know, I'm being a wiseass. Okay, everybody go out and buy my new novel THE LOST, my novella THE PASSENGER in NIGHT VISIONS 10, and if you haven't got THE UNEXPURGATED OFF SEASON, COVER, LADIES' NIGHT, or THE GIRL NEXT DOOR yet -- well, shame on you.