Interview conducted by: Matt Molgaard
Jack Ketchum is one of those authors that creates fiction that sticks to the bones. Hell, his work sticks to the soul and the psyche. A man known for powerful, passionate writing, Jack is one of today’s most recognizable and respected authors. To be given the chance to toss a few questions in his direction was an absolute honor, and to be completely honest, I’m still left in awe.
The man’s awesome! And so is this quick Q&A: prepare yourselves, Jack is a no-nonsense guy who holds a firm grasp on his life’s quest. And, he also appreciates the fans, which – in my opinion – enables him to craft magical pieces. For Jack, it seems a release, and it seems he’s quite pleased with sharing his mind with us, the addicted reader.
Horror Novel Reviews: Your style of writing is really rather unforgiving. You’re a very no-nonsense author who doesn’t seem concerned with pulling any punches. Does that style stem from personal experiences, and or hardships? Or is that simply the way the mind of Jack Ketchum functions?
Jack Ketchum: Pulling punches is for fighters who don’t want to win. I want to win. Because my opponent is usually some sociopathic asshole who doesn’t deserve to go the distance. I suppose part of it is personal experience. We’ve all encountered people who just don’t seem to get the trick to being human, who don’t understand empathy and compassion or even think in those terms. There are a hell of a lot of them out there. Michigan just passed a law saying that women who want insurance coverage for an abortion in the case of rape or incest would have to buy a separate rider, that they’d somehow have to anticipate the possibility of being raped beforehand, and that the only way an insurer could provide coverage for any abortion is if the woman’s life’s is in danger. The first time around the governor vetoed it. But the right-to-lifers gathered 300,000 votes to bring it up again and it passed into law. 300,000 people! Who have no understanding of real compassion. Want to know the way my mind works? I’m out to get them.
HNR: The Girl Next Door is one of the darkest, most impacting novels I’ve ever read. When you’re writing a book as harrowing as The Girl Next Door, does it play on your own psyche? Does a concept like that crawl under your skin when the typing has ceased and you’re resting in bed, thinking about such a horrific situation?
JK: Quite the contrary. It’s more like an exorcism. You think about these people and these awful situations to the extent that you try to feel the experiences you’re describing, really give it your best empathic shot, and once you’ve got them down to your satisfaction, you’re free of them. You go on to your next demon.
HNR: I want to touch down on your work with Ed Lee. Lee is an extremely graphic, boundary pushing author. Does he encourage you to venture into deeper, more grotesque content?
JK: Who says I need encouragement? Lee and I work different sides of the street usually. He’s more out there imaginatively, whereas my terrain is normally closer to realism or naturalism. But occasionally we come together for a piece here and there and it’s always great fun, like the stories in SLEEP DISORDER or the round-robin book we just participated on with seven other writers, SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD, just out with Amazon. Lee started the ball rolling on that one and I knew from the get-go that we were all in trouble. The Edward Lee kind of trouble.
HNR: How did the two of you meet, and subsequently decide some collaboration work was something that needed to happen?
JK: Lee wrote me a fan letter. Remember letters? They were good letters. And once he got through calling me Mr. Ketchum he revealed that he was a published writer too. I asked to see one and he sent me either COVEN or INCUBUS or SUCCUBUS or maybe all three at once, I don’t remember. But I read those three first, with a kind of glee. Because you can sense the glee behind all Lee’s work. If you want to hear me expand on that, go to the freebie on my website, PRESENTING EDWARD LEE, at http://jackketchum.net We progressed to talking on the phone. And then he convinced me to go to his and my own first horror convention as roommates. We’ve been buds ever since. Our collaborations are always either a story Lee doesn’t think quite works that I can mess around with, or one for which I’ve found absolutely no ending. Lee always has an ending.
HNR: While I’m talking the meeting of two minds, tell me: What’s it like working with Lucky McKee? Obviously a very, very talented individual, and it seems Ketchum/McKee works refuse to disappoint.
JK: Lucky and I have such like-minded sensibilities it’s like we sort of had to find one another sooner or later. He has a great deal of fun with his work and I do too, we see the work as play, but at the same time we’re both dead serious about it. We worry about the same issues and have very similar ideas as to how to disturb and scare you and why we should bother. Lucky’s a bit gentler than I am. There are places he’d rather not go with his stuff. Though I have to say, very few of them. But we respected one another’s strong suits from the very beginning, and knew how we could help one another produce the sparks.
HNR: Do you celebrate Christmas, and if so, what does a Jack Ketchum Christmas look like?
JK: Christmas has become less and less important to me in direct proportion to my increasing dislike and fear of any religion whatsoever. ‘Nuff said.
HNR: A question I like to toss at elite talents: What advice would you give to a young/aspiring author?
JK: Patience. Take your time. Submit your stuff and handle rejection. Don’t take the easy way and rush into the self-publishing arena if you want people to take you seriously as a writer. Read enormously and spread your reading net wide. Prepare yourself by stealing shamelessly from other writers’ licks and play with them and make them your own. And then, as Robert Bloch said so many years ago to me, write only if you have to. If you’re in this game for fame or money, do us all a favor and fuck off.
HNR: What’s next for you? Anything you’re currently working on? Any minor details you might be willing to share with us?
JK: I’m working on a few short stories to complete a new collection, as yet untitled. It’s been a while since CLOSING TIME AND OTHER STORIES. There’s a book of my poems just out in e-book format called NOTES FROM THE CAT HOUSE. Check my website for details. I have to warn you, I’m sticking my neck out on this one. There’s not a drop of blood spilled anywhere. I read and recorded them just last month at Lucky’s house toward an audio book which hopefully will be out early next year. It’ll be in book form too eventually. Also recorded I’M NOT SAM and WHO’S LILY? and my story THE BOX. So by the end of next year you may be sick of my voice. Guess I’ll just have to keep on writing.
HNR would like to issue a warm thanks to Mr. Ketchum. An awesome, honest guy that I’ve been itching to chat with for too many years to count. Jack, you do not disappoint, my friend! Best wishes in all your future endeavors, on behalf of the entire HNR crew! Keep scaring the shit out of fans, we love it!