The OF Blog: Jack Ketchum Interview

Monday, April 07, 2003

Jack Ketchum Interview

Well, here's an interview I am sure everyone will enjoy! Jack is a very straight forward guy who deals with some of the toughest topics out there. He is ever the voice of victims, and his stories see that they get their due. He has several new projects underway, but has taken the time to answer a few questions for us.

Below, I have some headings where you can post further questions. Jack will be stopping by next week to answer them.

Here's a blurb from his homepage to introduce him:

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."

Thanks for coming in! Read, post questions and enjoy


1 ) I am curious about the book Off Season. It was a story that pushed the limits of graphic horror, with its inclusion of cannibalism and raw terror, and has become one of your most well known books. Unfortunately, many other very good subsequent novels by yourself suffered due to the publishing industry's refusal to publicize or even print many copies of them. It almost seems as though they were either trying to get even with you for sliding the first graphic one by, or were simply afraid to continue to support work at that level of intensity. Either way, it brings two questions to my mind.

1A ) What is your opinion of this, or any kind of censorship? As far as I have been able to gather; the entire run of Off Season sold out (400,000 copies), an unexpurgated edition is doing well now, and a sequel did well too. It seems there was both critical acclaim and commercial success for the book. Shouldn't the book, and the author's subsequent works, be supported despite a publisher's personal opinion of the material?

Ideally, sure. The written word ought to be an open forum. Censorship shouldn't even be an option. But look what happened to Ellis' AMERICAN PSYCHO. His original publisher actually dumped him! On the other hand, I knew -- even more than Ballantine -- that I was taking a risk with OFF SEASON. What was it Baretta used to say? "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime?" I figured I could do the time.

1 B ) Have you ever wished that you had held back the Off Season novel until after you had made a name for yourself, instead of having that book create so many obstacles for the next few novels?

Nah. Unbeknownst to me -- unfortunately, since I'd have loved to have known at the time -- the book that caused me so many problems also made my reputation with the readers. I have no regrets at all. Besides, you can't think like that. At least I can't. A book either comes to you or it doesn't. It's like a woman you meet -- somebody great comes along, you can't say to yourself, well, she's terrific, but I think I'll go after this other
woman first. By the time you get around to her she'll probably be long gone.

2 ) Your next novels deal with, in your well known hard-hitting style, topics such as; the environment, abortion, Vietnam, battle of the sexes, and other various victims. What issues are dearest to you? What drives you to tell a story?

I don't like cruelty in any form. Wether you kick a kid, a woman, a dog, a homeless guy, or an employee, you're an asshole. I like pointing that out to people. I like identifying the nature of cruelty in its various permutations, and I like devising strategies for fighting back, win or lose.

3 ) You donate stories to several charity publications. How do you select which of these to participate in? Is it simply a matter of who comes to you, or do you seek any of them out yourself?

If I think the charity is worthwhile I'll donate when asked -- stories, manuscripts, books or galleys for auction, whatever. You want money for the Charles Manson legal defense fund count me out. You want money for the Republican party shove it where the sun don't shine. My personal favorite is animals, spaying and neutering in particular. Some years ago Matt Johnson at Obsidian was trying to put together a book called BEYOND THE CAGE and the proceeds were to go to that. I was in on that. But when Obsidian folded nobody picked it up. I wish somebody would. Anybody listening out there?

4 ) You have won the Horror Writers Association (HWA) Stoker Award twice, in 1994 for The Box and last year for Gone. How important to you personally is this? Do you feel any redemption for the hard times you went through in the early years now that you have been recognized for your work?

I was delighted to have the awards. It's appreciation from the reading community and that's always very welcome. But "redemption for the hard times" comes every time I publish and every single day I don't have to put on a goddamn tie to trudge off to work.

5 ) Red is being published, for the first time in the US, by Overlook Connection Press. You had 3 novels published in the UK, 2 of which were later renamed (Roadkill to Joyride and Only Child to Stranglehold) and issued here as paperbacks. Will we eventually see those two done over in the US as hardbacks too? How pleased are you that Red is finally coming out here?

I definitely hope to get ROADKILL AKA JOYRIDE and ONLY CHILD AKA STRANGLEHOLD back in print as hardcovers. But I think that since there were three editions of both these books -- British hard and softcover and U.S.softcover -- publishers aren't beating down my door to buy the rights to them. I figure that will change fairly shortly, though, as fewer and fewer copies are available in circulation. I'm very proud of RED. I think its themes are important ones and that I handled them fairly well. And its reader reception has pleased me immensely.

6 ) Gauntlet Press is re-issuing Cemetery Dance's publication of Right to Life as a trade paperback. The original story deals with pro choice / anti-abortion issues, along with kidnapping and slavery. This edition includes two new stories, what are they about?

One's about a little girl who saves her mother's life with a 911 call. The other's about a ghost, a bitch, and a cat.

7 ) Speaking of Barry Hoffman at Gauntlet Press, he seems exceptionally excited about your new book with him, a joint venture between you and Ed Lee. I am curious, because of his excitement while talking about it, how Barry is to work with on a project (especially one such as this which requires so much collaboration)?

Barry's always easy to work with. He's efficient, he pays on time, and looks out for your interests in matters such as cover, design and publicity. In this case the book, which is called SLEEP DISORDER by the way, is pretty much already finished -- we've just got a few touchups to do on the new story.

8 ) On a similar note, this is not your first collaboration with Ed Lee. There is Triage and Eyes Left through Cemetery Dance, and probably just tossing ideas around between you, out now as well. What draws you to Ed Lee? Were you looking for an author to collaborate with?

TRIAGE isn't really a collaboration. Each of us has a stand-alone story in it based on a jumping-off notion by Richard Laymon. But Lee came to me a few years back with a story he wasn't satisfied with -- I'D GIVE ANYTHING FOR YOU it was called and he asked me if I'd like a shot at fixing it. I said sure.
Then we did it again. Then I had a story I wasn't happy with and HE fixed it. So it just went on like that. What we do is generally somebody writes the basic story, somebody cleans it up, and then sends it back to the first guy for final edit. Maybe one more tweak after that and we're finished. I think we work pretty well together as a team. Ed's real good with plot and story, which isn't always my strong suit, and I'm maybe a little better at character. He ups the wattage on the Good Ol' Sex and Violence, I tone him down a little. He tends to write long, I tend to write short. Works for us.

9 ) Most of your short stories are collected in the Subterranean Press' edition of Peaceable Kingdom. Has this undertaking inspired you to produce more short stories? What role do you feel the short story plays, either in the genre or for the author?

I'm very proud of how PEACEABLE KINGDOM came out. I think Bill Shafer orchestrated a very good mix. But what inspires me to write more short stories is that I keep getting asked to write them. I have a hard time saying no I guess. I remember all too well when nobody was asking. Or else, as with PEACEABLE KINGDOM, the reissue of RIGHT TO LIFE, or SLEEP DISORDER new stories are just part of the deal. I've even upped my asking price to keep demand down a little. Not that I'm complaining about demand, for god's sake. Far from it. But one of these days I've REALLY got to cut it the hell out for a while and get on to another novel.

10 ) I was collating my old collection of Swank the other day and was pleased to come across some of your work as Jerzy Livingston. These stories, featuring the oddly likeable bad guy Stroup, will be collected in Delirium Books edition of Broken on the Wheel of Sex. Recently you resurrected Stroup briefly in Triage. Could you give the readers not familiar with Stroup a run down on the character? And, have you thought about bringing him out to play again?

You have a collection of Swank? Wow, cool! Well, here's how I describe Stroup in my introduction --

"His name was Stroup. No first name, just Stroup.

That was another play on words. Stroup was Proust sounded out phonetically and scrambled. Arguably the most sensitive writer in history I turned into a schmuck of almost leaden sensibilities. It was Stroup's lot in life to understand practically nobody, least of all himself and certainly not women, yet to pursue both women and his own satisfaction with dogged determination. Without having a clue as to what might actually bring him either one.

A boozer. A loser. A homophobe. A highly questionable friend and unreliable lover. Misogynist as hell and for the most part proud of it.

That was my guy.

In the bars back then you met him all the time."

When TRIAGE was published I got a letter from F. Paul Wilson saying the story had him laughing out loud, and that I absolutely HAD to put Stroup in a novel. I wrote back saying I didn't know if I was capable of sustaining that level of curmudgeonliness --- if that's a word -- throughout an entire book. And I still don't. We'll see. Maybe some day.

11 ) This book is not released yet, and will include a new story featuring one lucky reader who pre-orders the book. Have you selected a reader yet? How much effort will be made to make the reader recognizable in the story? Do already have a role for the reader that is selected in mind?

I haven't written the story yet. It's on the near agenda, though. I think that what I'll probably do is go ahead and write the story, leave one man and one woman unnamed, and then insert some characteristics specific to that particular reader. I don't really know. The notion's new to me. Kinda fun, though.

12 ) You have been queried numerous times on the origins of the pen name Jack Ketchum (leader of the Black Jack Ketchum Gang in the late 1800's, he was hanged in Clayton, New Mexico for "assault on a train" ). I have not heard the origins of Jerzy Livingston, care to share that?

When I first started working for the men's mags I'd sometimes have more than one piece in any given issue -- there one issue where I had three -- so I'd use my own name but then I needed a pseudonym. I come from Livingston, New Jersey and I'd been reading Jerzy Kosinski. (sp?) I liked the in-joke. Hence, Jerzy Livingston. The other pseudonym was Bruce Arthur. I liked that because it was a stroke mag and it sounded so mercilessly gay.

13 ) What is your reasoning behind pen names; do they have different styles, appeal to different readers or just fun for you?

Well, I sorta just answered that. But there is another reason for my picking Jack Ketchum. I liked the three-punch in the syllables. Bop. BopBop. I love things that come in threes.

14 ) The story The Transformed Mouse is an adaptation of the Indian fable Panchatantra (Biting Dog Press). This seems to be a departure from the style you have become known for. What is the story behind this fable, and what excited you about adapting it?

THE TRANSFORMED MOUSE began its life as a children's book, way back in the late '70's. I had done one before that, called THE SANDCASTLE, which got me my first New York agent, Henrietta Neatrour at Collins, Knowlton and Wing.
Since she was very excited about the first book, this was meant to be a follow-up. But she was never able to sell SANDCASTLE so MOUSE just languished in a drawer. Over the past year or so I've been going through my files, saving stuff, tossing a lot of stuff -- I had a 3x5 card, forinstance, that simply said THE WOODS. Huh??? -- and came across MOUSE and it still read well to me, but I thought it would be fun to come at it from a more adult point of view. So I rewrote it, keeping the structure but changing the language. Biting Dog bit. Sure, it's a change from my usual stuff. But read PEACEABLE KINGDOM. Read BROKEN ON THE WHEEL. I'm all over the place anyway. And that's what makes writing fun.

15 ) You have sold movie rights in the past, as many authors do, but now it looks as if QLP Productions is going to make a movie out of your novella The Passenger (originally named Joyride before that title was taken by the re-issue of the UK novel Roadkill, this story appeared in Nightvisions 10 and the paperback of RED). Any word on the progress? Are you involved in or concerned about the production? How exciting is it to have a story picked up
for film?

I've had many options in the past but only THE PASSENGER has gotten this close to actual production. The operative phrase, though, is "close to." Meaning that I'll believe it when I see it. It's the nature of the movie business. I don't get my hopes up. I just happily take the money and wait and see. My only real involvement is that I wrote the original screenplay and then did a first revision, mostly beefing up the character of Micah Harpe.

16 ) On the topic of movies, you seem to enjoy attending New Jersey's Chiller Con. Would you enlighten our members about what this convention is and why you participate?

When I first started going to ChillerCon it was basically because it was convenient -- located right across the Hudson River. I could get there by bus. At the time almost no writers attended -- it was all movie folk. Doug
Winter maybe. F. Paul Wilson. I couldn't sell a book if my life depended on it. Now that's changed. I tend to sell a good number of books and sign a whole lot more so it's well worth my while attending. I also get to judge
the costume contest now and then and rub shoulders with the likes of Dee Wallace Stone -- very lovely shoulders, by the way.

17 ) I am hoping to attend this year's HWA convention in June. Will you be attending again? What will you be participating in and, if I can make it out there, what events can't be missed?

Yup. I'll be there. I have no idea what the schedule will be yet. Usually I do a panel discussion, maybe a reading. Probably be the same this year. And then of course there's the Stoker Awards. P.D. Cacek and I will be hosting them. Don't expect black tie, though unless HWA wants to spring for it. (Hint, hint.) More likely you'll get a Charles Bukowski teeshirt.

18 ) Another regular event for you is the Northeastern Writers' Conference (Camp Necon). I see on your home page that you plan on attending in July of this year as well. Is this open to the public like HWA? What highlights are planned, for you as a participant or the attendees, or can be regularly expected there?

NECON's always a lot of fun and unique among conventions. I call it "writers behaving badly." The attendence is limited so while it's open to the public it's not ever going to be a huge circus like ChillerCon. It's four days of picnics, panels, readings, drinking -- quite a bit of drinking -- and basic silliness on the lovely campus of Roger Williams College in Rhode Island.
You get to socialize with writers and editors from all over the country, people you hardly ever see except for this one time of year. There's a "talent" show, alternated with "That Damn Game Show," and a Roast. We stay up late, rise when we feel like it, and after four days, drag our sorry asses home.

19 ) You have received critical acclaim and personal support from many of the genre's biggest names. Who do you read?

Here's my reading list for 2003 so far...

Anbinder, Tyler -- FIVE POINTS (history)
Lee, Edward -- MONSTROSITY (novel)
Keeley, Edmund -- INVENTING PARADISE (history)
Stone, Tom -- THE SUMMER OF MY GREEK TAVERNA (biography)
Clegg, Douglas -- BREEDER (novel)
Leonard, Elmore -- TISHOMINGO BLUES (novel)
Franzen, Johathan -- THE CORRECTIONS (novel)
Wright, T. M. -- COLD HOUSE (novel)
Sarrantonio, Al -- ORANGEFIELD (novella)
Crowther, Peter -- DARKNESS, DARKNESS (novella)
Doolittle, Sean -- DIRT (novel)
Bukowski, Charles -- LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL (poems)
Moore, Alan & Campbell, Eddie -- FROM HELL (graphic novel)

I may do the new Carl Hiaasen next, I dunno. Something that doesn't have hell in the title. And yes, writers have been very good to me. The late Mr. Bloch. The almost-but-thank-god-not-quite-late Mr. King.

20 ) What is on the computer today? Is there a new story itching to be told?

Finish the story with Ed Lee. Write the story for BROKEN ON THE WHEEL OF SEX. Beyond that, I'd rather surprise you.

Well, that about does it. How'd I do?
These were good questions -- you did your homework and didn't make me repeat myself for the umpteenth time, for which I thank you.



You did wonderfully, of course. I loved the candor and appreciate the time you put into this project. I look forward to seeing you in next week to reply to any questions posted. Thanks for everything!!



No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites